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Monday, June 28, 2004

Tidbits on Iraq

Just a few thoughts:

(1) Regarding the recently released memos in which Rumsfeld approved certain methods of extracting information but not others (like the use of dripping water): Now granted, I don't really know how the military works from the inside, but it doesn't exactly reassure me that the higher-ups weren't giving a nod and a wink to torturing prisoners. It seems a bit naive to point to these memos as proof of Rumsfeld's softness. By the same token, we could point to Bush's oath to uphold the Constitution to "prove" that he is against increased gov't spending. In any event: Would YOU want to be locked in a room with Don Rumsfeld if your name were Oman and he thought you knew about a pipe bomb on a Greyhound bus?

(2) What's the deal with the early transfer of sovereignty (let's forget that it's not really a transfer of sovereignty with thousands of US troops still there)? I wonder if it thwarted terrorists who were planning a big deal for June 30?

Campaign Nonsense

John Kerry recently said, "Anyone who works hard should be able to pay their bills."

Tremendously idiotic, not the Bush wouldn't say something equally dumb. First of all, "working hard" has nothing to do with the wage one receives on the market, nor should it. People pay for value, not for "hard work." Secondly, Kerry ignores a person's control over the amount of their bills. He implies that a person who works hard at sweeping floors should be able to pay for all of the Dom Perignon and luxury cruises he desires.

Sigh.

Friday, June 25, 2004

More Silly Warning Labels

As a follow up to a previous post, I report on another silly warning label: My wife was recently prescribed sleeping pills. (Hey, if you lived with me, you'd have trouble sleeping too.) On the package, I discovered this revelation:
"WARNING: May cause drowsiness."

This stuff may cause drowsiness?! Isn't that the whole point of it? It would be more sensible to find a warning saying they may not cause drowsiness, wouldn't it?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Roderick Right?

Roderick Long has responded to my recent posts that responded to his recent posts. (Look, he's already linked to all of these in the post I link to above, so there's no way I'm going to link to all of them again, as I am a lazy m-f.)

Regarding the "neutrality principle" in aesthetic criticism, I suggested in my previous post that perhaps our views were really not that different. After reading Roderick's response, I believe that indeed, they are not. He writes:


Which brings us to the third explanation, namely, that “Things such as ‘insight into human nature’ are important to works of art only in that they contribute to its overall aesthetic impact, rather than being important in and of themselves.” As Gene notes, this explanation, unlike the others, is “not entirely at odds with Roderick’s explanation.” Indeed. For it just is my explanation.

As I wrote in my original post, while “insight into human nature is not in itself any sort of artistic achievement,” it may “acquire artistic relevance, and so become subject to critical appraisal, by receiving appropriate artistic expression,” since “there is no such thing as the expression apart from what is expressed.” Gene’s third explanation is not a way of defending the neutrality principle, it is a rejection of that principle.


The remaining bone of contention seems to be whether the neutrality principle is really violated when a critic takes into consideration something like an artist's "insight into human nature" in so far as it contributes to the aesthetic effect of his work. Perhaps I am simply not familiar enough with the typical formulations of the principle, but, in my view, it does not, because the critic is not taking into account such insights for their own sake -- he only regards them for their aesthetic impact. Therefore, the issue is not whether the artist has keen insights or good moral values per se, but, rather, how did those elements contribute to the aesthetics of his work. To put it another way, although it may be unlikely that an especially dull-witted take on human nature or awful moral values could be used to great aesthetic effect, if they were, then the critic, in his role as an art critic, would not be justified in lambasting the work merely because it seemed to endorse, say, necrophilia. (Of course, like any other member of society, he might knock it for weakening the social fabric or something of the sort, but then he is not acting as an art critic.)





Monday, June 21, 2004

Roderick Wrong

Well, I've caught out Roderick Long, one of my favorite philosophers, erring again, here, where he examines immortal lines:

Salaga-doola
mechicka-boola
bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
Put ’em together
and what have you got?
bibbidi-bobbidi-boo

He contends that the only magical phrase in the bunch that can have meaning is "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo," since the "salaga-doola" + "mechicka-boola" + "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" = "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo."

He has ignored the possibility that "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" has infinite semantic value, so that, just as 4 + 5 + infinity = infinity, adding two other meaningful phrases to "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" still yields "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo."

There, I've run rings round him logically.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

We have a gift-giving tradition in our family: Instead of buying presents for each other on holidays, we give each other a guilt-free pass NOT to buy gifts. This may seem cold but my friends and family members who have adopted this method are grateful they have one less financial worry at Christmas. It's not that we don't ever buy each other gifts, we certainly do; we just don't do it when we're supposed to.

Unless Father's Day is around the corner and Dad actually needs underwear. This year Dad tells me he needs new boxers and wouldn't mind a Father's Day gift for a change. Dutifully, I wandered around town last week looking for a couple of bags of Fruit of the Loom boxers, medium sized and in dark colors. I was Fruitless in my quest. I could find boxer-briefs. I could find knit boxers. I could even find tighty-whities (except in white) but I could not find what my Dad wanted. Not even in Hanes or other brands. A quick look on the Internet was equally irritating. Search engines returned way more hits on "boxer briefs" than boxers. I couldn't just give up either. Can someone explain to me this dearth of underwear choices on Miami Beach? Do gay men only like jock straps or something?

I finally found the right pair at the Mom and Pop Hispanic clothing store I didn't think carried underwear. The old guy tells me that the young men are starting to buy boxers again. The lady says that my English is almost as good as my Spanish and wanted to know how long I'd been in the country. I was tempted to say that I hadn't realized I was in another country until I discovered the scarcity of boxer shorts but I let her show me some nice "imported from the USA" guayaberas instead. What a weird wonderful world.

Happy Father's Day to all the Daddies out there.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Cuddle Muddle

Radley Balko notes the new phenomenon of cuddle parties. I happen to have a friend who was just at one. There was actually a "cuddle referee" roaming around, making sure none of the "cuddle rules" were violated.

Part of the price of living in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Lawyer, Heal Thyself

It seems that at the Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association, a surgeon, of the name Hawk (I kid you not) proposed that the AMA endorse a plan that would allow doctors to deny care to attorneys involved in malpractice litigation. Of course, he was practically booed off the stage and impassioned pleas ensued from those attending the meeting not to abandon care for everyone.

I can't believe I am saying this, but it sounds like Hawk is just endorsing good old fashioned shunning to discourage bad behavior. I kind of like it.

(P.S., I am the child of an attorney, so no need to defend the legal profession to me.)

Heroism, the PBS Way

My kids were watching the Berenstein Bears this morning. Grand-daughter was coming to realize that Grandma was an "everyday hero." What had she done? Among other things, convinced the mayor to prevent factories from being built over "the town's" lake, and prompted the town to hire more crossing guards and lifeguards.

What are the odds against PBS ever depicting someone fighting for gun rights or against the seizure of private property as heroic?

Why Writers Drink

From LOST IN THE COSMOS by Walker Percy

Why Writers Drink

He is marooned in his cortex. Therefore it is his cortex he must assault. Worse, actually. He, his self, is marooned in his left cortex, locus of consciousness according to Eccles. Yet his work, if he is any good, comes from listening to his right brain, locus of the unconscious knowledge of the fit and form of things. So, unlike the artist who can fool and cajole his right brain and get it going by messing in paints and clay and stone, the natural playground of the dreaming child self, there sits the poor writer, rigid as a stick, pencil poised, with no choice but to wait in fear and trembling until the spark jumps the commissure. Hence, his notorious penchant for superstition* and small obsessive and compulsive acts such as lining up paper exactly foursquare with desk. Then, failing in these frantic invocations and after the right brain falls as silent as the sphinx--what else can it do?--nothing remains, if the right won't talk, but to assault the left with alcohol, which of course is a depressant and which does of course knock out that grim angel guarding the gate of Paradise and let the poor half-brained writer in and a good deal else besides. But by now the writer is drunk, his presiding left-brained craftsman-consciousness laid out flat, trampled by the rampant imagery from the right and a horde of reptilian demons from below.


