Sunday, July 29, 2007

Obama on faith and pluralism

Thursday, July 26, 2007


President Bush sought anew on Tuesday to draw connections between the Iraqi group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the terrorist network responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, and he sharply criticized those who contend that the groups are independent of each other.


“The facts are that Al Qaeda terrorists killed Americans on 9/11, they’re fighting us in Iraq and across the world and they are plotting to kill Americans here at home again,” Mr. Bush told a contingent of military personnel here. “Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of Al Qaeda in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences of such a retreat.”


In his speech, Mr. Bush did not try to debunk the fact — repeated by Mr. Reid — that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist until after the United States invasion in 2003 and has flourished since.
1. President Links Qaeda of Iraq to Qaeda of 9/11

I also just learned of this:
In 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures.
2. Shifts from bin Laden hunt evoke questions

So— it seems that the president is trying to imply that we went to Iraq, not because there were weapons of mass destruction, but to eradicate Al Qaeda (which wasn't there prior to our occupation)... and perhaps, also, to overthrow Saddam and liberate the Iraqi people.

Things like this make me livid. You can't just fuck up as president and pretend that everything's going according to plan and dress it up in the best possible light. You can't just say things and pretend you never said them. You can't look at the facts and then tell a different story. That doesn't help anyone but your administration and your political party. And it shouldn't, ideally, help either one. It's ridiculous that the administration can get away with these things and not be held accountable.

I also visited the White House website a bit ago, and another thing that got on my nerves was the fact that it makes no attempt whatsoever to be impartial. It's like propaganda. According to this website, all of the Bush administration's policies have been a success— he has a commendable environmental record, he's done a great deal to improve health care, he's working hard to reduce the deficit... the list goes on. While I'd expect no less, I really do think this is a shame. The White House's website, even, makes no attempt to maintain a fair and even-handed representation of what's going on... Distortion of this sort is entirely self-serving, it is of no benefit whatsoever to the American public.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Philosophy as such

[Note: This entire post would be struck through (like this) if I didn't want it to remain readable. I now see some flaws, but I still think the overall argument is interesting enough that it should be preserved. So, here it is:]

"The real discovery is the one which enables me to stop doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question."
. . .

Thesis 1: Without language there is no occasion for philosophical thought.

1a. Experience contains no paradoxes and no contradictions. These can only occur between statements and propositions—that is, in words. (The word 'contradiction' does well to emphasize my point: contra dicere would roughly translate as "to say against.") The quality of being "true" or "false," likewise, can only apply to propositions.
"The world is all that is the case."
"The logic of the world is prior to all truth and falsehood."

1b. It is possible to perceive problems in a variety of fields without a recourse to language.2 You may be able to express or describe these problems in terms of language, but the language itself is not necessary in order to recognize and address them. In philosophy's case, however, language is the source of its problems and inquiries, and without language there are none.
"For philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday."
"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."
"People say again and again that philosophy doesn't really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say this don't understand why it has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions."

1c. There's no such thing as a "philosophical problem" simply because there are no solutions to be found. All that is available is a dissolution of the problem through a more thorough understanding of what has gone awry.3

1d. The subject of a great deal of traditional philosophy is where concepts intersect with actuality. Actuality is a posteriori (phenomena); philosophy's treatment of it is a priori (in concepts, statements; descriptions and prescriptions).
"It follows from this separation of form and content that logic tells us nothing about the actual world."4

1e. The philosopher has two tools at his or her disposal: language and logic. The methods and results of logic are self-evident, but what language is conveying often isn't, e.g. "All physical objects are extended," "This sentence is false."
"Logic takes care of itself, all we have to do is to look and see how it does it."

1f. Language is essentially a means of description, prescription, or expression5. Individual words and concepts are components of a language-game aimed at any of these. (With regard to inferences, language is not a means of giving substance to or in some way constituting them, but only describing/expressing them.)
"For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word 'meaning' it can be defined as thus: the meaning of a word is its use in language."

1g. Description presents no possibility of transcendence. (Creating a picture6 of something will not grant a greater insight into how it appears than what can already be seen.)

1h. Language can only describe experience through abstraction. It's not as though nouns are proxies for actual objects simply because the very concept of an "object" is itself an abstraction. The question of whether Theseus's ship will endure after exchanging all of its planks originated under ignorance of this process.

1i. It follows that a great many concepts are not referents to any particular aspect of reality. Some would try to transcend it or exist independently of it, but in doing so there is no possibility for mutual intelligibility or mutual understanding of what is meant beyond the intangible-abstract (as in, e.g., soul, Geist, the eternal, the Good). And while the construction of concepts through various component-abstractions is mutually intelligible (for instance, intuiting a centaur through the union of certain features of a horse and certain features of a human), it carries with it no necessity or non-conceptual "reality".

