One of the things I really like about my research group at CMU is that most of us have a sense of humour - our research meetings arn't always exciting, but chances are a bit of that will come through. Today was one of those "describe your current research for the group" days, which wandered a bit into discussions on our MRI analysis stream and techniques using Fourier transforms to clean up noise in scan data, collection of a new reference brain, and similar. Bit by bit I've become more interested in that - a lot of the issues involved draw equally on math, computer science, and psychology.
A photo I took, with some GIMP-itude:
- A symbolic "Peace" train between Pakistan and India was bombed, killing over fifty people. Fortunately, in this case Indian and Pakistani leaders have both condemned the act and it may actually lead to closer relations between the two countries. One of the things warmongers rarely consider is that revolution only rarely leads to productive change (productivity from the point of aiding the continued development of humanity towards higher cultural levels and better social/economic arrangements). Not only must those managing revolution be themselves idealistic and noncorrupt, the people themselves must have had time to develop towards new values, and this development cannot happen in times of rapid upheaval and war. To that end, prologed peace in regions, I think, will tend to make what revolutions and massive shifts there will be more effective in advancing humanity -- barring states of being that are dead ends (as I believe theocracies are), we should generally hope for peace and the continued economic development of the far east (as understood as investments in infrastructure and modernising, not human labour) until conditions are right for them to take another step towards our notion of progress.
- I was initially horrified that Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, was suggesting that science needs more entepreneurs. Entepreneurs are often harmful to the interests of society and are among the least ethical people one will meet - I can't imagine their involvement in science, absent filters done by someone else, being a good thing. Fortunately, the article was just badly titled - he seems to be talking more about how science needs better PR. I feel the same way - it's a pity that children today don't grow up thinking about how awesome it is that humanity has made it to the moon and is making progress understanding the universe. The Soviet Union was a very friendly enemy for the imagination of American children because it was "evil" in a very vague way - it was more like a rival football team than a mobster, and competition with it felt more like a self-improvement-inspiring sporting event than a we-need-a-bodyguard feeling we have today. If we were to compare how many kids from the 60s-80s had space posters on their wall with how many have that today, I think we'd find far fewer now, and the end of the cold war is why. I suppose the Europeans and those hurt by the McCarthy scare probably felt differently.
- New Jersey legalises civil unions. Civil Unions are a good half-step towards ending state privilege for heterosexual unions, and given how legal changes push culture, this is worth celebrating even if it's not yet quite an end for that privilege. On that note, people are wondering where Republican candidate Romney stands on gay rights issues.
- In response to recent problems with gangs of youth in Britain (and probably also in response to the Labour party shifting to the right), the Tories are reexamining some of the core ideas of their party - David Cameron, party head, notes that the party should protect both the welfare of society and the interests of the individual, moving away from the Thatcherite position that there is no such thing as society. I like seeing things like this - while I don't know if I like conservative visions for society (presuming the British Conservative Party is conservative as I understand the term), the notion that society can advance and prosper purely by paying attention to individual rights seems a dangerous, blinding perspective.
- Chavez continues to be an interesting wildcard in South American politics, this time by threatening to nationalise markets that go against price controls. Is this positive or negative? It depends on how reasonable the price controls are and what the situation is there, as well as how people will react. It would be tragic if this led to the closure of markets or frequent shortages, but if that can be dodged and leads to less hoarding of wealth it could be positive. Chavez is, at the very least, daring. I hope he knows what he's doing and is actually leading to societal betterment. Time will tell, I guess.
- According to Pittsburgh City Paper, recently a priest from a local church was caught by reporters in a porn store and possibly having sex without getting married first, and as they took steps towards running a story about it, he suicided. A number of people from his congregation are criticising the news group for running the story. I was initially inclined to think that unreasonable expectations held for priests is mostly to blame, but thinking about it, when people take on a discipline of some sort, I don't think I should consider that to be inherently unreasonable. Should media report when people don't hold up to those expectations? What's the public interest? I suppose exposing hypocracy might help people be more realistic about what they expect of people, maybe? I'm not sure.