September 13th, 2006

Semiformalishmaybe

Lebanese Purgative

Reflecting on Lebanon, it appears that there's a general consensus that things didn't go as planned, from Hezbollah itself (which states that it would not have abducted the soldiers if it had known the results), members of the Israeli military, a number of Israeli people, etc etc. The United Nations isn't exactly to "blame", as it's acting within its intended purpose, but in this case that purpose is harmful. War and eradication of forces are not always a bad thing -- it can act to solve otherwise perplexing situations in a (hopefully) swift, decisive way. The horrors of war are well known, but in many cases, the horrors of peace (or, rather, the situations that peace can prolong) are worse. I believe this to be such a case - from the perspective of the Hezbollah supporters, a major reason for their organisation's existence will be stifled by peacekeeping forces for a bit (as is always the case, and as France has complained bitterly about, peacekeeping forces are often withdrawn at the first sign of conflict, making them more a line in the sand than anything). From the perspective of the Israelis, Hezbollah will take missles off the menu for how they attack their counry (at least for awhile), returning to other tactics. The soldiers over which the whole mess are still held by Hezbollah, and probably won't be freed unless some dangerous criminals are freed from jail in exchange. In a sense, both Israel and Hezbollah have won some propogandic points -- Israel has fought for its abducted soldiers and shown that it's not going to sit idly by while it's attacked, and Hezbollah got to play soldier with its army, fighting "the" enemy. In the end, because the conflict was ended early, nothing was solved. Long-time readers of my blog understand that my preferred outcome would be for Israel to wrap up in purging Hezbollah completely from southern Lebanon, killing all of its members, providing some reconstruction aid, freeing the abductees, and heading back home. Instead, we get this false peace..

I've been having a grand time loaning out books to different friends and trying to figure out their tastes based on what they like. It also gives me warm fuzzies because I'm committed, both emotionally and ideologically, to resource reuse, and the idea of sharing stuff when it's unused makes me feel good about life. My library of books is finite but large - eventually I expect to run out of suitable books for each person, but until that happens... and speaking of which, if any other Pittsburghers want to come by with a backpack and borrow 10 or 20 books, if I know you and we're on relatively friendly terms, drop me an email -- it'd be my pleasure.

It's irritating that all the pens I ever get at work eventually migrate home, requiring me to get yet more pens, which within a week or two, also migrate home. My theory is that the reason for this is that I empty my pockets at the end of the day before sleep (which is more often at home than in my office), and don't tend to fill them back up again with the same stuff after waking up in the morning. Given that I don't use pens much in general (I'm computerbound, mostly) outside of work (yay paperwork!), ..

It's kind of cool how readable Frisian is to an English speaker.

The weather is now becoming intolerably cold again -- this is likely the last day I'll be able to wear shorts without checking the weather first. Given that I now seem to be comfortable with blue jeans and belts, I should probably go clothes shopping again sometime soon. Unfortunately, wearing gloves all the time looks funny - I wish there were a good way to deal with my hands being cold all the time. I hate Northern weather. Brr.

Semiformalishmaybe

Lebanese Purgative

Reflecting on Lebanon, it appears that there's a general consensus that things didn't go as planned, from Hezbollah itself (which states that it would not have abducted the soldiers if it had known the results), members of the Israeli military, a number of Israeli people, etc etc. The United Nations isn't exactly to "blame", as it's acting within its intended purpose, but in this case that purpose is harmful. War and eradication of forces are not always a bad thing -- it can act to solve otherwise perplexing situations in a (hopefully) swift, decisive way. The horrors of war are well known, but in many cases, the horrors of peace (or, rather, the situations that peace can prolong) are worse. I believe this to be such a case - from the perspective of the Hezbollah supporters, a major reason for their organisation's existence will be stifled by peacekeeping forces for a bit (as is always the case, and as France has complained bitterly about, peacekeeping forces are often withdrawn at the first sign of conflict, making them more a line in the sand than anything). From the perspective of the Israelis, Hezbollah will take missles off the menu for how they attack their counry (at least for awhile), returning to other tactics. The soldiers over which the whole mess are still held by Hezbollah, and probably won't be freed unless some dangerous criminals are freed from jail in exchange. In a sense, both Israel and Hezbollah have won some propogandic points -- Israel has fought for its abducted soldiers and shown that it's not going to sit idly by while it's attacked, and Hezbollah got to play soldier with its army, fighting "the" enemy. In the end, because the conflict was ended early, nothing was solved. Long-time readers of my blog understand that my preferred outcome would be for Israel to wrap up in purging Hezbollah completely from southern Lebanon, killing all of its members, providing some reconstruction aid, freeing the abductees, and heading back home. Instead, we get this false peace..

I've been having a grand time loaning out books to different friends and trying to figure out their tastes based on what they like. It also gives me warm fuzzies because I'm committed, both emotionally and ideologically, to resource reuse, and the idea of sharing stuff when it's unused makes me feel good about life. My library of books is finite but large - eventually I expect to run out of suitable books for each person, but until that happens... and speaking of which, if any other Pittsburghers want to come by with a backpack and borrow 10 or 20 books, if I know you and we're on relatively friendly terms, drop me an email -- it'd be my pleasure.

It's irritating that all the pens I ever get at work eventually migrate home, requiring me to get yet more pens, which within a week or two, also migrate home. My theory is that the reason for this is that I empty my pockets at the end of the day before sleep (which is more often at home than in my office), and don't tend to fill them back up again with the same stuff after waking up in the morning. Given that I don't use pens much in general (I'm computerbound, mostly) outside of work (yay paperwork!), ..

It's kind of cool how readable Frisian is to an English speaker.

The weather is now becoming intolerably cold again -- this is likely the last day I'll be able to wear shorts without checking the weather first. Given that I now seem to be comfortable with blue jeans and belts, I should probably go clothes shopping again sometime soon. Unfortunately, wearing gloves all the time looks funny - I wish there were a good way to deal with my hands being cold all the time. I hate Northern weather. Brr.

Semiformalishmaybe

Fairness and Societal Good

Today, I had lunch at CMU's Faculty Club (I'd be happy to take some of you studenty folk with me sometime if you want to check it out). While I was eating dessert (their desserts are incredible), a tasty chocolate cake (that hopefully won't give me a headache), two professors sitting at a nearby table were having a conversation on neutrality in the classroom and beyond -- in particular if the traditional University protections on allowing points of view (on or off-field) to be expressed in the classroom should extend to their offering this to the wider public (via remote teaching/video) or if it should be limited to just the campus community. Mention was given to University dependence on public funding, not in terms of the university being more of a target for political action, but instead as a kind of fairness-ethics question. To summarise, is it acceptable to use public funds (as pretty much all universities, public or private, do in some fashion) to push a political point of view?

While I'm sensitive to other arguments, i don't think fairness-to-perspectives really enters into it. Universities are cultural, value-laden institutions, at least as much to expose people to a wide variety of ideas and perspectives as to provide vocational training. They are not publicly funded to promote fairness or avoid expressing points of view. Reflecting on a larger scale, culture and value-neutrality are not useful things for the state to aim at, and expressed strongly enough would make it impossible for a state to exist. This does not mean that certain traditions of avoiding some kinds of state-led inculturation are necessarily bad ideas, but rather that they're just traditions and should be judged as such. The things I once called "principled positions" on these issues begin to look increasingly ridiculous, either when we look at their results or when we look with open eyes for internal inconsistencies. Sometimes we look for traditions and comprimises near their corpse, sometimes like a wolf free of leash we wander free. A state that would not oppose its criminals, that would not manage its population and culture, that does not provide and/or protect the common paths and aid people in their growth as people would not be worth living in. We have, as a people, a distaste for things that "smell like propoganda", but this is more about traditions than hard, philosophically clean, borders.

On other news, it's really unpleasant explaining to people on Wikipedia that we cannot use specific-permission content on the site. Basically, because the project has standards for free content, and it's seen as a high priority that people be able to take all of our content and fork, starting their own Wikipedia-clone, or alternatively use our data for other purposes like displaying it from cellphones or publishing it in books (Aside: I just had this really weird steampunk-esque idea of a 60 foot-tall LCD displaying a wikipedia article, with people on a platform connected to hydrolics to pull it around the page via controls, viewing an article and leaving it centred on a fair-use image, by size taking it partly out of context), we don't accept any content on the site that has permission for use only on the site, instead requiring that it be generally released under an acceptable license. Novice users generally don't understand this, asking originators of images/photographs/whatever if they can put it up on Wikipedia. Explaining all this to them is a major pain, and is an example of a policy-stumbling block. At some point, I'll probably write up a nice, summarises-everything-from-policy-to-culture guide to Wikipedia and try to get some pointers established to it in places newbies will see.

Semiformalishmaybe

Fairness and Societal Good

Today, I had lunch at CMU's Faculty Club (I'd be happy to take some of you studenty folk with me sometime if you want to check it out). While I was eating dessert (their desserts are incredible), a tasty chocolate cake (that hopefully won't give me a headache), two professors sitting at a nearby table were having a conversation on neutrality in the classroom and beyond -- in particular if the traditional University protections on allowing points of view (on or off-field) to be expressed in the classroom should extend to their offering this to the wider public (via remote teaching/video) or if it should be limited to just the campus community. Mention was given to University dependence on public funding, not in terms of the university being more of a target for political action, but instead as a kind of fairness-ethics question. To summarise, is it acceptable to use public funds (as pretty much all universities, public or private, do in some fashion) to push a political point of view?

While I'm sensitive to other arguments, i don't think fairness-to-perspectives really enters into it. Universities are cultural, value-laden institutions, at least as much to expose people to a wide variety of ideas and perspectives as to provide vocational training. They are not publicly funded to promote fairness or avoid expressing points of view. Reflecting on a larger scale, culture and value-neutrality are not useful things for the state to aim at, and expressed strongly enough would make it impossible for a state to exist. This does not mean that certain traditions of avoiding some kinds of state-led inculturation are necessarily bad ideas, but rather that they're just traditions and should be judged as such. The things I once called "principled positions" on these issues begin to look increasingly ridiculous, either when we look at their results or when we look with open eyes for internal inconsistencies. Sometimes we look for traditions and comprimises near their corpse, sometimes like a wolf free of leash we wander free. A state that would not oppose its criminals, that would not manage its population and culture, that does not provide and/or protect the common paths and aid people in their growth as people would not be worth living in. We have, as a people, a distaste for things that "smell like propoganda", but this is more about traditions than hard, philosophically clean, borders.

On other news, it's really unpleasant explaining to people on Wikipedia that we cannot use specific-permission content on the site. Basically, because the project has standards for free content, and it's seen as a high priority that people be able to take all of our content and fork, starting their own Wikipedia-clone, or alternatively use our data for other purposes like displaying it from cellphones or publishing it in books (Aside: I just had this really weird steampunk-esque idea of a 60 foot-tall LCD displaying a wikipedia article, with people on a platform connected to hydrolics to pull it around the page via controls, viewing an article and leaving it centred on a fair-use image, by size taking it partly out of context), we don't accept any content on the site that has permission for use only on the site, instead requiring that it be generally released under an acceptable license. Novice users generally don't understand this, asking originators of images/photographs/whatever if they can put it up on Wikipedia. Explaining all this to them is a major pain, and is an example of a policy-stumbling block. At some point, I'll probably write up a nice, summarises-everything-from-policy-to-culture guide to Wikipedia and try to get some pointers established to it in places newbies will see.

Semiformalishmaybe

Shooting Down a Cloud

Dear Pittsburgh,

This is what you're going to do this weekend. I probably won't be able to join you in any of this, but I can guarantee it'll be awesome.

  • Friday: Between 16:30 and 20:00 there's a Malaysian food festival in CMU's University Centre
  • Friday or Saturday you're going to see Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a wonderfully dark and twisted play, in the Southside, for $10 a ticket.
  • For Saturday night, Ceremony, which is no longer only 21-and-over
I am irritated to find two things about my computer:
  • mplayer can't write to my root window using the "xv" driver (when it tries, it just gets sparkly for a second). Using the "x11" driver means it won't scale the video.
  • Ndiswrapper makes the system much less reliable and sometimes causes keyboard or mouse events to be dropped.
Word out.
Semiformalishmaybe

Shooting Down a Cloud

Dear Pittsburgh,

This is what you're going to do this weekend. I probably won't be able to join you in any of this, but I can guarantee it'll be awesome.

  • Friday: Between 16:30 and 20:00 there's a Malaysian food festival in CMU's University Centre
  • Friday or Saturday you're going to see Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a wonderfully dark and twisted play, in the Southside, for $10 a ticket.
  • For Saturday night, Ceremony, which is no longer only 21-and-over
I am irritated to find two things about my computer:
  • mplayer can't write to my root window using the "xv" driver (when it tries, it just gets sparkly for a second). Using the "x11" driver means it won't scale the video.
  • Ndiswrapper makes the system much less reliable and sometimes causes keyboard or mouse events to be dropped.
Word out.
Semiformalishmaybe

Peachy Keen

Paradise is lying on a couch curled under a big blanket, uncaring about the future, with two cats playing nearby, two laptops looking at one, one of them playing good music, tea and canned peaches nearby, a stick of myrrh burning, and a good book on one's lap, all while the pleasant sound of rain comes in through a nearby window. Paradise also leads to run-on sentences.

Semiformalishmaybe

Peachy Keen

Paradise is lying on a couch curled under a big blanket, uncaring about the future, with two cats playing nearby, two laptops looking at one, one of them playing good music, tea and canned peaches nearby, a stick of myrrh burning, and a good book on one's lap, all while the pleasant sound of rain comes in through a nearby window. Paradise also leads to run-on sentences.