Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More Documentaries

I find multitasking helps me stay focused.  Each activity gets concentration and attention, but I exhaust my patience for Just That One Thing and get relief simply by varying the content.  We all know this power from the Channel Changer (one of the great inventions of all time).

Is that what's meant by Attention Deficit?  There's nothing wrong with an attention span of only three minutes, if you keep coming back for another three minutes often enough to keep up with the workflow.  That's how our interrupt driven computers work.  The operating system's whole job is to multitask intelligently.

Sure, some tasks take sustained attention for a lot longer than that, but lets hear it for the ones that don't, or don't always.

In that spirit, I welcome the chance to plunge into Quakernomics on my Samsung Galaxy Tablet (10.1") from time to time, or maybe on my Razr when riding a bus.  That book poses interesting questions especially seen in contrast with The Wobblies, a 1979 documentary I just reviewed (I'm pretty sure I'd seen it already, or maybe parts of it).

The IWW was sure no form of capitalism could be benign whereas Quakernomics makes the case that nothing intrinsic to capitalism says that system must be miserly-miserable.  But then Quakernomics is very broad brush stroke with what it means by "capitalism" casting Quakers as most definitely capitalists, in contrast with the Marxists who sometimes ridiculed their mendacious ways.

Likewise the book Debt:  The First 5000 Years, also on my Kindle app, is broad brush stroke with its meaning of "communist", making it mean almost any community-centric economy, any sangha.  So much ideological warfaring depends on loose definitions or, same thing, breaks down as definitions come under closer scrutiny.  "We're not in conflict, we're just working in different namespaces."

Prohibition by Ken Burns is a masterpiece of storytelling.  I'd never associated Happy Days are Here Again so closely with the repeal of Prohibition, preceded by FDR's legalizing 3.2% beer by executive order (a master stroke).  I've always taken legal drinking (for those of legal age) for granted, my generation having been imprisoned for similar offenses the Burns documentary avoids mentioning, despite obvious parallels.

Building up beer as a specifically and endearingly German thing, to postpone Prohibition, really backfired come the demonization of Germans and their culture during WW1.  That, and the passage of a Federal Income Tax turned the saloon-keeper caste and their suppliers into outlaws.  The US had a new source of income and a profitable war to prosecute.

Truly, the "saloon" as an all male club, a symbol of anti-female apartheid, pre women having the vote etc., did not survive into the mid 1900s.  More accurately, gender stereotypes broke down under the pressures of industrialized city living and typecasting based on gender (and "race") became less and less tenable for any institution.

The Wobblies sure liked to sing a lot.  When you have a pre literate and, more important, pre Web culture, propagating ideology through lyrics (and prayers) makes sense.  And these are not songs to kick back and listen to, they're songs to sing oneself.

There's a lot less public singing in groups these days, is my impression.   We have become a culture of spectators on the one hand, and amplified / recorded celebrity-pro singers on the other, with new institutions to break down that difference:  karaoke bars (and of course "church choirs" are still popular), and Youtube.

These two films, on Prohibition and the IWW, in combination with To Be Takei with its focus on the internment of Japanese Americans, provides a ton of information about the "culture wars" that North Americans have been fighting.  Prohibition had everything to do with trying to legislate lifestyle choices with one caste (cast) feeling entitled to dictate to another.  Prohibition was "cast warfare". Criminalize that of which you disapprove, is the "moralistic solution" Americans tend to favor, at great cost to their living standards.

Indeed, we might intelligibly replace the notion of "class" with that of "cast" (as in theater), as ultimately it's a matter of role playing.  Cultures are role playing games, pure and simple.  It's just they take themselves so seriously that saying "game" sounds offensive (too jokey, too light), especially to hardliner ideologues of whatever true faith.

The IWW fought hard for the eight hour work day, and for Freedom of Speech.  The documentary is brilliant in that it shows press accounts being predictably and routinely anti-IWW, making the point, in case it wasn't clear, that newspapers are a tool of one cast more than others.

Demonizing the IWW as either German or Russian agents helped Americans confuse the two, helping with the Great Pivot under the Dulles Brothers, when Germany and Japan (former enemies) became allies against Vietnam and Russia (former allies).