*Graham Greene, albeit a Christian, was observed by Evelyn Waugh to perform a curious rite before he could get to work. He went out to the street and watched the stream of traffic. When asked what he was doing, he replied that he was waiting for a particular combination of numbers to turn up on a license plate--777. When it did, he went cheerfully to his writing desk.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

So Crowded, No One Goes There Anymore

Someone wrote a letter to the NY Times today claiming that, if Venice, Italy, does not act to legally limit the number of tourists who visit per day, it will become "unattractive to tourists."

Polarized Parties?

In "The Week in Review" section of today's (6/13/04) NY Times, John Tierney contends that while Americans broadly agree with each other on political issues, the two main parties have become increasingly polarized, giving voice to more fringe views.

The reality is quite the opposite: the Democrats and Republicans may sometimes spout partisan rhetoric, but when it comes to governing, it hardly matters which party is in power. The range of opinion among citizens in far wider than the two-party system gives expression to.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Planner-in-Chief

While attending a Catholic mass recently, I heard the priest, during the part where various supplications are made, say something like, "Lord, we beseech thee, grant to the leaders of our government the wisdom to implement economic policies that will create jobs for all those who are currently suffering unemployment."

I was quite struck by this image of God as the macroeconomic planner-in-chief. I expected to hear the priest follow up with something like, "And Lord, may you give state officials the ability to achieve just the right level of M2 growth, and lead them not into the temptation to run deficits during a boom, but deliver them from the evil of a liquidity trap."

Well, I suppose we all have our Keynesian cross to bear.

Young Yanked

Michael Young contends that "Ron Ran" from Lebanon, when Reagan pulled US troops from the country in 1983, doing vast harm to US interests and Lebanon itself.

Certainly, Young is right -- in fact, the US should invade all other countries, since, who knows, something might go wrong in one of them without US troops present there. "Running" is actually a red herring Young is throwing us, since Lebanon presumambly was not in all that different a situation than it would have been if US troops had never gone in, so that not invading in the first place would have been just as bad as running.

Of course, Young has no way of knowing that things might not have gone far worse if US troops had remained in Lebanon. Perhaps it would have led to World War III.

Fortunately, ignorant columnists can't do as much harm as ignorant presidents.

Reputation

We say of some people that there reputation proceeds them. Of others we might say that there reputation pursues them.

(My my son, Eamon, gave me the basic idea for this.)

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The "War on Terror"

New data shows that, predictably, it is making life more dangerous for, among others, my children.

Clinton & Bush

I was no fan of Bill Clinton. But even though he would try to get around the rules, he knew that they did apply to him.

George Bush, on the other hand, doesn't even think the rules apply to him. And that is the only sort of person who accomplish really enormous evil.

I'd take Clinton back in a heartbeat.

Shrek 2

Well, I saw Shrek 2. Now, I am a big fan of the first Shrek. But as for two -- let's just say that every work of art has a central theme, and the theme of this one was, "We made a whole heap of money on Shrek, so we'd better make some more while we can."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Criticles

Critics pay lip service to the Neutrality Rule because it gives them authority. Without it, it wouldn't matter if you didn't know about art, just that you like it. With it, they keep their jobs as experts because you are made dependent on them for the official verdict. They break the rule for a similar reason: Superfluous stuff helps pad their word count.

Burgers

I was walking along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn the other day. I perused a newstand, where I saw the tabloid headlines were about the rape case of Mr. Bryant of the LA Lakers. Two doors down a pub advertised its lunch specials on a sandwich board. The featured item was a "Kobe Burger."

Now, I'm sure they meant the Japanese beef, but given the juxtaposition, I couldn't help but think the burger was named after Bryant. Possible slogans include:

"The burger you just can't say 'no' to!"

"The Kobe burger: You say you don't want one, but you'll have it anyway."

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Big Green Moths

Arriving at our vacation home in Vermont, we found a big green moth with its wing stuck in the door. When we freed it, we saw that half of the wing had been torn off, leaving the fellow unable to fly.

My oldest son asked if we could try to help it. I told him that I didn't know much about how to care for big green moths, but that we would do our best. Thinking "moths -- nectar," we poured some honey on a plate and placed the moth near it.

A day later, we found the moth in the midst of the honey. My son said, "He must like it."

"Well," I said, "either that, or he's simply gotten stuck in it."

It seems to me that we should pay attention to that distinction in our own lives, as well: If we find ourselves in the same place again and again, is it because we are drawing nourishment from it, or simply that we have gotten stuck there?

Monday, June 07, 2004

Standards of Criticism

My friend Roderick Long has posted an interesting item on aesthetic criticism. His thrust is that critics generally say that a work of art should only be criticized on purely aesthetic grounds, but in actually doing reviews, they bring in other criteria, such as the artist's insight into human life.

Why do critics pay lip service to this "Neutrality Rule," but violate it in practice? Roderick speculates that the reason is that critics, realizing that something like "insight into life" by itself cannot make for aesthetic value, then mistakenly conclude that it plays no part in determining aesthetic value, because they naively view the aesthetic value of an entire work as being a merely additive function of the value of the various elements that went into it.

However, I see three other possible explanations:

1) Critics are correct in believing that an aesthetic judgment of a work of art proceeds on purely aesthetic grounds, but rarely live up to such a principle in practice. Similarly, one might hold, along with Collingwood, Mises, Oakeshott, and others, that the ideal character of history excludes historians' political views, while acknowledging that actual historians rarely if ever achieve that ideal.

2) What appears to be "insight into human nature" in a work of art is an artistic illusion, much as the "depth" in a Renaissance painting is illusory.

3) Things such as "insight into human nature" are important to works of art only in that they contribute to its overall aesthetic impact, rather than being important in and of themselves.

I believe the "Neutrality Rule" is sound, and that a combination of the three reasons I list above explains why it is often apparently or actually violated. Of course, the third reason I list is not entirely at odds with Roderick's explanation.


Alternate Blog

My alternate blog.

Caution: Contents of This Blog May Be Hot!

While waiting for my friend Sandy at a bagel shop, I bought some tea that came in a plastic container and sat down to drink it. As I did so, I read the lable. A note at the top said, "Container is not microwave safe." Another, at the bottom, said, "Caution: Contents may be hot!"

Well, sure, I guess they could be hot. For instance, if you found the container on the sunny side of the surface of Mercury, they almost certainly would be hot. But really, does every product now need to warn of all possible hazards associated with it?

"Caution: This chair may be coated with flesh-eating bacteria."

"Caution: This newspaper may be sprinkled with powdered Anthrax."

Old Man Standing by the Side of the Road

At 5:00 AM, I watched an old man standing on the sidewalk, across the street from my apartment, smoking a cigarette. His dog sat nearby, waiting to resume their walk. The streets were otherwise deserted.

The man gazed down Hicks St. toward the distant Verrazano Bridge. At that moment, Brooklyn was his.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

The Nature of the Self

Dreams again: I awoke one morning from troubling dreams to find myself transformed in my bed into a... No, wait, that was another night. The one I'm thinking of now, I was having dreams where I had no idea who I was. I awoke having to urinate, and staggered off to the bathroom. Once I was in the act, my identity crisis swiftly resolved.

At that moment, I realized a deep philosophical truth: I pee, therefore I'm me.

Al Gore: Humanized?

Jesse Walker recently claimed that the fact Al Gore is no longer running for president has allowed him to morph into a human being.

Well, I saw Gore last night and I have to say Jesse is right -- he was warm, relaxed, and funny.

Of course, it was only in a dream. But my mother was there as well, and she agreed with me. So unless you're going to call my mother a liar, you'd better as well.