Monday, October 31, 2005

Baseball Season 2005

Every year, during Spring Training, I bet the Cubs and the White Sox in the baseball futures. I had the White Sox at 30-1 this year. My winnings from that wager is funding my football wagering this season.

Full Disclosure Monday

I won one and lost two on football wagering this weekend. That puts my season record at 5 wins and 4 losses.

We'll get 'em next weekend.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

My First Valium

I have a friend who hangs out at my local bar. Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at the bar with her and watching the football games. Several years ago she was hit by a car and has remained partially paralyzed since then.

I told her about my run in with the SUV on Wednesday. She gave some valium and other pills from her prescription stash. I took a valium at the bar. It was my first valium ever--Boy Scouts honor. I walked home. I ate a light dinner, and tried to stay awake. I fell asleep on the couch at 10 and didn't wake up until 7 hours later. I don't think I moved a muscle while sleeping.

Being comatose certainly makes me more mellow.

Truth, Clinton, Fitzgerald, and the Dogmatist

I thought about truth while walking to get my haircut yesterday. I thought about how I use the concept of truth in my routine everyday practical affairs. The question of truth nagged me all the rest of the day, and is still on my mind this early AM as I wash a load of laundry.

I use an unsophisticated and naïve concept of truth almost unconsciously in my everyday affairs. I have a belief, make a statement based on that belief, and my statement either accords or does not with a reality that contains a matter of fact about the matter.

When I am particularly perplexed about a matter of fact, I turn to a naïve coherence theory of truth. I consider my opinion an hypothesis, try to discover how it fits with the things I know, and insert it into my belief system or not depending on its consistency with other beliefs. I modify my beliefs sometimes because I believe my hypothesis is true. I try to make my belief system consistent. This method does not work as well as the correspondence theory when I have to think on my feet and on the spur of the moment.

When correspondence and coherence fail, I turn to a naïve pragmatic theory of truth. I decide what is important for me to believe and what is not—those things to which I do or do not have an emotional attachment. I believe this is my method of last resort, but I know that this is the point where applying truth to statements and beliefs rests on dangerous ground.

I know that beyond my naïve beliefs about truth lie powerful unconscious frameworks and world views that condition what I believe. When I am confronted with a fact I find disagreeable, I tend to discard the fact rather than perform archaeology on my belief system to discover whether some of my strongly held beliefs are false in light of the new fact.

I turned on C-Span’s BookTV when I arrived home from getting my haircut. They were broadcasting live from the Texas Book Festival in Austin. Former President Clinton gave a lecture I found very interesting. I always find Bill Clinton interesting.

I thought about the press conference Patrick Fitzgerald gave the previous day on the Libby indictment while I was watching and listening to President Clinton. A reporter asked Fitzgerald whether the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice were not minor since Libby was not charged with outing Valerie Plame Wilson. Fitzgerald made it very clear that telling the truth to a grand jury was at the heart of the U. S. justice system. He commented that without the requirement for a witness to tell the truth to a grand jury, he might as well hand in his job.

That is what got President Clinton into so much trouble—lying to a grand jury. I concluded that impeachment proceedings were justified against President Clinton given Fitzgerald’s disquisition.

President Clinton concluded his presentation with a few choice words about the Religious Right. He calls them the people of the nine commandments. Golly, which commandment is missing? He said that people who did not want to take the Religious Right head on, needed to find something else to do besides politics. I was energized by the comment. I can’t wait to see how Senator Clinton will do with this strategy during her Presidential run.

The truth, in all it’s complexity, matters. There are people who firmly believe that the truth has been delivered once and for all time. Too many people feel the truth doesn’t matter if a falsehood doesn’t touch them personally.

A dogmatic and doctrinaire belief system is always accompanied by inconsistency and hypocrisy. Many people have suffered and died because certain groups want to suppress any dissent from dogmatic and inconsistent sets of beliefs. Democracy and rights are supposed to be a curative for this happening. American history is replete with abuses to both democracy and rights.

Protecting the pursuit of truth ought to get more attention in American politics than it does. Some people care about the truth; others find it odious when it doesn’t fit their need to control everyone’s lives.

It is always a good time to play good old fashioned smack down with those who think they own the world and truth. The heart of a coward and intimidator beats inside many a dogmatic soul. Running roughshod over them without remorse is often the best policy.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Full Disclosure Friday

Here are this week's football picks.

Dallas -9.5 home vs. Arizona
Cleveland +2 away vs. Houston
New England -9 home vs. Buffalo

I hope I win.

Real Wages and Compensation Down

This disturbing report from the Economic Policy Institute:
For the first time in this employers' costs report, the BLS presented these values adjusted for inflation. Both wages and compensation are losing growth in real terms, down 2.3% and 1.5%, respectively, as slower nominal wage growth is colliding with faster inflation. In both cases, these are the largest yearly real losses on record.
. . .
Yet the wage and compensation results show that this growth is failing to show up in hourly earnings. This has two implications. First, the view that increasing labor costs are pushing up prices is clearly not supported by these data. There is no evidence of an over-heating labor market that needs to be cooled by Federal Reserve rate hikes. Second, the resulting stagnant hourly wages will make it hard for working families to truly get ahead.
Read the whole article. It's short.

Tune in to C-Span to listen to your favorite Republican Congress person lobby for more trickle down economics.

Bad News. So What?

The political analysts are all commenting about how this is a bad week for President Bush. I'll admit to enjoying it a little in an 'I told so' sort of way.

That doesn't really satisfy though. It would seem a lot more meaningful if there was a Democratic Party that was pushing an aggressive policy agenda. I have pretty much given up hope it will happen anytime soon. The Democratic leadership is waiting for the next problem to arise so as to gain some mileage from the news cycle. I doubt that will get the job done during '06 Congressional elections.

Issues such as the Iraq War, the deep economic problems raised from the hurricane disasters, and the blatant attempt by the Religious Right to set the agenda for sexual rights and politics get a little lip service during the evening news sound bites, and that's it.

People say the Democratic Party is out of tune with the American public. You can't be out of tune when you are playing no tune.

The Democrats could win next year's elections on the Iraq War alone, but they need to crank up the volume now. Nobody is buying the 'stay the course' rhetoric except the firmly entrenched believers, the President, and Congress.

I reread the Iraqi constitution this morning. In light of all the glowing words contained in it, the U. S. policy seems at best cynical. U. S. troops staying in Iraq after valid elections in December will make us look even more hypocritical.

Learning to Walk

I taught myself how to walk on two very sore legs yesterday. I even walked around the corner to the convenience store last night, and bought some popcorn. Once home, I settled into the easy chair and watched The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depth. I rather enjoyed the movie because it wasn't particularly gory and had just enough mystery to hold my attention.

