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Welcome to my blog, which was once a mailing list of the same name and is still generated by mail. Please reply via the "comment" links.

Always interested in offers/projects/new ideas. Eclectic experience in fields like: numerical computing; Python web; Java enterprise; functional languages; GPGPU; SQL databases; etc. Based in Santiago, Chile; telecommute worldwide. CV; email.

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Lepl parser for Python.

Colorless Green.

Photography around Santiago.

SVG experiment.

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Calibration of seismometers.

Data access via web services.

Cache rewrite.

Extending OpenSSH.

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© 2006-2013 Andrew Cooke (site) / post authors (content).

Losing My Religion

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2006 10:30:01 -0400 (CLT)

I was brought up - and I'm not sure how, or why, because as far as I know
my parents rarely thought much of, or, at least, discussed, America, or 
politics - believing firmly that America was a living paragon of
tolerance.  That anything was possible there; that the individual was
accepted on their own terms, no matter what the race, or religion.

What was important was not McCarthyism, or the ability to nuke everyone,
several times over, but individualism, free speech, multi-culturalism,
blues, jazz, rock, black power, gay pride.

I am employed by an American company; most of the people I work with are
American.  I spend my free time reading web sites; most of the people I
know on-line are American.  I live in a world and a culture dominated by
American policy; most of the people who decide how I live my life are

But none of those Americans seem to meet the ideals I was brought up to
believe in.

As far as I can tell, for these people, cultural diversity means that a
grandparent was Irish, and that they drink green beer once a year.  Or
that pizza is italian food.

We regularly receive company-wide emails telling us that food is available
"on the patio" - a patio on a different continent from where I work - and
when I raise this, I get a passive agressive reply that pretty clearly
thinks the issue trivial.  The patio is in America, of course, because,
well, isn't that where everything is?

And talking of emails.  It's world cup time.  I'm kind-of-annoyed myself
by the amount of commercialisation.  Apparently you need a new TV to watch
football.  And perhaps that's what annoying my american acquaintances?
Perhaps they're objecting to being sold another product?  Or are the "this
stupid foreign sport sucks" emails just another symptom of their
insularity? A week ago I would have gone with the excuse; but then a week
ago I would  have written "friends", and not "aquaintances".

My thesis - and I think I have one, even if this seems more like a bitching
session - is that American intolerance is pervasive; it's not directed
only at "foreigners".  Last time I was in the States someone (quite
seriously, although I suppose they will claim it was irony - for that see
my comment on Wallace later) offered me a ride in their car on condition
that I, as  someone who drinks alcohol, did not vomit.  A culture defined
by not drinking alcohol, reinforced by amazingly crass ideas about what
that terrible drug does to it's "victims".

Another example of internal intolerance: prison occupancy.  America has
almost 1% of its population in prisons.  Look it up.  That's an order of
magnitude more than most civilised countries.  But maybe that's not such a
good example, since a hugely disproportionate fraction are black.

So instead, take politics.  I'll take the intolerance of the right for
granted - who expects otherwise?  That the left is also intolerant is more
telling.  Talk to a politically aware left-leaning American and be amazed
at the bigotry: the republican voting, rural heartlands are populated by
sub-humans.  A more graphic example was on display at U. Arizona: a
trailer home with rocket launchers.  This is a tactic that gives some
short-term salve to the conscience - it wasn't "my people" that massacred
people at Haditha - but hardly helps find a lasting solution.

I was going to talk about David Foster Wallace here, because he embodies
so much of both what I used to admire, and what I currently dislike in
America.  His analysis of irony; his lack of cross-cultural awareness; his
parochial judgements on sport (tennis is good because he played it;
football - soccer - is bad because he doesn't understand it).

But I can't be fucked.  Let's cut to the chase.

The news headlines this morning: suicides in Guatanamo are "an act of war".

What happened, America?



From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2006 10:54:54 -0400 (CLT)

Guantanamo.  Jesus.


From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2006 21:22:17 -0400 (CLT)

I made this poster.  As an image on the screen, it looks pretty flakey,
but if you print it out b+w it's better.  A framed 30x40 version by
zooming on a photocopier to 150% on four "corner" sheets, and
ripped/overlapping, looks better still.


I also realise that it changes nothing - but it got something out of my
system, at least.


An Apology

From: "andrew cooke (noao)" <acooke@...>

Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2006 08:39:20 -0400 (CLT)

[One of the people referred to above wrote to me apologising for their
intolerance; I felt I should include my reply here.]

Heh, this is "alcohol explaining Guantanamo", right?

