Friday, March 1, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole with Sketchbook and Camera

I started this post more than 2 years ago, and put it aside after I stalled out in the writing. Then a few weeks later I had back surgery with a couple of months of recovery during which I forgot all about this post. I've patched it up a bit, but it's far from finished. I'd like to get back to it some day, but I don't know when that might be, and in the meantime I'd like to see other people thinking about some of these issues. So here it is; make of it what you will.
Every once in a while I discover an interesting question that I want to answer (or attempt to answer, at any rate; some of these questions have been hanging around for thousands of years, so it's unlikely that I'm going to figure out anything definitive about them), and in reading or otherwise researching the question I discover other interesting questions, and the subject ramifies into what would be a dissertation if I were in graduate school.  Not too long ago this happened again.  Reading a book that had been on my "to read" list for almost 15 years, I started thinking about some issues that I've been thinking about on and off for most of my professional career.

The book was "Abstracting Craft" by Malcolm McCollough (see the references after the fold for a link).  It argues for a notion of digital craft (such as for computer-based architectural design, or product design)  based on  manual skill similar to the skills of a potter or a draftsperson.  This notion tickles an old interest of mine in just what a tool is, and how we humans form such tight linkages with our tools that we seem to somehow include them directly into our thinking and acting.  It also brought up some ideas for an SF story I've been thinking of writing.

Read on to follow me down the rabbit hole.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Down By Law: Unequal Enforcement and Unequal Laws

I think most people are familiar with the way unequal law enforcement can be used to control and oppress specific groups of people. In the US, people of color are controlled by the the use of Driving While Black and Breathing While Black; I suspect many people who are not affected by those techniques think they're jokes made up by black comedians, but I assure you they're not. Ask any black person (men especially), or anyone from another of the affected groups (brown men with turbans, brown women with hijabs, brown people with Meso-American features, etc.) and they might be persuaded to tell you about being stopped or hassled for their skin color or clothing.

And the use of unequal laws as tools of oppression has been reported, though it seems that not many members of the privileged classes believe or understand just how devastating they can be to a community. The best-known case is probably the US federal drug laws which provide for much greater  penalities for the use of crack cocaine than powder cocaine; this difference results (intentionally, if John Erlichman, Nixon's Attorney General is to be believed) in much longer sentences for lower class people of color to whom crack is much more available than powder than for middle class whites who use powder more commonly. Of course it's never just that simple: unequal enforcement also results in more suspended sentences to middle-class white first-time offenders than lower class POC.


Unequal enforcement and unequal laws make members of the groups they single out into second-class citizens. We're all aware of how these tools have been used to institutionalize racism (though there are many who refuse to accept that such racism is all around them today), and in the recent election campaigns it was made abundantly clear to anyone with eyes, ears, and a brain that the same tools have been used to make women second-class citizens (and that there is a strong movement to remove even more rights from them).

But there's a special case of unequally-written laws that's not well-known among the privileged classes (that's you and me, white readers), and it's results are more dire than anything else I've mentioned. I'm going to take as settled that the laws and the law enforcement in the area of rape, especially of the rape of women, whether by violence, drugs, or extortion, is one of the primary tools of the oppression of women. Argue it somewhere else if you must; I don't think there's any question about it. There are two groups of women, however, who are more likely to be raped, more vulnerable to rape, and have far less recourse in the law than most, because they are subject to special laws which remove the little protection that the civil laws of the US afford other women.

One of those groups is Native women, especially members of Native tribes who live on reservations, although they're not the only ones at great risk. Native women face the likelihood that between one in two and one in three of them will be violently sexually assualted at some time in their lives (and probably more will be raped by extortion or harassment; there aren't any good estimates of the frequency of that). In many cases the rapists are white, and know that they will not be punished because the law that governs the women does not have jurisdiction, and the law of the surrounding white communities will not cooperate in investigating or arresting white suspects. Only in the last few years has this been reported in the mainstream media, and only in the back pages and smaller blogs at that. But this issue is starting to become better known, and recently has been mentioned in the NY Times and Salon.com. One of the main reasons for recent interest in it is that the Republicans in the House of Representatives have blocked reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it would increase the coverage to include LGBT, Hispanic, and Native women.

The other group is women in the military. Since 1995 hundreds of incidents of rape, sexual assault, or rape by extortion have been reported in the military, and most have gone uninvestigated or unindicted. Again part of the problem is a different set of laws: the military is governed not by civilian law but by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). A great deal of the control and workings of the UCMJ are given to the commanding officer of the unit in which an offense is reported, and the culture of company and field grade officers in the military includes a strong feeling that "boys will be boys" and that one of the purposes of women in the military is to provide sexual service to the men. I can attest that that was the culture when I was in the Army many years ago, and what I've heard from soldiers who've been in service more recently indicates it hasn't changed for the better.

Others have marshalled the facts around these issues, and argued the morality of them, far better than I can. I just want to provide a nudge to people, to tell them that there is a great injustice being done, and to provide some links to more information. I hope that all of you are as outraged as I am at the use of unequal enforcement and unequal laws to perpetuate violence against these groups of women, and to keep them vulnerable to it.

Links to more information:

Indian Country Today Media Network: Law Enforcement Gaps Leave Native Women Vulnerable to Rape and Domestic Violence
The Guardian: Sexual violence is tearing Native American communities apart
Dailykos.com: Hey, House GOP—How many Native women will be raped today?
Jezebel.com: Rapes on Indian Reservations Reach Epidemic Proportions

The Guardian: Rape in the Military: exposing the shocking truth
Cnn.com: Why rapists in military get away with it
New York Daily News: Special Report: Rape in the armed forces
The Daily Beast: Service Members Sue Defense Secretary Over Alleged Military Rapes

Monday, August 6, 2012

Way to go Curiosity!

NASA'S Curiosity Rover touched down on Mars at 0531 UTC (1031 PM my local time) today, after completing the "7 minutes of terror" landing procedure which ended by hanging from a crane attached to a hovering rocket engine*. JPL has received and posted on the web pictures of the ground beneath the rover, as proof of life and landing. That's six large wheels for an SUV-sized machine.

* If you were wondering, you now know where the jet packs we were promised have gone.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oh, Too Bad ... It's Illegal

In my last post I proposed a life insurance scheme with which to bedevil our plutocratic overlords and make a little money on the side.  I got a few comments to the effect of, "Good idea, let me know if you implement it," so I did some research to see what it would take to set it up, and found out that it won't work. It turns out that about 10 years ago people started noticing that companies were insuring their employees without telling them or giving their heirs any part of the payout. And then other people started doing pretty much what I'd hoped to do: buy insurance on people they'd never met and had no direct interest in (and often inflated the earnings figures on the policy in order to get larger coverage).

So, several associations of insurers started lobbying campaigns to get the state governments, who have jurisdiction and regulatory power over the insurance business, to pass new laws to prevent what they felt was a kind of fraud.  The result is that since then, most of the states (including the state where I live and most of the surrounding states) have outlawed what they call STranger Originated Life Insurance (STOLI). Interestingly, the corporate behavior is still legal in most states, what they've outlawed is insuring someone whom you have no "direct financial or familial interest" in. So if the insured is your employee or your relative, even if they don't know you, it's OK as long as you don't sell the policy to someone in order to make money for the sale. But if the insured is a batshit-insane billionaire set on destroying the economy and society of America, and not related to you, forget it.d

Oh, well, back to the drawing board.  Maybe I'll come up with something else that will work.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Message the 0.1% Might Not Like (but the rest of us would)

Are you angry about the increasing inequity of income and wealth in the Western world, and especially in the USA? Does it piss you off that our Galtian Financial Overlords have privatized the profits from crazy pyramid schemes with convoluted financial instruments and socialized the losses from their risky bets? Are you tired of playing heads-they-win/tails-we-lose?

I think I have a way to get back a little of the money they stole it from us, while also publicly making it clear what we think of them. And not only is it legal, but they've been using the same technique in their corporations for years, and never could understand why we objected to it.  Well now they'll know, and so will you if you go below the cut.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Geometry As An Interactive Design Space

I've been somewhat coy about the software project I'm working on; that was exacerbated by my having to take a break from working on it for some months to deal with other aspects of Real Life ; now I want to talk about it in some detail, and show you why I'm interested in it, and what I hope will come out of it. If you haven't yet read my previous post on "The Geometry of the Many-Angled Ones", please follow that link and read it; there's a very basic description of Geometric Algebra there, and that's the basis of the software I'm designing. When you come back, jump past the cut for the rest if this post.

Friday, April 27, 2012

If You Want War, Prepare For War.

I realize it's been a long time since I posted an entry in this blog.  There are a lot of reasons for the silence, and most of obstacles have gone away now so I was planning to start posting again in the next couple of weeks.  This morning, however, I read this article on wired.com and I have to comment on it.

The gist of the article is that the US Air Force is deploying aircraft in the region around Iran with the ability to rapidly destroy Iran's anti-aircraft capability in order to allow either bombing of nuclear facilities identified as possibly involved in the nuclear weapons project that Washington alleges Iran to be working on, or, less probably (I hope), an invasion of Iran by US and Israeli forces.

The first thought I had was of deja vu: shades of 2003 and the preparations for invading Iraq while the US government lied to the US people and the world about the non-existent Iraqi nuclear and biological weapons programs. Now that the US military involvement in Iraq has finally ended, and the conventional military involvement in Afghanistan is scheduled to begin winding down, the US military is in danger of not having any wars except the drone wars the CIA and the Defense Department's Joint Special Operations Command are waging in Yemen (where the drone war has just been escalated), Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia. So it's not surprising that they're hoping to start another one in Iran.

After the cut I'll talk about why this is an extremely bad idea, and why the American people should demand that it not happen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs: Say What you Want About Him, He's Left the World Changed.

Steve Jobs is gone now, but the engine of change he built is still there, and still changing the world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Two Movies: of Beauty and Evil

A couple of weeks ago I watched a movie called Water, and a couple of days later I watched another one called Never Let Me Go. Although they're very different movies in many ways: Water was made in India, and takes place in Varanasi on the Ganges in 1938, and Never Let Me Go takes place in an alternate history late 20th Century England, they are visually and dramatically beautiful films made with great craft. and they are both about societies which accept, even profit from, great evil. I was deeply moved by both films, and couldn't escape being seriously disturbed by the evil in both. Strangely, I had not heard of either one before watching them (I usually at least read a review in the local paper of any new movie, though I've been missing them more lately because we've been going to the theater perhaps once a year), but after watching the second one I immediately thought of their similarities. I'll talk more about the films and why they are alike after the cut. Caution: there are spoilers for both movies.