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Seymour Papert, RIP

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a somewhat personal note ]
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Seymour Papert, photo by L. Barry Hetherington, via Papert’s NYT obit

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Seymour Papert, artificial intelligence pioneer and one-time research colleague of Jean Piaget who was keenly interested in bringing children, education and computers together, has died.

The Jewish paper, Foward, has an obit which touches me personally, since it turns out that Papert knew and learnjed much from my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston. Key graphs from the obit:

Another activity that became more than a pastime was improving life conditions for his black neighbors in South Africa. Daniel Crevier’s “A. I.,” a history of machine intelligence, notes that Papert grew up in an otherwise all-black area. Papert acquired further insight and sensitivity into the issue of racism from lengthy discussions with Father Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid Anglican clergyman who often collaborated with Jewish activists sharing his views, notably the artist Hyman Segal of Russian Jewish origin, who illustrated Huddleston’s 1956 anti-apartheid study, “Naught For Your Comfort.”

As Desmond Tutu told an interviewer last year, Huddleston visited him regularly “when I nearly succumbed to tuberculosis. He taught me invaluable lessons about the human family; that it doesn’t matter how we look or where we come from, we are made for each other, for compassion, for support and for love.” This interfaith belief impressed young Papert as well, who like other South Africans of his generation was stunned when Huddleston did simple things like politely greeting black people in the street, acknowledging them as fellow human beings; one such recipient of unexpected civility was Desmond Tutu’s mother. In high school, Papert tried to arrange evening classes for illiterate black domestic servants, an activity strictly forbidden by the apartheid government.

Ever a logical thinker, Papert asked why black Africans were not permitted to attend white schools. The response was because of the threat of infectious disease, to which Papert replied that black servants prepared food and cared for children of the same white families, so the thought process at the basis of apartheid was clearly illogical.

For my own recollections of Fr Trevor, see:

  • Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston
  • Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament
  • h/t Derek Robinson

    From the Forgiveness Chronicles: Rwanda

    Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a reminder from 2014 — for those who preach love, for those who preach mercy ]
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    Rwanda detail
    Dominique Ndahimana, Perpetrator (left); Cansilde Munganyinka, Survivor

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    Dominique Ndahimana:

    The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.

    Cansilde Munganyinka:

    After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.

    **

    Rwanda

    **

    Another perpetrator / survivor pair:

    François Ntambara

    Because of the genocide perpetrated in 1994, I participated in the killing of the son of this woman. We are now members of the same group of unity and reconciliation. We share in everything; if she needs some water to drink, I fetch some for her. There is no suspicion between us, whether under sunlight or during the night. I used to have nightmares recalling the sad events I have been through, but now I can sleep peacefully. And when we are together, we are like brother and sister, no suspicion between us.

    Epiphanie Mukamusoni:

    He killed my child, then he came to ask me pardon. I immediately granted it to him because he did not do it by himself — he was haunted by the devil. I was pleased by the way he testified to the crime instead of keeping it in hiding, because it hurts if someone keeps hiding a crime he committed against you. Before, when I had not yet granted him pardon, he could not come close to me. I treated him like my enemy. But now, I would rather treat him like my own child.

    **

    Source:

  • Pieter Hugo, Portraits of Reconciliation: 20 years after the genocide in Rwanda
  • photos by Susan Dominus
  • Sunday surprise: osprey! — & more..

    Sunday, May 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — elemental battles — one extraordinary nature video in slomo, and another with an interesting angle on threesidedness ]
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    But first, by way of preamble..

    Haniel Long Annie Dillard SPEC

    I’ve told the tale of how I came to appreciate the power of DoubleQuotes by running across these two parallel quotes in the works of two writers I admire, Haniel Long and Annie Dillard, in DoubleQuotes — origins, while in Bobcat jumps shark.. I posted a photo of an encounter that strongly reminded me of the pair of them.

    **

    You can therefore imagine how delighted i was this week to add this fourth entry into what is rapidly becoming a catalogue of fights-to-the-death between creatures of opposing elements:

    The bird, as in Haniel Long’s tale, is an osprey, it’s battle is with a heavy fish — but in this case, it is the osprey that survives the encounter — and the slow motion video capture is simply astonishing.

    Which reminds me..

    **

    I have already posted three times on the subject of ternary logic and three player games — in Of games III: Rock, Paper, Tank, in Spectacularly non-obvious, I: Elkus on strategy & games, and in Spectacularly non-obvious, 2: threeness games — but had somehow omitted any mention of another spectacular wildlife video, this one capturing a three-cornered battle between buffalos, lions and a crocodile or two, which can be found on YouTube under the title Battle at Kruger:

    With 77 million views and counting at the time I post this, it’s a video you may very well have seen before — and a terrific testament to the idea that sheer quantity may on occasion be indicative of real quality.

    Conflict resolution has both positive and negative outcomes

    Friday, May 13th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — paradox: individual health goes down while societal health improves ]
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    reverse arrow conflict individual & group

    I knew this “reverse arrows” graphic would find a multitude of uses.

