Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bumbling Professor Talk


At 9 minutes in.
I'm somewhat the wild haired space case in this one, an early morning session when people needed something energizing.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

PythonUK 2013


Drones, er, quadcopters, were a big hit this year, like at OSCON.

Controlling a quadcopter from within Minecraft, using Python on a Raspberry Py (alternate spelling):  that was a theme on the education track.  The whole Python + Minecraft thing is fun with or without the quadcopter element.

Judging from video clips, kids loved the event, as did their parents and teachers, including mentors from Bank of America, an event sponsor.

Source:  PyconUK 2013 Roundup

Don't have a Raspberry Pi but want to play with Python bindings anyway?  Lost Bear Labs has a solution you might try.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wanderers 2013.9.24

Patricia Rumer has followed the action in Guatemala since the late 1960s, when she saw police bashing skulls at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and decided she'd had enough of the USA for awhile, or at least needed some perspective.  That she got, in Guatemala.

What indigenous peoples have experienced at the hands of "the government" (a militia, more like Burma's) is going down in history as a Civil War, complete with genocide.  USAers may remember it from the Reagan years.  They won't remember the general, Rios Montt, against whom a lawsuit was brought, but then dismissed in a backroom process, after a guilty verdict.

I don't know if they wanted a grisly hanging or what, but he, at 85, still has the comfort of his family and many of them don't.

Indigenous folk are always great at using the civilized option, doesn't it seem, just as in the USA they're like walking encyclopedia attorneys when it comes to treaty law, whereas average gringos are sipping Slurpees [tm] and watching Beavis and Butthead on DVD.

I showed up early to provide A/V, though Patricia had brought her own Windows computer.  The PowerPoint came up just fine in Preview off her thumb drive; the Mac Air came through, as it often does.  I depend on it greatly.

The audience was a mix of those who had, and had not been to Guatemala.  We went around the table answering that question in particular.

Although I've been a gringo in a martial law zone, that wasn't in a Banana Republic, unless you count the USA as a Banana Republic, and that argument could and has been made (including by me).  You say we're not enjoying martial law but I'd say at least foreign policy has been pretty well militarized.

Diplomacy these days usually means "lip service" to something, and is not a serious career -- judging from recent scandalous admissions about relations with Iran.

Anyway, our audience was a mix and some were most interested in the more gender-specific injustices, such as rape, overwhelmingly a male offense, and sex trafficking (ditto).

Does it start in the School of the Americas?  We should get a copy of that school's honor code sometime, for analysis.  Lots of people have that school as their focus so this research sounds doable at least.  In which course is rape discussed and dissected as a tool of intimidation against a Cold War backdrop.

Actually there was maybe some question around the table about whether Cold War terminology was relevant any longer.  Lew Scholl was there, and Lynne Taylor, the latter being chief organizer of the recent World Religions confab (no Mormons, but then Atheists don't get much attention either and certainly we had one of those).

This was a high powered group, we Wanderers, lots of worldly experience.  And yet none of us sounds like a Cold Warrior.  We're pretty much bored with the "capitalism versus communism" dialectic.  What was supposed to come next again?  Some withering of the state wasn't it?  Shall we get on with it then?

Patricia was eloquent in her analysis.  She focused a lot on the need for bottom-up grass-roots decentralized planning styles.  If you want  your copper mines, why not willingly go through channels versus throwing all your eggs in some short term top-down basket?

Why cast your lot with some Burma-style militia?  Why not plan for the long term and do your mine in partnership, and with the proper feng shui?  Stretch it out.  Don't try compressing multiple generations into one.  Wheels have their different turn cycles.

If mining is truly unaffordable, the decision will be reached, but in a lot of cases, there'd be ways to develop the resources to some level without making enemies for life of the current landholders.

I'm not sure what US Embassies advertise as their role to political fundraisers for Congressional  positions.  Perhaps State is weak because it over-promises way more than it can deliver, which makes the military nervously insert itself lest "America seem weak" (how often do we hear that?).

Did you over-promise on the power of a US Embassy as a bully pulpit and now feel hat-in-hand towards your sponsors in some board game, where natural resources are like tokens?  Is this Monopoly?  Does DC even know what game it's playing?  Forgive me for not having all the answers.  An investigation is underway.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Drug Policy

One reason I'm skeptical that English may be used to write laws (I'm sure it is, but likely bad ones), is how it has three ways of thinking about drugs:

(a) you abuse them, which includes using them recreationally

(b) you need them for your illness or

(c) you need them but can't get them, for one reason or another (this can make you seem pathetic on fictionalized cop shows on television, where you're another meth junkie / walking dead).

These categories overlap.  English are moralistic and often see illnesses as morally deserved, so (a) leads to punishable illness (b) for which (c) is the punishment.  Hah hah, funny English.

But when you say meth do you mean speed?  Lots of business executives, male and female, are chugging through life on speed and I don't just mean caffeine.

Some have ADHD and take Vyvanse, Adderall, Ritalin for a reason, because they're sick.  Others are doing these recreationally, which is illegal, unless an "unscrupulous" doctor let them in on a lucrative diagnosis.

I say "unscrupulous" in quotes because I resent those who patronize psychiatrists who use their own judgement as to who gets the speed.  Mrs. Jones is slowing down big time and we could go into the reasons, but she really picks up on an ADHD drug, and Mr. Jones likes it better that way too.

You could do a big favor to that household if you wrote them a prescription.

But even that whole system is so patronizing.  If people had more freedom to self-medicate, with all the dangers to self and others that implies, then they would need to spend a lot more time learning to think, behave, and have the ethics of medical doctors.

They would need to be more health-aware and compassionate in general, because compassionate people don't "drink and drive" in all the billions of ways that can happen (no alcohol need be involved, where kool-aid is concerned).

If we had the ID thing down, then if you're the equivalent of an Eagle Scout, then go ahead and customize what's in your own medicine cabinet, you're Tom Cruise or Bruce Wayne and this is the science fiction future already.  The board is waiting.

Write scholarly journal articles about it and upload your biometrics, participate as a guinea pig in human subjects experiments, openly on the Internet, where lots of people can audit and see you're not mistreated.

You signed up for this.

A lot of people do drugs in this fashion, but usually only to (b) cure an illness.  If you do it to get better at sports, or at math, you're a criminal (if you think in English).  I mean yes, it is cheating the way some rulebooks are written, but where are the sports for which it's not cheating.  Give us those too.  Tours de Something.

What's missing from the English language is the concept of using drugs for work, like Protestant work ethic work, i.e. not because you have an insurable illness but because some medicines are tools of the trade (whatever trade -- jazz musician the stereotype).

People who use drugs in religious ceremonies are about the only ones carving a new space in English law, and their progress has been slow, because the cultural IQ is low and rising only slowly (a vicious circle, don't you see).  I used to visit the Voodoo House (a spoofy misnomer), an institution connected to this new space in the law.  Not that I ever got to try their kool-aid, an opportunity missed I guess.

So yes, I come out in favor of more OTC solutions, perhaps with ID checking and rule-based authentications.  I'm going to watch the NRA closely because they've been all over this territory in trying to persuade people about why a world with guns is a safer place.  Abusing guns is dangerous but guns in their place have their place.  Likewise, I'm saying, with controlled substances:  that you don't have to be sick to wanna use them responsibly (unless English is the box you think in).

Does this mean I'm for banning "recreational" as a category in favor of some new "professional" use?  No, I think the recreational category should stay.  But it's usually just lumped with abuse as another illegal activity and in that sense I'm saying Prohibition is still wasting too many resources on its hopeless fight against Pandora.

Far less expensive is reinterpreting Pandora.

It's somewhat overwhelming, yes, how much was in that box, a cornucopia, but it's not just the bad stuff, it's the good stuff.   And it's not always the stuff's fault, but how we're klutzy in using it.  We win a lot of Darwin awards, as humans.

She's more like a Santa, this Pandora.

Using Pandora as a scapegoat was what the "blame religions" were into, religions that focused "blame".  We've all met these religions.  They're a pain aren't they?

We're even rescuing Medusa with snaky hair from always being so scary-ugly.  Her visage awakened a conscience in Perseus and led him to consult with Wise Athena about matters of the heart.  His "slaying the gorgon" was not some triumph over an archetype, an impossibility, but a sign of his own journey in self mastery, a stage along the way in his personal Jihad.

Others can take it from there, you see where I'm coming from.  Less moralizing would be good.  English moralizing gets in the way of doctors without borders, all too often.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Heat (movie review)

Having the FBI lady meet the USPO lady in a bar made a lot of sense as both the FBI and USPO are government pressure cookers where people of varied ethnic background are expected to get lots of work done, sometimes really difficult work.  Ethnicity gets in the way sometimes, or makes for a diverse crackerjack team.  It can tip both ways depending on the day, if the team is still bonding.

The "team" in this movie is a duo and spans a stereotype range in the night sky (of stars), roughly from Sandra Bullock to Rosie.  A particular spectral band of womanhood post Wild West chapters, the gun toting still there, amped up even.  Rosie has a fridge full of guns, which Sandra admires.  No, I'm not making fun of the actresses by calling them by these wrong names.  They are both hardworking and competent.

The nerdy girl complex targeted by the FBI closely matches the nerdy Osama tracker's in Thirty Dark Zero [sic].  The homework pays off, redeeming these strong readers from wallflower unpopularity.  We spend a lot of time on the lonely lady's high school year book, speaking volumes about the "to whom" this movie is addressed.  Rosie is from Jersey City where I probably taught her sister's niece or something.  Just kidding.  Any resemblance to non-fictitious people or places is purely coincidental (except we're allowed to say Boston).  All my best to both characters in their policing careers. 

The film is out-and-out comedy, tongue-in-cheek to the max.  This helps offset the believability.  Girls are being pushed by urban America into a life of fighting crime.  That's what Americans do.  We have good people and bad people and tourist attractions if you're just visiting.  Not like we're imaginative or anything.  And even if we're cops, we're free to abuse alcohol all we like.  Whiskey gets a field day, as does Mercedes.

The cathartic violence against the "john" based on Rosie's mind reading powers, rewards its primary audience with instant street justice, the kind of gratification they're there for.  If you're an anthropologist, new to North America, and want to learn some ropes, see this film, not just Borat.  See it at a brewpub like I did, one that happens to show movies, eat some pizza, down some beer (they were out of 20 oz pints so I got two of the 16ers).

Was it risky to target an albino for the kind of joke where you make fun of someone's appearance?  The movie insists its harmless slapstick, basically vaudeville.  People are just funny, what can we say?  The other guy spoofs "bad actor" and that dovetails with our unconscious expectations.  But this film is more wicked than predictable.  I'm not going to diss it, so much as hold it out for anthropological study.  I'd like more psychological anthropologists on the job, not shrinks so much as people who analyze culture.  Saw a bunch at Reed College that time.  Impressive.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lunch at Maru

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Mom and I were agreeing, over Japanese fare, that now was a fine time to be confessing how few and far between had been any diplomatic contacts between Tehran and Washington, DC, since the Shah was deposed, and yet we were already up to bombing again (Syria this time) a few days ago, from zero to sixty.

Military action is supposed to be a last resort after all diplomacy has failed but here is evidence of not even trying.  When diplomacy breaks down is when you need a flurry of diplomacy, or have US colleges and universities completely dropped the ball in teaching this stuff.  Has Woodrow Wilson School been replaced by West Point, when it comes to how conflicts should be handled?  May the historians investigate.

If John Kerry derailed the attack for the time being, he was just doing his job.  Diplomats should avert wars as a matter of course.  State should steal all the business, all the limelight, from the Pentagon from now on.  We don't want, need or care about the Cruise Missile Porn, generals on TV with their model jets, stroking their smooth lines, slobbering over the mayhem they're about to unleash on CNN.

Talk to Hollywood about that if that's your kinky complex.  Get your own Adult Movies studio.

We talked about Citizens Diplomacy or "second track", which in years gone by State has advocated.  Whatever happened to Citizens' Diplomacy?

It's just they're so rusty at diplomacy over there in the State Department -- overworked at the top, feckless around the middle -- that any talk of a "second track" immediately sounds threatening, potentially disruptive to one's career.

Like when the amateur athlete presumes to challenge the reigning champ.  The champ just hasn't been working out lately.  The smell of "rout" is in the air.  State is ashamed to take its shirt off and reveal there's nothing there and/or a lot of flab.  Been letting the military fight your dirty wars eh?  Nice vacation?

We have lots of Iranians in Portland, including a family I interviewed for Princeton, one of many.  We're talking intelligent professionals with satellite TV, lots of skills, highly personable.  If DC is too quick on the draw to reach for the cruise missiles, even before deigning to pick up a cell phone, then maybe we should help those poor slobs out, so desperately out of shape they've become?

"DC, you have three years to get back up to steam, in the meantime Portland will assume all your diplomatic responsibilities, free of charge, simply to save our own skins and build up tourism".  Sounds like a generous proposition.  We'll give 'em four years if they can't hack it.

So, hey, Iran, whaddya wanna talk about?  You wanna go back to calling it Persia and stop caring about old Anglo maps with stupid countries?  Yeah, that sounds like a conversation, we've been thinking that too.  Greetings from Cascadia.  How's the weather?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

AFSC Fundraiser

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I returned to the Metanoia Peace House on 18th Street this evening.  Eddy Crouch and John Munson organized this check-writing ceremony on behalf of the local office, i.e. checks were to be coded a certain way so the money wouldn't be dispersed as general funds.  Call it earmarking.

I lured Lindsey into coming on the chance some Quaker Voluntary Service people were there, and there were, but I didn't know they were there, nor who they were, silly me.

Plus I'd made the mistake of describing them as "professional revolutionaries" to Lindsey which she interpreted a specific way.  I guess I was being somewhat tongue in cheek about anyone using that label, but then Linsdey had a plastic ID tag that touted strong credentials along those lines.

Her plan to publicly thank the Peace House for past support (food provisions) and to discuss a new serving site nearby, that might make use of the kitchen, did not come off.  At least she got to see the place and meet some of the people.  She came by bicycle of course, while Carol and I took her car (originally hers).

Our focus theme this evening was empowering young people to grow into leadership roles, and that in part meant making television.  Portland Community Media had a sign next to AFSC's and some of the thank you speeches included expressions of gratitude from AFSC to PCM. 

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Because the focus was showing videos, the Door Project was not specifically mentioned, nor was Opt Out (Truth in Recruiting) nor some of the other youth-focused things we've been doing.  Instead, the "if I had a trillions dollars" program was featured.

Whereas that program was certainly apropos given the focus, from my own personal viewpoint, the "If I Had a Trillion Dollars" campaign / contest does not represent AFSC at it's most brilliant.  Portland isn't to blame.  It's a national program, and not one I personally have much love for.

But that's OK, it's not my role to automatically give a thumbs up everything the AFSC does.  I'm not a robot, or at least not that mindless a one.

The movie by and about migrant "Global U" students, on the other hand, had much more serious content.  It featured high school and college aged individuals without social security numbers (SSNs) and therefore with very limited prospects.

Refugees around the world are stuck in limbo, as the nation state system was never about serving everyone.  In theory maybe it was, but in practice it never worked out that way.  Millions of people are stateless as well as homeless.  There's no reason to hope that nation states will ever fix this problem.  They have proved themselves incapable, on many levels.

A paid signatures collector came to our door today, asking us to petition Oregon State to rescind the governor's decision to issue watered down driver's licenses to people without social security cards, (presuming they pass a driving test) and to let people vote on the issue instead.

As Pedro explained later, these licenses make the roads safer, as those without SSNs don't feel obligated to dodge the DMV.

But as I explained to the signatures collector, these are less powerful IDs than real Oregon State drivers licenses as they can't be used with the TSA to verify identity when boarding an airplane.  It's a watered-down ID.

The signatures collector had no idea about any of that, as those responsible for his training had done a cursory job.  We didn't sign in any case.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Practicing Democracy

Quakers bring skills from their professional lives to the life of their Meeting.  At the start of a recent meeting the clerk said "I'd like to start this call by..." and then self-corrected (this wasn't a conference call).  Another committee member started talking about the integrity of "the firm" as she's a lawyer at work or in some such professional practice.

The profile of a typical Quaker some hundred plus years ago, might be "slave owning businessman" with a conflicted conscience.  The anti-slavery movement was strong in England right from the get go.  And yet where did Jesus ever come out against "slavery"?  We talk about "human trafficking" today which should alert the more sensitive that we're in stormy waters:  the meaning is in the usage pattern, less so in the "word itself" (whatever that means).  "Slavery" is alive and well today (unfortunately) but goes by different monikers.

The profile of a typical Quaker today might be more "social worker" or perhaps "school teacher".  We have become less of an entrepreneurial class, charged with running big institutions, and now frequent the world of "nonprofits" and "NGOs".  That was my professional sphere, starting with CUE, though also Project VOTE! (Americans for Civic Participation, 501(c)(3)) before that.  Then I became a self-employed entrepreneur (1990) with Dawn (we created DWA, like a law firm) but we both continued to serve the same clientele:  the non-profits of Greater Portland (and beyond -- e.g. Clackamas and Washington counties).  We had a business license and everything (DWA was literally a "partnership" in IRS jargon, filing a 1065 every year, Dawn the experienced bookkeeper of the two).

Our Quaker Meetings are a lot like theme parks, like Oaks Park.   The committees are the rides.  In joining the life of a Meeting, you get to "simulate democracy" by involving yourself in a business process that's probably not run like your place of work is run.  Lots more rotation.  Lots more volunteerism.  The metaphysics is not particularly money-focused but there is a focus on paying the bills and planning for the future.  Whatever it's like "at work", here you get to play on Quaker-designed "monkey-bars" and that may stimulate fantasies of a future utopia in which more of the world works by these principles. 

Serving on Oversight is like riding the ferris wheel (the Big O):  you get the great overview.  Birth, marriage, death -- it's all there in microcosm.  Go on and go off, then go on again.  That's what I've been doing (going off in 2014).

Just got a call from The Open Bastion.  One of the interns has found a new job and we're taking her out to lunch to celebrate.  She was recruited from Code Scouts as I recall, a nonprofit Michelle manages.  My daughter interned here this summer, earning her keep in helping to scout out sponsorships for Djangocon.  So there's a lot of continuity in what I do, even though I'm more the standard for-profit sector worker in 2013, with DWA retired as a partnership (my wife died of IBC).  My level of volunteerism is still high.  Food Not Bombs.  Quakers.  AFSC.

The conspiracy (a weak one) to rebrand Oversight Committee as Pastoral Care Committee within NPYM has something to do with the trend towards Pastoral / Protestant Christianity more generally, among more reactionary older groups, mostly grays, like me.  The gist is "Oversight" and "Overseer" sound "too severe" or even "slave owny".  To me, it's a deliberate shying away from plain speech in favor of corporate "word-smithing".  Protestant Christians are spiritually immature (witness the Baptists of Buckman).

Fortunately, Quakerism is no longer completely controlled by the exclusively Christian among us, so we have some stronger overeers than you'd likely find among average Xtians of more mediocre faith.  Quakerism stands well-protected against too much dumbing down I'd hazard.  We must remain vigilant.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Ghost Cities


I was out hunting for new-to-me memes tonight and tracked down Agenda 21, thanks to Wanderers (our widely flung intelligence gatherers -- e.g. harvesting from Terry Gross on NPR and such).

Agenda 21 is scary to free-wheeling capitalists as it represents the more Borg side of humanity, those eager to fit in well enough to build great Cathedrals (not "just" Bazaars the way they see it). Lets do something planned, top-to-bottom, not a patchwork, not sprawl.

The Ghost Cities look to me more like China's learning from the sprawlers' mistakes. Portland has had its own little Ghost City recently, but it seems to be filling fast. People don't throng to a construction zone, but do to a spanking new neighborhood, if the alchemy is right.

China isn't stupid about Feng Shui.

The whole Ghost Cities meme is maybe somebody's marketing ploy to get free publicity for these lifestyle options. Clever.  The lure of the mysterious.  "We're moving to a Ghost City." How cool.

Anyway, I like that this guy (the videographer) is out there with his videocamera, following up on 60 Minutes. We all know 60 Minutes goes over the line sometimes.

Stewart Brand, the Reed alum (like Jobs) and visionary, welcomes highly concentrated cities. Humans seem well adapted to pack and stack, but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy the wilds.  Just mount your bike and head out.

The wilds will be vaster and freer of humans to the extent humans concentrate and leave nature well enough alone.

Better a smattering of Borg Cubes by Paolo Soleri than strip malls 24/7/365 as far as the eye can see.

I think he has a point there.

The flip side of concentrating humans in cities is purging more nature of human beings. Not in the sense of totally forbidding access to thrill seekers, but not encouraging human settlement on a large scale either.

The infrastructure won't be there for that, though for a light powdering of humans, as in agriculture, there may be.  Those wanting small communities in relative isolation need not be disappointed, and again, people willing to be concentrated in high rises are helping them enjoy that option.

The same people may go back and forth of course.  I'm not talking about a daily commute but about life being in chapters.

Your school is in the wilderness, though amply high tech, while your first teaching job is in a densely populated area.

Then you take a wilderness job.  Then back to some brave new Soma City with some unique hive mind vibe.  Delphi had a vibe too, many over the years.  Humans achieve new synergies in cities.  Why diss that lifestyle?

Just because "both" (urban / non-urban) ecosystems exist doesn't condemn any given individual to an either/or choice of lifestyles.  Experiment with a full gamut.  Life is short, yes, but that's the hand you're dealt in being human.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013