Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Melville on "Design"

The Shark Massacre (from Moby Dick)

Chapter LXVI

"Then in the Southern Fishery, a captured Sperm Whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; is not very soon completed; and requires all hands to set about it. Therefore, the common usage is to take in all sail; lash the helm a'lee; and then send every one below to his hammock till daylight, with the reservation that, until that time, anchor-watches shall be kept; that is, two and two for an hour, each couple, the crew in rotation shall mount the deck to see that all goes well. But sometimes, especially upon the Line in the Pacific, this plan will not answer at all; because such incalculable hosts of sharks gather round the moored carcase, that were he left so for six hours, say, on a stretch, little more than the skeleton would be visible by morning. In most other parts of the ocean, however, where these fish do not so largely abound, their wondrous voracity can be at times considerably diminished, by vigorously stirring them up with sharp whaling-spades, a procedure notwithstanding, which, in some instances, only seems to tickle them into still greater activity. But it was not thus in the present case with the Pequod's sharks; though, to be sure, any man unaccustomed to such sights, to have looked over her side that night, would have almost thought the whole round sea was one huge cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it. nevertheless, upon Stubb setting the anchor-watch after his supper was concluded; and when, accordingly, Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades, kept up an incessant murdering of the sharks, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part. But in the foamy confusion of their mixed and struggling hosts, the marksmen could not always hit their mark; and this brought about new revelations of the incredible ferocity of the foe. They viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound. Nor was this all. It was unsafe to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures. A sort of generic or Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones, after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost took poor Queequeg's hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid of his murderous jaw. Queequeg no care what god made him shark, said the savage, agonizingly lifting his hand up and down; wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

From Hegel's "Philosophy of Right":

"The Eumenides sleep, but crime awakens them, and hence it is the very act of crime itself which vindicates itself. — Now although requital cannot simply be made specifically equal to the crime, the case is otherwise with murder, which is of necessity liable to the death penalty; the reason is that since life is the full compass of a man’s existence, the punishment here cannot simply consist in a ‘value’, for none is great enough, but can consist only in taking away a second life."

Hegel makes it clear that retribution is not merely revenge of a feudal sort, but a type of universalized morality which the criminal's act made possible: the state in some sense acknowledges the rational maxim of the criminal--i.e. "felonies are permissible"--and applies it to the criminal himself.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


"One who believes as I do, that free intellect is the chief engine of human progress, cannot but be fundamentally opposed to Bolshevism as much as to the Church of Rome. The hopes which inspire communism are, in the main, as admirable as those instilled by the Sermon on the Mount, but they are held as fanatically and are as likely to do as much harm."
— Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, 1920

I understand the marxist and utopian impulse but feel it's ultimately naive and futile, especially in regards to the economy of America. In Europe perhaps a leisure economy might eventually come about--in England or US unlikely (except for the wealthy or the heirs and heiresses of the wealthy--who already do live that life). Besides, the vindictive and retributive aspects of leftism are driving the engine as much as the utopian do. And there are so many other problems which Marxism really never addressed-- basic pathopsychology for one. Bosses and capitalists enjoy power and even sadism. So do lots of people. Prostitutes won't be eliminated in the near future either, no will soldiers or criminals. Marxism again seems very close in ways to the sort of, well, nearly Blakean visions--or perhaps zionist-- of pastoral bliss which poets and preachers always refer to, and as much a sentimental and a-historical fairy tale as is protestantism.

Additionally, the blogger left has little interest in say the specifics of socialist agriculture or technology: their hatred of "capitalism" is more akin to lower-management's resentment for executives at the top: they don't really envision some pastoral-Maoist communism, they envision themselves with a management niche, which they cannot presently obtain with their English or philosophy degree or whatever. In the dreamt-of Marxist pleasure-dome, they will have that management job (tho paid for by the Peoples) an office and some real power

Marxism, whatever it once may have been--and we would do well to recall the disdain for Marxism and the so-called "class sruggle" shown by Keynes, a far better economist and thinker than Marx, as well as the trenchant criticisms of Lenin and the bolsheviks raised by Russell, who visited Russia in the 20s---now functions primarily as ideological support for black nationalism and Islam. There is this incredibly hostile attitude to any traces of Western rationalism or culture; a complete rejection of not only capitalism but of the entire tradition of European intellectual life. And really even if you were to join forces with say some of these groups--the WSWS--you put on your gulag rags as you do it; i.e. your race is guilty of historical crimes, even though they may have fought in WWII against the fascists.

People act out of their self-interest: if someone is marginalized, or victim of prejucice, poor, so forth, Marxism might appeal; if not, or stands to lose were the Revolution to be enacted, it probably won't. To demonstrate that this imagined statist utopia is Good (however you define that today) across the board is an issue rarely taken up. Most of the marxist "theorists" continually neglect this basic situationalism: they in effect ask the European or American "bourgeois" to sort of admit that he is part of the oligarchy and a problem to be eliminated.

Having said that, I think there is a valid Marxist point regarding the injustice of the division of labor , yet most of these literary-leftist types don't acknowledge it. There may be something fundamentally wrong with a society which permits one group of people to be teachers, professionals, technicians, etc. while another group must do the dirty work--mechanics, food, assembly, custodial, etc.. Marx's rather abstract approach doesn't really address the potential injustice of the division of labor in much detail, and I feel that without some fundamental notion of entitlement attacks on the division of labor are meaningless. I empathize with the type of old-school social realist who desired to rip lawyers out of their offices and put them in overalls and into the fields--and the same for priests, financiers, bureaucrats of all types-- perhaps humanities professors also could join them in the tractor mechanic job re-hab workshop. Furthermore, who does the maintenance, food service or, egads, custodial work at the shop? Revolving duties it would seem if some egalitarianism is assumed across the board.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Smoke the Perp'

Convicted of multiple murders, the death row inmate known as "Tookie" Williams now faces execution, unless King Arnold decides, maybe after some persuasion from his limousine liberal-spouse Maria, to spare his life. The evidence appears rather convincing that Williams committed the murders--and the jury was not all white, as Williams later falsely claimed. That he continued to lie about his innocence--a lie which the liberals all seem to believe, as naive do-gooders are wont to--annoys nearly as much as do his claims to have been reformed by writing children's books while in stir.

There are arguments against the death penalty: some have argued against executions since the justice of preventing a possibly innocent, or mostly innocent person, from being executed may outweigh the good and the sense of Justice, whatever it is, that the actual execution brings about. That is not a bad argument, per se (though crime victims' family members would unlikely agree with it); and this would imply that all executions --including the execution of human monsters such as a John Wayne Gacy, Bundy, or Larry Bittaker --be prevented, so as to eliminate the possibility of a wrongly convicted person from being killed (and this has occured, possibly in the Chessman case in the 60s). Yet the anti-death penalty crowd, the celebrity sentimentalists and associated cry-babies protesting Williams' impending death are not really arguing that; or if they are, then they should also be working to prevent the death of Larry Bittaker (Free Pliers!) or Scotty Peterson. This will not likely occur.

Though one could do the Sociology 101 research project and argue for death penalty as deterrent (or not as deterrent) etc., my own sense is that the execution functions in a far more primordial fashion than as a preventive measure- -it is a ritual of sorts, a sort of enactment of Justice, which brings a certain sesne of satisfaction, even of pleasure to the victims, or family of the victims. Perhaps it's primitive, as primitive as the Old Testament or Koran, but then not nearly as primitive as the condemned man's murderous acts themselves.

The photos of Old West hangings, or of executions in Europe and the Middle East (the muslim Imams would never permit this sort of debate) provide evidence of this ritual character: in the frontier town a hanging was an event attended by all, and not without a certain glee. I suspect it is a similiar type of festive occasion in Muslim cities. Perhaps some clever opportunists might rally the state to allow public viewing and allow vendors (to have witnessed Aileen Wuornos' death would have been quite delightful); hell, broadcast it on the web.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Scooter Libby, Writer of GOP Erotica

Mr. Libby, Yale-educated attorney and Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, presently faces up to 30 years in prison for lying to the FBI and to reporters. Many Americans are probably unaware that "Scooter" Libby also was a writer of some talent; in fact, some of his writing has appeared online and is presently being subjected to critical scrutiny.

It's unlikely that Scooter's spicy writing will be featured in the family-oriented pages of America's newspapers, however; pornographic stories about Japanese brothels and child prostitutes being raped by bears would probably not fit on the Podunkville Lifestyle page.

Though the Republican party makes a point of proclaming itself the party of "traditional family values", Mr. Libby, liar and porno writer, is not doing much for their moral crusade. Perhaps some decent fundamentalists may be able to reach him in Leavenworth, bring him a Good Book, and teach him to see the errors of his ways.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pynchon's Vineland as Political Novel

Vineland may be a great political novel, but it’s also about a statewide madness, and about cops: Brock Vonds and Karl Bopp (some read Bopp as a premonition of Ahh-nuld); it’s about malls swarming with Thanatoids (are they mad, or ghosts, or zombies? their ontological status so to speak seems to fluctuate) and burnt-outs who never questioned that someday California, or at least Marin north, would blossom into an outsider’s ecotopia with a Department of Cannabis and maybe Bobby Weir as The Guv.

