We are under attack. Thank you for noticing.

This is a great pull quote. It’s just from the wrong year. Let’s say … um … by 2013 it was obvious.

“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Mr. Coats said as he cautioned of cyberthreats. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

– Dan Coates, Director of National Security

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/us/politics/dan-coats-intelligence-russia-cyber-warning.html

Wendi Winters was a brave person who defined courage

This is what a hero looks like. Running at an active shooter with a trash can as a shield to save others.

Wendi Winters, victim of Annapolis Capital Gazette shooting, rushed at gunman (with a trash can shield)

Wendi Winters stood as soon as she heard the bangs.A man with a gun had broken the glass doors leading to the newsroom of the Capital Gazette and was shooting at her colleagues, many of whom dropped to the floor or dove under their desks. Not Winters.

Grabbing the trash can and recycling bin she kept by her desk, she ran toward the man and yelled at him to stop — distracting him long enough to allow some of her colleagues to escape. Of the 11 people in the room that day, six survived.

#forgotten Hurricane Harvey and Houston

Ever wonder what it looks like to be in the eye of a slow moving hurricane? This is what it looked like during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in Houston.

You know you’re ‘effed when, given I am registered as a Drone Pilot, we were grounded for four days. Because the sky is full of rescue helicopters.

Other images I took during Hurricane Harvey, most actually, I’ve never published.

I bring this up because we’ve done very little to improve Houston’s flooding problem. Except study it.

I’d just moved my primary location (I still travel of course) back from SF to Houston several weeks prior.

Awesome timing, I know, right?!

And yet I’m not sure our governor even remembers hurricane Harvey. Please drive down Bramblewood and let’s talk about “brain drain” and the economy of the country.

I’ve seen little if any action from our Congressmen or Mayor.

Eyes on the ground in 77079, the one’s who were specifically flooded and were saved by citizens from so many places who drove in with bass boats and air boats, but not much help from city, state, or dc.

This is what it looks like to be forgotten. To smile at your friends house, still half completed, while both of you have the same anxiety – they’ve done nothing to fix it. And now it’s hurricane season again.

I see no humor in it.

lexdexia untie

There is a social stigma with learning disabilities. People tend to believe, perhaps because they were taught, that dyslexia means someone “reads” the sequence “az” and sees “za”. Like it’s a problem with your eyes. I don’t believe this to be the case.

Perhaps the fallacy stems from the fact that while “walk” means the same observable behavior for everyone, “read” isn’t conducted the same way in our brains for all of us. (I dunno as I’m not qualified to answer that question. I’m just a curious person.)

Yet quite a few things in this article on dyslexia are spot on for me. https://www.wired.com/story/end-of-dyslexia/

Russian Ads on FB Released

From the article on Dark Reading regarding the Russian interference in the election of 2016.:

 … the House Intelligence Committee have shared more details of Russia’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election with the release of 3,000 Facebook ads. The ads, purchased by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), ran from 2015 to 2017.

Committee members this week released a total of 3,519 ads and stated more than 11.4 million Americans were exposed to them. The IRA also created 470 Facebook pages, which generated 80,000 pieces of organic content and were seen by more than 126 million Americans, the Committee reports. It plans to release this organic content at a later date.

Fairly audacious. One question to ponder. Have you ever heard of a company or government pushing a message out using one (and only 1) channel? Of course not. It will be good when their MSM advertising buys are exposed.

Primary voting reg deadline Monday Feb 7, 2018

You must register to vote in the party primaries by tomorrow.

From an email from our Houston district rep Culberson:

“If you were displaced by Hurricane Harvey, like my brother and his wife, and you have temporarily moved until you can repair your house, your voter registration may have been suspended because the Post Office is prohibited from forwarding our new voter registration cards.  You are still registered, but you will need to fill out a Certificate of Residency form, which you can print from this link, and give it to the Election Judge so you can vote in your home precinct.”

First – do what John says. Vote in the primaries NOW.

Further:

Register as a Republican if you are in Texas. Seriously. You can vote for whoever you want in the actual election.