XXXX, you are a sweetie-pie and you have absolutely nothing to apologise
for.  I'm working through some "issues" about how to deal with your
country (in particular, how can I take money from a country whose policies
I deeply disagree with; related to that, to what extent do I identify a
democratic country with its people, and how do i reconcile that with the
fact that those people are individually very nice?) and you served as a
rather desperate example in an argument that is full of holes.  I should
have thought about offending you, but I was very angry about things that
you have absolutely no control over.

So i think I should be apologising to you, not vice-versa.  Really, you
are a very nice guy and honestly you do not need to worry about this.  OK?

You may not have realised, but things are in chaos here - there have been
[...].  So I have not had time to address this problem - I hope
to do so this weekend.

So please, ignore that post.  It's just me thinking aloud, and I'm aware
that it's both inconsistent and plain wrong in places.


To What Extent Are Individuals Responsible For The Actions Of A Democratic State?

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2006 22:37:56 -0400 (CLT)

You'd think this would be a well-considered problem (for example, you
might think Just War Theory would consider it before bombing tha
bajeesus out of the population).  But most Google hits seem to be for
the responsibility of individuals (the usual "do this or we'll lock
you up / let you starve" thing).

G's book search turns up "[the populace] may be held collectively
responsible for their state's actions, at least if the latter has a
republican or democratic form" - An Essay on the Modern State,
Christopher W. Morris (p 110) which is stated as obvious.

Ah, and here's a reference to Walzer: "In his widely influential
statement of just war theory, Michael Walzer exempts conscripted
soldiers from all responsibility for taking part in war, whether just
or unjust (the thesis of the ldquomoral equality of soldiersrdquo). He
endows the overwhelming majority of civilians with almost absolute
immunity from military attack on the ground that they aren't
responsible for the war their country is waging, whether just or
unjust. I argue that Walzer is much too lenient on both soldiers and
civilians. Soldiers fighting for a just cause and soldiers fighting
for an unjust one are not morally equal. A substantial proportion of
civilians in a democracy are responsible, to a significant degree, for
their country's unjust war. Moreover, under certain (admittedly rare)
circumstances, some of them are legitimate targets of military
attack." - Michael Walzer's Just War Theory: Some Issues of
Responsibility, Igor Primoratz (Abstract).

Heh.  So we have every position from none, to (presumably) those that
voted for the regime, to all.  Yay for philosophy.

There's an interesting point here, though.  It could be argued that
holding the population responsible is a "terrorist" viewpoint, in the
sense that it can be used to justify terrorist actions.  However (1)
it can also be used to justify actions in other contexts (Primoratz
just above) and (2) I suspect it's an ad-hoc justification/excuse
rather than a motivation (the motivation for terrorism being more
pragmatic in aiming to shock, destabalize and miltarize the society
being attacked, to erode the power of those currently in control).

Interesting direction from a paper by Judith Lichtenberg - "[...]
methodological individualism, a view frequently discussed in the
philosophy of social sciences.  According to methodological
individualism, only individuals exist and all talk of corporate or
group entities must be ultimately reducible to the language of
individual behaviour."

Can you work backwards from the idea of compulsary military service?

Interesting - MI seems to be associated with Popper.  Ah - Austrian
economics (so some dismissive American comments).


So Why Assume

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2006 21:55:29 -0400 (CLT)

So why did I start assuming responsibility.  Apart from wanting a cat to

1. Repeatedly: this is a war.  You don't have wars on half a country.  It
wasn't just republicans dead in the twin towers.  It's not just
"terrorists" dead in Iraq.  And after I type that I remember that there's
no causal connection; that 9/11 was not an Iraqi operation.

2. Consider sanctions against S Africa.  At the time, there was a strong
argument that they harmed blacks more than whites.  The asymmetry was
accepted because of the ends.  Similarly, "I am not an American" is a
clearer message than "I am not a Republican".  Or: "what your country is
doing is wrong" is a stronger incentive to work for change than "those
other guys are nasty aren't they?"

3. More subtle but one of my initial reactions to the Guantanamo
anouncement.  *I* am choosing sides.  More strongly: that statement
requires you to choose a side.  So I must choose.  I do choose.  And if
that makes me a terrorist I will follow that logic.  Because that logic
was forced on me.

Interesting Article on Haditha

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2006 19:37:01 -0400 (CLT)

Not directly related to this thread, but a good example of the moral
complexities that surround this whole mess -

Retrospective on the Guantanamo "Suicides"

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Tue, 19 Jan 2010 17:18:05 -0300



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