Archives, page 12

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.

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.

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.

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