Sunday, February 16, 2014

Inequality for All (movie review)

I discovered at the meeting house today that my Samsung Galaxy 3 had no battery charge.  This is my primary surface for reading OSCON proposals.  I plugged it in and left it charging, to watch this documentary from Movie Madness, an employee pick, and a relatively new release, taking in phenomena up through 2011 and the Obama administration.

Because Reich is a former Secretary of Labor, in the Clinton administration, having served in other political capacities in DC starting with Robert Kennedy and Gerald Ford, the narrative is DC-centric and uses a mostly nationalist perspective.

He joked about being an aide to Lincoln when lecturing to Berkeley students, most of whom were not yet born in the Carter years (his students fill a vast lecture hall and spanned more than a single generation -- and that's not counting the DVD and "e-tube" audience). Most of his self-directed humor is not about his age so much as his height (he's quite short), a result of a rare genetic condition.

One of the rich guys interviewed, a talking head, made a point I've been thinking about as well: no matter where you stand on the investments and income scale, a human body is like a 200-300W bulb, burning those calories, building those proteins, replacing those cells, and nothing more than that.  So what is "wealth" at the end of the day?  We're all roughly equal in getting some nature-provided equipment, with which to do stuff and sleep.

I'd say the movie makes an unintentional pun on "karma" and "car", because Reich's Mini Cooper is a focus, an icon, while the rich guy gets to show us his Audi, the best you can get.  So body + car might be a wealth summation.  But I think the lobbyist interview says it best:  you're paying for access i.e. wealth is access.  If you have "good karma" then that means you're lucky enough to have the level of access you need.

But that somewhat just postpones the tautology.  Why is access so valuable?  It's a means to what end?  More wealth == more experiences to treasure (as memories, once over)?  Wealth is a well-sustained expectation of being able to maintain high living standards tomorrow and the next day?  A kind of near term sense of security?  Access to medicines.  Access to education, information, training, skill building exercises.

Much wealth takes the form of public infrastructure, facilities shared by "strangers" and not just some "in group" or congregation / club.  Government that cares about "joe public" and "the middle class" is of a different type than government of, by and for the rich.

When Fuller signaled the demise of the USA of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in the early 1980s (Grunch of Giants, St. Martin's Press), he's heralding the corporate-persons-controlled Citizens United USA of today, a different "Lego Land" than before, which many rich people find more awesome (although Reich reminds us that even the rich do better with a strong middle class than with a weak one -- the virtuous cycle turns vicious at some point tipping point).

We could go on and on with this investigation, into what people mean by "wealth".

Anyway, the rich guy basically agrees the system lacks smarts, since where his money gets invested stays a black box to him in large percentage, meaning "control" is hardly the right word for what you're gaining.

It's not like he's automatically "in charge" in proportion to his making thousands of times more than the average joe.  Having many times more money does not mean calling proportionally more of the shots.  I'm sure the same might be said of Jack or Jill CEO:  net take home pay is not a measure of commensurate insight into inner workings.

The metaphor of a sailing ship is still apt:  it's your ability to adapt to the shifting weather that sustains you, not some heroic ability to "control".  That ability to adapt depends on more than just you, but on your crew (personnel) and your gear (tools).

Speaking of ships, Reich and Clinton were both Rhodes Scholars and met on the ship the selected scholars would traditionally take across the Atlantic.  That's when they first started to become friends.

During the Joys and Concerns portion of business meeting (at the very end) I expressed my relief that Jen had found another home in which to have her baby, given Carol's ongoing need for that room.  The Buddha Room is still in need of refurbishing (having been reconstructed for $12K), but as a nursery / bedroom?  I expressed my expectation the home birth will go well.

The timing had been ironic in that Peter (another Princeton alum) was telling Wanderers about his time in Vietnam in the far north, aiming to assist leveraging cell phone access to gain better health care for ethnic minority moms, and finding in this particular case that cell phone access was already high and so was birth-in-facility (versus home) an indicator of a developed health care infrastructure in his criteria.

That's what had surprised him.  What surprised me was getting an email that very evening, from someone 8.8 months pregnant, requesting a guest room.  It was just that her original plans had not panned out and finding another place was a long slog.  She's stayed here before, a stalwart of our FNB / post-Occupy (OPDX) community.  She's a joyful, kind woman and should be a great mom.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Gnostic Musings

Glenn tromped through the winter wonderland to Blue House today, though with warmer freezing rain, walking became more treacherous.  He and I would later appreciate the dribble of cinders on 38th.  We weren't the only pedestrians taking to the middle of the street.  Besides, trees were dropping big loads, maybe icicles.  Who wants to be hit by one of those?

