Thursday, March 27, 2008

A.C. Grayling

""""Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies.

This remark outrages the sensibilities of those who have deep religious convictions and attachments, and they regard it as insulting. But the truth is that everyone takes this attitude about all but one (or a very few) of the gods that have ever been claimed to exist.

No reasonably orthodox Christian believes in Aphrodite or the rest of the Olympian deities, or in Ganesh the Elephant God or the rest of the Hindu pantheon, or in the Japanese emperor, and so endlessly on - and officially (as a matter of Christian orthodoxy) he or she must say that anyone who sincerely believes in such deities is deluded and blasphemously in pursuit of "false gods".

The atheist adds just one more deity to the list of those not believed in; namely, the one remaining on the Christian's or Jew's or Muslim's list."""""""

Dr. Grayling may be a bit too much of the British skeptic for most Americuns, but we here at Contigencies hold him to be a worthy heir to the tradition of Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayers (who supervised Grayling at Oxford)--if not CONDORCET himself. Additionally, he possesses the "logic chops" (somewhat lacking in, say, Doc Dawkins) to take on fundamentalists, be they rightist xtians, or muslims, or marxist zealots. And for those who care, his writing on Kant's skepticism smokes about any American philo-phony you can name (and most of the oxbridge theo-filosophes as well).
Babushka gang infiltrating tennis

McEnroe knows the score on the wicked ways of Babushka, Inc.:

"""US tennis legend John McEnroe expressed his concern on Friday that organised crime, such as the Russian mafia, could be infiltrating tennis.

The former world number one believes that threats to tennis players or their families could be forcing them into throwing matches.

"The thing that worries me is that mafia types, like the Russian mafia, could be involved. That's potentially pretty dark and scary," McEnroe told The Daily Telegraph."""""

McEnroe's probably understating the case; and mafia involvement in pro schports extends quite beyond tennis bimbos or golf (the country clubs of America are themselves now where the modern, multicultural mobsters and their mollies hang). Contingencies will, time permitting, don the muckraker fedora, and begin a new series of posts dealing with the Mob and pro sports.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ah ye olde

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Give War a Chance

Christopher Hitchens reflects on the benefits (and costs) of the IWE:

""""""A much-wanted war criminal was put on public trial. The Kurdish and Shiite majority was rescued from the ever-present threat of a renewed genocide. A huge, hideous military and party apparatus, directed at internal repression and external aggression was (perhaps overhastily) dismantled. The largest wetlands in the region, habitat of the historic Marsh Arabs, have been largely recuperated. Huge fresh oilfields have been found, including in formerly oil free Sunni provinces, and some important initial investment in them made. Elections have been held, and the outline of a federal system has been proposed as the only alternative to a) a sectarian despotism and b) a sectarian partition and fragmentation. Not unimportantly, a battlefield defeat has been inflicted on al-Qaida and its surrogates, who (not without some Baathist collaboration) had hoped to constitute the successor regime in a failed state and an imploded society. Further afield, a perfectly defensible case can be made that the Syrian Baathists would not have evacuated Lebanon, nor would the Qaddafi gang have turned over Libya's (much higher than anticipated) stock of WMD if not for the ripple effect of the removal of the region's keystone dictatorship. """""

At least Hitchens, however jaded, grants that War is hell. That slice of RealPolitik--the machiavellian gambit-- probably offends many sentimental leftists (most of whom never bothered with the finer points of the Robb-Silbermann report). Regardless, the IWE could conceivably result in some good, and the furthering of democracy (and it might be recalled that Hitchens, to his credit, pointed out the BS of the Lancet report a few years ago). The IWE, while hardly a cakewalk, was not a 'Nam.

CH's assertion earlier in the essay that "we were not lied to" also important; that's not to say that we here at Contingencies buy it completely, nor have we ever blessed BushCo, or the GOP (in the words of another great political thinker, Matt Stone of South Park, "I hate conservatives, but I really fucking hate liberals.") Really, we are not attached to the dogma of links oder rechts, and grant that Hitchens could be a lying sack of scheisse wrong, but his fibs are not completely lacking in wit. Compared to the usual prattling, hysteria-case of DailyKOS, Hitchens seems about like Friedrich Nietzsche hisself.

