Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sicko (movie review)

Unlike many of my fellow Americans, I don't reflexively use the word "propaganda" as a put down. Nor I have noticed do the various psychological warfare units within the Pentagon. Like of course we use propaganda in the battle for hearts and minds (seeking new recruits, always).

That doesn't mean all propaganda is created equal, in terms of its benefits and/or effectiveness. A lot of it backfires or runs into unanticipated counterintelligence, just like on a real battlefield, except here we're content to work it out through the media.

Sicko unabashedly splashes around in the meme pool, stirring up yesteryear's hot button imagery: a Karl Marx bust, a hammer and sickle -- anything to push a button or two.

Taking 911 heroes to Havana for health care and cheap meds was close to mocking the whole genre, another way of not taking itself too seriously, even amidst all these life and death concerns.

I consider Michael an honestly caring and compassionate person, as well as mischievous and rebellious. He's a rabble rouser and makes no bones about it. America has a long history of pamphleteers out to make a difference and a name for themselves. Archival footage and slick editing add new dimensions to the craft.

On the subject of health care, it's hard to find anyone with any integrity defending the status quo. There's a hunger in the medical profession to remain faithful to higher callings that comes into conflict with these contrived, pseudo-human puppets, these so-called "corporations" explicitly designed (by complete idiots?) to be heartless in their pursuit of the currencies of the realm.

These very shaky houses of cards are quite vulnerable to these little air puffs, these heartfelt wishes for change.

But then there's the hard work of needs assessment and systems analysis, coding up the namespaces, enforcing the logic. Making a system run smoothly takes a lot more than just comic books and storyboards. But we need those too.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Another Milestone

:: michael mcmenamin ::
cake caption: drinkin' & thinkin' for the good of mankind

I encountered a large turnout at Thirsters last night, and at first just stood listening as people compared notes. I butted in that this White House had set some records for weirdness, despite Clintons, citing the Jeff Gannon affair, a source of guffaws and good cheer. I was offered a chair at that point, across from an Irish therapist, and next to her French husband.

Then a German lady sat next to me and pumped me for information about what I was up to. I wisely stayed with high overview, lots of circus metaphors (which she got), instead of diving in to what was really concerning me: how to get xorg.conf working with not-free nVidia drivers, so I can both spin my Beryl cube of desktops and share this with an audience via some computer projector. Too solipsistic otherwise.

So anyway, it was this birthday party, for some institution I'm not sure which, either Thirsters or McMenamins probably. One of the McMenamin brothers cut the cake. Fred (on the right, above picture) gave us a wonderful toast, while Mike Hagmeier (across from me, to my left of the corner therapist, Matt later to his right) played his didj.

:: michael hagmeier ::

:: didj player & therapist ::

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Jerk (movie review)

We already know from scholarship that Ludwig Wittgenstein, the ordinary language philosopher, liked going to the movies. I'll bet he'd have liked this movie in particular, as it takes everyday templates we're familiar with (from other movies if not from personal experience), and twists them around in curious ways (like Wittgenstein did in his investigations), thanks largely to the ludicrous spin added by Steve Martin's "jerk" character.

For example, in the midst of romance we often encounter speeches about time dilation, as in "hours seemed like days." The Jerk has a long soliloquy of that nature, appropriately delivered to his sweetie in bed -- except she's completely out of it, unresponsively corpse-like, while his account turns into this long and tedious chronicle that quickly loses its romantic edge and takes us into yet another twilight zone, a language game gone off the rails.

Another template: the rich man becomes a prospect for charities looking to fund their causes, and the fund raiser shows up with some moving propaganda, hoping for a big donation. Cruelty to innocents is the theme. I see from the credits that Steve plays the cat juggler.

In another scene, Carl Reiner, the movie's director, plays himself.

Part of the humor here is Steve Martin looks so "normal" in a 1950s Pleasantville kind of way, typified by that pipe smoking icon Bob Dobbs, or by Dick Van Dyke. "How could someone who could so easily pass for normal be so off the wall?"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Swedenborg So Far

I'm doing lots of house work today, like running the vacuum cleaner, concentrating on Tara's room (with her permission), so I have time to process some of this Swedenborg syllabus I've been plowing through.

Some contemporary authors like to bridge Emanuel's visionary writings to modern particle zoo physics, casting him as prescient regarding the quantum machinery of today. Ursula Groll, author of Swedenborg and New Paradigm Science (translated by Nicolas Goodrick-Clarke), falls into this category. Her approach to Swedenborg reminds me of Alex Gerber's to Bucky in his Wholeness: On Education, Buckminster Fuller and Tao (ISBN: 0963536710).

