Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Despite the judgment a gloomy science may pass on them, the transcendental questions do not die. The questions of freedom, immortality, and god remain with us.

His Body

Gloria went to Hank's bedside after she heard he was terminally ill. She had not seen him for years and her worst fears were realized when she saw his wasted and emaciated body. They chatted for a few minutes, then fell silent.

She started to cry.

"Please, don't die," she said.

He responded by dying shortly after the words were spoken.

Several weeks later she thought of him, or rather his ashes which had been scattered to the wind. She imagined every dead person she had known as inhabiting some other space, but not him. He was merely his body turned to ash.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Random Hits

I spent much of yesterday writing notes about various things of interest to me. Today, I read several blogs whose subject matter uncannily coincides with my notes.

As I traverse the rest of this day, I think of the coincidence, and wonder if there is any explanation--no doubt a silly occupation. Yet I am stuck with these speculations for better or worse.

The Dispute About the Spiders

I was at the local bar last night, and the question arose about whether scorpions were spiders or insects. The question expanded to whether tarantulas were spiders or insects. I claimed that both were spiders. The dispute swept across the bar with everyone weighing in on the issue. I bet a quarter with a learned friend on the tarantula issue.

This morning, after looking it up, we agree that both scorpions and tarantulas are spiders, this is, arachnids.

I love a good dispute at the local bar.

Cataloguing the Library

I began cataloguing my library this weekend during a fit of boredom. I realized soon after I started I was faced with a huge task that would take months to complete, for I own thousands of books. Each book I lay my hands on conjures associations and memories: where I was when I bought the book, where I worked, who I may have loved then, what I believed about life and the world, and what the book told me, and sometimes what I told the book.

I wanted the cataloguing to be a mindless process, but it has turned out to be extremely emotional. I suspect that is why have avoided doing it for all these years.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Dog Did Not Eat My Homework

I was a bad boy. I did not write anything for my blog this weekend. That does not mean I have not been thinking about things to write in my blog. My blog is a toilet for the excrement of my mind. My blog does not suffer from a dearth of material.

The dog did not eat my homework. I have been learning a new vocabulary, new ideas, and new arguments so that I may profitably read certain contemporary philosophers of whose work, I am embarrassed to say, I have not read much and generally have not understand.

However, I’ve been working hard this winter to rectify the situation. I put my new set of tools to the test this weekend. I profitably read many articles I did not understand before. My many weeks of hard work are finally paying off.

I stroll in the garden of ideas. I am an independent thinker of sorts, dilettante though I am. Why use my freedom for something other than the eclectic?

When we arrive at understanding and knowledge, we achieve a catharsis.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


He believed he still loved her. His belief no longer forced itself upon him with the vivacity it had in the past. That made all the difference. He looked at her photograph, but her image was not there.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Who Are You?

I was watching Nova last night and heard an interesting question posed. The scenario is this.

You are sitting in an office with your child. In the office is a refrigerator containing 100 petridishes. Each petridish contains one live fertilized human cell.

A fire breaks out in the office. You must choose between carrying your child to safety or gathering up the 100 petridishes and taking them to safety.

Do you choose the life of your child or the lives of the 100 cells?

I am reminded of the lyric from a Who song. “Who are you? I really want to know.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

My Clone

I didn't want to say anything until he was full grown, but I have cloned myself. He's got a Budweiser beer gut and a blog called State Street.

Is it illegal to kill a clone of yourself when you are the one who created him?

Monday, April 18, 2005


From “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” by Charles Sanders Peirce:
And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life.

On What There Is

One of my favorite opening paragraphs in a philosophical essay comes from Willard Van Orman Quine’s “On What There Is.”

A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word—‘Everything’—and everyone will accept this answer as true. However, this is merely to say that there is what there is. There remains room for disagreement over cases; and so the issue has stayed alive down the centuries.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Blood for Oil?

An excellent LRB article questions whether the Iraq war is about Blood for Oil?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Kant Around Midnight

I finished rereading Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” around midnight last night. For some odd reason I was not satiated with Kant. I pressed on, reading “Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent” and “Answer to the Question What Is Enlightenment?” It was like emerging from a dark labyrinth into a brightly lit expansive plain.

In the universal history, I found a surprising affinity between Kant’s view of human nature and civilization and that expressed by Freud in the opening of “The Future of an Illusion”. In the question about enlightenment, I found much related to my meditations about the current state of American religion and politics.

That is not to denigrate “The Critique of Pure Reason” though. Where else will you find the most sophisticated pre-scientific a priori explication of the folk psychology handed down to us by the ancient Greeks? Where else will you find profound responses to questions about how the limits of reason relate to reality, freedom, the soul, and god?

I have much more Kant to read. The sails are set and the wind is at my back.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Summer Nights

It was a beautiful summer night in 1968 at a Marine Corps supply base several miles north of Danang. The first rocket landed squarely on a hut shortly after lights out.

It was a beautiful summer night, but not for ten Marines who lived in a hut on a relatively safe and secure Marine Corps supply base a few miles north of Danang.

American Liberal and Conservative Christianity

I would make a few observations about Christianity in America based on my intuition and observation. I admit to providing no tightly reasoned argument, although I suspect I could make one in a long essay or series of essays if I wanted to expend my energy in that direction.

I see American Christians divided into two groups: Liberal Christians and Conservative Christians.

Both camps share a common belief that their religion instructs them about god and the meaning of life.

The Conservative Christians add many things to that core belief. They believe the Bible is a science textbook, a history textbook, and a secular political manifesto akin in kind, but not in spirit to Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Liberal Christians do not add these additional elements to their faith.

I would add a couple of other observations. America has always been a country of religious beliefs. Accusations that America has been controlled either intellectually or politically by secular humanists have no basis in fact. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in god and have some sort of religious faith, and always have throughout American history.

The leaders who founded America by and large were Liberal Christians, not Conservative Christians. Recent attempts to claim the contrary have been refuted by the biographies of the founders.

I will not make any normative assertions about which camp may have it right nor draw any conclusions about how it might explain the current political environment.

However, I have a hunch that I will be doing that in the future because I think it explains a lot. Those who claim that I have already introduced normative assumptions into my observations may be correct, but I am not willing to concede the point without further thought and investigation.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

New Year's 1970

It was about one A. M. on New Year’s 1970. I was pulling duty at the Camp Pendleton Brig armory. I was lying in bed in the back room when the buzzer sounded from the window at the front of the armory. I went to the window to see who it was.

A Corporal and his prisoner stood outside. The prisoner had his hands cuffed behind his back and he stared at the ground.

“I have a prisoner for you,” the Corporal said.

“You’ll have to check your weapon and then we need to get him some linen,” I said.

We walked to the end of the building and climbed the stairs to the small linen loft on the second floor. I gave the linen to the Corporal.

“What did he do?” I asked.

“He walked into the NCO club tonight and killed a Sergeant with a .45 automatic. He was drunk when he did it,” the Corporal said.

The prisoner was silent and stared at the ground while we talked.

We walked back to the armory. I tried to imagine what was going through the prisoner’s mind now that he was sober and realized he’d killed a man. Simple disbelief I supposed. The regret and remorse would come later.

The Corporal came back from the prison compound several minutes later. I returned his pistol.

“The mess hall down the road is open right now if you want some chow,” I said.

“Thanks, I think I’ll do that,” the Corporal said. He left.

Now, at two A. M., many years later, I think of the prisoner who entered the gates of Hell that night, and I think of the Sergeant, who most likely survived a tour of duty in Vietnam only to be shot dead on New Year’s Eve at a Camp Pendleton NCO club.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Hang on Sloopy

I was sitting in the local bar tonight and I played some songs on the jukebox from the sixties and early seventies. A guy, less than half my age, came up to the jukebox while my songs were playing. He leaned towards me and asked me if my songs were about done. I said yes, and I suspected he thought my songs sucked. Something about my expression must have made him volunteer he liked my songs.

He put his money in the jukebox.

After my songs finished, the first song he played was "Hang on Sloopy" by the McCoys.


World Politics

There are two basic schools of thought about international politics: the realist, based on self interest, and the moralist, based on pushing moral principles.

The trick is knowing when to apply either or both in reasoning about when to go to war. The other trick is not deluding oneself about what rationale is being applied.

Even the most powerful democratic countries have a finite amount of resources at their disposal. Before they embark on morally justified wars or interventions, the question about priorities needs to be discussed (there always being more than one country deserving consideration for attack). When the priorities are not considered, it often leads to cynicism about motives. This is one of the unfortunate characteristics of democracies.

The other thing, it never hurts to have the facts straight about who poses an imminent threat and to whom they pose that threat.

Political Messiahs

Some people idolize certain politicians. (Supply your own name.) These politicians are new messiahs come to save us all, and, a priori, they can do no wrong.

I take a different view. Any argument containing the premise that person ‘X’ is infallible is an unsound argument regardless of its validity. And let’s face it, people who see certain politicians as messiahs, always start out with that premise in their political arguments.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Sigmund Freud’s writing kicks ass. He’s the consummate prose stylist. I wonder how far psychoanalysis would have gotten if he had not always been at the top of his game.

A Short Book Review

I read Simon Critchley’s small book, “Continental Philosophy”, yesterday, and an excellent read it was.

The book examines the origin and history of the rift between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy. But the book is much more than that. Critchely discusses philosophically integrating science and a humanism that attempts to answer questions about the meaning of life, filling the gap between the two.

The book is pitched at an introductory level, but it is not a continental philosophy for dummies book. Critchley’s prose is a delight to read and his ability to illustrate abstract ideas through concrete historical examples is best in class.

The book is so damned short and good, I’m going to read it again tonight.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Iraq War Status Report

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning with sun rising over the lake into the clear blue sky. It’s a perfect morning to talk about the Iraq war. Why the Iraq war? Because it is easy to get at the truth within the few words required by a blog entry.

Let’s start with a question. What does Iraq have that Darfur does not? Time’s up. Oil. Does anybody on the Left or Right understand that, or are they just too polite to talk about it?

The Right says, “we are trying to make the world safe for freedom and democracy.” Sure. Wink, wink.

The Left says, “the war is important, but it’s more important to identify the correct brand of philosophy with which to critique it.” OK, let me know when you are done working on that.

After two years, what’s to be done in Iraq? The priority remains the same. Just secure the damned oil fields and let the Iraqis worry about the rest.

Geez, Lynn, you are an asshole. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

You Are Who You Think You Ain't

In 1969, I was a 21 year old Marine Corps Sergeant stationed at the Camp Pendleton Brig. There was a rock ‘n roll radio station in Los Angeles I listened to. I have forgotten its call letters.

The Ralph Williams Ford auto dealership in Los Angeles ran an advertisement on the radio station aimed at the counter culture person who was looking to buy a Ford. I remember the last sentence of the advertisement as saying, “you are who you think you ain’t.”

In the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”, Lawrence crosses the Sinai Desert and arrives at the Suez Canal. A soldier riding a motorcycle along the canal on the other side from Lawrence stops and shouts at him, “who are you?”

Mortimer Adler said, "philosophy is everybody's business." Hmmmm?

Friday, April 08, 2005

First Week of Baseball

It's the first week of baseball. The Cubs play their home opener today, so life is especially good.

Helping to inaugurate the season right, my good friend Cuppa has posted a wonderful baseball story at Brown Betty Brew.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Cooler by the Lake

It is cooler today, but it is sunny, so I'm going for a walk along the lake. After saying that, my felt need to write a blog entry for today is now formally discharged and satisfied.

Except to say, I hope things go well for you today, everybody!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Happy Birthday

It would have been good
If I could have written you
A beautiful poem on your birthday.
You know, a poem about flowers
In Spring, the first leaves
On the trees in May, or the
Subtle hues of the sky
When the sun sets over the ocean.

All I knew how to do
Was stand stupid, speechless
While my heart melted away.

The Truth Is Out There

I’ve been reading “The Zizek Reader”, but the poetry of Ray Carver and Sebald’s fragment, “Campo Santo”, play across my mind more.

I was surprised to find Zizek using the expression from the X-Files, “the truth is out there.” I wonder if that is true, at least in the way he used it.

Carver and Sebald, what do you think? Don’t use the excuse that you’re dead for not answering the question.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Oedipus Complex and the Street

I have this bad tendency to sit around and think about what I believe and what I don’t. Over the past month or so one of those things is the Oedipus complex. If I don’t believe in the Oedipus complex, then what does that entail?

Do I believe in any claims that psychoanalysis might put forward? What is the status of philosophy that is partially based on the claims of psychoanalysis?

