One of my favourite events in military history (a very short list - I'm not a military buff and I find the topic a bit distasteful, although I admire the Soviet success in Stalingrad) is the naval battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (Merrimack) during the American civil war. Unlike the Siege of Stalingrad, where I identify (surprise!) with the Soviet Union, the Monitor/Merrimack battle is interesting because of its symbolism - new technologies in armouring ships meant that they fought a protracted battle (over 3 hours) where neither ship was able to definitively defeat the other, and eventually through maneuvering, both sides assumed the other had ceded and went home to claim victory. Both ships were destroyed in later events over the years - there's probably a lot of different symbolism that can be pulled out of the battle, but I think it's more of a moment to remember with a cynical laugh.
I'm thinking this period of missing my data may not have been all bad - it's given me a lot of impetus to sort my older data, to write new tools that I hadn't been working on for awhile, and to consider new ways to organise my current data once I have it back. I do regret the greatly decreased productivity at work though, as well as the backlog of integration of new experiences into my environment. I've learned that I really could be mostly happy living off of a thumbdrive, and if I had known this was coming I probably could've arranged to be completely happy. I'm considering devoting my current laptop to diskless operation (so I can keep experimenting with new OS's on USBsticks and the like) and getting a new one for primary use. At the very least, I hope to be less dependent on particular hardware in the longer-term - I'd like to live in a way that all my data is always in at least 2 (and usually 3) places, accessible easily from OS's on removable media. This is amusingly like how for a time I had a heavily customised floppy with PC-DOS 6.3 (later PC-DOS 7) on it with everything I needed on it. Technology is sometimes like a spiral :) In any case, hopefully my data will return this week.
Wikileaks has given the name of their most recent (and ongoing) release of documents the title Cablegate - a bit pretensious, but the release is interesting so far. This is a staggered release - on Sunday they released a few hundred out of the many hundreds of thousands in the set. They coordinated the release with several newspapers across the globe, some of whom have included or improved on the visualisation tools on the Wikileaks subsite devoted to this leak. Although I don't think it's really within the proper role of an Encyclopedia to try to conver breaking stories, Wikipedia has a good article on what information is new(ish) to the world. Many of these things were public knowledge - the big change comes in having the facts laid bare in an aboveground way. A few thoughts on some of them:
- US Pressures Germany not to enforce arrest warrants for CIA agents who made a mistake and kidnapped an innocent man to ship him to the Guantamino Prison and hold him for months - the mistake was that he had the same name as an actual wanted militant. I hope that this leads to changes in how rendition is handled - the extralegality of the process makes abuses and mistakes too easy.
- Rafsanjani's game is more visible, as Khamenei is (or was?) dying of leukemia and Rafsanjani is angling to be his replacement. This is interesting - it helps place Rafsanjani's actions in perspective. That Khamenei did not die (yet) from this makes me wonder if Rafsanjani miscalculated or if he's still thinking along these lines.
- King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's suggestions on handling of Iran are considerably more frank than has been said in public. It concurs with steady (and predictable) Israeli pressure on the US to attack. Several other Arab states concur (interestingly at odds with opinions "on the street")
- Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu is not trusted by the international community.
- China, at least behind closed doors, is planning for the collapse of North Korea and would approve of its absorbtion into South Korea. This is problematic given that China has traditionally tried to position itself as a neutral arbiter - it has too much at stake to allow it to openly take a side. Oops! (This may be the most interesting release yet)
- Not surprising but interesting to see in print - Italy's PM is considered to be a joke. I've rarely met anyone who knows anything about him to disagree.
- Pakistan and India doing their best to undermine each other diplomatically. Not surprising, but it's interesting to see the means.
- Danish offers to censor Danish TV for political ends (relating to Kurds)
- Saudis continue to finance radical militant groups (again, not surprising)
- US trading international political favours to countries willing to take prisoners from Guantamino. Dirty!
Two more terms I learned about while studying this:
- Newspaper of Record - Either a newspaper that constitutes public disclosure for legal purposes (often but not always owned by a government) or a newspaper that's considered particularly trustworthy and well-researched by the general public (I find it objectionable that in the UK, Wikipedia (and maybe people in general) still consider The Times to have this status, considering that in 1981 it was swallowed into Rupert Murdoch's media empire)
- D-Notice - a British/Australian concept where the government requests/requires newspapers to not publish or provide pre-notice of publication on some topics. The mechanism (and associated scandals) is interesting.
Scott Adams asks an interesting question - why are unions disallowed in militaries but allowed elsewhere (in either the public sector or private). Over the last few years, I've heard a lot of questioning of the role of unions - I believe this is because a lot of people on the left end of the American political spectrum don't understand the history or current importance of them and the right has almost always been against them. I hold that unions remain relevant and that while there are abuses and structural problems, they remain a fundamentally good institution in society.
Some of you may find the Hitchens/Blair debate on whether religion is a force for good in the world or not interesting. Although I might find that discussion interesting, I don't think it's possible to have an answer to the question as posed - we may be able to answer the broader question, "Is religion to be encouraged", in the context of one or more alternatives, but religion is too diverse a phenomenon to be summed up as positive or negative. Even for those of us with a definite worldview we'd like to promote that precludes religion (as traditionally understood), as I do, I don't believe religion can be considered to be even close to entirely harmful - something that could inspire Handelの「Messiah」, lead to (even poorly-based) value-laden thought, or inspire worthwhile charity cannot be described as being simply negative. Religion, like capitalism, is something to be studied and surpassed (in the specific); any secular philosophy may easily fail to meet the bar it sets, and care should be taken to surpass rather than snipe. I don't think Hitchens (or Dawkins, for that matter) quite gets the perspective right here. The sooner we see religions as a (sometimes friendly) competitor in the game of "what worldview shall thrive" rather than something that must immediately be stomped out, the better. (It's worth noting that this need not extend to all forms of all religions - those extraordinarily far from our values, such as worldviews in the narrow flavours of Islam that would support the Taliban, may have views we can openly wish to stomp out).
Although generally I think PZ Myers badly fails when it comes to keeping his criticisms of religions fair, he got this one right.
Interesting experiments with Telomeres and aging.
This weekend's baking experiment was a success - my pumpkin pie is pretty good. Unfortunately, I killed my blender - the magic smoke escaped while blending the mix (the recipe called for a food processor - oops!). The pie crust was pretty fun.
K's been helping me with sketching a bit - I need to work on perspective, particularly vertical versus horizontal distances.
The dark days and lonely nights are beginning to get to me a little bit.