Today's goals are to take a shower and walk slowly to the grocery store for more Advil and some chocolate donuts. Why make the slow painful walk if I don't buy something absolutely hedonistic?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Follow-up to Gloomy Thoughts

Curtis at a-sdf has taken me to task about my gloomy economic outlook. His thoughts are always well worth reading. I have responded with a few comments to his post there.

Gloomy Economic Thoughts

The Bush economic program has not produced results as originally advertised.

Poverty has increased. The distribution of income continues to favor the few at the top. We have large domestic and foreign twin deficits. Health insurance, educational opportunity, adequate housing, and other elements of a secure economic life are increasingly becoming the preserve of the rich.

The list goes on. What used to be considered excesses of the system have become the norm for doing business: crony capitalism, lying, cheating, stealing, insider trading, illegal tax shelters promoted by the big accounting firms, and the unwillingness to take care of those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by disaster.

We also have a war that will continue for years because Congress does not have the wherewithal to end it. The war has unsettled the oil market and nothing will bring it back. The cost will exceed a trillion dollars.

High interest rates to fight inflation will attend already low investment and savings rates. The unwillingness of foreign countries to hold U. S. debt has the potential to increase interest rates and to create a financial debacle should they decide to dump our debt.

What the conservative economic thinkers don’t quite understand yet is that the resiliency of the U. S. economy has a limit to the shocks they have imposed on it. The undermining of social cohesion by current economic policies will accelerate during the next down turn. When things turn bad, those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale will not sit idly by waiting for a handout on the street corner.

This is beyond the understanding of many people. Only a grade A disaster and melt down catches the attention of some. The interesting part is that so many people think they are immune from the disasters that have befallen other Americans.

I knew in the back of my mind that if I walked around downtown Chicago long enough, I would eventually get hit by a driver in an SUV talking on a cell phone. It happened to me yesterday.

The Bush administration economic policy is much like that driver in the SUV talking on the cell phone. It keeps running the intersections at full speed mowing down the pedestrians in its way.

Regulating people’s sex lives and birth control choices won’t seem socially important to those who lose their comfortable jobs, their health insurance, and houses. The poor have a lot less access to acceptable sexual relations. Abstinence is an easy vow to keep when nobody wants you. People will have more important things on their minds when the social fabric tears, like finding a good street corner from which to beg.

I still remember the stories my parents told me about the Great Depression. I take them seriously.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Run Over

I was almost crushed yesterday by an SUV that drove into me at the corner of Oak and State. I did not make a big thing about it with the woman who hit me because I felt OK. I did not even get her license number.

This morning I have a very sore left knee that I can't put weight on and a strained right calf muscle. I can't walk.

I suppose I better order some crutches delivered.

The White Sox

The Chicago White Sox have won 10 out of their 11 playoff games. They are one win away from the Worlds Series Championship.

Surreal and kind of eerie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sherlock Holmes and Nightmares

I woke up in the middle of the night and could not fall back to sleep. I was very fortunate that a Mystery Theater Sherlock Holmes episode was starting on PBS.

At the end of the story Dr. Watson got married. Sherlock ate a bon voyage dinner with the happy couple. Sherlock was being abandoned to his own devices, like maybe the free use of his hypodermic syringe.

It was so sad that I immediately fell asleep at the end of the show. I had nightmares. Then I woke up refreshed. Nightmares always refresh me, and give me a brighter outlook on the world and my place in it. They are worth the price.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Merry Christmas, 1968

I reported to Camp Pendleton in California three weeks after I arrived home from Vietnam in 1968. I had expected good news when I arrived. My friends from Vietnam who had arrived state side before me had received good duty stations and early release from the United States Marine Corps. The war in Vietnam was winding down. We were being replaced by the U. S. Army. The Marine Corps no longer had any use for such a large force that the Vietnam war had originally demanded.

I was much surprised to find that I was assigned to work at the Camp Pendleton Brig after my arrival. My surprise soon turned to disappointment.

When I arrived at the Brig, I was assigned to stand guard in one of the watchtowers on the graveyard shift. The California air had turned cool by that time, the towers were not enclosed, and there were no chairs in which to sit. The nights were long.

The Brig was surrounded by tall chain link fences topped by concertina wire. I was instructed to shoot any prisoner who was persistent enough to scramble over or through the wire. Of course, I was supposed to alert other guards first, then shoot warning shots, and only if that did not work, was I supposed to fire my shotgun at a prisoner.

The irony did not escape me at the time. I went from someone who was supposed to kill somebody trying to break into my base while in Vietnam to someone who was supposed to kill somebody who was trying to escape from my base. I was fortunate that there were far easier ways to escape from Camp Pendleton if anyone had a mind to do it. My chances of shooting somebody was a very low probability event.

I served my time for a few weeks through the holidays and beyond in the watchtower until I was reassigned to the check-in hut.

The check-in hut had two purposes: one, to fill out the necessary paperwork on a prisoner, and two, to begin to instill good old fashioned Marine Corps discipline on newly arrived prisoners who felt they had nothing left to lose.

I lacked the ferocity for check-in duty. I’ll leave it there, except to say that my lack was not lost on my peers. I am sure that multiple complaints by them about my passive attitude led to my reassignment to the Brig supply shed.

Shortly after that I was promoted to the exalted rank of Sergeant. My promotion came shortly before my twenty first birthday, and less than three years in the Marine Corps. I felt vindicated about my worth when it happened and it meant more money and bennies.

Then I started the long wait to get out and begin the rest of my life. But that’s another story for another time.

My Cure for the Blues

An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border—right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.

Opening paragraph,L. A. Confidential, James Ellroy

When night dominates the day in Autumn, and the cold rain seeps into the bones while walking home in the middle of the night, and minor winter depression creeps back into my soul, then I read a James Ellroy novel to get back on track.

In a James Ellroy novel heroes and villains are barely distinguishable. Idealism masks greed for power and money. Those who suffer and die are the victims of their failure to negotiate a treacherous world rather than the victims of their character flaws. Every victim also rides in a posse, and lynches with the mob. Fine moral distinctions are exposed as justifications for the control of another’s body and wherewithal. The notorious and sensational merges seamlessly with the mundane and banal. The true believers in American justice are merely unwitting fools and squares, who, if confronted with the real, will be exposed at best as hypocrites and assuredly no better than the rest. Crimes are not about the act, but whether you get caught. The great moral and metaphysical question is who is to dominate, for only winners and losers inhabit the world.

