Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Lemonjuice Between Life and Death

Feeling better. With that done, it's time to get my life moving again. Applying for jobs at UCSB, which would place me in nice, warm, shallow California.

Surprisingly, having met new friends in Germany in an online game I play has helped me pull me out from where I was - I think it's that no matter how many other interests fall aside, my love of languages has never died. As-is, I'm trying to rediscover more of my interests... I also got a Nintendo Wii, and have had an enjoyable time both playing with the new Smash Brothers and seeing how well the system software is designed - the interface is rather different than what I've seen on any computer desktop, and still seems to be both good and intuitive. The funky controller is, despite what I thought before using one much, actually pretty neat. I would love to play online with any of you who also have a Wii, but I don't yet know how to get whatever magic number I need to tell you that's my system's identity. I'll post that when I figure it out.

Big division between types of online worlds: how much they allow/encourage a culture, separate from whatever aspects of game there is, to evolve in their environs. Second Life: No game, one end of the spectrum. Doom-genre games: other end of spectrum, talking is awkward at best. Dofus is somewhere in the middle - I've run into a fair number of people who almost never adventure and use it mainly for chatting (which, when they decide to talk to me often, can get weird because I'm often trying to do things). I worry about the fragility of these in-game cultures - the people we meet and habits we build - if the server went down, those of us without alternative means of contacting each other would be cut off for good. It's also interesting how these realities compete - there's nothing shameful about having online societies, but thre's something odd to having people never having the potential to meet because they "move in different realities" - slightly stricter boundaries between someone in the punk scene and someone in another, or those who go to rot in the suburbs of America and those outside.

A few specific news highlights and other things:

