Astute comments from comics

July 7, 2009

Last week I read and was moved by Joe Sacco’s engagingly intense graphic novel “Palestine”. It chronicles Sacco’s travels throughout the the area known as Palestine- the west bank and Gaza. He meet with a number of Palestinans, listening to them and documenting their stories from during the time of the second intifada (around 1993). Unfortunately, I found that his experiences and stories concur with my own experiences – from the time that served in the IDF in the West Bank in the mid-late 70s and from the period of the first intifada (1988) when I was wondering around the same towns that I had served as a soldier, only this time as an artist and witness. I say unfortunate because it is a tragedy of epic proportions- each side making blunder after horrible blunder, enslaving each other to oppression, hate, pain and bloodshed.
One encounter in Sacco’s book that I was deeply touched by occured towards the end of the book In it he recollects a meeting with several people- Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Americans and Europeans. One Israeli is quoted as saying that one state or two states does not matter. What does it matter if the racism of one state oppresses the other. What is important, he says, is if the different peoples there can simply learn to live with each other. A wise comment, almost Buddhist in nature- can we manage to let go of our personal pains and learn to live with each other even with our differences.

Internet Town Hall

December 8, 2008

Last Saturday, I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by www.internetforeveryone.org/. This was the first or second of a series of national meetings to gather data about internet accessibility in order to assist the government in setting a responsible, comprehensive policy for web access for everyone.

There were a bit over 100 people in a downtown hotel with an interesting demographic. 97% of the people there already had access to the web (that is how most people heard of the meeting). Most of the attendees were men, with the main ethic groups being white and African-American. This became important because as the meeting and discussions progressed, the majority opinion was that there should be a partnership between government, local communities and corporations to provide internet access to all, especially the under- served communities (rural, minority, low-income). This means two things- that the initiatives of the large telecom companies such as ATT and Verizon to control and charge for broadband access need to be held in check and monitored, but also that the communities who most need access were actually under-represented. There were several speakers and videos shown at the meeting who were interesting, but did not present anything that really added to the conversation. The exception was a 13-year old Latina girl who spoke about the problems of not having internet access, especially in relation to her studies and the lack of future opportunities that are created by this lack of access.

We broke into groups and discussed open internet, innovation, budgets and who should be responsible for development and maintenance of internet technologies, access to computers (such as the One-Laptop-Per-Child initiative. These are important conversations that need to be happening across the country, but with a more diverse set of attendees to better represent the constituents and users. We (USA) were once on top of development and usage of these technologies, but we have fallen behind Europe and Asia. Perhaps we should look out for more and better inspiration and guidance for our own policies.

One final note about the meeting. I learned that supposedly, several years ago the LADWP laid fiber optic cable throughout the city of L.A. to provide broadband internet access to everyone. But it remains dark, primarily because of the lobbies of the telecom companies and internet providers because it will cut down on their revenue. Hmmm- data and knowledge for everybody that can only assist the nation (and corporations), or continuing to keep large profits for a few while limiting our ability to provide work and opportunities for the masses. Perhaps I have missed something.

Dancing around the waltz

December 5, 2008

I just finished watching a screening of  “Waltz with Bashir”. It was shown for just before the holiday lunch of one of the departments that I work with. An interesting choice, to say the least, it was ultimately a bit of a surreal experience, which actually mirrors the film. The film is excellent and disturbing, and is described as an “animated documentary”. The footage is shot and then rotoscoped, animated and given effects. The story is of an Israeli man, a film-maker, confronted with the fact that he has no memories of his time during the war in Lebanon, particularly surrounding the tragic events of  the Sabra-Shatilla massacre. He is told by a friend that he needs to find and speak with people who were there with him directly or served in the army at the same time. What follows is a harrowing series of conversations and flashbacks as he tries to recover his memories and understood what happened and where he was.

One of the primary issues addresses historical memory connected to a time of trauma. An Israeli psychologist interviewed in the film describes how a human mind can make itself forget what it needs to, in order to continue to live.

This film touched me deeply and personally. Having spent 2.5 years in the Israeli military (and it seems in the same combat unit of the director), I was familiar with both the visuals and the psychological and emotional issues of serving and post-serving. How memories can get smushed and fuzzed with the passing of time as well as the need to not remember. I was not in Beirut, but was in southern Lebanon, which I often think of in terms of a phrase from the movie “Circle of Deceit”: “There is a saying here, that there are two paradises- one in heaven and one in southern Lebanon”. It was beautiful and experienced too much hell there from all of the wars.

The film was visually stunning, dreamlike, hallucinatory, nightmarish, surreal. It captures the hell, surreal and chaotic nature of war in a way that I do not think a non-animated movie could. It captures the emotional and practical confusion of the Israeli experience as well as the more universal experience of war. The film seems to have been made with a yellow filter, that matches the yellow of the flares that lit up the nights during the war in Beirut, and were part of the filmmakers dream. 

