Time Heals All Wounds, Then Kills the Patient

A blog by Pat Gunn
Principle in the Void
Date: 2019-Mar-17 20:19:46 EST

Strange to see time change something - something much like personal development lead into rough seas. Sitting at what's been my favourite coffeeshop for the last year or so, but the owner's continued experiments with things he wants to do mean that an increased amount of the not-that-big shop are filled with a crepe station (their crepes are also not particularly good) and there's some low-talent musician with a guitar taking up even more space so I need to use headphones. It makes me wonder if I have a future here. This pattern is revisited every few years, mostly apart from settings in nature. Another tune in a choir of emptiness. GooglePlus is about to shut down. GoogleInbox is about to shut down.

I'm joining coworkers on a trip to Berlin next month for a neuroscience conference - will be my first time there so I'm going a few days early to explore the city. I've been putting together a few things I might do and it looks pretty great. I'm thinking of going to Spreewald for part of one of the days, and the Tempelhofer Feld looks like such a cool idea for a park. Something about the latter reminds me how learning to dispel the mystique about on-stage and off-stage (that is, breaking and thus examining the norms we have about airports in this case, stages and similar in others) can be enriching for some, disillusioning for others. In reality it's probably both for everyone, but the dominant feature in the evaluation lends it towards a positive or negative overall experience for individuals. I was tempted to try to fit in a trip to Svalbaard "while I'm in the neighbourhood", but apparently the best time to do that is summer, so perhaps some other time.

Finally had an idea for another ChaosEng talk, this time not basic, that I don't mind giving regardless of if many people show up or not. Probalby will be able to announce it next week for being a month out. This might end up being the last one unless I can get more regular attendance, but if it is, I'd like to end it on a high note, and if it is not, that's great too. I've had the itch to write a lot recently - recently started putting together another talk about what I call "Big E Notion", the E being naturally a play on words but in this case representing the number of engineers in a company. The core idea is the scalability of engineering practices. I have concrete examples and lots to say. Feels good. I haven't been good about providing Arietta content, but I feel the other productivity makes up for it.

Having gone with coworkers to the cinematic airing of an old 4th Doctor DrWho story, I've chewed a little more about the notion of canon that we each carry around for stories important to - namely, why might someone close their canon (meaning, detach their version of a story from upstream). Why did I declare the DrWho Movie (8th Doctor) noncanon and leave it closed (considering everything that followed noncanon too), and likewise with Star Trek after Voyager (which I still consider canon, but the end of my canon for it)? There are a few reasons:

  • First, if a storyline is still important to you but you either rejected a key piece of content or lost interest in following it further, this saves you exhaustion. By (in git terms) removing all your remotes, you're no longer on the hook for considering new input, changed meaning or context for these things, and new fans. Active series have manufactured drama to keep people hooked, and you can opt out (and resolve any mysteries on your own, in ways that make sense to you).
  • Second, if you've rejected some bad elements from upstream, there's no continued effort to deal with efforts of current authors to integrate the bad elements into continuity - otherwise you'd need to continually recast newly-added elements (which may be impossible if they're large enough)
  • Third, you can also avoid entirely any input from bad authors who wrestled their way to current authorship who may want large-scale stylistic changes (sometimes as petty as visuals - I can stick with TNG-era Klingon looks) or thematic changes (no social-justice stuff for me)
  • Fourth, you may feel that the body of work doesn't need further extension, or (functionally similar but distinct) that you've gotten everything you need from those stories
  • And finally, Fifth, you may feel that there's a natural cutting-off point where the series ended on a high note. For me, this isn't the case with Star Trek, but the ending to classic DrWho, at the end of an excellent episode called "Survival", was poignant and a suitable send-off that left you imagining the (seventh) Doctor and Ace still out there having adventures. Part of this was also the culmination of the Doctor's evolution from a loner with unwilling stowaways to a mentor (to Ace specifically but also the entire species of humanity) who uses adventure as therapy, to a more complex relationship where his protoge comes to still need him, but not as much as she gains some power and wisdom on her own. The (pre-remake) expanded universe explored this further, but there's enough there in the original continuity that the pattern is there, clear, and interesting.
A few takes:
  • Harris says it's outrageous that Pence doesn't do one-on-ones with women. I don't think it's outrageous at all - some people have limits to how good they can be, and they build fences around their rough bits. As a bisexual male, this strategy obviously wouldn't work for me, but I also don't think I have those struggles. There are legitimate concerns about the effect of this limiting career mobility for women, but I think the difference is not likely a large enough effect that, even were plenty of people to do it, it would actually create a large enough effect to be worth banning.
  • I wonder if China is actually at the point where it has economically feasible fusion plants. This may be a PR stunt, it may be part stunt part gamble, or maybe they actually are confident they've got it. Interesting.
  • A week after defending the existence of billionaires on Colbert's show, Gates steps back a bit and asks if they should actually exist. Interesting question. Some very wealthy people create institutions with that power that do good things (like waqfs of old). Others fund existing institutions (and possibly get a building named after them). For large parts of my career I've spent time inside such institutions (sometimes with the billionaire still around, sometimes long-dead). I often appreciate the institution, and feel that those institutions should exist in some form, but am uncomfortable with how they came about, and the features of the system that made that level of accumulated power possible. It's made worse when I know there have long been ways for the wealthy to dodge paying their dues to society. There remains the question of whether those institutions might have come about without the concentration of personal power. To be clear, I don't (intrinsically) fault the megarich so much as the systems that permitted that concentration. Were I certain that these institutions would exist without them, I would happily make it much harder to accumulate that level of wealth (or in some future society, structure things to make that impossible). If I were unsure, I would be nervous of those efforts - my commitment to academia (among other things) is stronger than my commitment to socialism.
  • Eric Higgins has a delightful metaphor of tetris for technical debt.

