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Showing posts from March, 2017

A detail from an unwritten novel

Should I ever write a novel of contemporary life in the U.S. (a possibility asymptotically approaching zero with age and a growing sense of limits) I would include a scene in a book store, or at a book stand, or maybe along the stacks of a library. Somewhere where actual dead-tree books are found collected.

In this scene, the protagonist would survey a number of the titles on a best sellers' shelf, and think sardonic thoughts about why these books had been successful.

There would be one called " 'The Laxative Diet,' which recommends what that title would suggest it recommends."

Its very existence would lead our protagonist to reflect, "Earlier centuries had the good fortune to be bloated, if at all, with fat."  And then his eyes would pass along to the next book.

So now you're probably glad this book will remain unwritten, eh?

Plants and Animals

There is, it turns out, no very firm divide between the plant and animal "kingdoms."

One of the big differences is supposed to be mobility. Plants may move their leaves and flowers about over time, but they are rooted in one spot, and that one spot is where their nutrition comes from: right?

Not necessarily. The BBC recently posted footage of a bramble crawling through a forest. Of course, it's time lapse footage, because the crawl is too slow for our unaided eyes to recognize it as such. But it is decidedly crawling.

Brambles re-root easily wherever their tips contact soil, or rotting tree trunk or the like, and that is part of the crawling process as displayed in this footage.

This suggests a more philosophical question: can the bramble feel pain? Might it have some level of consciousness?  Is it perhaps making decisions about where it should crawl? "Hey, the soil over there to…

Who Was Eric Voegelin?

Eric Voegelin was a political philosopher of some repute at the time of his death in 1985, but whose repute has fallen somewhat since.

If one had to express Voegelin's views in one quick phrase, it would be, "gnosis is bad." Or, not so quickly, "Gnosticism is bad." Gnosticism in the relevant sense is a certainty about one's own rightness, usually coupled with a desire to create a heaven on earth. Bad stuff, that.

Here is a great quote from EV:  "[T]here has emerged a phenomenon unknown to antiquity that permeates our modern societies so completely that its ubiquity scarcely leaves us any room to see it at all: the prohibition of questioning. This is not a matter of resistance to analysis – that existed in antiquity as well. It does not involve those who cling to opinions by reason of tradition or emotion, or those who engage in debate in a naïve confidence in the rightness of their opinions and who take the offensive only when analysis unnerves them…

From the Candid Chronicle

One of the benefits of my recent travels was that I picked up a copy of CANDID CHRONICLE, an advertiser-supported pro-marijuana weekly published in the form of a tabloid newspaper.

This week's lead story was headlined, "The least sexy part of the cannabis industry," and it concerned laboratory testing. Consumers want their weed tested for many reasons: chief among them, to find out whether and how much pesticide it contains. The laboratories and the equipment used to do this work are, indeed, an un-sexy subject, but make for very lucrative markets.

The article informed readers that they shouldn't rely on any lab that does not have ISO 17025 accreditation, an assurance of technical competence.

A good thought. I will only add that since this isn't a singles' ad, the "ISO" doesn't stand for "in search of." It means "International Organization for Standards," even though that seems not to have the order of letters right.


Academic Philosophy Today

Two and a half years ago the Chronicle of Higher Education posted a biting discussion of philosophy as practiced as an academic speciality. Here's the URL:

I doubt much has changed in the intervening period. If I'm wrong, and something has changed, I would be happy to be better informed by a commenter here! Or if the authors were painting an inaccurate picture in the first place, I welcome readers of Jamesian Philosophy Refreshed who might tell me so.

Here is the bottom line of that article:

Too many graduate students chasing tenure-track jobs that are themselves disappearing; rising societal demands for accountability coupled with budget cuts; the loss of faith in ‘higher knowledge’; and an insular philosophic culture, in which professors write nearly exclusively for one another. 

William James himself never sought a Ph.D. in philosophy. The university system was very diffe
rent in his day. H…

When Nine Justices Were "Equally Divided": Part I

We still have eight Justices on the US Supreme Court, so there will surely be further cases this term where we will see the court equally divided.

Of course, even with a nine Justice court there are such moments, as when one Justice recuses himself for whatever reason and the non-recusing justices split evenly.

But one case in 1939 stands out as an oddity. All nine Justices participated in a case concerning the very controversial matter of the child labor laws (this was two years after the "switch in time" and the consequences of that '37 jurisprudential shift were still being worked out). The Justices decided that the case involved three distinct issues of law. They then voted 5-4 on one of those decisions, 7-2 on the second, (so plainly nine Justices were each voting) and then declared themselves "equally divided" of the third issue, so they took no position on it.

This has left historians scratching their heads ever since. Presumably one of the nine decline…

A few words about Joseph Nicolosi

Insofar as any one man has served as the public face of "conversion therapy" over the years, it has been that of the dearly departed Joseph Nicolosi.

Nicolosi, the author of REPARATIVE THERAPY FOR MALE HOMOSEXUALITY (1997) passed away last week, on March 8, at the age of 70.

I've written about conversion therapy, as a legal issue, before in this blog. Here's a link: once you get to the other side of it, scroll down a bit 

The above is the stock photo of Nicolosi used by MSNBC. It makes him look like a televangelist, which seems fair.

Apparently the phrase "reparative therapy" was Nicolosi's own coinage, and refers to his views as distinct from some other styles of conversion effort. He coined it because he held the view that (male) homosexuality is a unconscious effort to repair a sense of inferiority.

I really ought to read or at least skim Nicolosi's book before commenting further. But, hey, this is a blog, and ignorance isn't usually an impe…

Philippa Gregory

My recent reading includes large helpings of Philippa Gregory's latest, THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS (2016), another of her fictionalized takes on love and betrayal among the royals of Renaissance Europe.

In this book, the focus is on the early Tudor dynasty, and especially on Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, founder thereof, and the older sister of the future Henry VIII. Margaret became Queen of Scotland with an arranged marriage to James IV. She reigned and ruled under the title of Dowager Queen after James' death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

So who, you ask, were the other two sisters of the novel's title? One is Margaret's blood sister, Mary Tudor, who was known as one of the great beauties of the age. Mary was the inspiration for the name her brother Henry gave to his older daughter. More important for Gregory's story, she wed the King of France (Louis XII) in 1514, and Anne Boleyn served as her maid of honor at that ceremony.

The third &…

The Cut-off Point

What is the cut-off point for use of the phrase "he [she] died tragically young"?

Does it vary with the context? Would the "tragically young" line be good enough for a eulogist, at ages that would be too old for a pundit to employ it?

I'm thinking 40. Anyone care to differ?

Stefan Molyneux, Part Two

Molyneux's most sustained effort at systematic philosophy is the book Universally Preferable Behavior (2007).

Upon publication, it was the object of a memorable take-down by David Gordon, a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Here is that review:

One incidental fact: Gordon's review is headlined "The Molyneux Problem," which is a sidelong reference to another Molyneux from a long time ago.

It was in 1688 that an Irishman, William Molyneux, wrote to the English philosopher John Locke asking him about an issue in the psychology of perception.  He asked whether a man who has been born blind, and who has learned to distinguish between a sphere and a cube by touch, would be able to distinguish the sphere from the cube if he did gain sight in the course of his adult life, by sight alone. This is the original Molyneux Problem.

Why is the historical pun relevant to the book? Gordon's view of Molyneux is that of so…

Stefan Molyneux: Part One

Insofar as any individual is THE public voice and face of anarcho-capitalism these days, it is not me (alas) but Stefan Molyneux.

Be sure to spell his first name properly when looking for information about him. Though there is a well-known Stephen Molyneux, he's different person.

At any rate, Stefan's rise to prominence has made me grateful that I am no longer editor of a publication on anarcho-cap and related subjects. Were I still at The Pragmatist, I would be expected to say something about him. And the sort of thing one can say must be either (a) ranks-closed against the mutual statist foe, or (b) shocking/edgy/pointed. My own reaction falls between the two stools.

I have had no journalistic responsibilities within the world of libertarian and anarcho-capitalistic theorising since well before 2005, the year Molyneux founded what has been his punditry base ever since, FreeDomain Radio, out of Ontario.

I fear that Molyneux, on balance, harmed rather than advanced the cause…

Kenneth Arrow, Rest in Peace

The Nobel Prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow died recently (February 21). Let us give his work some thought on his way out of this world.

Arrow was best known for the "Arrow Impossibility Theorem," a powerful and very influential argument that given certain assumptions and five (quite reasonable sounding) goals, there is no actual or possible system of voting that will work every time -- that will avoid violating one or more of those goals -- because the conditions themselves are incompatible.

Arrow accomplished this result, one regarded every since as foundational to social choice theory and welfare economics, in his Ph.D dissertation in 1950, when he was 31.

It might have been tempting to spend the rest of his scholarly career defending and expanding on the terrain of that theorem. But he left that work for others, and many others have stepped in, including Amartya Sen. Arrow moved on, and among much else helped Gerard Debreu develop a rigorous proof of the existence o…

Manchester by the Sea

Everybody has been raving about the greatness of the movie Manchester by the Sea. So Diane and I saw it.

We found very little to recommend it. Meandering plot, various portentous-seeming scenes with no pay off, and acting so low key it often seems comatose.

The only feature of the movie that I admired was its soundtrack. Very mid 20th century. I think the song selection was meant to show that fishing ports are places where things change very slowly, that as a consequence often seem of another time.

One example: "I'm beginning to see the light" plays in the middle of the movie. If I'm not mistaken, the specific version of this song they use is the Ella Fitzgerald duet with Bill Kenny, recorded in 1945.

Sample lyrics:

I never cared much for moonlit skies
I never winked back at fireflies
But now that the stars are in your eyes
I'm beginning to see the light.

It's a great old song. Nice to be able to say that there is something of value in this movie. But hey, d…