Archives, page 17

Eusociality and Kin Selection
Date: 2019-Dec-27 05:09:12 EST

Reading about eusociality and people working out how it may have developed, I feel I finally have a solid argument for kin selection, something I've long been convinced of, where I believe the opposition to the idea is mostly people not thinking clearly enough about the dynamics of natural selection.

Morphean Contract
Date: 2020-Jan-14 02:03:26 EST

Last Friday I didn't make it to work because I had a weird gut pain when I woke up. Possible TMI ahead (Nothing sexual, just body stuff).
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The hospital was an interesting place. I think that were I not in such a bad state I would enjoy hanging out there at odd hours of the night - there's always a lot going on, there's a feeling of purpose, and there's a certain amount of drama I noticed from my fellow patients (only a few of which I saw, but some of the more colourful ones I heard). I still sometimes struggle with purpose in my life, and the "things keep going on" there felt nice.

The kidney stone? Just another thing that happens to people. All the other little things that tell me I'm not as healthy as I should be in general because of the blood tests? Those are things I should work on. I'm glad my coworkers have been okay about this. I'm not entirely sure I've passed it yet, but it at least shifted to where it hasn't been bothering me much today.

A few things:

  • Cory Booker withdrew from the presidential race. A few other people have as well that I missed hearing about. So that's good. I think only Gabbard and likely Yang are people I would not vote for if they get the nomination.
  • Happy to see the next season of IQ2US debates is starting.
  • My Buenos Aires trip is coming together. Flights and hotel are booked. Starting to plan activities.

Demand, Duty, and Gift
Date: 2020-Feb-09 23:36:13 EST

On a longer subway ride recently, one of the rare ones where I had managed to get a seat, I was thinking about recent and past rides and times where I've given up my seat. In particular, there are times when I've decided (based on someone being old or having trouble standing) to do so, other times where I've done so due to some existing subway policy for doing so for some classes of people, and the rare circumstances where someone has demanded that of me absent such a policy (sometimes I've complied, often I have not). There have been times in that last category where a polite request or even had I noticed someone wanted the seat I may have offered, but the demand so put me off that my willingness dissolved. A lot of this comes down to attitude and the expressed reason. This got me thinking of both the appropriate direction of expressed gratitude, and about more general times in society where we may give things up for others. I don't believe in voluntarism to the extent that all such exchanges must be voluntary, and largely believe in norms/rules, but there is something lost when those dominate these topics.

Politically, these have been infuriating times; our governmental norms are probably weaker than they've ever been as the legislative and executive branches are captured and transformed into tools of advantage for our current POTUS. Recently read an article comparing this to Chavez's rise to power. And as usual, I am frustrated that some parts of the left would be happy to commit these sins themselves had they the power, even though right now this failure is because of corruption on the right. And some people call this realisation - that human political flaws are not unique to one side of the divide - to be both-sides-ism.

Hoping to volunteer with a debate organisation that's trying to raise the level of discourse in American society. Not sure they can use someone like me productively, as I'm easily socially exhausted, but perhaps. Brought it up with one of their organisers at the last debate. Will bring it up again at the next.

I've been preparing to "pass the torch" a bit more directly, by having an intern this summer. Not that I'm ready to retire or anything, but mentoring feels like a good deed that I haven't done enough of recently. I am very impressed with my top five choices and have been having the needed conversations to make it happen. Looking forward to it; I know it's a lot of work, but people invested time in me (many of whom are retired now). This is one way we build continuity with the whole of human civilisation.

A few thoughts on a lot of things:
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Uprooting soil and plumbing
Date: 2020-Feb-24 02:37:36 EST

My struggle with productivity on my personal projects has crept back into the center of my attention - my habits are not good for this, with there always being a plan "next weekend" to do things, and then when the weekend starts, I keep managing to do very little. I get a lot of reading done and play some games, maybe take a walk, but the projects sit fallow, with the ideas I keep having for them falling out of my attention (either lost entirely or in endless little notes in Google Keep). Working on changing that and arresting this flow of time with little output. It's hard. I sometimes dream of taking a week off sometime and imagine that I'd spend it well. I don't know if I would. Sometimes in the past I have, when my usual distractions get a bit old and I remember all the other things I want to do. Sometimes it's just a more bulky nonproductive weekend. I imagine many others suffer this - other creative types who are still often accidentally in orbit around passive consumption.

I am increasingly worried about politics - both the long-term unwelcome social shifts that radical progressives are pushing into society, and the populist directions of both parties. Right now it looks like Sanders is likely to be the Democratic nominee, and this strikes me as very dangerous in that:

  • If he gets it, we may find that too many Americans are either bothered by the idea of electing a socialist, or that some of this policy ideas are independently enough to sink him or the party
  • If he becomes POTUS, at best I imagine he'll be an ineffective president, and his inability to work with congress would mean nothing would get done. If that happens, he may fail the test of character and start misusing executive orders. We know very little about his ability to manage things because he has no management experience as far as I can tell
  • Orgs like the DSA will likely push him to instead go hard nutjob, resembling thuggish Latin American leaders like Morales. Or to support them. Or both.
I'll still vote for him if he doesn't cross any of my red lines, but even though I'd like to see more socialism in the country, I want it to be technocratic, with no baggage like Sanders has with having supported bad left-leaning regimes in the past, and I want it free of the DSA. Ideally from a candidate who can work with others and is qualified. Sanders is not. It's a bad outcome.

On Saturday I saw a 4-person play called The Imbible, set in a small bar. It was about the history of alcohol in human civilisation. Cool topic. It was a little too hammy for my taste in parts, but the singing was good and it was interestingly different. Maybe more like an interactive bar show than anything else - it was a little bit interactive (powerpoint with some trivia).

Recently, as having a summer intern comes into focus, I've been asking myself repeatedly about if I'm prepared enough to try to be a good mentor, because this is in my view one of the most important things to get right. Done poorly, I could waste someone's time for the summer and maybe even drive them away from topics I really care about. Done well, I could offer them a lot of enrichment, connection, habits, and skills that they could carry forward into their career, long after I am no longer working. Have been planning the hell out of all of this, knowing that plans need to be flexible, but they're substance we can draw on as needed so our wiser longer-term self can aid our more limited immediate self.

I also have been kind of sad as yet another person at work that I'm growing closer to is planning to head off to the next stage of their career. It hurts.

A few interesting things:

Cadence of Time
Date: 2020-Mar-07 22:58:04 EST

I've been trying to improve my understanding of music recently, turning what once were highly informal understandings of various types of rhythms into ones based on more than just my own observations. I've been ordering a few books on the topics (unfortunately, some of them haven't been published yet, so they'll arrive in my Kindle library whenever they do) and reading up. In some ways it's nice to have waited as I already have well-worn ways of thinking about things that I can test by seeing how they line up with the views of others - it's more interesting. Although were I to want to become a scholar proper, these initial understandings might need be torn down for wholesale replacement. Perhaps. Or perhaps they would give me a unique perspective - there are those tensions in scholarship.

As I start to think about the coming internship, I also now know that at least one of the people I work with closely is heading off to the next stage of his career. Perhaps both. Strange how the subjective impressions of time passing fit into the numbers. Anitya. Today I met with another coworker who just returned from some travel and needed a mouse, and talked about a lot of things. I usually worry about talking too much, touching on hot-button issues that can destroy even work relationships. This was fine though, I think. I touched on some of the big differences in perspective between respect-oriented and expression-oriented discourse, and how each sees the other as defective. I probably talk about that too often when blogging, and maybe in person too.

The coronavirus came into focus over the last month. So many things are shut down, and there's a lot of bad information floating around. I'm glad I have good sources of information.

Last night I saw Dara O'Briain live for the first time. Was great. Was interesting how packed the theatre was given how he hasn't done a lot that would make most Americans know who he is. Although NYC is the kind of place that probably could fill a theatre of people visiting from any major country at any given time, so maybe it's partly that. Was also struck by how tall he is.

The Corruptor and the Destructor
Date: 2021-Feb-24 17:18:16 EST

Earlier this week, I donated $1000 to the University of Pittsburgh as part of something called Pitt Day of Giving. This is a yearly event where the various departments, student orgs, and programmes extend their hand, and as people interested in the University we can open our wallets and help out. I have no deep ties to UPitt, but I feel more ties to them than my actual alma mater, and I think CMU (probably the University I feel the strongest ties to) doesn't really need my money, so I've done this for the last few years.

My donations:
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I could talk at length about why I picked the departments that I did, and how they fit into my ideas of bettering the world, but that might not be that interesting. Instead, let's talk about academia and how it fits into the world.

I occupy a position on the left that's not presently very loud - that of cosmopolitan technocratic socialism. I take part in broader efforts that span the political spectrum in pushing back against woke social changes, and it being a very broad effort means not everyone in it sees the struggle the same way. My model for understanding this difference is one of Corruption, Cleansing, and Eradication.

  • I broadly see the woke parts of the left as corrupting academia. Critical Theory undermines universalism, introducing "benign" racism to combat traditional forms of it, and ditching free speech for the sake of trans activists. They are most active in fields under the "Social Studies" umbrella, where they mix a lot of activism with a mild commitment to scholarly form. An area where I disagree with conservatives is that I think they're weaker in academia than outside of it, because we have systems and traditions that make it hard for ideologies to entirely take over the place
  • I see the role of liberals as reversing the gains of the woke, cleaning them out of academia (and broader society). We should want academia and broader society to be technocratic, merit-driven, blind to unessential differences, and committed to diverse opinions. Society (and academia) never has been perfect, but we retain the same methods we've had for centuries to continually gradually improve, and we are proud of that progress we've achieved so far. Let's get back to it.
  • I see a lot of conservatives (not all - there are many who share our commitments) using this as another excuse to be anti-intellectual, fueling their existing interests in ripping down academia. This is the same mistake as thinking inviting a barbarian like Trump in would give more benefit than harm - it is simply destruction, neglecting that great heights cannot be reached without some missteps along the way. Or perhaps resenting great heights altogether.

I understand the "fuck it all" mentality. I suspect it's not a modern creation so much as a primal urge, part of our mental toolbox for problem solving. I think we should be able to look it in the face and reject it. We also should reject the idea that we must weigh, in great detail, the faults of the woke versus the faults of the populists. They both are very heavy, and we should side with neither, accepting that we will anger both.