Monday, January 27, 2020

books I am reading in 2020

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education (1996)

Eglash, Ron and co., various articles:
  • Automation for the Artisanal Economy: Enhancing the Economic and Environmental Sustainability of Crafting Professions with Human-Machine Collaboration (2019)
  • Of Marx and Makers: an Historical Perspective on Generative Justice (2016)
  • Culturally responsive computing as brokerage:toward asset building with education-based social movements (2016)
  • Computer Science Education from Life (cSELF) (2013)
  • From Ethnomathematics to Ethnocomputing: indigenous algorithms in traditional context and contemporary simulation (2012)
  • Fractal Simulations of African design in pre-college Computing Education (2011)
  • Teaching with Hidden Capital: Agency in Children’s Computational Explorations… (2009)
  • Culturally_Situated_Design_Tools_Ethnocomputing from field site to classroom (2006)

Frank, Thomas, Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016)
Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)
Goldstein, Rebecca, The Mind-Body Problem: A Novel (1993)
Goldstein, Rebecca, Plato at the GooglePlex: Why Philosophy won't go Away (2014)
Graeber, David. Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2014 edition)
Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2019)
Hudson, Michael. Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy (2015)
Hudson, Michael. J is for JUNK Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (2017)
Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future (2017)
Marcus, Gary and David, Ernest. Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence we can Trust (2019)
Merlan, Francesca. Caging the Rainbow: Places, Politics and Aborigines in a Northern Australia Town (1998)
McLean, Ian. How Aborigines invented the idea of contemporary art: edited and introduced by Ian McLean (2011)
McLean, Ian. Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art (2016)
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Perkins, Rachel. Boyer Lectures 2019 (audio)

Previous: 2019 books

my decade

I went through my blog posts from 2010-now to clarify my own path. As usual I have jumped around, leading multiple lives, burning bridges and ending up in no man’s land. Nevertheless, it makes sense to me.

I began the decade continuing with some serious study of political economy, mainly but not only Marx. I feel satisfaction that I finally gained some understanding of Capital and value theory. Why did I stop this, given that the economic crisis certainly hasn’t gone away? Part of the reason was that I couldn’t find reliable comrades to team up with. Another reason was that I found it really hard to get a strong grasp of the subject. But, in thinking about it more, in the end it felt like armchair research. I couldn’t see an endpoint that would be socially useful. I wouldn’t be able to prove anything beyond the now fairly obvious fact that capitalism is an unstable system. I’m an activist as well as a theoretician. Would I return to this topic? Perhaps. I would like to understand authors like Picketty (Capital in the 21st C) and Graeber (Debt: The First 5,000 years)

I began the decade as a huge fan of Noel Pearson. Because of him I became involved in indigenous education and decided to give Direct Instruction (Zig Engelman version) a go. In my interpretation of Noel’s educational vision I could play a positive role. I completed an observation visit to Djarragun College (a Pearson school), near Cairns, in April 2012 and was impressed. Later, I went there to work, 2016-17. The school was a fascinating place but in 2017 the leadership turned bad. I learnt a lot about Noel and now think he is a poor leader. I learnt that someone might be a great speaker and writer but still a poor leader. Nevertheless, because I was teaching aboriginal kids from all over the Cape and Torres Strait Islanders too, I ended up with an experiential understanding of the difficulties and joys of teaching those kids.

Assessing the significance of indigenous culture has been a tortuous path for me. Initially, due to Noel’s influence (DI) and Alan Kay’s influence (the non universals) I was one eyed about the virtues of modernity. However, this began to change due to both my reading and exposure to culturally informed ways of teaching maths. Through the conferences run by Chris Matthews (ATSIMA 2016 and 2018) I discovered YuMi Deadly Maths and authors such as Martin Nakata ( Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines). This was a slow burn, starting in 2016, but looking back now I can see it transformed me from a determined supporter of DI into something very different. I still see a place for DI, the Rhonda Farkota version, but it is not central to my way forward anymore. I’m no longer a vanilla modernist but have transformed into a mongrel modernist.

Throughout the decade I have attempted to understand the true nature of science. Following Pickering I now see science as a complex performance in which there is a dance of agencies between humans and machines as nature offers resistance to our attempts to understand it. Representation and abstraction may be useful at times but they are not real. The path to truth is in the world, lived practice, the full, messy, sensual social human drama of activity.

