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Semiformalishmaybe

Weathering Culture

Weather changes have returned the outdoors to the less-unsulated people; another yearly cycle of Eloi and Morlock shows rotation. This was particularly visible today in that the CMU bikeracks showed the independent coalescence of judgement of bikers on abandoning busses. I was so overjoyed to again be a centaur that I took the ride back to SqHill too quickly and tapped into resources that left me frazzled. No matter.

Four days ago (the dates are slightly wonky because of the timezone differences), I tweeted that the Egyptian military was about to decide the fate of Mubarak. This was right after Mubarak had announced that he would stay to the end of his "term" in September; the Egyptian military, which initially installed Mubarak but saw itself as serving the people rather than the government, was in the uncomfortable position of kingmaker (it's worth noting that the relationship between militaries and politics differ broadly across the world and Egypt's is different from both the US's and Pakistan's). That evening, they removed Mubarak and established a caretaker government (for those looking for an interesting project, compare this to technocratic parties in a democracy), pledging to end the state of emergency that has stood in Egypt since 1967 and prepare for a transition to "regular democracy". Thoughts:

  • I did not support the immediate removal of Mubarak, but the way he handled the crisis was terribly unwise and made it impossible for his gentle end to power to come to fruition.
  • I support pluralism-with-some-limits; I believe that any political party that pledges not to implement Sharia should be eligible for the ballot, and any independent that wishes to stand for election should be similarly required to make such a pledge. I believe the military should enforce this limit, and that with this caveat there is room for a reasonable pluralism. I call this The Turkish Solution, as it (roughly) describes politics in Turkey between Ataturk and Erdogan.
  • It will be interesting to see what actually will happen; I suspect open-pluralism will actually win, and that the Muslim Brotherhood will make a strong showing, but they will initially be moderate. I believe the youth branch of the MB is temporarily dominant, and it will be an uphill struggle for the hardliners to reassert power. If other parties do not organise effectively enough, I believe this will result in a conservative-but-not-radical semipluralist society politically/legally between Turkey and Syria.
  • Egypt's relationship with Israel is the most critical question, and will be the focus of heavy political maneuvering. Israel and the United States favour maintaining the status quo, and have strong financial ties to offer (provided the US does not abandon "Soft Power" out of xenophobia). Expect this to be a political football for awhile.
  • Ripples from Egypt/Tunisia are still active in other nations.
    • Libya/Qadaffi - Would be thrilled to see him go. He's one of the least sane world leaders, and while he's not genocidal, he runs Libya as his personal playground. Unlike Saddam Hussein, he shows no merit whatsoever as a leader, nor is he effectively holding back anything worse. I do not expect him to go; he has a much stronger security force than Mubarak did, and he has not permitted credible opposition.
    • Algieria - Algeria is seeing protests, but it is not particularly dictatorial. Reforms to its electoral system would be helpful (for example, having the prime minister be chosen indirectly through parliamentary election rather than appointed by the president), but ending the state of emergency would not be warranted until the issues with radical religious politics are more definitively solved.
    • Iran - Iran is an interesting case; the last election's political shifts have not settled, and it's hard not to believe that Rafsanjani is waiting for Khamenei to die. Iran commented on the events in Egypt, calling them the beginning of another Islamic Revolution (the MB curtly told them to STFU), yet when the Iranian leadership recently saw similar protests in their own nation, they brought out the tear gas and arrested the loser of the last presidential election, futher swelling the ranks of prominent political figures in jail. Any change depends on Rafsanjani, I suspect.
    • Yemen - Yemen is already democratic (even as their political system is underdeveloped). The country is seeing protests, but the protests are not organised strongly around any demands. President Saleh has decided not to run for reelection after his current turm ends (in 2013). I don't see protests doing much here.

I believe the Egyptian people are more excited than they have a right to be; it is easy to build broad coalitions against a single foe, and easy to blame them for all of the difficulties of a society. When one is forced into an honest political pluralism, one either must deal with the responsibility of an honest worldview (some problems are hard, and conflict with people who see the world differently means you won't always get your way) or they'll begin to demonise each other (as we do in the United States).

IBM built a system called Watson, designed to play Jeopardy. Watson's game against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter is airing this week, representing major accomplishments in natural language parsing and (to a certain extent) confidence monitoring/strategy. This is another event in the style of their chess events involving Deep Blue, a bit over 10 years ago (two matches with Garry Kasparov, in 1996 and 1997). Jeopardy is a very different problem.

This article suggests a different perspective on how cancer works. Interesting!

Starting to plan my post-Pittsburgh life: intimidating/exciting. I'm leaving a set of arrangements that's become too comfortable/stifling. I should've done this years ago, although in some ways, now is particularly interesting. I'm hoping to get the most benefit I can from my existing ties and possibilities here before I cut them. With any luck, this next place will be one last hop before grad school (or whatever Big Thing™ that's next for me) happens.

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we should totally hang out more sometimes before you go.
Sure. I'm generally highly available given a day's notice or so.