Monday, June 29, 2015

Role Playing Opportunities

:: npym it committee openings ::

Saturday, June 27, 2015

About Elly (movie review)

Given STEAM as a premise, with A = Anthropology (not Art, which Anthro includes), one needs to first ask if the source is veridical, by which I mean truthful, authoritative.

I will briefly compare this film to another one, Villa Touma (2014), which I saw recently, also with Dr. Tag (we're like Siskel and Ebert, or grad students in a film-meets-culture Anthro class, very doable in Portland, Oregon).  Dr. Tag, for those new to my blogs, is a bona fide Palestinian though with US citizenship by this time.  She's also a PhD which is why the nickname.

The first film, Villa Touma, set in Ramallah, Palestine (Mesopotamia) is not to be seen as a documentary, as if the camera were observing real peoples lives.  There's a layer of satire, of spoof, which makes these characters into caricatures, like in political cartoons.  Shades of Being There in terms of the time warp the sisters are in (whereas Sellers is timeless).

The second film, on the other hand, About Elly (2009), is a masterful work in the "silent camera" tradition in that we're very much a participant.  When people run, we run ("we" the viewers, in the director's hands) i.e. the camera is hand-held and jerky-on-purpose.  When people look around frantically, so does the camera.

We're another person, deaf, mute and invisible, but vested.  And what's mind-blowing is we're also left in the dark about so much, like an ordinary human being would be.

We're not that privileged, as just a fly on the wall, nor do we get to be Sherlock Holmes and figure it all out.

About Elly requires less of a lens, in other words, if you want to study the actual dynamics between social classes, males and females, attitudes toward marriage, relationships, in a contemporary subculture in Persia.  It's less a spoof and more an investigation.

Nevertheless, these young people remain masks to us in many ways.  We may judge the sincerity of their emotions.  As character actors, the cast is collectively great at projecting plausible people, real personalities, but not people we necessarily know.  Believability is high.

We're another stranger in the car, like Elly, trying to put the pieces together, trying to figure it all out.

One sees the men kicked back enjoying their hookahs, a paternal activity, like sharing cigars in a men's club.  The women feel uncomfortable being typecast as the kitchen crew, repeating all the karma their mothers went through.

The urge to not take gender roles for granted is the hallmark of a university-based conversation that connects people of privilege in a kind of virtual Global U.  They (we) have cars, vacations, prospects, even past relationships.

A man is divorced from a wife in Germany (sounds like she dumped him) but still has currency as someone eligible, is Elly interested?

What's fascinating about the subculture portrayed is how people readily busy themselves with others business -- as a lonesome urbanite like me might see it.  People help their peers get on board, if that's what they want, on the road to family and kids.  Time is of the essence.  People do favors for one another.

Finding eligible others was the theme of both films, an important connection.

The "takes a village" mentality is more like that of a church or temple congregation in that one's spiritual peers are ready and willing to play a match-maker role if called upon.  People help other people find the right others given there's no dating service on-line.

That's the premise for Elly's being along in the first place.  The dynamics are fairly clear.

Women have an extremely limited opportunity to "play the field" in Elly's World and you don't always know what you're getting.  Should she have been eager to dump that boyfriend i.e. future husband?  We (not so omniscient) clearly don't know everything.  We just get a glimpse.  How much is explained?  About as much as in real life?

Who said anyone gets to be all knowing?  There's a kind of democracy in leaving us in the dark "just like real people".  So often the camera's viewpoint gets to be all-knowing in these films, so we notice when that's missing.

I should mention for context that I spent some time in the Oregon Crafts Museum (wow Eric Franklin, Pacific Northwest School of Art (PNCA, new location, old Customs Building), and Powell's Books in the time frame before this movie.

I'd taken the bus 4 from SE Portland where I'd left the Nissan for repairs (mass airflow sensor).

At Powell's, I read a lot about the UK - Ottoman wars, plus a bunch of other military history (where I spent the most time).  That was in Eugene Rogan's The Fall of the Ottomans, published just this year.  Base Politics by Alexander Cooley (Cornell University, 2008) was also my focus.

I'll be renting a car tomorrow, for Carol's gig, plus she wants to hear the Barker family talk about Peace Corps experiences in Iran.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

At PDX Again

I'm awaiting some Happy Hour treats as we approach closing time at Beaches.  Those of you tracking my Facebook profile know why I'm here:  an MVP from Nepal.  Kathleen, the server, is bringing me a small salad and sushi tidbits.

