Last weekend: Went to Stewart/Colbert rally. The trip was pretty decent, I arrived in DC very early saturday morning, had a nice walk to the National Mall. Met the people I was there to meet (being a bit intentionally vague here). The gathering was interesting - as every news network in the world has already said, there were a bunch of liberals there poking fun at conservative moveements, alongside people there for a party, serious activists, and some others who were presumably just mainly there for the message. The opening was a bit slow (music before content = substantial portion of crowd unhappy), but it was overall intelligent, reasonable, and worthwhile. We had really great seats for most of the rally.
Near the end, three of us left the group and wandered around DC for awhile (saw one of my favourite places, the Canadian Embassy, and also found a statue garden that turned out not to be the one I try to visit everytime I'm in town), finding one food place with spectacularly bad service (to the point that we sat there for an hour and then left when no waiters seemed interested in visiting us but a metawaiter told us "soon!") and then later a not-bad Sushi place. A bit later, I met Party Cat and saw a computer game involving mining and jumping cows.
I took last week off because I had a visitor. There's more to say that I won't cover here.
- Jon Stewart's closing speech was rather good. Sometimes he didn't seem to have a clear idea of whether he was trying to be funny or making a point - he was strongest when being a comedian simply broadened the range of expressions he was using, weakest when he had to toss in a strained joke to avoid prolonged seriousness. Some of the political philosophy was a bit juvenile ("Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution..?" - because there is not a firm line between them and you, and because we're committed to our civilisation, not to our constitution, and because maybe Marxists actually don't find the constitition all that problematic? In either case, he bought into the same thoughtless dismissiveness that he was criticising, at least a bit, in order to draw curtains around people closer together who should be able to get along - to me it's some of the same criticism I have for ecumenical movements that pull a lot of disagreeing people together by saying "at least we're not atheists").. still, overall a good speech and decent event.
- Keith Olbermann - He was named and shamed as a shrill voice who's not helping american political dialogue. He took this to heart, and ended his "worst person" segment. Mostly unrelated, he made some campaign contributions in the recent elections, and that came to light - MSNBC bas a policy banning those in its news component from such things without permission, and so he was suspended. This was not a long suspension, but a symbolic one - the purpose of the policy is to support journalistic integrity. There are two interesting sides to this - is it acceptable for any business to ban political activity of its employees (subquestion - are some jobs different in that if we have a general principle against such bans, we may exempt them?), and is this the right way to handle the intended aim?
- In general, I don't think it's acceptable for businesses to ban political activity of employees while they're not on duty (the "on duty" question is more complex - can a business favour one party and not another e.g. you can have a McCain sticker but not an Obama one? Can they ban other forms of self-expression at work? In what settings?)
- I am willing to consider but have not decided on whether exemptions should be made to the above. As I understand it, news organisations at least formally attempt to be impartial across political matters within the reasonable scope of political disagreement in nations/areas where they operate, and doing so might require those involved in them to adhere to some behavioural standards that are unusually stringent. Does this policy meet them? Is the serious a reasonable attempt at this intuition? I am undecided on whether such policies may/should extend into private lives (whether that means outside the constraints of the job or truly private is another nuance) - is the appearance of impartiality of the person or the role the important thing? Suggested metric: You should not be able to tell someone's politics by how they act as a journalist. The interesting problem is that the news organisations have failed so very badly at the most important ways things are judged - perhaps it's Loki's Wager at work here? Still, the relatively private and quiet campaign contribution is almsot innocuous compared to how Olbermann conducts himself on a news station, and if MSNBC is serious about journalism, it should have focused more strongly on his on-air in-job behaviour than this kind of thing. Outside the context of a genuine concern for program content, the matter of an off-the-air donation is academic. (and given that FoxNews takes this considerably further and that they're so large, it makes one wonder if the idea of standards is obsolete with that battle already lost)
- From a conversation: Would a code of conduct for journalism enforced as strongly as the ABA polices law help address the problem?
- Saw Jan Švankmajer's 「Lunacy」 a few nights ago.. still digesting it. As with all his films, it disturbed me greatly, but also had intense imagery - this one was more philosophical than most of the others, talking about the nature of society in some of the same directions that Rocky Horror explored less seriously. I may write more about this later.
- Some time ago I dropped my Android, and cracked the screen pretty heavily. I just noticed that the builtin camera is also broken - any attempt to turn it on severely confuses the phone. Sigh.
- Ubuntu is set to see two big changes in future versions:
- Moving away from the default GNOME desktop - this is, I think, a good thing. GNOME is broader than its integrated experience, and seeing distros move towards using its components towards their own synthesis keeps it flexible (at costs we should be willing to pay)
- Moving away from Xorg - this is a terrible thing - right now, there are features of Unix that we can rely on - that X11 apps will generally have network transparency, will be configurable with X resources, have a configuration managable by known tools, etc, that moving towards a separate non-X thing threatens. Moving the X Window System in new directions is a good thing, but this change should not create new classes of mainstream applications that effectively dilute the features of the platform.
- Zipcar (the company) has been doing a push to get new members - I suspect there are some sales targets to meet. I'm thinking about an application again (they rejected me last time because I had a speeding ticket some years back) - the utility of being able to rent a car with little fuss is high. But then, I've gotten along pretty well without that so far. Still thinking about this. What would I use it for, and does it make more sense than heading over to Hertz? I should probably figure out the relative costs of a reasonable trip before committing.
- Some neat photo galleries:
- PZ Meyers on the Stewart Rally - I think he's missing the point in a way connected to why he's a bit of a troll - he confuses having an opinion with how it is expressed. The rally was not for moderation, it was indeed for having reasonable discourse, and PZ has generally been rotten on that. I'd say that fighting for our ideas and principles is most productive/useful when, in the battlefield of ideas, we're willing to be civil and fair *while* holding and discussing our ideas. Even those of us whose ideas are far from mainstream can usually manage that, and while we might have parades, wave flags, and sometiems do direct action, when you catch us in conversation we can (hope to) talk lucidly, fairly, and honestly. To do otherwise means to miss out on a chance to plant ideas that may eventually sway people. This is not about moderation in our passions, it is about the futility and danger of incivility and ego-serving lies.