Quantum mechanics, many writers feel, rescues "consciousness" from mere epiphenomenalhood, from any second class status as a purely passive passenger "just along for the ride" vis-á-vis some all-controlling roller coaster. They see in particle physics a way to fight fatalism in other words, and in a science-endorsed language.

I'm sympathetic to those wishing to break free from any such straitjacketing views and encourage them to do so. If Swedenborg helps with that, so much the better. And apparently he has helped many in this way, starting way back in his heyday.

Other authors focus on Swedenborg's historical matrix. He's firing booster rockets, trying to revector the Church, by reminding readers of the symbolic nature of the Book of Revelations.

Probably the designers of the Bible were acutely aware of their limited ability to see into the future, and in hopes of keeping their good book relevant, allowed in some of this highly imaginative material as a kind of psychological mirror for any age.

As Wittgenstein would later point out, the idea of a Final Judgment is orthogonal to our experience of A World in Time (like a soap opera). If we judge its Logic to be "shoddy," then that's really an eternally valid condemnation, as any later fix won't address the fact of a deep existential flaw on that particular day. Our experience of the world then wans accordingly, in light of this judgment.

Christians have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with power structures, given their Jewish roots in reaction against Egyptian and later Roman excesses. For the first few centuries, Christianity played the underdog against all odds, only later coming to inherit vast institutional powers of its own, after which turning point came whole new forms of temptation.

Swedenborg, having established his credentials as one of the cognoscenti, according to some of the strictest criteria of his day, then risks his reputation by talking to ghosts, who merely tell him what today we all know: that the Book of Revelations is meant to be used as a mirror for steering contemporary affairs, and that it works in this way because we read into it according to the aberrations of our day.

In other words, if you really think a literal dragon is going to show up and stage bloody orgies of lions literally eating little lambs for the benefit of some ruling mob idiocracy, think again (see: pp. 295-96 in Emanuel Swedenborg : Visionary Savant in the Age of Reason, 2002, by Enrst Benz and translated by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Are Video Games Addictive?

Well of course anything can be addictive, when the opportunity costs become high enough. What else might you have done with your life? The subjunctive weighs heavily.

On the other hand, I'll say "she's playing with her dolls" meaning The Sims on her computer, which is exactly what "playing with dolls" means, with added features from puppetry and the simulation sciences.

Since when was playing with dolls for hours and hours a symptom of a psychiatric disorder?

Since a long time, actually. Girls might lock themselves in their rooms and do nothing but dolls, dolls and more dolls for days at a time. The family doctor with the black bag might recommend a little alcohol (just a teaspoon or two) and maybe Alice would become "more social" again.

Here's another question for you parents. Why not join them, by picking out mutually agreeable games, such as Uru in our family, and explore together? Television may likewise be a lone body tranced out on a couch, or people engaging in social activity, with what's on TV more of a side show, given the company.

Maybe we need more philosophers into family feng shui, coaching folks through those endlessly varied addictions. "Cold turkey" is not always advisable. How about some Nietzsche or Swedenborg instead? Just kidding (only sort of).

But my point is this: don't pass up on every chance to develop those lexical skills, those 3Rs, and in ways that're honestly fun for you a lot of the time. I'm suggesting it's an option, no matter what your special walk of life.

And it's not strictly either/or either. Sometimes the next best thing to an addictive video game is just a window away.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Basket Case Nation

North Americans take pride in self sufficiency, savvy around tools, rough and ready survival skills... or call 'em pioneer values.

This superficial veneer somewhat masks the deeper historical truth of accepting a lot of help from indigenous peoples upon first arriving, and not ever really stopping. Lots of help is still given, daily.

If there's a North American nation qualified to be advising the world on world affairs, that'd be the one north of the USA, but Canadians are wisely humble, aren't strutting and puffing in the guise of a superpower, armed to the teeth, ready to rumble.

The superpower gig is very expensive, leaving nothing but scraps for Katrina's victims, which included a once major world class city. "Our Chernobyl" as some describe it.

The USA should develop a greater ability to accept foreign aid, psychologically as well as institutionally. There's no shame in getting some help when you need it.

Calling the USA a basket case nation doesn't negate the reciprocal truth, which is that the USA does a lot of good in the world. But it'd do even more simply by admitting the obvious, that this pose of "superpower" is an immature cover for deep insecurities.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Techie Chatter

Jon "maddog" Hall wrote an eloquent tribute to machine language, as "the Latin of Computer Science" in the current issue of Linux Journal (Sun's Phipps on the cover), column starting on page 32.

He opens and closes with reference to his boat Agape. Shades of Meliptus, which is back in the water by the way, after a mishap, fortunately not too serious, and another stay, a short one this time, at Gary's. Although relatively unskilled, I helped roll some paint.

