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Built on Cracked Glass

Another one of those feeling ok for the first time in quite awhile times.. maybe it's partly the weather - life is still badly broken, but the respite from winter helps. I shall probably go (running/jogging/whatever my body lets me do) after this. It's still a pity that my snowboard is suffering another year of inactivity, but snowboarding alone or with strangers sucks, and I'm too messed up to be good company for people. It's pretty nice being able to air out the apartment.

The last few months have been pretty bad/difficult for me, but I haven't been entirely inactive. Personal highlights/books/etc:

  • Schaefer's Illiberal Justice: John Rawls vs. The American Political Tradition: disappointing so far. Schaefer approaches Rawlsian philosophy and its influence on the American legal system and philosophy from a deeply traditional, founding-fathers-reverent (albeit the traditional liberal defense of America as an embodiment of Enlightenment ideals) position and finds that Rawls suggests some things that are nontraditional (meaning bad, in his view). His work so far is an exercise in missing the point of Rawls. I find it immensely frustrating to read - it's kind of like watching a high school kid who thinks he knows it all making sweeping dismissals of the entire world (except with an interesting twist if you get the joke). I was that kid once, and Schaefer's work feels like something I would've written before I decided to dive into understanding the world. This book was my travel book for awhile before I decided that I'm rarely in the mood for reading something like it. (Note that it's very possible to criticise Rawls in an intelligent way).
  • Ẑiẑek's 「In Defense of Lost Causes」 is like all Ẑiẑek I've read - it's difficult to follow the broader shape of his argument (takes many rereadings), one must be absurdly well-read to understand most of his references (I consider myself fairly well-read and I only get about 75% of them), and occasionally his arguments are rather broken. The read is so pleasant that I don't mind that - the small shapes of his arguments are incredibly insightful and interesting, enough so that rereading the work as a whole until I start to grasp the big picture of his argument is not a burden. This is my current travel book.
  • Neil Gaiman's 「Graveyard Book」 is quite good. This was not a surprise to me - apart from 「Stardust」 (both the book and the film), I've liked everything I've seen of his.
  • Religulous was in fact not a particularly good film. I have said this elsewhere, but I shall repeat:
    • I disliked religilous because the later interviews in the film stopped being interesting and started being just rude mockery. The humour angle of his film initially seemed to be inviting common religious people to put their foot in their mouth with their own beliefs. That's still an intelligent endeavour, as even if these are very common believers (as opposed to religious leaders), their beliefs are important in struggles between worldvies. Partway through he started dropping more insults to people's faces and focusing on their reactions to his rudeness (the interviews in Israel are great examples of this), with many of the later people feeling like cardboard props, not really allowed to talk and just being there as background for his comedy. There's a lot of humour possible in letting people talk about their beliefs - I wanted the film be about that rather than be a Maher monologue. At least the first half was good.
  • I finally learned enough Ruby that I decided to stop learning Ruby. I never knew before that Ruby is Pythonesque in how it handles whitespace as a statement terminator - I'm not against it as a principle meant for everyone, but it's a really big turn-off for me.
  • 「What Orwell Didn't Know: Propoganda and the New Face of American Politics」 was pretty interesting. It's a collection of essays on the modern meaning of Orwell's critiques of society and use of language. The inclusion of a critical piece was a surprise, but I liked parts of the critical piece just as much as those that more agreed/extended Orwell's ideas.
  • I really need to figure out if I'm going to fall apart or manage to pull myself together so I can decide if/when/how grad school will happen.
  • 「Let the Right One In」 was a fantastic film. Great sound, great cinematography, fascinating characters, interesting plot.
  • Every so often the idea of understanding a field (in an engineering sense or a theoretical sense) well enough to reconstruct much of it comes to me - I believe that I understand operating systems well enough that given the time and hardware I could reimplement Unix, from the kernel to all of userland, and mostly do it the same or better. It would be kind of fun to go over the broad outline of what one would do with a group of people, discussing design decisions and seeing where different people would decide to take different paths. For example, perhaps some people would stick with implementing a language like C (or D) and using it to write the userland, while others might propose something a lot higher-level - even the process of reinventing C (and seeing which bits are included versus dropped) would be interesting. Questions about what would we want instead of POSIX were we to start over...