Middle as Mandatory
Date: 2019-Mar-16 08:02:40 EST

I sometimes feel I'm failing some sanity checks when, on complex issues, I pick a position that seems to be in a dead zone between popular views and come to the conclusion that the popular views outside the dead zone are irresponsible, reprehensible, or otherwise deeply flawed in ways that make me respect people with those views less.

As an example, I've been deeply bothered by people on my side who see the purpose of the Miller investigation as being to go after Trump and are enthused about it primarily as a tool to that end, but I was also deeply bothered by Pelosi seeming to indicate that any outcome of the investigation would likely not involve an impleachment effort. My position being that the investigation is there to investigate possible crimes by any number of parties tied to the election campaign, and that if (and only if) sufficient crimes are discovered to have likely been committed by the POTUS that an impleachment effort should be made. Or in brief, follow the facts, be meticulous and complete, and do whatever's warranted by the facts. I have little patience for other positions on this, and .. I think I should be bothered by that "little patience" thing because I don't know of too many people who want exactly this.

I don't mind being in a minority on all sorts of issues. My initial thoughts on politics put me supporting a minor party and being at ends with a number of common societal views. Even after my later reworking of how I think, I still have a number of unpopular views, and I think technocrats in general are not that common. The thing I most regret of my former perspectives are not the values so much as the distaste for any views but mine, and I decided to make that one of my sanity checks except in areas where I'm sure there's objective truth out there (such as the Sciences). Sometimes these sanity checks act up and I'm not sure what to do about them, like the above.

On another topic, I'm mildly amused that as a kind of last hurrah, a community I was part of on G+ (Exquisite Zorks) woke up recently for the first time in years for one final hurrah before the service goes away. Pity there's no time left to do a full session (although maintaining energy has usually been the struggle for these online games - MJD's Advocacy from years before was similar).

Robotic Debator
Date: 2019-Mar-03 08:14:24 EST

A few thoughts on IBM Project Debator's recent IQ2 Debate on subsidising preschool, available on youtube here.

First, on the debators:

  • Harish is a masterful debator who can make sharp points that echo throughout the debate, and it'd take careful work for a skilled opponent to dismantle them and establish countervailing points that would do the same. I would love to see him in action some more
  • Project Debator (which I'll call PD for the rest of this post, and because I think of gender in terms of genetics, I will refer to as an it) was able to put together a reasonable argument on its own (and it even went for emotional pleas, if not particularly well). It failed utterly in offering adequate responses to Harish's points because, like Eliza the psychotherapist, it didn't actually understand them. Or at least, that's my impression. It provided a lot of structure to its arguments, but overcommunicated that structure, wasting valuable time
I'm a tough judge of arguments - I've done debates and thought about philosophy a lot over the years. I'm probably tougher on PD than I need to be, as I suspect a fair number of people would, if those lines were said by a human debator without any "AI project" background, would find them reasonable if a bit cluttered. Harish opened strong, but I think he backed off a bit when he saw that PD lacks enough understanding to offer a truly competitive (or intelligent) response. The opening statements were, in my view, the only truly solid part of the debate, and Harish's key argument - that subsidies are not useful to shape behaviour if they only go to people who would already do the intended action, and that any reasonable subsidies would not likely be sufficient to get the poor to send their children to preschool - never was countered (or even fully addressed). There are at least two ways to make a response (suggest subsidies sufficient to get poor families to do it, or suggest that lowering the burden for families in their childbearing years at the cost of everyone in society paying over all their years is worthwhile) that a human debator could have offered.

There was an interesting post part to this debate where they talked about what PD can do now. It can already pull large datasets together into something that looks like an argument (or possibly just find existing premade statements with the right content and press them together with some summarisable structure). That's potentially useful - if I wanted a perspective on a matter that differs from my own, it'd be nice to have something that can try to make an argument. A decent editor could shape PD's first draft into something coherent (even though right now it'd likely be of mediocre quality). If this were a feature on my phone or Google Home devices I'd probably use it a lot (I often just ask for random facts of my Home devices). I look forward to seeing this technology develop - I am not convinced that it has much deep understanding of what it's doing, but even Eliza sees a certain amount of use and it's a program from the 1960s. I also wonder about using things like this, with human proofreading, for content generation for a lot of areas (games, storytelling) where humans are the most expensive part.

Length and Breadth
Date: 2019-Mar-03 06:04:44 EST

I'm finding myself getting increasingly stressed when I try to watch comedy or news coverage over our current POTUS. I can't really manage schadenfreude, and everything happening just adds to the stress of watching it all. It's not that I feel an ounce of sympathy for the man, but I think I've hit a point where even thinking about him for too long freaks me out. And as generally seems to be the case again, while I call myself liberal (and usually vote that way for most offices) I don't align all that well with either party as a whole. My belief in the importance of balance and that it takes two parties to make our system work well and keep each other sane is probably a bigger part of it. Like the mirrored races in the Dark Crystal, ill to either party corrupts the other. So I can't really enjoy all the signs that the Republican Party is splintering because if that's wrong the nation is on a dark path directly, and if it's right then the Democratic Party will follow (and I keep seeing signs, like the fawning over AOC, that it is).

Recently been fascinated by a topic in law - standards of liability. I've been advocating that people who kill or maim with their car should, under strict liability, lose their driving privileges irrevocably. Reading more about strict liability, I've been wondering under what circumstances might I find such a standard just - driving privileges are easy because they're just that - something we're already comfortable severing (temporarily or not) and which people must apply to get in the first place. Other uses of strict liability would need to carefully justify the why. This standard is used in torts as well as criminal law; I'm primarily intrigued by the latter. Wikipedia offers statutory rape and felony murder as examples of traditional offences held to this standard. Felony murder already has some quite complicated (and interesting) justification (the idea of transferred intent is fascinating) and having read a bit about it I'm comfortable with its nuances at least broadly. Is statutory rape a case where this is the appropriate standard? I worry about this - age is occasionally non-obvious, particularly with sharp boundaries. The idea that an excess of caution should be applied around some topics seems like it might, perhaps, justify these rules in that the law dissuades carelessness (although at least in some cases this standard is applied that way, the law is not capturing an existing moral intuition so much as intentionally creating a nervousness - the example of the Nederlandish law on bicycles mentioned in the WP page currently is something I can approve of although there is this weirdness). Intrigued at the (distinct) standard of absolute liability, which looks to see more use internationally as the standard for many kinds of regulatory offences.

I wonder what a career in law might've been like. I suppose if I had any shred of belief in gods, I might've enjoyed studying Sharia or Halakah as part of some religious training.

The most recent IQ2US debate was fascinating - this was one of the differently-formatted ones with five debaters and 3 mini debates where they'd take stances differently between. I felt I learned a lot even though my positions didn't feel very strong. I liked meeting some of the presenters (and John Donvan) after the debate. Been thinking about IQ2US in the broader context - great debates are an important part of exploring issues, and it's a step up from the current degraded state of public discourse where people can talk about their personal narrative, toss red meat to hungry fans, or just lie. People can challenge each other's views and that's important, but if we wanted to enrich those discussions by bringing lots of data in and making sure it makes a difference, the conversation would have to continue. Perhaps by having, for any given important topic, a debate every 3 months and between them continual gathering and curation of data relevant to the debate, with a system for challenging submitted data as well as efforts to construct, argument map style, a very long term well-mapped discussion. Done right this might provide a way to ensure that procedural rules and civility in discussion are not the end of productivity of discussion (as crucial as they are).

I'm worried about the up-cycle in the endless stupid conflics between India and Pakistan.

I love how the Trappist-1 system continues to fascinate.

I finally saw my new neurologist, and I'm glad that I quickly took a liking to her - she seems to think very analytically and has a plan to figure things out. I'm now on several more meds. Hoping to get some pain relief - if my neck issues actually are acting as a migraine trigger for the new more-frequent-than-usual migraines, maybe some of these will help. That would be nice - I've become exhausted with these health issues.

The Mood to Act
Date: 2019-Feb-17 02:12:49 EST

I've been learning to deal with what seems to be a pinched nerve in my neck. It's been less than good - near constant pain, but I've learned how to modulate it and how to adjust my pain coping techniques (a mental imaging exercise I've done since I was young to deal with regular migraines) to help cover most of it. There's a good chance I'll need some kind of surgery (or PT) to actually fix it though - still trying to make the needed arrangements. It's strange how dealing with it has made a number of minor pains that I normally would barely feel (or not notice at all, probably due to a mix of migraines and that technique leaving little attention for minor pains) quite noticable. An example being the area of my mouth where I had a root canal last year actually hurting, which I never noticed before. Last week I had a prescription for sleeping pills which helped a bit. I'm also trying to learn some self massages to get knots in my neck and back out. Not entirely successful. It's wearing me out.

On Tuesday I went to an event on gender differences with Debra Soh and Christina Sommers. Wasn't sure what to expect or how much I'd agree with them, but exposing myself to ideas I might not agree with is part of my life. When I got there I was a little surprised to recognise it was in a building I've passed and noticed on the street a few times - the Women's National Republican Club. I'm more used to the idea than a lot of people I know (women in my family tend to run more conservative than men, to the point where I find self-congratulatory stuff from my side of the political spectrum that Women are naturally oppressed by conservatives - to be ridiculous), but I still usually find it a bit strange to go into a space devoted to a worldview fairly different than mine - like entering a church or mosque or scientology centre. I think overall the event ranked as okay. It was at times a little like a rally in that some people cheered when ideas they liked were said by one of the speakers, and I could've done without that. And there wasn't a lot said that I hadn't already heard. The takeaway I got was that Soh and Sommers represent different wings of American politics, both enthusiastic about free speech and science, and both concerned about progressive activism controlling discourse. And I can get on board with that, locating myself closer to Soh (being the free-speech liberals). Something more substantial might've been nice, but there's a good chance anything more substantial by my book would've also been niche. There was a question I was thinking about asking in Q-and-A at the end, but I decided not to because I wasn't sure I could convey it concisely on-the-spot - Soh and Sommers argued that there are biological differences shifting the population-mean of interests from women and men apart, and that these lead to different career preferences. If I were to grant that to be true (I never studied human gender topics in neuroscience), I still wonder about representativeness as something that shapes what initially-equally-interested-and-skilled individuals of either gender are likely/able to achieve, and whether anything can or should be done about that (knowing that it might impact the meritocracy and individual-determination-focused setup that Soh and Summers push). I recongise that not all harms are addressible in principle, but wonder if this one might.

Was also intrigued by the assertion that Soh made (which she is most suited to do, as she studies sex and relationships) that most women prefer more masculine, non-feminist men, and vice-versa. Not that it's a new idea, but I know that I've generally been more attracted to aggressive women whom others described as masculine. Maybe this is normal for bisexual males, or maybe we have a higher variance to the level where there are no strong patterns (in the same way that left-handers don't lateralise function the opposite of right-handers, but rather have far higher variance even to the per-feature level).

A new song stuck in my head - "Rave in the Grave". Also has a great music video with some rather good dancing that seems to tie in accidentally to those thoughts on more masculine women.

Scattered thoughts

  • Read an exceptionally stupid essay on someone trying to find a way for all religions to be true. It tries to squirm out of the central issue with the idea and doesn't manage it - at the core of most of these religions are fundamental ideas about reality and faith that cannot be uprooted and made compatible without adjustment to their axioms, and they naturally notice and reject those axioms. Peter Simon's "Instructor" idea may provide a way of manifesting mundane claims, but it can't get at ideas of fundamental truth - a simple unvirtualisable belief being "there is no instructor, there are just the cosmic entities we believe in". And most perspectives if you take them seriously are just as deeply rooted - the closest you could get in Simon's garden is a tofu version of those perspectives.
  • Interested to see what people use for chat - the criticisms in that article seem reasonable (albeit hard to fix without messing up Slack's funding model). Naturally I'd love IRC to win but it also has faults (if a company really wanted to fix it with bots and custom web/mobile clients, it could). I've used Slack for the last few jobs (also a bit of gitter). Wondering what'll be popular in a few years

Cruel Humour
Date: 2019-Feb-09 21:29:39 EST

I don't think of myself as a particularly cruel person; I don't make a lot of effort to be kind, but nor do I usually enjoy the suffering of others. I don't think the world can consistently avoid the broadest notions of harm, and I see it as the business of politics to decide what harms are worth avoiding and what are not. For most harms, serious efforts to avoid them would cause, in practice but also often in theory, another harm. And so the harms we sweep under the rug get a categorisation as nonactionable harms and we don't think about them nearly as often.