As with Crying of Lot 49 (or Gravity's Rainbow, though I have yet to finish my ascent to the peak of that massive chaotic heap) there is plenty of cartoony phunn, but no shortage of melancholy, of the stories of the “preterite,” and of betrayal (Frenesi might be said to embody a certain sort of female californian Betrayer, i.e., Rat as the Reds used to call 'em). I think many current PC leftists (including those who haunt various UC campuses) generally fall in the ‘Toid category, more often than not as do the great majority of Cali suburbanites: the Net and blogopolis itself becoming some sort of gloomy Orwellian zone where simple jokes or insults cause some so-called liberals to start calling the FBI.

The Internet of course does provide lots of possibilities for a Snitch, of either Fed or state or corporate type (Malware itself sort of a type of snitching). A good Snitch respects no party lines, and indeed reading YOU ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO PERFORM THIS FUNCTION in your face enough times and you might begin to wonder if the Feds are administrating the servers of the world. Pynchon, the cyber-Wobblie, has a decent Orwellian fear of the state and the Law, wielded either by neo-con paraquat sprayers or by state- funded Dr. Deeplys. And I think Sir Pynchon was sort of correct (also basing this on other non-fiction stuff of his--intro to 1984, the “Luddite” essay) in that all the dreamed-of freedoms of the Net and computing have generated a great deal of fear and paranoia and if anything provided more opportunities for J.Edgarism. TP certainly was also aware of the possibility for a Reagan-like rightwing populism developing into a virus at any time; in some sense the CA recall was a Pynchonian tragi-comedic affair.

There are worse contemporary writers one might serve up to the current crop of academic Thanatoids and Oedipa Maas replicants strolling about the quads of Cali in hiphuggies with I-Pods stuffed in their brain and their $3000 laptops in their pack.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Herr Doktor Mike Von Fleichmann: Judo Coach, Shakespearean, and CrimeFighter

Perhaps you’ve heard of C-SUB Professor Mike Fleichmann. A Shakespeare Instructor and Judo coach (no kidding) on the Cal State dole, Fleichmann also considers Ed Jagels (the notorious Kern DA slammed in Rolling Stone a few months ago) a close friend. Mike, like Jagels and any decent California neo-fascist, works real hard at his job and has been rewarded for his service to Truth and Judo with awards from the John Birch Society or something—-he's also been a recipient of the prestigious Cal State Bootlicker of the Year award numerous times.

Mike somehow got it in his head, back at the University of Skokie or whereever he purchased his PhD, that Literature might be profitably implemented for right-wing ideological ends; thus he makes a living passing off his Shakespeare/Himmler pep rallies to those gullible Kern citizens who flock to lit. classes in search of Culture. Kernoids, however, don't receive much Culture in Mike's classes--though they do get Fleichmann’s lectures in "How To Be A Terrific Salesman", with the MikeMeister often using Antonio from the Tempest as his machiavellian role model, though Mike does have some problems with the Bard's polysyllabic syntax.

If you have read Ellison’s Invisible Man you remember the cynical and corrupt college administrator Bledsoe. Like the usual Cal State professorial hack, Fleichmann IS another Bledsoe, but lacking Bledsoe’s irony and verbal sophistication. CSUB has plenty of other Bledsoes, other incompetent hatchetmen and women, some of them quite pathological if not psychotic in character, such as Big Mama Plugowski. Big Mama P. (a feminist member of the politically correct Kern Vichy French, contrasted but not opposed to Fleichmann's Wehrmacht), could not divide fractions correctly, but she does know some French and has read lots of Ginny Woolfe, and manages, in a very consistent manner, to consistently distort the Deep Thinkers in the name of “post-structuralism” or “hermeneutics” or some crap. Confronting Big Mama P. with a syllogism would most likely cause her to have a nervous breakdown, but better some entertainment from the resident Crazy Circus Lady of C-SUB than to suffer through a Seminar in Drama of the 3rd Reich with Herr Fleichmann. As with most CSU apparatchiks, both of them should be brought up on racketeering charges.

C-SUB: They earn money the old-fashioned way: They Swindle it

Frog Doc

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An eccentric neo-positivist David Stove, an Australian, produced some great writing attacking western idealism (e.g. Plato and Kant) as well as the more egregious absurdities of marxism. Stove was a bit conservative (supposedly he was leftist in his youth), but seems materialist, more or less; his scathingly humorous attacks on postmod., marxism, feminism, etc. are sort of Jonathan Swift-like, but a bit more philosophically informed.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Dr. Johnson on the Female Cleric

"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sick of Sports Hysteria, Redux

It’s Fall again and that means Football, sports fans. Er, well, baseball is not quite over though. And basketball and hockey are just around the corner. In the spectator democracy of the USA, fans are provided with some form of “Ball” each and every season of the year. Of course, the newpapers and media are promoting this season’s gridiron “prospects” as usual. Beer is being sold. Coaches are giving pep rallies. Cheerleaders are working up fight songs for their heroes! And the local public high schools have new gangs of thugs ready to WIN. The private “Christian” high schools are contenders as well. Rah rah shish boom bah for Jee-sus, the greatest pro of ‘em all.

Coaches may sentimentally claim that “the important thing is that you do your best,” but what really counts to them is winning. That’s what sports at all levels teaches: Victory at any cost--useful training for creating obedient, robotic soldiers as well as go-getter alpha males. The celebrity athletes make the big bucks by being the baddest, most violent players on the field. It's rather questionable that's an attribute we should be instilling in our youth.

More respect should be given to the student who wins the science fair, or to the chess club champion, or the math or French honors student. Solving trigonometry problems requires more skills and is more useful to both society and to the individual than being a great free throw shooter or running back. I, for one, have much greater respect for say an Anatoly Karpov or Bertrand Russell than for Mark MacGuire or Deion Sanders.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


"An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility."

Ambrose Bierce

Friday, August 26, 2005

Literary agents and particulars

For part of what being an agent is (always) like, apparently, is being caught up in an irreducible oscillation between typicality and particularity: between (on one side) the forms of action that an agent must understand in order to make sense of herself as the possible performer of certain actions, and (on the other side) the concrete history without which the agent could not distinguish herself from those who might, otherwise, just as well replace her.

A Raskolnikov does not neatly fit into any such categories as “agent” or “type”: the character determines the type; the existential situation with which he’s confronted--i.e. Raskolnikov feverish, brooding on his couch, “should I whack and rob this wretched crone and landlady or not"--is not easily specified as some jungian or freudian myth, “coming of age” crap--a literary crisis of this type is more individual specific, as is our own life. One could call it ethics, mention “intentionality,” free will, et al.--or, ala Watson/Skinner, inquire as to whether Raskolnikov (a poorly conditioned lad) was perhaps reacting naturally (or not) to some stimulus--yet there are no outside frames of reference that the character (or agent) can extract from a realm of right actions, some platonic realm of “goodness” or obligation, which Raskalnikov can insert into his mind---Raskalnikov until his imprisonment does not realize or acknowledge a Kantian imperative, and he’s refusing any sort of liberal social contract--neither rationalist or empiricist, he more or less refuses to make the liberal association--the “identity function” that precedes an ethics discussion or any putative social contract--that he has some characteristics in common with his fellow humans: you could perhaps refer to him as a sort of uebermensch and he is--Die Raubtiere--one who cares little for helping either the starving or the bourgeois: he chooses to subvert all “normal” bourgeois values (and any imagined marxist ones as well really)), though still beset with some anxiety, and whack the hag, content that his reality is a subjective and solipsistic construct.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Russell vs. Shakespeare

Huemer quotes Russell on Hamlet: “the propositions in the play are false because there was no such man.”

Bravo! Here Lord Russell not only rejects the idylls of the bourgeois, but provides a brief primer on definite descriptions. Study this, gals & goys, and you may come to realize that English PhD holders are a bit lower in the food chain than the average RN.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

H.L. Mencken on Lawyers

"All the extravagance and incompetence of our present Government is due, in the main, to lawyers, and, in part at least, to good ones. They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every Federal judge is a lawyer. So are most Congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizens has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah jong factory, we'd be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half."
–H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), "Breathing Space", The Baltimore Evening Sun, 1924 Aug 4.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Frau Marilee Shrider of the Californian

Although Annie Coulter does a decent job holding down the current American media's position of shrieking right-wing hag-pundit, there exist perhaps a few freaks (like moi) who might miss old-school conservative warrior women such as Phyllis Schafly or Marilyn Quayle. So imagine my pleasure when perusing a few of the Bakersfield Californian blogs and encountering "Right Thinking," featuring the wit and wisdom of one Marilyn Shrider (rightwing gals always have such cool Teutonic names). Predictably, she's lambasting Hanoi Jane Fonda--one of the rightwing's most beloved pastimes. Though Frau Shrider does the Phyllis Schafly schtick quite well she's not too informed about the Vietnam war--"Hanoi Jane" was not some isolated individual protesting it; nor was it only drug-crazed hippies or other "morally irresponsible" humans.