  • Also, what would a good undergraduate Computer Science curriculum look like? How many areas of it would one feel qualified to teach were one to be the sole origin of such a thing?
  • What makes a good programmer?
    • The Lore (collected wisdom/habits)
    • Style
    • The ability to understand generic problem domains
    • Actually understanding frequent problem domains
    • Talent/skill in programming
    • Talent/skill in debugging (combination of understanding this frequent problem domain and clear conceptualisation)
  • My cats sometimes seem to want me in the room with them while they eat. I don't understand this at all.
  • Is sport-fan-culture a way of reimagining nationalism? Could it capture and divert away our tendency towards patriotism? I guess I find both to be repugnant, but if the first can drain away the second, it's probably a good thing, from my perspective. Or do things work that way?
  • Is it even possible to have law designed and imposed from the outside, "a priori"-ish, given the muddy interaction between law and social custom? - I have seen echoes of this between the first two books I mentioned above..
  • Still drawn to a particular quote about the Liger (lion-tiger hybrid) - 「They may inherit conflicting behavioural traits from the parent species. Ligers may exhibit conflicts between the social habits of the lion and the solitary habits of the tiger. Their lion heritage wants them to form social groups, but their tiger heritage urges them to be intolerant of company. Opponents of deliberate hybridization say this causes confusion and depression for the animals, especially after sexual maturity. How much of their behaviour is due to conflicting instincts and how much is due to abnormal hormones or the stress of captive conditions is not fully known.」
  • Honesty and social custom/bounds are becoming clear - the old dream about first-level honesty being the best policy dies hard though. I think this is a plausible additional Geek Social Fallacy - another thing that we're inclined to believe that only age offers redemption from. Are we ever really allowed to tear down the walls between higher communication and lower? Not without consequences. It's a bit like the related hope/belief that "consent is everything" and we can clear ourselves of burdens our words and deeds put on others by allowing them to opt out. It would be nice if that were true, from a math-y perspective, but that's not how our society works because it's not how human beings work. We either have to deal with the possible cruelty of a situation we create (even with that consent) or not do it, and decisions like that are unavoidable. In many circumstances, there is thus no real "right solution" for everyone involved, just those conflicts of needs and desires to be a virtuous or good person. I think the appeal of the position that consent and "straight talk" excuse everything and are themselves an ideal is that such a world is much simpler. I believe we have to abandon that and wade out into much messier waters in order to really understand people and society. 3 Positions:
    1. Not understanding these things but operating according to their rules
    2. Explicitly rejecting them and advocating the much simpler consent-driven system
    3. Understanding how these things actually work and being comfortable with their complexity (while sometimes manipulating them or breaking the rules in particular situations when the cost is worth it)
  • Keith Olbermann is incredibly irritating. Bill O'Reilly is also incredibly irritating. The ways in which they are are very similar - they're really mirror images of each other, and if one can manage to distance oneself from the irritation, it's interesting to listen to the structure of what they say - they both manage to argue primarily towards the emotional/identity side of people, and many (most?) things they say fall down to any kind of careful analysis. The fact that they both seem to have such large fan clubs says a lot about the way people parse news.
  • When I've been feeling ok, I've gone to a few meetings of CMU's secular group - it seems to have at least a bit of the flavour that SFF had when I was in undergrad.
  • I am learning to make sushi (vegetarian). Whole foods has the seaweed and other ingredients. Yum!
There's actually a lot more interesting to talk about, but I want to enjoy a nice jog before this ok-feeling-ness falls away again. I am kind of resigned to the fact that this is at least partly biological given that everyone else in my family seems to suffer from it and uses meds to live a normal life, and that it's probably worse for me because of profound lonliness/social isolation/unlikability. Oh well. Moving onwards....

The world continues/continued to be interesting:

  • US Elections - Obama was elected, which was not a surprise, but Palin looks like she's a force in American politics that's not going away - she's captured the spirit of a number of Americans (primarily, I think, because of identity politics). This worries me - while she's not as dangerous to the nation as people like Ron Paul, she still represents a big part of the worst of American society. Obama's certainly inherited a difficult set of situations - the decline of America may be started more by this accidental/avoidable situation than the inevitable shifts that have been preparing for the last 20 years, and finding a graceful way through that readjustment is not an easy political task. In foreign policy, Pakistan and Afghenistan are the twin difficulties that will probably plague presidents for the next few years (Afghenistan's incredibly weak state is failing, and Pakistan's return to it's typically terrible leadership allowing both to be sources of regional instability). However..
  • Thawing relations with Iran might turn all of that around. This may be helped by Mohammad Khatami standing for election in the coming June election, and even Ahmadinejad seems to be open to the possibility of change with Washington. On the American side, Obama seems to be cautiously exploring the idea of a realignment. Iran has the potential to reshape the middle east in positive ways - their governmental system is very nuanced with a number of interesting inner conflicts, but it's the most progressive in the region/broader culture, and might be a good source of emulation for others. Given that the US has greatly disadvantaged Iran's biggest enemies (Iraq and the Taliban), finding common ground with Iran to help stabilise the region (if Iran's own extremist elements can be contained) seems a way to try to mitigate some of the disasters caused by the invasion of Iraq.
  • Israel's invasion of Gaza - It's unfortunate that Israel managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I am still amazed that, having the Hamas regime in South Palestine in their clear sights, they decided to pull back. An interview with a Hamas spokesperson makes it clear that Hamas will not be happy with ceasing to launch rockets into Israel, and no reasonable state (not that Israel has always been reasonable) would permit such acts to continue against their lands/people. The continued use of violence to prevent cementing of a concrete peace on unfavourable terms is, from the Palestinian perspective, a tactic that may be necessary, but the Israelis are abandoning their own duties by accepting a situation where what's effectively a hostile state on their borders continues to launch attacks at them. Is there a solution that's good for everyone that can be cleanly reached? Perhaps not - even the good is ill-defined and contended. What I'd like to see - a western secular integrated single state, nonzionist and nonarabist (referring to pan-Arabism here), and using laws modeled after the west with explicit rejection of Halakah and Sharia as being sources of the legal code - that's not something that'd be easy to reach. It would take a dictator. It's bizarre to see Israel playing with kid gloves though..
  • The Sri Lankan conflict is finally drawing to a close. There are the predictable pleas for peace made on the international scene, but fortunately the Sri Lankan government is ignoring them - given the situation, dismantling the LTTE is the best path to peace. Hopefully after the war is over, Sri Lanka will have learned from its mistakes with the Tamils and will avoid the causes that gave them cause for this prolonged bloody war. Tamil Eelan (except to the extent that Tamil Nadu is) as a dream will have to be discarded, but hopefully Sri Lanka will manage to become close enough to both what the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils wanted that it will suffice.
  • It's amusing that everyone has an opinion on whether the stimulus will work, generally based on whatever ideology they have. It seems to me that very few of us really know - we're not economists, and we're not relying on any kind of an academic consensus. It might be fair game to argue what is right or good, and to use that as a criterion as to whether the stimulus is worth doing, but arguing whether it will work is something very few are qualified to do. As tempted as I am to hazard a guess (and I think I'm better-informed than most on these matters), in all honesty I don't know - without consulting scholars the best way to approach the issue would be to examine the great depression and the New Deal, and to try to come to a reasonable conclusion as to whether the New Deal was responsible for "fixing" the problem, and then determining if/how that analysis compares to the situation today.

Quirky little ideas/quips:

  • His job is to come up with pretensious crap for the Japanese to use in their pop culture
  • Myth Patrol - Policemen travel through fictional time, entering greek, norse, christian, hindu, muslim mythology, enforcing "the law", ending each story arc with a list of crimes by each participant and giving each their sentences.
    • In later years, I have come to regard
    • Heroes with sadness, a quiet tear inside
    • as I see their capes and noble ambitions
    • for such fleshed desire reminds
    • that such things are both needed and absent
    • illusory flowers from rich soil of despair
  • Extending an existing quote: 「For every Problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong. For every such solution, there will be a fan club on the internet」
That's all, for now.


"with many of the later people feeling like cardboard props, not really allowed to talk and just being there as background for his comedy. "

I haven't seen it, but I'm not entirely surprised, given that he became famous via a talk show on which everybody would interrupt and talk over each other until he decided to talk over them.

Agree with you about the stimulus, but I have to strongly support it due to not having heard any acceptable alternative course of action (including no action).

Roughly agree with you about "consent and straight talk is everything" being a fallacy.