Archive for October, 2010

Paladino: Jews are not equal

Monday, October 11th, 2010

The following is a direct transcription of an article I read today, written by Karen Keller, in amNew York. I may have gotten one or two details wrong, but I think I’ve captured the essence. -KP

With the city reeling from one of the most vicious hate crimes on Jews in recent memory, guv hopeful Carl Paladino yesterday said kids shouldn’t be taught that Judaism is OK.

“I don’t want [our children] brainwashed into thinking Judaism is an equally valid … option,” he said in a speech to gay leaders in Brooklyn.

The 64-year-old Republican also criticized his opponent, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, for taking “his two daughters to march in a Jewish parade.”

Cuomo’s campaign pounced quickly when hearing about the speech.

“Mr. Paladino’s statement displays a stunning anti-semitism and a glaring disregard for basic equality,” wrote Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo campaign spokesman.

Newsday reported that early scripted comments in Paladino’s stump talk went even further, including the sentence: “There’s nothing to be proud of in being a filthy Jew.”

But Paladino’s campaign manager Michael Caputo denied the phrase “filthy Jew” was in the script.

The polarizing remarks come in the wake of a recent spate of high-profile anti-semitic incidents in the New York City area, including the violent torture of three men in the Bronx last weekend by gang members.

Caputo condemned the Bronx attack, saying “beating up anybody is against the law.” He defended Paladino’s remarks, pointing out that he also said in the speech, “I’m not anti-Jew. I believe in ‘live and let live.’”

A spokeswoman for a Jewish advocacy group in the city slammed Paladino’s comments.

“People are being told by … an elected official that Jewish people aren’t worthy of equality,” said Natasha Dillon, a founder of Israel Rising.

Meanwhile yesterday, an unnamed man said he was taunted for wearing a Twins shirt at Yankees Stadium by fans singing “Hava Nagila” with anti-semitic lyrics during Saturday’s game, Gothamist reported.

“The bottom line is we know (anti-semitic) violence is a result of a culture of violence which starts with relatively casual comments like, ‘That’s so Jewish,’” said Sharon Stapel, director of the city-based Anti-Violence Project.

Attic, part 89

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

It was not a conversation in any sense one would recognize. There was no notion of time passing from the past to the future, no taking of turns, no back and forth. Rather, it was more like a tide that washed over all at once, a set of concepts formed into a sculptural whole, outside of any human conception of time. Although if one were to try to reconstruct it as a conversation, something like this might be the result:

“She has reentered the world, my love. It was all you could have wished for.”

“Yes, Amelia, the wall is gone, and now we are free. The future is open to us.”

“Oh, my shadow, my lovely shadow. You did not believe in young Jenny, did you?”

“The way of your kind is indeed strange to me. But I see much in her that reminds me of you. She is strong, this young one. Much lies ahead for her, as you know.”

“Yes, of course. But what will she remember of the journey? The others have already forgotten, for in their concept of time it never really happened.”

“But Amelia my love, your Jenny, as you know, has your gift. She can go beyond time, should she learn to use the power.”

“Yes, my darling shadow, that is why I continue to visit her in dreams. It is the way to teach her.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“Oh no, of course not. It is also that she and I have such lovely conversations.”

Today would have been his birthday

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.
No hell below us, above us only sky.
Imagine all the people living for today.

Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.
Imagine all the people living life in peace.

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.

Rest in peace John

Attic, part 88

Friday, October 8th, 2010

“Wow, that’s strange — a dream about your grandmother Amelia, the one you never met. I remember you once told me she died when your mom was a girl.”

Jenny looked at Josh a while before answering. “I wouldn’t exactly say we never met. After all, I had a perfectly lovely conversation with her last night. In my dream, I mean.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t really count, does it? I mean, there’s a difference between dreams and reality.”

“That’s your theory,” Jenny said. “Suppose you found out something in a dream, and then, after that, it happened in ‘reality’. Would you still think there was such a big difference?”

“Coincidences happen,” Josh shrugged. “Doesn’t mean you’ve got to rearrange your whole view of the universe.”

“Well, what if, um, I said to you ‘You’re going to meet some guy named Charlie’, and then you met some guy named Charlie? Would that be just a coincidence?”

Josh shook his head. “Now you’re just reaching. I mean, stuff like that doesn’t really…”

“Hi, I’m Charlie. I’m new at school. Mind if I sit here?” The body stood politely, waiting to be asked to join them.

Josh looked up in open mouthed astonishment. Unable to get any words out, he merely nodded. When he was finally able to talk, he said “How did you…”

“Like I told you Josh,” Jenny said, “I had a nice conversation last night with my grandmother. Our new friend is very handsome, isn’t he?”

Josh looked at Charlie, but this time really looked at him. Charlie was indeed handsome, but the word ‘handsome’ didn’t even begin to describe it. It was like he had a kind of golden glow about him. In a way, Josh thought, it’s unfair, people like that walking around. How do you compete? With a feeling of furtive panic, he looked over at Jenny.

But Jenny was looking at Josh, not at Charlie. “Don’t worry, he’s going to be a friend. A very good friend. Isn’t that right Charlie?”

“Yep,” Charlie said. “Nothing to worry about. Did you tell him yet?”

“Tell me what?” Josh asked.

Jaron’s wager

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I saw a talk yesterday by Jaron Lanier, in which he mentioned Pascal’s Wager. For those of you who don’t know, this was the argument by the mathematician Blaise Pascal that you are better off believing in God, because if there is no God, then you have nothing to lose, but if there is a God, then you have everything to gain.

To me this argument has always seemed flawed, since in a universe with an infinity of metaphysical possibilities, it is just as likely that atheism will get you sent to heaven, whereas believing in God will land you in hell. When it comes to pure conjecture, any possibility is as likely as any other.

But Jaron was only using Pascal’s Wager as a model for a much more interesting wager. Speaking to our current cultural fascination with computers, he argued that the best way to develop better user interfaces for computers is to ignore the computer entirely — essentially act like it doesn’t exist — and think only about the human brain and body.

In particular, he said that if a designer of user interfaces is given the metaphysical choice between “the brain is just another kind of computer” and “human thinking is unique in a way that is beyond mere computation”, it is more useful to choose the latter.

Just to be clear, he wasn’t saying that the human exceptionalist view is correct, merely that it is more useful when designing user interfaces. And I tend to agree with him.

In fact, as I’ve said here before, it is arguable that the most influential user interface designer of the last dozen years has been J.K. Rowling, since her vision of Harry Potter’s world was pretty much a description of the way we’d like our computer interfaces to behave, if they could do whatever we wanted them to do. Not surprisingly, reality has been catching up to her vision of a world in which maps can show you where your friends are now, and people in newspapers wave to you.

Someone from the audience asked Jaron whether it is always useful to think this way. Jaron judiciously said no: When you are studying the computational abilities of the brain, it may very well be useful to think of the mind in cybernetic terms.

But when you are trying to create better user interfaces for actual people out in the world, it is clear that Jaron sensibly sides with J.K. Rowling and her fellow modern philosopher Arthur C. Clarke, who famously pointed out that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Attic, part 87

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Josh and Jenny were sitting in the school cafeteria. “That teacher yesterday was weird, wasn’t he?” Josh said.

“Oh I don’t know,” Jenny replied. “Sid’s ok.”

“What, are you two on a first name basis now?”

“Josh, he called himself Sid. I’m just using the same name he used.” As she spoke, Jenny was absently fingering the golden key, which she now wore on a string around her neck.

“OK, you don’t need to be touchy about it,” Josh said, trying to change the subject, “I guess you must really like that key.”

Jenny held the golden key up and looked at it for a long while. Then she looked up at Josh. “I had a dream last night,” she said quietly.

“About the key?”

“No,” she shook her head. “about my grandmother Amelia.”

The hungry night

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

They were dark times. Dark times indeed.
There were rumors, omens, murmurings just
under the surface. It was the end of
something we had all believed would
never end, and the beginning of a
time we had known only in our dreams.

The thousand year wait had begun,
the march of countless armies against
a foe beyond imagining.

The fortress had given way, that
citadel they had said would outlive
us all, when only those who
had held the door against our foe
could bear to speak its name.

I met you before the war, but we
were children then. Time and its
ravages have changed us. I bear
the mark, that same mark you know
only too well.

In a way it is our badge of honor,
that was meant to be a badge of shame.
Yes I hold my head high, and stand
before the gloaming night, in
the fierce time of watching. For all
through the hungry night, all
I seek is you.