The ugliness of the IWE may hinge on the potential mendaciousness on the part of Bush admin.: alas, that's part of spectator democracy--DNCocrats are every bit as capable of mendaciousness. Apart from some Stockholm-like tribunal putting the entire US Govt on trial (not just the "Bush-Cheney regime," as most dimwitted, narcissistic gangsta-crats assert), however, little else can be done but to count the stacks remaining at the table, and prevent the Obama-gang from enacting their bogus retaliation.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Bertrand Russell once made an interesting distinction between fact and fiction:

" 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)

Lord Russell raises an important point here, however bo-ring that point may seem to most literary hepcats, many lacking a "robust sense of reality". Do aesthetic "truths" hold (say the truth of the play Hamlet) in the way truths of natural sciences or history, or truths arrived at in calculus or formal logic hold? Russell seems to suggest they do not.

The traditional "epistemological" divide splits analytical truth (pertaining to mathematics and formal logic–-i.e., deductive reasoning) from synthetic truth (inductive knowledge based on inference and observation: natural sciences, chemistry, physics, as well as social sciences). Leibniz, one of the founders of integral calc. along with Newton, made this distinction, and Russell was quite aware of Leibnizian thought. Aesthetics, alas, does not fit easily in the Leibnizian schema.

The play Hamlet offers no facts; it is not history, tho' it may contain a few historical allusions (rather difficult to confirm as well). The play Hamlet thus might be interpreted as sort of an eloquent Prevarication (we here at Contingencies are not complete Philistines and would allow the Bard's strange works to be kept in libraries the world over--not sure about other, lesser Lit-Liars, however). Similarly, a few pages of authentic WWI history--say, regarding the sausage-grinders of Verdun or the Somme-- in effect reduces Joyce's Dantean vision of Ulysses to near nothingness (stalinism, fascism, Hiroshima, 'Nam continue that reduction). Hemingway at least attempted to depict the Sausage-grinder (i.e Soldier's Home--) as did Joe Conrad.

A fortiori, the latest fictional potboiler--whether Salinger or space-opera---should not be mistaken for some accurate representation of, for lack of a better term, economic-historical Reality. Literary works--or cinematic works, for that matter--may allude to historical or scientific facts: they are human inventions, however, and not to be mistaken for the ding-an-sich.

In some sense, Russell reaffirms a rather classical and skeptical view of aesthetic claims: in the Republic, Plato (speaking through the Russell-like Socrates) bans the emotionally-driven lyric poet from the ideal State, and insists on Reason as the sole pathway to Wisdom. Plato, it might be noted, did allow for some state musick--like JP Sousa of 400 BC. (He'd probably have allowed Bach, maybe say Scriabin, and have all the rock-pop-country-rap jingleheimers in gulags). Harsh, but at the very least some such moderation policy (in a kinder, gentler cyber-Republic) would prevent the reification of the Hallmark-card.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Righteously Indignant Whackjobs

The NSA tracking system (NSA quite bi-partisan, a fact overlooked by the usual bourgeois Dems.) which caught Spitzer should alarm us as much as politicians hustling some pricey call-girls does: the entire scandal somewhat reminiscent of PK Dick's cop-narc-freak scenarios in "A Scanner Darkly", or maybe Wm Gibson's noirish dystopias. The case, if a case there be, looks a bit like entrapment (as many solicitation busts are--). Additionally, since it was a legal escort service, there's only a crime assuming Spitzer's "assignations" were caught on tape, and call-gal testifies. The Guv. would do well (next R n R session) to remember one good rule (from Erica Jong): pay ho's upfront in cash.

The HuffPo’s like Ephron, Jong, Maher (an obnoxious little punk, but he has some interest in what used to be called Freedom) deserve some credit for not doing the righteous indignation rant du jour. The real issue, then as Ephron sort of hinted at, would concern whether Spitzer misappropriated funds for his phun or did it on state time. It appears he may have. In that case, he’s guilty of some type of bunko case (misprision of funds or something) as well as the solicitation. Spitzer, however, has not been found guilty of any crime, and therefore crimefighters like this person violate Spitzer’s presumption of innocence rights: false accusations (i.e. asserting X's guilt before X has been found guilty by jury of his peers) itself a crime. Spitzers are obnoxious: not quite as obnoxious or scary as the New American Cheka aka the NSA.


Update from WSJ via Greenwald (who we do not approve of most of the time, but he does understand the absurdity of the Spitzer-hunt):

""""It isn't clear why the FBI sought the wiretap warrant. Federal prostitution probes are exceedingly rare, lawyers say, except in cases involving organized-crime leaders or child abuse. Federal wiretaps are seldom used to make these cases; search warrants usually suffice. Wiretap applications generally are reserved for serious crimes, such as drug, weapons and terrorism-related cases. There typically are no more than 1,400 wiretaps in use nationwide at any given time."""