Nobel prize winners were included among the 'Nam protesters--including famed British philosopher and writer Bertrand Russell (as well as Chomsky and Sartre). But I doubt Lord Russell would impress the likes of Frau Shrider: she appears to be another flagwaving Walmartian--a bootlicker, in old-left parlance--who believes the US Military and veterans can do no wrong, an all-too-common sentiment in Kern.
(Frau Shrider also has some dittoheads posting to her blog entries, such as one "fatboy" who, like many hawkish sentimentalists, hasn't quite realized that wars involve the deaths of thousands of innocents.) Perhaps if she or her fans were to take the time to do some research and perform a body count of say the combined North Vietnamese military and civilian casualites, she might begin to get a glimpse of what it was about (conservative estimates are around 3 NV million deaths, which implies about 50 of them dead for every one of ours).

I am still waiting for all those conservatives (many upstanding "Xtians" as well) who supported the liberation of Iraq to start discussing and justifying the deaths of at least 30,000 iraqi civilians which occured during the "liberation." ("cut their people a check, maynard"). Granting that Saddam was a bloody-handed tyrant, that doesn't imply that the US was required to play world cop and take him and the Baathists out. The premise of Blair and Bush's actions were the existence of WMDs and that Saddam was connected to Al Qaida. That was not conclusively proven in the least. Going into Afghanistan after 9-11 may have been justified to some degree, but Iraq was a different issue; the Baathists were tyrants, but that probably was a UN issue. Second guessing at this stage is sort of pointless, but the US will be dealing with the consequences--and the resentment and rage of the middle east and muslims--for decades.

Let's hope that Frau Shrider, She-Wolf of the Gingerfornian, provides some more yuks with more rightwing-whack job essays, maybe something on "precious bodily fluids" or why she worships Ayn Rand, or denying the holocaust: all the sorts of topics dear to Kern County's ranks of rabid conservatives.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Inheritance Taxes: Not the greatest but preferable to Maoism

Though the American yahoo typically views taxation as part of some communist plot, arguments in favor of estate taxes and inheritance taxes are not far from the premises of the American revolution. Stripping away the grammar school myths and yankee nationalist gloss, the intelligent observer may perceive that the Founding Fathers were quite similiar, at least in motivations, to the "red republican" Jacobins agitating in the Paris streets: both collectively rejected hereditary aristocracy and the absurd inequalities of wealth that characterized pre-Revolutionary France and Britain. Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting America in the early 19th century, asserted "The American experiment presupposes a rejection of inherited privilege." The exorbitant wealth of a Bill Gates or Paris Hilton or other billionaires is in a very real sense a return to the aristocratic privilege and dynasties which the Founders overthrew.

That is not to say that the moderately successful small-town businessman should not be able to hand down a large portion of his estate to his child or to whomever he deems fit. But the children of Bill Gates or Conrad Hilton are not simply obtaining some college funds and a nice car—they are obtaining, through no efforts of their own, a financial or corporate empire. (ironically, Bill Gates himself has argued in favor of the estate tax). Those economists and citizens who argue in favor of progressive estate taxes (and against aristocratic or corporate dynasties) are therefore following the Jeffersonian tradition, more or less, which is opposed to the finance and property schemes which led to the gross disparities of wealth and property of pre-Revolutionary Europe. The American yahoo might unthinkingly refer to Jeffersonian egalitarianism as “socialism,” but more correctly would be to refer to the Paris Hiltons of the world as decadent, idle aristocrats, if not seditionists.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Operation Mindf*ck: Jack Parsons, L. Ron Hubbard and Uncle Al Crowley

This shit is just too weird to even believe. Cal Tech and JPL, founding member Aleister Crowley? And Tommy Cruise and Scientology, brought to you by black magician L Ron Hubbard.

L Ron the Magus

Monday, July 04, 2005

Jefferson Day Rant: Enthusiasm

Following some blog-duels with various seminarians and preachers-in-training, I have noted that there is an issue which many religious people overlook, which the English writers formerly referred to as Enthusiasm. If religious faith is purely a matter of personal conscience and subjective belief, what is to prevent a Manson or Koresh (someone like Locke would have termed them Enthusiasts of the most virulent type) from thinking that his own "visions"--which may or may not be madness--are not the Word of Gott on high? Madison optimistically asserted that "the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man," yet if one person's religion--say Koresh's-- involves inflicting his own views and irrationalism on other non-believers or gentiles or "liberals", and endangering their health if not actually killing them in accord with some subjective madness, then perhaps his religious rights should be limited (and most would agree it would have been good had Koresh's religious rights been curtailed and his church been closed early on).

When some biblethumping conservative begins discussing the Book of Revelation and assuming that it is his duty to help bring it about (since his "God" told him to) anyone who values the secular principles of the Constitution has reason to be concerned, just as we might be concerned if muslims were to become more powerful in US politics and began to try to institute some Koranic laws as public policy, or if new-age types were to try to attempt to institute some pagan holidays. There are many sound secular reasons--reasons based on logical and scientific principles, not dogma--to limit or at least question religious freedoms and institutions, as Madison's more skeptical colleague Jefferson well realized.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism appears on my reading list about once every 6 months. I admit to my dilettante status in regards to these matters, but Quine seems so concerned with semantic issues that he overlooks other analytical issues. Those regular consumers of Contingencies who care about such things might recall that the analytic/synthetic divide originates with Kant:

"Either (1) the predicate B belongs to the subject A as something that is (covertly) contained in this concept A; or (2) B lies entirely outside the concept A, though to be sure it stands in connection with it. In the first case, I call the judgment analytic, in the second synthetic."

Two examples which show the difference to some degree:

"Lawyers are attorneys" is 1 (analytic--synonymous in broad sense)
"Lawyers are professionals" is 2 (synthetic--or empirical in broad sense)

Quine denied the distinction. But there's more to it, it would seem. For instance, are logical connectives to be defined synthetically--Is the premise of an argument no different than the conclusion? Obviously the end result of a derivation or deductive argument is not the same as confirming a premise: and defining a variable is not the same as say putting some variable into a function and getting a result. Is the answer to a calculus problem done the way one traces the presence of toxins out in a grove of pine trees above LA? I think not.

As I am not a mystic or idealist, I agree with "physicalism" (and with Quine's arguments in TDOE for most part) usually, yet I do think there is a difference between truth via equations and functions and truth via empirical confirmation. But specifying the cash value of analyticity is not so easy; however, even a hard-core materialist or behaviorist, say like Skinner, needs to establish his own ontology, and thus needs to know what he is attacking. If you do deny analyticity and really platonic realism and "mind" it does seem that a Darwinian meat popsicle view of human nature follows, or at least is much more plausible.

So, in effect, I am not completely sure what Quine's removal of the analytical/syntheic divide "entails" as the good Panglosses say. Is it just semantic and linguistic--that "meaning" (or reference) must proceed by synthetic means? I follow his linguistics to a degree: the definitions of words are always changing (if not ostensible in many cases), thus it is not impossible that "lawyers are attorneys" may be, eventually, as synthetic as say a "lawyers are corrupt."

Additionally, given the Quinean emphasis on variables, predication, and statements instead of ordinary language--"to be is to be the value of a variable"--the move away from analytical statements might be read as affirming a view of nouns and names as variables. At least he's suggesting that--the language (any language) may evolve to where "oh X, he's a married bachelor" is acceptable semantically; though "oh X, he's a bachelor and he's not a bachelor" will not likely be acceptable. The claim that terms and thus sentences have no inherent or stable meaning also seems a bit Wittgensteinian--a sort of colder version of the language game.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Economic equity and conservatism

If conservatism is at least tangentially concerned with justice and proportion, then conservatives might themselves have reasons to criticize laissez-faire economics and "big business." The shortcomings if not absurdities of a pure laissez-faire economy are fairly clearly indicated in the California housing market and development business; with their man Ahhnuld at the reins, the contractors and brokers of LA and the Bay Area are presently raking it in. Yet teachers, engineers, and technical people are not faring so well, at least in California--I will leave it to devoted readers of Contingencies to locate the stats. Laborers and construction guys earn 30 bucks an hour while quite a few people with master's degrees in math or comp. science or history work as tutors for half that much.

Should conservatives simply applaud as housing prices soar and a few contractors and realtors make it big and the state educational and technological infrastructure collapses? Privatization--and the real estate racket is in some sense the epitome of privatization--in and of itself is not just or equitable; and that may be one reason why those children of conservative parents, after moving from the 'burbs to Westwood or Palo Alto or Berkeley, often join with the liberals and socialists--they realize that it is unlikely they ever will be able to afford the $500,000+ villa in the hills of Hollywood or Saratoga. Joining up with the marxists would, I agree, be a mistake, but the impulse to introduce some reason and planning into the market economy--say in regards to employment and rational development-- is not entirely misguided.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Feds crack down on medical pot

The Baronial Masters of the US Supreme court have delivered the Truth on Pot. Pot Puffin' is, if not Evil Incarnate, damn near, regardless if you have no other drugs to alleviate the pain from glaucoma or cancer treatment. Millions of humans--not all hippies or freaks either--voted in med. pot; a few months later the Courtly powers simply reverse that popular decision with a few waves of their corpulent hands and send out their Fed boys to bust some ma and pa head shops in California. That the Court would so blithely dismiss the will of the people should be a bit alarming to anyone who values the concept formerly known as democracy.