It is sort of like not being convinced about the soundness of the five proofs of god at the beginning of the Summa Theologica. How much of the rest of the Summa is worth reading and thinking about?

I think of all the people, really bright and successful people, who have a lot invested in the truth of psychoanalysis, god, or whatever. It must be very difficult for them to think about giving up those beliefs because of the sunk cost investment. Finance tells us to not consider the sunk cost, but to consider the future cash flow. Is it possible for people to do that with their belief systems though?

Elaborate belief systems are stable, but they are held together by a few beliefs that cannot be disturbed unless the whole metaphorical structure of the system shreds and falls apart. When one’s belief system falls apart, it is gut wrenching.

I think about these things in the study and not on the street. The street has its own rules and requires of any person holding a belief system that they survive crossing a busy city intersection without being hit by a taxicab. Otherwise, there is no belief system.


The hour so early, maybe around four AM, I wake and cannot fall back to sleep although I am tired. I realize it is madness to get out of bed, but I do. All day long I regret not sleeping a couple of hours longer.

Monday, April 04, 2005


Marc Cooper delivers one of the least useful and inaccurate book reviews in recent memory. Read it here.

The book he reviews is George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant!”.

Marc seems to think that political beliefs have nothing to do with how those beliefs are instantiated in brains. Any attempt by Democrats to change people’s beliefs based on research about the brain is doomed to failure, and is merely psychobabble.

The funny thing is that Lakoff is not proposing anything in his book that marketers have not done for years, that is, go all out to capture a share of mental space. Republican versus Democrat politics in the United States is marketing and it is exactly like the battle of Tide versus All detergent soap.

As far as his discussion of Democrats posing as counter culturists in the cultural wars, I would find it a betrayal of my beliefs to agree with people who believe in shit that is not true. Whatever that makes me, so be it.

Marc summarizes his recommendation as follows:
The trick of effective politics -- as opposed to thinly disguised self-affirming psychotherapy and aesthetically gratifying rebel poses -- is precisely to unite people with different views, values, and families around programs, candidates, and campaigns on which they can reach some consensus, however minimal. Before liberals and progressives dash out with their new vocabulary to try to convince others of the righteousness of their values, they might consider spending some time listening to others instead.
It appears Marc’s book review engages in quite a bit of psychobabble itself. At the end of the review, I find it difficult to discern the difference between his recommendations and Lakoff’s. I think he’s jealous of George Lakoff’s status as guru.

I wish Marc all the luck in the world assisting the Democrats in finding those meat and potato guys walking around on the street with whom they can build a consensus.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Beginning

The Red Sox are about to play the Yankees. It's the beginning of the baseball season. The Big Unit, Randy Johnson, starts for the Yankees and David Wells starts for the Red Sox.

Everything is new and nothing is impossible, at least for a little while.

Things that have gone right so far today

Daylight Savings Time started, so all my clocks once again tell the right time.

The apple strudel.

The sky is blue and it is warm.

The Bob Stroud Rock 'n Roll Roots show playing on the radio.

The refreshment from a beautiful night's sleep.

I'm still custom made from head to toe. Wooooo!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Final Two

Is anyone interested in a NCAA men's basketball Final Two pool?

Just kidding.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Hegel, Faith, and Knowledge

I stayed up far into the night rereading the introduction to Hegel’s “Lectures on the Philosophy of World History”. I was tempted to put the book back on the bookshelf several times after arriving at passages such as the following:
A distinction is often made between faith and knowledge, and the two have come to be commonly accepted as opposites. It is taken for granted that they are different, and that we therefore have no knowledge of God. People are affronted if we tell them that we seek to know and understand God, and to impart such knowledge to others. But if it is defined correctly, the distinction between faith and knowledge is in fact an empty one. For if I have faith in something, I also know it and am convinced of it. In religion, we have faith in God and in the doctrines which explain his nature more fully; but this is something we know and of which we are certain. To know means to have something as an object of one’s consciousness and to be certain of it; and it is exactly the same with faith.

My initial reaction is that he is entirely wrong, or painted himself into a corner from which it will be difficult for him to escape. Then I try to explain to myself why he is wrong about the identity of faith and knowledge, and my initial reaction does not seem quite so handsome.

So, I press on with my reading and thinking until it is nearly daylight, at which point, I ask myself, what the Hell is wrong with you, Lynn?