Sunday, March 31, 2013

Argo (movie review)

I usually like to write my movie reviews without peeking at what others have said.  That's just a game I play with myself.  Put my cards on the table and then maybe read others' stuff after.  In this case though, I did a fair amount of homework reading more background, but not a lot more.

Like many viewers of the film, I knew parts of the movie would be fake as this was not purporting to be a documentary.  This was a Hollywood film poking somewhat ironic fun at itself, with the director being told to his face, as an actor, that old cliche about how any monkey can be taught to direct a film in a day or two.  That's just another way of saying there's an immense gulf between a well and poorly directed film and/or agency and/or whatever needs directing.

I went with a film maker and photographer who plies her trade to some degree.  Her trajectory as a filmmaker had swerved a bit.  She did community access TV after inheriting family property that needed managing.  She was present when the Latino gay bar, which means family friendly in ways you may not get if Anglophone, got bashed by out of zoners and effectively closed by violence and threats, but the news shows didn't want to touch the story.  This was over 10 years ago.  We were having beer in a successor to the space when she told me of these events, partially caught on film.

She also spied in the women's stalls for me at the movie theater and reported they were gushing about Ben Affleck, whose name I can't think of without imagining a duck selling insurance (speaking of which, a friend of my friend Jimmy Lott voices the pig in Geico commercials).  He's both the ham and the director, Ben is, in this friendly look back to the 1980s, with those intensely loud IBM Selectrics.  Good job with the haircuts too, giant glasses, people still smoking on jumbo jets.  You say John Chambers was a make-up artist?  

Arkin and Goodman make a great Hollywood.

The state of the Hollywood sign (in great disrepair) was more than interesting in that they put up a black and white version right next to it, and as the eyes go back and forth, the sense of suspended disbelief is suspended even further.  "Wow it's so realistic!" says the neural nerd, so easily fooled by screen magic, so slippery when wet, "they spared no effort in recreating the past just as it was".  Critics leave the movie feeling hoodwinked at some level, and want to study more, which is good.  I'm getting to that.  Seven Psychopaths features that Hollywood sign, as do many in The Story of Film.

I wanted to know what Iranians thought of the film and whether the Iranian blogs were getting into it.

There's a dialog to be had about which "America" we prefer, the Thirty Dark Zero one [sic], where a CIA director shows his face (Tony Soprano plays Panetta), or this more Get Smart like operation (Kyle Chandler in both), where Stansfield Turner lurks behind the scenes and you see less gun play (Mendez gets through the whole movie without one).

Like in Hollywood:  which movie lots / production companies do you want controlling / orchestrating your projections?  That's a basic question.  Which screenplays to you really want produced?  That's a question governments answer, not just movie makers.  Their job is theater.

The two CIAs collide towards the end, as Delta Force is being scrambled for something more traditionally military, whereas those playing with mirrors and shadows are told to stand down, right in the middle of their setup.  Like when Alan Arkin tries to get back into his office:  the whole fragile plan is about to crash because of some slugheads (ex Delta Force?) making a two star film.   Quality operations go on hold while the brute force crowd crushes in, ruining everything.

Because remember how that Delta Force thing went:  not well.  That's not how the hostages got out.  Rather, something transpired that left Carter out and Reagan in, and then the 444 days were over.  This film helps at least associate a higher level of intelligence with Canadians, not unlike Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine in that respect.  Why are "Americans" being hunted in the first place, and not Swiss?

Iran is strongly into film making and needs to work through karma like any people with in-common destinies.  I'm all for getting Iranian DVDs taking us through a different window.  The same tension will likely prevail:  to what level is it mind over brain and brain over brawn?  Buckminster Fuller lurks in the background of this story, as a backer of Science Fiction Land, a kind of Toon Town, or Wilderness of Mirrors.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wanderers 2013.3.26

Joe Arnold
:: joe arnold with friend ::

Joe Arnold delivered a technical talk tonight, posing hypotheses about how humans of our type might have become so prevalent.  Could the lid have come off of something?  They appeared to break out of the box right after a period of 75K years of cold.  Had their number dwindled to where new cognitive abilities might emerge?  Emergence by emergency?

