Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Sun Mar 20 16:55:25 2005
Cats Need Nipples Too

The law of conservation of car brokenness is, as far as I can tell, inviolable. As my car recently had its broken power steering fixed, at great cost to myself, the brokenness has moved into the electric door locks -- for one of the doors, they no longer reliably lock or unlock it. This, fortunately, can wait until the parts that Fnord wants to fix due to a factory recall are ready for service, at which point I will also get the (long overdue) emissions test for my car. I am bothered though that the cost of recent and expected future repairs are not too far from the resell value of the bloody thing. Cars suck.

I've had some more time to think about the Qatar thing, and things are slightly more clear. We'll see how things go. While I've been floating the idea with some friends, I've heard from some of them, mostly Orthodox but a few others, that I seem to be looking for something, and the context and phrasing seemed to imply that they think I'm going to find, or at least am looking, for some kind of religious or philosophical insight, from the middle east. I'm surprised to hear it from so many different people in what I assume is unconnected conversations between people. Could it be that they know something about me that I haven't seen yet? One of the things that accepting the lack of free will entails is that our behavior is, in theory, predictable, with high-level patterns that can be predicted with more accuracy, especially when judgement and values are involved, than simple, limited-constraint tasks like choosing a number. It is indeed possible that my friends know me better than I do myself on this point. That said, to the extent that I do know myself, I think the Qatar thing, if I were to do it, would be about having a life experience and learning a lot. Contrary to the worry of some people, I don't see myself having experiences that would cause me to become Muslim, or religious in any sense. While I am committed to evaluating that question with my mind and evidence in a fair manner, it is possible that I may be overwhelmed by emotion or similar, and that may drive my emotional and intellectual sides into conflict. I simply trust that, as has always been the case in the way I live my life, that I will keep what I wish to believe along with my core values, and away from my perceptions of truth. I have always felt that the evidence, far from being ambiguous, has pointed us with great certainty to the conclusion that humanity created gods in order to fill emotional and societal needs, and that this need has led a lot of people to make things up to support a dream they desperately need to be true. I doubt learning more about the world is likely to provide me evidence to the contrary.

Last week, Norman Finkelstein came to speak at CMU. The topic of his talk was Israeli-Palestinian history, including his efforts to debunk what was once the dominant historical view of the foundation of the state of Israel. The way he described it, it was once mainstream thought that Israel was largely empty during the British mandate period, and that the people known as the Palestinians are a people with a manufactured past, in reality being largely people from neighbouring countries that poured in to stop the creation of a Jewish state. I have occasionally heard friends, in Columbus, talking about things that appeared to derive from that idea of history, but never had the full story of what was once believed. From what some of my friends were saying who were suggesting that I come to the presentation, he was considerably more "out there" than he actually seemed to be -- they claimed that he had become an anti-semite and a holocaust denier. I have not read his book on the Holocaust, but from what I read of the reviews on Amazon, it doesn't look likely that he's doing anything at all like denying the Holocaust, nor did he seem to be doing so in the talk. He is very good at hiding his thoughts, he's what he seems to be -- a moderate scholar attacking use of horrible abuse as an excuse for what he views as further abuse, or something between. After his speech, and a response by a local community leader, both of which were pretty civil, things devolved a bit -- a few of the Orthodox in the audience made disturbances during the Question and Answer session afterwards. It was, however, overall a civil and interesting event. People of every stripe were handing things out throughout, some of the handouts being quite interesting.