The Ellroy novels appeal to the dark soul as a sort of satanic fantasy, but they also scrape away the thin façade of houses made from shit. Words used in polite society don’t exist in an Elroy novel. The novels answer questions about control and domination, and the answers are not disguised in pretty words. The losers never accept being called misguided by their enemies. The moral universe is eventually seen by everyone for what it is. The prey possess no illusions about their predators. The privileged man in power merely uses the prey as holes to be filled for his own gratification. The prey know they are being fucked. The prey are never misguided. The boss with his slippery poses and rhetoric decides what life is. Right to life means what is amenable to the boss’s life.

The moral universe when exposed this way comforts me. Just saying it makes me feel better already. I feel I can get on with things.

Football Wagers

I won two out of three wagers. My season record stands at 4 wins and 2 losses.

That's a good enough start.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Freud, Darwin, Dreams, and Cognitive Science

Freud in his The Interpretation of Dreams claims that the content of a dream contains components from the previous day’s events.

No doubt, too, my reader will recall the three characteristics of memory in dreams, which have so often been remarked on but which have never been explained:

(1) Dreams show a clear preference for the impressions of the immediately preceding days.

(2) They make their selections upon different principles from our waking memory, since they do not recall what is essential and important but what is subsidiary and unnoticed.

(3) They have at their disposal the earliest impressions of our childhood and even bring up details from that period of our life which, once again, strike us as trivial and which in our waking state we believe to have been long since forgotten.

. . .

This seems to be the appropriate moment for tabulating the different conditions to which we find that sources of dreams are subject. The source of a dream may be either--

(a) a recent and psychically significant experience which is represented in the dream directly, or

(b) several recent and significant experiences which are combined into a single unity by the dream, or

(c) one or more recent and significant experiences which are represented in the content of the dream by a mention of a contemporary but indifferent experience, or

(d) an internal significant experience (e.g. a memory or a train of thought), which is in that case invariably represented in the dream by the mention of a recent but indifferent impression.

Chapter V, The Material and Sources of Dreams, The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud
As it turns out, he was correct, but, maybe, for different reasons than he supposed. Consider the following:

With the evolution of REM sleep, each species could process the information most important for its survival, such as the location of food or the means of predation or escape—those activities during which theta rhythm is present. In REM sleep this information may be accessed again and integrated with past experience to provide an ongoing strategy for behavior. Although theta rhythm has not yet been demonstrated in primates, including humans, the brain signal provides a clue to the origin of dreaming in humans. Dreams may reflect a memory-processing mechanism inherited from lower species, in which information important for survival is reprocessed during REM sleep. This information may constitute the core of the unconscious.

The Meaning of Dreams, Scientific American, August 2002, Jonathan Winson.

And this:

Consistent with evolution and evidence derived from neuroscience and reports of dreams, I suggest that dreams reflect an individual’s strategy for survival. The subjects of dreams are broad-ranging and complex, incorporating self-image, fears, insecurities, strengths, grandiose ideas, sexual orientation, desire, jealousy and love.

Dreams clearly have a deep psychological core. This observation has been reported by psychoanalysis since Freud and is strikingly illustrated by the work of Rosalind Cartwright of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago.

. . . In the ordinary course of events, depending on the individual’s personality, the themes of dreams may be freewheeling. Moreover, when joined with the intricate associations that are an intrinsic part of REM sleep processing, the dream’s statement may be rather obscure.

. . . These associations are strongly biased toward early childhood experience.

The Meaning of Dreams, Scientific American, August 2002, Jonathan Winson.

And this:

For reasons he could not possibly have known, Freud set forth a profound truth in his work. There is an unconscious, and dreams are indeed the “royal road” to understanding it. The characteristics of the unconscious and associated processes of brain functioning, however, are very different from what Freud thought. Rather than being a cauldron of untamed passions and destructive wishes, I propose that the unconscious is a cohesive, continuously active mental structure that takes note of life’s experiences and reacts according to its own scheme of interpretation. Dreams are not disguised as a consequence of repression. Their unusual character is a result of the complex associations that are culled from memory.

The Meaning of Dreams, Scientific American, August 2002, Jonathan Winson.

Thus, we see the intricate interplay between Freud, Darwin, and the research of the modern cognitive sciences. Freud and Darwin continue to be expanded into sound, complex, integrated, and rigorous scientific theories.

My appreciation of Freud and Darwin continues to grow. They are models on how to avoid scientism and obscurantism. People say they do not tell the whole story. So what? If anyone knows the whole story, I’m listening.

Sweet dreams.

The World Series in Chicago

The White Sox won the first game of the World Series: Chicago 5, Houston 3.

The White Sox have won 8 of their 9 playoff games. The season has an air of inevitability I would not have imagined. Where is Nemesis? Or is Fortuna sitting in the dugout with Ozzie Guillen?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

World Series

The 1959 Chicago White Sox

The first World Series game in 46 years is about to played in Chicago tonight. And it is raining.


Trivial thoughts about two books

I think the two most important books of the past 150 years are Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. I must take them into account, for they have influenced thinking far beyond most other books since written. They are the beginning of a different way to see the world and myself.

One remarkable thing about both books is that both authors have an agreeable and readily understandable prose style. Both writers lead me gently through their extended ideas and arguments. I read them and find my reading experience enjoyable and fulfilling.

I am fortunate to have made their acquaintance. If you have the chance, I highly recommend both books.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Full Disclosure Friday

Here are this week's pro football wagers.

Cincinnati 0 at home vs. Pittsburgh
Washington -13 home vs. San Francisco
Chicago -1 home vs. Baltimore

I hope I win.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


When the hero or the villain of the drama, the man who was seen a few minutes earlier possessed by moral rage, magnified into a sort of metaphysical sign, leaves the wrestling hall, impassive, anonymous, carrying a small suitcase and arm-in-arm with his wife, no one can doubt that wrestling holds the power of transmutation which is common to the Spectacle and to Religious Worship. In the ring, and even to the depths of their voluntary ignominity, wrestlers remain god because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible.

The World of Wrestling, Mythologies, Roland Barthes

Forty Years Ago

Forty years ago I would not have written this and you would not have read it. That may have been better, but it does not feel that way.

Really at the Library

I went to the library. About 1 o'clock when my eyes were getting bleary, I decided to take a break. I was walking through the stacks when I saw Jodi Dean's Aliens in America, a book I have been meaning to read.

I went to lunch with the book, started reading it, and never got back to plan A. It's a really good book.

TV Choices

I really want to watch some TV tonight. My cable company keeps whittling down my choices, but I refuse to pay extra for the premium stuff. I will pay extra once I have nothing but shopping channels, but not a minute sooner.

Tonight Dances With Wolves and Julia both start at the same time. I really like both those movies.

I have 12 minutes to decide. One of my strategies in life is never to make a decision unless I have to.

12 minutes is excruciating. Now, it's 11 minutes. I'm perspiring from the stress.

At the Library

I’ll be at the library all day. The Harold Washington library has a lot of spacious and comfortable carrels in which to work.

Working at a nice library is definitely one of life’s pleasures.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On the Street

Curtis at a-sdf links to good reporting about homeless life on the street in Los Angeles.

National Novel Writing Month

Jean-Francois at Stranger in a Strange Land reminds me that November is National Novel Writing Month. I missed it last year, but I wrote the first draft of a novel in December. I reworked it several times. It sits on my computer completed, yet not printed. I had a friend tell me not to look at it for at least three months. I am following his advice. I might participate in National novel writing month this year. I will violate the rules though. I will try for one good page each day. One good page a day is a lot when you are writing a novel unless you are a genius.

By the way, I really like Jean-Francois' frenetic and engaging writing. Sometimes it brings out the voyeur in me too.


I have been reading and thinking all day which seems not good when I account for my time. It is so typical though. I did take some notes that might be useful in the future. I'll never read those notes again. I might remember them because I have written them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Question of Torture

The PBS series Frontline continues to be the best show on television. I just watched Frontline’s The Question of Torture, a documentary about the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. The show left little doubt that policies coming from the top of President Bush’s administration are responsible for the crimes that were committed and still are committed.

The multitude of immoral acts make it impossible to put on more show trials of the troopers at the bottom of the chain of command so as to silence the critics. They did not work in the first place. To put our troops in the degrading position of having to torture people is the worst and most cynical thing that has ever happened to our military.

President Bush, who refuses to sign a bill that condemns and makes torture illegal, is responsible for any future crimes. The U. S. Senate is being more than fair to him. He at least is being given a choice.

Doing What Comes Naturally

The Guardian has an interesting article that asks Why Do We Believe in God?

The article discusses ideas such as whether religious belief had survival value for the species and is inherited, the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic religious belief, and the role religious belief has in the well being of particular groups of believers.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Difficult Days

Mondays are difficult days to write. Other difficult days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Thank you, Mark Twain, for the notion.

I will try later.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Anomaly Persists

The results are in. I won two out of three of my football bets. I'll take two out of three anytime.

The anomaly continues. The laws of chance tell me I cannot win, but I do anyway.

I remain unrepentant in my pagan belief in the goddess Fortuna.

Market Fundamentalism and the Compassion Gap

There is good paper up at Longview Institute called The Compassion Gap in American Poverty Policy (link to a pdf on this page). The article discusses several key points about poverty in America.

- An increasing number of Americans are falling below the poverty line.

- Poverty continues to grow along Black, Hispanic, women, and Female-headed Household lines.

- The American Dream, a single family home, health care, and a college education is increasingly beyond those living at the minimum wage and below the poverty line.

- The inflation of prices for housing, health insurance, high quality child care, and higher education put those basics of the good life out of the reach of a growing number of Americans.

- The American Dream has been eroded by the reduction in assistance to the poor.

- Other countries who provide assistance to the poor do much better than the U. S. regarding these basic statistics.

The article goes on to discuss the compassion gap: the idea that people who live in poverty are the victims of their own bad behavior. This is an idea that has been trotted out for a lot of years. The article goes on to point the many contradictions underlying the notion.

The key idea underlying the compassion gap is the market fundamentalist approach. The market will work its magic in lifting everyone out of poverty. Those who don’t make it out of poverty are merely the victims of their own bad behavior. Therefore, the mind of the market fundamentalist is thoroughly absolved from responsibility when the market prices the essentials of a decent life beyond the reach of millions of people.

One can approach America’s immoral approach to poverty in many ways: Marxism, Socialism, Progressivism, etc. The plain fact is that the market fundamentalist approach and its immorality have not worked to make this a better country for all its citizens, and every time there is a virulent attack of market fundamentalism, poverty and suffering increases.

One does not need to be ultra-radical in one’s critique to separate out the facts from the ideology. The question is given the massive support a functioning market requires from society is it even worth the effort to have a market economy? We might merely be involved in a redistribution of income scheme and nothing more. The old standby defense for the market by the market fundamentalist is that the economy is growing. We are much better off than we were 35 years ago. The simple reply is no--some are better off, but many are not. Indeed, the ranks of those who are not are swelling.


I made it to the library yesterday. I checked out a couple of Zizek books, Looking Awry and Enjoy Your Symptom, and Roland Barthes’ Mythologies.

The big news is that I slept for six hours straight without waking up which only happens in a blue moon (such is the paltry nature of big news). My mind seems strange to me today without the blanket of fatigue it usually lies under.

I would like to write about a lot of things right now, but I can’t find the right words (as if I ever do).

I’ll try later.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

To the Library

Chcago Harold Washington Public Library

I woke up at 3:45 this morning and could not get back to sleep. The sun is finally rising as I write this. I see a sliver of light and redness in the east.

I read a little hoping I’d fall back asleep, but the book was too interesting. I got out of bed, made the coffee, read the NYT Sunday Book Review, and searched the Chicago Harold Washington Library catalogue for some books I want to read. I decided I will go to the library today.

It is a two mile walk south on State Street to the library. I will sit outside and drink a large coffee of the day at a Starbuck’s on the way home. After that, I just don’t know. I might sit on the deck and read some more when I get home. There can’t be more than a few short days when that will be possible.

It is growing light. I feel tired. I would like to go back to bed, but there is no chance of that.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Full Disclosure Friday

I found lots of good football games to bet on this weekend. I bet on three. I picked these teams against the spread:

Chicago -3 at home against Minnesota.
Cincinnati -3 on the road against Tennessee
Cleveland +6 on the road against Baltimore

I will report on Monday with the results. I hope I win.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I wager even though I know I cannot win

I start betting on pro football games today. Here is how it works for me.

My Internet bookie adds 5% to my money if I deposit it on Thursday. If I bet on Friday, my Internet bookie only charges me 5% juice. The combination of the two means I pay no juice on my wagers.

I believe the statistical studies, that show wagering against the point spread in football is a 50-50 proposition. I will win half my bets. When I bet no-juice, I will break even in the long run. It is a coin flip, zero expectation proposition.

So, what is the fun in betting? I like to bet because I am lucky. I win more than half the time. Of course, I run the numbers on the teams, and try to convince myself I have a system based on what the numbers say, but I know it is all luck.

I know I will break even in the long run, but I act as if I can beat the game.

I grew up in the gambling culture. Betting on sporting events is in my blood. I loved the TV show Maverick when I was young. I learned to play poker and blackjack, and shoot dice because of that show. I am a member of the gambling culture, and that partially explains my irrational actions despite knowing I cannot win.

The only time I gambled for more money than I could afford to lose was back in college. I played in some poker games that definitely helped me pay the rent. It was not much like gambling in those poker games. Many of the players were so drunk and stoned that they were easily parted from their money.

I consider myself an informed bettor. I know the odds, games, and strategies that lessen the odds against me. I have read the academic research literature on sports betting. I look for deals like the one my Internet bookie gives me.

I will be dusting off my trusty pro football betting spreadsheet today, plugging in the numbers, and identifying where the bookies have it all wrong. The drudgery is boring right up until the time I lay my money down, the game starts, and I get the adrenaline rush.

I am sitting in downtown Chicago writing this on a beautiful day. And if somebody reads this that will be a big bonus. How lucky is that?

Will my luck hold, or will the world come crashing down around me? Will you still love me, dear reader, even if I lose?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Recovering the Past

But a philosophical outline is not expected to conform to this pattern, if only because it is imagined that what philosophy puts forward is as ephemeral a product as Penelope’s weaving, which is begun afresh every day.

Hegel, Preface, Elements of the Philosophy of Right
This is one of those days when I can only recover the emotional content of my past. I cannot recover any of the intellectual content of my past. Have I completely forgotten it, or was there no intellectual content in the first place?

I think of my mother, who died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. I perceived during her illness that she could recover the emotional content of her past long after her intellectual skills eroded and she could no longer recover her intellectual past. She did not know my name, but she knew who I was.

Last night, I was thinking about how Arthur C. Danto tried to explain philosophy and philosophical questions in his book Connections to the World. I’ll try to recover it from memory.

Imagine a world where there is free will and a world that is completely deterministic. Suppose the same events happened in both worlds. There is no way to discover which world you are inside from inside the world.

Or imagine a world where events happen at random and a world governed by causal laws. Once again, all the same identical events happen in both worlds. There is no way to discover which world you are inside from inside the world.

Take the other big questions in philosophy and imagine a similar scenario.

It seems as though to answer philosophical questions one must take a stand outside the world. Knowing matters of fact inside the world will not help you answer philosophical questions.

OK, I have just recovered the memory of a text, but I haven’t recovered the intellectual content of my mind when I was reading it.

About all I can remember of my intellectual past is that it was suffused with naiveté.

Maybe, I was too immersed in the mundane, fulfilling more mundane urges, and not thinking much at all. Thus, there is no intellectual content to recover.

I would almost bet the same thing will happen a year from now when I try to recall today.

Philosophy is a Rain Forest

I had the good fortune to tour Costa Rica in the Fall of the year 2000. The tour was built around exploring the virgin rain forest preserves that cover one third of Costa Rica.

I did not know the name of one single plant or animal inhabiting the Costa Rican rain forest when I arrived. Our tour guide had recently received his degree in zoology from a Costa Rican university. I don’t recall his name or the name of the university. I do recall his expert explanations of the places and environments we visited. He knew the names of every flower, tree, and animal we saw, and could explain each in detail.

I do not recall any of the names of the plants and animals I saw in the rain forest. I do have two wonderful photo albums of what I saw courtesy of someone who was on the tour with me.

One day we were riding the bus on a highway cut into the mountains at the center of a large rain forest. Our guide explained to us that if we were to enter too deeply into the forest covering the mountains we would never find our way out, nor most likely would we ever be found. The forest would disorient our sense of direction making it useless to find the narrow band of highway on which we traveled. Every direction in which we looked would be undifferentiated rain forest, and the forest canopy would prevent us from viewing any landmark such as the sky. I wondered if a person who could climb a 300 foot tree unaided might have a chance for survival.

If I had been born and raised in that rain forest, say 2,000 years ago, I would possess a rich vocabulary that described and explained the rain forest and my relation to it. That vocabulary would be as rich as the densest vocabulary used by the philosophers of today. The vocabulary of the rain forest would mirror the complexity of the rain forest, but not capture the rain forest in its entirety.

The reason why I write about this is because I was thinking about a metaphor that goes like this, “thinking is language.” I don’t subscribe to the metaphor because I believe thinking is much more complex than merely using language. Whatever one’s philosophy of language might be, it does not capture the richness of thinking.

Philosophy is a rain forest. It possesses its own vocabulary that is rich and dense and describes and explains the philosophical rain forest. However, language does not fully penetrate the rain forest in all its complexity.

When I penetrate the rain forest, my sensori-motor and perceptual abilities are primary. My conceptual and language skills are linked and depend on my sensori-motor and perceptual systems. My language and conceptual thinking are grounded in my sensori-motor and perceptual systems.

I must master different vocabularies when reading Plato, Hegel, or Derrida. However, if I am unable to ground those vocabularies in my basic experience of the world and my actions in the world, I have not mastered those vocabularies, nor have I done any creative or critical thinking about the ideas of those philosophers.

I don’t subscribe to the “thinking is language” metaphor even though language is useful, and language is impossible to untangle from thinking. However, thinking about the rain forest and negotiating the rain forest demands something more primary and basic than language while walking about it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ideology and trickle down economics

Today's New York Times has an article about why Liberal Hopes Ebb in Post-Storm Poverty Debate. The article opens like this.

As Hurricane Katrina put the issue of poverty onto the national agenda, many liberal advocates wondered whether the floods offered a glimmer of opportunity. The issues they most cared about - health care, housing, jobs, race - were suddenly staples of the news, with President Bush pledged to "bold action."

But what looked like a chance to talk up new programs is fast becoming a scramble to save the old ones.

Conservatives have already used the storm for causes of their own, like suspending requirements that federal contractors have affirmative action plans and pay locally prevailing wages. And with federal costs for rebuilding the Gulf Coast estimated at up to $200 billion, Congressional Republican leaders are pushing for spending cuts, with programs like Medicaid and food stamps especially vulnerable.

The Republicans have also renewed their argument for continuing tax cuts to the wealthy on the basis of the idea that the tax cuts promote a growing economy and support the poor via the vehicle of trickle down economics. As the Times article points out neither proposition is true. Trickle down economics is an idea that has been discredited by the economics profession for decades. However, trickle down economics still charms Republicans with a seductive allure that does not square with the fact that trickle down economics is like putting lipstick on a pig.

All of this leads into questions about the nature of political belief and ideology. Let's fasten onto trickle down economics and it's position within the conservative ideology.

We first note that trickle down economics is a metaphor for an abstract notion. For it to be of any inferential use it should be anchored within a web of other apt metaphors. By itself it explains nothing.

Part of the idea goes like this. Give money to the ever busy, savvy, and enterprising rich and they'll put the money to good use. Give the money to the poor and homeless and they'll just piss it away on drugs and abortions. Furthermore, the jobs created by the rich will lift all the boats (once again an unanchored metaphor that explains nothing).

The results of deep tax cuts for the wealthy have been stagnant job creation, real wage growth that lags productivity growth, a large Federal deficit, and money seeking shelter in personal financial investments rather than entrepreneurial activity.

How does the falsity of the idea survive the scrutiny of so many people? One can impute cynicism and hypocrisy to those who espouse trickle down economics because they merely use the idea as a means to further their economic interests. We find many of the pundits on the left subscribing to this notion. The question remains as to why so many people believe it even when their economic interests are not served by the idea.

Consider the statement, "I know trickle down economics does not work, but I act as though it does work." On the surface and by itself the statement sounds absurd. However, belief trumping knowledge is a common occurrence.

In the political realm this leads into how ideology functions which leads into how the mind works. The question that needs to be answered is how a person can know something yet believe and act contrarily to that knowledge.

I will leave it right there. However,

"The truth is out there."

"I want to believe."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Faith, Certainty, and Difference

Do I want someone else's faith in god, religion, morals, politics, and science to dictate how to live my life? No, I don't want to rely on someone else's faith. I want some control and autonomy over my affairs.

Why shouldn't I dictate to someone else how to live their life on the basis of my faith in god, religion, morals, politics, and science? Someone else might say no I cannot dictate to them, and give many of the same reasons as I did for my own position.

Thus, I return to all the questions about despotism, pluralism, difference, and democracy.

And where does rational discourse fit into the whole scheme?

Who Am I?

For the first four hours of today I have been person X writing book Y for person Z.

Later on today I will be person X reading book Y written by person Z.

But mostly, I am person X paddling raft Y on ocean Z.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


From tonight's Desperate Housewives:
You start out by lying to yourself, and then if you can convince others, you win.
It resonates for some reason.

Excess as a symptom

Political events this year have unmasked several excesses. The excesses are symptoms of deep unresolved problems. The unmasking, although gratifying, is not the solution to any of the problems that span politics, economics, and society. What we see is politics and economics based purely on egoism and self interest does not work. That still leaves open certain big questions.

Will this be a country where politics is dominated by those with the wealth and power to promote their special interest to the exclusion of others? Will this be country where prosperity is for a few and poverty and economic uncertainty is for the many? Will this be a society controlled by a dogmatic minority, or will it be a society that recognizes pluralism and the right to choose one’s values through conscience and rational discourse?

It took a radical agenda to run the train off the tracks. It will take a radical agenda to lift the train back on the tracks and point it in the right direction.

The inability to control the excesses makes me pessimistic.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Resisting Temptation

I like getting almost 3-2 on my money by betting on the Braves over the Astros, but I ain't betting. My Hawkeyes are up 17-7 against Purdue in the second quarter which means I'm up 15 points. No sense blowing a good betting weekend by taking a flyer on another baseball game. Besides, next week I start betting pro football.

So, what's a guy to do? How about watch the rest of the Hawkeye game and the two baseball games tonight while dawdling over a book?

Yes, that sounds good.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Don't Look at Me

I took the CTA Red Line from Chicago Ave. to Monroe. I saw Chicago police officers hanging out in both stations. I took the train from Union Station to Naperville. I saw Police officers at Union Station when I left and came back.

I didn't see anybody who looked like a terrorist though.

I saw a woman on the train who was strikingly beautiful in an unusual way. I think it was her gray eyes and long angular face. She and her young son and husband got off the train ahead of me. I followed them into Union Station. Her son had an angelic face. They all looked very happy, but I had the feeling that they were not rich although they looked like they should be rich. I think it was the slacks and coat she was wearing. They didn't seem quite up to scratch for Friday night in Chicago. Maybe, she was a person totally confident with herself and it didn't matter what she was wearing. (Of course, I look like a bum all the time. I try to cultivate the grizzled curmudgeon look even though my face is angelic too. That's why people pick me out of crowd and ask for money.)

When I lost sight of them, I remembered I won my White Sox bet, $14.50. Then I walked out into the chilly Chicago evening and walked the two miles home instead of taking the CTA or a cab. That is a dangerous walk given all the crazy people driving around on a Friday night.

I am really tired. I'm going to bed.

Full Disclosure

I have just committed my two cardinal sins in sports betting. I bet $10 on my college alma mater, Iowa, and I bet $10 on the White Sox vs. Red Sox baseball game.

I like Iowa at +5 against Purdue at Purdue. I figure Purdue is at most a two point favorite even with the home field advantage.

I like the Garcia (WS) vs. Wakefield (RS) matchup. I rate the bullpens even. I figure getting almost 3-2 on my money with Chicago makes up for the fact that the Red Sox can out hit the White Sox.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Seduced by the City Lights

Chicago Moon
Courtesy of Juliane Roennau

It's dark and early so all the lights are on in the tall buildings that surround me. The twin peaks of the Bloomingdale's tower two blocks down the street glow orange. I suppose because of Halloween.

I sit here in the dark, looking at the city lights, and eating Orville Redenbacher's Microwave Movie Theater Butter Popcorn and golden delicious apples.

The city has seduced me. I know you can only love a person, but I feel I love this city on nights like these.

The "F" Word

Not that "F" word, silly. I'm talking about Fascist.

Fascist gets used so much these days that it is losing its shock value just like that other notorious "F" word.

Still, President Bush's intention to veto a defense spending bill that contains banning the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners will tempt some people into using it.

I'll defer using either "F" word myself, but merely wonder about the continued isolation of President Bush since the ban has received overwhelming support in the Senate and outside by military leaders.

In the Belly of the Beast

When you walk down the halls of corporate America, you don't bump into any economists. Why is that?

Economists are much more useful preaching the gospel of the true religion outside the belly of the beast. You know, the rationally calculating economic man and the wonderful capitalist machine that will go of itself if people would just leave it alone.

However, in the belly of the beast things aren't quite so handsome. Spend a year or two in conference rooms talking about who will have a job and who won't when one company buys another, and you'll see a much different calculation going on. Take your favorite financial spreadsheet and run it through the shredder because it won't do you any good.

As John Kenneth Galbraith was fond of saying, there's the myth and the reality.

Some economists are fond of saying that a planned economy won't work because nobody can plan people's wants. Why that logic applies for a social program and not inside the belly of the beast eludes me.

Alone at night, I read my Galbraith more, and Tech Central less.

Thanks to Jodi Dean at I Cite for inspiring the notion.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Recapturing the Fortress

Winning counts in politics. When you win, either by election in a liberal democracy, or by overthrowing and replacing a current despotic regime with another despotic regime, it counts. Reason, morals (values?), and discourse might help you gain power, but if you do not plan and organize to win, you lose.

Reason and Justice are understood via many different sorts of metaphors. That makes it important to master them and use the ones that are effective in gaining power. Ideals and values only count when they are deployed so as to activate the appropriate metaphors as spurs to action in other minds.

I locate myself along the political spectrum somewhere on the Left. I vacillate between socialism and leftist liberalism. I finally see that locating myself precisely on the spectrum is of secondary importance. It doesn't mean shit without winning.

The interesting thing about conservatism is its conglomeration of different ideas, ideals, values, and metaphors. Equally interesting is the result of so called conservative policy making. The policy of the Bush administration looks as though they never believed in the values they espoused. The errant results and the complete incompetence in carrying out conservative ideology never ceases to amaze either. I don't say this to denigrate the true conservative thinker, merely to point out the fruits of victory as opposed to defeat. You get to be wrong and incompetent as long as you know how to win.

I have this feeling the people situated along the Left have a long difficult siege and battle to recapture the fortress. It took forty years to lose it. I might be dead before the prize is recaptured if ever.

Haughty Indolence

I slept reasonably long and well last night. The White Sox crushing 14-2 win over the Red Sox yesterday pretty much diverted my mind from other things. I need that every now and then. My 'other things' are often stupid. Of course, the residue of sadness from my beloved Cubs performing below expectations once again this year, regardless of the reasons, colors my world a dull gray. Enjoy the sport you love anyway I tell myself. Like all idiots who enjoy baseball I try to wax lyrical and pensive, and find in the sport a metaphor for life itself. It's a vice that should be avoided.

I've already read the philosophy books I put on my Autumn reading list. I read philosophy too quickly these days. The books added to my confusion rather than helped me answer questions. The reading was a prism breaking the light into irreconcilable colors. None of my most firmly entrenched beliefs were shattered or even fractured.

I often confuse my old age with my haughty indolence. I am bored enough with both that I might become young again. I might start some projects where I can succeed. That will require some no-nonsense grounding in reality which is not my strong suit. Well intentioned actions are always difficult for me.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Constitution and Interpretation

Don Herzog at Left2Right says it way better than me in his a ritual stupidity.
On and off the bench, when it comes to constitutional law, interpretation is the only game in town. The contrast that matters is that between good and bad interpretations, not between people who "faithfully apply the letter of the Constitution" and those who "make stuff up."

Next time you hear someone pounding the table about Griswold and Roe as instances of legislation from the bench, ask him about Dale. Next time — at confirmation hearings or on the campaign trail — you hear our elected politicians carrying on about strict construction, don't let them sucker you into believing it. After all, I'd hate to believe that they are so stupidly ideological that they've suckered themselves.

Religion and Health

The TimesOnline has an interesting article, Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side', by Ruth Gledhill.

The article is about Gregory S. Paul's research paper, Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, published in the Journal of Religion & Society.

It is unfortunate that Ms. Gledhill, in the first paragraph of her article, makes a basic statistics mistake about the findings of the article and research. She says:

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.
What the paper shows is that countries that are religious have higher rates of murder, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, and suicide than secular countries. The paper also shows that the two areas in the United States with the highest religious and anti-evolution belief, the midwest and the south, have higher rates of murder, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, and suicide than other parts of the country. However, basic statistics tells us that correlation does not prove causality. You can't say religion causes murder, or murder causes religion. Well, you could say it, but you might not be right. That doesn't make the results any the less interesting though.

Gregory Paul calls his research a preliminary result and makes a call for more research to find the underlying causes of the result. I'm not familiar with the research in this area, but I've heard the question many times,"if America is so religious, then why is there so much murder and mayhem there?"

You can arrive at some preliminary conclusions though.

Religion by itself does not make a country moral. You cannot blame the ills of the society on the dozen or so atheists lurking in the shadows and alleys of America. There just aren't that many of them.

The moral categories under study and question happen to be the categories we here about from the activist Fundamentalists all the time. I think is safe to conclude that there a lot of hypocrites running around. Hypocrisy is one test of the strength of moral beliefs no matter from where they derive.

I have read about other psychology studies that indicate that people who have solid spiritual lives seem to suffer less from diseases like depression. That's another thing that makes it all perplexing.

Politics, society, culture, and economics. I wished it wasn't all so confusing. I might not run for President after all. I didn't really want to be forced to talk about my affairs anyway.

Maybe, crime and immorality does cause religion. It could be about atoning for one's sins and all that. Where did I put my Dostoevsky?

Note: I got the links to the article and paper from two other blogs, but I'm darned if I remember who they are. My apologies to both, and I'll post it when memory serves me better.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Interpreting the Constitution

Some people claim the Constitution is easy to interpret. They believe it places strict boundaries on what the Supreme Court should decide. You would almost think there would be no Supreme Court cases at all given the completely logical infallibility of the document.

Others believe you can interpret the Constitution by knowing the intentions of its authors. Let's take abortion for instance. What did the authors of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers have to say about abortion? Nothing. Abortion is not a word contained in either document. That leads us back into the murky waters of interpretation, and the whole process of legal scholarship since the Constitution came into effect.

Let's not tee up the abortion issue now. There is plenty to discuss, but that leads into a lot of other issues.

The authors of the Constitution were secular thinking people. The scholarship seems overwhelming on that point. That doesn't prevent some folks believing that the Constitution was founded on the Bible if not merely an extension of it. Check the Bill of Rights, Amendment I. To those who want their particular faith to be the guiding light for Constitutional interpretation, I say, yes, you do, right up until the time some other faith has taken power.

The Constitution exists in culture not just in the minds and writing of the legal scholars. That means I interpret the Constitution too. I know. The temerity of the little people. To read the Constitution is to interpret the Constitution.

A strict application of the Constitution has its place, but sometimes it doesn't when it comes to all those messy little details like rights and duties.

Just so you know. I believe in legalized abortion and a woman's right to choose. I don't believe in a religious interpretation of the Constitution. Those are stories for another time.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Have Some More Tea

From Bob Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man:

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Initially we had the reports of rape, murder, and mayhem in the Superdome during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Then we had news that all of that may have been exaggerated. Now, we are left to ponder what the episode means.

We construct a reality that does not capture all that is real. This constructed reality comforts us and makes us feel safe. Something happens that exposes the constructed reality, shatters it, or destroys it. That which was there to protect us is no more. What was this reality we so carefully built for ourselves protecting us from? The world and ourselves.

We like our placid everyday lives even though we complain about it. We suppress images of disaster and the potential we might be at the center of that disaster. We suppress those images even though we have read, seen, and heard about disasters from secondary sources. The images live in a backroom that we seldom enter. Some of the images are of despicable crimes against humanity.

Disaster strikes. We hear of the total breakdown of civilization. The images in the backroom enter the parlor and spoil our tea party. We try to set things right. We want our old reality back. How do we do this?

We reflect on those people who were trapped in the Superdome. We say, well that explains a lot of it. They are not like us.

The ugly images who have invaded our tea party are all shaded gray though. The gray color of the image is universal and part of our common human unconscious. Some of us deny it. Some must deny it to restore order to the tea party. Polite society must be reinvented.

We receive more news later. Those trapped inside the vortex of the disaster reacted out of an instinct for survival, yet also acted heroically. Altruism did not flee the scene of the disaster. However, order has been restored by the time this latest news arrives. The dark gray images have already been locked into their murky backroom. Reality has been reinvented and forgotten.

Would you like some more tea, Mr. Jones?

Silence and the Barstool

October is a good month to live in downtown Chicago. Many people visit Chicago in October to attend sporting events, conventions, and music events, to shop, to drink, to cheat on their spouses by engaging in one night liaisons with a stranger, and to leave their children for a weekend and have some adult fun.

My local bar is a great place to meet some of these people. The bar is located one block away from the north end of Michigan Avenue. The bar is small and a little seedy. The TV's lining the walls and corners are always tuned to sporting events. A new jukebox connected to the Internet with 150,000 downloadable songs always plays loudly. People have to shout to be heard which adds to the noise and the chaos. Out-of-towners wander the downtown Chicago streets and happen upon the bar. I suppose it reminds them of some of the bars in their local towns and cities.

Strangers sitting at the next barstool always strike up a conversation. They like to talk, but everyone does. I am not a good listener, but I am perceived that way because I know how to remain silent even when I have something to say. That's me. People see through me. They know they can talk about anything at any length and I'll sit still and nod politely. It's better to be a silent, yet a poor listener since people often wake the next day wishing they had not said the things they said the day before. People know their secrets and betrayals are safe with me because I wasn't listening anyway.

We are all happy. The strangers enjoy their talk. I enjoy my idle thoughts about whatever while maintaining the pretence of being a good listener. And we all enjoy our beer and whiskey.

Of course, I overstate my case. It is impossible not to look and listen. That's how people enter my diary. I don't think there is a person in my diary I didn't like even if I met them for only a few minutes. Everyone has something to talk about that they care about. Why not write it down if only to preserve the faint memory of its momentary glimmer?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Thrilla in Manila

I watched the third Ali versus Frazier fight tonight on ESPN Classic, the Thrilla in Manila from 1975. I saw it through a prism that cast several different colors.

Ali and Frazier are two of the greatest fighters of all time. Both came into the fight in peak condition. Frazier pursued his relentless in-fighting style. Letting Ali dance around the ring and throw long jabs meant having his face cut up as if someone had taken a switchblade to it. Ali weathered the storm. The last two rounds Frazier, from sheer exhaustion, gave Ali the opening Ali was looking for. Ali danced, threw his jabs, and landed hard combinations. That was enough for Ali to win it.

Frazier did not answer the bell after those two rounds. His manager threw in the towel after round 14. That hardly tells the story about the physical courage of the two men. They stood toe to toe exchanging nonstop punishment for the whole fight. It defies the imagination how they did it for that long in the hot and humid conditions of Manila. Frazier did not answer the bell, but Ali gave his post-fight interview sitting on his stool unable to hold his head up. If you did not see the fight, you would not know who the winner was.

By the time 1975 rolled around politics had tainted the fight. Ali was cast as the hero conscientious objector and Frazier was cast as a sort of Uncle Tom. The unfairness to both men is almost inconceivable. Both men would have been content spending their lives as professional fighters trying to be the best of all time if politics and public events had not gotten in the way.

We know what the objective of boxing is. It's all about trying to cause as much trauma to the brain of one's opponent as possible, thereby rendering the opponent unconscious. The accumulation of brain trauma over the years causes a callous to form around the outer brain tissue, thus destroying cognitive capacity.

I watched a bit of the movie Gladiator last night. Boxing is the remnant of that time twenty-five hundred years ago.

Who are the Cylons?

Kant first distinguished between phenomena and noumena. Our minds condition reality, so we never know the thing-in-itself. A gap opens between phenomena and noumena. That insight is unsettling, so philosophers such as Hegel immediately tried to plug that gap, and so have others since Kant.

We everyday encounter this gap between the phenomenal and the noumenal. We don't like the gap. We try to fill the gap with science, religion, philosophy, and art. We never quite succeed. We feel adrift and a little uneasy about reality because it eludes our grasp. Once you feel you have embraced it, it disappears. Some claim they have grasped reality through religion, science, or philosophy. They have not grasped it well enough to convince everyone as to exactly what it is.

Battlestar Galactica provides another way of looking at that theme. I won't write a synopsis of the show. The question I ask is who are the Cylons?

They are the other. They are highly evolved robots whose mission is to kill all humans. We must destroy them before they destroy us. The mission of the Cylons is instrumental in that they have no higher goals and purpose other than to kill humans. After all, they are not human, and to have a higher purpose is part of being human. We should treat each other as ends in themselves as Kant would have it. Pure survival narrows the reality gap.

However, the Cylons look like us, in fact, they take shape as exact replicas of real humans. It's damned near impossible to tell a Cylon from a human until he tries to kill you. You can fall in love with a Cylon, have sex with a Cylon, and rape and torture a Cylon to watch it suffer. Some Cylons appear to be good and aid humans in their fight against the evil Cylons.

Reality tears at this point. A gap opens between phenomena and noumena. We are back to all the questions about reality except now the questions present themselves in terms of our own humanity. The question becomes as much about who we are as it is about who the Cylons are. Just what is it about the most highly evolved Cylons that make them different or other than us?

Other questions present themselves. Who is your Cylon, and why? What sort of enjoyment are you getting from it?

I listen to a lot of I write at the computer most days, and I find it a welcome overlay to the noise of the city. The building boom around where I live thrives unabated which adds to the cacophony of discordant sound. features a mix of short classical pieces, movie soundtracks, and traditional music done pop-classical. I am enjoying the movie soundtrack stuff. Someone gave me the movie soundtrack for Last of the Mohicans when the movie first came out, and it remains one of my favorites.

This is another one those mornings where the sky is cloudless. It's going to be a honey of a day. I will enjoy it while remaining unashamed by my good fortune.

End of the season, but what about the philosophy?

It appears that the new season of Battlestar Galactica episodes is over. Last night's episode was a repeat. Oh well, Desperate Housewives started last week.

I searched to see if there was a book about Battlestar Galactica and philosophy in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series. Open Court publishes collections of philosophical essays about Seinfeld, the Simpsons, The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc. I didn't find a title relating to Battlestar Galactica, but my brain is too lazy and addled to pursue it this morning.

I would think Battlestar Galactica is fertile ground for culture and philosophy essays. I suppose I'll have to do a Google search when I am up to it. I wonder if Zizek watches the show?

I am so culturally out of it and pathetic. I'd try to catch up, but by the time I got to 2005 it'd be 2015. I'll have to settle for bits and snatches as the opportunities arise.