The law of conservation of car brokenness is, as far as I can tell,inviolable. As my car recently had its broken power steering fixed,at great cost to myself, the brokenness has moved into the electricdoor locks -- for one of the doors, they no longer reliably lock orunlock it. This, fortunately, can wait until the parts that Fnord wantsto fix due to a factory recall are ready for service, at which point Iwill also get the (long overdue) emissions test for my car. I am botheredthough that the cost of recent and expected future repairs are not toofar from the resell value of the bloody thing. Cars suck.
I've had some more time to think about the Qatar thing, and things areslightly more clear. We'll see how things go. While I've been floating theidea with some friends, I've heard from some of them, mostly Orthodox buta few others, that I seem to be looking for something, and the context andphrasing seemed to imply that they think I'm going to find, or at least amlooking, for some kind of religious or philosophical insight, from the middleeast. I'm surprised to hear it from so many different people in what I assumeis unconnected conversations between people. Could it be that they knowsomething about me that I haven't seen yet? One of the things that acceptingthe lack of free will entails is that our behavior is, in theory, predictable,with high-level patterns that can be predicted with more accuracy, especiallywhen judgement and values are involved, than simple, limited-constraint taskslike choosing a number. It is indeed possible that my friends know me betterthan I do myself on this point. That said, to the extent that I do know myself,I think the Qatar thing, if I were to do it, would be about having a lifeexperience and learning a lot. Contrary to the worry of some people, I don'tsee myself having experiences that would cause me to become Muslim, or religiousin any sense. While I am committed to evaluating that question with my mind andevidence in a fair manner, it is possible that I may be overwhelmed by emotionor similar, and that may drive my emotional and intellectual sides intoconflict. I simply trust that, as has always been the case in the way I live mylife, that I will keep what I wish to believe along with my core values, andaway from my perceptions of truth. I have always felt that the evidence, farfrom being ambiguous, has pointed us with great certainty to the conclusion thathumanity created gods in order to fill emotional and societal needs, and thatthis need has led a lot of people to make things up to support a dream theydesperately need to be true. I doubt learning more about the world is likelyto provide me evidence to the contrary.
Last week, Norman Finkelstein came to speak at CMU.The topic of his talk was Israeli-Palestinian history, including his effortsto debunk what was once the dominant historical view of the foundation of thestate of Israel. The way he described it, it was once mainstream thought thatIsrael was largely empty during the British mandate period, and that the peopleknown as the Palestinians are a people with a manufactured past, in realitybeing largely people from neighbouring countries that poured in to stop thecreation of a Jewish state. I have occasionally heard friends, in Columbus,talking about things that appeared to derive from that idea of history, butnever had the full story of what was once believed. From what some of my friendswere saying who were suggesting that I come to the presentation, he wasconsiderably more "out there" than he actually seemed to be -- they claimed thathe had become an anti-semite and a holocaust denier. I have not read his bookon the Holocaust, but from what I read of the reviews on Amazon,it doesn't look likely that he's doing anything at all like denying theHolocaust, nor did he seem to be doing so in the talk. He is very goodat hiding his thoughts, he's what he seems to be -- a moderate scholarattacking use of horrible abuse as an excuse for what he views as furtherabuse, or something between. After his speech, and a response by a localcommunity leader, both of which were pretty civil, things devolved a bit --a few of the Orthodox in the audience made disturbances during the Question andAnswer session afterwards. It was, however, overall a civil and interestingevent. People of every stripe were handing things out throughout, some of thehandouts being quite interesting.
