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Showing posts from May, 2015

Turner and Ruskin

I recently watched the movie Mr. Turner, a biopic of the life of J.M.W. Turner, the great landscape/seascape painter.

I had heard good things about the movie, but somehow I had gotten the impression that John Ruskin had a larger role in it than, it turns out, he had.

I tend to think of Ruskin (whose image you see here) as the Clement Greenberg to Turner's Jackson Pollock. As regular readers of this blog will remember, I have commented on their relationship here of late. Pollock's painting, combined with Greenberg's interpretation, created the New York centered modernism of the late 1940s. Likewise, Turner's painting, combined with Ruskin's interpretation, recreated the too-familiar genre of landscape painting, in the process giving British art in the 1830s and early '40s a sound push in the direction of the somewhat later pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I still may amuse myself with that analogy, but it receives precious little support from this movie. Ruskin does…

Causes of World War II

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 victorio…

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 name…

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 perso…

Carly Fiorina: Some Links

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

On the phrase "it is raining."

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 ca

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 indetermina…

Free Will and Indeterminism

A fairly lengthy quote here from Robert Kane, a distinguished philosopher in the incompatibilist/voluntarist camp, and in the photo you see.

 "[I]ndeterminism does not have to be involved in all acts done 'of our own free wills' for which we are ultimately responsible, as argued earlier. Not all such acts have to be undetermined, but only those by which we made ourselves into the kinds of persons we are, namely 'self-forming actions' or SFAs. Now I believe these undetermined self-forming actions or SFAs occur at those difficult times of life when we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become. Perhaps we are torn between doing the moral thing or acting from ambition, or between powerful present desires and long term goals, or we are faced with a difficult tasks for which we have aversions. In all such cases, we are faced with competing motivations and have to make an effort to overcome temptation to do something else we also strongly want. Th…

The Expendables III

I shook my head after one scene, and then after another, asking "what the heck just happened?"

I admit that I have never seen the two earlier movies in the series. But it doesn't seem that this was the problem. This is a standard action-adventure flick that presumably was meant to be viewed on its own. Heck, I saw only the most recent of the "Fast and Furious" movies, and had no trouble following it at all.

Maybe, as to Expendables III, somebody was too busy getting all the big name stars to sign up to concern him/herself with matters such as plot or screenwriting,

Just a thought.

Did this mess make money?

Thoughts on Induction

Continuing the thoughts on induction I began last week, re: David Stove. If we know that there are 100 swans in the world, and we have seen each swan, recording each as white, then the conclusion "all swans are white" is a matter no longer of induction but of deduction. I'm not sure how it would go formally, but I'm pretty sure you get to that conclusion from those premises. [Even there, one might wonder -- is the first swan that I checked still white? Maybe they can go black as they molt, or something? But let's ignore the impact of the passage of time on swans.] I've seen all swans, all the swans I've seen are white, therefore all swans are white. That's a deduction, so nobody likely objects to calling it a proof. 

If so, then let's relax the assumption of completeness: the gradual addition of swans to my data base, the movement from 20 to 30, swans, thus from 20% to 30% of the universe, remains induction, remains something less than proof, BUT i…

Carly Fiorina Enters the Race

If all has gone well of late, I;m on vacation as you read this. I'm posting stuff prepared well in advance, so take that into consideration if the references seem dated. 

Fiorina has run for public office exactly once. She ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 and lost, to incumbent Barbara Boxer. Now she is running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

She is most vividly known (by the portion of the non-California public to whom she isn't just "Carly who?") as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, whose one signature initiative was the company's merger with Compaq.  She was fired for that, because her board thought the initiative a bungle. Yet she will argue that she was in the right, that the combined company is nowadays stronger than either or both of them would have been without her. Presumably if her campaign catches any wind under its wings at all, she'll have plenty of opportunities to make that case.

But what strikes me about Carl…

Sanjay Gupta

And a "God bless you" to Sanjay Gupta this Sunday.

He went to Nepal as a journalist after the earthquake there, and ended up pitching in as a doctor.

He seems to be taking some flak for this, but it seems to me he would have been more deserving of flak if he hadn't.

David Stove

An enjoyable takedown of Stove, which acknowledges his strengths. Yes, it's 11 years old. I've just come across it.

It appears that the author planned to make this a part one, but I haven't found any follow-through. Still, he states his essential point.

All that said, Stove did state a view of the problem of induction that I find of interest. Suppose the size of the universe of swans is known. There are exactly 100 swans in the world. I haven't seen all of them, and I wonder about the truth of the statement "all swans are white."

Stove's point, if I understand him, is simply that the process called induction is simply a matter of getting closer to completeness. If I have seen twenty swans, and all are white, then the proposition in question is true of 20% of the universe of swans. If I see 10 more and the generalization holds, then it is true of 30% of that universe. At the…

Kennedy and Brown

Mystery solved!

As some of you may remember, I've long been intrigued by a passage in Dorothy Sayers' introduction to her translation of Dante's Inferno. The passage, written in 1949, includes allusions to roughly 60 different people who played a part in English social history in the century or so before that date. Some she refers to by full name, most by part of a name, some by an allusive phrase. Her point is that an intelligent reader five centuries later will need help understanding a poem that makes such allusions, and she tries to provide analogous help in her notes on Dante.

Roughly two thirds of a century has passed, and even for Anglophilic Americans, her prediction had been amply verified. Some of the references are obvious, some take some digging, some left me confused for a long time.

But I believe I have cleared up the most confusing example. She refers to "Brown and Kennedy." Those are quite common names, so googling didn't help

The archives …

The Eschatology of Everyday Life

A Hillel Schwartz essay, originally written in the late 1990s, when millennial thoughts had a calender-driven appeal, and had become enmeshed in a technical issue concerning computer dating, has the title I've provided for this blog post.

Schwartz starts off in a self-conscious and jokey manner. It takes him awhile [a while?] to settle down and warm to his own topic. When he does settle down he says that eschatology is....