Jon Bunce the musician (and Wanderer) was kind enough to comb through Connecting the Dots... scanning for syntactical issues. I incorporated many of his improvements in the most recent edition, though I didn't turn the endnotes into footnotes.

I'm circling in on Pygame, including on Ubuntu, which is more my speed of "low level" programming i.e. where I get the most bang for my buck. VPython is also still fun for me.

Today our bike route took in the Hawthorne and Steel Bridges, per usual, then Springwater Corridor, from its Ross Island beginning as far as Oaks Bottom, then back along Milwaukie stopping this time at True Brew, thence Ladd's Addition and on home.

I'm glad to have reconnected with Deb, am looking forward to Liana's bat mitzvah. Glenn said his premier showing went well and he's had several offers from distributors. Russ, where are you?

:: tara & vera ::

Sunday, June 17, 2007

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Friday, June 15, 2007


Midday I had another power lunch with Arthur Dye and brought along the above dog-eared file folder, a souvenir from my days in Bhutan, for show and tell value.

I gave Arthur another one as depicted: an old Kuensel, still in its envelope, with the original Bhutanese stamps.

We talked about North Carolina's Apple Valley, where we both have family connections, and about the expansion of Legacy Emanuel Hospital, a project of the PDC during the early days of Multnomah Friends.

Those were the days when "urban renewalists" still took a lot of cues from Robert Moses and company: condemn first, then "compensate" against already plummeting property values.

Quakers worked hard to derail such unfair brands of (sometimes state sponsored) tycoonerism, mixed with a Wild West style land grabbing mentality, holding out instead for fair compensation of the soon to be uprooted.

Native Americans faced a lot of the same issues and AFSC helped them too.

The upshot: more people went away happy from the negotiations, and Legacy Emanuel enjoys better karma to this day, is really a great hospital in fact, right up there with Sisters of Providence.

Later that same day, I took Tara on her first bridge pedal, heading down Harrison, over the Hawthorne, along Water Front Park to the Steel, then back along the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. She had no problem powering back up Harrison, after a brief pit stop in Ladd's Addition for iced teas.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nightmare Alley (movie review)

I rented this 1947 film-noir from Netflix upon learning it puts a spin on this word "geek."

Having just plunked down my credit card to gain access to O'Reilly's Safari, tempted inside by virtual books on Python's TurboGears & SQLAlchemy, and having just registered as a speaker at O'Reilly's OSCON this summer, I'd say "geek" pretty well describes my ethnicity, after sixty years of further spinning.

Knowing the movie was based on a novel, I was a little apprehensive that this perhaps obscure geek reference wouldn't have actually made it from the book to the movie. I needn't have worried. Right from the opening scene, that word defines the entire arc of the story.

Skillful carnival mentalists, in some respects forebearers of modern psychologists (as the film cleverly suggests), may feel tempted to cross the line between giving 'em their money's worth (hard work, like acting) and simply duping those with real money to lose.

Psychological manipulation, for those with the knack, becomes a hustle, and given the associations of so-called mentalism, going back to ancient Egypt and before, the big time version of this hustle, the so-called "spook business" in this movie, involves recruiting new true believers, especially among skeptics with bucks -- another way of taking cruel and cynical advantage of people's deepest vulnerabilities.

However, psychological forces are real, and tricksters weaving complicated webs based on lies mixed with secrets, have a way of going off the deep end long before their intended marks suffer the fully intended consequences of their deviousness.

The geek in this movie represents the abject fate of a dirty trickster turned monster, now so desperate he'll bite the heads off live chickens just to stay in the game (back to hard work again). His life has become a form of punishment, proving that it's not smart to screw with people's minds for ill-gotten gains. So yes, the film has a moral message, even for geeks of today: if you have circus level skills, use them wisely. Honest work will get you further in the long run.

Ironically and somewhat paradoxically, ethnicities wherein communicating with the dead might be considered routine would appear less amenable to such ruses than the high society types depicted here, so desperate to believe and projecting occult powers onto others in order to compensate for their own sense of ignorance and doubt.

This design pattern of an authoritative elite, priest-like in its powers, vis-a-vis some exploitable army of "chumps," is what makes these abusive indulgences more likely to occur. Stronger philosophy for children programs in the schools might help inoculate future generations against becoming easy prey for cultists, charlatans, snake oil salesmen of all description.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More Meetings

Two Wanderers forwarded the NYT story about Richard Rorty, a contemporary philosopher and very good teacher for me at Princeton. I learned much from the obit I'd never known about the guy, including about his being a birder and spying a Grand Canyon condor on one of these recent trips.