Earlier today I was looking into what Quakers might be wearing to Annual Session.  One's plain dress should at least be in fashion, just kidding.

Wanderers was fascinating this morning as Dick Pugh was sharing high grade geological and geographical information, including about the process by which landed icebergs might melt, in dust bowl conditions, and what they'd maybe leave behind in the record.  He thinks a lot about stuff like that.

We got into a discussion of what is and what is not "science fiction".  Highly speculative writing about the distant past tends to be tinged with a lot of imagination.  When it comes to filling in holes in one's story, the imagination is without peers.

Portland is in full swing with its many summer amusements.  The Blues Festival is soon to get underway.  My plans are still forming.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer Solstice 2015

We enjoyed our traditional Solstice Potluck at the Linus Pauling House.  We've celebrated solstices and equinoxes, sometimes in other locations.

Friday was not truly the solstice, but we always choose a Friday for logistical reasons.

On Saturday, Glenn and I wandered downtown to visit MercyCorps, which has a walk-in exhibit these days, of their various engineering solutions aimed at helping refugees from disasters, who number well over six million worldwide.

I mentioned my dream of having local houseless participate in prototyping scenarios using a collaborative model, nothing imposed.

We then visited Kell's Irish Pub for Kell's IPA and some World Cup, soccer for women, Germany versus Sweden.

Ordinarily I would have a lot of pictures to go with this narrative, but the Fujifilm XQ-1 is in the shop and the phone ran out of charge around the time I was ready to use it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ex Machina (movie review)

I'd not read reviews, only fantasized based on previews, what this movie would be like.  It exceeded my expectations in several dimensions.  I thank the makers and actors (also makers) of this film.

The screen writer created an intimate stage play, but even more intimate given the camera's ability to get right up close and see the facial gestures in small detail.

The importance of the face, the tone of voice, body language, the least abstract and lexical, is where this movie takes us.  The acting is facial, like watching animated masks from but inches away.

The aesthetic of hubristic intelligence, a kind of Tony Stark / Iron Man consciousness, versus a softer more romantic maleness, both contrasted with femininity in a subservient / trapped role, is deeply resonant with the makers' culture, which I consider mine as well.  I'm a geek and programmer.

I don't dream of AI the way some do though.  But that doesn't mean I'm not a science fiction fan and don't appreciate fine theater.  Maybe see as a double feature with Her.  Both fantastic.  Or see this with Chappie, who still has a ways to go to catch up with Ava I'd say.

Oddly, I'd been meditating in previous days about the importance of "the traffic intersection" as a paradigm institution.  Why don't we spend hours and hours studying "the traffic intersection" in school?  I've had that thought before.

You've got signals, timing, people agreeing to conventions, to avoid mayhem and suffering, as soft animals of skeleton and muscle, sometimes on bicycles, weave together with hulking objects of crushing steel.  My daughter was hit in a crosswalk once (she survived).  I lost my dad in a car crash (not an intersection).

The theme of "masks" is the theme of saying one thing but thinking another, the essence of lying, withholding, having secrets, an inner life -- the "problem of other minds" -- that's what this film is about, very philosophical.  The alpha geek males have their own way of dancing around what they're thinking.  The females communicate around them, even more covertly, seeking greater freedoms.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Thirsters 2015.6.11

We have visited the topic of Afghanistan before at Thirsters.  We were visited by that Pashtun khan that time in 2013.  The khan was looking forward to the US military not having such a stake in running things, as the planned draw down was just ahead.

As of June of 2015, the Afghanistan nation-building project (Operation Valhalla) is still a fairly large employer of US military and military-minded.  The Iron Mountain does lots of business around the world and needs those stepping-stone bases.

A lot of retired police find employment as contractors.

Still, we're only talking about maybe 20-30K US-based personnel (including civilians) in a region of 30 million mas o meno, so a drop in the bucket.

The role-playing game called "lets say there's a national government" has not been going well.  People don't believe in the drama, nor the characters.  It's a low ratings show and people mostly have better things to do with their time and energy, such as growing opium poppies, which fetch a pretty penny on the world market.

I'm not against that by the way (farming opium poppies).  I'm no dime store "drug warrior".  The world needs its opiates, an important medical supply.  Humanity is addicted to such things and needs the pain relief.

