Sunday, November 15, 2009

City Politics

I didn't write "big city" politics because Portland is pretty small, still suffers from that frontier town complex, takes its Wild West atmosphere as a mark of inferiority whereas, really, it's a tourist draw. People are still looking for the real deal, that authentic "out west" they see in the movies. Portland isn't quite that cliché, makes more sense when you remember that "Far West" also means "Asian" to some degree (and of course Native American).

On the other hand, we like a somewhat intimate subculture, like that "small town" feel, so there's this reflex to discourage too many immigrants. We scare 'em with stories about our long cold winter, rainy and depressing. That's a lot of hooey, although it's true that seemingly endless rain will feed a bleak mood.

I'm in chauffeur mode again tonight, driving the rock star to a political meeting and her date with a hot girlfriend. She'd offered to take the bus, but we needed to do some shopping. I'm happy using the bar's wifi, now that we're done with the meeting.

Glenn and I met this morning to do some post mortem on the experimental think tank event (aka private undercover party) at Duke's Landing last night, which I heartily enjoyed at least on some levels, as a connoisseur of the weird, as a card carrying member of Portland's techo-occult (yes I invited Trevor of Esozone and Synchronofile fame, but he was otherwise engaged).

At the meeting tonight, of Freedom Socialists, we focused on business class maneuvers to gain control of the sidewalks downtown and sanitize them, remove signs of casualties, families out of options, Charles Dickens on steroids in our land of opportunity.

Poorly planned social systems with few defensible practices often find it easier to just hire thugs, private militias, and keep people cowed about losing their jobs, at least in the short term.

In the longer term, malign neglect simply feeds a next round of conflicts with higher stakes. There's an escalating spiral, as people hunker down and run away from their responsibilities as information harvesters and problem solvers in Universe (lapsing into some transcendentalism here, my bad).

Given I was just the driver and roadie, I didn't ask to be on the stack of speakers, although I later emphasized to one of the leaders that this was "a queue" (FIFO) not really "a stack" (LIFO), my segue into explaining about Lightning Talks, which we hadn't bothered to get fascist about at Duke's, despite my public nod to our Python subculture.

Lindsey spoke twice, the second time spreading awareness of the protest against the ending Fareless Square in January, one of our city's more enlightened policies. The roll back to dark ages management practices is perhaps symptomatic of a failed university system? Did we not get those smart cookies out the other end of the pipeline? I guess I'm just preaching to the choir here, as how many "gnu math" teachers do we really have these days? I rest my case.

Last night at Duke's, we basically encouraged Evelyn to take the floor with her analysis of racism, to say her piece while Lindsey played a little back beat while she rapped (they're both from Georgia). DJ Troy gave us a sound track and kept the fog machine going.

I rolled through Photostream slide shows of Wanderers events for Don and Glenn, and of Claire-a-palooza when James stopped by. Another geek stopped in then left in a hurry. I got one of my XOs upgraded to version 767, thanks to the OLPC-aware staff.

Back to our meeting: the "sidewalk management program" is of course politically sensitive as we're talking about a public right of way receiving forced protection, against both citizens and the undocumented, by private security services with no obvious accountability to anyone but their employers.

Old school social action organizations still see taking to the streets as a viable option, when it comes to proving large numbers, despite the limited to no effect of such numbers in the days leading up to Iraq's occupation. Ignoring public opinion has perhaps become the safer option, given this perception that some cabal or corporate elite is pulling the strings.

But do these perceptions have much of a half-life? Recent events have given us glimpses into the chaos wreaked by unsustainable practices masquerading as "fiscally conservative". Intellectually squalid designs that won't sustain public scrutiny are kept secret for that reason, leading to lost productivity as energy is diverted into covering up the obvious (a bankruptcy at the level of having viable ideas for what to do next).

We had a former leader from Dignity Village at our meeting, as well as some pillar of society types with long experience working with help-the-homeless organizations. I get a sense the (differential?) equations are changing, as the system drives increasing numbers under water. Having some futuristic designs in the pipeline, and a willingness to showcase them, might reawaken a hunger for some intelligent planning. Even free markets need dreams to feed off, and dreaming involves making plans, not just waiting for the next big apocalypse or whatever the hell.