None of this, at least at a societal level, is a priori; we're continually squabbling over it, and there are all sorts of things some groups call harms nowadays that were not even in the public consciousness when I was growing up. The process is continual. And like all politics, we have a choice to stand for or against (or to refine) these ideas when they seem to come rolling up for consideration. Different subcultures will take different sides if they're interested, and if (temporarily or permanently) those subcultures are nearly entirely convinced of a stance, they will likely, using the same mechanism of society at large, mark it as rude to not side with them on the norm. Among other societal tools for consensus. How might people resist proposed norms that strike them as bad ideas? Often humour, and this is what I often do - I will almost never be rude to an individual face-to-face, but I make fun of weird ideas, often in cruel ways, and usually when I see another argument for their adoption. For something that's an idea but not a norm, a good example would be the "chosen people" rhetoric I sometimes hear in Jewish circles - I find it terribly self-centred, and so I mock it to deflate the respect the idea can have. And to let off steam, and for a number of other reasons. So long as I'm not rude to a particular person, I don't usually feel very bad about it; the pain of others (even when trying to limit it would cause much greater harms by my metrics, and they're pushing hard for that) usually bothers me, but the notion that they have to lose for their bad ideas to go away (or at least remain non-influential) greatly reduces that. It still makes me think occasionally, thus this (I recently did a tweet poking fun at BdB's efforts to let people revise their birth certificates to be based on what I call gender-identity rather than gender).

Recently got into another unpleasant exchange with someone I follow on Twitter - a conservative professor of history (who focuses on the cold war). Not so much on politics per se, but rather on linguistic absolutism - he bragged about having gone to some forum and having insisted that his definition of socialism is the true one; I find it odd that this kind of debate is often surprisingly heated but its specifics are usually orthoganal to politics - I think it might be a larger gulf in perspectives than that of religious folk versus not. At least for the last decade and likely longer I've been firmly convinced that every individual has subtly different meanings of terms, that there are no true meanings of these things, and that we should learn to navigate differences when we spot them on a conversation-by-conversation basis. My opponents on this front love to bring up dictionaries or just insist their definition is correct - I call them linguistic absolutists. I recognise that definitional diversity can sometimes make conversation difficult, but my claim is that it already is, and unavoidably is, and efforts to centralise definitions are the equivalent of perspective-injection and pose a danger for clear thinking (as individuals) and intellectual freedom.

This week has been very difficult healthwise - had a very bad migraine last sunday night that persisted until Tuesday, left work early on Monday and didn't go in on Tuesday, but I wasn't recovering - went to an Urgent Care center, then wandered around the city in a haze of pain to get perscribed meds. The one bright side of it is that the urgent care doctor offered an insight that might help unravel my current most common migraine trigger - she noticed that my neck is incredibly tense and speculated that I have a pinched nerve in a particular spot (that has been bothering me for awhile) - this would explain a lot. It would be great if this is true and can be solved and I can get my migraine frequency back down to maybe once a month. Seeing a specialist again (for the first time in a long while) at the beginning of next month. Feeling at least a little hopeful.

I'm still feeling particularly great about having a new member on one of my teams at work - an early-career programmer who has machine-learning expertise. He can do things I can't, and while those skills will be hard for me to learn, I can at least get a trickle of learning. Plus the project benefits. That corner of my world, at least, makes sense and is alright. I still often feel worn down in life more broadly - I often don't like the directions broader society is moving, I don't think there's anyone out there high-profile that's pushing my values, and the things I need for more happiness (even things like an absense of physical pain) are hard to get. I feel I have peace without contentment. But maybe in that I'm not that different from other humans, I just think about it more than most I think.

Some takes:

  • While I think this take by FIRE that it's a good thing that UIowa can't bar student orgs that discriminate as part of their creed, I think it's important to tread lightly and to enter this ground means being willing to dive deeper into interpretation and possibly not treat each case entirely on its own. Meaning that while I think it's acceptable that a student Christian org wouldn't want someone who's not straight in their leadership, and might even explicitly bar it, I think the ability to do that should be limited to groups where that creed is central - a knitting club, for example, shouldn't be able to claim a creed and perform a similar exclusion (and I hope that other Christian clubs would be permitted that have beliefs that, however intellectually strained, are more open to such leaders).
  • I have a high bar for when stifling open sharing of information should be stifled, but as this example on speed cameras offers, it's not impossibly high - I don't know if it should be illegal to share such information, but it's at least, I think, irresponsible to broadly share info on speed cameras.
  • I'm impressed at this story of how a board member helped unveil problematic governance within the company she was serving for. I still sometimes think about board service somewhere; were I to do it I'd like to do a good job and, if necessary, do these kinds of things.
  • It may be wise to change how our legislative bodies appoint people to committees; it sounds like a mess.
  • Impressed at the very high recycling rate reported by this article for Oregon. If the bottles themselves are highly recyclable, this is a very big win.
  • I find it strange that I actually substantially agree with the platform for NYC social progressives and still dislike them so much. I think it's largely that their platform is phrased in ways that hint at a number of other things I strongly disagree with that they might take action on. It also hints that the "how" of their approach to these issues is something I'll dislike. Their 18th clause, which would give voting rights to permanent resident immigrants is the thing I disagree most strongly with, I'm not fond of the idea of closing Rikers, and I'm wary of providing legal counsel to illegal immigrants. Otherwise, I'm at least theoretically on board with what they want.

OOBs of Electoral Logic
Date: 2019-Feb-03 19:07:40 EST

Two things that have been floating around in my head to talk about:

  • The out-of-bounds of electoral logic
  • The problem with conspiracist logic
On the first, I think there are a number of values we should hold, as participants in a democracy, that rule out simple consequentialist judgement. By which I mean that such judgements are considered laughable, not that people trying to make such judgements are muzzled (we believe in free speech, after all, but not the equal regard of all views). There are two sides to democracy - people live in society, learn about and elaborate their values, and debate others to whatever extent they want while engaging in any protests they want. When a poll comes up, they might or might not sharpen their research on the specific topics, then they may choose to go vote using whatever criteria they see fit on how to cast their vote (although it should be about what they see is best for society, and we reject both efforts to directly offer them payment for their vote or to have them prove any particular vote as these would interfere with the meaning of the vote by letting private power enter into it). When they emerge from the poll, they return to their lives, and the poll may or may not change society, but their hands are washed of responsibility for it. On the other side, people who feel they want to get much more involved and divert their lives and careers further can stand for office (if eligible), run, and win or lose. That act is also divorced from raw consequentialism - what entry would do to the race can be a downstream effect but people don't have moral responsibility for entering or not; the process washes those concerns away. As such, I reject efforts to punish or shame voters for how they vote or what strategies they use, as well as efforts to punish or shame candidates for entering the race. I am at times regretful when ineffective candidates (e.g. Hillary) enter the race, but I don't resent their decision to enter so much as hope they lose quickly.

On the latter, the societal failing that I see fueling a lot of conspiracy theories is a desire for meaning in life that's hard to find in modern society. Some of this is fueled by our false-sugar-like substitute - the worlds of fantasy we build in novels. These give us peeks into realities that are more interesting than ours (or at least more interesting than the immediate surroundings of most humans). If we're good at separating these worlds of fantasy, just like with bizarre and disturbing fetishes, it's harmless. Some slim portion of society is not so good at that, which is not sufficient to ban the fantasy (we'd honestly need to pass a very, very high bar to ban or even hope to stifle fantsies), but gives us people who view reality using the judgement they've built from reading spy novels. I don't criticise the romantic spirit or the search for meaning, but I think the best results of this comes from the tension between that desire and a realisation that reality itself won't accommodate our desires so we need to build these worlds of meaning within ourselves; the conspiracy theorist is missing that.

Shivering at the Wind
Date: 2019-Feb-02 19:11:53 EST

We've had a strong cold snap, and I'm guessing that that's somehow been triggering my near-constant migraines for the last week. Fortunately, they're mild as migraines go, leaving me in constant pain but not quite so bad that I can't focus and do things. Still, I find not getting a break from the pain to be pretty wearing. This is also something new - these clusters haven't happened to me before, and they closely resemble my nightmare scenario of unending migraine and being unable to work. Really hoping this ends soon. At a coffeeshop now, but my head is throbbing and this is the kind of migraine that also brings me a lot of sensitivity and pain in my neck (and oddly some tooth pain too).

The snap itself has also been unpleasant - my apartment does not do a great job at staying warm enough, and even the short walk to and from work has often been miserable.

Went to the IQ2US debate I mentioned in earlier posts. It was great - good company, interesting topics. Maybe I should feel strange that I was undecided both before and after, but I also was happy that the question I was going to ask (about microbiomes for deextincted species) was handled in the intro for one of the speakers. I thought of a second question (for the "do not bring species back" side) - if they would support it in a "Seveneves" scenario, but I thought of it too late to actually ask it. I am likely to get a membership, as I want more of this in-person.