Speaking of demonizing Russians, I also squeezed in at least part of Season One of The Americans, set during the Reagan Years.  I won't try reviewing that here though, beyond acknowledging its relevance.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

To Be Takei (movie review)


That's "Tah-Kay" not "Tah-Kai" as the movie makes clear.

What strikes me about George Takei are the similarities between his story and that of Kiyoshi Kuromiya, another Japanese American who incurred internment and a resulting life-long commitment to activism in defense of civil liberties, including gay rights.  Kiyoshi and I used to hang out some in Philadelphia, when I'd fly there for AFSC meetings.  He was likewise kind and brilliant, also focused on personal integrity.

Being gay is an orientation, not a lifestyle, George likes to point out.  If it's "a choice" so is being in mixed-sex relationships a "choice" i.e. it cuts both ways, yet many mixed-sex oriented don't think of it as "a choice" for them.  Well ditto.  That was reasoning by a standup comic we heard later that same evening, but it fits as analysis.

The documentary advances its threads in a multitasking way, an effective way of storytelling in that you get three minutes here, seeing the marriage equality campaign move forward, then three minutes there playing up the Star Trek lore.

What's illuminating about this film is how it's highly media literate within what's popularly called "pop culture" so we get inside Howard Stern's radio show and into magazines and tabloids, visiting a lot of edgy comedy.  That's why the later show by Dick Foley and company at The Helium was so dead on, including more gay jokes.

Like a lot of the stranger-fans in the movie, waiting in line for picture signings and so on, I'm a Takei friend on Facebook.  I don't think I've ever posted to his profile or commented thereon, but I've really liked some of his funnies.  I'm think of myself as a subscriber in that sense.

The movie spends some time on how Asians get portrayed in films.  Yes, a fencing sword is less "stereotypical" than a samurai sword one could say, but getting all martial arty and Bruce Lee like is hardly "out of character" for an Asian male.  They seem to do that a lot.  Not just Errol Flynn.

The interlude about a fantasy Kirk-Spock relationship kicked up by the collective unconscious for Internet consciousness, is hilarious.  ROTFLOL.

The musical George has been working on, Allegiance, is another one of those threads we see advanced.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, from where I'm writing, this musical would have special poignancy.  Perhaps we'll see it in Portland.

To Be Takei

Friday, August 15, 2014

Delta Calculus

I'm thinking Calculus is too generic a name for the Newton-Leibniz thing, takes up a good word for what I'll call Delta Calculus, as opposed to say Lambda Calculus (different greek letter).

People make fun of Newtonian mechanics for being "mechanistic" (duh) meaning "clock-like" which is where delta calculus hails from:  the world of gear-works and their ratios.  How quickly does this gear turn relative to that one?  dy/dx comes from there.  You're trying to reverse engineer nature by modeling her as a clock-works.  Sure it's primitive, but it actually works pretty well when it comes to planetary orbits and what not, even if we admit to chaotic elements.

The figure below, singled out by Glenn Stockton from the many images flying through his workspace, provides a fine summary of rotational motions "in principle" i.e. what you'd expect just thinking about it, in a somewhat Kantian sense (synthetically a priori in other words):

You've got the magnetic field thing going, as a kind of involution / evolution of toroidal (donut) shape, then the revolving and orbital-precessional.  The solar system "corkscrews" whereas in profile it's sinusoidal, which means sine waves.  We should talk about sine waves more, and their oscilloscope values.  Trigonometry remains such a key, don't let e to an imaginary power divert your attention from the underlying rotational phenomenon.

The rate of change at which something changes gets us back to that "trim tab" idea of the butterfly effect.  Butterflies do not in fact cause climate change individually, yet are a part of the climate collectively, and deltas in butterfly cultures may indeed serve as canary-in-mineshaft warnings or positive omens, of big wheels turning in a helpful or harmful direction (you need a model to figure out about preferences, and a value system).

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Holy Toledo


Hygenic Dress

Pythian HQS


For further reading:
Re: Hygenic Dress League

Friday, August 08, 2014

Space Available (E Burnside)

E Burnside Offices

Office space for sublet.  Common areas.  Photocopier.

Wheel chair ramp.  Street front. 

E Burnside.  Share with others.  Nonprofits please apply.

AFSC is vacating its offices.

Contact PCASC for more information.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Thirsters Again

I dropped mom at her drones workshop at Unitarians and buzzed over Fremont Bridge, exiting on Kerby by the hospital then taking Weidler to the McMenamins on E Broadway.  I left just in time to retrieve her, in light nighttime traffic.

Now I'm having a cup of tea with my British friend Steve.

Tonight's topic was the history of the Middle East (so-called) since around the time of the Ottoman Empire, with the rise of industrialism in Europe posing new challenges and giving rise to many new artificial states, such as Lebanon (a French project) and Jordan (British).

The French helped give the Maronites in Lebanon a boost before leaving, while Britain in drawing in Jordan, as a state, was compensating some Caliph for allowing Iraqi Muslims to be conscripted against Turkish Muslims (Arabs against Ottomans).

I was interested to learn more about ISIS given that demonstration in Detroit we'd come across.  Christians and other ethnic minorities are feeling the boot of some rival gang as it takes over along various transportation corridors.

Religious gangs are not a new phenomenon and one Thirster piped up with analogies between sectarian violence in Europe (Catholic versus Protestant for some hundreds of years) and what we were looking at here.  I'd say that goes without saying.  Humans are fairly predictable beasts of limited bandwidth.  They argue about a lot of the same things all through time.

So I hadn't realized this spooky subset of Shi'a's Twelvers, the Alawites, were so in control in Syria, another faux state.

It's not that only some states are faux; they're all faux, it's just some get all offended when you point out their fauxness, whereas others are more reconciled to their being phony.

Thirsters have been meeting for many years, thanks to founder Bob Textor, anthropologist and a valued contributor to the design the Peace Corps in its early days, during the Bill Moyers and Lyndon Johnson years (early to mid 1960s).

Our presenter tonight was Bill Beeman.  From the Thirsters listserv:
Bill is an internationally known expert on the Middle East and the Islamic
World, particularly Iran, the Gulf Region and Central Asia. He has also
conducted research in Japan, India, Nepal, China and Europe. From 1996-1999
he sang professionally in Europe as an operatic bass. He continues his
musical career.
One of the Thirsters piped up during Q&A, asking if Al Qaeda was as advertised in The Power of Nightmares, a largely imaginative projection, not unlike "Mafia" or "organized crime".  Bill said that it was, though he hadn't seen that BBC series, which I've written up and oft linked to from within this blog.  Once the demonizing had begun, Al Qaeda offices sprung up all over, like Symbionese Liberationists in the days of Patty Hearst.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Returning to Portlandia

:: picking up mom at Wayne State after the WILPF conference ::

Hertz really came through for us.  The Mazda 2 was about the smallest car I could get away with given mom's walker needing to fit in the back, plus luggage for three people, but we were traveling light and the car proved peppy and up to the job, of traversing I-75 and I-70 both ways, from Michigan to Indiana, for a total of four times at about twelve hundred miles all told.

We got to Detroit airport (Wayne County International) in the pouring rain, though the return lot was sheltered.  Glenn, a paratrooper from the 101st airborne, based at Fort Campbell under General Westmoreland in the Vietnam era, graciously took us right to US Airways (merging with American) rather than have us take the Hertz passenger bus.  He was my idea of a good chauffeur.  I was saying all this to the Hertz feedback form on the web, suggesting a new "car with driver" rental service, but the web form just took me to an apology about the feedback form not working -- after entering reservation number, confirmation number and everything.  So it's Hertz IT that's suffering.  Glenn, on the front lines, is doing his job well (and thanks to Melvin the bus driver too, when coming in).

Best Western was a comedy of errors.  The housekeeping service verified I hadn't checked out just because the room was bare (I'd taken my things elsewhere for washing), plus the cables on the desk were an indication I was still there, plus I walked in with leftover Thai food for the fridge and verified I was still an active guest.  OK, so then why did they take those vital cables from me and lock them up, and not tell the night manager?

The desk manager next morning knew about my fussing and said cleaning would unlock them by 10 am.  But by then I'd already (a) replaced the micro-USB at WalMart, needing to charge my phone and (b) bought and returned a Samsung cable, hoping the iPod one was compatible (I didn't even open the box, after Googling up the expected answer:  no way) so I (c) found a Samsung cable on-line for much cheaper.

That's not the end of it though.  I came back that night and yay, the cables were returned to my desk, but I'd just pushed open the door, my card-key no longer working.  Kinda scary to have unkeyed access to all my stuff in a dark room.  Yes, dark.  No lights, no TV, no clock... no power.  The night manager went to some breaker box and tried throwing switches, no dice.  Lets move me to a different room.  Good thing my smartphone has a flashlight.

Lastly, although the morning manager assured me the tub would send water through the overhead shower component, I didn't find pulling down on the O-ring in 227 actually doing anything.  The next room, 314, had the toggle on the top, and that worked well.

Breakfasts were fine and the high speed Internet was reliable.  Also Best Western IT works better than Hertz's, as my survey / feedback form to the "mother ship" recounting these stories, took the data just fine -- or so it seemed as an end user.

US Airways did a marvelous job getting us home, though Phoenix ground personnel get the standing ovation, for getting mom pushed to A10 from A-whatever, two different concourses even if all labeled A.  We only had about 50 minutes to make it happen.  I took all the bags on her walker and pushed alongside, moving quickly.  People with walkers and wheelchairs can't use the moving sidewalks.  The electric carts were already booked up helping other people.

PDX Airport was a bit of a let down, which surprised me, as it's highly rated and respected.  But apparently even though they charge a gate fee to US Airways for that after 1 AM flight, they're too cheap to man the exit on that whole side of the airport.  Sure, the baggage carrousel is way at the other end too (number 9) but does it have to be?  Why not let E-side people get their bags at 1 or 2?

Mom has a walker and walking from the very end of the E concourse, all the way across the airport to the C exit, down to 9 (by which time the bag was already on the "unclaimed" cart) was somewhat of an ordeal especially because it was so late at night.

Tired passengers, made to walk the extra mile, because PDX is too podunk to keep one of two major exits from the restricted area operational.   Asymmetry at work.  "If you take flights arriving after 1 AM, you should provide exit services until at least 2 AM" would be my memo to the Port of Portland (TSA has nothing to do with it).

Yes, a wheelchair was offered but under normal circumstances the walker is all she needs.  No one warned us about the extra mileage we'd be expected to put on.  The longer walk affected all passengers, not just us.

Like I said:  first world problems.


Sunday, August 03, 2014

Lucy (movie review)

Tara tells me the critics have been unkind to this film and she left the theater saying "too unkind" and "I'm glad I saw it on a big screen".  My remarks were "interesting how it had so much didactic content, like cutaways to documentary footage".

We agreed the science itself, as presented by Morgan Freeman, playing a scientist, was rather bogus.  I also remarked on the blueness of the crystals, how reminiscent of Breaking Bad, and would this film help boost the demand for "smart drugs" if not crystal meth?  Certainly it plays off the meth meme.

What's interesting about the film is it presents us with a superhero where smarts / knowledge is the superpower, not swinging from buildings (Spiderman), not physical strength (Superman).  Lucy gets lots of auxiliary powers from her amped up brain for sure (e.g. a kind of X-ray vision), but the core capability is purely gnostic.  I can't think of another superhero with "intelligence" verging on "omniscience" as the core capability, except maybe Spock in Star Trek, who cultivates "logic".  Addendum:  co-worker John Baker reminded me later, during my stopover in Toledo:  Tony Stark as Iron Man.  I would add:  the anti-hero / bad guy in The Incredibles.

The aspect of "enlightenment" is present as well, and fulfilling a built-in human capability.  Shades of Lawn Mower Man, and Time Machine by H.G. Wells.  But to what extent is her enhanced intelligence filling her with compassion and empathy, per the Buddha or Jesus?  She doesn't act very Jesus-like, converting her enemies to allies or turning the other cheek.  She does perform lots of miracles and could probably part the Red Sea towards the end.

The sense that she's running out of time and has to get it all done within maybe a day or two means she has to optimize in many ways, leading her to break the rules right and left.  She drives crazy and won't put her tray table up in the stowed and locked position, when preparing for landing.  She cuts to the chase in every interaction, interrupting her roommate / friend's girlie chatter with House M.D. like diagnostic remarks, while handing her a prescription and walking out the door.  So a kind of gruff compassion then.  She retains her humanity.

The fact that time is running out means we don't have to get into long term scenarios like manipulating the stock market or building an empire -- the stereotypical things an omniscient might do.

I was curious going in if there'd be any reference to the prehistoric Lucy, the name for the fossilized hominid skeleton from Ethiopia we got to visit in Seattle.  Of course.  That Lucy is her name is drummed in from the opening scene, with the link to our hominid made right off the bat.

That's probably what I like most about the film:  despite the bogus science (we forgive science fiction taking liberties, Morgan Freeman acknowledges we're in that genre as we boost brain power in some hypothetical dimension) the movie does a lot to survey the evolutionary experiment called "humans", taking us to lots of cities (ala the 007 franchise) and diving into the distant past (she travels in her office chair), meeting Lucy herself, as well as seeing dinosaurs and pterodactyls. Time is the only real dimension, we're given to learn.  Very Synergetics, very Heraclitus.

We get treated to lots of nature film clips and get to "think about" cells, anatomy, reproduction... lots of science memes, colorful and fast-moving.  That's what I liked:  the didactic flavor.  The audience is treated to a hypothetical "what it might be like to think in a connected big picture way" -- an ISEPP lecture on steroids.  Fun.  Maybe more people will feel inspired to do some reading, get some education.  Good PR for STEM, and with a strong woman at the center.

As Tara mentioned a few times, we have to consider that Scarlett Johansson also plays Her, another super-intelligence (so yet another super smarty).  She's well suited to her role here, as a bitch-witch well able to handle herself in a world of cruel Asian Matrix-like, black-suited bad guys.  So yeah, a role model for girls being both badass and smart.  We need those.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Visiting Downtown Detroit

Although I had only a few hours in Detroit, I was eager to get a sense of its historical trajectory.  That a great city has many square miles of now uninhabitable structures is not really a surprise, as North Americans did not always build with the intention their structures last hundreds of years.

Huge swaths of urban acreage all across the industrialized east are well past their pull date.  You'll see this in Baltimore and from any train window in the northeast corridor.  I don't see this as an apocalyptic crisis, more just physics at work.  Rust never sleeps as they say.  Decay happens.

That being said, it's ironic that "the big three" (Motor City's car companies) colluded with government to wipe out city rail systems and pave over everything, to insure the motor car's monopolistic dominance of the landscape for almost a century.

Now that we've burned through over half the fossil fuel, the costs of maintaining all that infrastructure have become prohibitive and North Americans are fighting a losing battle against pot holes and shrubbery poking through pavement.  I'm glad our Mazda 2 had robust suspension as we bumped our way through the decaying streets (and broken parking meters) of downtown Detroit.

I mention parking meters because that first one, Friday morning, ate two quarters but gave zero time, so I moved to another one that ate two quarters for 30 minutes credit, but gave no credit for the third or fourth quarter.  Tara tried a dime.  No dice.  We were out of change.  I came back to find a $45 parking ticket on my windshield.
Downtown Detroit is indeed blessed with these decaying empty gigantic buildings.  Some may be restored or are being restored, but others just need to come down, or stand there as tourist attractions for people like me.

While on the topic, I told Tara my belief was the Twin Towers of NYC were built with a self destruct system as a prerequisite for anything that huge needing to come down someday, not because of any tragic catastrophe but because all buildings have a half-life.  Ditto Building 7.  Now that David Chandler is a member of Multnomah Meeting, we're likely to have more such conversations back in Portland.

We also stumbled across a protest, against the brutal persecution of Christians in the Middle Eastern war zone, where the British drew some lines many political world maps still show to this day (not Fuller's).  Violence against ethnic groups is not a new phenomenon and North America swelled in population precisely because humans were fleeing persecution in the more populated areas of the eastern hemisphere.

Once humans were crowded together in America, that same ethnic violence arose.  Humans have a violent and ugly past and present.  I'm not especially proud of this species.  I understand why many religions consider us a "fallen" experiment (as in "failed").  The angels mock us with good reason.

Detroit does have a bit of a rail system they call a People Mover and there's a futuristic station downtown amidst all the urban decay, providing a stark contrast between the new millennium's early days, and the one gone by.