But as y’all know, human-ballot-robots will just click a party-line-vote.

Yes, sure they are smart people. But smart is a dime a dozen and few have the time to research. Thus lacking the discipline to study and gain knowledge on the candidates themselves, they click a party (the party of the North in the “War Between the States” if you are curious) and then walk out.

Bottom line:

Voting in the Texas primaries matters because most voters in Texas straight-line party vote like robots for the carpet-bagger party. (Google it. History is good for you.)

Example: despite every major city in Texas voting Blue in the last Presidential election, despite the terrible options given to us by both parties, there are still the rural voters who straight party line vote. I know they are smart.

I’m was privileged to be an Aggie myself, I studied POLS at TAMU which required critical thinking. I believe I am qualified to speak to this topic.

I have voted in primaries for both parties over the years. (So what? I’m pro-America and pro-Earth) I volunteered for Bush 41’s re-election campaign. I volunteered in support of Mayor Bill White. I supported Mayor Annise Parker. I’ve volunteered (at great personal expense) to support Congressman Culberson in DC when he was on the cutting edge of tech and they we’re blocking his push for the latest tech.

To be clear, John is a good man. I first met him because we went to the same Church (MDUMC) in the Energy Corridor in West Houston. Our kids we’re in different Sunday School classes that all of us volunteered to teach.

Action Items:

Register as a Republican and pick your next Rep. Because the actual vote won’t matter in Texas state level elections.

Congressman John Culberson is a friend, was a long time client, and I like what he says in person. Yet I don’t like that some DC dorks and K-street absorbed him into party line votes.

Davey Crockett would, actually he did, die fighting for our rights. But DC can consume a person apparently. I still have hope for John as a leader. Right now every time I read a roll call vote summary in the Chronicle I’m kinda disappointed to see party/pac money “trumps” representative leadership. (We want you back John!)

To repeat – go vote in the primaries. If you aren’t registered with a party then tomorrow is the deadline in Texas.

Note: I’m from the party of George Washington. (Google it)

As an independent, I have no problem voting in either primary, and I have, in a nation that has distorted the electoral college and gerrymandered districts like schoolyard bullies. (I’m looking at you Tom Delay.)

Triangulate Shooter Location with Mobile App – Possible?

Text exchange with a friend about how to defend crowds from threats like the shooter in Las Vegas.

[redacted section]




Yup, saving the world, or trying to, one bear at a time.

Triangulating on a sound with data from thousands of willing opt-in smart phones is possible. Pitch, yaw, acceleration, relative volume compared to those in proximity to normalize. Calculate position from last known good if towers go out.

Mesh grid relative to each other if no service. Share UDP 5353 and change multicast DNS into a “people finder”.

The app, when turned on, would send a cascade of data flowing in with lots of noise. The analysis is the same thing anyone who has done log analysis with an ELK stack is familiar with. Have a buffer of say 10 seconds backwards until triggered.

With a few datasets from simulations (like having 30 people in a room and see if the app can figure out who blew the dog whistle.

Sensor based smart phone triangulation is one way we could defend ourselves in an attack on any soft target.

Note: the concept is somewhat related to what we are building at somarobotics.com. However I’m putting it out there because I’d love to see someone build a system to automatically respond and help.

Even if we lived in a color-blind society

From the article:
 
“Here’s the thing: Even if we lived in a color-blind society, that would be a dangerous sentiment. After all, freedom of expression is right there in the First Amendment. And our brave soldiers didn’t fight and die so that everyone stood during the national anthem. They fought so people could have the right to make a choice about whether or not they wanted to stand. That’s the whole damn point of the First Amendment.”
 

some bi-partisan good news – uptick in crime is a bump in overall decline

We get plenty of bad news so let’s talk about crime trends again. From the article:

Using the FBI numbers, the (crime) rate fell 50% between 1993 and 2015, the most recent full year available. Using the BJS data, the rate fell by 77% during that span.

Click the image below for actual facts about crime in America (And here’s something to listen to while reading to make it more dramatic.)

Pew Research on Crime Decline in US

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/21/5-facts-about-crime-in-the-u-s/ 

More from the article:

Property crime has declined significantly over the long term. Like the violent crime rate, the U.S. property crime rate today is far below its peak level. FBI data show that the rate fell 48% between 1993 and 2015, while BJS reports a decline of 69% during that span.

and then there is the disparity created by the advertising supported media that influences our brains. We are gullible.

Public perceptions about crime in the U.S. often don’t align with the data. Opinion surveys regularly find that Americans believe crime is up, even when the data show it is down.

Although it’s not all good.

Many crimes are not reported to police. In its annual survey, BJS asks victims of crime whether or not they reported that crime to police. In 2015, the most recent year available, only about half of the violent crime tracked by BJS (47%) was reported to police.

Bottom line? Stay thirsty for the facts my friends. We can’t always drink the kool aid. Or the same thing. Stay thirsty for knowledge because knowledge is power.

There is no media really, only advertisers selling scary stories in the media. People Tweet alt-official-news, fake news or real news alike. So I think it’s healthy to point out (again) a few positive overall societal trends we are experiencing.

#peace

brain malware – ars technica

The logos were repeatedly displayed, but only for milliseconds at a time, a span so short that subjects weren’t consciously aware of them. By measuring the brain signals at the precise time the images were displayed, Bonaci’s team was able to glean clues about the player’s thoughts and feelings about the things that were depicted.

https://arstechnica.com/security/2017/01/in-not-too-distant-future-brain-hackers-could-steal-your-deepest-secrets/

Completely possible in the near future.  Buy brain branding / influencing malware on the dark web. Coming to an AR game near you. 

Or reverse the sensors switch to UP and tiny shocks delivered for negative feedback to images as well. 

I don’t view this as science fiction. This will happen unfortunately. 

It’s a hack more insidious than the “infect two friends to get your data back.” Speaking of the infect-two-friends malware everyone says “I would never do that!” I point out that it’s really “infect two people you know” malware and not everyone you know is a friend. If a person is broke and they know their ex will open their email, and they can plausibly deny sending it, you know the rest of the story. 

Why Tendenci Chose Python over PHP

This blog is a WordPress blog written in PHP. And WordPress, when secured properly, is a great platform.

So why did our team choose to rewrite Tendenci Open Source and in the Python Programming language? It is a question I get asked a lot. We’ve never been a company that likes to talk in the negative if at all possible, yet it is important to talk about the megatrends going on given we work with associations and nonprofits.

which_web_programming_language_is_the_most_secure_

Source: https://www.upguard.com/blog/which-web-programming-language-is-the-most-secure

security-report1

Source: http://info.whitehatsec.com/rs/whitehatsecurity/images/statsreport2014-20140410.pdf

security-report

Source: http://info.whitehatsec.com/rs/whitehatsecurity/images/statsreport2014-20140410.pdf

Popularity of a language is a trend, and what you want is as many developers familiar and liking the language of your open source project as possible. This means you have a better chance to have a secure web site and therefore a more secure future.

To be fair – as Disraeli said – “lies, damn lies and statistics” – so there is no one perfectly secure language any more than there is a perfectly “safe” hammer. There will always be operator error and programmers make mistakes.

So we’re not saying Python is perfect, and all of us have used most of the other languages on those charts at some point. We’re just saying we are pleased so many other programmers also like Python and Open Source. THAT is the best that can be done to secure your future online. Secure code that you can examine yourself and even host yourself!

9-11 – the bad guys did NOT win

demdamdames-2016-08-eschipul-1158

To the fighters, the warriors, the first responders, the victims of a sucker punch, just know this. They did NOT win. You won. And we respect and thank you for that on the anniversary of 9-11. Grateful we are, and also powerful thanks to you.

What is “x” competitor’s achilles heel?

tendenci-mobile-responsive-standard
In the course of owning a business you get a lot of phone calls from investors and venture capitalists. It’s a game, but a fair one if played correctly in that whatever your revenue, their criteria is just about twice yours. When we were 1M they were looking for 2M companies. When we were 2M they were looking for 3. When we were over 3 they were looking for 5, etc…. But they knew that when they contacted. So why?

Because knowledge is power. In an industry like membership management software there isn’t much transparency because so many companies are private. So they call. The calls are always polite. It’s important to remember they are frequently just due diligence by the firm as they negotiate to purchase a competitor in your space. Again, there is nothing wrong with this if knowledge is shared both ways.

Business Owner action item: as the business owner it’s up to you to ask the questions as well. Start with the simple stuff like “where do you see the industry going in 5 years?” etc. Trading information can be helpful, for both parties and if you are the smaller fish you better be more nimble anyway

How do most of the calls end? Typically the same and both parties knew it when the call started.

“well let’s stay in touch and touch base in a year.”

If you did your job and asked questions of them as well, then hey, that’s fair. In the VC world the “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup equivalent is “we are looking for someone a bit larger and with higher profits so call back”. But both parties knew that when the call started, it’s just the polite way to end the call. What highly profitable business owner wants to sell? Not many that I know of. It’s an attempt to be polite.

But, sometimes something interesting happens. Specifically I had someone ask me an interesting question recently about a competitor. It was a bit out of the blue which tells me it was on their to do list more than mine. The investor rep asked:

What do you see as company-x’s Achilles Heel besides being on the Microsoft platform?

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting the question and I prefer to not say bad things about competitors. Usually they are good people trying hard in a competitive environment. We hang out together at NTEN, SXSW and for some of us OSCON. They really are good  people. So I didn’t answer the “Achilles Heel” question fully. This is me correcting the record.

Yes, they have a problem. Why? Because in one of my History classes while getting a BS in POLS from Texas A&M University we studied Carnegie Steel. Given I like history,  let’s look at it through the lens of “what would Andrew Carnegie do?”

In 1870 Carnegie decided that instead of being a “capitalist” with diversified interests he was going to be a steelman exclusively. Using his own capital, he erected his first blast furnace (to make pig iron) that year and the second in 1872. In 1873 he organized a Bessemer-steel rail company, a limited partnership. Depression had set in and would continue until 1879, but Carnegie persisted, using his own funds and getting local bank help. The first steel furnace at Braddock, Pa., began to roll rails in 1874. Carnegie continued building despite the depression—cutting prices, driving out competitors, shaking off faltering partners, plowing back earnings. In 1878 the company was capitalized at $1.25 million, of which Carnegie’s share was 59 percent; from these policies he never deviated. He took in new partners from his own “young men” (by 1900, he had 40); he never went public, capital being obtained from undivided profits (and in periods of stress, from local banks); and he kept on growing, horizontally and vertically, making heavy steel alone. From 1880 onward, Carnegie dominated the steel industry.

Still with me? Because from that dominance he sat at the top of the food chain. And then inexplicably they poked him. Why? WTF?

Carnegie had thought of selling out and retiring in 1889: his annual income was $2 million, and he wanted to cultivate his hobbies and develop the philanthropic program that was taking shape in his mind. But the threats that now came from the West as well as the East were too much for his fighting spirit and his sense of outrage, and he took the war into the enemy camp.

Sooooo… Carnegie then did NOT retire but rather took the fight to them. He took the fight to them with the advantages and business knowledge of his industry that he possessed. Now back to our story…

He (Carnegie) would not join their pools and cartels; moreover, he would invade their territories by making tubes, wire and nails, and hoop and cotton ties and by expanding his sales activities into the West. He ordered a new tube plant built on Lake Erie at Conneaut, which at the same time would be a great transportation center with harbors for boats to run to Chicago and a railroad to connect with Pittsburgh.

The competition surrendered, but at a much higher price than they would have otherwise.

Thus originated the U.S. Steel Corporation in 1901, through the work of J.P. Morgan. The point was to buy Carnegie off at his own price—as he was the only disturbing factor that held back “orderly markets and stable prices.” The Carnegie Company properties were purchased for almost $500 million (out of the total capitalization of the merger of $1.4 billion); Carnegie’s personal share was $225 million, which he insisted upon having in the corporation’s first-mortgage gold bonds. At last Carnegie was free to pursue his outside interests.