Some takes:

  • I am disappointed to see the Progressive Caucus standing in the way of efforts to stop shutdowns. The most reasonable way to fix the issue, which I have proposed directly, has apparently been proposed by Rob Portman (I am unsure if a regular law could do this or if a Constitutional Amendment would be needed). Sadly, according to the article, there's been another proposal from a Democrat (Mark Werner) that's continues funding for all departments except the White House and Congress, which is incredibly stupid and counterproductive (if a deal is desired, the people who need to draft a bill and approve it lack resources?). Vicerality is not a desirable feature in governance.
  • While Google's execs may choose to use employee confidence as an extra sanity check, we should be wary of placing too much concern in employees not having much faith in management vision. In many tech jobs, people are not there for the company vision - sometimes they even disagree with the primary way their employer makes money, and more often they're neutral - what motivates people is often the ability to do good and interesting work with good coworkers in a good environment. Infrastructure engineers in particular often don't ever use the product (I never felt any particular reason to cheer MongoDB or Dropbox when I was working for either).
  • I'm generally hostile to cultural sensitivity efforts, and find it delightful when reality provides a reminder why those efforts seem to me to be a waste of time. Critical Theorists worry excessively about rote and unintelligent criticism of the status quo and their hegemony and victim perspective - these examples poke holes in that.
  • Disappointed to see Salon going after fact-checkers when someone they like screws up. We need neutral rules and scales of judgement if we want our discourse to improve. Tribalist populism, left or right, is a dangerous temptation that ruins societies.

Ebb and Flow and Cold Winds
Date: 2019-Jan-28 00:48:07 EST

One of the things that's come up often in conversations between younger people in my workplace is relationships (in the abstract) - what people need, how our schticks and personalities figure in, and things like that. I find it's rare that people my age discuss it - usually they have one or are so bitter that they don't want one. I think the younger coworkers are just in the part of life where they have one and they're using that experience to figure out more about them. Which is healthy. When I'm around and privy, it gives me insight into both how people of that age think about it, and also naturally acts as a substitute (a lesser one, surely, as they're coworkers rather than friends, although some may become friends someday perhaps) for a circle of friends for me to chat this stuff over with. I value it, but the age difference is always something I need to navigate (at least in my head) and I don't want to get stuck in the role of providing the older perspective, at least partly because I clearly haven't figured out as much as I should at my age because of years of solitude. Really, I wish I could somehow sort my head out and then get a mulligan on life. I value these years of pain in a way - they're part of me the way happiness is part of others, but if I ever find a way out I still want plenty of years of opening back up and learning to be more content with life. A recent conversation reminded me of how many people I've passed by in life whom I've never even explicitly let know that I wanted more with them. People who made my heart sing. I wish I had at least let them know, even if nothing had come of it. Or if things had worked out with any of my exes.

Been thinking more about that annoyance with the coworker - also was annoyed at something that looked a lot like he doesn't care at all for fairness, by blaming a march he disagreed with for making us late to our train back. I find it hard to believe that he'd blame a march for a cause dear to him for making us late, and really the march wasn't to blame to start with. But maybe he was just letting off steam ; we all do that sometimes and it's probably healthy. I hope it's that. But really, the inner lives of people I'm not close to shouldn't bug me. In such cases I should just apply that general preference for a just and fair society (both in the formal sense that populists often lack) and my specific technocratic-socialist sense. It's reasonable to gently shape those around us if they matter a lot to us (knowing that they may want to shape us right back), but to try to do it to everyone is to dilute one's efforts. I suppose there may be another conclusion to all of this - maybe he matters more to me than is immediately obvious to me. Hard to say - I think we like to work in the mental model of imagining people really know themselves and are authoritative on those topics. I strongly believe that's not true. We can rapidly do experients, and learn techniques to try to learn things more quickly, but most people don't, and those things don't guarantee actions. I have countless experiences of feeling deep pangs of emotional pain over the years and never reaching satisfactory conclusions as to the origin. Maybe many of these were biological, but how would I even know that?

The next time I have a long vacation, or even a week, with nothing I need to do, I hope to spend the whole thing getting in the mood to write about philosophy. I find it hard to get into the mindset to do that on weekends, and when I do I need to make sure not to let my shorter-term foci (from videogames to reading to hikes) consume the time.

This coming week should be interesting - will be attending my first IQ2US debate, and one of my former mentors in undergrad is visiting FI. I like that the week is not packed but not vanilla.

A few takes:

  • I'm writing Cortez off for this - it strikes me as deeply irresponsible - Trumpian, to hold off on funding the government because one has reservations on individual programs. There's room to haggle, but in the end holding out is unacceptable for our elected representatives. And in doing this, I have my answer - that she has too much populism and too little responsibility to be trusted in government. Too bad - I had hoped for someone young to demonstrate to the populace that socialism doesn't mean scary radical stuff and is compatible with caution and a sense of responsibility. I'll keep hoping for someone else.
  • We need more of this, from both sides of our society. Polarisation weakens us as a nation. And while I'm deeply bothered by Biden's foreign policy, he remains someone I'd vote for if I had to

Corrections in the Air
Date: 2019-Jan-27 00:20:17 EST

Today one of my sisters, her husband, and my nephew came down from Boston - we did museuming, had a meal, and then I walked with them to their hotel to grab their stuff and then to GCT. Good visit.