As an example of possible genetic transformations, he was looking at fragile X chromosome sequences, CGG, CGG, CGG... a metaphor for both defects (or lacunae) and self healing.  In one of the videos he shared, it appeared like the methylated CGG sequence got edited out by pinching off, though the literature to back him up was weak in this area.  He admitted his hypothesis was highly speculative.

We were a packed house.  Steve Holden with Julie from London, David Feinstein, Keith Lofstrom, Blueberry and Lynne... Buzz.  A mixed bag.  Terry Bristol was warming up for his talk, we hope not too sneering, as people sense tone over content when it's over their heads.  Lots of good banter I thought.  Terry questioned the dogma that some built in desire to reproduce and have huge families was really a driver, either now or really ever.  Heresy is his middle name.  He questions Darwin the same way some question the Gospels.

I started my day early in Woodstock as a follow-up to encountering the Peace Corps table, lots of vets last night at Lucky Lab, and wanting to chat more with the Sierra Leone guy (later the Balkans, also Peace Corps).  We'd met here before.  After I raised the topic of Quakers and slavery, the US Civil War, he talked about a route some former slaves took, to safer Canada and then back to Africa via Halifax.

Suzanne joined us and helped steer the conversation, which I was happy to have her do (something she's good at).  Then shopping at Trader Joe's, which I'd boycotted for awhile, over some fish issue, but now am happy enough to trade with again (fish issue resolved).

Joe is our psychiatrist Wanderer who lives well outside Portland.  He comes to the lectures and Heathman dinners and we respect him a lot.  We've done retreats at his place.  We come out of the woodwork when he shares his latest thinking.

The canvas he painted included this ultra-shy girl whose grandfather later turned out to have Fragile X syndrome.  Recent breakthroughs in genetic science had allowed identification of this phenomenon, a long piece of methylated X chromosome, of up to 2000 CGG tri-nucleotides.

Joe's talk was about the history of the human species and related models, since Lucy.  He did a cave painting like sketch of forks and branches, hominid types.  How did they spread out of Africa, after a certain bottleneck?  How low did the numbers go when the planet froze that time? He was referencing the mitochondrial record, something David had spoken about earlier, at the Wanderer's retreat (the rate of mitochondrial mutation blurs what seemed a clear picture of "Eve" at one point).

Earlier:  a one frame cartoon that came to me.  Eve handing Adam an Apple iPhone: "it's for you" she says.  Feeding Adam's delirium he's channeling (talking to) God?  Lots of interpretations.  Actually it was the "snake" talking, or some brand of dragon maybe, depending on your mythos (frequency).

I thought Wanderers were on their best behavior.  Joe's talk got us rialed in various ways, like screeching apes but more fluent in English.  His calm quiet manner makes the world safe for us crazies to sound off, and people butted in big time towards the end.  But that's per our model, we expect that in Wanderers.  Terry was not out of place, as I explained to Helen, you just had to know enough history.  She thanked me for the thumbnail.  Good to have such a fun event and venue.

We all seem retarded to one another one might say.  What Fuller called aberrational, aberrations, afterimages of eternity (instant).  Or we seem preternaturally fast on occasion, like circus freaks.  Relativity.  Doppler Effect.  That's how Synergetics deals with it (our relative slowness -- we all have these "sequence defects" somewhere or another).  But these are also our gifts.

Joe's message seemed ultimately hopeful, that small self-repairings could make a big positive difference.  We like it when that happens.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

John Dies in the End (movie review)

This is a cheesy self-spoofy movie, just what I needed, and as it happens a spin-off of Naked Lunch in some ways (squishy ugly creatures).