Although libertarianism might not be so great across-the-board, there are quite a few decent reasons to legalize drugs, or at least cannabis: eliminating the black market on drugs and offering addicts/drug abusers treatment instead of prison are two such reasons. Alcohol obviously is generally a far more dangerous drug than is pot, and yet society and courts have no problem letting fools buy a gallon of whiskey prior to some wifebeating and a wrong-way drive on the Interstate. Pot is illegal, I believe, due to judges or prosecutors' petty, fratboy-like desires to control other people's lives (and access to relaxants)--the judges are not so concerned with justice (much less human psychology), or with preserving Jeffersonian concepts of individual freedom, but with affirming their own Authori-TAY.

(Of course, most of the various cowards and frauds who call themselves California "democrats" could care less about another infringement on individual liberty.)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Ay Laddy

Contingencies is not usually one for the sportin' life, but here's to Kevin McBride, the Clones Collosus, for jacking Tyson.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On Power, Russell

"The orthodox economists, as well as Marx, who in this respect agreed with them, were mistaken in supposing that economic self-interest could be taken as the fundamental motive in the social sciences. The desire for commodities, when separated from power and glory, is finite, and can be fully satisfied by a moderate competence. The really expensive desires are not dictated by a love of material comfort. Such commodities as a legislature rendered subservient by corruption, or a private picture gallery of Old Masters selected by experts, are sought for the sake of power or glory, not as affording comfortable places in which to sit. When a moderate degree of comfort is assured, both individuals and communities will pursue power rather than wealth: they may seek wealth as a means to power, or they may forgo an increase of wealth in order to secure an increase of power, but in the former case as in the latter their fundamental motive is not economic.

This error in orthodox and Marxist economics is not merely theoretical, but is of the greatest practical importance, and has caused some of the principal events of recent times to be misunderstood. It is only by realizing that love of power is the cause of the activities that are important in social affairs that history, whether ancient or modern, can be rightly interpreted."

Russell, On Power

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Jacko the Chester Show

Another episode in the Cali cartoon court system comes to a close. We may not care for Jacko or his cheap pop product-- I don't-- but when putting Jacko's actions in context, you realize the conservative "media" (tho neo-cons continually proclaim it's the "liberal media") have in effect tarred and feathered the freak.

Minds more acute than mine might speculate on whether these show trials are some sort of duplicitous, deceptive right-wing stunt that keeps the plebes from contemplating, say, the sight of Iraqi cities turned to rubble and decorated with human hamburger. The show trial has become some group ritual akin to cyber-stoning, wherein the selected chi chi celeb is put on display for the excoriation process; the Cali court as much a prime-time Reality Show as it is a form of due process.

As any one who has spent some time in the hands of the Black Gown Gang realizes, justice is about as dependent on a judge's or prosecutor's hangover status--or his whore's "complicity" status--as it is on the Constitution. Indeed were some magic lantern available--the old Twilight Zone truth serum, say-- to reveal the presence of Chesterness among various human-primates, one suspects most Judges and prosecutors would rate "Certifiable Chester," if not "Canberra-bound."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Prospect Theory 101 and the Irrational Man Standard

Roger, the guy at Limited, Inc., has been lately engaged in a discussion of Prospect Theory (PT). Figures associated with PT, such as Kahneman and Tversky, assessed data from psychological testing in attempts to demonstrate patterns in human decisions relating to a person's perspective of probabilities, or imagined probabilities; the results from such testing altered the way economists and other social scientists think of the Rational Man Standard as it formerly was known. (Keynes, I believe, also addressed this issue somewhere--or at least questioned the objectivity of the standard.}

Paraphrasing Mr. Roger's paraphrase of Kahneman and Tversky, K & T discovered that certain patterns of error occured across groups, and that responses to certain questions seemed dependent on the wording or "framing" of the question, as some semanticists call it. As Mr. Roger said, "given a constant probability of a course of action, one can manipulate responses to that course [of action] by framing it in terms of gain or loss. K and T developed what is called the Asian disease problem. Using students and professors as their pool of respondents, they posed this problem:

"Imagine that the US is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimates of the consequences of the programs are as follows:

If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.

If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.

72 percent chose A, 28 B.

Then K & T proposed this problem:

Problem 2
If Program C is adopted 400 people will die.
If Program D is adopted there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.
Which of the two programs would you favor?”
22 percent went for C, and 78 percent went for D."

Note that the programs offer the same probability of people being killed or saved, yet it appears that a majority of people prefer the frame of 200 people being saved to the frame of 400 being killed. Andre Breton might have applauded.

Here's more of Roger's analysis of the results of K & T's investigation: "The first question was framed in such a way that it brought out risk averseness: “the prospect of certainly saving 200 lives is more attractive than a risky prospect of equal expected value, that is, a one-in-three chance of saving 600 lives.” The second question brought out risk taking: “the certain death of 400 people is less acceptable than the two ­in­ three chance that 600 will die.”"

Any semi-awake undergraduate social-studies type would ask to review the sample and the distribution of the data--including the number of people questioned, their education, race, gender, and geographic location--but the research may at the very least provide more anecdotal evidence of the pathological status of your fellow primates.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The McSynthetic A Priori and Fries please

Here's a big issue with Kant, that I, low-rent Voltairean inductivist, discover when skimming through the 1st Critique: apart from the use of the categories from Aristotle's Physics (perhaps themselves sufficient grounds for Kant's inclusion into the Historical Interest Only category), the synthetic a priori argument is, as men more qualified than I have pointed out, resting on some rather flimsy support.

This is synthetic a priori according to Kant: "Every event must have a cause." Kant seems to be saying that the subject "Event" has within it the necessary predicate of causality, and that this is not something we learn by looking at the world. Yet as he says knowledge starts in experience. How do children learn this fact? THey learn the word and understand causality? It would seem the child does not undertand causality until he perceives it working in the world: he sticks a knife into the outlet and gets a nasty shock. Ouch--avoid it. Not all learning is like this, perhaps, but most is. And learning the meaning of the word "event" means looking at something--actions in the world as well as definitions, synonyms.

It is also unclear whether Kant means the fact of causality as it is in our brains, vs. the fact of causality in the world. If he simply means there are physical laws independent of our brains which are a priori, that seems an obvious empirical point and anyone (apart from extreme mystics or platonists) would agree. If he is saying a human's understanding of this fact--every event must have cause--is a priori and known without reference to the world, a type of innateness, then I think Herr Kant is to be rejected. There may be innateness--genetic and biochemical--but epistemological innateness of the sort Kant proposes seems implausible.

Mathematical terminology does not just appear in our brain, and it is not unrelated to physical events. At the very least Kant's definition seems as much linguistic as ontological. Consider any basic truth of classical physics--say Newton's equation stating weight as inversely proportional to the square of its distance from the center of the earth--it is synthetic a posteriori , derived from facts about matter and force, gravity etc. And if this is the case--that physical "laws" of nature come to be known to humans by inference, experience, and testing, it seems the edifice of the Critique is substantially ruined. Persons with more expertise in quantum physics than myself might advance some arguments in support of Kant's "noumena," but it should be remembered that Werner Heisenberg himself was rather critical of Kant, apres-Copenhagen.

One of Kant's favorite targets was the skeptic Hume; Hume held to a material causality though with reservations; he's Newtonian, I think, but would have said Newton's laws were not necessarily true but more a matter of probability. Nonetheless the general methods of Humean inductivism, refined by statisticians and figures such as Popper or Kuhn, are far more relevant to biology and economics--any sort of empirical endeavor--than is Kant's ghost architecture.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Falsification 101 and the Frauds of the Left

This rant was prompted after some futile attempts at dialogue with another cadre of academic opportunist-aesthetes at http://www.long-sunday.net. Skimming the site I note not only the longwinded, dull, proustian-marxist laments (which make ol Karl's prose seem witty by comparison), but also the numerous messages blocked and censored and altered. The leftist aesthetes, such as the cowards and frauds found at Long Sunday, are not so fond of anarchic libertarianism or freedom of expression as were most liberals until the 80s and 90s: finally attaining his authentic Bukharin-like soul, the Young Hegelian Clown is all about control and censorship and Authori-TAY (as Cartman said once); if he were able to detect the right State Official to snitch to, he'd attempt to find some way (probably by licking, in good lit. poodle fashion, the boots of a lesbian department chair) to put you in Gulag for informing him of the obvious; e.g. he's a worthless, sycophantic bag of irrational shit on his way to the lower levels of Tartarus.

This new type of onanistic leftist blogger, having attentively sat for years at the feet of his marxist, psychoanalytical, or feminist mistresses and masters, has been repeatedly conditioned with the idea that the bad guys were not Stalin or even Hitler (the obscure, dense writings of the one-time nazi Heidegger being a current post-mod. fave); the bad guys were really English and American scientists, Cambridge logicians (notwithstanding that someone such as Turing helped defeat the Germans), behaviorists, Enlightenment thinkers (whether religious or not) and anyone who naively thought reason, inductive or deductive, was a reliable guide to attaining truth.

