Yesterday was full of "manual" labour, in that I was intelligently merging user directories and accounts between 2 servers at work so NFS could make life simple. Intelligent merging sometimes means merging ssh authorised keys, handling conflicts, and similar. I did this rather than the users because many of them have a kind of shaky knowledge of Unix and they either would make mistakes or spend a lot of time on it - I don't really have responsibility for the users exactly (they're on the ECE side of a project spanning CS and ECE), but none of these projects have a proper sysadmin (my title is "Principal Research Programmer", making me theoretically the lead developer for this and a few other projects) and I don't want them to be unhappy. I've grown fond of the ECE users and CMU's engineering folk in general.
Last night I played Dofus for the first time in awhile, and didn't get to sleep until kinda late. Today I woke up feeling more ok than I have in a few weeks, so I packed up my stuff and schlepped down to the southside, stopping by Joseph-Beth's to pick up a few new books (「Pride and Prejudice and Zombies」 looks funny, some books about early Islam, a journal called 「The National Interest」, and a copy of 「Make」 magazine). Then: lunch at Bruchetta's. My hair decided to randomly be stylish today, and a few random people hit on me there - I wasn't in the least bit interested, but it was kind of weird and maybe a bit nice.
At the Beehive, I bumped into someone from CMU's Atheist group (actually, she was also on the bus down) and eventually settled down to read 「The National Interest」. Wikipedia identifies it as being conservative, but so far I have not noticed a very strong bias - it feels almost as academic as the other political journals I like, with only one article operating from what might be called a perspective-laden view that I've spotted so far. I was interrupted partway through by someone at a nearby table commenting on the magazine, leading to a 3 hour conversation (ack ack my throat is not used to talking with the majority of days recently where I say about 20 words to other humans between waking and sleeping) that spanned a *lot* of topics. He seemed to be a curious guy, ill-served by America's education system.. I guess it wasn't so much a conversation, once it started, as him asking a question about something and my talking for 10+ minutes about the topic, e.g. "Why do Jews reject Jesus", "Why do Saudi Arabia and Iran have conflicts?", "Do muslims support violence/terrorism?", "Is Osama Bin Laden sincere?" "Why do the Iranians have a prolem with the United States?" ... plus a lot of questions about the general sciences. It was a bit difficult not to feel like I was being patronising when I had to explain things like the Nazis were not Communist and WW2 was not about the US fighting Communism... we were joined by another guy who mostly sat there and stared at me as I talked - my "christian-sense" suggested him to maybe be an evangelist-type guy who would've attacked my liberal-atheist perspectives if he saw an opening, but that never happened. Eventually things petered out, and I left to try to make it to 「Rage of the Stage」's 「Alice」, discovering a bit too late that I had the start time wrong and missed the last showing of it for this production. This was a big disappointment.
Bussed back to SqHill, ended the day at the Té Café sketching faces and systematically noticing where I didn't get things right. I think I have a list of things to work on when I sketch in the future that will help me. A dominant theme is that I need to work more on tricks to help me get angles right on facial features, getting angles of them consistent with each other (critical) and with the face (not so critical because it's harder to notice when it's done a bit wrong). In theory, this should come naturally if I could keep a single angle straight in my head with an image of someone. This is extraordinarily difficult for me for faces - somehow it feels like I normally see faces from several angles at once in my memory, and while I would notice IRL if someone suddenly had a longer nose, a different facial structure, etc, fixing my attention on an angle of them in memory and holding it still long enough to draw it is .. not really doable. So ... I need tricks.
It seems that the rare occasion I have conversations, it's largely one-off conversations with people I don't know. This feels like limited life support - I still often feel like I'm slowly falling apart of lonliness, and each little distancing I feel from people with whom I'd like to be close hurts way more than it should. Meh.
