Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Systemic and Direct


*I semi-recently subscribed to a twitter feed containing links to CS opinions. Enjoyable. One of them asked 「What is Systems Programming?」. It's a very different answer than what I'd say, but insightful. I'd probably say that systems programming is programming that establishes a platform; it is the creation of a system, or any related programming that requires exhaustive knowledge of the intricate and beneath-the-hood details of that platform. The details of what counts as a platform do not depend on memory management, and it's ok if that platform has other platforms beneath; systems wizards are the people who write the APIs; they populate the forest for everyone else. Sometimes this means stuff that interacts with users (like the Unix userland), but usually it is highly technical, hardware-aware, and not too close to application-type stuff. Maybe I should say that we're like the department of public works or the city planners in a city.
*Trump is pretending he cares about the environment to lobby against a wind farm that might *gasp* be visible from his planned golf course and hotel in Scotland, teaming up with environmental groups. In general, despite my strong support of environmentalism in general, I condemn environmental groups that block wind farms out of concern for birds/bats. The other aspects of wind power are too compelling in my view to make bird casualties a concern; we need power somehow, and wind farms do not pollute, have no danger of meltdown, and are highly attractive. The other kinds of energy production are generally worse. As for Trump's golf course, I have zero sympathy. A man whose life ambition is to build resorts and golf courses is a man whose ends should not be considered in politics.
*There was another incident of a publisher in Europe attacked for satirical portrayals of Mohammad. I stand with the satirisers; no religion deserves immunity from criticism or mockery, and whatever forms of it cannot take that deserve to be stomped out. Fortunately, the people who did this are hardliners divorced from the mainstream of Muslims in France.
*I commented on this earlier on my G+ stream, but Saint Paul's Cathedral is the home of one of the Occupy protests in London (really, the space outside). The church eventually decided to boot them out, initiating legal action against them. Two of the clergy, sympathetic to the protest and uncomfortable with standing against the people in struggles against greed, quit their positions. This lead the church to some soul-searching, and after a third clergyman left, the church is now suspending their legal action and considering changes to the ethical standards of the investments of church finances. Bravo for them; as I said on G+, I am not a wholehearted fan of religious establishments (as they're dedicated to propogating the lie of gods and souls and the like), but they're generally committed, at least publicly and often more deeply, to some notion of the public good.
*Greece has badly mismanaged its economy for years, largely because their political system is more dysfunctional than even the American system. They never should have been let into the Euro (I understand they were let in more for political reasons than anything else). Their economy is on the brink of collapse due to excessive debt, and other nations in the Euro have put together a debt forgiveness package if they agree to financial reforms, much to everyone's relief. Except, Papandreou has thrown everyone a curveball by scheduling a national referendum on it. This is an interesting move; the package was difficult for the rest of Europe to arrange, it is likely to be unpopular with Greeks, but the only other option Greece has is to leave the Euro (also unpopular). This may be akin to a deer stuck in the middle of the highway as traffic approaches, unable to decide which way to move and as a result killed by a car. Unless some third-way-out mysteriously approaches, Greece might be ejected from the Euro involuntarily, adding an unwanted transition back to Drachmas (and bankruptcy) to its financial woes.
*Syria is facing continuing criticism over its crackdown on protestors, particularly land mines to kill people who flee to Lebanon (oh the irony) and the many unnecessary deaths. The Arab League is still redefining itself given the revolutions and uprisings in many of its member nations, but it's also presenting more pressure than it ever has before on its members to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. At this point, I would like to see Assad removed (not sure by whom), perhaps a quick assassination of him and any other "heirs" to the "democracy" rather than a lengthy war, or more ideally somehow putting enough pressure on him that he and his family leave politics forever.
*Palestine, unlikely to gain recognition as a full UN member in an upcoming UN vote, has taken the alternate tack of seeking full membership in various UN member bodies (this is what the Fatah is doing; Hamas did that kidnapping-Shalit-and-trade-lots-of-criminals-for-him thing instead). The US, sadly as ever, is siding with Israel in calling this "premature" and insisting that Palestinians only pretend to seek peace the way Israel defines. UNESCO (a scientific collaboration group in the UN) has accepted Palestine, and other groups are likely to follow suit (the security council doesn't give the US the same kind of amplified vote in these subgroups). Unfortunately, in the 90s, the US passed a law that any UN body that recognises Palestine will not get US funding, so a number of UN bodies are on their way to budget cuts. Still, bravo to the Palestinians for trying something new; while Hamas is not interested in peace, I think significant parts of Fatah are, and Netanyahu certainly is not. He's even stepped up settlement construction in East Yerushalaim over the whole matter, which I think really needs to be considered a kind of structural violence and weighed that way against actual violence. Anyone who would move into these settlements in a land grab is necessarily taking part in that structural violence and should not be surprised or feel wronged if they are met by other kinds of violence. I wish the US would stop enabling this BS, and would lean heavily on Israel to evacuate settlements everywhere, give up on East Yerushalaim, and do what it takes to make peace within a few years. Netanyahu is probably not the right person to do this though.
*As Republican presidential candidates continue to define themselves, I can't help missing BushJr's administration. Basically everyone running for the Republican ticket (except for Huntsman and Roemer, neither of which can win) seem worse than *anyone* from BushJr's team. I just watched Condoleezza Rice on the Daily Show, and (while disturbed at some aspects of her foreign policy) found myself really wishing she were running for President. Or Powell. Or even Cheney or Rumsfeld; If Obama loses, I'd sooner see any of them in the President's chair than Ron Paul or Herman Cain or Rick Perry. The current Republican field is stunningly bad!
*Seems a lot of universities, including CMU, are looking to build branch campuses in NYC. (on that topic, I wonder how CMU's branch campus in Rwanda is going)
*I'm trying to get a hold of this paper, by a bunch of MIT MRI physicists who've found a way to speed up medical MRI scanning for structural oddities. Based on what information's there, I don't think this is likely useful for fMRI studies, but I'd like to read the paper to be sure I understand what they're doing.
*I find private militia disgusting; they are effectively state actors in international politics without the responsibility to a people. Gary Peters (a private militiaman who lives in Canada) talks about smuggling Saadi Qaddafi out of Libya and speaks hopefully about future conflict in the area. He may not exactly be doing anything illegal, but by acting as a state actor, my intuition is that his agency should be treated as a state and stomped out as an act of power politics. At the very least, if his agency is going to take part in raising or enabling future insurrection in Libya on behalf of the Qaddafi family, I'd hope someone knocks them off, for the sake of peace.