The rationally-challenged clowns such as those found at Long Sunday or The Weblog or any number of other sites seem to have nothing better to do than to spew pages and pages of unverifiable, quasi-freudian drivel in hopes of demonstrating that rational writing and argument is itself an oppressive discourse. The hip leftist blogger (such as Lacanian stooges RI Pope or Adam Kotkso) is always ready with some cheap bon mot, and ready to take on politics as well as psychology and art--anything "cultural". Like older aesthetes such as Wilde or Gide, he's only nominally leftist (while avoiding any real discussion of employment issues or money or housing or other concerns of the poor); he generally whines and bitches his way to some smarmy and instantly dismissable conceptual excretion (the beats and existentialists, at least the saner ones, would have detested such opportunistic freaks as well). He relishes an attack on GOP economic policies yet knows nothing about stats or demographics or economics at all (having been taught the lie that Marx was some sort of metaphysician), and thus his feeble attempts at political journalism or economic analysis are as futile and laughable as are his examinations of the "political unconscious." Many people are now aware of this; a few years ago a physics professor, Sokal, in fact wrote a brilliant parody of post-modernist leftist jargon which many major post mod. leftists fell for.


After the frustration of trying to argue with people who both do and don't believe in reason as a means to truth (since any recognizable statement is itself a truth claim), it's really somewhat amusing to witness the harmless, though animalic attacks (sort of like a bunch of rabid shrews) by postmodernists and marxists on moderate analytical types (or those brave or foolish enough to advocate such positions), who are regarded as more obnoxious and threatening than are the right wing fundamentalists or conservatives. THe current academic marxist would seem to feel more in common with Heidegger (if not Goering)- than he would with a Jefferson or a Bobby Kennedy (Or Russell, etc. etc.)

Who are the enemies of tolerance and open debate and, as the liberals used to say, the spirit of disinterested inquiry? It is academic leftists as much as the biblethumping right. The hysteria and zealotry of the American protestant echoes the more sophisticated hysteria and zealotry of the postmodernist communist; to the naive, marxism is, as so many have noted, as much a sort of religious ideology as is methodism or catholicism; it replaces the sunday-school of the gullible American liberal arts student-types.

Popper's insistence on falsifiability and falliblism (though his programme is not without errors) would, if implemented, cure this enthusiasm on both sides.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Uncle Bertie Died for your Sins

'Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?' - Bertrand Russell, 'Why I am not a Christian', 1927

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Incommensurable realities: PK Dick and George Lucas

Summer's nearly arrived, as has the summer's space spectacle, provided by George Lucas. After a few weeks of watching the Star Wars Inc. images infiltrate the Net, burger stands, Walmarts, etc. I was reminded of an older essay on simulation by Ho-wood's favorite dead cyberpunk, P.K. Dick: “How to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later.” Here is a brief excerpt from the essay:

“So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe— and I am dead serious when I say this— do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things are born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves will begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.”

The Dick universe is obviously entropic, and thus unpredictable and disruptive. The Lucas universe is not. It is at best Gene Roddenbury-like, with cute fuzzy aliens and heroic star pilots and evil nazi-like villains. A Dick story such as "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (barely recognizable in Blade Runner, nonetheless not a bad flick) offers chaos and plenty of it: Deckard, a hyperspace Philip Marlow, wanders among the heaps of "kipple" searching for the replicants, unable to determine what is or is not human, and some of the replicants, such as Rachel, appear more human and less schizoid than humans themselves. Lucasworld does not present such ambiguities; kipple is rare (though the rusting hulks of the ships and so forth as in The Empire Strikes Back are at least visually pleasing). The EFX may be great and it's safe for the parents and their kiddies, yet regardless of the EFX the Lucas narratives are simplistic and melodramatic, the characters as wooden as those in a John Ford western.

But only a dweeb would take the time to address the narrative structure, one-dimensional characters, or overall Newtonian shortcomings of Star Wars movies. The Lucas spectacle does dazzle yankee consumers with its EFX, but more importantly the Star Wars buzz itself is on display--it's not only a movie, but a marketing campaign, suburbanite "mall mythology" (as William Gibson said somewhere), and consumer bonding session bundled together into one tasty product, as Ho-wood execs say; one that sells millions of movie tickets as well as hamburgers, t-shirts, and lunch pails.

Images associated with this fabricated product, the Lucasburger, gradually overpower and replace current political reality; the puppy-dog aliens and Darth Vaders and space princes are now enforced on all. (some French post.mod. figure such as Baudrillard most likely wrote about this issue, and snooty lit.crit people would surely roll their eyes at my admittedly dilettantish analysis). America's most beloved cyber-melodrama subsumes the tragedies of the Iraqi war and terrorism, the catholic church scandals and dead pope, the tsunami (a disaster far more horrific than Voltaire's Lisbon quake), and the takeover of LA by a nearly maoist mayor. A Bay area wunderkind's jungian bongdream obliterates each pulp scandal and political outrage currently in progress.

The Lovely Chucky McLucky

Friday, May 20, 2005


Da Chief of AVC, Jackie Swischer

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Consolations of Skepticism.

Supposition: there exists an all-powerful entity x (God), who causes and controls all natural events.

1. If x is an all-powerful God (G), x kills (K) thousands of innocents (by way of natural disasters, plagues, famines)

2. If (x) kills (K) thousands of innocents, then (x)is a mass-murderer and identical to Evil (E) (at least according to any commonly accepted legal or moral codes).

3, Thus, if x is God, then x is Evil
I think there would need to be a way to single out such a supposed omniscient entity (monotheistic too as Xtians/muslims/jews claim) x, perhaps like this: there exists an (x), such that x is God, and for any other (V) supposed entity y (thought also to be God), such an entity equals x. E(x) = "there exists": E(x)(Gx & V(y)( Gy -> y = x).

The universal ((x), for any x) is more suited to the hypothetical syllogism:

thus (x)(G(x) -> E(x))

Q. E. D.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Kern Boy in the Big To-mah-toe--Re-run

(I posted this back during the DNC convention--anyone remember John Kerry?--yet I feel it remains relevant given Schwarzenegger and his bitch McCarthy's new plans to gut the state infrastructure and further punish the non-wealthy of CA)

Kern representative of greed and pollution, Kevin McCarthy (as in "Joe"), thinks the efficiency-minded Repugnicans could have already settled the economic issue: sure, just cut all the programs, slash education budgets, eliminate state jobs, no more unemployment offices, etc. That's the official GOP line, which, as so many liberals have pointed out ad nauseum, is pretty much in direct contradiction to the principles of the Good Book (i.e., the Bible, if anyone still reads that useless "old book" as Hank Thoreau once said) which quite a few conservative hypocrites like to think that they uphold....

The simple solution of raising taxes on the very wealthy--on income, wealth, and luxury--seems to not have crossed the minds of anyone lately, including the overly placating democrats, who more and more seem just like Republicans with a few sentimental attitudes held towards gays and unions...At least Cruz Bustamente had the cajones and modicum of intelligence to suggest that the CA budget could be repaired with a few adjustments to the income tax brackets (increases in both federal and state income taxes and capital gains on wealthiest brackets would be most prudent)..........

Note also that the DNC and Kerry are sort of skirting the tax cut issue---Kerry in fact supported Bush's tax cut, to Kerry's disgrace. The only dem to have really mentioned it was Billy Clinton in his preacher-like rant on Monday night (July 2004), to his credit. Although he was too conservative in many aspects, liberals and leftists should not just dismiss Billy Clinton's record, which was (apart from the one rather large faux pas with a pretty jewess's mouth) successful in many basic, measurable ways: i.e. solving the deficit and creating jobs.....

Friday, May 06, 2005

Kern Law's new motto

Yee haw. At least los puercos del Kern are honest. Perhaps they should have added,
"We'll kick your ass, whether you are guilty or not."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hitchens on Dead Pope

Hitchens' politics are a bit strange: he professes to be leftist and anti-religious, but he did support the Iraqi war, though more as a supporter of Blair than of Bush. I think he should have rallied for Kerry a bit more. My feelings towards Mr. Hitchens are a bit ambivalent, yet one cannot deny the power and style of his somewhat Swiftian prose.

"Without, it seems, quite noticing what they are saying, the partisans of the late pope have been praising him for his many apologies. He apologized to the Jewish people for the Vatican's glacial coldness during the Final Solution, and for historic filiations between the church and anti-Semitism. He apologized to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, and to the Muslims, for the appalling damage done to civilization by papal advocacy of the Crusades, and by forced conversion and massacre in the Balkans during the church's open alliance with fascism during World War II. He apologized to the world of science and reason by admitting that Galileo should not have been condemned by the Inquisition. These are not small climb-downs, and they do not apply just to the past. They are and were admissions that the Roman Catholic Church has been responsible for the retarding of human development on a colossal scale."

Dead Pope

Monday, April 18, 2005

End Democracy Now

The assumption that voting somehow is innately equitable or democratic is one of the greatest farces of American politics: not only does Chimpy McBushCo's re-election show that, so does the CA recall and the ascendency of Schwarzenegger, California's cartoon King. Education requirements, poll tests, etc. however un-populist they may seem, might be in dems and 3rd party interests. A poll test would not play well with poor urban minorities but might keep large numbers of uneducated, redneck bible-thumpers out of the voting booth.

Establishing some criteria to insure voter intelligence/fitness is no more absurd than say a college professor giving tests to insure student intelligence/fitness. Is the right answer to dy/dx sin (Pi*x) a matter of raising hands in the math classroom?

Yes, it certainly could be dangerous--i.e. if fundamentalists or organized criminals got in control of voting process (oh that's right they already have)--but not so much more dangerous than thinking a popular vote leads to equitable politics. Plato himself disparaged democracy and a popular vote in the Republic; majorities supported Hitler and Mussolini. What if say Larry Flynt (who garnered over 200 thousand votes in CA recall) had actually triumphed in California recall? Flyntville would hardly seem an acceptable democracy.

I brought this up on a blog and some of the resident academic liberals were a bit irked. But what is really irksome is the sentimental liberal's trust in the masses, the naive hope that the underclasses will all perceive the great truths of democracy and eventually start voting in qualified, rational candidates and propositions.

Remember the California propositions in the last election? 64 for instance. Thanks to some high-priced ads paid for by the corporate deep pockets, the corporate boys got out the message that this law would be like a Prop 13 reform, and keep attorneys from making excess profits etc. But what it really did is protect corporations from lawsuits and in effect reverse decades of decent environmental policies that allowed people and groups to sue corporations. So an injust or at least oligarchic prop. was put into effect. It would be easy to think of many other examples of unpleasant policies and laws put into effect by popular mandate, or by politicians put into office by popular vote. And in addition to voter intelligence tests, requiring some modicum of education for aspiring candidates--economic and historical education if not scientific--would be a prudent course. I think people should be aware of whether the Governator really knows what say present and future value is. Or something like that.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

John Paul II does seem to have been a very decent, ethical, and erudite man. He spoke numerous languages, and was, as the obituary writers say, "an avid sportsman." He fought against the nazis and later the stalinists: the catholic poles certainly did not have an easy existence from about 1938 to 1945 (nor did the polish jews or ukrainians either). Many died at both nazi and stalinist hands; the atrocity of Katyn, where thousands of polish officers were slaughtered at the hands of Stalin's NKVD , may be one of the most brutal acts of the 20th century.

Yet Catholicism was and is not the answer. In fact it's quite absurd--absurd in both ordinary and philosophical sense-- that someone would, after surviving the terror of nazis and stalinists, decide to join a church that proclaims that a "God" exists who would allow such horrendous brutality. Not only is the concept of God itself quite indefensible ( and more so after WWII), the catholic tradition is rife with irrational, unscientific and anti-humanist doctrines. The mass itself is ludicrous, as are the attitudes toward birth control: for the real implications of Catholic family planning spend a few days in one of the massive slums of any Central or South American city. And yet the Catholics keep marching on. Recently a monumental cathedral was finished in LA, courtesy of Roger O Mahoney, the Cardinal who has refused to turn over names in the priest sex scandals. And the cathedral, however beautiful (featuring works of art from leading LA artistes, such as Grahams' massive, plebian Maria) is another Temple to Irrationality which does little to nothing to help solve real social and economic problems.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

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Kern Judge Sherry Muttler
Are there rational grounds for religious belief? (various skeptical musings)

If you assume a religious perspective is justifiable by dogma--the mere presence of Scripture--there's really no point in arguing; yet if you think the dogma can be justified rationally (as the jesuits used to assert) you have to overcome all those Phil. 101 chestnuts: the problem of evil, immateriality, status of other faiths, and the basic epistemological issue of why anyone should accept any religion as a true account of reality, rather than say a commnon-sense physico-logico account.

That may be unsubtle, and not very appealing to those who work for Christendom Inc., but theists continually assume that those Phil. 101 issues have been settled in their favor, when of course they haven't been

As you probably know, Kant himself rejected all the classical arguments for a deity, and there are I think far more philosophers and scientists arranged on the skeptic side (e..g, that there are no convincing, rational grounds for religious truth, or for an omniscient and just God) then there are rational theists. There does not seem to be a shortage of irrational theists however.

* * *

Is the existence of miracles used to confirm the truth of Scripture? If it is, then obviously other religons and cults claim miraculous events (though I assert wrongly), so the mere presence of claims that a miracle occurred doesn't really prove anything: that water was instantly converted to wine is about like saying the Buddha levitated. One can believe that, I guess, just as people believe in astrology. But most theists believe that there's more to the plausibility of scripture than the presence of miracles; if not, it would be a situation of which cult features the best miracles (and all the creepy pagans and occultists in LA would say their's does).

In fact the catholic church routinely confirms miracles, yet as Chris Hitchens recently pointed out in a great essay on Mother Theresa's death, the confirmaton is in no way scientific or objective: it's usually based on flimsy, anecdotal evidence (and an incredibly sentimental process as well). It may be thought such claims of miracles are amusing or charming, but as Hitchens points out, the belief in miracles acutally does great damdge to rationality as a whole.

I shall let Mr. Hitchens speak for himself (and for rationality), since he does it much better than I:

"Those of us who are against miraculous claims for the more obvious reasons--that the laws of nature do not respond to petitions and that what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof--have a tendency to forget that this vulgarity and hysteria also increases the sum of misery on Earth, without at all diminishing it in the false promise of the afterlife."

* * *

Quote (from Christian blogger):

"in order to do that without actually investigating each miracle- or religious experience-claim, you'd need to give arguments for why we shouldn't believe in miracles or see religious experience as evidentially weighty"

In other words, prove to you that pigs don't fly. I have never seen a flying pig in person or photos. I don't know anyone that has, and never read any history indicating that pigs do fly. I did see a drawing of one with wings on a website. But it was not flying.

You are right, though to some degree: all the laws and rules of physical science could be overturned tomorrow and pigs might fly, just as Hume said tomorrow his billard table might obey different physical laws--I would agree there is no logically necessary reason why physical laws could not be overturned. But I'd wager the probability of the pig flying ( or billard balls flying backwards after the break of the table) is about the same as Jesus out strolling on the waves or the Virgin of Guadalupe making her annual appearance in the reflection of some campesino's windshield or whatever. I think Bayes theorem shows this too: each day a miracle has not been confirmed increases the unlikeliness of the original anomaly having occurred.

Mystical experiences are another thing. I don't doubt many people have those experiences, but they in no way demonstrate or confirm theological concepts. Recently some experiments have shown that the mental state produced by monks and nuns meditating or praying can be electrically stimulated in various brain lobes. So what was thought to be a calm "oneness with god" or satori was in fact some biochemical process in the corpus callosum.

* * *

Does that imply that if there are no rational grounds for accepting the all-powerful, spiritual Being then there are no grounds for His morality either? If there are no rational grounds for either Christianity or pagan feminism (and I don't think there are) then any laws or policies based on those irrational ideologies would not seem to be permissable. I.e if you allow one cult's morality it would seem you would have to allow all major cults be represented. (Should laws be allowed which are based on Astrology? And Christianity is in many ways akin to astrology)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Re: The Schiavo ordeal

If there were no specific, written instructions indicating that a patient preferred to die rather than be left in a vegetative state, I think the doctors and courts should presume she would desire to live (and thus feed her, keep her on machine, etc.). I don't see that as a necessarily conservative perspective, but as a humanist and ethical one. A ruling that said the state could terminate the life in absence of those written instructions could certainly lead to some scary scenarios: doctors "pulling the plug" on anyone who was in a coma who had not signed some release or consent or whatever: a bad precedent.

Moreover, there are no logical reasons why a cure or new surgical technique could not be discovered; her recovery might be highly unlikely, but it's not impossible. And how does the hospital know that her husband and/or relatives are reporting the truth about her wishes? And yes we should be very alarmed that the appelate court did seem to decide against the patient's rights here.

There should be a federal law that presumes that, unless there is clear and reliable written evidence to the contrary, the patient desires to live and thus should be fed, kept on machines, etc.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Big Tony Scalia, Supreme Court Seditionist

Not that many notice or seem to mind, but Antonio Scalia, Supreme Court Justice-for-life, routinely contradicts the principles of the Constitution with nearly each court opinion he hands down. Commenting on a case involving the legitimacy of having the Ten Commandments displayed outside a Texas courthouse, Scalia recently asserted that political authority does not derive from the people, claiming that the displaying of the Ten Commandments “is a symbol of the fact that government comes — derives its authority from God.”

Justice Scalia must have missed out on his Constitutional Law course, for a cursory reading of the opening Preamble reveals that it begins with “We the people.” References to “God” or Judeo-Christian scripture are nowhere to be found. Indeed, Founding Fathers of both the right (such as Hamilton) and left (Jefferson), influenced by Locke's concepts of individual rights, rejected theological authority as well as monarchical authority. It is not unfair to claim that a great deal of the intellectual justification of the American Revolution thus was in essence opposed to the theocratic assumptions regularly espoused by Scalia and the fundamentalists.

Those people who do value a secular society—e.g., one based on reason and democratic politics instead of religious dogma--might ask themselves whether Justice Scalia should be held accountable for such un-American comments and behavior.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Progressive Taxation is Good

The question of taxation relates, at least in part, to meritocracy: should a just or democratic society allow individuals of equal talents and abilities--say a smart high school math teacher and a Bill Gates--to have hugely disproportionate incomes? Let's assume the small-town math teacher and Gates (or whatever IT baron you care to instantiate) earn similar scores on an objective, quantitative skills test. Should the math teacher thus have the same income as Gates? (Or in other words, shouldn't wealth have something to do with measurable worth)? I think not--it's Gates whose income and wealth should be limited, i.e., readjusted and/or seized.

Pure capitalism leads to a society of speculators and gamblers, where the individual's fate depends on the whims of the market and of other wealthy (or their henchmen, ie, management). Progressive taxation thus is justified not only to protect public services but to keep the playing field from tilting towards plutocracy. Raising capital gains taxes and allowing taxes on luxury items, second homes, SUVs, etc, is more than justified to correct the imbalances of power ( i.e wealth) that the free market leads too. Even small increases in taxation on the very wealthy bracket could substantially reduce deficits, budget crisis, create better schools, etc. etc. Indeed the argument should be at what point does the govt. step in and seize the assets and funds of the uber wealthy such as a Gates, Ellison, Allen.

Some "classical" economists (i.e. Ricardo and Keynes) argued for high taxation on estates and those who inherited large pieces of property. A high tax would keep the inheritors from becoming the types of aristocratic or feudal "rentiers" who earn large sums of money for simply inheriting or obtaining large pieces of property. The same argument applies to speculation--while you and I are grading scantrons or papers or administering networks or even slamming nails into drywall or digging ditches, the speculator or rentier derives far more capital simply for doing nothing but for being fortunate enough to have inherited an estate or win big on the stock market (or for that matter having succeeded in organized crime). Marx obviously had a solution to that, but barring Marx it seems quite prudent to implement a tax system that would prevent the resurgence of a landed aristocracy.

And let's be honest: the average academic economist, like the average successful conservative, is pretty much of the Hamiltonian-aristo-protestant variety; he views the poor and probably even the middle class, especially minorities, as deserving of their fate. Higher taxes mean punishing the successful, the noble and the Good, and giving their hard -earned cash (even if from stocks or rents) to the rabble. The protestant sort of economist thus also is a Social Darwinist to some extent. To be poor or unsuccessful in neo-puritan America entails that you are somehow not fit, morally or intellectually, not that the market and corporate America or the bureaucratic state (including its universities) might have exploited you for years.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Should American patriotic holidays be permitted?

Recently I read some comments from a neo-conservative blogger arguing that Americans need to return to a sort of "civic republicanism"; my own perspective is that this flag-waving "civic republicanism"' is, if not identical to nationalism (in a sense an irrational patriotism), quite close to it. It's quite a basic argument, though I guess the premises could be debated:

--If America's political leaders have been, since the inception of the Republic, guilty of committing political and military atrocities, then celebrations of American patriotism are not justifiable.

--America's political leaders are guilty of committing political and military atrocities over the last 229 years or so. (for instance, Founding Fathers were found to be racist, supporters of slavery, or dedicated to eradicating Native Americans, and the military injustly violated treaties, committed military blunders or outright brutalities which cost the lives of thousands in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, etc.)

--Thus celebrations of American patriotism (including parades, miltary celebrations, even President's, Memorial, Veteran's day) are not justifiable.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Bill Moyers on X-tian Doomsday

"There are millions of Christians who believe the Bible is literally true, word for word. Some of them—we'll come back to the question of how many— subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the nineteenth century by two immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them with their own hallucinations into a narrative foretelling the return of Jesus and the end of the world. Google the "Rapture Index" and you will see just how the notion has seized the imagination of many a good and sincere believer (you will also see just where we stand right now in the ticking of the clock toward the culmination of history in the apocalypse). It is the inspiration for the best-selling books in America today—the twelve novels in the Left Behind series by Christian fundamentalist and religious- right warrior Tim LaHaye, a co- founder with Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority.

The plot of the Rapture—the word never appears in the Bible although some fantasists insist it is the hidden code to the Book of Revelation—is rather simple, if bizarre. (The British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for refreshing my own insights.) Once Israel has occupied the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the Antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned the Messiah will return for the Rapture. True believers will be transported to heaven where, seated at the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents writhe in the misery of plagues—boils, sores, locusts, and frogs—during the several years of tribulation that follow.


For them the invasion of Iraq was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation, where four angels "bound in the great river Euphrates" will be released "to slay the third part of man." A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed—an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the Rapture Index stood at 144—approaching the critical threshold when the prophesy is fulfilled, the whole thing blows, the Son of God returns, and the righteous enter paradise while sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire."


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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

McCarthyite Language Tactics

Joseph McCarthy was an American senator who made a career in the 50's by accusing various humans of being communists or having some association with communist or left-wing organizations. His tactics, such as guilt by association, defamation of character, insinuations about a person's political and sexual life, are still used by many morally corrupt persons, especially those involved with communication: bureaucrats, politicians, journalists, academics. Although usually and correctly identified with various propagandists of the right-wing, McCarthyite tactics are used by liberals as well, especially by those types of putative liberals who are dedicated to "identity politics."

McCarthyite tactics are of course logical fallacies--simply because someone attended a leftist rally against death squads in El Salvador while in college does not imply that the person is a marxist or socialist. Many former college students who diligently read Marx and supported the Sandinistas are now respectable suburban professionals making regular house and car payments--hopefully they haven't come full circle and voted for the GOP, right?

McCarthyism is really about power and control: instead of logic or debate or evidence, slander and libel are employed to destroy perceived enemies, thus valuable ideas and debates are kept from becoming discussed, and intellectual reputations are ruined by means of insinuation. Labels and terms are essential to the McCarthyite: "red" was the favorite, now it's become just "knee-jerk or bleeding-heart liberal" or even democrat as an insult.

Accusing or speculating about someone's sex habits is another tactic of McCarthyites of both right and left: by conveniently placing a "gay" label, on someone's ideas or character that accused person's logic and argument or evidence is thereby discredited. For instance, a typical Republican idiot most likely makes the following assumptions: X is opposed to say the recall of Davis. Thus X is not supporting the GOP, he is therefore a democrat and advocates socialist policies and is probably gay. X of course may not be a democrat or socialist or "gay", but GOP idiot will assume that X is in reality all of those things and will make his assumptions known to his cronies as well.

Mockery of a person's appearance is another McCarthyite tactic. Davis is attacked in cartoons and in print as a small and therefore weak person--caricature is a favorite and useful tactic of propagandists. Schwarzneggers are approved and Davis and Ralph Nader types are not: consumer masses are drawn to heroes, to macho men that represent physical strength, and nerds such as Nader and Davis's are viewed with suspicion by the generally anti-intellectual and violent mob.

An organization may use these tactics as well. A student finds a professor to be injust and biased and has some confrontations. Said professor then punishes student by giving him a B when he earned an A. And Professor spreads the word in the Department that student is a radical, a troublemaker, a rabble rouser, or straight (being straight is viewed as a flaw in many modern college departments) or gay or from a rich family or from wrong side of the tracks or Westside or Eastside or he' s a caucasian or a mexican or black or WHATEVER. In fact this sort of herd mindset might be discovered at most UCs and CSUs---where many professors, especially those who teach "qualitative courses," care little about real merit or accomplishments but attempt to determine a person's "character" and then assign grades. There are plenty of McCarthyite-minded professor dolts, and, surprisingly, many of them are putative "liberals" or feminists.

Monday, February 21, 2005

RIP Hunter S. Thompson

Interesting reminiscence on Thompson:



"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."

HST On Republicans:
“In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are f-ed until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely.”

On Nixon:
“If there were any such thing as true justice in this world, his rancid carcass would be somewhere down around Easter Island right now, in the belly of a hammerhead shark.”

I'm saddened at HST's bowing out, but it's a fairly understandable response to an absurd world for an old rebel in not great health...due to a miserable hangover? bitch problems? strapped for cashola? Bush re-election? dope connection vamanosed...some ho-wood mafia intrigue

Dylan Thomas yawped it better than I ever shall:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

* * *

Cynical addendum: Offing yourself in a room next to where your son and 6 yr. old grandson are located might be gonzo, but it doesn't seem too ethical or sane. And there's a bit too much bad craziness in HST's oeuvre.

I don't think HST was of the genius sort. He came from the sportswriting department. His political writing and columns ( especially his old Herald Examiner stuff in LA) packed a punch but he was no Mencken, certainly no Bertrand Russell or Pynchon. Kerouac's writing, however unfocused, also contained more heart and profundity than Dr. Gonzo's savage journey into the American Dream. Like Mailer, HST's machoism and violence is tiresome, even if funny--and there are some rumors that HST was a bit more perverse and criminal than one would think.