Later on today I was handling chores and I passed a parent talking with his small child (probably roughly the same age as that nephew, around age 4) about homelessness - the kid wanted to know why someone was sleeping on the street. Sometimes you get more clarity in how you think about an idea when you hear someone else talking to a child about it, or if you were to imagine talking with a child yourself about it. This parent offered a dramatically oversimplified "billionaires don't care" explanation that I think wasn't helpful at all. Admittedly, the answer I'd give, par for the course, is pretty complicated, noting that each case is different, there are systemic failures from society and also individual failures from many of the homeless, there's mental illness in many cases, and so on. It'd be a pretty long talk, and I'm not sure how to best abbreviate it for a 4 year old. Although maybe that's a lesson in itself - complex social issues often can't be simplified for people without a long attention span and capacity for nuance.

Recently was bothered more than I should be that a coworker who I'm reasonably friendly with at work who suggested that he prefers not to interact with others at the gym (we go to the same gym) turned out to invite a different coworker to go to the gym specifically with him. This really shouldn't bug me because, based on my understanding of friendships, he's just a coworker rather than a friend - we don't make any effort whatsoever to hang out outside of work even though we work fairly closely together, and differences in our politics and worldviews are fairly stark. He's not someone I'd mind being friends with (in the past many of my friends were people who've seen the world fairly differently), but it hasn't happened and there's a chance he's compartmentalised his work friendliness from his personal life. And it's not my place to push on that. The casual deception hurts a bit, but it's the material of which work-personal-life boundaries are built. Pretty normal.

The recent government shutdown is stopped for now with a bandaid. One of the things I find most frustrating about the shutdown, apart from it being an attempt to use blackmail to bypass Congress, is that flight delays were seen as a forcing function rather than so very many other far more important things. My feelings would've been the same if it had been about something other than funding a wall, and largely the same had this been a Democrat doing it for a cause I favour. The abuse of power is the deepest problem here. I think a full wall across the entire border is a dumb idea, not an evil one. I don't want to spend money on it and in areas where it's not needed I don't want it there (ecological effects). To me this really wasn't about the what though, it was about the how.

On the topic of the wall as a legislative proposal passed a non-democracy-breaking way:If someone offered to wave a magic wand that would make an invisible magic wall across the border that's too deep to dig under, too high for humans to throw things over, that other animals would pass right through (provided they're not carrying things humans gave them), that would have no maintenace, gaps at points of intended entry, and do all this at no cost, I'd take it. Even though I wouldn't see it covering the entire expanse as having great benefit. A real-world wall is simply not a good use of funds, it'd be too easy to get under or break, and too expensive to maintain for the full length. Selective walls? Sure. They already exist in some places and I don't want to get rid of them when/where they make sense. Human and technological enforcement in problem areas? Sure. Surveillance? Sounds good. And even though there's a point to be made that many illegal immigrants are simply people who have overstayed their welcome and who legally entered, there's a point as well that they both passed a bar to enter and were doing it the right way, as well as a note that porous borders are not always so much about immigration as it is smuggling of goods. Targeted walls help there. I could support efforts to boost funding for improved control of entry were it done in intelligent ways. But this physical wall across the entire US-Mexico border is something a 5th-grader would come up with, and it's a shame that so many people somehow got on board with it.

Recently I've been fascinated by how much our parsing of human faces and bodies impacts everything about how we understand individuals. For most of the people I know, I'm pretty sure if I flipped their faces around and preserved everything else (and removed and replayed all my interactions with them in my memory), I'd likely reach fairly different impressions of them - I may be more forgiving to some faces, more drawn to others. And, like most people, I prefer to be around attractive people (of both genders, regardles of whether there's a romantic spark or not) and not to be around ugly people. I don't believe there's much of a racial element to my parsing (diverse family and circle of friends throughout my life), but there are definitely other effects. I am not ashamed of any of this - I see it as being so central to being human that I can't imagine it not being there, although I take care to override (or at least check) it in certain domains of life, largely at work, and most importantly in actions that directly impact someone's progress in their career path where I'm asked to evaluate them. Outside of work, where finances are not involved, I don't and don't want to override that; the concepts of fairness are mostly not applicable (although in certain cases, other reasons may enter - if I were more likely to accept philosophical arguments from people I find attractive, that would represent a blight on my judgement even though the idea of fairness to the arguer is not something I apply). I've been trying (a little bit) to look for more regularities in these things (for example, I tend to parse quirkiness and emotiveness in small people much more positively than in taller people - a small person jumping around might be cute or amusing, but a tall person doing that is more often irritating to me).