We discussed the Gnostic literature, where we overlap some, Glenn being a voracious reader on many topics and me hosting a borrowed collection that's brimming with titles.  I've been sampling, enjoying some memories.  Pico della Mirandola and Cosimo di Medici -- these were figures I'd encountered before.  I hadn't realized Dame Frances Yates, as some call her, had left us that long ago (1981).  I'd read some Pico (in translation) at Princeton.

Cosimo played a role similar to Jung's later, in getting an early bird look at some ancient documents.  Cosimo's score purported to be the writings of Hermes Trismagistus, though a later critic would denigrate their authenticity as such.  Jung helped curate some of the more recent archeological finds, newly uncovered mostly-Coptic sources.  The hay day of Gnosticism is anchored between two and three hundred years after Jesus.  Mining sources for alternatives to established theologies has been a pass time of the rich and famous (who else could afford the risk or gather the information?).

Going forward, we get to Blake and Swedenborg, and Jung whom I've mentioned.  But also the Transcendentalists, including of the New England variety.  Bucky Fuller's Tetrascroll contains the classic Gnostic inversion of the Genesis story, meaning exaltation of the snake (Naga) as an avatar of Sophia (gnosis), Eve the emissary of a higher Self.  Women tended to have full powers relative to men in Gnostic institutions and this, Glenn and I agreed, is maybe what most roiled the emerging Patriarchy, the self appointed Christian Orthodoxy, i.e. those "highly motivated men" hell bent on putting a stop to the Gnostic heresies.

I've been thinking of how Dee's or Bruno's Monad resonates at the far end of the 20th century with Fuller's Dymaxion or VE.  We're talking about an ordinary cuboctahedron, six square faces and eight triangular ones, which in Fuller's Synergetics became the Vector Equilibrium of volume 20.  He'd call it the VE (the strut pattern was a focus, not looking at a "solid").  That kind of metaphysical symbolism marks Synergetics as a work in the humanities, its tetrahedron a bridge to STEM.  But the literary critics have not been too keen to swallow that magnum opus as a work on their side of the fence.  Getting it listed as Philosophy at Earlham College was an uphill battle and then some.

That raises the question of to what extent Quakers might be latter day Gnostics and such.  These matters may be debated as if an empirical truth could be discovered, but of course "it's complicated" is the real answer.  The mystical Quakerism of Rufus Jones is a close neighbor of New England Transcendentalism, some might saw a pure form of it.  By some transitive law implicating Walt Whitman and Emerson to some extent, we get a continuation of the Gnostic tradition.  But again, that's just storytelling and myth, not set in stone dogma.

:: tetrascroll, limited edition full size ::

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Wanderers 2014.2.5

Great introductory talk this morning, taking us into the weird world of a nation-state system in shambles, with the still-cannibalizing LAWCAP writing "trade agreements" (aka "treaties") the populace is not allowed to read, yet which are supposed to be passed at the highest levels in DC -- "fast tracked" most preferably.

We were learning about the Trans Pacific Partnership, another NAFTA-like codec.

"Fast track" powers are currently not in effect yet the Obama execs would love the cut of the pie that they'd get if they could heroically deliver the bacon.

The bacon's avid recipients would be those "private investors", the ones busily suing governments to recoup on might-have-been (speculative) profits.  "You said we couldn't, so now pay us for what we might have had."

It's so easy bullying governments, after having successfully dismantled them in so many ways already.  They have no dignity left it seems, pomp and circumstance notwithstanding.

Some of the representatives in the US Congress who still take their jobs seriously are insisting on doing at least some reading of the LAWCAP edicts.

The Intellectual Property and Environmental chapters were wikileaked awhile back which helped stir the public at least a little (mostly the mass media steers clear of TPP).

As someone at the open source / open data end of the spectrum, I wonder which big pharma company will be first to open source some important drugs voluntarily instead of being seen for all time to be fighting tooth and nail in a knee-jerky LAWCAP manner to be a deliberate bottle neck / choke point versus a healer and benefactor of humanity.

You'd think the branding people would understand "brand loyalty" better.  Isn't the market supposed to be drenched in information?  That's what Pareto Optimality is all about, no?  Transparency?  Shared awareness of costs?

Such a ridiculous spectacle these "corporate persons" provide to the world stage.  So worthy of parody.