Disturbing as the film may be, it is an important film. It opens discussions about both the Israeli and Christian activities in Lebanon, about the lasting effects war has on the human psyche and condition. I have found many Jews and Israelis who have been unwilling and/or unable to address the the complexity of the war and of Israeli involvement. Although it happened over 20 years ago, its’ effects are still being felt and it is still impacting policies in old ways. Perhaps this movie will help open up discussions and dialogues that can lead to real and positive change.

I served in 1975-7 and went back in 1988 to do art with Jewish, Christian, Moslem an Druze children, perhaps trying to clean up some of my karma, perhaps reflecting a realization that peace is not a passive experience, but rather one that requires action to make it happen and to maintain, like any good relationship. Some images and stories  of these two experiences can be found here: www.golemgrafica.com/photo_1.htm#”

More rants on education and teaching

December 2, 2008

As I read about Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. city schools, I was impressed on a variety of levels. I am excited and happy to see someone actually taking action in school reform, especially after reading (again) about the problems besetting the L.A. city schools and the push to remove the superintendent, a well-meaning man with little or no experience at all with city schools. At first reading, Rhee comes across like the proverbial breath of fresh air, blowing across the garbage of public education. But the more that I reflected about her and her methods, the more concerned I become. I do believe that a merit based pay system is a good idea, as is removing the semi-instant tenure programs for keeping teachers in their jobs. I also believe in the need to push students to excellence. But I am concerned that her focus is only on teaching and not on educating. Teaching is important- it gives students foundations for all topics. Need to do any type of math? Well, you need to learn the multiplication table by heart. Want to write like Faulkner? Then, you need to learn grammar and punctuation. Want to draw or paint like Pollack or Picasso? Then learn to draw like a draughtsman. Basic skills are acquired through teaching, but the ability to see the spaces in between disciplines and create meaning happens through education.

I am worried that Ms. Rhee may be focusing on teaching at the expense of educating. She also downplays the importance of creativity. She says  “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.” I agree that part of the job of a teacher is to teach a child to read. But it is also important to teach the child to understand and crate connections to enable them to understand if what they are actually reading is crap (or not).

The article in Time magazine describes her as curt, direct and more able to speak with children than with adults. This last trait is incredibly important in the education process- to be able to speak with a person on their level of understanding without a condescending attitude. Yet, when affecting major change, it is also important to be able to communicate with all parties involved (often a more difficult path). In the end, I am impressed with the work that Ms. Rhee is doing- it extremely important to create actual change and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with teacher merits. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage crativity and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with merit-based salaries and new ways of defining tenure. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage creativity as an important element of a true education. The future truly requires multidisciplinary, cross-thinking and collaboration and the schools are good place to begin.

Bye Bye Studs

October 31, 2008

I am saddened by the news of the death of Studs Terkel, one of my favorite authors. He was populist and FDR liberal who never gave up the good fight. I listened to him on the radio and read, enjoyed and learned from his books. “The Great War” introduced me to stories of people on the front lines of WWII- men, women, soldiers and civilians. Vastly engaging.

One of my favorite interviews, one that I first heard and then read was transforming. He spoke with a man from the deep south who had been filled with hate and anger. This man had been a leader in the klu klux klan- he was vicious, racist, anti-semitic, anti-union, but through a series of events found himself on a school board, partnered with an African-American woman. They worked together, learned from each other and became life-long friends. The white man eventually finished his high school diploma and ran for a political office and won- partly from the support of the local African-American community. They were able to recognize that person can change and can redeem their past. Eventually this man died, suffering from alzheimer’s disease. But I remember seeing a photograph of this old man, sitting in a wheel chair holding the hand of the African-American woman who helped him learn dignity and respect.

The case of the missing conference

October 8, 2008

Last Saturday I attended the Immersive Technology conference that was held at Cal State Long Beach. The premise was interesting I was looking forward to it. The Keynote speaker set the tone and it was good. Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. He was entertaining and made some interesting points about an idea he calls “transmedia”. Transmedia is about content or a story that is dispersed across different kinds of media such as books, comics, movies, podcasts, etc. Each media’s attributes can address unique aspects of the story that the other medias can not. This can transform any the story by moving it our of  a linear, or sequential path onto something non-linear, more encompassing. The story is no longer a singular component, but rather one section  of a complete universe. In other words, each media can tell some of the back-story that the primary story needs to ignore because of the constraints of that media. Jenkins illustrated this by providing examples from “The Matrix” and “Star Wars” stories. He also mentioned how action figures and toy allow to tap into their own imaginations by creating their own stories.

