Monday, August 04, 2008

"Putting Africa Into the Computer"
Brotha Kwabena Boahen is a brilliant young African scientist who is conscious of the possibilities of the uniquely "African" contributions to contemporary science and technology. One of the key components of this "Africanity" is its nonlinear nature... its embracing of complexity within collectivity... using networks over rigidity in processing and informing. Watch this video to the very end to get an understanding of where Boahen is coming from... and where his ideas can go- IF we bring African traditional cognition into the 21st Century science & tech. Brotha Boahen's very last example of infusing "Africa" into Western technology and culture really helps to clarify where he's coming from... and how Africans and our descendants must move forward for not only our survival and development, but also for the survival and development of Planet Earth.-- Sam Anderson

Kwabena Boahen: Making a computer that works like the brain


Why you should listen to him:

Kwabena Boahen is the principal investigator at the Brains in Silicon lab at Stanford. He writes of himself:

Being a scientist at heart, I want to understand how cognition arises from neuronal properties. Being an engineer by training, I am using silicon integrated circuits to emulate the way neurons compute, linking the seemingly disparate fields of electronics and computer science with neurobiology and medicine.

My group's contributions to the field of neuromorphic engineering include a silicon retina that could be used to give the blind sight and a self-organizing chip that emulates the way the developing brain wires itself up. Our work is widely recognized, with over sixty publications, including a cover story in the May 2005 issue of Scientific American.

My current research interest is building a simulation platform that will enable the cortex's inner workings to be modeled in detail. While progress has been made linking neuronal properties to brain rhythms, the task of scaling up these models to link neuronal properties to cognition still remains. Making the supercomputer-performance required affordable is the goal of our Neurogrid project. It is at the vanguard of a profound shift in computing, away from the sequential, step-by-step Von Neumann machine towards a parallel, interconnected architecture more like the brain.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Continuing the Obama Drama...

A Comment from Brotha Dinizulu...
He's commenting on the Nation's August 18, 2008 article entitled (see below):
Change We Can Believe In: An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Well, this does a pretty good job of making it clear that many more people are feeling the exact same things that the folks closest to us are feeling.

The Obama campaign, however, seems committed to its own version of "realpolitik," the euphemistic excuse which has been offered (even by no less an apologist than Amiri Baraka) for why the compromises and "tilting toward center," as the WSJ called it, must be done -- "in order to get elected" -- which, of course, begs the question of "And Then What?"

We have seen this movie before -- the Dukakis and Kerry versions, and the Jimmy Carter version once he got elected -- and we know it doesn't work. There is even a proverb about changing horses in the middle of a stream, and an even better known one about the obligation to "Dance with who brung you."

These foolish moves by the Dumb-ocrats over the years can be, and have been, attributed to simple poor judgment, or the stereotyped notion of hard working, good-hearted, sincere folk being outplayed by very rich, slick and unscrupulous players on the other side, but I ain't with that. What seems to be in play here is exactly what we suspect most and know best about American politricks.

Established power is a hell of a force to reckon with, especially when we are talking about those at the top of a sociopolitical matrix that is characterized by the most extreme disparity of wealth to be found anywhere on the planet. Power, to para phrase the late Rick James's profound statement about cocaine, "is a hell of a drug." (Dave Chapelle did some hilarious stuff with that.) It is an addiction, and, as such, has no propensity whatsoever to listening to reason or exercising itself in any way that even appears to diminish the possibility of acquiring more.

In the orchestrated scam known as the American political scene, it seems like the villain behind the scene is money. Elections have come to be accepted by the public as money raising contests instead of competitions for the votes of the masses, who are fast on our way to being "shirtless," "unwashed," and all those other epithets. (Any pretense to democracy in this country was stillborn from the getgo, but the will of the people to make it a reality has never quite been crushed. Today, we are closer than ever to that reality.) But extreme concentrations of money are the result, rather than the cause, of undue political influence on the part of those at the top of the matrix, whose single agenda, like that of the junkie on the street, is to feed their addiction to power, which not only leads them to do literally anything in that pursuit, but also allows them to do so without fear of punishment or reprisals. "Nice work if you can get it..."

So now comes this bright, fresh, intelligent, promising face to the world of politics, who seems to be so sharp that he can even command the scene, rather than being commanded by it. He garners the attention of the masses, even some of the most jaded, who are duly impressed. He looks good. He sounds good. He even seems untainted by the poisons coursing through the nation's veins for centuries. This is starting to look like a "We-Can-Do-This" moment. America might be saved! He is perfect!

The most powerful few agreed on that even before the first of the masses got an inkling, and therein lies the rub. In our lifetime we have rarely seen the office of the presidency to be much more than a sales executive position: Advertise and sell predetermined policy on behalf of the most wealthy and powerful to the masses as something that we want and need. Who better to make Americans think that we still have a democracy than this perfect candidate? But this strategy comes with a serious caveat. It is one thing for him to freshen the scene and create a Britney Spears-type distraction from more serious matters at hand, but it is another for him to start being listened to and to have a real chance at winning this thing. So the faster and farther he runs, the more the reins have to be tightened.

In the end, he might win, if he wins, by a nose, and will do so knowing who is in charge and with no foolish sense of having any "mandate from the people." That is their dream. Then there is ours, which is the impetus for this letter. "Go ahead, big guy! You can do it ! We got your back! The entire human race will be grateful beyond words, for generations to come! We need you! We love you!" A hell of a choice.

He was once (now famously), a "community organizer" in Chicago, an activist, one might even say, one of the good guys with some kind of cred on the street. People saw. People heard. People listened. People noticed. All kinds of people. And among those were the people who persuaded and encouraged him to run for political office. A fateful decision. Like so many others -- the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" fantasy comes to mind --he certainly made the choice based on what he could bring to politics rather than what it could do for him. Like the best of candidates, he was there for what he could do, rather than for what he could be.

But once there, what? Where is the courageous voting record? Where is the advocacy other than on the campaign stump? What have we here, really? For sure, the man's genuine temperament and disposition as a bridge-builder who prefers reasoned negotiation and diplomacy to rash and destructive confrontation is an asset, but to whose advantage, really?

What it looks like from where I, and a whole lot of other people, sit, is good ol' politricks as usual. "Realpolitik," it is said to be, as if to impart some sense of historical justification or dignity to the strategy. "Look, ya got the so-called 'progressives' i n your pocket. They're not going anywhere, and they're too cared not to vote for you, a) because they actually believe in democracy, and b) because they are deathly afraid of a McCain continuation of the Bush regime, so you don't have to pander to them anymore, now that they got you the nomination. Sure, that's who brung you to the big dance, but there's a bigger dance coming up, and we know you don't like the sleazy old madam's reputation, but, listen, she's got the connections to make or break you, so what are ya gonna do, big guy? Chuck the whole thing? May we remind you of who really got you here. Some very powerful people have invested a lot in you, and have even risked their reputations in gambling on you as one who can be trusted to do the right things. You guys know how to play ball, right? In fact, you're famous for it. That's all ya gotta do: play good ball and everybody'll be happy. What more can you ask for? You're in. If you want to opt out, hey, it's a free country, but you'll make some people very unhappy. So the choice is yours. We know you'll make the right decision."

Outside of that backroom where the high-stakes game of politricks is being played (the powerful just love their power), an even more serious game is unfolding, with nothing less than human survival (including that of the most powerful) at stake. Immoral and unnecessary wars, massive resources being poured into destructive weaponry rather than productive improvements to the quality of life, global warming, environmental crises (which include foodstocks), dysfunctional health care, increasing symptoms of collective madness like domestic and child abuse, school shootups and random violence, what should be an alarming rate of incarceration, failing schools, divorces outweighing marriages, the AIDS pandemic, exacerbated disparities in material wealth and energy use, sweatshop nations ruked by propped-up dictators, torture made acceptable, etc, etc. Are we supposed to believe that this is normal; just "human nature"; "the way it has always been"; "just business, nothing personal"; etc., etc., in the same way that we are supposed to accept that slavery was, well, OK, or that genocidal "Indian Removal" (which has now reduced the Indigenous population to less than 3%) was "God's will," carried out by "His" people? Are we, as members of a species, not just an "interest group" of one kind or another, supposed to just accept that what passed for "business as usual" in the past, which has created all of these consequences today, is supposed to be acceptable in the present and the future?

I don't expect Mr. Obama, in his position, to give much attention to this open letter, no matter how many people sign it or who the signers are (unless some of his most generous corporate sponsors are on the list), but we, on the other hand, have no choice other than to give it a lot of attention and to stand for what we have been standing=2 0for, whether he stands with us or not, and even if, in the end -- "realpolitik" being what it is -- he stands against us.

We have simply passed the point in history, like it or not, ready or not, when the occupant of the White House can be "The Decider" of who lives and who dies, who enjoys life and who suffers, who eats and who starves. This is partly because the real power of these decisions lies elsewhere -- in oil and energy, pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, global finance capital and other such centers, whose longstanding agenda has been a marginalization or elimination of government as a relevant entity at all, with its power to tax, regulate and monitor private profit making; they can easily envisage a world run by corporate warlords with private armies, not so much to combat one another as to compete for the precious prizes of cheap labor and lucrative consumer markets. Government's only role is to tax the common people, conscript their sons and daughters into the low-paid armed forces that will save corporate expenses to protect their global interests, and, of course feed those interests healthy contracts. That is all stereotypical enough, but even so, the real world is much more subtle.

The rise of the Euro on one side and of the Asian economies on the other are straws in the wind that the role of the U.S. government in world affairs is changing rapidly. The oldthink notions of maintaining some kind of global military empire are just not applicable in the same ways to the 21st century. History has moved on. New generations are being born, with reflexes and responses to reality for which the Old Order is in no way prepared -- the price of not caring. The old fantasy that all opponents (if you ain't with us, you're agin us) can be shot, bombed, gassed, tortured or intimidated out of existence is a pathetic misconception that can only be propped up by ignorance and fear, and both of those props are fast disappearing, in spite of Power's best efforts.

The only hope in all of this is sanity. You can't fix anything that is broken until you have sense enough to know and acknowledge that it is broken. That may not mean that you know how to fix it, but at least it is the first step. Right now, fear and addiction is making that first step look like a leap into the unknown. (Who in America has ever learned how to live in an equitable society, without prejudices and discrimination, for example?) But new generations, born into the world as it is, having no appetite for the game because reality is too compelling, will have much to say about where we are headed.

Nature always seeks balance. The extreme degree of imbalance in the world today can be measured by how much violence (actual and threatened) is required to maintain it. Violence (especially the tools and weapons required) requires a great consumption of resources and energy (mental and spiritual as well20as material). If the human species becomes such a source of imbalance as to make nature more healthy without our presence then I don't think any number of our most dreadful weapons will defend us against that. (As if to show us a lesson in that reality, while our chickenhawks in DC were boasting about their "shock and awe" terrorism in Iran, and threatening others with what "the full might of American military force" can do, there was this tsunami, whose effects were felt from Indonesia to Somalia, killing how many humans in its path. Was it not interesting that so many other species of animals and birds "knew" not to be there when it struck, having moved on to higher ground far away, without evacuation plans, traffic jams, dysfunctional FEMA incompetents, etc.?)

Until we get about the business of seeking that kind of sanity, instead of being concerned with celebrity gossip (which is just about what the race for the White House has been reduced to, in real terms -- which was the material for that "I've Got a Crush on Obama" spoof), we aren't even half serious about the real business of being human on this earth, in the ways that our Ancestors knew we had to be. It is truly said, in our folk wisdom, that "An empty wagon makes the most noise." All around us, we can barely think (mission accomplished!) for all of the noise and distraction -- advertising, politics, religion, violence (attested to by the constant wail of police sirens, if not actually witnessed or experienced) -- all that stuff assaults our senses unrelentingly, especially in urban environments. TV, video games, computer stuff -- like what I am doing right now, consumerist notions of our individual worth, etc., etc., are always there to fill even what might be our quiet moments. Even our music is what we buy, download, or hear on the radio, not what we make. And for all the noise and cacophony, it's all empty, just a big game to get our money so a few of us, like cancer cells can live bloatedly overfed lives at our expense.

Politics and preachers have little to offer, at least at present, to this struggle for sanity amidst the madness-made-fashionable. In fact, many will feel so threatened by our pro-active embrace of another agenda than theirs that we can predictably be put on the threat-to-national-security list, for daring to live simpler and truer lives. In doing so, however, they would do well to be reminded of the nature of the beast they are attempting to ride to the promised land. Its belly stays full of those who have attempted to ride its back; in fact that is the bait and lure by which it feeds. We do well to stay out of its way.

In struggle,


Subject: An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Change We Can Believe In: An Open Letter to Barack Obama

August 18, 2008, The Nation.

Dear Senator Obama,

We write to congratulate you on the tremendous achievements of your campaign for the presidency of the United States.

Your candidacy has inspired a wave of political enthusiasm like nothing seen in this country for decades. In your speeches, you have sketched out a vision of a better future-- in which the United States sheds its warlike stance around the globe and focuses on diplomacy abroad and greater equality and freedom for its citizens at home--that has thrilled voters across the political spectrum. Hundreds of thousands of young people have entered the political process for the first time, African-American voters have rallied behind you, and many of those alienated f rom politics-as- usual have been re-engaged.