Two interesting issues from the local jewish community's handout -- is it anti-semitic or a double standard to single out Israel for abuses when other abusers are not sanctioned? My thoughts? Perhaps it is. It may be an issue with the U.N. being nation-democratic, with each country getting a voice in the general assembly, and Israel being the odd one out. We can imagine that African nations, many of them ruled by warlords in suits who commit abuses far greater than in western nations, would tend to stick together and forgive each other's abuses, making sanctions and U.N. criticism of them difficult. This point is made quite clear when genocide continues in Dafur and the U.N. doesn't even have the clout to call it genocide. Of course, part of that may also be that every effort is made to keep countries with a backwards political system in the U.N., and too much criticism would probably convince those countries to, en masse, pack their bags and withdraw from the U.N., giving up on all the lighter forms of political pressure than resolutions and war that the U.N. can use to liberalise them. Israel is a first-world nation, and so perhaps part of the reason that it's judged to a higher standard is that it listens to criticism, it's not likely to leave the U.N., and people percieve that because it is first-world, it has a higher bar to meet when it comes to its conduct. The other countries which the paper compares it to, including China, Iran, and Syria, are all considered second-world countries. The second issue is one of national legitimacy, which is at the heart of the issue. The paper they handed out likes to call things anti-semetic, and while I suspect that this is an abuse of the term that makes it harder for them to call things anti-semetic when they clearly are (boy who cried wolf, etc), that's an aside. It claims that the denial of Israel's right to exist is always anti-semetic, arguing that if other peoples have the right to live in their homeland, then Jewish people have a similar right. It does suggest some points of further investigation -- what constitutes a people? Who decides where their homeland should be, or is that a historical question? What happens when more than one people have had, at different historical periods, the same homeland, or more than one homeland? When we decide what constitutes a people, should all of them be allocated a homeland who do not yet have one? If, for example, we look partway down my family tree on the patrilinear path, we find Clan Gunn of the highlands of Scotland. If I were to imagine a homeland for them, I might decide that Scotland and Ireland are the homeland of the Gaelic people, and suggest that they be split from England. Should I expect Israel-supporters to support me in that idea because each of the peoples of the world deserves a homeland? Oh, and what about the Picts who were there before the Highland Scots invaded? They have a similar right to that land, no? Going further back into history, we find that Clan Gunn has ties to some ancient Norse king, Olaf the Black. Is that another homeland? In summary, I think that ancestral homelands are a poor way to try to build support for the placement of a modern nation, and an appeal to their usage is poorly thought-out and would reopen a number of long-settled disputes. All that being said, I don't think Israel should be disbanded -- I hope to see a one-state solution that would secularize and liberalize all the people within it. I don't know if a normal democracy with normal liberalism would last long over there, and I do sympathize with the concern that a huge influx of arab voters would dismantle relative civilization and install Shari'a. The last thing I would want to see would be a society which is so young and advanced for its age crumbling back into agrarianism.

Yesterday, there was a large antiwar protest in Squirrel Hill. I only heard about it the night before, and unfortunately didn't arrive before everyone else, but I got some good pictures. There were, as usual, interesting people to talk to, music ranging from decent to quite bad, and a lot of shouting that rallied the crowd (and irritated me). After a lot of that, we all "marched" down to CMU. We passed by some frat houses, and they, knowing what was coming, held up signs saying "use soap", "nuke paris", and "kill more iraqis". A strong police presence stopped much violence from happening. Apparently, both county and city police were used -- the county sent a number of police on horses, and the city sent several cruisers. When we got near CMU, there were some CMU police as well guarding CMU's campus. I saw a few people from Coffee Tree, another friend, and spent a good part of the time there with Dmitriy (who also took a lot of photos). One of the things we talked about is something I'm curious about regarding these events -- how many of the people there have actually thought deeply about the issues relating to war and global politics? If I were more of a journalist type, I would've given a number of people my business card and asked them to meet me for lunch, asking them a number of questions about various types of political issues. I wonder how much consistancy would actually be there. Maybe I would've been surprised about the results though. Hmm.

Afterwards, with friends, I had a wine which may rival Sauterne for position of being my favourite wine -- it's a kosher white wine called Bartenura Moscato D'asti. It's very tasty and not overpowering. I'll probably get some to keep around the house sometime next week.

A question to my readers -- would you rather live in the dystopia of Brave New World or that of 1984? Which of them goes further from modern, western societies? Would your choice remain the same if you also had the worlds of Farenheit 451 and Gilliam's Brazil available? It's worth noting that in each of those works, the story focused on someone that, more or less, was going against the grain of society. Would someone going against the grain of a western society today look much different, taken to the extent that the protagonists from those works went against society? I think it would be interesting to do a dystopian-perspective work set in an existing liberal society, to explore the genre.

I've made good progress on POUND. It's probably safe to say that, while it's by no means done, I'm ready to deploy the next version whenever I get around to it. I may let it bake a bit further, but it's at least as capable as the current version is in almost all areas, and has several other goodies. The Wikilanguage parser still totally sucks, but until I start getting other people hosting their blogs on my site, I'll have time to fix it up and can avoid the rough bits.

I'm still having issues with depression though. Sigh.