I still believe there is no single unified learning theory and good teachers have to walk the walk along several approaches: behaviourist, cognitivist, constructionist, enactivist, phenomenology.

In the past couple of years I’ve resumed study of the potential of computers in education. In particular the three game changers of computer coding, physical computing and maker spaces. I’d like to make a contribution by taking these devices to Disadvantaged students, particularly the indigenous.

Late in the decade I’ve discovered the work of Ron Eglash and co which can be called ethnocomputing or Culturally Situated Design Tools. I think I can apply this to Australian indigenous conditions and make a positive contribution in this regard. I’ve developed an exemplar to illustrate this approach, called Dotted Circles, which integrates computer coding, maths and the Papunya Tula art form.

Life after Noel (2018)
Alan Kay Universals / Non Universals (2008)
Martin Nakata: Disciplining the Savages ...
Rhonda Farkota
The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science (1995) by Andrew Pickering (download the book)
the 3 game changers, Invent to Learn
Ron Eglash CSDT site and articles

Monday, January 20, 2020

Frontier Justice by Tony Roberts

I remember being impressed by the meticulous research in this book when I read it in 2018. IMO it is essential reading for those who want to understand the frontier wars. Keith Windschuttle has challenged this sort of information when it has been put forward by other authors, such as Henry Reynolds, in what is known as the history wars: the true impact of British colonialism on Australian aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. I did look for critical reviews of this book but couldn't find any.

I found a review I agreed with (here) and am quoting it in full.

Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1900 by Tony Roberts (2005)
Tony Roberts begins his monumental study of Aboriginal-white frontier relations by describing the harshness, remoteness and dangers of the Gulf country, a vast region stretching from the Barkley Tablelands to the Roper River in the Northern Territory and from the Stuart Highway to the Queensland border and beyond as far as Burketown. The region is centred on the isolated township of Borroloola.

As Roberts notes, this was Australia’s last frontier. Even today the area is remote and little known to most Australians. The strength of Robert’s study of frontier relations in this region is evident from the start in the deft and telling way he sets the context. During the pastoral boom of the 1880s thousands of head of cattle were driven along the ‘coast track’ from Queensland to Roper Bar and Katherine in the Northern Territory to stock the vast stations being established. There followed many hopeful individuals seeking riches in the Kimberley gold rush. Roberts notes this was ‘a momentous time in Australian history’.

However, describing the enormity of the dispossession and destruction that overwhelmed the tribes of the area in the short space of two decades, Roberts applies those same words to describe the significance of these events for Aboriginal society. He says it was ‘a momentous time in Aboriginal history’. The implication is clear – there are two histories in this country. Roberts sets himself the task of exploring both versions, and in the process throws much light on previously hidden aspects of the interaction of the two societies, settler and Aboriginal, in this remote frontier region.

Roberts’ detailed, almost forensic, examination of this relationship reveals a tragic and cruel tale. The damage inflicted, sometimes unwittingly, but all too often with callous intent, on the Aboriginal people of the region, is captured in the words of his title – ‘frontier justice’ – a title redolent with irony, as the reader becomes only too well aware as the story of the destruction wrought upon Aboriginal society is revealed.

Frontier Justice provides a detailed account of the history of the area to 1900 on a chronological and on an area by area basis. Although this approach leads to some repetition, the result is a comprehensive account. Roberts has spent 30 years researching and writing this book. It is a labour of both love and despair. The story Roberts tells is one of rape, abduction and murder of Aboriginal people by brutal whites (and Roberts makes abundantly clear that not all whites were brutal), of Aboriginal reprisals by way of killing of whites (Roberts uses the term ‘murder’), spearing of stock and setting fire to the country. The deadly cycle of reprisal, including ‘punitive expeditions’, then comes into play. Indiscriminate shooting of Aboriginal men, and sometimes of women and children, became the method of ‘controlling the blacks’. Roberts builds a strong case to show that the police were active agents in the punitive expeditions, and in particular raises serious concerns about the role played by Inspector Paul Foelsche who was in charge of policing in the northern half of the Territory from 1870 to 1904.

Roberts explains that essential to the subjugation of the Aboriginal tribes was the conspiracy of silence that prevailed. This kept the metropolitan government in Adelaide at bay as they struggled ineffectively to keep some control of the Northern Territory situation. One needed to know the code to understand what was happening – Aboriginal people were not ‘shot’, they were ‘dispersed’. When reports were written they understated the numbers killed and misrepresented the circumstances. Bushmen were not obliged to join in the hunting of Aborigines, but they were required to keep silent about what they knew. Roberts has managed to penetrate this ‘veil of secrecy’ only through an enormous research effort. He has uncovered many key documents from archives and personal possessions which have not previously seen the light of day. He has relied on a wide variety of sources, published and unpublished, including extensive Aboriginal oral history. It is a cover-up that almost succeeded.

Such a mass of information could have been overwhelming, and made such an account as this turgid and difficult. However, Roberts writes with an economy of words that repay close attention as they carry much information, directly and by implication. Writing of the punitive expeditions, Roberts notes: ‘In the fledgling Northern Territory they [the punitive expeditions] were commonplace: supported by government officials, applauded by the local press, perpetrated by ordinary men and sometimes led by senior police officials’.[1] The sentence says a lot about the nature of the Australian frontier. Roberts’ book is lengthy not because the author is wordy, but because of the mass of information it contains.

As well as punitive expeditions, casual shootings and assorted violence, Roberts describes the forced sexual mistreatment of women and children in the region. Venereal disease became rampant and was untreated. The practice of kidnapping young children left old people to fend for themselves – often destitute and starving.

However, a parade of violence, well-researched and documented as it is, would not take us far in understanding the dynamics of the frontier. Roberts shows that lying behind the self-justified and largely unchecked violence was the assumption that the Aboriginal people had no rights in the lands they had occupied for millennia. On the other hand, the whites had, apparently, the right to travel through, or even take possession of, these lands. Any opposition on the part of the Aboriginal people was seen as contrariness, treachery or criminality. This is the true psychology of terra nullius. Roberts himself pinpoints this assumption by the whites: ‘The land was simply occupied as if it were terra nullius and severe punishment was meted out to any Aboriginal who resisted’.[2]

Frontier Justice is a well-informed, closely researched and absorbing book. It is a work of detailed scholarship which manages to be objective, in the sense of a dispassionate search after historical truth, and morally engaged at the same time. Roberts does not hesitate to name moral bankruptcy. Frontier Justice strips away the romanticised view of the pioneering days which has largely served to hide the brutal and difficult realities of our past. These realities have to be faced. Frontier Justice makes a significant contribution to this task. It deserves to be in every school, university and public library.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Australia's shameful history

“This history is so shameful that most Australians could not admit that this is the origin of their state and their nation”
— Indigenous historian Marcia Langton, in The First Australians.
When I grew up in Melbourne in the 1950s the history of what happened to the aboriginals was invisible. No one talked about it. As Bill Stanner said in 1968 it was the great Australian silence, a cult of forgetfulness on a national scale. A view from the window where a significant part of the landscape was hidden.

Some of my marxist comrades say something like this:
Aboriginal resistance to colonialism can’t be supported because their social system was too backward, primitive, “stone age”. Further, it is argued that Marx supported globalisation and implied from that, that he supported colonialism. See Marx Supported Capitalist Globalization  According to this dialectic the British occupation of Australia was basically a good thing. Modernity is good, superior to any form of pre-modern society. Perhaps I am not portraying their position correctly. They can fix that.

What I am thinking:
This mindset filters out some uncomfortable facts. We see the world through our mind memes, the state of our mind determines what we choose to see. Hence, some of these comrades end up say that Windschuttle was correct in his denial of massacres. I've been told that historians such as Lyndall Ryan and Henry Reynolds either exaggerated or lied and never admitted it when they were caught out. I can except that but believe that their fundamental position is correct, that widespread, systematic massacres occurred.

What facts?
That there were repeated massacres of aboriginal people. Following from the terra nullius doctrine aboriginal people were not treated as having any rights. So, in Tasmania the ex convict settlers took their women. In Queensland pastoralists took their land, etc, etc. Any thinking person should be able to see that this would inevitably lead to conflict. I filter the facts through that context, terra nullius and what would have to flow from that. Aboriginal people responded by killing whites or cattle. In response the whites responded by multiple killings of aboriginals, the only viable way in the conditions of the early colonies, to “teach them a lesson”. Those doing the massacres were usually not brought to justice. Either a blind eye was turned or the massacres were kept secret from authorities.