I realise that things like that sound kind of harsh, but I think we need to be willing to weigh harms honestly, and recognise that, particularly in international conflicts, sometimes rule-of-law is not enough to prevent some kinds of egregious harm (particularly when some states are themselves committing direct or structural injustice). There are some lines I think we should never cross for any reason (historical falsification or torture are the two that come most to mind), but killing dangerous people is sometimes justified. More generally, principle is something more appropriate to reasoning within established governments and traditions; any set of principles that would make modern civilisation impossible is one that we can/should exclude from consideration (e.g. the "taxation is theft" types or "population density beyond the bronze age is wrong").

Oh, and StoryCorps is pretty amazing.

Systemic violence versus asystemic violence:
*Violence in the systemic sense is metaphorical, pretty much; there are some things that are on equal par with violence, such as ethnic expulsion, slavery, strong state preferences for certain races or classes
*In a well-run state, designed for the benefit of people regardless of race, providing reasonable structured hierarchies of privilege by preferred behaviour, justice, etc, asystemic violence cannot easily be justified as a response to state action. Well-run states provide mechanisms for change of the less-essential and guarantee the more-essential basics of society (including abstractions like justice and opportunity) for their members.
*Poorly-run states are more justifiably violently opposed in their policies, particularly by groups that are clearly damaged by state policy (e.g. slaves).
*This type of violence should never be selfish, and it should never be in support of unrealisable goals or small things. Violence over a parking ticket is utterly unjustifiable, and parking regulation serves useful social ends (so long as we have private car ownership, which maybe we should not).

(note that there is another meaning of systemic violence I regularly use that is not metaphorical in the use of the word 「violence」)

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