Why, how, could the competition have so badly misjudged things? They missed the megatrends/macroeconomics and underestimated their competitor. Realize one dollar of capital in the hands of experience is far more powerful than ten dollars in the hands of bankers.

It’s quite simple really. Carnegie had lowered his costs and built up his capital to the point that the competitor’s moves were an “event” and his response was simply a “choice”. A freaking choice. If that doesn’t make you nervous then I didn’t explain it well.

From the start Carnegie was willing to pay the price to win. Who knows, maybe he was just bored? Regardless the competition was in over their heads with a combined company run by bankers without the institutional knowledge of a steelman.

The bankers accepted their losses. But their misstep meant they paid a significant price for not researching the market, researching the trends, and especially for not understanding the machine Carnegie had built. It wasn’t just the capital, it was years of best practices developed by Frick and Carnegie that allowed him to win. A business is complex. Business practices are maintained by people, not Viseo flowcharts or Powerpoint.

Pick your fights.

Further – the only thing more complex than a business is communities of people like the open source community. You can’t buy them off or learn the social norms in a year or two.

[redacted]

Back to the phone call – in this case, the competitor the investor asked about is one we see occasionally in the sales process. They have some aggressive affiliates but I can’t say I’ve had a bad encounter with their CEO or one of their employees. So yes, I know them. I know how our product is differentiated with greater functionality. (having a better product does help – but they would say the same thing).

SWOT analysis if it got aggressive?

Well I can back into the competitors costs using the usual methods like salary survey sites and looking at their network. There are people who will research these things for a very reasonable price. Add to that the fact that they are proprietary AND require two year contracts just makes it easier. You wouldn’t want to sign your nonprofit up with a proprietary solution if you knew there was a better solution that was also open source, right? (data says 90% want use open source or “roll their own” – NTEN).

Maneuvering around their market positioning would be as strategically challenging as going around the Maginot line. Easy pickings – IF someone wanted a fight.

If this sounds arrogant, it isn’t. It is just me acknowledging how the future would put the very existence of our company in question if we hadn’t changed. I did what any self-aware responsible and knowledgeable CEO would do. We did a pivot. And WordPress and Drupal are great examples to follow.

The bigger question is why other leaders didn’t see open source coming?

Our competitive position – Tendenci has driven our costs down and gone open source in a group of competitors trapped with huge employee expenses, high proprietary licensing costs, shared servers which amplifies security risks, and constant turn over in their work force. Meanwhile hack attacks are sky rocketing and insurance and benefit costs climb.

Add to that programming isn’t something you can throw money at – it just takes time and adding more keyboard-monkeys just slows down the innovators.

To the person who asked the question – my answer is this:

Company X’s achilles heel is they exist at the whim of a better positioned open company with an aggressive strategy. You don’t have to win every prospect, you just have to force the competitor to sell below their cost. And wait.

The rest is details.

Tendenci will continue to rise because it is exactly what nonprofits and government agencies are asking for. Freedom. Respect. Dignity. Openness. Love.

Tools to help the cause first and our company second.

PS – if you are an investor in that company, don’t worry. I have no intention of implementing the above strategy right now as this is a case of “there is no spoon.” What is next is far more interesting to me. There is some amazing stuff on the horizon. I just wanted to come clean on how vulnerable some companies are. And yes, in a SWOT analysis or a prospectus, you should probably cross reference their technology with tech trends. I guess that is a question for the attorneys and IANAL.

A tribute to Stephanie Smither

smithersA tribute to Stephanie Smither who recently passed away. I met her doing volunteer photography over the years with the Orange Show and the Houston Art Car Parade. Normally I would say “we have lost a great one.” While that is be true, it seems far more appropriate to celebrate what she gave us when she was here. I’d rather say –

We have all gained and learned from Stephanie Smither. A person both kind and generous. A lady who was an example of how to carry yourself with grace but not be afraid to get your hands dirty building art and helping people. She had mettle. I am thankful for all she gave to Houston. A supporter of the arts in Houston, she was also a person you wanted to hang out with at the Orange Show Gala. She is a person who will be remembered for the good things she did. 

Yes Stephanie is leaving a great legacy in Smither Park.

smither-park-in-progress-schipul

As a photographer behind the lens, I can not say I knew her that well. My loss. Unless the saying “judge a person by their actions” is true. If so, then all of Houston knew her well. She even connected with my kids through Smither’s Park when we volunteered to do some aerial photography of the Orange Show when the Smither Park wall was first being built! She liked Oranges and Drones before drones were cool? Duuuuude.

smithers-drone-schipul-photos
Schipul Aerial photos of Smother’s Park at the Orange Show

I don’t think I ever saw Stephanie when she wasn’t smiling and laughing. I was usually hiding behind a camera lens, which sometimes is a great way to view the world if you are an active volunteer and have a history with an organization.

From the Chronicle:

About 400 people jammed the Menil Collection Thursday night to celebrate with donor Stephanie Smither the opening of an exhibition (As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither) marking her gift of 50 important works of folk art to the museum.

Gift-from-Stephanie-and-John-Smither-to-Menil-Collection

Sunday morning, they were saddened by her death but also applauding her colorful life, lived passionately and well.

Smither, 75, died Saturday night at home in Houston, surrounded by her family. She had been in declining health since a double lung transplant two and a half years ago.

Paige Johnson, one of Smither’s three children, said her mother told doctors in January they needed to keep her alive until June 9 for the opening of the show, “As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither.”

“It was her life’s dream to have her collection at the Menil, to have it recognized by such a beautiful and important museum,” Johnson said. (more)

From: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/houstonchronicle/obituary.aspx?n=stephanie-smithers&pid=180330773

Stephanie Kerr Smither    1941-2016

Stephanie Kerr Smither, “Nana” will be remembered for her beautiful smile, loving her family, the marriage to her childhood sweetheart, inventive cooking, and always being the last to leave the party! She surrounded herself friends and beautiful objects, was wildly adventurous, fun loving, gracious and a courageous lady. Nana will be remembered for her big hugs, which she gave generously. Nana passed away June 11, 2016 at home surrounded by family and wearing her favorite turquoise rings.

Stephanie was born in Jacksonville, Texas, to Frankie Zou Gaston and Stephen Austin (“S.A.”) Kerr, May 4, 1941. Raised in Huntsville, Texas where her parents founded Kerr’s Department Store; she spent her days helping to run the store with the daddy she loved. As a young girl she learned the piano, enjoyed baseball and fell in love with her childhood sweetheart – John Henderson Smither. Their favorite place to “park” was Pritchett Pasture, now Interstate 45, where she helped John feed his cattle. Her sister Zou said, “it is hard to remember her before John!” They married while students at the University of Texas at Austin. John was in law school while Stephanie taught at the Texas School for the Deaf. Upon graduation, they moved to Stuttgart, Germany with their two children where John served in the Army. These were fond memories traveling Europe, in their VW bug with kids in the back. They settled in Houston and raised three children. Stephanie was active in the Blue Bird Circle, The Houston Garden Club and Westminster United Methodist Church, though what she enjoyed most was staying at home supporting John and her children with their endeavors.

Stephanie, a “sophisticated hoarder” or (consummate collector), was always on the hunt for handmade and one-of-a-kind objects. She was known for her bright orange lipstick and big jewelry, without which she felt underdressed. She was also known for her creative tablescapes, beautiful penmanship, and famous Smither Salsa. With her East Texas accent, someone said, “Stephanie was the only person she knew who said ‘hush’ in four syllables”. At Christmas her house was filled with carved Santas, her tree covered in her handmade needlepoint angels and the smells of homemade fudge and peanut brittle on the stove. Nana stayed busy all year making the grandchildren’s Christmas stockings and their annual needlepoint ornaments.

She and John loved hosting dinner parties and she delighted in cooking scrumptious gourmet meals. They always ended the evening with Stephanie playing the piano barefoot while John and their beloved supper club of 50 years sang into the wee hours. Stephanie thought if people left her house before midnight it was a bad party!

Her favorite activities included cheering for her grandchildren at sporting events, being a “mean” liar’s dice player, taking her grandchildren to exotic places, playing Mah Jongg, and spending time with family and friends at Sunset Lake in Huntsville, Texas.
The family wishes to express their gratitude to her generous lung donor and his family, Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr. Scott Scheinin, Dr. Osama Gaber, Dr. Thomas Kaleekal, Sydney Bridges and the staff for their heroic effort over the last 2 ½ years. She was able to fulfill her lifetime dream of overseeing the creation of Smither Park, gifting her art to The Menil Collection and completing a documentary about her years as a collector of Visionary Art. In addition, she was honored as one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2015 by Houston Woman Magazine and as the 2014 Texas Patron of the Year by Art League Houston.

We know Stephanie would also like to thank all the sweet supporters of Smither Park and the artists who were so dear to her. Thank you also to the staff at The Menil Collection who were so wonderful to work with on the current exhibition.

Stephanie felt blessed to spend her last two evenings at the celebration dinner and opening of her collection at The Menil. She was radiant and so touched by the public outpouring of support. Afterwards, family and friends returned to her home for her famous SmitherRitas. She had one last toast, retired to her room, and eased into her final slumber surrounded by family and friends with the joyous sounds of the party below.

She treasured her children and their spouses, John Kerr Smither, Ashley and Curt Langley, Paige and Todd Johnson, and her grandchildren who affectionately called her Nana: Amon Smither; Austin, Madison and Jack Langley; Wells, John David, Pierce, Hill and Blake Johnson; her sister and brother-in-law Zou Kerr and Boyd F. Cherry; sisters-in-law, Martha Smither and Trudie Smither, nieces and nephews, Robert Smither, III, Sallie Crotty, John J. Smither and Mary Kate Jefferies; great grand nieces and nephews Kate and Stephen Crotty and Cole Smither. She was preceded in death by her parents S.A. and Frankie Zou Kerr, her husband John H. Smither and two brothers-in-law Robert B. Smither, Jr. and Wilbur L. Smither, III.

The memorial service celebrating her life is Thursday, June 16th at 10 a.m. at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer Rd, Houston, Texas. The graveside service will be held at 5:00 p.m. in Oakwood Cemetery located at 9th Street and Martin Luther King Drive in Huntsville, Texas. It was Stephanie’s wish that everyone celebrate her life by wearing a bit of her favorite color, orange.

For those desiring, contributions in Stephanie’s memory may be made to: Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation, P. O. Box 4384, Houston, TX 77210-4384 (in honor of Dr. Scott Scheinin for transplant research; Nora’s Home for transplant patients and their families, 8300 El Rio St., Houston 77054 http://www.norashome.org, Smither Park, 2402 Munger, Houston, Texas 77004 http://orangeshow.org

Published in Houston Chronicle from June 15 to June 16, 2016

Here is to the power of the Orange Show, the people and the place, to bring people together. Thanks y’all. I’ll be back out there when I get a camera again.

orange-show-drone-photo-schipuls

My Final Thoughts – like so many other great people in Houston, I wish I had gotten the chance to truly know her beyond photography. Running into Stephanie, whatever the event from the Art Car Parade, to the Art Car Ball, to an Orange Show event or at an event commemorating her donations to create Smithers’ Park next to the Orange Show Monument. Smiling.

She was consistent – she was generous of her time and money, she was true to her word, and by God she loved the color Orange! And the color Orange not only looked great on Stephanie, I am quite sure it loved her back.

I predict Orange will be very big this fall.

#peace

 

We are the refugees. And why are there Nike’s on your doorstep?

The refugees are us.