On the topic of the political journal above, I find it weird that the Republican party and conservative movements have both gone so far off the deep end in the last few years. It'd be tempting to say that the moderate conservatives are falling off the map, but I get the impression that other flavours of conservatives are being silenced. I am tempted to think that the blame for this lies partly with two men: Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch, and partly with changing standards for journalism. Fox News has been successful enough at getting a large body of views to accept it as "what news should be", blending the distinction between journalism and commentary and ignorung traditional standards of journalism that it has grabbed a large portion of American society (I understand that SkyNews in Britain is less successful and Britons remain well-informed) and made them what I would uncharitably call "batshit insane", or more charitably "ill-informed and posessed of radical positions, conspiracy theories, and prone towards kookiness". The old conversations I had with conservatives were generally with people living in the same reality as me. People who primarily watch Foxnews seem to be living in a reality that is at best vaguely nearby. The sane Republicans of the past like Bob Dole, BushSr, and John McCain are spending uncomfortable moments seeing people like Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, and a megachurch in the mirror. I'm not sure what this means in the long-term - I didn't think the Republican party was in fact in a bad shape after this election given that the Democrats did not win by a huge margin (population-wise) in either Legislative or Presidential races, but this inner handing of the Republican party crown to people like that is bizarre to see and if not fixed will make American politics interesting for time to come. FoxNews and Palin might be the biggest danger to either the conservative movement (if this sours enough people) or to the United States (if it does not).
A few thoughts on the Catholic sexual abuse reports and what they mean about the Catholic Church. I believe that PZ Myers is, as he sometimes does, trolling on the matter, or at least not being very thoughtful. Myers asserts, as I read him, that the Roman Catholic Church (and other religious institutions) are intrinsically corrupt and necessarily lead to these things. I don't think this is fair - neither Catholic doctrine, practice, nor norms mark pederasty as acceptable. The primary avenues of careful discussion are:
- Did the Catholic church respond appropriately to the abuses once they were made known, in apologies and corrective actions?
- Does Catholic practice inherently lead to these problems?
Were corrective actions sufficient and appropriate? I don't think enough was done - this portion does shame the church significantly - those who were found to be abusive should have been handled more firmly (e.g. removed from that kind of ministry entirely) rather than moved to a new parish. Criticism and anger is appropriate here.
As for Catholic practice inherently possibly leading to these problems, this criticism should hone on the celibate livestyle demanded in some types of service to the church. Celibacy is, I think, unnatural, particularly with it being a lifelong expectation. I believe this practice creates a situation whereby a lack of sexual release makes impropriety of various sorts much more likely, the policy effectively contributing to the sexual abuse as well as doing an incredible disservice to those who are nudged into that kind of pledge in a desire to serve the church. We should compare the abuses by the church to those done by secular institutions to inform this opinion, if possible.
It is a mistake, as the more trollish atheist (note that I am not suggesting atheists are in general trolls, being an atheist myself) bloggers suggest, to portray the Catholic church as approving of child abuse and otherwise being in the simplest sense a voice for all that is negative in society - we need a higher level of discourse than that, based on the idea that religions are a mechanism by which moral philosophy is put into practice in society, one which we can replace with better structures, clearer and better philosophy, and more benefits. The desire to build a better morality, combined with holding that the factual claims of the religions in the world (e.g. that there are gods, souls, and an afterlife) are simply wrong, should be our inspiration to have these discussions. PZ Meyers is not entirely a troll, but his trollish posts seem more an invitation to join an ugly secular catharsis than a careful and respectable discussion of issues. As usual, in my criticism I am also criticising a part of myself that I once struggled much more with.
I think it would be really interesting to have most of a building's exterior made of smart glass for thermal regulation and other purposes. Maybe we'll start seeing that more in the future, if it ever becomes cost-effective. It'd be cute to have a knob that would change the appearance of a building as a whole in a few seconds.
Late evening walks are pleasant. I remember taking walks with my grandma when I was younger - given her failing health I imagine it's hard for her to adjust to not doing that anymore. Several of my favourite times in life have been long conversations on philosophy while on walks, occasionally punctuated by silliness like leaf fights.