Monday, August 28, 2006

Literary pseudo-objects

"Similarly, to maintain that Hamlet, for example, exists in his own world, namely, in the world of Shakespeare's imagination, just as truly as (say) Napoleon existed in the ordinary world, is to say something deliberately confusing, or else confused to a degree which is scarcely credible. There is only one world, the 'real' world: Shakespeare's imagination is part of it, and the thoughts that he had in writing Hamlet are real. So are the thoughts that we have in reading the play. But it is of the very essence of fiction that only the thoughts, feelings, etc., in Shakespeare and his readers are real, and that there is not, in addition to them, an objective Hamlet. When you have taken account of all the feelings roused by Napoleon in writers and readers of history, you have not touched the actual man; but in the case of Hamlet you have come to the end of him. If no one thought about Hamlet, there would be nothing left of him; if no one had thought about Napoleon, he would have soon seen to it that some one did. The sense of reality is vital in logic, and whoever juggles with it by pretending that Hamlet has another kind of reality is doing a disservice to thought. A robust sense of reality is very necessary in framing a correct analysis of propositions about unicorns, golden mountains, round squares, and other pseudo-objects"

(from Russell, Bertrand. Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. London: Allen and Unwin, 1919)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Room with 50 umbrellas

Erik Satie was beat before beat was born. A pianist as well as humorist–at his death friends rushed in his apartment and found a stash of dozens of unused umbrellas, along with velvet suits and unknown compositions and writings—Satie was a crony of Debussy as well as the young Stravinsky and most of the other parisian freaks who partied in the cafes and brothels of Montparnasse prior to the Great War: legend has it that Satie’s protege Claude Debussy died a few minutes after hearing some of the prussian shells landing in Pa-ree. Most know some of the story: the lost generation, James Joyce trying to get his massive Aquinas-meets-Dante-in-a-Dublin ho-house Ulysses published, Einstein informing the world about the dilation of time, Freud barking about desire, Andre Breton, at least after WWI, asking real surrealists to run into the street and shoot people at random.

The world was definitely coming to an end in 1914, if not a few years before. VI Lenin, at least in early 1900s, lurked in bistro corners of Montparnasse and Montmartre, looking disapprovingly at the absinthe swilling libertines, the chess players, the artists, the hucksters. There was a lot of fluff. But the best music of Satie and of his friends Debussy and Ravel (Ravel orchestrated Satie’s 3 Gymnopedies early on) remains, and was an important influence on many 20th century composers and artists–including minimalists, jazz players and Frank Zappa.


The music of Satie is deceptively simple. Most of his pieces begin with a fairly uncomplicated theme–”without sauerkraut” he would say; i.e. free of the Germanic and Wagnerian bombast–and one might think it might be a Chopin sort of piffle, but the harmonies are then subtlely altered, inverted, 9ths and 11ths appear on top of the major and minor chords, and there are strange modulations (tho not so strange now after modern jazz): from D maj. to D dorian. Most Satie music sounds vaguely chant-like, but I suggest Satie, like Debussy is profoundly secular and agnostic and not at all some lapsed-catholic like many composers (or worse, lasped Lutherans), though there are hints of the mystical or exotic in many Satie compositions: odd modes, some from ancient Greek or oriental music appear, 5ths are flattened, one is no longer in a Paris cafe, but on some windy mongolian plain….or in an ancient pagan temple. Generally he works back towards the head, almost jazzman like , but not after going through many strange, unexpected twists

Friday, August 18, 2006

Are there rational grounds for religious belief?

"If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? …Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”
-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814

There's no point in arguing with a person who assumes a religious perspective may be justified merely by dogma–the tradition of Scripture and religious institutions; yet the religious person who does hold that his dogma and religious concepts can be justified rationally (as the Jesuits used to assert) runs up against the Theology 101 "Top 10 of Skepticism" very quickly: the problem of evil, immateriality, status of other faiths, fallibility of Scripture, evolution, etc. as well as the basic epistemological issue of why anyone should accept any religion as a true account of reality, rather than say a common-sense physico-logico account. That may not be very subtle, or appealing to those who work for Christendom Inc., but theists continually assume that those issues have been settled in their favor, when of course they haven’t been.

Kant himself rejected all the classical arguments for a Deity (including the Design argument, which has sort of made a comeback as Intelligent Design Theory--), 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) than 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 religions 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.

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 damage 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.

* * *

Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s Brother Karamazov doesn’t believe in God. Ivan (who I think we can imagine has read some Voltaire [as had Jefferson] and other French or English skeptics and scientists) claims, if such a “God” existed, he allows wars, Napoleons, plagues, all sorts of injustices anyways: so He kills the innocent, while commanding us not to do it. And by definition God would both have commanded the deaths of innocents and known about it. Ivan thus rejects “God” (Nietzsche also enjoyed reading some FD) , but I don’t think he is saying everything is permissable, merely that theological concepts of justice are absurd. (Of course some nut like Kierkegaard chooses to believe anyways, as do most fundies and catholics: tsunami wipes 300,000 people off the earth and yet the fundies goes to Church and says it was a sign of Gott).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mac Haters of the World, Unite!