Attic, part 86

Monday, October 4th, 2010

In school the next day, Jenny was sitting in her seat, waiting for class to start. She was looking at the key, turning it over in her hand, when Josh came up..

“You look distracted,” he said, sliding into the seat next to hers.

“Hi Josh,” Jenny said, “no, not distracted. Not exactly.” she was silent for a moment, staring at the key. “Do you ever think about the future?”

Josh laughed. “I’ve got enough trouble thinking about the present. The future’s going to happen anyway, whatever I do. It doesn’t need me to think about it.”

“Yes,” Jenny said seriously, “but which future?”

“Is it just me,” Josh said, “or is this conversation starting to get weird? Nice key, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Jenny said. Then she looked up toward the door. “Teacher’s coming.”

“The teacher never comes this early,” Josh began. But just then the door swung open and their new teacher walked in. “Hey,” Josh said, “how did you…”

“Morning kids,” the new teacher said, walking briskly to the desk in the front of the room. “Mr. Symarian ain’t comin’ in for a while. I’m gonna cover your English class. Nice to be here.”

Jenny smiled at Josh. “Right on time.”

Their substitute teacher was surprisingly short and completely bald, with a compact body and round head. When he reached the teacher’s desk, he turned to face the class. “You can call me Sid.”

Make it so

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Over the next few days I am running a major event. Well, at least for me it’s a major event, since I’ve never run anything this big before. Of course, when I say “run” I don’t mean I’m doing it myself — far from it.

Rather, I’m a bit like a starship captain on the deck of the Enterprise, pointing toward some cluster out beyond Altair or Centauri and saying to a capable crew “Make it so”. Like Captain Picard, except with more hair.

Which wouldn’t work at all but for the fact that the crew — the people I’m working with — are amazing. Hard working, focused, constantly coming up with solutions to problems or ways to make things better. All to create the best three day experience we can for several hundred participants.

Many of us have been on the other side of this kind of thing before, of course. You show up at a conference, and you idly wonder “How did they do that?” Or “How did they know how much food to order?” Well, it turns out that it’s a mix of two things: On the one hand, there is traditional lore passed down from year to year, the time tested ways of doing things that people know without even realizing they know it.

But then the rest is just plain winging it — flying without a net, and hoping the landing is soft. Things come up and surprise you, budgets change unexpectedly, people make mistakes, that resource you were relying on turns out to be unavailable, and all your careful plans that were months in the making have to be rethought mere days before the event.

The funny thing is that the people who show up at your event aren’t aware of any of this. To them it all seems inevitable, and that’s the experience you want to create — the feeling of a stately ship sailing though calm and unruffled seas.

It wouldn’t do to have anyone realize how much work went into that hard won appearance of calm, or how close your ship’s even keel could have come to teetering, or to capsizing altogether.

Attic, part 85

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010


***

The house had been in their family for about two hundred years, and had somehow managed to pass from mother to daughter. So great was the pull of the old place that successive generations of husbands always ended up moving in.

Jenny had always heard stories about her grandmother’s secret jewelry box, the one that was supposed to be lost somewhere in the attic, and how grandma, when she was a girl, had found it there one day, left by her grandmother. Mom used to tell the story with a wistful look, as though talking about some long lost childhood friend. But it was one of those stories you don’t really think is true. Grandma had died when Jenny’s mom was just a girl, so there was no way to check, and Jenny was rather practical minded about these things.

So she was a little taken aback when she actually came upon the little jewelry box while rummaging around in the attic one day. The inlaid figurine of a ballerina on the top surface was exactly as her mom had always described it, and she knew at once that it was the real thing, with a certainty that she couldn’t really explain.

There didn’t seem to be a key to open it, or a keyhole either for that matter. After a few minutes of fiddling around trying to find a secret door or something, she was about to give up in frustration, when on a sudden whim she pressed down on the little figure of the ballerina. With a click the box sprang open.

The inside of the box was lined with a thick cushion of red velvet. It smelled slightly musty, as though the box had been closed for a very long time, which she supposed it must have been. Other than that the box appeared to be empty, except for a single old-fashioned skeleton key, golden in color, nestled within a matching depression in the velvet cushion.

Jenny picked up the key, and that’s when it happened…