We in America do not have a spotless history or a moral fall back to point to manifest destiny as a justification for our historical actions. Nor can we claim they are purely in the past given the racist and misogynistic vitriol of the current election season. In 2016 we still see these words and actions come up. As Passover is upon us, it is clear we have reached a physical place of bounty, but not, regardless of beliefs, achieved

As described by Wikipedia:

So when Jews retell that story at the first night’s traditional festive Seder, “these are not ancient, crumbling dusty issues that don’t have relevance today,” says Rabbi Eric Greenberg, a spokesman for the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees. “We can see this is actually happening now to many people, including the Syrian refugees.”

It’s a connection that resonates for Shadi Martini, 44, himself a Muslim Syrian refugee who now lives in Farmington Hills, Mich. A hospital manager in Syria, he had to start over after leaving in 2012. In the U.S., he began supplying humanitarian and medical supplies to those in need in Syria.

“We worked with everyone who offered help, and some NGOs were from Israel, and that was a big surprise,” says Martini, who is currently senior Syria adviser for the Multifaith Alliance. In Syria, which is in ongoing conflict with Israel and today has only a tiny Jewish population, he had no exposure to Jews. It was also a surprise to learn that welcoming and coming to the aid of the stranger “was a pillar of the Jewish faith,” he says.

Rev. Channing E. Phillips, (left) Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Topper Carew on April 4, 1969, the night of the first Freedom Seder.

In Freedom Seder, Jews And African-Americans Built A Tradition Together

The connections between the journey of the ancient Israelites and of refugees today are being emphasized in online readings from American Jewish World Service, whose mission is to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world, and HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a nonprofit that focuses on protecting and aiding refugees around the world.

Since the Seder is famous for promoting discussion, including the four questions, it was natural to ask four questions for 2016.

Why should we add readings?

Because the stories of today’s refugees echo the long history of Jewish stories of being expelled throughout history, says Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. That history includes being forced from Spain in 1492 and from Nazi Europe in the 1930s. All these instances, past and present, have to do with “individuals and groups asserting their rights to be and live where they are” and remind us of times and places “where the government is saying we will deprive you of the rights that other people in this country have.” When the Haggadah, the text that is read at the Seder, instructs us to remember that we were strangers in a strange land, she says, that means it is “our responsibility” to reach out to refugees in need.

What are the modern-day plagues?

The Haggadah lists the 10 plagues visited upon Egypt as the Pharaoh refuses again and again to let the Israelites go. To provide insight into what displacement means today, the HIAS supplement lists “10 Plagues Facing Refugees in the U.S. and Worldwide.” The list — which includes violence, dangerous journeys, poverty, lack of access to education, anti-refugee legislation and loss of family — is accompanied by facts and figures.

Have we done enough?

Another seder favorite is the song Dayenu, whose refrain proclaims that any single one of the miracles that led, step by step, to the exodus would have been dayenu — Hebrew for “enough.” “It’s a great lyric” that speaks of gratitude and appreciation, says Messinger. The AJWS version provides a different twist, which acknowledges that in addition to appreciating what is being done, there is still more work ahead. One verse goes, in part:

If the world responds only to the cries of the wounded, but does not stay to help them heal…
It will not be enough.

However, if we sustain our support until stability, peace and independence have been attained…Dayenu! Then it will be enough.

Why is there a pair of Nikes on your doorstep?

In a new ritual, HIAS asks Seder participants “to place a pair of shoes on the doorstep of your home to acknowledge that none of us is free until all of us are free and to pledge to stand in support of welcoming those who do not have a place to call home.” This acknowledges that “we have stood in the shoes of refugees, and as we’re celebrating our freedom we are committing to stand with today’s refugees, and take a stand,” says Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president of community engagement at HIAS. You can choose your own moment to place shoes at the door, but one possibility is at the Haggadah passage that reads, “My father was a wandering Aramean.” This suggests “the essence of the Jewish experience: a rootless people who have fled persecution time and time again,” says the HIAS supplement. “When we recite these words, we acknowledge that we have stood in the shoes of the refugee.”

drops

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again.”

– Sylvia Plath