Thesis 2: "Knowledge" and metaphysics are incompatible.

2a. Metaphysics is absolute non-sense. (See 1g, 1i.)
"The essential thing about metaphysics: it obliterates the distinction between factual and conceptual investigations."
"Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. - Since Everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no use to us."

2b. Epistemically, the only incorrigible knowledge of "reality 7" that we have is of the here-and-now (i.e. immediate sense data, qualia).
"I want now to enlarge the point that the idea of 'foundations of knowledge' is a product of the choice of perceptual metaphors. To recapitulate, we can think of knowledge as a relation to propositions, and thus justification as a relation between the propositions in question and other propositions from which the former may be inferred. Or we may think of both knowledge and justification as privileged relations to the objects those propositions are about. If we think in the first way, we will see no need to end the potentially infinite regress of propositions-brought-forward-in-defense-of-other-propositions." —Rorty

2c. The ontological distinction between subject (-ivity) and object (-ivity) is untenable. The subject is at once an object, and the object is only experienced by means of the subject... the subject is at once itself and a feature of the world. It experiences the world by means of the world itself. (See the quote following 1f.)

2d. The mind-body distinction is purely the product of a language-game. It attempts, I suppose, to distinguish thinking from feeling, and internal states (i.e. subjectivity) from external states (objective reality), but the former is really a distinction between language and experience, and the latter is really between a subject's sense-experience and a mutual consensus (between persons) on sense-experience. Again, in metaphysical terms the mind/body distinction has no foundation—for we have no knowledge of this mutual consensus.

2e. Whatever the findings of the philosophy of mind, they will be of no practical or functional significance. There can be no a priori mutual consensus regarding internal states simply because there is no object or observable process.

Thesis 3: Certainty in the domain of philosophy is only possible insofar as it has no pertinence to the world.

3a. "Objectivity" in the domain of any given topic stands for little more than the possibility for universal agreement. This can only be achieved in a priori terms through prescription, and in a posteriori terms through the (accurate, scientific) description of the world. (The a priori sort can possess apodictic "objectivity", e.g. 1+1=2; the problem of induction prevents this in a posteriori cases.)

3b. Knowledge in practical terms (e.g. that there is gravity) isn't absolute, but it doesn't need to be in order to be of use. Mutual consensus is only beneficial insofar as it suits our practical interests. In this regard, we have no need for universal commensuration.

3c. It follows from philosophy's dependence on language that the only certainty it can proffer lies in matters that either have no pertinence to the world or that describe what is already known.

3d. Logic can inform us that, under certain rules and given certain rule-following components, one proposition will follow from another, but these rules cannot be constituted a priori without losing relevance to the world. Practical inquiries (ethics, social/political philosophy), conversely, can have relevance to the pre-existing ways we perceive and describe, but they are independent of certainty simply because philosophy is incapable of constructing a first principle that has a direct link to the world [as something independent of what is described].

3e. In this sense philosophy cannot say anything constructive. The above points illustrate the impossibility of system-building while maintaining relevance.

3f. Bertrand Russell once said:
"The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it."
While this may be a "traditional" conception of the footholds and aims of philosophical inquiries, it does not inform a philosophy that strives to be anything but impractical and esoteric.

Instead of having faith that our descriptions will transpose the world... instead of viewing "knowledge" as an ultimatum rather than a means to various ends, we should see philosophy for what it really is: the obvious or the dogmatic.

3g. Philosophy without certainty can, however, be productive in at least two areas: heuristics and hermeneutics. Heuristics embodies wisdom in the most conventional sense and hermeneutics represents an effort to deconstruct and interpret.

To this end, it is my hope that Russell's conception of philosophy is replaced by Wittgenstein's:
"Philosophy is not a theory but an activity."

1 All too often works in philosophy are strictly reactionary, and interdependent on other works for their (often unstated) presuppositions. Frequently, too, they're written in such esoteric terms that their significance to the world is limited to the few that can actually understand them. I've made an effort to avoid partaking in either tradition.
What follows is not intended to provide an absolute answer to philosophy as a study, but rather an attempt to frame it in such a way that it is robbed of its incongruities. It is an attempt at stating my current views to the best of my ability, and, in my mind, is free of controversy.

2 I've had some difficulty in finding an appropriate example to illustrate this. Let's suppose you are fixing something, thinking of ways to improve it, or identifying problems inherent in it. While language may assist you (as a heuristic device for instance), it is not necessary for you to carry on.

The idea that I'm trying to get across is that, when doing philosophy, language is not only removed from experience, but from other appropriate sources of reference (as in history, literature, mathematics). At this level the subject of inquiry becomes dubious.

3 This is a harsh way of saying that philosophical problems are completely artificial constructions. There may still be a "problem" so-to-speak, but it has no relevance to the world.

4 I admit that this quotation doesn't quite support my point, but I do feel it serves a purpose. As with all of the quotes, I am not trying to provide any interpretation of Wittgenstein, but rather show certain eloquent statements of his that are tied to my disposition.

5 This point is somewhat clumsy. Language can do a great variety of things, and it is in my opinion that these three encompass them, albeit if somewhat obscurely. The point is not to define three simple categories that neatly envelope all of its functions, but to give a basic idea of those functions.

6 A "picture" may tell you more about your frame of reference, but nothing further about what you are depicting.

7 The concept of "reality" is a troublesome. In practice, it describes a mutually perceived world (see 3a), but the idea that there is such a thing as "valid" and "invalid" experience doesn't make sense. Experiences are as they are, and short of some recourse to a higher being, we cannot say that one experience (experienced subjectively) is faulty while another is true.

Also, my use of the word "knowledge" shifts from meaning something like "absolute knowledge" to "corrigible" knowledge (e.g. experiences, available information, etc.) depending on the context of how it is used.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Dinner with Barack"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

No time for rest, stay the course.

1. Bid to give U.S. troops more rest time fails
A Senate measure to give active-duty service members the same amount of time at home as they have served at war before they're redeployed fell short of approval.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday defeated an amendment offered by two Vietnam combat veterans, Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would have increased the time troops have at home before they return to war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Fifty-six senators -- including seven Republicans -- voted in favor, but the measure fell short of the 60-vote super-majority Republicans had demanded, exploiting Senate rules.

The measure would have required that active-duty service members have the same amount of time at home as they have served at war before they're sent to Iraq or Afghanistan again. Military reserves and National Guard members would have had three years between deployments.


The vote on lengthening ''dwell time'' between deployments, the first on amendments to a fiscal 2008 defense-policy bill, indicated that Democrats are likely to fall short on other bills to change war policy this month, but the gap is narrowing as more Republican senators and more Americans oppose President Bush's Iraq strategy.

A new Gallup poll released Wednesday found that 71 percent of Americans favor withdrawing most U.S. troops by April 2008, and 62 percent say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq. Gallup said that was a new high in opposition to the war.

Democrats are pushing ahead with votes for withdrawal and changing the focus of the mission in Iraq to counterterrorism and training instead of stopping sectarian violence in Baghdad.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This world of ours 6

As Uganda is forced to outlaw plastic bags, a study has found that the world's wealthiest have increased their fortunes by 11.4% in 2006. But time spent earning money puts a strain on one's social life, and many simply don't have the time to keep up with friends on facebook or write in their blog— so they pay others to do it for them.
1. Why Uganda hates the plastic bag
2. World rich 'keep getting richer'
3. Are my online friends for real?

Despite the increasing wealth of the upper class, one man has decided that he no longer wishes to live in America's most expensive home ($165 million). He has stated that he wants a "lifestyle change."
4. 'Most expensive' US home on sale

Perhaps he wants to move to Vanuatu, which the Happy Planet Index has named the world's happiest country. Or if his lifestyle change is opting for more occupational stress, he could always become a librarian.
5. What's so great about living in Vanuatu?
6. Librarians 'suffer most stress'

Meanwhile, America is facing some problems. The dollar has reached a new low against the Euro and is continuing to fall, our health care system is terrible despite being the most expensive (it is ranked 37th, just above Slovenia), and one-third of Americans will abuse alcohol in the course of their lives.
7. Dollar falls to record euro low
8. Health-care costs are sickening
9. One-third of Americans abuse alcohol: survey

Further, the US Army fell well short of its recruiting goals. Hopefully this will improve in the coming decades it will likely take to resolve the insurgency. Don't bash Bush on the issue though, give his troop surge more time.
10. US Army falls short of recruiting goals again: officials
11. US Iraq chief warns of long war
12. Bush urges Congress Iraq support
13. Bush pleads for time to give Iraq plan chance to work

Don't feel alone if you do bash him though; 71% of Americans aren't fans of his administration. It's perfectly understandable—between the war, the egregious environmental and foreign policies, the president's favorable treatment of "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's assertion that he is not a part of the executive branch, and how the administration has consistently misled the American public and favored corporate interest, it does seem curious that almost a third of Americans actually approve of the guy. Maybe Putin will like him...?
14. Bush's popularity hits all time low
15. Bush not ruling out Libby pardon
16. Cheney claims a non-executive privilege
17. More Than Half of Americans Support Kucinich's Call to Impeach Cheney, Poll Shows
18. Bush woos Putin with home visit

Then again, I may just think all of that because the BBC has a liberal bias.
19. Does the BBC have a bias problem?

Wikipedia too. Apparently, after a home-school student turned in a history paper using "BCE" for dates, Andy Schlafly could no longer tolerate Wikipedia and created a more trustworthy alternative: Conservapedia.
20. A conservative's answer to Wikipedia
21. Conservapedia

Oh, how I adore thee, Lewis Black:
Murdoch's move [to buy the Wall Street Journal] is part of a trend by conservatives to turn what they see as left-leaning unfair biased media into right-leaning unfair biased media. When conservatives perceive institutions as liberal, they buy them. If they're not for sale, they make their own. Take Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is edited by you, the reader. Well, apparently conservatives feel that you have a liberal bias. So they've started Conservapedia, where homosexuality is defined not as "sexual attraction between people of the same gender..." as on Wikipedia, but as " immoral sexual lifestyle... going beyond the boundaries that God has set up..." I gotta tell ya, on Conservapedia "Gay" sounds way more interesting. Yep, free-market conservatives who don't like how the free market shook out on the internet aren't going to take it anymore. [...] So YouTube and Wikipedia, maybe the two most genuinely egalitarian media ever conceived, are a part of a vast left-wing conspiracy...


Despite its significant contributions to climate change, the US (California specifically) is leading the way in green technology. And as the world faces water shortage problems, the Sudanese government isn't living up to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement... and we're discovering that men and women are equally talkative.
22. US leads search for climate solutions
23. Water shortage 'a global problem'
24. Sudan misses withdrawal deadline
25. Men 'no less chatty than women'


A lot of news is disheartening...
26. CIA details Cold War skulduggery
27. US senator admits 'serious sin'
28. 'My mother held me down'
29. Vatican text angers Protestants

But then some news is inspirational.
30. Obama leads in campaign funding

It really depends on what you expose yourself to.
31. Western diet risk to Asian women
32. Organic food 'better' for heart

A cloud against the clouds
weaves and pushes its way past,
through the crowds,
and sees squares and stamps
dappling the ground below the glass.

In patches beneath its patch of shade
are fingers crawling, recording, reporting
the events of days
interacting and contorting.
Their only gaze is downward.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"..." 7

"          "

Monday, July 9, 2007

"Prufrock's Pervigilium"

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And seen the smoke which rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirtsleeves, leaning out of windows.
And when the evening woke and stared into its blindness
I heard the children whimpering in corners
Where women took the air, standing in entries
Women, spilling out of corsets, stood in entries
Where the draughty gas-jet flickered
And the oil cloth curled up stairs.

And when the evening fought itself awake
And the world was peeling oranges and reading evening papers
And boys were smoking cigarettes, drifted helplessly together
In the fan of light spread out by the drugstore on the corner
Then I have gone at night through narrow streets,
Where evil houses leaning all together
Pointed a ribald finger at me in the darkness
Whispering all together, chuckled at me in the darkness.

And when the midnight turned and writhed in fever
I tossed the blankets back, to watch the darkness
Crawling among the papers on the table
It leapt to the floor and made a sudden hiss
And darted stealthily across the wall
Flattened itself upon the ceiling overhead
Stretched out its tentacles, prepared to leap

And when the dawn at length had realized itself
And turned with a sense of nausea, to see what it had stirred:
The eyes and feet of men —
I fumbled to the window to experience the world
And to hear my Madness singing, sitting on the kerbstone
(A blind old drunken man who sings and mutters,
With broken boot heels stained in many gutters)
And as he sang the world began to fall apart . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas . . .

I have seen the darkness creep along the wall
I have heard my Madness chatter before day
I have seen the world roll up into a ball
Then suddenly dissolve and fall away.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
     S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate:
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
     So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
     And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
     And should I then presume?
     And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets,
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

             *                *                *                *

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . .  tired . . .  or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet— and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
     Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
     That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
     “That is not it at all,
     That is not what I meant, at all."

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince: withal, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . .  I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves,
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown,
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

"Wittgenstein's speculative aesthetics"

I read this not long ago in Beyond Liberal Education: Essays in honor of Paul H. Hirst. It was, in my view, the best essay of the bunch... but it really had nothing to do with education. (Not until the last paragraph is anything even suggested about it, and then only minimally.)

Seeing that it was so out of place (if I was searching for such an essay it would be the last place I would've expected to find it) and not enough people read this blog for me to worry about any copyright issues, I figured I would post it.

Here it is: