Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Netwits Unlimited

In constructing the ideal type "the ultimate netwit," never forget this characteristic: You very patiently wade through a 50 post discussion with the netwit, trying not to lose your temper as he continually sidetracks, evades, brings up irrelevancies, and so on. Finally, faced with the same idea you thought you had handled 4 different times before in the conversation, and realizing that you've been neglecting real work for 3 days, you give up.

Inevitably, at that point the netwit writes, "Ah, so you've got no answer for my last point, do you?"

Breaking Soccer News!

Japan, unable to stop onslaught on their goal, is crushed by Paraguay, nothing-to-nothing.

You Thought Cricket Was Confusing?

Try wrapping your mind around backyard cricket.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Atlantic Bookshop Off My Recommended List

I've recommended this as a great book shop -- and it is in terms of offerings. However, the people working the counter are not particularly effusive, but until today I was able to overlook this. But today whoever was working hung up on me in the middle of questions. Twice. Frustrated, I called back but found he was now refusing to answer. I called back periodically during the afternoon, not getting an answer. But then, I began getting messages from this guy -- telling me I should go kill myself, and that he had looked up my address in their records and knew where I lived!

Customer service by the psychopathic! Maybe don't shop there after all.

Rules, Rules, Rules

"What can never be done is to reduce what has had to be learned in order to excel at such a type of [concrete] activity to the application of rules. There will of course at any particular stage in the historical development of such a form of activity be a stock of maxims which are used to characterize what is taken at that stage to be the best practice so far. But knowing how to apply these maxims is itself a capacity which cannot be specified by further rules, and the greatest achievements in each area at each stage always exhibit a freedom to violate the present established maxims, so that achievement proceeds both by rule-keeping and by rule-breaking. And there are never any rules to prescribe when it is the one rather than the other that we must do if we are to pursue excellence." -- Alasdair MacIntyre

Will All My Posts Be Questions from Now On?

We'll see.

CORRECTION: I meant to write, "Will All My Post Titles Be Questions from Now On?"


People were paying $500 for a spot on the line of people waiting to get new iPhones! That's high time preference!

Class Mobility or Lifestyle Mobility?

Steve Horwitz has an interesting post on income mobility, showing that lots of people move up from the lowest quintile of earners over time -- over half during the nine-year period studied.

But I wonder how high a percentage of the people moving up had parents in upper quintiles already? All around me in Brooklyn I see people in their 20s and early 30s, from middle or upper class backgrounds, spending a decade or so bartending, waitering, trying acting or music or writing -- spending all this time in the bottom quintile -- then getting married or giving up on painting and "getting a real job," and rapidly rising into the quintile their parents raised them in. These are all just delayed "adulthoods" (the quotes are because I'm not accepting the idea that giving up poetry and going to work for Goldman necessarily represents "adulthood") and not real income mobility at all, or at least not what I would take to be the crucial aspect of income mobility, which is class mobility. (I.e., the phenomenon I just described has nothing to do with whether or not ghetto or rural poor families are moving up the class scale over time.)

It would be very interesting to find out just who is doing the moving.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Funny Hazlitt Ad

Amazon is touting Hazlitt on Facebook as "lauded by thinkers ranging from Ayn Rand to Ron Paul."

Karl Marx: Lauded by thinkers ranging from Friedrich Engels to Vladimir Lenin.

(And they really could have gotten in a much wider range for Hazlitt -- how about Buckley?)

Well, There Are the Nice Care Bears, Jennie, and Then There Are...

I was reading National Geographic and came across an article on sloth bears. I really enjoyed picturing them as the trailer trash family living next door to the Care Bears. ("And that, Jennie, is Crystal Meth Bear -- never play with him!")

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Most Unique Post Ever!

So, you think I messed up in the title? I'm going to argue that the language police are wrong here, and common usage is perfectly fine.

The common language maven's take on this is that "unique" means "one and only; single; sole," and so simply cannot be qualified by "most" or "extremely."

Nonsense, I say, because, unqualified, "unique" applies to every single thing in the universe -- which is why it is a "single thing in the universe." Let's take one of the least differentiated classes of objects in the world, say, electrons. Still, every single electron is unique in some way -- it's a part of this atom and not that atom, or it's in this orbital and not that one, or, even given two electrons in the same orbital of the same atom, they have different spins. In other words, I could walk down the street and point at every single thing I see and truthfully say, "That's unique! That's unique! That's unique! That's unique!" It would be true, but pointless.

Therefore, when we say, "He's a unique guy," we are already saying, in essence, "He's an especially unique guy." In other words, while every human being is unique, this fellow stands out in that regard. So what is the problem adding on "very" or "extremely" to emphasize something's uniqueness even further? Nothing, I say! Modify away!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rule Six: No Teleology!

Kant famously argued that we simply cannot make sense of life without the notion of teleology -- it is a transcendental a priori category in respect to biology, or, as Oakeshott might call it, a presupposition of the discipline. Now, those recently asserting he was correct here have been ridiculed by, for instance, Ernst Mayr, for ignoring the fact that Darwin did away with the need for all that rubbish. Besides the fact that Mayr seems to be confusing philosophical and scientific argument, there is the remarkable inability of any biologist I have read to stop talking teleologically. I'm re-reading Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale (well worth reading, despite what an annoying dweeb Dawkins can be at times), and find the typical situation: We have 99% teleological talk, leavened with 1% "of course I don't mean it!" For instance, he quotes Darwin, with approval, telling us to "Never use the words higher and lower." But a couple of pages later, he again cites Darwin, this time mentioning that one branch of the Ascidians "retrograd[ed] in development... [while the other rose] to the crown and summit of the animal kingdom..." Then a few pages later Dawkins himself calls something "a highly degenerate bivalve mollusc."

He also claims, at one point, that it is "snobbish" to speak of any animal as "primitive." But he has no problem referring to atheists like himself as "brights," implying, of course, that theists are "stupids." Now, that's not snobbish, unlike the insult you might deliver to a tapeworm by referring to it as primitive.

(Bonus quiz: The post title is a reference to a comedy skit. What one?)

Oakeshott Reviewing Marx

Oakeshott wrote an impressive number of book reviews. (He also wrote and published an impressively short review -- four sentences on The Aims of History!) Reading through a collection of them recently, my favorite line closed his review of Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: "Which of us, at the age of twenty-four could have collected together a heap of rubbish of such dimensions and variety and displayed it with such confidence?"

Thursday, June 17, 2010


is the crucial idea denied by libertarian political theory. We can have obligations that we did not agree to take upon ourselves.

Here is David Walsh on that fact:

"The political is never merely an option, for we are embedded in a network of obligations before we even begin. This was the weak point of all social contract explanations of civil society, with their inevitable implication of the arbitrariness of a state founded on individual choice. Kant reminds us of the extent to which the state provides the conditions for the exercise of free choice and is thus beyond the realm of choice. We are obliged to support the political constitution under whose order we exist, not because we derive benefits from it or because we have given our consent, but because it is part of the order of being." -- The Modern Philosophical Revolution, p. 62.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My AT&T, Tis of Thee

"The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf… [I]it is like being asked to die for the telephone company." -- Alasdair MacIntyre

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cross Pond Banter

Me, to my friend Howie in London: "I'm sending over soap, so the English goalies can wash the grease off of their hands."

Howie, back to me: "At least that was one disastrous spill by a Brit that the Yanks don't mind."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I Blog

This blog is an intellectual diary for me. I use it (mostly) to jot down ideas I have that I might use later. (Sometimes I just blog something that amuses or annoys me, but that happens just because I have the blog for the first purpose, so I can then use it for the other two.) Why a blog, rather than a notebook or private file? Well, it encourages me to write down my thoughts if I think others might read them. And, many times, the comments help me become clearer about what I am thinking.

As such, I welcome two sorts of commentators:

1) Those who can help me advance my own thinking; and
2) Those who don't understand what I'm saying and sincerely want me to explain it better.

Neither category includes people who write things like, "You idiot, you totally ignored the Blenkenschnapp study of 1958 which decisively shows that Bach was not a great musical composer!"

I'm sorry, but you are lecturing me, not engaging in discussion with me. And I regularly attend lectures by people much, much smarter than you. So don't bother.

Now that I've turned on comment moderation, I will be ruthless about culling the netwits from the comment pool. If I've misunderstood you and you really want to discuss something, drop me an e-mail and let me know.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Following the Rules: A Story

From here:

Two Buddhist Monks were on a journey, one was a senior monk, the other a junior monk. During their journey they approached a raging river and on the river bank stood a young lady. She was clearly concerned about how she would get to the other side of the river without drowning.

The junior monk walked straight past her without giving it a thought and he crossed the river. The senior monk picked up the woman and carried her across the river. He placed her down, they parted ways with woman and on they went with the journey.

As the journey went on, the senior monk could see some concern on the junior monk's mind, he asked what was wrong. The junior monk replied, "how could you carry her like that? You know we can't touch women, it's against our way of life". The senior monk answered, "I left the woman at the rivers edge a long way back, why are you still carrying her?"

The moral of that buddhist monk story: The senior monk had broken rules but for good reason. Once the purpose was fulfilled he put her down and continued on. He never gave it a further thought. The junior monk however did not touch the woman but he had brought up the actions of the senior monk when it was an action of the past. Therefore the junior monk was carrying the burden of what the senior monk had done as emotional baggage.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Irony in Mob Action

Via Thoreau.

Hey, You Saying There's Something Wrong with Treating Women Like Beer Kegs?

Graduating class lists fellow students 'I'd like to tap.'

'"The administration doesn't seem to care at all. I think everyone finds it amusing -- and it's completely harmless," said Adam Macomb, an 18-year-old senior...'

How I Spend My Day

One activity -- writing to the school nurse:

Dear Parents,

There have been a couple of cases of lice in the third grade.

Dear Nurse,

The fact that a louse could graduate into the third grade clearly calls for better testing standards for second graders.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bernard Bosanquet on Morality

"And we must have read Plato's Philebus and Aristotle's Ethics to very little purpose if we do not understand that, in principle, the fullest universal of character and consciousness will embody itself in the finest and most specialized and unrepeatable responses to environment; and that life, and especially its intensified forms as morality or knowledge, does not consist in observing general rules, but in reacting adequately, with logical, that is, with fine and creative adjustment to the ever-varying complexities of situations. Precision, measurableness, and universal law, these are in the moral act, but they are features of the solution of problems by constructive organization, and not of obedience to abstract rule, and the same thing is relatively true of the adjustments and arrangements of a highly unified society." (Principle of Individuality and Value, 105-106)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Edmund Burke on Rights

From Burke's Corner:

Tom Butler went on to talk about "the messy ambiguities" of making ethical decisions in society. Ideologies of left and right despise such messy ambiguities - they prefer ideological abstractions. Burke made this point against the Jacobins he confronted:

"The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature, or to the quality of his affairs ... The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes: and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false. The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned."