Open Letter to Jim McDermott and Congresspeople

April 13, 2015

Hi Jim, this is Joel. I'd like to ask you to tell your fellow congresscritters to vote against reauthorizing section 215 of the Patriot Act. You understand that the mass surveillance that is currently occurring under your watch is unconstitutional and makes our country not a functioning democracy but a dictatorship, a tyranny. Tell your fellow congressmen and congresswomen to vote against reauthorizing section 215 of the Patriot Act and that will be a step toward making our nation a functioning democracy with a working system of checks and balances. Nothing can undo the harm that has already occurred under the Patriot Act and we can no doubt expect that the NSA will repeatedly attempt to continue mass surveillance of the entire world, including innocent American citizens here in the US. Constant vigilance is required to ensure that the tyranny that the NSA has created collapses and is never again rebuilt.

I will keep the rest of my thoughts to myself so that you can go on doing your job.

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Camping is fun

Camping is Fun by Javantea Nov 15, 2011

Yesterday I told my new friends the story of why I don't like nature. Before you start writing a passionate defense of nature, I think you should skim this blog. I have decided to retire that story. It's more than 15 years old and that is perhaps too long to still be good evidence against such a large and diverse subject as nature. Similarly, people, men, women, cities, corporations, dogs, criminals, bars, and governments cannot be written off so easily. That's right, even governments that are corrupt in hundreds of countries, countless provinces, states, counties, and cities cannot be completely written off. Why? Because power corrupts, governments that properly subject power to checks and balances can actually solve the problem. It's just that practically none of them have. Instead of rejecting the concept of government, why don't I just reject the notion of every government that has so far existed? Certainly, certainly I could do that. Then instead of an anarchist I would consider myself a minimalist and a perfectionist. That isn't easy to defend philosophically but it's at least fair to governments that may actually work somewhere. Reading a few paragraphs of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience again, I remember that my notion of anarchism comes from the sound philosophical tradition of nature. "...when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which the will have." So let us use every available moment to prepare for it.

Nature is not all the same. Nature is by nature naturally diverse. The rain forest in Brasil is not the same as the rain forest in Western Washington. The fruits in Brasil are not the same as the fruits in Eastern Washington. This weekend I went camping to prove to myself that I could chill out with friends in a natural environment and leave the computer in my backpack. It was away not for 2 days but 3 and a half days: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and half of Tuesday. But this isn't about not using the computer. It's quite the opposite, it's about living. Living, yes. I do pretty well at living in the city. I live at a Hostel for a week and I don't have many problems. Complaints, yes. Pains, yes. Culture shock, yes. But what about nature? What about rain? What about torrential rain? What about a trail that is generally difficult and dangerous? It wasn't that bad. It was actually pretty mild compared to what I did when I was 12 years old. Have I told you about my 80 mile ride repeated 4 times in 4 days at age 16? Anyway, during the hike I fell once and my wrist started hurting. Similarly in the city I grabbed a handrail in the metro and hurt my wrist. It's not nature that is dangerous it's statistically unsafe conditions. If you avoid them, you become phobic. If you engage in them, you are counting the hours before you injure yourself. If you are in nature for 4 days, the likeliness of getting hurt are medium. If you are in nature for 2 days per month, you are looking at a nearly 100% chance of getting hurt over the course of your years.

