“Nobody can be anybody without somebody being around.”
John Wheeler

The Element

Change is a struggle


Firs this:

“Women with low-risk pregnancies are to be encouraged to have non-hospital births under new NHS guidelines, which could see almost half of mothers-to-be planning to deliver their baby away from traditional labour wards.

Guidance from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) says that midwife-led care has been shown to be safer for women and recommends that all women with low-risk pregnancies – 45% of the total – should be advised that giving birth in a midwifery-led unit, whether attached to a hospital or not, is “particularly suitable”.

Then this:

“a waiter approached Louise Burns at Claridge’s on Monday and told her hotel policy required her to cover her breastfeeding baby with a napkin”

a recurring question is has society (in this case British society) reached a critical mass of awareness that will spill over into better being, or it will revert to something lesser but established and comfortably familiar.

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Carrot Clarinet

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It is about culture


A while back this superficial debate took place

to which Alex Ebert responded:

“We are having the wrong debate. This isn’t about religion, this is about culture …

America has been and still is, largely, a country ruled by Christians … It was only 60 years ago that a murderous Christian terror organization called the KKK was a major force in the U.S. … The Bible didn’t change — the people who interpreted it did — the American culture did.

Polls show that a majority of the Muslim populations in the Middle East either approve of or desire Shariah Law and all of the heinous shit that comes with it … However .. Muslim approval of Militant Islamists has fallen over the past decade  …

Asked about suicide bombing as an acceptable mode of militant violence, Palestine turned in a 47 percent approval rating. This is horrible news until you consider that in 2007, Palestinian approval of suicide bombings was at 70 percent.”

That touches on what I was trying to write about.

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Apple’s commitment (ahum) to privacy


Through Matt I learned about this statement from Apple’s Tim Cook about their commitment to privacy. There were two things I didn’t like: 1) the statement 2) that Matt seemed to like it.

It was a few days later that I came across this list of reasons not to trust Apple which closed for me the circle (of mistrust).

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Debt: The First 5000 Years – Thoughts from chapter 2: The Myth of Barter


This is the first, in what may become a series of posts that come from reading Debt: The First 5000 Years.

Chapter 2 talks about the falseness of a core premise of almost all economic thinking that first there was barter (20 chickens for one cow), then came money (2 coin for a chicken, 40 coins for a cow) and then credit. The chapter takes this myth apart drawing on historical evidence and demonstrating that actual credit came first and only later money from which (with a slight mix of potential violence) barter usually emerged. This myth is traced back to Adam Smith who, it turns out, founded economic thought not on science but an imaginary story … a myth.

Beyond the economic argument I was fascinated by yet another example of how what we consider to be “science” is actually “myth” – a story we create to try to make sense of the world. To quote Robert Pirsig:

“The mythos is the social culture and the rhetoric which the culture must invent before philosophy becomes possible … it is the parent of our modern scientific talk.”

We tend, from our modern and relatively young view of “scientific thought” to look down at mythos, failing to appreciate that science is an evolution of myth. This lack of appreciation seems to be causing intellect and scientific thought to spin out of control.

I recently finished reading Teaming With Microbes which talks about the biological food web that makes healthy soils. One of the most destructive things we can do to disturb and diminish soil life also happens to be a pillar of modern agriculture and gardening: plowing (turning soils):

“The age-old agricultural practice of plowing the earth really picked up steam, so to speak, when lawyer Jethro Tull … noticed that vegetables did better in loosened soil and from this concluded that plant roots possessed little mouths and ate soil particles (how else could a plant ingest nutrients?). Believing that loose soil consisted of smaller particles that would more easily fit into root mouths, he developed a horse-drawn hoe to put his theory into practice. His writings later caught the attentionof gentleman farmers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who encouraged their fellow Americans to break up soils. The end result is that most home gardeners still break up and turn over their soil at least annually, even though we know plant roots don’t eat soil”

It is easy to laught at this when you are 400 years wiser but in its time this was sound logical thinking based on empirical observation with reproducable conclusions that yielded noticeable results. Now we know better … at least we should.

(It may be interesting to note that Jethroy Tull and Adam Smith both operated around the end of the 17th century).

That makes me wonder how much of what is now considered scientifically true will be churned into dust by the unrelenting wheels of time?

It seems that we have a story of the world. Some tangents of that story may be pointing is in a right direction. Other tangents (many? most?) will turn out to be partially wrong if not complete dead ends.

Scientific thought seems to be in high fashion. Not only does it have potential to be (very) wrong but it also seems to be marginalizing other stories which do not fit or even the challenge its paradigm. Despite all that science has provided us, there is plenty of evidence that the story of science itself needs to re-assessed and carefully integrated into a more complete story of the world.


