Sunday, March 24, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wanderers 2012.3.20

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Peter Miller, newly back from a brief excursion to Myanmar (Burma), graciously agreed to come address our little group, recapping some of what he'd covered with Thirsters in last week's debriefing.

Quoting from the Thirsters list, John Dougherty reporting:
Peter returned from Myanmar on Tuesday, March 12th and presented fresh views of the social and health services sector there.  He was invited as a representative of The Population Council by the Myanmar Ministry of Health.  Peter said that the health system in Myanmar was functional but survived on minimal resources that have increased in recent months, but that the government and health providers are committed to increasing the quality of health services.  USAID was invited to [the] country about 6 months ago.  Social indicators are strong:  95% of girls and boys attend school, fertility rates are about 2.0 (replacement level), and infant mortality in the first year of life has fallen by more than 1/3rd in the past 20 years to below 50 per thousand live births (the rate in Thailand is 16) [ Source ]
Peter was humble about his understanding and did not try to sound like a know-it-all, always refreshing.  Our group peppered him with questions.

I was especially interested in commercial billboards and whether cigarette companies were aggressively declaring war on the health infrastructure.  Peter did not feel bombarded by cig ads, though ads were in evidence.  Korean youth culture seems to have captured the imagination of many Burmese, with an image of a softer, gentler society with many technological advantages.

We were interested in the sex trade, drug trade, refugee camps, religious strife, non-Burmese cultures, and several other topics.  We talked about museums holding stolen artifacts, sometimes preserving them, and about the Doctrine of Discovery and papal infallibility.

I came away again thinking that "globalization" is not strictly a "westernization" phenomenon as Asia has absorbed and continued with western memes, many coming full circle as Europe used to look eastward for its culture (still does).  Asian cultures have their own momenta.

Burma reminded Peter a lot of Sri Lanka some years ago, in part for the piety of its Buddhist population.  Tourists come from around Asia to these temples, not so much to take pictures of one another as to pray, to worship.  I talked about Alan Potkin and his scholarly wife.

Peter has had an interesting career.  We talked at length about his work with rural Pakistani women, especially with TBAs i.e. Traditional Birth Attendant (midwives and such).  He felt their curriculum had made quite a big difference owing to several factors, as evidenced by lowered mortality rates.  He brought a healthy skepticism to any statistics though, as a seasoned demographer.

One does what one can, with hazy measures.

He felt oxytocin had been misunderstood by many TBAs, as they administered it during birth instead of afterwards.

Back to Burma, Peter gave us an abbreviated history, stretching back into the misty past.  The current narrative, for several decades, has focused on a military regime versus a popular movement focused on the daughter of a national hero, and Nobel Prize winner in her own right, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Whereas he wasn't actively countering this story, he was complementing and supplementing, as a lot of what's happening goes undetected if the story is focused too narrowly.

Don was interested in talking about the US flag as deriving from the East India Tea Company flag, something Bucky Fuller talked about as well (see Critical Path, St. Martin's Press, 1981).

I ducked out towards the end to run an errand, returning later to take the above picture. Five of us adjourned to Cup and Saucer after the talk. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

More Geek Anthropology

We have a PhD student in the social sciences sharing some perspectives.  Jackie Kazil runs WDC PyLadies with Katie Cunningham.

She looks at roles, systems of governance, workflow, ways of addressing public issues. Distributed governance.

Tribe, Chiefdom, State, Empire... an "ordinal typology of political systems".  So far, I'm not impressed with these list maker social scientists.  What happened to Companies (are they chiefdoms)?  Crews (ala pirate crews)?

She thinks we're a State more than a Tribe.  Sure, I'd go with Nation too (already a lightning talk topic).  The PSF logo would be our flag (no special currency though). She doesn't know about Holden's "Mighty Python Empire" apparently.

Our lunch table featured Pythonistas from Oregon (Eric and I), Brazil (Henrique), Italy, England... we talked about meat eating habits, Brazilian especially.  All you can eat Brazilian restaurants.  The guy from England hosts meat.io and lives in a Portuguese-speaking neighborhood in London.  Lots of meat lovers.  Nicolas Cage jokes were also a topic, and animated GIFs ala Tumblr.

I went around collecting T-shirts and chatting with cute booth folks (many genders) at Hulu, Plone Foundation, Spotify etc. (this was before lunch).  Good catching up with Andy McKay.  He's with Mozilla now, supporting the App Store for the new Firefox phone (an HTML5 platform, its own OS).

Yes, I gave my lightning talk in the huge plenary room.  Not all the thousands were there yet, but the audience was substantial.  I got some good laughs.

The genome analyzer people were here again, Counsyl.  They must use a lot of Python.  Their operations is very automated, with FedExed blood samples coming in.  You need a doctor's perscription for this test as the results are medically actionable i.e. you may need to make some decisions.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Futurism Again

My dad subscribed to The Futurist and thought like one.  Fifty year plans were his bread and butter.  He helped get systems going, for the longer haul.  Naturally, some of that rubbed off, these being memes, not so much genes (or jeans).

What I've found is I sometimes pray / predict / prophecy some future development, but then not recognize when it actually happens.  There's a lag as I adjust to the vision being just alien enough to be not seem purely a product of my own imagination (not a criticism).  Youtube, for example:  I used to write sundry strange things about The Videogrammatron, short clips, a database, hyperlinks between them.  All that happened, not using my nomenclature and so almost escaping my notice at first, as my prayers already answered.

Another case in point:  I used to visualize that "virtual companies" that would conjure floorspace using the cloud.  Certain floors would be occupied, as a team suddenly appeared, conducted business, and moved on, like gypsies.  But now, sitting in this Hyatt in Santa Clara, taken over by the Python geeks of the world, as a paid, booked in advance venue, I realize that's how it already is:  floor space materializes even as people jet in. Convergence / divergence.  That's what's going on here.  And that's the conference biz, people meeting about anything and everything.

True, I was thinking more small teams traveling in packs, but we have those too.  People come here as members of a tribe, a company, a nation, a virtual nation.  Henrique said I could quote him, about how it's "more and more awesome" every year, in terms of how many familiars from around the planet one gets to greet and catch up with.

The Oregonian wrote me up twice, Carlin the journalist both times maybe.  The second time I was predicting hypertext kiosks in hospitals.  This was before people knew what hypertext was.  The first time I was shown holding a postcard next to my head, of Fuller's global data projection.  That was in the Metro section only I'm pretty sure.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Big Picture

I devoted some time at the AFSC meeting to catch up on some pieces of the Wikileaks story.  Truthout had the translated interview from a Norwegian source, while The Guardian had something like a transcript of Bradley Manning's testimony.

Earlier, after lunch, we met the assistant director of the Western Region (the director is in Spain) to go over some programs.  Many of the region's executive committee were present as well.  Cruel and inhumane practices by the prisons (e.g. solitary confinement), for-profit prisons, and immigration reform topped the agenda.

Per the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, the practice of simply "declaring" lands to be "US" by "annexation" and/or by "buying" such lands (Manhattan, Louisiana Purchase) has created a sense of entitlement over all of North America, by those ethnic groups most benefiting from these narratives.

The seasonal migration of peoples, a pattern for millennia, was interrupted by the imposition of "states" and/or "territories" as institutional jurisdictions.  Cultural genocide ensued.  The US Army was a leading exponent of this land grab during the so-called Indian Wars.  A bounty was placed on "red skins" (hides, scalps).  Extermination was encouraged.

The UK-based idea of "countries" (the districts of its empire), inheriting from the idea of "sovereignties" (a civilizational pattern) helped solidify a sense of "ours" among those inheriting this namespace or ideology (a brand of science fiction).

Fences went up everywhere, as in Europe.  The land was carved into "properties".

A sense of "manifest destiny" continues to inform various ethnic groups, many of whom see the entire globe (and beyond) as theirs to rule and administer.  As controllers of "documents" they brand fellow humans "undocumented" and forcibly incarcerate and deport them.  Religion is often used as a justification.  According to many belief systems, someone called "the Lord" (a kind of superman landlord) has authorized / ordained that those faithful to Him should lord it over (have "dominion" over) others.

The labor intensive nature of colonizing North, Central and South America by the Euros fed the infamous slave trade.  Various doctrines were advanced to justify this practice among those who professed faithfulness to their Lord.  Some were unconvinced by these doctrines however and ideological schisms appeared.  This led to the US Civil War which continues to have repercussions.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Considering Diversity

The term "diversity" has become code within various subcultures.  Many related memes help form the complex, chief among them being "race", an inherited corrupt idea still entrenched among Anglophones especially.  North Americans are historically obsessed with "race", a kind of religion for them.

However "diversity" may also refer to "gender" as in the Python world I frequent.  The outreach efforts of the PSF have had everything to do with attracting more women to Pycons, nothing much to do with racial categories.  My focus on Diversity (an e-list) has been recruiting non-Anglophones, given the Unicode capabilities of Python source code.

"Diversity" may also refer to age.   "Sexual orientation" is a related meme.

When the American Friends Service Committee talks about diversity, they tend not to collect birth dates.  Corporation members and board members tend to be "grays".  More, they want to know about my "race", and I'm not supposed to say "Asian" as that's not how racists would identify me.  My Swedish heritage etc. gets in the way and I admittedly haven't learned enough Kanji.

The AFSC Nominating Committee is delivering a report emphasizing that ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation are indeed on the radar.

Looking out over a sea of white-faced (pale-faced) people and complaining of "no diversity" is of course a kind of selective blindness (could be called bigotry), a variety of "all Xs look the same" (and therefore are).

Even genetically, you'll have lots of diversity among whites, blacks, yellows, reds etc.  However, it's "ethnicity" that introduces more metaphysical forms of diversity.  Ideology makes a difference.

A book called The End of Racism by Dinesh D'Souza is an interesting contribution to this literature.

I'd say the membership is maybe disproportionately academic.  Lots of teachers / professors and retired teachers / professors.  That's an ethnicity (subculture).  Maybe we should add a check box for that, when measuring our characteristic mix?

I do find it a quaint practice among Anglophones that speaking of "colored people" is considered a somewhat racist practice whereas speaking of "people of color" is a more accepted idiom.  English is a bit of train wreck eh?

More open source geeks involved in AFSC work might be nice.  The central office has standardized on Microsoft Sharepoint for its internals. The ideology of sharing source code around the world, as a form of activism, is not well established in this organization.

I don't think we have any tribal members as AFSC corporation members (speaking of "Indians" as ignorant Anglophones called them).  That's ironic given Quaker history.  USA maps that don't color code the "reservations" (also "military bases") are withholding some important information.  When it comes to data overlays, ala ESRI, I favor displaying this layer more frequently.  Show us the prisons too.  Elizabeth Furse would be of help to us I'm sure.

"Changing the narrative" is the title of one of the slides we're watching (I'm in the corporation meeting as I write).  That sounds like CIA talk.  Should we recruit more spooks / ex-spooks?  Valerie Plame maybe?  A lot of exCIA people have taken strong positions many Quakers could agree with.  Stansfield Turner?  If the goal is diversity...  Of course Friends tend to demonize the CIA as a proponent of outward violence; all the more reason for more outreach then.