We should attempt to overlook his "character flaws" but in many ways he personifies much of the 60s and 70s excesses. Gonzo reminds me of old, bad rock & roll albums I would rather forget, too many hippies and freaks who unthinkingly bought into the entire 60's ethos. I listen to Stravinsky and Coltrane and Debussy while commuting, web-surfing, or working, not drug-crazed Marin cowboys or Malibu minstrels. I have witnessed too many people's lives ruined by alcohol and narcotics to join in the gonzo par-tay, and I suspect others might object to his incessant praise of drugs and alcohol and his rude and even redneck perspective.

His unpolitically-correct views and his attacks on repugs were needed but he was lacking, well, a certain modicum of rationality.

His strange exit may remind us of the existentialist's meditations on suicide (Camus thought it was the central philosophical problem), or perhaps the buddhist monks who during the height of 'Nam bombing immolated themselves. He might have been a bit more of a decent phreak and taped the event for us.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Kern War Profiteers: Bechtel

"On April 17 [2003], Bechtel received one of the first and largest of the rebuilding contracts in Iraq. Worth $680 million over 18 months, the contract includes the rebuilding, repair and/or assessment of virtually every significant element of Iraq's infrastructure, from power generation facilities to electrical grids to the municipal water and sewage systems. The contract was granted in backroom deals without open and transparent bidding processes and the content remains hidden behind a veil of secrecy. The contract has not been publicly disclosed to American taxpayers, who will be paying the majority of the bill. While there is no doubt that Bechtel has experience in these areas, it is an experience from which the people of Iraq should be spared.

War profiteering and political cronyism is just part of this story."


Friday, February 18, 2005

Herr Doktor Mike Von Fleichmann: Judo Coach, Shakespearean, and CrimeFighter

Perhaps you’ve heard of C-SUB Professor Mike Fleichmann. A Shakespeare Instructor and Judo coach (no lie) on the Cal State dole, Fleichmann also is a crony of Ed Jagels (the notorious Kern DA who was slammed in Rolling Stone a few months ago) and other notable Central California right-wing extremists. Mike, like any decent Californian neo-fascist, works real hard at his job and has been rewarded for his service to Truth amd Judo with awards from the John Birch Society or something—-he has been awarded Cal State Bootlicker of the Year numerous times.

Mike somehow got it in his head, back at the University of Skokie or whereever he bought his PhD, that Literature might be profitably implemented for right-wing ideological ends; thus he makes a living (at the taxpayer’s expense) passing off his Shakespeare/Himmler pep rallies to those gullible Kern citizens who flock to lit. classes in search of culture. Kernoids, however, don't receive culture in Mike's classes--though they do get Fleichmann’s lectures in "How To Be A Great Machiavellian", with the MikeMeister often using Antonio from the Tempest as his role model, though he does have some problems with the Bard's polysyllabic syntax.

If you have read Ellison’s Invisible Man you remember the cynical and corrupt college administrator Bledsoe. Like the usual Cal State professorial hack, Fleichmann IS another Bledsoe, but lacking Bledsoe’s deadpan irony and verbal sophistication. CSUB has plenty of other Bledsoes, other incompetent hatchetmen and women, some of them quite pathological if not psychotic in character, such as Bi Mama Plugowski. Big Mama P. (a feminist member of the politically correct Kern Vichy French, contrasted but not opposed to Von Fleichmann's Wehrmacht), could not divide fractions correctly, but she does know some French and has read lots of Ginny Woolfe, and manages, in a very consistent manner, to consistently distort the Deep Thinkers, in the name of “post-structuralism” or “hermeneutics” or some crap. Confronting Mama P. with a syllogism would most likely cause her to have a nervous breakdown, but really, kids, it’s better to get some entertainment from the resident Crazy Circus Lady of C-SUB than suffer through a Seminar in Drama of the 3rd Reich with Herr Fleichmann from Skokie.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Verbatim quote from Assemblywoman Sharon Runner's website, on The Issues:

"It is time to establish an equitable funding system in order to ensure that no community college student is funded at an adequate level regardless of where they live in California."

Appears as if Miss Runner could have used that Bonehead English or logic class at Tumbleweed Tech, instead of Trailer Park Marketing 101....

The Honorable Sharie Mae intended to say something like "all students are entitled to adequate funding regardless of their geographic location," but she, alas, has not quite attained a 12th grade level of language skills: thus, in effect, she asserts that NO student should have adequate funding.

Assemblywoman Sharie Mae Runner, 36th District...howdee

Sharie and George Runner, like their boss Ahhnuld the King, recently have turned their attention to pedagogy. That should be pretty amusing, though sadly so, to any person who has managed to pass a few college classes. Sharie unlikely could follow her Bible College griddlecakes recipe correctly, and you know she couldn't distinguish standard deviation from her Standard Revised Version of the Good Book. George, from the renowned University of Redlands, located somewhere in a mall off the I 15, claims to be an business or econ. major, but for some reason methinx he gets most of his "deep thoughts" from the Book of Revelations. So not only the 3 R's, but an extra R for Rapture: "All students meet in the gym for "Rapture Awareness Days"..."

Senator George Runner

I recently had a political-historical realization--deep thought time: although they think they are "patriots," hicks such as the Runners and the "Walmart baptist" type of conservatives, are not, let's be honest, real Americans. Even conservative Founding Fathers such as Adams and Hamilton--really an English aristocrat in disguise and quite a tyrant-- supported the secular Constitution and were opposed to theocracy. More moderate and liberal "Fathers"--Madison and obviously Jefferson himself--would I think have supported John Kerry, reluctantly. TJ, somewhat of a Stoic and a rationalist, would not have found much in common with what currently passes for a Democrat (tho TJ did voice support for Abolition it may be recalled), but he would have opposed and fought the rise of the corporate capitalists and the militarists, and the redneck fundamentalist grunts who support them.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

From Petr Kropotkin, 'War!' (1914)

“What Germany, France, Russia, England and Austria are struggling for at this moment, is not military supremacy but economic supremacy, the right to impose their manufactures, their custom duties, upon their neighbours; the right to develop the resources of peoples backward in industry; the privilege of making railways through countries that have none, and under that pretext to get demand of their markets, the right, in a word, to filch every now and then from a neighbour a seaport that would stimulate their trade or a province that would absorb the surplus of their production. When we fight nowadays it is to ensure our Factory Kings a bonus of thirty per cent, to strengthen the “Barons” of finance in their hold on the money market, and to keep up the rate of interest for shareholders in mines and railways. If we were only consistent, we should replace the lion on our standard with a golden calf, their other emblems by money bags, and the names of our regiments, borrowed formerly from royalty, by the titles of the Kings of Industry and Finance - “Third Rothschild,” “Tenth Baring,” etc. We should at least know whom we were killing for.”

Friday, January 28, 2005

Literature, entertainment, censorship

From Book X of the Republic: "And now since we have reverted to the subject of poetry, let this our defense serve to show the reasonableness of our former judgment in sending away out of our State an art having the tendencies which we have described; for reason constrained us. But that she may impute to us any harshness or want of politeness, let us tell her that there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry; of which there are many proofs, such as the saying of 'the yelping hound howling at her lord,' or of one 'mighty in the vain talk of fools,' and 'the mob of sages circumventing Zeus,' and the 'subtle thinkers who are beggars after all'; and there are innumerable other signs of ancient enmity between them."

In Plato's ideal state, lyric poetry-- which is the product not of reason and logic, but of inspiration and emotion--shall be banned. This section is often criticized and attacked as an early example of state censorship; it also demonstrates, however, that the greeks perceived a clear distinction between the aesthetic and logical approaches to "truth".

Without getting longwinded or too theoretical, I think this distinction--as well as the argument for banning or controlling artistic and poetic creation--still holds. The latest brain fart spewed on some bubblegum star or rapper's CD is not near to Newtonian (or Einsteinian) constants, nor even to a syllogism. Poetry and really literature as a whole are anecdotally true at best and not on the same level as physical or mathematical laws. Literature may have psychological and occasionally historical relevance, yet it is not proof of any psychological theory or concept or the historical record itself. It's qualitative, not quantitative. Most students know far more about Hamlet, an imaginary "construct," than they do about English (or Danish) history of the 16th century, and Shakespeare's abiding presence ( really somewhat sinister) demonstrates how the literary myth overpowers the historical and economic reality of the Tudorian monarchy. Shakespeare's play Hamlet is, however rhetorically marvelous, not the historical record, nor does it contain any necessarily true statements regarding politics, psychology, or the physical world. Entertainment, much lower than classic poetry, is far less concerned with/addressed to any sort of logical or scientific truth.

Though many so-called liberals protest any forms of censorship, there may be decent grounds for the Chinese authorities controlling the spread of discos and pop culture in their country; and though a complete banning of western entertainment in the islamic countries may seem wrong--it is--controlling the spread of the religion of celebrity and instant gratification may not be the worst thing a country can do. Citizens in Morocco or China or Saudi Arabia should be able to read Shelley or Hemingway, listen to Bartok or Ellington or Metheny, I think, but do they need to have their kids listening to gangsta rap and Britanny Spears and death metal or reading Hustler? I think not. But the danger is letting religious zealots be the Ministers of Information, instead of Platos.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

"HOG, n. A bird remarkable for the catholicity of its appetite and serving to illustrate that of ours.

Porcus Episcopalia, vr. San Joaquin

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