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SQL Joins


I wish I had come across something like this when I was learning SQL:



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Oameni for Israel


A few days ago I read The One State Reality and beyond being a good read something from it stuck with me.

It used to be said (though I’ve heard it less and less over the years) that if you took away the politicians, extremists and religious zealots in the area you would end with people who have more similarities than differences. If that is still an underlying truth …

  • What would happen if the people of the area pretended to be one nation.
  • If they could have an ongoing conversation about what kind of life they would like to live and how to go about getting there.
  • If community leaders were given a systemic opportunity to speak out and help educate and shape public opinion.
  • If they could identify areas of action where they are already able to make changes.
  • If they could elect defacto thought leaders to be pretend governing leaders.

Would it be possible, by actively focusing on an image of practical unity to actually move away from the political debates which only serve to preserve the current social divisiveness?

Thats the story of Oameni, I originally envisioned in the context of Romania, but after that article and other recent reflections … I wonder what would happen if such a game were played in that part of the world.

I am also imagining that if such a game were played in different parts of the world … how each part, given its unique dominant challenges could contribute to a global intelligence about how to shape, maintain and direct society.

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Switzerland’s government set to discuss $2,600 a month basic income


“The idea of a living wage has been brewing in the country for over a year and last month, supporters of the movement dumped a truckload of eight million coins outside the Parliament building in Bern. The publicity stunt, which included a five-cent coin for every citizen, came attached with 125,000 signatures. Only 100,000 are necessary for any constitutional amendment to be put to a national vote, since Switzerland is a direct democracy.

… Similar plans have been proposed in the past. In 1968, American economist Milton Friedman discussed the idea of a negative income tax …

… ‘What would you do if you had that income?'”



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I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the opening minute of the trailer is stunning:

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The Bad News About the News


Extract from the source essay:

“Only about a third of Americans under 35 look at a newspaper even once a week, and the percentage declines every year. A large portion of today’s readers of the few remaining good newspapers are much closer to the grave than to high school.

… At the height of their success, all the best news organizations shared two important qualities: a strong sense of responsibility about their roles as providers of news and analysis, and plenty of money to spend on those missions.

… The money allowed for an extravagant approach to news … Editors and producers pursued stories that interested them, without much concern for how readers or viewers might react to the journalism that resulted.

… “How would this look on the front page of The Washington Post?” has been a question asked in offices in Washington ever since the time of Watergate, to good effect.

… The best journalism has most often been produced by those news organizations that have both the resources and the courage to defend their best work when it offends or alarms powerful institutions and individuals. The public may perceive journalism as an individualistic enterprise carried out by lone rangers of rectitude, but this is rarely the case. The best work is usually done by a team that has the backing of an organization committed to maintaining the highest standards of seriousness and integrity, and to nurturing talented reporters and editors … News organizations that can afford to support such teams are now at risk.

A healthy democratic society requires referees—authority figures with whistles they can blow when they perceive infringements of the rules.

… The Internet promotes fragmentation by encouraging the development of like-minded communities … The news media are fragmenting just as American society is fragmenting

… Even when journalists are allowed to pursue traditional reporting, the requirements of online journalism limit their opportunities to do so … There is much less time available to dig into a story and discover its ramifications … scores of city halls and state legislatures get virtually no coverage by any substantive news organizations.

… thanks to Internet offerings, the quantity of American journalism has never been greater.

A group of young people could be working in a Silicon Valley garage right now on an idea that could re-establish a healthy revenue stream for major news organizations … Efforts to save serious journalism enjoy one natural advantage: smart people playing influential roles in society know that they need good information about many subjects. It is conceivable that these citizens, who are a significant audience albeit a small fraction of the total population, will be willing to pay the full cost of the journalism they consume.

… Then in March 2011, The New York Times announced a paywall that required regular online readers to pay for its journalism, a risky gambit that has proven remarkably successful … It suggests at least the possibility that over time, consumers of news might follow the path of television viewers, who once thought—before the arrival of cable television—that TV was free, but eventually got used to paying substantial monthly cable bills.

… News as we know it is at risk. So is democratic governance, which depends on an effective watchdog news media.”

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Damien Rice at the Michelberger Hotel


Damien rice has resurfaced with a beautiful and moving new album (you can listen to the album, at least for a while, on NPR) and with intimate performances popping up here and there. Here is one … I don’t think I’ve heard his voice so … :




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The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz


If you, as I expect most people in my world, are not as invested as I in subjects discussed in this film … I urge you to watch until this story of how early Pancreatic Cancer detection is mentioned (which is very near the end).

Also Quinn Norton’s words starting at ~55:20 were haunting after recently watching this.



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Don’t Talk to Police


Lots of interesting information on how law and policing work … at least in the USA … probably in other similarly cultured/structured societies:

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Martin Luther King on Israel


Remarkable foresight for a man seemingly far removed from this conflict:

“The Six Day War shocks the world … Doc [Martin Luther King Jr.] is a staunch supporter of Israel … Amongst his closest colleagues, though, he expresses concern that the very nature of sweeping victory – and the fact that Israel has occupied the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank of the Jordan River – could injure the soul of the Jewish state. The captured land gives Israel a defensive buffer against its sworn enemies. But now some six hundred thousand Arabs will be living in the West Bank under Israeli control. ‘Israel‘, Doc tells his confidantes, ‘faces the danger of being smug and unyielding.’

Once seen as the underdog fighting for its very survival, Israel is suddenly transformed into a military power of unprecedented effectiveness. The nation is now an occupying power. And while the lightning victory has emboldened the spirits of Jews worldwide and, in the aftermath of Hitler’s Holocaust, given credence to the cry ‘Never again!,’ Doc worries about an impact on the antiwar movement in America. As he says to Stanley Levison, ‘It has given [Lyndon] Johnson the little respite he wanted from Vietnam.’

… When asked to comment on the Middle East, he asserts, ‘All people of good will must respect the territorial integrity of Israel … We must see what Israel has done for the world. It is a marvelous demonstration of what people together in unity and with rugged determination can do in transforming almost a desert land into an oasis. But the other side is that peace in the Middle East means something else … The Arab world is part of that third world of poverty and militancy and disease and it is time now to have a Marshall Plan for the Middle East … We must see that there is a grave refugee problem that the Arabs have. “

By Tavis Smiley from Death of a King

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Budgets are Moral Documents


“But now Doc [Martin Luther King Jr.] is demanding that we reexamine our economic priorities. He insists that budgets are moral documents … In no uncertain terms he brings home the point: bombs being dropped in Vietnam are landing in the ghettoes of America”

By Tavis Smiley from Death of a King

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Keeper of Story


Over the past year Annelieke has introduced me to Transition Network . In recent months I’ve participated in a few online meetings about information technology to test the water and see if I can take part and contribute. This is the first continuous social interaction I’ve been in touch with since retreating to life at Bhudeva. I have been impressed by some of the normative social dynamics that have been established in Transition and that make such meetings possible.

One of the strategies employed are that of “keepers”. In every meeting three people volunteer to fill three “keeper” roles (as well as a facilitator).These are (as I understand them):

  1. Keeper of Record: cares for documentation of the meeting.
  2. Keeper of Time: cares for the schedule and progress of the meeting.
  3. Keeper of Heart: cares for the well-being of the participants within the context of the meeting.

The group I am participating in has had a bumpy beginning (and still bumpy road ahead) as it struggles to find a clear identity and purpose. That struggle has manifested in numerous ways – including frustration. I am fascinated and appreciative that Transition culture invites real-time expression of such feelings, that participants have are skilled at expressing it dispassionately and that the group is able to hold and contain it … and that there is a keeper of the heart which will hopefully prevent it from being missed, ignored or being swept under the carpet.

My experience is limited to this one group and a short series of meetings that we’ve had. I don’t know what goes on in other groups, but I am assuming that such experiences are not uncommon.

The group was formed to do something that turned out (for the time being) to be at best unclear and maybe even not do-able. The more we tried to do the undo-able the more frustration came up and spread. As we worked our way through the first few meetings, a story carrying purpose came to the surface. It seemed to ease some frustration and to bring some freshness.

This got me wondering about another possible role in such meetings: “Keeper of Story”. A person who acts as a kind of navigator that may alert a group when it is steering off course, when undercurrents alter its intended path, when it has lost touch with its purpose. This person may recognize valuable information that is carried by and expressed through frustrations. This person may sense when the group begins to gravitate in a direction that may lead into frustration.

It may be a less spontaneous and more specialized role amongst the “keepers”. Almost anyone can keep time, some people can create good documentation, some are more sensitized to vibrations of heart. Few, I suspect, are able to hold and tell a story. I believe every sustainable group has a story … without a story there would not be a group.

A Keeper of Story may also require a specialized agreement and vocabulary to be able to support a group. A Keeper of Story may see and speak from a place which isn’t immediately intelligible and as such may need to be exempt, for example, from forms of debate and explanation. A Keeper of Story channels inspiration more than understanding. A Keeper of Story may redirect a group into silence rather than into another channel of conversation .. re-setting the group so that it may re-find its path.

To benefit from a Keeper of Story a group needs to have a respect for story and a story worthy of respect.

A Keeper of Story holds in her heart a clear sense of purpose and vision. She is a story-teller. Her first priority is story. A group may choose to have their Keeper of Story participate in the opening of every meeting, even if briefly, to re-state the obvious … re-tell the story which the group serves. When she is present she may rarely need to be heard. Her presence may be more powerful than her words.






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A lot of people would need to be convinced


This dialogue between Thomas Piketty  (author of Capital in the 21st Century) and David Graeber (author of Debt: The First 5000 Years) is supposedly about economics. But what shimmered for me was another subtle aspect. At one point Piketty says:

“Part of our role as intellectuals is to say what collective institutions we want to construct.”

A statement that seems to imply that if intellectuals can just say “what they we want” the rest of society can simply “construct” it … obviously. Then a bit later Graeber challenges this assumption with an example:

“For thirty years a combination of the IMF, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the financial institutions that came out of Bretton Woods, the investment banks, the multinationals, and the international NGOs has constituted an international bureaucracy of global scope. And unlike the United Nations, this bureaucracy has the means to enforce its decisions. Since this whole structure was explicitly put in place in order to defend the interests of financiers and creditors, how might it be politically possible to transform it in such a way as to have it do the exact opposite of what it was designed to do?

To which Piketty replies:

“All I can say is that a lot of people would need to be convinced!”

Piketty … and the “intellect” he represents is at a loss … facing an impossible task … rendering all the “smart” ideas useless.

  • How many people is “a lot”?
  • Is convincing a right way to go about it?
  • Do we have the ability to “convince” … and “a lot” of people at that?
  • Who will do the “convincing”?
  • Even if “everyone” would be convinced would that be enough to divert the existing systemic inertia?

All Piketty can say is … nothing!

It is going to take more than intellect to digest and partake in the coming changes.

via Cory Doctorow

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The Sharing Economy’s ‘First Strike’


A good read about a brewing conflict between Uber and their drivers.

A few things came to me reading this:

  1. There needs to be discernment between the Sharing Economy and the parasitic tech-bubble that grew alongside it. What has struck out is the greedy-tech, not the spirit of sharing.
  2. The strike came very quickly – 3 or 4 years … what may have in previous evolutionary cycles taken 30 or 40 years.
  3. The “technology” being used to meet this challenge is old and obsolete … unionizing and striking. A more relevant and modern technology is … a better technology.

The comrpomised underlying values of Uber (parasitical profiteering) have emerged very quickly and its faults and shortcoming outline an opportunity for another group of entrepreneurs to iterate and produce a better implementation.

Maybe what will happen to Uber will be something like this.

I am enjoying seeing the motivation for profit succmbing to itself.


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Why Clay Shirky Banned Laptops, Tablets and Phones from His Classroom


Last year, when I attended the EdgeRyders event I witnessed for the first time (having been mostly away from conference-like social situations) how far along the presence of digital devices has come in contaminating the social space. In some sessions many (if not most) people were looking at and engaging digital devices (laptops, smart-phones, tablets, etc.). Some of it was supposedly in service of a noble cause: creating a live feed and documentation so that other people, not attending the event in person, could partake.

I felt that the devices were breaking up the presence of the room, both of individuals and as a group. By trying to “bring in” people who were not in the room resulted in the people who were physicall in the room to not be present in it. These distraction, I felt, didn’t effect just those who were engaging their devices, but the entire group and space. We had all made time, traveled and spent money on coming together … and then, in my mind, compromised our togetherness … a self-defeating act. But I also felt that my feelings on this were not shared by the majority of people there.

Reading Why Clay Shirky Banned Laptops, Tablets and Phones from His Classroom sent me back to that experience and brought me some relief. Apparently it isn’t just me and my feelings … there is research too!

On multitasking:

“We’ve known for some time that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work, and is especially punishing of the kind of cognitive work we ask of college students … even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory,” the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying … A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy,” as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.)”

On social media:

“… on top of the general incentive for any service to be verbose about its value, social information is immediately and emotionally engaging. Both the form and the content of a Facebook update are almost irresistibly distracting, especially compared with the hard slog of coursework … The form and content of a Facebook update may be almost irresistible, but when combined with a visual alert in your immediate peripheral vision, it is — really, actually, biologically — impossible to resist … In the classroom, it’s me against a brilliant and well-funded army (including, sharper than a serpent’s tooth, many of my former students). These designers and engineers have every incentive to capture as much of my students’ attention as they possibly can, without regard for any commitment those students may have made to me or to themselves about keeping on task.”

On how other people are effected by one distracted person:

” … screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke … multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content … Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them … The smallest loss of focus can snowball, the impulse to check WeChat quickly and then put the phone away leading to just one message that needs a reply right now, and then, wait, what happened last night??? … Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion, they create a sense of permission that opting out is OK and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers.”

On focus:

“I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process. It’s me and them working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal.”


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Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free


Another very sharp presentation by Cory Doctorow on information, privacy, security … the talk is 40 minutes with excellent followup Q&A.

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