You stand today at the head of a movement that believes deeply in the change you have claimed as the mantle of your campaign. The millions who attend your rallies, donate to your campaign and visit your website are a powerful testament to this new movement’s energy and passion.

This movement is vital for two reasons: First, it will help assure your victory against John McCain in November. The long night of greed and military adventurism under the Bush Administration, which a McCain administration would continue, cannot be brought to an end a day too soon. An enthusiastic corps of volunteers and organizers will ensure that voters turn out to close the book on the Bush era on election day. Second, having helped bring you the White House, the support of this movement will make possible the changes that have been the platform of your campaign. Only a grassroots base as broad and as energized as the one that is behind you can counteract the forces of money and established power that are a dead weight on those seeking real change in American politics.

We urge you, then, to listen to the voices of the people who can lift you to the presidency and beyond.

Since your historic victory in the primary, there have been troubling signs that you are moving away from the core commitments shared by many who have supported your campaign, toward a more cautious and centrist stance--including, most notably, your vote for the FISA legislat ion granting telecom companies immunity from prosecution for illegal wiretapping, which angered and dismayed so many of your supporters.

We recognize that compromise is necessary in any democracy. We understand that the pressures brought to bear on those seeking the highest office are intense. But retreating from the stands that have been the signature of your campaign will weaken the movement whose vigorous backing you need in order to win and then deliver the change you have promised.

Here are key positions you have embraced that we believe are essential to sustaining this movement:

Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable.

A response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between the rich and the rest of us through a more progressive financial and welfare system; public investment to create jobs and repair the country’s collapsing infrastructure; fair trade policies; restoration of the freedom to organize unions; and meaningful government enforcement of labor laws and regulation of industry.

Universal healthcare.

An environmental policy that transforms the economy by shifting billions of dollars from the consumption of fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, creating millions of green jobs.

An end to the regime of to rture, abuse of civil liberties and unchecked executive power that has flourished in the Bush era.

A commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services.

A commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures.

An immigration system that treats humanely those attempting to enter the country and provides a path to citizenship for those already here.

Reform of the drug laws that incarcerate hundreds of thousands who need help, not jail.

Reform of the political process that reduces the influence of money and corporate lobbyists and amplifies the voices of ordinary people.

These are the changes we can believe in. In other areas--such as the use of residual forces and mercenary troops in Iraq, the escalation of the US military presence in Afghanistan, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the death penalty--your stated positions have consistently varied from the positions held by many of us, the “friends on the left” you addressed in recent remarks. If you win in November, we will work to support your stands when we agree with=2 0you and to challenge them when we don’t. We look forward to an ongoing and constructive dialogue with you when you are elected President.

Stand firm on the principles you have so compellingly articulated, and you may succeed in bringing this country the change you’ve encouraged us to believe is possible.

Here is a list of early signatories to this open letter:

Rocky Anderson

Moustafa Bayoumi

Norman Birnbaum Professor Emeritus Georgetown University Law Center

Tim Carpenter Progressive Democrats of America

John Cavanaugh, director Institute for Policy Studies

Juan Cole

Chuck Collins

Phil Donahue

Barbara Ehrenreich

Tom Engelhardt

Jodie Evans, co-f0under CODEPINK: Women for Peace

Thomas Ferguson

Bill Fletcher Jr., executive editor,

Eric Foner

Milton Glaser

Robert Greenwald

William Greider

Jane Hamsher

Tom Hayden

Christopher Hayes

Richard Kim

Stuart Klawans

Bill McKibben

Walter Mosley

Richard Parker, president Americans for Democratic Action

Gary Phillips Writer and activist

Jon Pincus and member of Get FISA Right

Chip Pitts

Frances Piven

Elizabeth Pochoda

Katha Pollitt

Marcus Raskin

Betsy Reed

Bob Scheer

Herman Schwartz

Jonathan Schell

Gene Seymour

David Sirota

Norman Solomon Author and Obama delegate to Democratic National Convention

Mike Stark

Jean Stein

Matt Stoller

Jonathan Tasini

Zephyr Teachout

Studs Terkel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Gore Vidal

David Weir

Howard Zinn

Affiliations have been added when requested by the signatory.

Add your name to the Open Letter calling on Barack Obama to stand firm on the principles he so compellingly articulated in the primary campaign.