The evidence:
I didn’t always know this as mentioned earlier. When I went to Far North Queensland (Pauline Hansen country) I learnt through reading (eg. Henry Reynolds) and talking to people that the mindset of “keeping the abos in their place” was widespread. A cleaner at Djarragun College told me that during a holiday further north a publican had told her that when driving home at night if an aboriginal was on the road the best thing to do was run them over.

At any rate, I’ve read these books which I believe provide adequate documentation of both the mindset and the facts:
All that is solid melts into air by Marshall Berman
The Politics of Suffering by Peter Sutton
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper
* The Black War by Nicholas Clements
* Why Warriors Lie Down and Die by Richard Trudgen
* Why weren’t we told? by Henry Reynolds
* Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds
* Frontier Justice by Tony Roberts
Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines by Martin Nakata
Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Colonial Frontier Massacres, Map (Date Range: 1780 to 1930)
Colonial Frontier Massacres, Timeline
Colonial Frontier Massacres, Preliminary Findings
* Dancing with Strangers by Inga Clendinnen
* The Sinister Glamour of Modernity by Ross Gibson
Australian Frontier Wars: Keith Windschuttle and Henry Reynolds on Lateline (2001, 22 minutes)
Australian Frontier Wars: Keith Windschuttle and Henry Reynolds at the National Press Club (2001, 58 minutes)
* Man from Arltunga: Walter Smith Australian Bushman by Dick Kimber
Gillen's Modest Record edited by Philip Jones
Boyer Lectures 2019, by Rachel Perkins (audio)
debate between Robert Manne and Keith Windschuttle at the Melbourne Writers Festival, part one, part 2  (September, 2003)

Of these, perhaps the best documented books about the massacres (rather than the mindset) are those by Clements (about Tasmania) and Roberts (about Queensland and the NT). I mention this because I accept that everyone is busy on their own projects and doesn't have time to read everything.

I've put a * next to the books which provide evidence that it was standard practice from 1790 - 1930 to kill aboriginal and TSI that settlers had a problem with

Update (Jan 19): Added some more books and links. In particular the debate between Keith Windschuttle and Henry Reynolds at the National Press Club (58 minutes) is worth watching.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Dotted Circle samples

For a clearer explanation go to dotted circles revisited.

A good app IMHO. Here are some sample art works I made with my dotted_circles app. The first two are me just playing around but the bottom two are attemps to imitate a portion of aboriginal art from the exhibition book referenced at the end.

This resembles a small portion of a work by Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayl,titled Untitled, 1985, from p. 2 (reference below)
This resembles a small portion of a work by Johny Yungut Tjupurrula, Untitled, 2011, from p. 63 (reference below)

Go to the Snap! app dotted_circles_6 and do one yourself! [but read the update below first!]

Update July 2021: First up, you have to enable JavaScript extensions. Click on the Settings icon and tick the box. Honestly, I'm not sure why this is necessary. I've looked in the Snap Forum for an explanation. Brian Harvey (bh) insisted here it should not be turned on automatically as a general principle without explaining why.

The User Interface is hard to follow on dotted_circles_6. This is because I gave the user more control in an attempt to more closely imitate aspects of Papunya Tula art works. What I now suggest is go first to dotted circles revisited.

By the way, if you are curious about how the new blocks were made in Snap! then right click > edit on them. You will see that dot_number = 2*pi*inner_radius / dot_spacing, mmm... inner_radius should have been called current_radius. So the dot_number is worked out for each new circle as the radius expands. Snap! used to be called Build Your Own Blocks, which is one of its great strengths.

(with the last two designs I have attempted to imitate a fraction of the art work on pages 2 and 80)

Issues arising:

My overall goal is not to imitate Papunya Tula art but to find new forms to teach maths and computer coding to indigenous students.

This is an app which builds a bridge between maths and computer code to make art. When introduced to students what will the learning outcomes be? I suspect they will learn something about design but it would take a lot more input from a teacher for the students to learn computing coding and maths from this. Nevertheless, it may motivate them to do so.

The User interface is poor. Since the user has to poke around and find the values to change in the Scripting Area. Important issue but I'm not sure at this stage how to improve it. ie. you can do good art with this app but need patience to master the user interface. Not good since UI is a huge issue.

There is a big story to tell about the Papunya Tula art movement, which I have yet to tell, although others have.

The learning theory was discussed in an earlier article: Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar version 2. In two phrases (1) performance above representation (2) ascend to the concrete.