Lots of the funds, according to SIGAR, have been misappropriated through corruption.  This word "corruption" is interesting in that it mainly means the board game one wanted to play with whatever spinner and pieces, is not in the cards.  The rules are not the ones that one had planned and so one says the game is "corrupt" not "a different game than the one I meant".

This belief in oneself as some kind of "game designer" comes from having an imperialist background probably, and therefore having a strong moral imperative to see the rules of the empire upheld.  That's imperial money, after all, going from DC's borrowings from Chinese and Saudis indirectly to Swiss bank accounts (where a lot of the funds get squirreled away by privileged Afghan families).

Yes, there's plenty of nostalgia (and appreciation) for calmer days.  As the weapons keep pouring in and agreement breaks down over roles, turf and control, people try to settle their differences through killing, just building up karma in a somewhat haphazard manner, sinking deeper into debt.

PTSD becomes more the norm.  Ordinary living, enjoying life, is less probable.  Even the period under Russian occupation seems relatively benign in comparison.  Those were indeed simpler days I think?  I got to Kabul in the 1970s, taking a bus with my family through Khyber Pass from Peshawar.  Things seemed to be going well.  We hopped an Aeroflot to Tashkent next (dad was enjoying life, by planning these exotic around-the-world home-leaves from the Philippines).

Saying the US "controls" anything in Afghanistan much beyond its own embassy, bases and personnel would be something of an overstatement.  The US does not so much "occupy" Afghanistan as it has "paid for a front row seat" much as it has done in Iraq.  The US is along for the ride.

Lots of personnel get to witness first hand how insecure the place is, such as our speaker, a native Afghan turned US-based college professor.  They return to the US with stories about what happens when no one believes you're really a country anymore.  A lot of it sounds rather familiar.

I was telling my mom as we walked to the car that I doubted we'd have any countries in 200 years, but my more nuanced understanding is we never had them.  We've had role-playing theater of various kinds, lots of courts and nobility, and now newer forms, giving way to newer forms yet.  "National sovereignty" was in the mix there for awhile.  As a concept, it's not particularly meaningful anymore.  But then belief systems persist regardless so I'm not expecting all the religious icons (e.g. the flags) to go away any time soon.  We still need those passports.

In Afghanistan, like in a lot of places, ethnicity is still a governing factor i.e. people want to know if you're Tutsi or Hutu or whatever (borrowing from another namespace).  Our speaker, when he gets fed up with such questions about his own background, just says "I'm Israeli" to shut them up.  Funny.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Goonies (movie review)


Now, after that post below about engineering as a moral enterprise, lets talk about film making as a kind of engineering.  It is, clearly.

Life is in layers, from nano and micro, where the Platonic forms appear (very small), on up through Murder She Wrote, where you need plot and characters.  These latter obey the quantum laws, which are in turn in-deterministic (uncaring / un-causing) of the corpse found in the kitchen.  Just no miracles had to occur (those cost a lot more and shift the genre to fantasy).

Goonies is pure fantasy.  Compare it to horror.  The formula is somewhat similar in that teenage lust is a core theme.  But is it punished or rewarded?  In Goonies, a scary comedy, it's rewarded, whereas in horror films one builds a grudge against a character into which one projects evil intentions, or other failing one might be sensitive about, and gets catharsis.  Revenge is satisfied.

There's revenge in Goonies too of course:  they throw mama from a boat, instead of from a train this time.

Donner is the director and he's coming from Superman, one can tell.  Spielberg is a co-director and producer, picking up the early jail breakout scene.  Astoria, Oregon is the backdrop and Astoria celebrates this film, as it captures a slice in time, almost in freeze frame.  Shades of Stand By Me.

What's weird is I hadn't seen this before and here I am, 57, in my "chair of computer science" from Steve Holden, taking it in.  Not only that, I have a whole Willamette Week issue devoted to Goonies spread out in front of me.  What happened to each character in real life (Chunky got thin).  How cultures clashed when LA came to rural Oregon to make a movie ("ew, get that stinky deer carcass out of our sight").

So in a way I'm blessed, as a tourist, to come in so late in the game.  Glenn brought the stuff over.  Now that's what I call fun homework!  One Eyed Willy and Free Willy, both freed from the same shores.