  • Arthur Clarke (science fiction writer, space enthusiast, and otherwise interesting person) died yesterday. I enjoyed many of his books.
  • A commentary on cultural struggles in Israel and Turkey between religious and secular folk and church-state relations. I don't necessarily like the way he phrases some things, but by-and-large I agree with the argument. This struggle is relevant in other parts of the world as well, from Nederlands to the United States.. to what extent are we democratic? How committed to secularism are we? As a state or movement or whatever else we identify with, what do we want to make the world? For me, it's a would-be movement that aims towards socialism, enlightenment liberalism, scientific and cultural production, openness and honesty, and human happiness. All methods and achievements should be weighed on those scales (even as I realise others have their own sets of scales). If that means banning theocratic parties or occasional other ugliness, we accept that as being better than alternative.
  • On that note, China has had some problems with Tibetans and Falun Gong with its hosting of the upcoming olympics. As mentioned before, I have little sympathy for Falun Gong - they are a dangerous cult (with oddly good PR) like the Scientologists, also suggesting that their meditations should replace modern medicine and with messianic beliefs about their leader. If their organs were indeed harvested (which, as far as I know, is rubbish), that's an atrocity, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. Al Qaeda is not made any more virtuous by torture by the US government. I have more sympathy for Tibet - at one point they were a region with their own customs and state, and they were later reabsorbed into China. That said, they were a feudal theocracy, the movement of which still condemns homosexuality as misconduct, among other things. I am not convinced that an independent Tibet would not return to theocracy under the Dalai Lama, which is why Tibetan independence isn't something I care for - while post-Deng China may have failed to live up to Mao's ambitions and instead seems to be headed for government instability (due to corruption and rise of economic warlords), they are not a theocracy and have more potential for evolution towards liberal socialism.
  • Pakistan is heading for disaster, I think, with the Bhutto family dynasty and Sharif forming a coalition to take parliament. It's amusing and sad when a democratic country has such a tradition of nepotism that Bhutto's son "inherits the party" from his deceased mother.
  • Amazing and ugly example of racism in South Africa.
  • For unixy folk, in case you've never known how, setting up a SOCKS proxy over ssh is very easy when you're travelling and your hotel has a transparent web proxy. If your server outside of their network is, from your laptop do "ssh -D 9000 -Nf" and then set your browser to use localhost:9000 as a SOCKS proxy. Putting this in a shell script isn't a bad idea.
  • Commentary on the efforts to revive Scottish Gaelic in Scotland. For what it's worth, I agree - I don't see any sense in reviving nearly-dead languages just for the sake of being different.
  • Cambridgeshire's student body banned military recruitment on campus, over the matter of Britain's involvement in agressive and unnecessary wars overseas. It's a pity we don't see more of this over here, especially as we have more reason - the US military policy on homosexuals should be considered grounds enough alone to bar them. I believe it can't happen here though because it was tried in the 60s and congress responded by a bill that would withdraw federal funding for universities that bar the military.
  • Rabbi Chaim Kanievski, a prominent haredi rabbi in Israel, has a disgusting attitude on us-versus-them, suggesting Jews not hire Arabs. It strikes me as odd and sad how most people I've spoken with on that conflict recognise only either mistreatment of Israelis by non-Jewish Arabs or vice versa - both groups have their dangerous/harmful folk who need condemnation.
  • A book on the danger Wiki-culture poses to academia... And someone else suggests that something halfway between that and centralised production is the future.. One of the biggest risks in what has been done with Wikipedia is that absence of authority is fun, even when it produces poor results - if people get used to what is easy and tout it as the only thing worth doing, all of society will suffer those worse results.
  • Danny Wool exposes in his blog some of Jimbo Wales' abuse of funds of the Wikipedia Foundation (if he had his way, some of his time in a massage parlor would be funded by donors, among other things). I am pleased the world has people like Danny - in the times I've met him, he's struck me as an incredibly hardworking, principled, good guy. Jimbo was .. unimpressive - not surprising from his being a member of the libertarian fringe - while he has more charisma, in person he feels more like a venture capitalist than someone trying to better the world, and that lack of passion translated into a failure to provide appropriate leadership on Wikipedia.
  • A friend posted a link to this on the Canadian healthcare system.
  • Al Jazeera has suggested that a new proposed media code for middle eastern countries would hamper accurate news reporting in its area. There have been a lot of efforts towards multilateral agreements in the region (possibly due to Saudi Arabia's attempts to shore up its dominance of the Arab world given the likelihood of Iraq's shift towards Shia power destabilising Arab nations and growth of Iranian prominence), from talk of a common currency to other much stronger governmental ties - we may see something like the European Union from the area soon. In the 50s/60s, the Baathists in Lebanon/Syria/Iraq suggested that Arab Socialism would unite the region - the current efforts look like a much more controlled move towards greater unity (sadly)
  • California is making it easier for people to share complaints about health insurance companies. It's good to see government acting so visibly in the interests of its people.
  • Researchers have tinkered with DNA in a new way, adding new base-pairs into DNA molecules. I wonder if at present proteins would actually be produced by strands with such pairs, or if more tinkering with the transferase/polymerase/etc sequences would be needed.
  • I really like Stanley Fish's recent piece on why so many independent voters in American politics are childishly naïve. It's fine, I think, to take a position far enough outside of either party's political norms that one identifies as something else (as I do), and also fine to consider both parties as being incredibly corrupt and difficult to honestly support - this is very different than criticising taking sides on matters of substance, which is what many people do. Politics has content, disagreements over visions for society are real and natural and necessary, and the quiet dealmaker who tries to make everyone get along presumably either has some convictions of their own they don't talk about much or they're just a societal lubricant - perhaps necessary but not the only ideal.
  • Nigerian rebels want our actors!
  • Musings about one of my favourite paintings, "The Man With the Golden Helmet". Authorship of art may help set a context, but I don't think knowing that it was not actually painted by Rembrandt should cause us to think less of it. It is primarily a weakness in the character of humanity, the tendency to find and idolise leaders in various fields, that leads to the disappointment, and it is something we can learn to overcome. It may be prudent to consider the author when we look for depth and meaning in some paintings - a random paint splattering differs from a work by Jackson Pollock in that Pollock's work is meant to express something and Pollock certainly has the skill to place things in ways he believe will evoke shared material in the human viewer, but I don't think this means we must keep a sharp divide between our appreciation of human-made art and "found art", or beauty in nature/math/etc. Each might have diffeering amounts of appealing to our aesthetic sense, meaning we might read into it, and easily seen context, of course.. (I'm comfortable saying that the Dutch Golden Age was defined by many of my favourite artists).

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