Unfortunately, after Jenkins spoke, the conference seemed to loose it’s identity and direction. That in itself would not have been so bad if it not gone on the path of platform for self-promotion. Moderators and speakers allowed themselves time to present their resumes, but little time to really address ideas. Moderators focused on their panel and often chose questions from the audience that were asked by their friends, who then spent more time talking about their own resume before getting to the actual question. 

Despite the fact that there were some interesting speakers placed on the following 2.5 panels that I attended, there was little actual discussion about immersive technologies. For example, during a session named after the title of the conference, the speakers were entertaining, but were more concerned with writers’ control of the stories- a subject that is very important in most media. but one that gets muddled quickly when discussing interactive new media- especially the trend to user-generated content. There was no mention of Second Life, or online games such as  World of Warcraft where the users and players are generating the stories and content.  

The topic of the second was a mystery to the people who surrounded me, but the speakers did seem to be enjoying themselves. 

I am not sure that topic of the final panel was, but again, it became self-promotion and marketing, which would be important subjects in the context of  another conference. The moderator spoke at length about her past projects, especially about her design for the targeted marketing video screens sequences that were shown in Spielberg’s “Minority Report”. She than showed us a marketing film that was made for WalMart that illustrates her successful bid to do targeting marketing using mobile phones and video screens in those stores. With the knowledge that our economy is heading for a disaster, I was in awe when I watched how this program was primarily targeting people on the low end of the socio-economic spectrum to purchase large flat screen video monitors for their homes. Again, people spending more than they can afford.

All in all, it was a disappointing conference. SIgh.

My brain does not hurt.

July 31, 2008

Sitting in the closing plenary of the Academic Technology conference and the main thing that comes to mind is that my mind does not hurt. I have not really be challenged or inspired by the conference. For the most part, the information has not been about innovation, speakers have been more about talking heads and real dialogue has not been happening and much of the information presented has not been new to me. Topics and information is what we have been talking about and acting upon over the past year. The ITAs have presented on the digital natives , and I have added terms for others- the digital tourists, (may not be mine), digital naturalized citizens and those who have not even seen the brochure.

I am not sure why this is. Perhaps the institution of academia is more entrenched than the museum world (although I know of some museums that are really entrenched). Perhaps it is staff. Perhaps I am spoiled by my work in the museum community, but after attending the Museums on the Web conferences, I find that my head really hurts because of the quantity of high quality and dense information that is presented in a short time. Sessions and dialogues start in the evening, continue throughout the day with few breaks and inevitably continue on into evening at the different events and receptions. 

Battery is tired, so time to post.

Social to the Semantic at Campus Technology

July 30, 2008

Comments on Trent Batson’s presentation
Development of the web
1 to 1 developed to 1 to many developed to many to many
Batson’s sites
http://henhengep.ning.com- the next generation portfolio group
http://www.bloglines.com/blog/Trent-Batson 

So far nothing new.
Mention of Facebook. Do not need purpose to say “Hi” which is a casual proximity greeting as opposed to writing an email where you need a purpose.  Makes social fabric stronger. Facebook encourages idea of “six degrees of separation” . 

Semantic technologies
Network theory
Can databases be semantic? so they search for meaning and not just words and word strings?
Resource Definition Framework (WC3)- categorize by meaning and not just 

Semantic Browsers; build ontologies. Corporate initiatives to classify their own information-
OWL (Ontology Working Group) http://pellet.owldl.com/owlsight

 This talk is a lecture about what it is and not a dialogue about how to use it and how it is used. 
Mashups
fullmeasure.co.uk/mashup

Tuned out. Smart man who likes to talk. No real information, but I suppose a good introduction to those who have not heard about it. No real discussion about applications and serendipity of searching and looking for information. No discussions about other fields besides the corporate. No mention of museums. No examples of mashups. 

I made a comment on serendipity (library, museum) and artificial intelligence hoping to initiate a discussion. The speakers comment was “yes there is artificial intelligence”and any other speeches. But no dialogue and no discussion. 

It still seems to me that the best presentations are discussions of ideas and not speeches. Present information and then collaborate.

On a friend’s passing

July 17, 2008

I just returned from a friends house where we finished the shiva (7 days of mourning) for his wife. This was very emotionally difficut week for the whole community. Chanui was a loved, respected wife, mother, friend and person. She had an infectuous smile and incredibly clear blue eyes with a sparkle that touched the soul of anybody that can in contact with her. Last Saturday at services at the synagogue, another friend commented that there was a “tear in the force” – very apt. During the following days of mourning, services were held in the house they were renting as their own house gets remodeled and there was always 40-80 people. Nobody wanted to let get go, we we all needed to and could only do so within the safety of the community .

Learning, the future and YouTube

June 20, 2008

An interesting video about kids, stats, global learning, collaboration and the future has been making it’s way around the internet. It is worth looking at here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U&featur

The question once again comes up- what are we doing about it?