April 29th, 2004

Semiformalishmaybe

Broken Lizard

So, during the install of Mathematica yesterday, apparently Mathematica decidesit wants to launch mozilla, so it does. Unfortunately, I started mathematicafrom "su" rather than "su -", so it has my environment variables, and mozillapops up, but also has its user dialogue thing visible. I dismiss it, and thinknothing of it. Later, yesterday, after I make it home and restart mozilla, Inotice that something's wrong -- the UI elements all have crude boxes aroundthem, and the 'modern' theme I run Mozilla in has some elements mixed in fromthe default 'classic' theme. *Hmm*.. I go into the preferences, swap to the'Internet Explorer' theme I installed some time ago on a lark, restart mybrowser, and .. it looks exactly the same. *Hmm* I switch to the Classic theme.No change. This worries me. I close mozilla, move my preferences directoryout of the way (so mozilla can't find it), and start mozilla .. make that

  • try to start* mozilla -- X thinks mozilla is running, but I don't get a
window. I kill it, and try a few more times. Not good. I move my .mozilla back,start up mozilla (successfully this time -- frankenstein's monster returns),and decide to upgrade to the last beta of Mozilla 1.7 (was running 1.6). Iuse the package mangler to remove 1.6, and use the raw installer to install 1.7(couldn't find packages of 1.7beta). I start up mozilla. It's still a patchwork,but I'm able to force a theme change to modern, which makes everything look niceagain. Except .. one of the things about Mozilla -- the default, nonpackagedbuilds don't come with Freetype support, meaning that the fonts look reallyhorrible. I could wait for 1.7 to be releaed -- the people who make packagestypically don't bother for betas .. but things look so ugly that I decide topush my luck, and downgrade back to 1.6. I remove /usr/local/mozilla, tell yumto install Mozilla for me, and thankfully I get back 1.6, this time stilllooking nice. Hooray! I'm not certain what exactly happened to cause theproblem, nor why 1.6 couldn't solve it but 1.7 could, but I'm glad it's gone.

This is pretty funny, in a twisted kind of way.This too, in perhaps a similar kind of way..There's a bit more press on the military courts holding of people sanstrial. Two interesting quotes from the inquiry:"I certainly wouldn't read the Authorization of Force's use of theterm 'necessary and appropriate' as an invitation for judicial managementof the executive's war-making power, I would have viewed it as a delegationto the executive to use its traditional authority to makediscretionary judgments in finding what is the necessary appropriate force." -- Paul Clement, Solicitor General on BushJr's side

Martinez said that congressional authorizations for the use of forcein wartime, even broadly written ones, have not "traditionally been interpretedto allow the executive unlimited power over citizens." (Jennifer Martinez, Stanford Law Prof)

So, some thoughts -- even if the resolution *did* grant BushJr the authorityto use "all necessary and sufficient" force against terrorists or people aidingthem, that was a really dumb thing for the legislature to do. BushJr, and maybethe executive in general, but especially jingoists like him, needs a tighterleash. At the very least, a sunset clause with a short expiry should've beenbuilt-in to the acts granting that. This ill-defined, endless 'war on terror'reminds me a bit of something, historically, and I don't like what it is.

A lawyer-in-training friend sent me this link, a documentexploring the legal justification for why the U.S. military is permitted tobe so backwards and discriminate against people in ways that no other area ofthe government may, and why actions some universities have taken to fight thatdiscrimination have been met with a severe beating. See this inparticular. Just like the movie we read about segregation in the south, it'sinfuriating to see institutionally-approved backwardsness like this, especiallywhen the excuse comes up that it'd be unfair to the bigots to ask them tobe able to live with people who live differently. This is part of thegovernment, and the government should not be permitted to discriminate. Ifbigots can't cope, fire them, and let them go back to working gas stations orsomething.

Europe is .. ermm.. having a dialogue on anti-semitism. Dependingon who you ask, it's either going down, or up.One possible cause cited has been the actions of Israel under Sharon.Singer, of the World Jewish congress, said at the conference,that criticizing Sharon could not be seen as anti-semitic, but denying thatJews have the right to live in their own state is deeply anti-semitic.

I disagree with the second part. It seems very questionable to me to statethat all races deserve their own state, and in fact I think very few peoplewould promote it as a universal -- those that do, for example, would need tobe passionate about American Indians, Kurds, a whole lot of 'misplaced' racesin Africa, Basques, Cossacks, various subgroups of the french, .. the thingis, nations are only rarely racially homogenous. Perhaps we could even askabout a seperate state for the Ashkenazi the Sephardi, the Yemeni, and allsorts of other racial mixes of the Hebrews. As a universal, no, we can'tsay that races have rights to a nation, nor can we say that it's racist todeny them one. In fact, the notion of an ethnically pure nation is itselfhighly racist, from the end to the necessary means to achieve it. There'sanother claim that might be made, that the Hebrews either fall into a categorywhich grants them a right to such a state, or that they uniquely deserve such astate. I'll treat the two reasonings as being equivalent for now, and explorethem. There are a few grounds that this might be argued by. There are thereligious claims, as expressed by a bumper sticker on a car I pass while bikingto CMU every day -- "The land of Israel, G-d's gift to the Jews". I don'tbelieve in gods, so this argument doesn't bear any weight for me. There's acultural claim, that the culture has placed such an importance on holding ontothe land that to give it up would be to fundamentally deny a large part of theheritage of what it means to be Jewish. I can understand this argument a bitbetter, and can see why it might have a lot of pull, but I reject it too --my political ideas arn't tied to Jewishness, nor do I feel any particularneed to give a nod to Jewish culture, especially seeing that the same argumentmight be made for Islamic culture (which I also have no particular ties to).I may know what people mean when they say "Holy Land", or if I know theirethnicity, "Homeland", but giving weight to such things when they impact othersin such a visible way is rather self-serving and jingoistic. Finally, there'sthe (perhaps seperable into two) argument that the Holocaust and continuousmistreatment by much of the rest of the world demonstrate a unique need foran Israel. This argument is actually not a bad one, and while a number ofother minorities, such as the Roma and the Kurds have had almost universallybad treatment over history, it holds for them as well -- it is tempting toconclude that each such grouping of people needs a state. However, thereremains the issue that while many areas of the world are hostile to theHebrews, the Roma, and the Kurds, there are safe places for them, and theseplaces which are hostile are by no means uniquely hostile to them. TheAmish, for example, survive as a subculture in the United States, and whiletheir numbers are small, there is little pressure (as far as I know) for themto have a state. One could make an argument that such groups are actuallysafer from genocide scattered across the world, and further note that theirsuffering is not historically unique. Still, this argument does bear someweight, although to use it to say that opposing Zionism is racist isinappropriate unless one is meaning to imply that said opposal is part of abigger plot to eliminate the people.

One thing I do worry, or perhaps wonder, about is why Israel gets such ahard news rap, compared to it's surrounding nations. I know that for me,I'm bothered a bit more about things that the Israeli government does than,say, what the Syrian government does, because Israel is seen as being, more orless, as being a civilized country, meaning I think about it in an entirelydifferent way than I do places I consider backwards. To use an analogy, ifI read about people being burned for being of the wrong religion, and it happensin, say, Denmark, I'm going to be much more bothered than if it happens in Iran,because for me, while Iran is a fascinating country with an interesting history,to me, I see it as culturally backwards. It's still a horrible thing when suchevents occur, but I don't expect anything more from them, for now. It ispossible, however, that my reasoning is uncommon, and that it's racism thatdrives the effect of Israel-Arab conflict being reported more than Arab-Arabconflict, or some other effect I haven't considered.

So, in sum, I don't think that opposing the designation/devotion of Israelto being a Jewish state is racist. That being said, I'm not against theexistence of Israel, I'm just bothered by what I see as policies aimedat ethnic purity/privilege.

Apparently, the DoE thinks there might yet be something toCold Fusion. The encouragement is that Helium-4 and low-grade heatare appearing in the right amounts in their experiments. The article raises aninteresting concern -- if the effects are real, they may be too small to beuseful -- a parlor-trick version of cold fusion may advance physics, but notprovide any useful energy.

We're still learning nature's tricks -- scientists recently determined howspiders stick to ceilings, apparently able to bear about170 times their own weight while doing so. It has to do with some incrediblemolecular-level magnetic-like attraction based off of interesting propertiesof their feet. Each molecule in their feet forms 'sheets', which they peel offthe wall one at a time while lifting them. If we can duplicate it, there arenumerous applications possible, but it's also neat just to admire thebeauty of such a system. Ahh, nature!

Some people are just embarassing to shop with.Others are busy manufacturing a new notion of theft.

This is the coolest site I've found recently. It has sound samplesof all kinds of different accents. *very cool*

This raises interesting issues on how politically neutrala church really is. I seem to remember that, for tax reasons, they're supposedto keep out of politics, but that's a line in the sand that might not reallybe reasonable to expect of them.

The voting-machine company everybody loves to hate (including me) hasstruck back with lawyers, aiming to have leaked documents that haveleaked to the press destroyed. I do wonder -- is there an openness requirementfor any companies that deal with sensitive issues in government? Should therebe? In particular, the Freedom of Information act, as I understand it, mandatesthat a lot of internal government information be available to the public onwritten request. It would be interesting to expand that to governmentcontractors for certain types of work.

You've probably heard about the fuss over photos of coffins from BushJr'sadventures in Iraq. If not, it's good to follow such things.

More evidence about the problems of considering the private sector to be afull partner in science... We talked about this in my research methods classsome time ago.

On the other hand, in technology, sometimes good things happenin private research. I guess it's a different thing to say what's healthy andto achieve what's possible, and drug companies are known asbeing more crooked than most.

In my research for two papers for my classes recently, I came across a numberof books I'd like to read. I wonder if I'll get the time. Two titles thatstand out are:

Eadie, Mervyn, "A disease once sacred: A history of the medical understanding of epilepsy"Dols, Michael, "Majn"un: The madman in medieval Islamic Society"

I recently have been reading a bit more about Kucinich, and I'm beginning tothink that, had he been elected, he would've made a good president. It's a pitythat we're not seeing a Dean/Kucinich ticket.

Finally, I feel a bit silly attaching the normal string of topics to the topof this message -- I seem to *always* write about politics and/or philosophy.Ehh.. so it goes.

That's all, folks.