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    Here’s the news report:

    Post-conflict reconciliation led to societal healing, but worsened psychological health.

    Key paras:

    Civil wars divide nations along social, economic, and political lines, often pitting neighbors against each other. In the aftermath of civil wars, many countries undertake truth and reconciliation efforts to restore social cohesion, but little has been known about whether these programs reach their intended goals.

    A new study published in Science suggests reconciliation programs promote societal healing, but that these gains come at the cost of reduced psychological health, worsening depression, anxiety, and trauma.

    “Our research suggests that talking about war atrocities can prove psychologically traumatic for people affected by war. Invoking war memories appears to re-open old war wounds,” said Oeindrila Dube, assistant professor of politics and economics at New York University and one of the authors of the study. “At the same time, the reconciliation program we examined was also shown to improve social relations in communities divided by the war.”

    ¶ ¶ ¶

    The study took place across 200 villages, 100 of which were randomly chosen to be offered the reconciliation program. The research team tracked 2,383 people in both sets of villages, recording their attitudes towards former combatants, their mental health, and the strength of their social ties nine and 31 months after the program.

    The study was made in Sierra Leone a decade after the civil war ended. Assuming the methodology is good and the results are as described, there’s a very interesting paradox here. And hey, a decent paradox really gets my mental feet a-tapping. It will be instructive to see whether similar results are found elsewhere.

    **

    The study is J. Cilliers, O. Dube, B. Siddiqi. Reconciling after civil conflict increases social capital but decreases individual well-being. Science, 2016; 352 (6287): 787 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9682 — to which I have no access, and which would very likely prove beyond my comprehension in any case.

    Of blood and song

    Sunday, April 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — what carves memory? blood is spilled, song carries grief and anger across centuries ]
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    One hundred years ago, Irish blood was spilled in the Easter Uprising of 1916, as Sinéad O’Connor & The Chieftains call us to remember in The Foggy Dew:

    As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
    There armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
    No pipe did hum no battle drum did sound it’s loud tattoo
    But the Angelus bell o’er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew

    The bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
    For those who died that Easter-tide in the spring of the year
    While the world did gaze in deep amaze at those fearless men but few
    Who bore the fight that freedom’s light might shine through the foggy dew

    While some may see in the Uprising a merely political fight, in song the religious element — Easter morn, the Angelus bell, the Requiem bell — add Catholic poignancy to memory.

    **

    One hundred years.

    Memory can linger long past a hundred years, as we in our rush to be the first into the future may forget. Let the Chieftains again remind us, with O’Sullivan’s March:

    Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare marched in 1602 — as Shakespeare was penning All’s Well That Ends Well and Othello?

    A doff of the cap is due here to blog-friend Pundita , who pointed me in the direction of this post with her own Don’t ask me why, because..:

    **

    Ah, but Pundita also deerves a bow for her most recent post, Can the griots lead us home? — wherein she pointed me to a music of great joy, that of Oumou Sangaré:

    If you watch enough videos of Oumou singing (there must be a zillion of them posted to YouTube) you’ll see that in many of her performances she has a highly conversational way of singing. You feel as if she’s talking directly to you. Sometimes it’s as if she’s talking to you in the manner of a defense attorney making an argument to a judge; others as if she’s chatting about something over lunch with you.

    Here is a hunting song:

    Pundita notes:

    I think the ability to set up a very personal communication through song is the mark of a real griot, although after watching about 50 of her videos I think Oumou represents a tradition that I suspect goes back much earlier even than the griot clans — to a time when certain people in a tribe were interlocutors between humans and natural forces and helped settle disputes between members of tribes, and did so through the power of their voices to project a wide range of emotions.

    Mali, at a time of violent upheaval — yet such joy in dance and song:

    **

    We have statistics for which nations suffer the most losses in war and terror, which export the most weapons, which nations invade, and which are invaded — but what of joy?

    Years ago, in a book that sank like a stone, I suggested the concept of a Subtle National Product. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan apparently beat me to it, when he declared in the 1970s:

    Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.

    His Majesty came up with the idea first, I now see and gladly admit — but I still prefer my own pohrasing!

    Joy, it seems to me, isn;t easily quantified, although Bhutan does have an Index:

    Bhiutan Gross Natiuonal Happiness

    Here are some conparative stats across nations, ethnicities and faiths I’d be interested in:

  • deaths in warfare, civilian, irregular, and military
  • numbers of children pressed into war
  • numbers of those maimed, displaced and or grossly mentally disturbed by war
  • depth of grief, as meaaured in forms of keening and ululation
  • degree of exuberance, as found in music and dance, popular and professional
  • ritual solemnity and grandeur, on religious and state occasions
  • quantity of written poetry bought or borrowed from libraries
  • size of audiences for spoken poetry readings
  • number of poets (in particular) imprisoned for their writings
  • Qualitative equivalents of these values would also be of interest, though even harder to obtain and verify in any objective manner..


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