Two interesting issues from the local jewish community's handout -- is itanti-semitic or a double standard to single out Israel for abuses when otherabusers are not sanctioned? My thoughts? Perhaps it is. It may be an issuewith the U.N. being nation-democratic, with each country getting a voice inthe general assembly, and Israel being the odd one out. We can imagine thatAfrican nations, many of them ruled by warlords in suits who commit abuses fargreater than in western nations, would tend to stick together and forgive eachother's abuses, making sanctions and U.N. criticism of them difficult. Thispoint is made quite clear when genocide continues in Dafur and the U.N. doesn'teven have the clout to call it genocide. Of course, part of that may also bethat every effort is made to keep countries with a backwards political systemin the U.N., and too much criticism would probably convince those countries to,en masse, pack their bags and withdraw from the U.N., giving up on all thelighter forms of political pressure than resolutions and war that the U.N. canuse to liberalise them. Israel is a first-world nation, and so perhaps part ofthe reason that it's judged to a higher standard is that it listens tocriticism, it's not likely to leave the U.N., and people percieve that becauseit is first-world, it has a higher bar to meet when it comes to its conduct. Theother countries which the paper compares it to, including China, Iran, andSyria, are all considered second-world countries. The second issue is one ofnational legitimacy, which is at the heart of the issue. The paper they handedout likes to call things anti-semetic, and while I suspect that this is an abuseof the term that makes it harder for them to call things anti-semetic when theyclearly are (boy who cried wolf, etc), that's an aside. It claims that thedenial of Israel's right to exist is always anti-semetic, arguing that if otherpeoples have the right to live in their homeland, then Jewish people have asimilar right. It does suggest some points of further investigation -- whatconstitutes a people? Who decides where their homeland should be, or is that ahistorical question? What happens when more than one people have had, atdifferent historical periods, the same homeland, or more than one homeland?When we decide what constitutes a people, should all of them be allocated ahomeland who do not yet have one? If, for example, we look partway downmy family tree on the patrilinear path, we find Clan Gunn ofthe highlands of Scotland. If I were to imagine a homeland for them, I mightdecide that Scotland and Ireland are the homeland of the Gaelic people, andsuggest that they be split from England. Should I expect Israel-supporters tosupport me in that idea because each of the peoples of the world deserves ahomeland? Oh, and what about the Picts who were there before the HighlandScots invaded? They have a similar right to that land, no? Going further backinto history, we find that Clan Gunn has ties to some ancient Norse king,Olaf the Black. Is that another homeland? In summary, I think that ancestralhomelands are a poor way to try to build support for the placement of a modernnation, and an appeal to their usage is poorly thought-out and would reopen anumber of long-settled disputes. All that being said, I don't think Israelshould be disbanded -- I hope to see a one-state solution that would secularizeand liberalize all the people within it. I don't know if a normal democracy withnormal liberalism would last long over there, and I do sympathize with theconcern that a huge influx of arab voters would dismantle relative civilizationand install Shari'a. The last thing I would want to see would be a societywhich is so young and advanced for its age crumbling back into agrarianism.
Yesterday, there was a large antiwar protest in Squirrel Hill. I only heardabout it the night before, and unfortunately didn't arrive before everyoneelse, but I got some good pictures. There were, as usual, interesting peopleto talk to, music ranging from decent to quite bad, and a lot of shoutingthat rallied the crowd (and irritated me). After a lot of that, we all "marched"down to CMU. We passed by some frat houses, and they, knowing what was coming,held up signs saying "use soap", "nuke paris", and "kill more iraqis". A strongpolice presence stopped much violence from happening. Apparently, both countyand city police were used -- the county sent a number of police on horses, andthe city sent several cruisers. When we got near CMU, there were some CMUpolice as well guarding CMU's campus. I saw a few people from Coffee Tree,another friend, and spent a good part of the time there with Dmitriy (who alsotook a lot of photos). One of the things we talked about issomething I'm curious about regarding these events -- how many of the peoplethere have actually thought deeply about the issues relating to war and globalpolitics? If I were more of a journalist type, I would've given a number ofpeople my business card and asked them to meet me for lunch, asking them anumber of questions about various types of political issues. I wonder how muchconsistancy would actually be there. Maybe I would've been surprised about theresults though. Hmm.
Afterwards, with friends, I had a wine which may rival Sauterne for positionof being my favourite wine -- it's a kosher white wine called Bartenura Moscato D'asti. It's very tasty and not overpowering. I'll probablyget some to keep around the house sometime next week.
A question to my readers -- would you rather live in the dystopia ofBrave New World or that of 1984? Which of them goes further from modern,western societies? Would your choice remain the same if you also had theworlds of Farenheit 451 and Gilliam's Brazil available? It's worth notingthat in each of those works, the story focused on someone that, more orless, was going against the grain of society. Would someone going againstthe grain of a western society today look much different, taken to theextent that the protagonists from those works went against society? I thinkit would be interesting to do a dystopian-perspective work set in an existingliberal society, to explore the genre.
I've made good progress on POUND. It's probably safe to say that, while it'sby no means done, I'm ready to deploy the next version whenever I get aroundto it. I may let it bake a bit further, but it's at least as capable as thecurrent version is in almost all areas, and has several other goodies. TheWikilanguage parser still totally sucks, but until I start getting otherpeople hosting their blogs on my site, I'll have time to fix it up and can avoidthe rough bits.
I'm still having issues with depression though. Sigh.