Geek culture distribution: As I see it, there are two strange attractors inside the US - Boston, MA and Coastal California (yes, the different sizes are an interesting factor). Boston has a very heavy concentration of people and events (ROFLcon being an event I would've liked to have attended were it convenient), while coastal CA tends to have a lot of conferences. Boston's contribution is obvious - it has MIT, which has the strongest/best geek culture in the country, it's the origin of a lot of the technology and cultural figures, and many luminaries have stuck around the area. The west cosat is a bit more mysterious (to me, at least) - while technology is one of the major foci of business in CA, why is that the case? Is it the easy access to Asia? Also, why has geek culture not taken off there to the extent that it has in Boston? Is it just the lower concentration of geeks, or is there some institution missing? Presumably there's more of it around major universities - Geek culture owes a lot to general American academic culture, being another direction people in the latter can take after their formal university affiliation ends (rather than becoming immersed in whatever non-university cultures there are in their area). What would it take for these universities to become cultural icons in the sense MIT has?
As much as I'm interested in the spread of geek culture, there are tendencies that bother me intensely within it - the tendency for disdain towards other areas of academia, cheap/rigid political philosophy, occasionally poor hygiene, and lack of general concern for humanity, for starters. I had several of these to varying degrees when I was younger, and hopefully have outgrown them.
- Jimmy Carter has been making headlines for visiting Palestine and meeting with Hamas' leader Kaled Mashaal (in Syria). Having met with Mashaal, he declared that Hamas would have to be part of any peace process, and Hamas announced that it would be willing to grant a six-month ceasefire with Israel in return for a lift on the isolation of the Gaza strip (which it seized from the Palestinian Authority semi-recently). This offer was coupled with the idea that this ceasefire could be extended indefinitely if it were the will of the palestinian people in general, despite their opposition of it, along with a statement that this would not include, now or ever, recognition of Israel. Israel has rejected the offer.
- I respect Carter's efforts for peace, and agree with him that the Israeli government's policies do amount to apartheid and must change if Israel merits long-term continued support/association with the west. I also believe that meeting with Hamas was appropriate, as efforts to improve the world generally mean one should be willing to meet with anyone who has actual power of any kind - such meetings should not be construed as support, recognition, or agreement of any kind, and should not automatically set expectations that relations are at all friendly. Carter did call on Hamas to be open to eventual recognition of Israel, the response to which was a pointed refusal in that announcement. This is the first critical point in moving forward - until and unless Hamas opens the door to a lasting peace (which implies recognition of Israel in some form), temporary measures of peace are more likely a "let us build back up so we can better attack you again" than something meaningful. On those grounds, Israel is acting sensibly in not negotiating. As secularists, there is another commitment that comes into play - against theocratic states. If Gaza is to become a "South Palestine" in time, if it is under control of Hamas it will remain a theocratic state (unlike Fatah, which is more secular in nature) - I believe that while it may be necessary to deal with theocratic states (like Iran or the Vatican) that are established, we should not support/permit their further creation and attempt to pressure existing ones to secularise as much as possible. By this measure, it would be preferable to deal with Fatah as a sole partner and isolate/neutralise Hamas rather than deal with it. In this sense, it is still possible to meet with Hamas, although there may be very little to say/negotiate.
- The problems we see in the structure of Israel are not specific to Israel, and descend from general principles of western liberalism. As advocates of that, we should use our ties to Israel to push it towards greater conformance with those ideals - our existing ties and support of it are a recognition that it is already much closer to those ideals than any of its neighbours. The specific ideas that are problematic for complete support of Israel are that it has a number of deviations from secularism (e.g. religious control of marriage meaning that seculars often need to go abroad to marry, it being illegal to sell chometz in public during Pesach, no public services on Shabbat, religious privilege for Haredim) and that racial supremacy is an explicit goal in both policy and law (particularly immigration policy, but also population transfers, distortion of history a la Deir Yassin). None of these problems are new to humanity, and these tendencies exist in many societies to various degrees and should be tackled there as well, but they are particularly visible and problematic in Israel (at least partly because they already enjoy significant support of the west and thus have a higher obligation, from our perspective). Any country that defines itself as an ethnic homeland and organises itself towards that goal should be viewed as an abomination under Liberalism and strongly pressured to change. The same goes for countries with a theocratic bent.
- I forgot to mention this when it was current - centrists in Iran fared well in the recent elections, which bodes well for reformist movements. The idea of uniting the Muslim world has long been a factor in post-revolution Iran, and has led hawkish politicians (as from the well known quote by Hermann Göring) to beat the drums of war against Israel and the West as a way to garner political support domestically and from the Arabs. The death of that dream and a shift of focus from regional hegemony towards the domestic well-being of the nation is good for the world.
- I wonder if Lessig's attempts to bring more accountability to politics using technology are likely to produce results. As much as I liked Lessig's efforts to prevent the growth of IP as a stifling institution in our society, if he can be as effective in reforming politics, it's more important he do that.
- The Mahdi army continues to be a major force in Iraq
- More damning evidence of the already undeniable use of torture by the US military. How should captives be detained? Ideally their basic human needs would be met - generic food and drink not much different from standard American faire, individual beds, standard toilet facilities and toiletries, room to walk around, fresh air, non-excessive noise. Possibly an expectation of a certain amount of work, and no involuntary "sessions" of pressure/interrogation/violence of any kind. Any information they have might be negotiable for improved conditions beyond these or other things, but these are the basics for what we need to be civilised as a society/nation and to offer less is unacceptable.
- Ben Stein is a bright guy, but unfortunately he's allied himself with people not far from the discovery institute (who push "Creation Science", among other things). He's made a film decrying academia for its rejection of "intelligent design", portraying this as a battle over freedom. Academia has never been about radical democracy, it acts as a guardian and embodiment of the search for truth - it performs the same role it has since universities broke from their origins in the Catholic church in its rejection of unscientific ideas. If that management of scholarly consensus is to be seen as supressive censorship (it clearly is, from some perspectives/defintions), then this is an example where that is a positive thing.
- PETA is funding research of beef vats. Awesome. Advances in technology that result in less cruelty are hard to criticise.
- I'm also happy to see that the last major bits of Java are to be open-sourced - OpenJDK is already really useful on Linux distros that include it, considerably more useful than Kaffee or any of the other non-sun implementations of Java we've seen over the years (although they did get fairly close to Sun's JDK/JVM in capability - this was probably an unmentioned factor in why Sun decided to free it all up).
- The Tories now have a high-profile advocate of legalising medical usage of marijuana in Boris Johnson. This is a good thing but a baby step - while I've come to see the illegality of various hard drugs as being a good thing (particularly cocaine), Marijuana is a far thing from that and is in the league of alcohol in harm to the human body. While society is burdened by the cost of caring for damage to its members, the benefits are more than worth it for things like sports, alcohol, and marijuana, both in the direct enjoyment from them and the pleasure in the autonomy of having them permitted.
Strange daydream - really old butterflies with long beards. Do butterflies really get old?