My name is P******* and I am a Windows XP user. And I use, and appreciate to some extent, IE, and lots of other Microsoft products, including MS-SQL, and Windows 2000 Server with the Active Directory, which, after tweaking a bit, works fine. Yes, XP has fluff, unneeded services, service packs, security issues ( at least until Saint Spybot showed up–send the dude a check) and, well, minor problems, at least for the newbies who aren’t aware of a few tricks to get XP–even Home– purring.

And, yes, count me as one who detests Macs. Not only the old drag and drop, and go-out-for-a -burger- while-the- file-downloads Apples and Macs, with screens about the size of a wallet, and a little blinking cursor moving like worm across the page, but the supposedly new, fast OS/X or Tiger OS, or Cobra OS/XII or whatever lame Silicon Wally brand name has been given to the latest Mac sled.

The Mac sled does appeal to some degree: it certainly costs a lot more than some PC with the generic Windows XP, so it must be fast and high-end, right. Cool kids with Ipods who drink frappiccinos in like Palo Alto use Macs. One would thus think the new Macs rock. But that isn’t the case.

They are big, and they are slow (at least the ones that cost like $2500.00 are slow–at 4 grand I wager its up to like my $600.00 PC Athlon speed). The browser, if you can locate it (somewhere near “Dock” I think) is, horrors, Netscape or Godzilla or something unfamiliar (the ‘zilla things generally come up as viruses in my spy -ware detection app.) Where the heck is IE? Who knows. Maybe the slowness is due to all the perfidious “graphics” apps and so forth: and that is part of the problem. Mac management seems to think anyone using a box is like some online Picasso working on his newest Mahster-piece: No. We are at work, or in offices, not in ateliers, Mr. Jobs.

And Mac people (some of them are tolerable, but thankfully are mostly centered around Mt. View and downtown SF) are not so easy to deal with. First they hate a Windoze people–even those few who might read Kerouac, listen to the Grateful Dead, and never vote GOP–even more than the corp. Windows bottom-line guys hate them. They are mostly, as they say in El Lay, “creatives.” Generally creatives are not doing much with networking, or protocols, or data-bases, UNIX or DOS, or security or code of any sort (I always thought Maccies were all javaheads, but later find out that they hate java too, for some unknown reason): they are working with Photoshop or maybe javascript or some open source freak code They are animating things: maybe putting together a groovalicious South Park-like episode or video for the office reggae band.

Mac creatives are not hacking or cracking like decent LA sharkie types might (yes Windows is probably the preferred choice for southside scum); instead they sort of work for much nobler ideals: implementing a type of Mt. View-o-polis where everyone works as graphix or web designers in small, soon-to-fail corps (upstarts, as they say) and plays in some rock band in penisula cafes at night while hot bi-sexual divorcees gaze at them in the cool evening--On second thought, that doesn't sound so bad, if one could afford a house anywhere within 20 miles of Stanford.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Steely Dan -

Black Friday

black friday on youtube: way tight groove. herr. on 6 string

---catch the great men as they fall from the 14th flo'--


Friday, August 04, 2006

Exxon, IG Farben, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

To whom are you giving your shekels when you fill your tank at an Exxon or Chevron station ? (both built from the ashes of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly). Most American consumers who fill their tanks at an Exxon station are probably not aware that they are, at least by proxy, handing their money over to a company which at one time had close ties to IG Farben, the german chemical corporation which provided Zyklon B, among other chemical wonders, to the nazis.

”During the 1930s when Walter C. Teagle was head of Standard Oil, the company forged close ties with I.G. Farben, a firm that supported the Nazis and used concentration camp labour. Charles Higham (a former New York Times writer and biographer) writes in his book Trading With the Enemy: ‘From the 1920s on Teagle showed a marked admiration for Germany’s enterprise in overcoming the destructive terms of the Versaille Treaty. His lumbering stride, booming tones, and clouds of cigar smoke became widely and affectionately known in the circles that helped support the rising Nazi Party’ [7]. Exxon Mobil’s website prefers to describe how ‘Each company [Jersey Standard and Socony-Vacuum] beefed up refining output to supply the Allied war effort [8].’”

Exxon/IG Farben

* * *

Thomas Pynchon, international man of literary mystery, included a great deal of material about IG Farben in his massive “postmodernist” novel Gravity’s Rainbow. GR’s not an easy read–I have been attempting to master Gravity’s Rainbow for a few years, following the enjoyment of reading Crying of Lot 49 (a sort of decent introduction to Pynchon and groundwork for GR) and his “California dystopia” novel Vineland–but there are quite a few accurate historical references in GR demonstrating the connection of many American businesses to the nazis. Indeed not only was Standard connected to IG Farben , but George W. Bush’s granddaddy, Preston Bush, had some ties to IG Farben as well.

”The big scandal around IG Farben this week is the unlucky subsidiary Spottbilligfilm AG, whose entire management are about to be purged for sending to OKW weapons procurement a design proposal for a new airborne ray which could turn whole populations, inside a ten-kilometer radius, stone blind. An IG review board caught the scheme in time. Poor Spottbilligfilm. It had slipped their collective mind what such a weapon would do to the dye market after the next war.” 163

Maybe when Tom makes another voice-over appearance on the Simpsons (as he did in what 2003 and 2005) he will like offer some explanations of the knottier sections of GR and the IG Farben scandals.

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