I'd been saying earlier in this butler and maid scene, with a steam cleaner cameo by this other Asian, that I could use some fluff, after more queue and chauffeur duty (PDX for MVPs).

As it happened, I was off by an hour and did have time to join Thirsters after all.  What a fun meeting.  There's a new framed portrait of Bob, a surplus of cash (to be gotten rid of, McMenamins to blame, in a good way, for hosting a couple big occasions).

I hope to make it next week as well, maybe catch up on what Zari's been up to (another Wanderers guest speaker).  Peter Miller was there and we compared notes more.  Turns out we're both Princeton alums who had Walter Kaufmann as a teacher, about a decade apart.

We went around the table introducing ourselves, given 2-3 minutes, including questions we'd hope the group would take up.  People gave polished thumbnail biographies as all were personable and intelligent and used to doing so when called upon.

The story I made up (true, but not much rehearsed) was customized for a Portland audience and focused on my dad the planner, his many stints overseas, my expat upbringing.  I was thinking how, for a different group, my bio could be almost entirely about my mom the peacemaker.  Both parents were strong performers, with sis and I getting a whirlwind ride in some respects.

As I informed my passengers in the ride home from PDX (warmer than London anyway), I was greedy for entertainment that evening and might try both Thirsters and the movie, and thanks to the modern automobile that worked out.

When do I yak about the movie?  If you've ever seen Drunk and On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour, you'll have some sense of it.  I have some episodes of that in my Air, which backs up to the cloud at work.  I'm curating popular culture and keep the terabyte separate.

I should move those to the brick I suppose.  This movie is further into squishy creatures and aliens though, more like eXisTenZ.  The plot is so crazy and "stream of consciousness" in presentation that you know it's just another midsummer night's dream, so to speak.

The underlying moral, if there is one, is admirable enough.  Some physical disfigurement like a missing hand or limb should be no barrier to our deep appreciation of some adorable person, against the backdrop that is life.  It's all a big squishy meat show, no point in being too prissy about it.

Paul Giamatta is good in this, and also reminds me, in this role at least, of Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre.  Another title for this movie might be:  My Dinner with Wong.  One could see the Chinese restaurant as open tribute to eXistenZ in an emerging semiotics of surrealist existentialism.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pycon 2013 Begins



Loop Like a Native by Ned Batchelder was a talk on "fundamentals" or "primitives" -- I like that he pitched it that way, not as "for beginners".  Experts need refreshers in basics too.  "The ability to loop tall buildings in a single bound -- that joke is the whole reason I'm giving this talk." (applause).  The talk was in Python 2.x instead of 3.x.  Iterators come into their own in 3.x.  "Abstract the iterations more"; good advice.

I also attended Anna Ravencroft's talk on what to do if your talk was not accepted -- not the boat I was in (my lightning talk sailed through on Saturday Morning -- see "bumbling professor" at 9 minutes in) but I like to see how PSF members role model welcoming behavior.  She did a pretty good job I thought.

At the PSF lunch, we all applauded the positive outcome of the trademark dispute in the UK, which had cost us.  I sat at the Texas table (unofficially that), and put a good word in for Austin in 2016 (we're booked for Montreal the next two years, no US Pycons planned or expected as of this writing, other than the smaller state ones like PyOhio).

I don't have any quarrel with people marketing computer services using Python in their name, a practice PSF should encourage.  However, if the trademarking rules in some country are such that there's some winner-take-all model regarding who uses the token "Python" for their services, well then of course PSF should fight to keep its channels free and clear.

We can't afford to have some fly-by-night operation call the dogs on us just because some crazy rule book says one and only one computer company is allowed to hold that token (most rule books aren't that crazy).  We fight to keep the tent big, not the monopoly of any one group.  Even nonprofits can get pretty dictatorial.  Our table at least seemed to agree the OCLC was not a role model in how they took a bat to that New York Library Hotel that spoof-emulated / celebrated library filing, with books pegged to room number.

