Saturday, May 30, 2015

Causes of World War II

Image result for Admiral Mahan

Again I'm cribbing from something I wrote for Yahoo!Answers.

The question was,  "10 reasons why world war 2 started?"

My answer, composed rather off the cuff, ran as follows:

I'm glad you allow for causative pluralism. I'll get you half way there with five causes:

1. The inherent dynamism of fascistic nationalisms, which need to prove their superiority to other nations in order to secure their domestic support;
2. In Japan (which wasn't really fascistic in the same sense as its European allies) a collective inferiority complex, which left them wanting to prove themselves at least as powerful as the western imperialists operating in east Asia;
3. The widespread theories of Admiral Mahan on the centrality of naval power in history, and the superior position in which island-nations are placed for empire building. This, too, inspired Japan and helped guide other nations too in a disastrous direction;
4. The excesses of the Versailles Treaty that the victorious powers had forced upon Germany in 1919, and the bitterness caused by that excess;
5. The long reign of Hegelian philosophy in German intellectual life, and the central role that philosophy assigned to nation-states, and to warfare as the tribunal of disputes between them.


Going beyond what I wrote there....

I'm not sure whether this is consistent with the various things I've said here about causes-of-war. I put it here precisely so as to keep myself from brushing under the rug any inconsistency that may exist.

And that's Admiral Mahan in the photo at top. He taught that Britain had been dominant for so long largely because it is an island nation, so it doesn't need to divide its navy. France has always had to divide its navy, maintaining a separate Mediterranean and Atlantic fleet (and Britain has controlled Gibraltar). The idea probably helped inspired Theodore Roosevelt to push for a Canal that could unite the two coasts of the US and that would be within US control -- so we wouldn't be France. It certainly encouraged Japanese ideas that it was now their turn to create an Empire analogous to Britain's.

But the Japanese were also perceptive about how Mahan's ideas had become obsolete. For his focus on the need to concentrate the fleet to make decisive use of it (or to hold it as a very public deterrent)  became dangerous as air power became a factor, and the Japanese demonstrated this against an over-concentrated US Pacific fleet in December 1941.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Alzheimer's and Identity

An age seems to take a particular disease as a sort of emblem. One disease serves as greatest fear and most intensely over-used metaphor.

I think of consumption for much of the 19th century, polio for the early part of the 20th, AIDS for later in  the 20th. Now, perhaps ... Alzheimer's.

One point you may have gleaned from my short list is that the emblematic disease ceases to be emblematic when it becomes curable. It can't be a metaphysical bugaboo any longer once it begins the fade into a lesser status as a manageable health concern. Alzheimer's certainly qualifies on this account. 

It also qualifies by virtue of the way it attacks an individual's identity, taking it away piece by piece -- in a century that seems intent on attacking personal identity from all directions even without literal organic assistance.

It attacks our identity because as humans our identity is one with certain sorts of continuity within this stream of consciousness. Knowing your name, the names of your children, the name of the street on which you grew up, the core vocabulary of your native language: these aren't just data that you've happened to pick up. These are the continuities that make you, you. and all of that comes under attack.

This line of thought brings me back to some thoughts of the fellow for whom this blog is named, William James. In his essay on immortality, James observed how the fact that A is a function of B NEVER justifies the conclusion that B is "nothing but" A, or even that one of the two causes the other. He would say, I'm sure, that the fact that physical structures (in the brain or in a computer) store knowledge doesn't justify us in treating knowledge, including knowledge of this self-defining sort, as a physical fact.

He might ask us (in accord with his further examples of non-reductive functional relationships) to consider the light streaming through a window. The window is the medium through which the light reaches me. The cleanliness of the window has a functional relationship with the steam of light that does reach me. As the window becomes dirty, my life becomes dark. That is, indeed, a decent metaphor for the condition of an Alzheimer's patient: someone who relies on the light that gets through a window that can no longer clean itself. But the light does not equal the material fact, the window.

Just following my own stream of consciousness through a familiar stretch of bed there....

Thursday, May 28, 2015

George Stephanopoulos

The notion that George Stephanopoulos is at the center of controversy strikes me as odd.

Isn't he a beloved Sesame Street character?

Image result for snuffleupagus meme

No? I'm confused again?...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Colossians 2:16-17

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

So wrote the forbidding fellow now known as St. Paul.

I only recently discovered that there is some ecclesiological dispute as to what this passage in the letter to the Colossians means. I was surprised by that, though, because the meaning seems to me pretty clear.

That is a text written almost in anticipation of William James and his now-famous stress on the personal and experiential significance of religion over the trappings, the ritual, the rules.

James put it this way: Churches, when once established, live at second-hand upon tradition; but the founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communion with the divine. Not only the superhuman founders, the Christ, the Buddha, Mahomet, but all the originators of Christian sects have been in this case; -- so personal religion should still seem the primordial thing, even to those who continue to esteem it incomplete.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Carly Fiorina: Some Links

Image result for carly fiorina

More about Carly, via nine links.

1. A biography with the basics.

2. A biography of her predecessor at Hewlett Packard, Lew Platt.

3. Platt was later recruited to replace Fiorina at HP as flack from the Compaq deal became intense.

4. But Platt's return didn't happen. Robert Wayman took over.

5. Okay, Wayman was just an "interim" CEO. Then there was this guy.

6. Fiorina has defended her track record at Hewlett Packard. Here's a statement on her campaign's web site. [For the relevant portion of that, scroll down to where you see the words, "Under Carly's leadership, great things happened...."]

7. The WaPo fact checker was unimpressed.

8. One of the WaPo cites is to this Fortune mag piece, "Why Carly's big bet is failing." Now regarded by Fortune's editors as one of their archival "classics."

9. Much of the discussion is about how the rate of new patents grew under Fiorina. There is reason to doubt that's a sensible metric. There are many bankrupt enterprises that went under with impressive patent portfolios.

Friday, May 22, 2015

On the phrase "it is raining."

Image result for rain clipart

In English we  often use the idiom, "it is raining." We don't think much about the use of a pronoun without antecedent here. Nobody ever asks, "what is raining?"

I raised this question recently on a message board and got three answers, dashed off together in an irritated fashion, as if to shoo me away: the sky, or the world, or nature is raining.

Those are three very different answers, and the first of them refers to a mere visual phenomenon, the illusion of a blue dome above an observer's head that we call the "sky".

Try out the phrase "the sky is raining." Does that trip off the tongue?

There are profundities in the neighborhood of this simple seeming idiom.

"It is raining, but what is 'it'?" could serve as a zen koan.

After writing the above, I discovered that I explored the idiom in question in a post on this blog in June 2012. Ah well, repeating oneself at three-year intervals doesn't sound too bad.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Returned from Recent Travels

Perhaps my coming posts will seem more timely than some of my recent posts.

But I solemnly promise to make no serious effort in that direction.

I have never aimed for timeliness.

I remember long ago reading a discussion about the "three kinds of news." Some news is of scheduled events, and much of the story can be written well in advance, even if it has to be subject to some editing and blanks have to be filled in. Sports news is characteristic. The Red Sox will play the Yankees next Tuesday: a journalist in the field knows in advance which pitchers will start, the full line-ups, etc., subject to last minute scratches that can be taken care of by a quick edit. He could write most of that story before the first pitch is thrown.

The most dramatic sort of news story, though, consists of shocks. The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. Airplanes have flown into skyscrapers in southern Manhattan. A train has gone off its rails with serious casualties, of as-yet indeterminate severity and number. If you want to write an exciting story about the news business you write it to focus on events like this and the scramble to get the facts right, or the fall-out if the facts are wrong.

In between the shocks and the scheduled events, though, there lie the trend stories. Something is happening -- it was happening yesterday, it will still be happening tomorrow, and it is in its cumulative effect changing our world. The migration of black Americans out of the southern states, into the northern cities, in the years after the second world war, was a very important demographic event, very little covered in the day, because it was a years-long trend, not a shock and not something happening according to a schedule either. The trend stories are unloved and often neglected, and the world is the poorer for it.

In our own time, the centrifugal forces that operate on the Eurozone are a trend story, as is the (related) multi-national rebellion against central bank independence. For that matter, the early phases of a presidential campaign are trend stories too -- the big scheduled events, those primary election nights, are still far away -- the candidates are about the undramatic business of building their networks and tweaking the public's understanding of who they are. When I write about news here, it is generally in such contexts as that, and the "timeliness" thing is not a concern.

And of course most posts aren't about news at all, in any sense.

So it shall remain.