Yes, rather odd, isn't it. We suggest it's a payback of some sort, probably arranged by one of the Wall Street money boys who Spitzer hounded--rightfully hounded--as NY AG.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A fairly well-known xtian assclown scribbler has apparently tired of his usual half-baked readings of parisian marxists, and has picked up the Leviathan (or at least the opening chapters).

"""""In reading early modern philosophy especially, I have grown profoundly sick of being told that the sum of the three angles in a triangle is equal to two right angles. Apparently that's the absolute best example of a mathematically certain truth. I've read it about eight times in the first hundred pages of Hobbes's Leviathan. I don't understand why this is the go-to example......."""""

As anyone who actually finished the first 20 chapters or so of Leviathan realizes, the Leviathan is not a work in analytical philosophy. Indeed one might question whether Hobbes insisted on logical necessity, even in regards to geometry. The section being referred to (e.g. the sum of the angles of any triangle equals 180 degrees/two right triangles) may be found in Ch. IV, and does not concern Euclid: it concerns language, terminology, "the consequences of appellations," and one might say empirical epistemology:

"""""By this imposition of names, some of larger, some of stricter signification, we turn the reckoning of the consequences of things imagined in the mind into a reckoning of the consequences of appellations. For example, a man that hath no use of speech at all, (such as is born and remains perfectly deaf and dumb), if he set before his eyes a triangle, and by it two right angles (such as are the corners of a square figure), he may by meditation compare and find that the three angles of that triangle are equal to those two right angles that stand by it. But if another triangle be shown him different in shape from the former, he cannot know without a new labour whether the three angles of that also be equal to the same. But he that hath the use of words, when he observes that such equality was consequent, not to the length of the sides, nor to any other particular thing in his triangle; but only to this, that the sides were straight, and the angles three, and that that was all, for which he named it a triangle; will boldly conclude universally that such equality of angles is in all triangles whatsoever, and register his invention in these general terms: Every triangle hath its three angles equal to two right angles. And thus the consequence found in one particular comes to be registered and remembered as a universal rule; and discharges our mental reckoning of time and place, and delivers us from all labour of the mind, saving the first; and makes that which was found true here, and now, to be true in all times and places.""""""

Really, one might read this as sort of early constructivism. Hobbes suggests that geometrical knowledge depends on learning terms, as well as perception of the form: the word "triangle" has a precise definition: Every triangle has three angles equal to two right angles. That needn't mean that triangles float in some platonic realm; that's a rule of human thinking which holds for all triangles. One doesn't update the Pythagorean theorem with additional "facts." While not exactly Carnap, Hobbes does hint at positivism.

More importantly, however, is that the example comes from a rather insignificant paragraph in the opening pages of Leviathan. Hobbes, of course, generally occupies himself with political topics (though that politics rests on fairly sound naturalist assumptions). He was not a Gallileo or a Descartes. Writing during the English Civil War, Hobbes wanted to erect a political structure in hopes of preventing revolution and violence: he fears the possibility of "bellum omnium contra omnes", which would be (and often has been) human life without government, a condition Hobbes terms the state of nature. In the state of nature, life tends to be, in Hobbes' famous words, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

That sort of secular thinking does not impress most in the land of blogs. Why bother with a social contract (or Constitution, really), not to say politics based on rational self-interest?: instead, focus on a trivial illustrative example (marginalia, as the snobs say), and then dismiss the entire work. The silly bitch about examples allows one to avoid taking on the raison d'etre of the Leviathan--Hobbes' contracturalism (and his dislike of aristotelian-catholic tradition). The political theory presents far too many difficulties for K-boy, and the naturalist implications (if not a-theistic implications) are rather unnerving; ergo, focus on one minor point, dismiss, and delete any who dissent. That's how PoMo censors operate.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Stop the REAL ID

The features some important articles and research on free speech and censorship issues. Recently they have addressed the REAL ID, a sort of personal mini-data base that will soon be required everywhere in the e-GulagUSA. Courtesy of the great American "liberals" and a few confused GOPers, REAL ID will be reality in the very near future:

"On March 1, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released draft regulations [PDF] for implementing REAL ID, which makes states standardize drivers licenses and create a vast national database linking all of the ID records together. Once in place, uses of the IDs and database will inevitably expand to facilitate a wide range of tracking and surveillance activities. Remember, the Social Security number started innocuously enough, but it has become a prerequisite for a host of government services and been co-opted by private companies to create massive databases of personal information."

If that doesn't bother you, you are probably as narcissistic and hypocritical as these born-again J-Edgars.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Hacker vs Quine

Oxford gent jacks the corpse of WVO Quine:

""""'Early epistemology focused on the different sources of knowledge and on the different kinds of knowledge that we can attain. Despite Quine’s avowals to the contrary, there are radical differences between mathematical knowledge and empirical knowledge, between selfknowledge and knowledge of others, between knowledge of objects and knowledge of scientific theory (e.g. of electricity, magnetism, ionic theory), between the natural and the social sciences, and so forth. It would be a mistake to suppose that one can glibly say, knowledge is knowledge – it merely has different objects. Knowledge that Jack is taller than Jill is categorically unlike knowledge that red is darker than pink. To know the difference between right and wrong is radically unlike knowing the difference between Coxes and Bramleys. To know what I want is epistemologically unlike knowing what you want, and to know what I think about a given question is not akin to knowing what you think. Could naturalized epistemology contribute to the clarification of such conceptual differences? I think not – any more than mathematics naturalized could explain the differences between natural numbers and signed integers, or between rationals and irrationals."""""

Hacker raises some important objections to Quinean naturalism, and seems to suggest that the traditional analytic-synthetic divide might be preserved (in brief mathematics as analytical a priori, and natural sciences as synthetic a posteriori--derived from experience). Why should the discriminating blog-consumer give a flying phuck care? Here's why: Quine was the big intellectual Vati of behaviorism and eliminative materialism, and arguably, he did much in terms of justifying Darwinian accounts of human mental acts, for lack of a better term (WVOQ, like his hatchet-man pal Skinner, dismisses consciousness, and the "idea idea").

Hacker, like most critics of empirical "associationism", correctly notes that Quine's naturalist claim involves all sorts of conceptual leaps: for one, integers, Pi, and integrals, do not grow on trees. So what can the empiricist (or "radical empiricist", as some refer to Quine) say in his defense of a posteriori knowledge from experience? He could at least suggest that mathematical knowledge (whether of numerical quantity, magnitude, geometric relations, functions) began with observation. Knowledge that Jack is taller than Jill may not be the same type of knowledge that red is darker than pink, yet in some sense they both grew out of humans' interactions with the empirical world (which is to say an observable, external world), even if the rationalist insists that such knowledge depends on assumptions of cognitive skills and abilities that were not learned or experienced. (this is not to suggest that Descartes or Kant are necessarily to be preferred to cognitive science or neurology, however).

According to Hacker, the Quinean school simply ignores the entire problem of how perception of the natural world resulted in Pi, for instance. Perhaps the empiricist might agree that establishing Pi as a mathematical fact required great conceptual leaps of the human mind, but that doesn't necessarily imply some a priori knowledge of Pi: it was abstracted from experience, and codified (which the Hackerists would be somewhat correct in terming a rather complex type of thinking unique to humans).

That doesn't mean, however, that we here at Contingencies award our benediction to Gut Herr Doktor Hacker, or to his metaphysics (with strong hints of Cartesian dualism). It does mean that he was correct in so far as he points out the shortcomings of Quine's radical empiricism; his remarks against Quine's "positing" of external realism also should be noted (many in filo-land forget that Quine often tended to code switch between a sort of Humean doubt and praise of Uncle Meat. Quine's mentor Carnap also admired Hume). Rationalists, of course, have their own biases (whether that rationalism is Platonic, monotheistic, Cartesian, or Hackerian), and tend to overlook or ignore history, for one, not to say El Hombre Economico.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Obama Craze

Matt Gonzalez, one of Counterpunch's Marat-like scribes, offers an interesting analysis of Obama's political record. We here at Contingences do not always agree with Counterpunch's rather marxist leanings (though libertarian and greenish articles appear on Comrade Cockburn's site once in a while). Gonzalez, however, at least points out Reverend Obama's inconsistencies and, one is tempted to say, hypocrisy (hip-hopcracy). While many in the online sanitoriums of la gauche consider BO to be a great progressive (one with a powerful message of....Hope and Change), the facts show otherwise.

As Gonzalez points out, BO has hardly been consistent on the Iraqi War Effort. Regardless if one agrees or disagrees with the IWE, Obama's waffling should be noted:

"""""Since taking office in January 2005 he has voted to approve every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward, totaling over $300 billion. He also voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State despite her complicity in the Bush Administration's various false justifications for going to war in Iraq. Why would he vote to make one of the architects of "Operation Iraqi Liberation" the head of US foreign policy? Curiously, he lacked the courage of 13 of his colleagues who voted against her confirmation.

And though he often cites his background as a civil rights lawyer, Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in July 2005, easily the worse attack on civil liberties in the last half-century. It allows for wholesale eavesdropping on American citizens under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts.

And in March 2006, Obama went out of his way to travel to Connecticut to campaign for Senator Joseph Lieberman who faced a tough challenge by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. At a Democratic Party dinner attended by Lamont, Obama called Lieberman "his mentor" and urged those in attendance to vote and give financial contributions to him. This is the same Lieberman who Alexander Cockburn called "Bush's closest Democratic ally on the Iraq War." Why would Obama have done that if he was truly against the war?""""

Barack hanging wit' Lieberman, one of the most reviled figures in the sanitorium.coms? Not-so-kosher. The Kossacks and their ilk have for years featured Lieber-dem in his tutu, or performing various acts for his GOP-Warlord masters (Contingencies is of course a family-oriented site, so we can only link). That BO-JL connection has not really been pointed out on the leftist blogs, now that the O-train has, with the assistance of Chair-Homie Oprah and others, assumed a sort of quasi-revival meeting energy. Unfortunately, Gonzalez and the Counterpunchers do not really devote sufficient time to the irrational aspects of the BO campaign, really (the herd-mind may be the nature of democratic politics, but the Obama phenomena rates higher on the hysteria-meter than any recent demo campaigning).

Gonzalez does address Obama's not-quite-green energy policies:

""""On energy policy, it turns out Obama is a big supporter of corn-based ethanol which is well known for being an energy-intensive crop to grow. It is estimated that seven barrels of oil are required to produce eight barrels of corn ethanol, according to research by the Cato Institute. Ethanol's impact on climate change is nominal and isn't "green" according to Alisa Gravitz, Co-op America executive director. "It simply isn't a major improvement over gasoline when it comes to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions." A 2006 University of Minnesota study by Jason Hill and David Tilman, and an earlier study published in BioScience in 2005, concur. (There's even concern that a reliance on corn-based ethanol would lead to higher food prices.)

So why would Obama be touting this as a solution to our oil dependency? Could it have something to do with the fact that the first presidential primary is located in Iowa, corn capital of the country? In legislative terms this means Obama voted in favor of $8 billion worth of corn subsidies in 2006 alone, when most of that money should have been committed to alternative energy sources such as solar, tidal and wind."""""

Ethanol might appear to be a promising solution to fuel-problems at first, but in terms of logistics (like cornfields, the eth. refineries, etc.) it is hardly any more cost-effective than petroleum is (though, admittedly, the status of ethanol as alternative to oil has not yet been completely resolved).

Gonzalez also calls attention to BO's NAFTA-bashing (HRC does this as well):

Regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, Obama recently boasted, "I don't think NAFTA has been good for Americans, and I never have." Yet, Calvin Woodward reviewed Obama's record on NAFTA in a February 26, 2008 Associated Press article and found that comment to be misleading: "In his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama said the US should pursue more deals such as NAFTA, and argued more broadly that his opponent's call for tariffs would spark a trade war. AP reported then that the Illinois senator had spoken of enormous benefits having accrued to his state from NAFTA, while adding that he also called for more aggressive trade protections for US workers."

Most armchair economists (or politicians, for that matter) are not quite qualified to offer an objective assessment of the effects of NAFTA . As with his positions on the IWE and energy, however, Obama has not been entirely consistent on NAFTA. BO and Hillary generally do not address NAFTA when in Texas or out west, where some have benefitted from it--and it's probably led to more illegal immigration (which dems do little about); when in the land of SUV-factories, NAFTA's enemy #1. The union soldiers assembly workers want to keep those chevy's and ford's and dodges rollin', be sure of that. Though the Counterpunchers are not likely to mention it, naive, pro-union-at-any cost-democrats (and the automotive workers themselves) built the LA traffic hell, and that of other major cities, as much as the execs did.

NAFTA jacks with the entire Dem. program: it's actually a progressive act, at least in principle (removing tariffs and other trade restrictions, for one). Keynes would probably have approved of NAFTA: it's an example of government intervention in the private sector resulting in increasing benes (hopefully) for workers (including workers across borders), as well as the consumer (more choices, lower prices etc.). Some mexican citizens and southwest people approve of it, even "liberals", as do canadians. But that doesn't fly around Motor city, where the automotive army insists on a rather nationalistic, if not mafia-like control of production.

Who pulls Obama's strings? We humbly suggest it's the mobster-execs of Chevrolet, Ford, GM, and Dodge, mostly, with help from the unions who work for 'em.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


"Future, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured." (Ambrose Bierce est vestri Dominus)
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