Avoiding danger is a good idea in moderation but it is not practical. The whole idea of telling impressionable children "Don't talk to strangers" is illogical. At some point they will have to talk to strangers whether the stranger is a classmate, a homeless person, a person at the bookshop, or the waiter at a restaurant. If you say, "Water, please," in United States of America, you could get water or you could get a question. I honestly wish that Brazilian waitresses would ask questions in a regular pattern so that I wouldn't have to ask someone for help, but every time they give me a new question I get the chance to show off how unique and helpless I am. Strangers are helpful. When you know how to order a meal at every restaurant you want to go to, you may not need help from strangers, but if they need help from you, it's great. "What a wonderful good deed I have done today to help a stranger!" you might tell yourself. But of course you should feel good about helping a stranger. They are in need and if it doesn't come from you, who? How much I have learned from people who are genuinely helpful, happy, and kind? A perfect society designed to welcome the foreigner that doesn't know the language may choose to speak an international language, but would totally miss the point I have stumbled upon here. People are naturally helpful. How do we bring this out in people where the society has a reputation of being unhelpful? Have you heard of the Rain City Superheroes? They have trained to be able to defend themselves against attacks from unruly criminals and walk the street so that people can feel safe even when people say that unsavory folks are about. If you've seen a video of them in action you can honestly say that what they are doing is haphazard situation management like a bouncer of the streets. If we have bouncers of the streets, why don't we have greeters? On Saturday the Free Hugs movement in Brasil hugged my friend and me. They are one set of greeters of the streets. Who else can we say are greeters of the streets? The person who has a lighter in front of a bar can be a greeter. Many people are addicted to smoking because of the friends they have made borrowing a lighter. How do you pick which person when asking a question? The person who looks like a local. There you go, look like a local in a tourist area and then when someone asks you directions, you offer to walk them the whole way. On the way you talk to them about anything they are interested in. How difficult is that? Not at all. How about the reverse greeter? I'm new in the area, could you tell me about this? If they are busy, they will say they don't know. It's nothing personal. If they help you out they may be interested in becoming friends.

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More Seen, More Learned

Today I started walking early in the morning and ended at 2PM after a great lunch. Certainly until my cast is off, I will not be able to walk as much as I did today. I overdid it and I'm expecting awful problems to start to occur tomorrow with my arm. Generally walking and a cast do not mix. I will have no problem covering more territory by metro in the coming month though. It has now come to my attention that I am in way over my head as far as Portuguese goes. Every time I have attempted to listen or to speak it has been a train wreck. If someone with an automatic weapon were to shout an order or a question at me, I would be toast. Luckily those sort of people have no questions or orders for me.

Since I have now learned that Portuguese is more difficult than I thought, I am putting mouseover text which should translate a few interesting things for you. Look for italic green text like this and put your mouse over it for a few seconds. If you think of a better way to display this, let me know.

São Paulo Cathedral

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Traveling Within Brasil

I've talked with two Brazilians (Brasiliero) today and both encourage me to visit the Northeast. While my original plan was to just visit São Paulo I am now thinking that I'll find the easiest way to visit as much of the country as I can. Since Brasil is nearly the same size as the continental US, I suspect that there is a lot of diversity among Brasil's many areas. I think I will not plan travel within Brasil until I get there. I currently have bigger things to be concerned about and I have little mind to waste if I want to learn every word I'll need in Brasil.

A look at Brasil's history (Wikipedia is great, isn't it?) today shows just how unstable their country has been since its inception. Though I think that is a good thing, I also think about how short a time the US has been a constitutional democracy. It's really a matter of time before we change dramatically. The industrial revolution that made the US wealthy is changing dramatically and our political system is honestly strained by the inherent weakness of representative democracy. Without strong checks and balances, the systems of governance and justice are as tyrannical as lesser systems of government. What does this have to do with Brasil? Brasil's young democracy has had serious problems in the recent past. Corruption and economic injustice are problems both countries are continuously fighting. As we learn to combat these problems we can improve our societies by sharing our ideas.

Since this is my first post I want to keep it short. I'm learning a ton of Brazilian Portuguese with Busuu and I intend to finish the B2 training before I leave in 1 week. That will make me an intermediate Portuguese speaker in about 3 months of learning over 1 year. The podcasts help and the PDFs should come in handy at some point, but of course the two things that really made learning fun for me was talking to native speakers and the writing exercises which are corrected by native speakers. Amazing really. I enjoy learning but this makes my day every time I go on Busuu someone new is making me work hard for my conversation. Brazilians are so friendly.

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