Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thirsters: A Retrospective

Peter Bechtold was an area specialist (in the so-called Middle East, pretty much from Spain to Pakistan today) who could appreciate both the academic and governmental worlds.  He gave a two slide presentation at Thirsters this evening.  I brought Steve Holden, former PSF Chair, as my guest.  The venue was again packed. Ishtiaq from last week was there as a guest, and spoke at length with Dr. Maria Beebe, someone my mom enjoyed meeting.

Peter told a story wherein, as at first an academic outsider, he was one of the chorus who decried Washington, DC for always getting it wrong.  Then he got on the inside more and climbed the rungs of power or so it seemed, and met people he really could respect, for knowing as much has he did about an area, and then some.

However, we somewhat top out at this point, as mid-level people, such as presidents, prove themselves not quite able to steer a clear course.  They end up fudging a lot, making do with murky language.  So it seemed at the end of the day we were back to not finding DC's apparatus all that well designed.  "Only the president makes foreign policy" he said.  That seems a bottleneck right there.

Peter told his story well, reaching into current events of right then.  Secretary of State John Kerry had been saying something about drones, not apologizing or whatever, and immediately the spin doctors were sending a different message.

The audience wanted to talk about whether it was true that North Americans were "isolationist" in quite the way stereotyped.  They might still be world savvy or cosmopolitan in a different sense that could even be more dangerous, one questioner remarked (not me).

Dr. Bechtold made fun of the Portland-centric who think we're a hub.  In Boston they think we're near Michigan (like Detroit) and can't even say the name of our state correctly.  He meant that as a humbling remark, a reminder of how no on knows who or where we are.  But I took it a different way, as more evidence of an ethnocentric Atlantic culture that still thinks it runs things.  Empire State and like that.  Not my problem if Bean Town is a tad on the slow side.

Anyway, I enjoy friendly rivalry among capitals (what I call "capitalism"), Portland being an Open Source capital.  That's why Steve is here, ostensibly, to take advantage of Portland's being at a crossroads in global computing.  But were we living up to that reputation?  I think Steve is ahead of his time, and that worries me some.