mm459: Blast from the Past! No. 39

August 5, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

So, back into the archives yet again, (once again, a picnic summer concert with friends) but this time, you really get a treat, as this is one of my all time favorites, not by any statistical measure, just by my own subjective evaluation.

I console myself by guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and always in season, originally posted October 12, 2007, and originally titled “mm168: We’re fighting more than one pointless war.”

MUDGE‘s Musings

The U.S. has always been this very strange dichotomy: a Puritanical streak a mile wide, uneasily coexisting with gaudy decadence.

We prohibited alcohol consumption by Constitutional amendment in 1920. The result: organized crime in this country became an ingrained institution, and every solid citizen knew a bootlegger. The Great Experiment ended with repeal of prohibition in 1933.

Oddly, organized crime is still with us, having survived to evolve toward other more lucrative (i.e., still illegal) venues. Such as gambling, sex, even tobacco.

And drugs.

Gambling had always been an underground phenomenon, save for a couple of pockets (Nevada and Atlantic City). Then, 35 years ago, state sponsored lotteries began to appear on the scene, leading to the next step, the oddly constrained riverboat and tribal casinos that now populate so many parts of the nation.

Gambling, always a pernicious and destructive habit, is now state sanctioned, making it possible for working stiffs and stiffettes who couldn’t raise busfare to an Indian casino to blow half their weekly pay on a one in 12million shot at obscene wealth at their corner mini-mart.

Commercial sex, fully consummated in the form of legal brothels only in several counties of Nevada, has long been available in teaser form (”look but don’t touch — and would you like to buy a ‘private dance’ in the back?”) in nearly every city, of whatever size.

Many of these strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs” and the like are run by, you guessed it, organized crime, also still a force in the pornography field, although the liberating effect of the Internet has democratized both supply and demand of that particular form of entertainment.

Tobacco is a late addition to the list of proscribed vices, as more municipalities and states (who have long since attempted to control tobacco sales to minors with spotty success) have begun to restrict the ability of citizens to indulge in smoking in public spaces, and have often raised taxes on cigarette purchases so outlandishly that organized crime has been pleased to step into tobacco sales, providing low-priced supplies using stolen or imported stock.

So the U.S. goes both ways: Puritanical (sex, tobacco) and decadence (alcohol, gambling).

And then there are drugs. The Puritans have a firm grasp on this issue, and the law and order establishment has made the enforcement of drug prohibition a very big business indeed.

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm232: Little green laptop computers a hit in remote Peruvian village

December 25, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Faithful reader will recall that One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has been a consistent theme here at Left-Handed Complement. Here’s a handy reminder:

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …
mm179: OLPC for India after all?
mm189: OLPC cranks up!
mm203: OLPC: News; discouraging word
mm212: Cheap computing…
mm219: OLPC — Harvard speaks

Courtesy of reddit.com (still preferred in this space to its competition, here’s a feature out of the International Herald Tribune showing OLPC in use in Peru, one of the first nations to commit to the program.

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MIT spinoff’s little green laptop computers a hit in remote Peruvian village

The Associated Press | Published: December 24, 2007

ARAHUAY, Peru: Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can benefit from quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50 primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.

These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the US$188 (€130) laptops — people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books — can’t get enough of their “XO” laptops.

At breakfast, they’re already powering up the combination library/videocam/audio recorder/music maker/drawing kits. At night, they’re dozing off in front of them — if they’ve managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.

“It’s really the kind of conditions that we designed for,” Walter Bender, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff program One Laptop Per Child, said of this agrarian backwater up a precarious dirt road.

Founded in 2005 by former MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop has retreated from early boasts that developing-world governments would snap up millions of the pint-sized laptops at US$100 (€70) each.

Idealism, as is usual, has been clobbered by reality, and Negroponte’s hoped for millions of orders have not materialized. As in any manufactured product, it’s the classic chicken and egg issue: low price = high volume (assuming an attractive and viable product); high volume = low price (economies of scale).

And as we’ve theorized (but read nowhere else) the falling value of the dollar, plummeting since the program was first announced several years ago, has made unrealistic the ambitious $100 target, further impairing success on the imagined scale.

And, competition has rushed in now that OLPC has proved the concept, further impairing the ability to meet the original stretch goal.

But, the Give One, Get One program has meant that 150,000 machines will be delivered in early 2008:

Peru made the single biggest order to date — more than 272,000 machines — in its quest to turn around a primary education system that the World Economic Forum recently ranked last among 131 countries surveyed. Uruguay was the No. 2 buyer of the laptops, inking a contract for 100,000.

Negroponte said 150,000 more laptops will get shipped to countries including Rwanda, Mongolia, Haiti, and Afghanistan in early 2008 through “Give One, Get One,” a U.S.-based promotion ending Dec. 31 in which you buy a pair of laptops for US$399 (€277.50) and donate one or both.

Peru is where the rubber hits the road for OLPC, and the IHT story highlights many of the challenges: teacher training, support, internet access in a nation whose remote regions seem to operate much as they must have when first encountered by Spanish exploiters five hundred years ago.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

MIT spinoff’s little green laptop computers a hit in remote Peruvian village – International Herald Tribune

But for all of the challenges, it’s a hopeful story.

There’s still time before 31-December (program, and tax year deadlines) to participate in Give One, Get One. And, if you follow advice first expressed in this space some time ago, and even noted in the IHT story, you might want to make it Give One, Give One. In fact, as we said three months ago

This is a wonderful cause, and I would think that people who would find a $399 purchase with a 50% charitable component affordable might also wish, as the story suggests, to donate the PC they’re entitled to a (not third world, but certainly third rate) school in this country.

God knows that there are pockets of the third world within these preciously regarded borders of ours, many within our biggest cities. Then it becomes a $399 charitable contribution, serving to further education among the deserving needy in our own country as well as beyond.

If Peru’s example is typical, then OLPC’s little green machine certainly appears to be the transformative tool that Nicholas Negroponte envisioned.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm168: We’re fighting more than one pointless war!

October 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The U.S. has always been this very strange dichotomy: a Puritanical streak a mile wide, uneasily coexisting with gaudy decadence.

We prohibited alcohol consumption by Constitutional amendment in 1920. The result: organized crime in this country became an ingrained institution, and every solid citizen knew a bootlegger. The Great Experiment ended with repeal of prohibition in 1933.

Oddly, organized crime is still with us, having survived to evolve toward other more lucrative (i.e., still illegal) venues. Such as gambling, sex, even tobacco.

And drugs.

Gambling had always been an underground phenomenon, save for a couple of pockets (Nevada and Atlantic City). Then, 35 years ago, state sponsored lotteries began to appear on the scene, leading to the next step, the oddly constrained riverboat and tribal casinos that now populate so many parts of the nation.

Gambling, always a pernicious and destructive habit, is now state sanctioned, making it possible for working stiffs and stiffettes who couldn’t raise busfare to an Indian casino to blow half their weekly pay on a one in 12million shot at obscene wealth at their corner mini-mart.

Commercial sex, fully consummated in the form of legal brothels only in several counties of Nevada, has long been available in teaser form (“look but don’t touch — and would you like to buy a ‘private dance’ in the back?”) in nearly every city, of whatever size.

Many of these strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs” and the like are run by, you guessed it, organized crime, also still a force in the pornography field, although the liberating effect of the internet has democratized both supply and demand of that particular form of entertainment.

Tobacco is a late addition to the list of proscribed vices, as more municipalities and states (who have long since attempted to control tobacco sales to minors with spotty success) have begun to restrict the ability of citizens to indulge in smoking in public spaces, and have often raised taxes on cigarette purchases so outlandishly that organized crime has been pleased to step into tobacco sales, providing low-priced supplies using stolen or imported stock.

So the U.S. goes both ways: Puritanical (sex, tobacco) and decadence (alcohol, gambling).

And then there are drugs. The Puritans have a firm grasp on this issue, and the law and order establishment has made the enforcement of drug prohibition a very big business indeed.