The New Relic guy did a great job profiling profilers, a world class expert in the subject.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Quaker Men's Group 2013

:: wqm mens group 2013 ::

I've been attending this group off and on for over a decade by now.  I've missed the last two years, so had not been to Bear Camp before, a homestead with yurts, a comfy lodge, off of Rt. 126 about half way between Eugene and Florence, Oregon.

Our theme this year was privilege, with hints of whiteness and maleness weaving through. A bouquet of inter-connected concepts.  As at the AFSC meeting, I expressed some embarrassment over the "race" concept and how quaint it might sound in the ears of the less antiquated.  I'd say most of us translated the theme into expressions of gratitude for lives that had been full, adventuresome, not worth complaining or whining about.

Last time I attended the theme for me personally was dire straits and the difficulty of making some transitions.  That was at another site we've frequented over the years, the Church of the Brethren camp near Myrtle Point, Oregon.

The camp is run by a couple.  We're enthusiastic about their enterprise, as we are supportive of the Brethren and their facility.  We decided to return to Bear Camp next year, but with some discussion of meeting more often than once a year, and maybe in other places in that case.  An interest group or at least a table during one of the meals at North Pacific's Annual Session was proposed.

Even in a room of all white guys, there's likely lots of diversity, just along other axes.  We had quite a few retired military, especially Air Force.  One of our number is ethnically a Brooklyn Jew (a "tribe" he easily identifies with) though a practicing Quaker as well.  We discussed this word "tribe" quite a bit.  One's legal right to identify as a tribal member is a core concern of many NavAms in this part of the world and the result may be "name collisions" (what happens when namespaces step on each other).

I spoke at some length about the AFSC meeting I'd just attended (below), wherein the forced schooling of natives by Euros hell bent on the destruction of their cultures had been a top agenda item.  Oppressing cultures have the luxury of remaining oblivious a lot of the time.  Their thugs (soldiers, but also teachers and social workers) do their dirty work, but they themselves simply enjoy blissful ignorance.  The oppressed, on the other hand, can less afford to ignore their relative loss of freedoms and opportunities.  These statements verge on being tautologies.

Speaking of "tribes", I've been reading Debt:  The First 5000 Years, on my Kindle.  I'm enjoying how the author somewhat mockingly visits the faux anthropology the economists concocted, starting with Adam Smith in particular, to give their discipline more of a basis.  "Money" per the economists' mythology, is all about rescuing a bound-to-fail, barter-based approach, as if some tribes had tried this but the deals were just too complicated after awhile.

David Graeber, himself an anthropologist, finds other memeplexes more compelling, when it comes to explaining the origin of money.  Barter still has a role, even with money in the picture.  The either/or thinking which portrays money as a swap-in and savior for bartering conveniently overlooks debt and its role as a prime motivator in human affairs.  Graeber looks elsewhere to explain the origin of money games.

I joined this group late, having had responsibilities the night before as usher and ISEPP board member.   Gibor Basri, an internationally recognized professor of astronomy and expert on brown dwarfs, was here in Portland to lecture on the findings of the Kepler Project.

NASA's Kepler (a specialized satellite telescope in the sun's orbit, following Earth) has been staring a a small patch of stars, not blinking, looking for the characteristic repeated wavering that would indicate a planet transiting between a star in our viewpoint.  What appears to have been proved is stars with planets are as common as rain and a lot of those are likely Earth-like in size, the even more are likely "super Earths" i.e. the average planet is somewhat bigger than ours.

During closing worship we remembered some of our dear departed, Olin Byerly having most recently left the living.  I brought up Lewis Hoskins and Ed Janoe.  We also spoke of those still alive and not present.  These kinds of remembrances are typically "tribal", to further elaborate on this anthropological term.  I think of the Hash House Harriers, a kind of running club, and their espirit du corps.

I re-explored the coast a little coming back, taking Rt. 126 to 101 to Lincoln City, Rt. 18 back to Portland.  Just north of Florence, I stopped at Sea Lion Caves where I'd not been since a small child, to the best of my recollection.  The sound of being in that cave inspires singing behavior, one might say.  I gather the high tide is what deposits them on such high perches, there'd be no way to climb there built like that.  In the ocean, they're graceful.  Seals are sleek.

Friday, March 01, 2013

From AFSC Corporation Meeting

:: afsc meetup 2013 ::

Friends (Quakers) have gathered from around North America to participate in the annual meeting of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which is closing on a hundred years old.

Henry Cadbury helped get the ball rolling in the early 1900s, with help from Rufus Jones.  Henry was about 31 at the time, Rufus more my age at 54.  Henry went on to teach at the Harvard Divinity School, having quit Haverford College when he found out he was going to be fired, for speaking out against post-WW1 anti-German sentiments that were going around.

I've been representing North Pacific Yearly Meeting for some time, making an annual trip to Friends Center, also known informally as the Quaker Vatican and/or Quaker Kremlin.  Quakers, for those who don't know, got started in the 1600s thanks to activists Fox, Mott, Nayler and so forth, in England.

I'm one of three reps from our region, even though I laid down my membership in the Religious Society through my Monthly Meeting for various reasons.  Claiming membership through a Monthly Meeting is but one expression of one's Quakerism.  The original Friends of Christ (John 13:13) were not "members" of anything, just as Jesus was never a Christian (Praise Allah).

There's some chance my presence here over the years is in violation of the bylaws, but then we're in violation anyway, since participation of corp reps by YMs is below the bylaw numbers this year anyway.  The bylaws are subject to revision.  That's what the Board takes up on Sunday, when I'll be on my way (I'm not a board member).

In my view, NPYM is entitled to appoint non-members as reps to the AFSC corporation, and has done so in my case.  Sometimes our non-members have strong Quaker values and are higher on my totem pole, as weighty Friends, than those following the practices around membership.  I do serve on the Oversight Committee and have been involved in clearness committees for members, so it's not like I don't appreciate that process.

Cadbury's experience at Haverford reminds me of Linus Pauling's at Cal Tech, when anti-Japanese sentiments were being fanned by its administration.  Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to prison camps in that chapter.  He tried to protect a friend of his, but the FBI had its way.

After a long day of sessions, we gathered in the meeting room for a presentation about AFSC work in Burundi.  Burundi is a source of many lessons in sociology and anthropology.  The recently warring factions, Hutu and Tutsi, were ostensibly indistinguishable when not acting out their roles (think of Democrats and Republicans).  The differences are more historical and socioeconomic, not genetic so much.

We then had a fantastic presentation by a Wabanaki native on the program of cultural genocide waged against her people in Maine over the years.  The Anglo-Euros were a nasty-cruel bunch.  I'm not unhappy much of their culture is morphing into something else.  Their indefensible ideologies are   self-annihilating, given their shaky basis in non-science and stupidity -- lots of crappy, toxic religion, among other things.

I'm glad the AFSC has been involved in the global process of bringing attention to and of course repudiating the immoral / unethical Christian Doctrine of Discovery, an initiative first brought to my attention by Arthur Dye (a former AFSC regional director).

Maine has started a Truth and Reconciliation process in collaboration with the Wabanakis to help address the truths of cultural genocide and the sins (errors) of the ancestors.  This is called "changing the narrative" (long overdue).

We also heard a first person horror story about some young children (six girls) taken from their tribal setting by some "child welfare" bureau and raised in a pathological household by some monster.  One of these children grew up to tell her story from the podium.

This intensely stressful karma has been multi-generational.  She had a hard time parenting, having been beaten, raped and tortured her whole life (she's closing on 50).  She helps with the healing by telling her story.  It's not about reparations for her, as there's no monetary sum that could restore her equilibrium.  She has to do the work herself, in community, and is doing so.  And so it is for many in their suffering.