X3D continues as a thread in my meetings, along with Flickr and Python. The string.Template approach I took when generating Scene Description Language for POV-Ray could easily be adopted for outputting in this new flavor of XML (which still tastes a lot like VRML, and I'm not saying that's bad).

Regarding Flickr, I'm just saying here's a way to share slide shows, like they did in the burbs. Yes, the Internet presumes a degree of friendliness, seems for a world beyond reach on some days, but high ideals remind us to keep working, on becoming more pleasing in the eyes of the gods (star athletes, movie stars, you name it).

Also, I rejoined the monkey chatter on a lonely monkey island, soc.religion.quaker around now. I hope a brief enough visit. I've also rejoined Quaker-P, knocked on the door of Quaker-L.

Last night Laura Martin of Port Townsend filled me in on some Quaker history involving Ann Arbor Friends, from whence hailed the Bouldings, other meeting stallwarts. Dawn, Laura and I were at Gatherings of Young Friends together in Camp Myrtlewood days. Pan, Lisa, Lisa's brother, Ross... Anne Friend.

Laura was good friends with Multnomah Friends' Tina, and both are alums of Argenta Friends School in Canada. Laura is also familiar with Lake Sammamish, swam across it with a friend and a row boat that time.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Poem for Dawn

(shared well before she died)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tara Turns Teen

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wanderers 2007.6.6

I was cued by IM that Bill had a smooth Game of Life going on his new Ubuntu laptop (Dell brand). I mounted Tink and headed over to the Pauling House.

Bill indeed had a cool Life program, knows a lot of the lore. He uses a toroidal model, such that gliders going off screen reappear at opposite edges.

The program is in assembly language, with DOS presumed, so he ends up booting the laptop with Win98's DOS version, loading off a memory stick. In the meantime, he's learning Ubuntu Linux.

Jim Buxton, a ham radio buff, was holding forth on FCC regulations when I got there, which seemed topical given CBS News did a piece on that last night.

In Tver's neighborhood, some Christian radio station is interfering with TV reception at the low end the dial. The station had sent him a filter but it wasn't helping. Jim advised him to contact the FCC and showed him a web page listing the kind of information to send along. David already knew whom to contact.

Here's a link to some anti-human propaganda sent to me from somewhere, a rather clever cartoon, even if intensely misanthropic (some humans will likely find it offensive).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Pro Python Propaganda

snipped from today's paper
Guido originally named his new computer language after the British comedy troupe Monty Python, and those allusions will remain hardwired into the literature.

Monty Python's Flying Circus was the full name of the long- running BBC TV show, and this association with "circus" forms a natural bridge to this word "geek," with "geekdom" being roughly synonymous with "hackerdom" in early 21st century parlance, i.e. the dominion tasked with and/or occupied by those responsible for keeping the infrastructure going, at the software level especially.

"sideshow freak," 1916, U.S. carnival and circus slang, perhaps a variant of geck "a fool, dupe, simpleton" (1515), apparently from Low Ger. geck, from an imitative verb found in North Sea Gmc. and Scand. meaning "to croak, cackle," and also "to mock, cheat." The modern form and the popular use with ref. to circus sideshow "wild men" is from 1946, in William Lindsay Gresham's novel "Nightmare Alley" (made into a film in 1947 starring Tyrone Power).

Somewhat paradoxically, many geeks-to-be get stereotyped as nerds and/or dorks in high school, which connotes "unpopular" and/or "without relevant social skills," whereas a mature geeks is expected to know how to use social networking applications to collaborate on open or closed source projects with peers around the world. A geek is expected to perform circus tricks involving lots of ephemeral tools and unseen helpers (more like a stage magician).

Given OLPC kids won't necessarily be clued in to the British comedy scene right from the get go, we can't count on Python stirring up those particular associations right off the bat.

They might just think of a snake and, depending on the surrounding culture and lore, that'll play out in various ways. Some ethnicities are more snake-averse than others, whereas some families keep Pythons as treasured pets and/or protect them in the wild.

Likewise in USA schools, you'll find teachers and administrators who unconsciously and spontaneously associate Python with scary gang imagery (despite's friendly-enough logo) plus think only in negative terms about "hackers" as those who disobediently hack in to places where they don't belong (the DoD for example).

In the meantime, their geek-to-be students may seem rebellious and "up to something" in terms of studying stuff on their own, Googling after hours for example.

These self-motivated kids aren't content to "just get by" vis-á-vis the typically unchallenging material that passes for "mathematics" in mediocre classrooms. They're troublemakers in that sense.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rose Festival

:: twilight zone ::
:: nighty night ::