As rusty manufacturers blow away (to China, mostly), and agribusiness mechanizes and hires cheap immigrant labor for the parts that resist mechanization, rural, mainly white, America has seen the building and staffing of prisons as economic manna.

And what crimes have made prisons such a growth industry? Drug crimes.

MUDGE is prepared argue that there are two classes of drug related crime. The organized crime variety, the one with Glocks and AK47s — those criminals belong in prison — throw away the key.

The other class of “criminals” are the consumers of “recreational chemicals,” whose presence in the criminal justice system has bloated it out of all proportion.

The war on drugs has been the tooth of the drug enforcement tiger, attracting big dollars, big legal establishments and big prison systems, and finds very little distinction between supplier, dealer, and user. The war on drugs’ motto: Put them all away!

Let’s hear what San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had to say about this issue last week:

cbs5

(CBS 5 / KCBS) SAN FRANCISCO San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed the nation’s war on drugs a total failure and insisted the crime rate would go down if the government spent money on treatment as opposed to jailing people with drug problems.

“If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs,” he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. “You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs.”

The mayor maintained local jails are overcrowded with people incarcerated for drug offenses, taking up room that could be used to hold more violent criminal offenders. He said violent criminals with lengthy felony records are being turned loose, too often.

Unlike alcohol use, unlike even commercial sex, tolerated in all but nine-counties-of-Nevada-form in most localities, we’ve let the Puritans continue to set the agenda on drugs.

The result: flourishing organized crime, brutal and deadly; burgeoning courts with backed up dockets; prisons often overcrowded despite the building boom; and users who rather than getting treatment for their addictive behavior are instead matriculated in crime school — jail.

The war on drugs makes no distinction between “recreational chemicals” and the increasing scientifically documented uses for marijuana for medical purposes.

Of course, Puritans (read: Republicans) don’t have a lot of use for science, unless it’s ridiculous pseudo-science like so-called “creation science.”

And so cancer patients and their doctors have also become criminals. What a waste!

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

cbs5.com – SF Mayor Gavin Newsom: War On Drugs Is A Failure

Now, MUDGE is not recommending total legalization. After all, alcohol was legalized 74 years ago, and while the impact on criminals was dramatic, the impact on addictive individuals, their families, and those unlucky enough to share the highways with them has remained dire. An impact, however, that, except for DUIs, the medical establishment has been deemed most appropriate to handle.

But, when Prohibition ended, so also did the lucrative line of business for criminals.

Several states, mainly in the East, still to this day restrict alcohol sales to state run facilities.

Okay, that sounds like a useful template. Open up state controlled substance stores. Demand six forms of identification if necessary to keep children far away.

Thus, let’s see what happens to drug crimes when to use drugs doesn’t require one to be a criminal.

Prohibition turned an entire nation into criminals, and changed the face of criminal activity in this country. Prohibition finally became unsustainable because the nation came to its senses realizing that even otherwise exemplary citizens had to behave like criminals and break the law to enjoy a drink.

Set a price for heroin and cocaine and the like that includes a tax to fund drug abuse treatment programs — I’m guessing the “street” price will still, tax and all, come in at far less than the price available from the Colombian-supplied junkie down that alley.

But, keep a few law enforcement agents around, to throw the book at the creeps who persist in selling to children.

Make medical marijuana freely available at a fair price by prescription, again at the state stores where legal identification can be assured.

Just as organized crime found new things to do in 1933, if you take criminality out of the drug supply industry, drug related crime will dry up just as promptly. Fear not for the poor farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Afghanistan with their poppy fields. They will remain in business, paid though by the U.S. government rather than by criminal cartels.

Of course, there’s always a down side. This program would leave thousands of judges, bailiffs, court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs’ deputies, wardens and guards out of work.

Probably an acceptable price for the reduction, even elimination, of the casually violent drive-by shootings that kill innocent 10 year olds.

Use some of that obsolete war on drugs budget to retrain the judges, bailiffs, clerks, lawyers, deputies, and guards.

Teach them web page development and Java. Create something useful.

Maybe we can once again compete with Bengaluru.

Another pointless war we can end. Why not now?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE