Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fundamentalism and Nihilism

I think of a broad range of categories and types as I read this from Eagleton's After Theory.
This is just what the fundamentalist is unable to do. He cannot accept contingency. His life anticipates death, but in all the wrong ways. Far from the reality of death loosening his neurotic grip on life, it tightens it to a white-knuckled intensity. The fundamentalist tries to outwit death by the crafty strategy of projecting its absolutism on to life, thus making life itself eternal and imperishable. But is it then life the fundamentalist is in love with, or death? We have to find a way of living with non-being without being in love with it, since being in love with it is the duplicitous work of the death drive. It is the death drive which cajoles us into tearing ourselves apart in order to achieve the absolute security of nothingness. Non-being is the ultimate purity. It has the unblemishedness of all negation, the perfection of a blank page.

There is, then, a profound paradox to fundamentalism. On the one hand it is terrified of non-being, of the sheer sprawling gratuitousness of the material world, and wants to seal the fissure in the ramshackle structure with a stuffing of first principles, fixed meanings and self-evident truths. The world's contingency, its improvised air, reminds it intolerably of the fact that it could easily not exist. Fundamentalism is fearful of nihilism, having failed to notice that nihilism is simply the mirror-image of its own absolutism. The nihilist is almost always a disenchanted absolutist, the rebellious Oedipal child of the metaphysical father. Like his father, he believes that if values are not absolute, there are no values at all. If father was wrong, then nobody else can be right.

There is, however, a deeper affinity between nihilism and fundamentalism. If fundamentalism detests non-being, it also is allured by the prospect of it, since nothing could be less open to misinterpretation. Non-being is the enemy of instability and ambiguity. You cannot argue over its content, since it has no content at all. It is as absolute and unmistakable as the moral law, as unequivocal as a cypher. The fundamentalist is an ascetic, who wants to purge the world of surplus matter. In doing so, he can cleanse it of its sickening arbitrariness and reduce it to strict necessity. The ascetic is revolted by the monstrous fecundity of matter, and is thus a prey to nothingness. For him, there is simply too much being around the place, not least--from the viewpoint of the Islamic fundamentalist--in the West.

A little on the trashy side

I like 'em sweet, I like 'em with a heart of gold.
Yeah an' I like 'em brassy, I like 'em brazen and bold.
Well, they say that opposites attract, well, I don't agree
I want a woman just as tacky as me.
Yeah, I like my women just a little on the trashy side.

Yeah, an' I like my women just a little on the trashy side,
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed.
Too much lipstick an' er too much rouge,
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused.
An' I like my women just a little on the trashy side.

Trashy Women, Confederate Railroad

I liked Anna Nicole Smith when she had more meat on her bones--somebody I could imagine drinking a beer and shot with me at the bar, somebody encouraging me to write my memoirs because I'm just so damned cute and witty.


Last night, I watched the movie Julia, a movie I have seen many times since it was first released in 1978. Old Lillian fishing from a rowboat as dusk settles over the lake, Lillian throwing her typewriter out the window as she tries to complete her first play, Nazism ascending during the dark and brutal days prior to World War II, Dash telling Lillian her play is the best that has been written in years, the heroic Julia renouncing her wealth and brilliant future for the best of all causes—the saving of human lives in Nazi Germany, and Lillian overcoming her fear to help her best friend Julia always hook me into watching it again no matter how many times I've seen it.

The movie is based on Lillian Hellman’s memoir, Pentimento, whose truth is contested. The truth of it does not bother me at all. History and our places in it will always be contested ground; we dispute the historical truth within our own souls. The search for meaning counts too; melancholy suffuses our souls when we fail to find the meaning of events most important to us. We bump up against a limit just as we do when we tackle other difficult problems. Meaning is hidden from us. We must dig for it, and no one knows exactly where to dig despite dogmas, doctrines, and assertions contradicted by actions. We indulge in certainties, and deny pastiche as a way to create meaning; thereby assuring that meaning will elude us.

Our fate is to know and not know.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Marx, Aristotle, and Eagleton

I reread Terry Eagleton’s After Theory yesterday, for what reason why I do not know. Let’s say I like the beat and it’s easy to dance to, so I give it a 98.

After Theory is Eagleton’s assessment—pitched at the general reader level—of the state of Theory (structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism) circa 2003.

I find it interesting that Eagleton links Aristotle’s conception of the good life, human flourishing, and happiness with Marx’s philosophy. Maybe, it massages my ego to see the brilliant Terry Eagleton juxtapose Marx and Aristotle because I have been thinking about the juxtaposition for quite a few years.

For Aristotle, as we have seen, ethics and politics are intimately related. Ethics is about excelling at being human, and nobody can do that in isolation. Moreover, nobody can do it unless the political institutions which allow you to do it are available. It is this kind of moral thinking which was inherited by Karl Marx, who was much indebted to Aristotle even in economic thought. Questions of good and bad had been falsely abstracted from their social contexts, and had to be restored to them again. In this sense, Marx was a moralist in the classical sense of the word. He believed that moral inquiry had to examine all of the factors which went to make up a specific action or way of life, not just personal ones.

Unfortunately, Marx was a classical moralist who did not seem aware that he was, rather, as Dante was not aware that he was living in the middle ages. Like a lot of radicals since his time, Marx thought the whole of morality was just ideology. This is because he made the characteristically bourgeois mistake of confusing morality with moralism. Moralism believes that there is a set of questions known as moral questions which are quite distinct from social or political ones. It does not see that ‘moral’ means exploring the texture and quality of human behavior as richly and sensitively as you can, and that you cannot do this by abstracting men and women from their social surrounding. This is morality as, say, the novelist Henry James understood it, as opposed to those who believe you can reduce it to rules, prohibitions and obligations.

Marx, however, made the mistake of defining morality as moralism, and so quite understandably rejected it. He did not seem to realize he was the Aristotle of the modern age.

Later, Eagleton takes Aristotelian ethics to task.
Aristotle's man of virtue is notoriously self-centered. He enjoys friendship as part of the good life, but it is the life of contemplation he finds most precious. What Aristotle does not fully appreciate is that virtue is a reciprocal affair. He sees, to be sure, that it can thrive only in political society; but he does not really recognize that virtue is what happens between people--that it is a function of relationships. His so-called 'great-souled man' is alarmingly self-sufficient. Freindship matters to the man of virtue, but it is more mutual admiration than genuine love.

This gets back to the question: what kind of Marxist am I? I keep returning to Marx to find answers; that is, trying to integrate my reading of Marxist’s texts into my other belief systems—no easy task for a humble thinker, like me.

Yet, the project has been an enjoyable one, one I look forward to continuing this year.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The real new year

My new year always begins about this time when I begin to believe the days will be longer and warmer. The holidays for me are always filled with regret over things left undone and sentimental longings for a past that never was. I hate the holidays and their darkness.

So as I begin my new year, I look back at the old one as another year where I spent some days seriously, yet spent way too many frivolously; and indulged myself irresponsibly most of the time and much to my great shame.

My goal this year will be to achieve some consistency and balance between my serious and frivolous times; and I must overcome my irresponsibility. I need to be productive again if only to restore my sanity—something I keep repeating, yet keep hoping to achieve.

However, I look at the stacks of books I’ve read over the course of the year, and find myself much pleased, for they represent a tradition which I was not much familiar with—such as Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger; plus I revisited with a new eye books that were gathering dust and almost forgotten, and explored many thinkers and subjects alien to me.

I can truthfully say that I understand better what I believe. Even though that is not the coin of the realm, I am satisfied with it. New projects present themselves for my inspection which is what the Spring and my New Year are all about.

Having easy going fun while doing my own thing in my own time is still my mission statement. My own thing needs to change a little though.

Because they had no category for marxist, we are not surprised

Marxist, yes. But what kind of marxist when you get down to cases?

A quiz at Advocates for self-government:


The political description that
fits you best is....


LIBERALS usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded "safety net" to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

The RED DOT on the Chart shows where you fit on the political map.

Your PERSONAL issues Score is 90%.
Your ECONOMIC issues Score is 30%

In the bag?

Rooney, Saha, and Rinaldo have all scored early in the second half--all within six minutes of each other. Man U is up 4 nil over Wigan. It appears today's football wager is safely in the bag.

If only I had not been so damned greedy this past week.

A +

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

I would have been depressed if I had gotten anything less than 10 out of 10. I mean really depressed.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

17 cents on the dollar

Chelsea 2 - 0 Porstmouth.

I finally put a W on the board again. OK, so I only earned 17 cents on the dollar. Imagine how rich I would be in one year if I could get 17% daily compound interest? But that ain't going to happen.

Oh well, I have Man U tomorrow in their Carling Cup Final match against Wigan.

Too late

Each ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds is a dagger to the center of my head. I did not stay out real late last night, but I did stay out too late.

The sporting life

One of the virtues of the Internet is ESPN's Gamecast, an almost live update of sporting events, such as baseball and football, and their statistics. I have the Chelsea vs. Portsmouth match running on my computer as I write this. My money is on that match.

My home is a sportsbook parlor.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Oh, for a couple of confidence boosters

I am going to resist the urge to try to recoup all my losses from this week's Champions League matches in one weekend. So, here is what I've done.

* Sat: Chelsea 1.17 to win at home vs. Portsmouth
* Sun: Manchester United 1.61 to win vs. Wigan in the Carling Cup Final

I really could use a couple of confidence boosters this weekend.

A note on flesh

I fool myself quite often into thinking my thoughts are something above my everyday experiences. However, I am wrong, for whatever thoughts I have are grounded in my body: what its senses, how it moves about the world, and what makes it laugh and cry. My thoughts of mathematics, philosophy, and politics arise from my body and everyday experience. To be sure, these thoughts are illuminated by complex metaphorical schemes that help me make sense of it all—creating a way to survive as long as I might—yet it is my flesh, and its immersion in the world that makes these thoughts possible.

This flesh is the starting point of all my thinking, and one day it will be the end.

A palace we will never know

I woke in the middle of the night two days ago, could not fall back to sleep, and commenced channel surfing until I chanced upon Frontline’s show on the Iraq insurgency. The violence chilled me, and left me with a feeling of despair and sorrow for everyone who lives in that most unfortunate country where fear of sudden and brutal death, no matter who you are, is the normal routine.

This morning, as I read in the newspapers about the wave of sectarian violence in Iraq this week, the nausea returns to darken my mood grayer than the February sky blanketing Chicago. Who are we, we humans, who do these things endlessly to each other without break or respite, without remorse, without questioning, always believing we will live forever in this world or the next, unafraid of what later generations will think of our slaughter and butchery, always justifying the unjustifiable, believing a few more deaths will pave the way to progress and peace, never admitting our primal fears that we may one day be prey and victim rather than hunter, and praying to god just before sacrificing the next victim?

And where are the gods while all this is happening? They sit it in a remote palace all their own—one we will never see nor know—and they do not laugh at us nor cry for us, for they do not know us, and we do not know them.

Benamin and Sebald

Reading Walter Benjamin’s A Berlin Chronicle last night, I, at one moment, felt as though I was reading W. G. Sebald: a kind of trick my mind plays upon itself, for I know no German, and am usually lost when it comes to literary styles. Maybe, it is just the mastery of style that all great writers possess that makes many of them seem alike late at night before one falls off to sleep. This morning, while reflecting on reading Benjamin, I discover that I look forward to reading more of him, for I may have found a replacement—or rather an addition—to reading Sebald, who, like Benjamin, is gone and lives only in my imagination as a ghost who haunts me late at night.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I've been tagged

Edie at Annotated Life tagged me with this. Here is what comes immediately to mind.

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?

It depends. Lawrence of Arabia cannot be a black and white movie; The Hustler cannot be a color movie.

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?

New Age spirituality.

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium
for prerecorded music?

CDs because I have a CD player.

4: You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going … Ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?

I’d do the right thing by family and friends and take the money and run. I would compensate them generously for the terrible loss of my company. Ah damn, I probably would not go.

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world’s most pressing issue now?

The explosive mix of unbridled capitalism, fundamentalist religious hatred and intolerance, and weapons of mass destruction in the world.

6: How would you rectify the world’s most pressing issue?

I doubt if it can be rectified. Human folly will play itself out until there are no more humans.

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?

I would learn how to write at an early age. Then I would become an independent scholar.

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?

I wish World War I had never happened. Changing history, however, sounds like a very risky proposition. Let’s try something less dramatic.

I wish Bernhard Riemann had not lost the journal he took with him to Paris, and also that his housekeeper had not burned some of his papers after his death. Who knows what great math might have been in them?

The loss of any text from antiquity down to modern times has always weighed heavily on my mind.

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole’ Opry –Which do you choose?

I would try to find a cool date and go where she wanted to go.

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you’d like to solve?

I would like to know who really murdered Fyodor Karamazov.

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?

I would like to hang out with Fyodor Dostoevsky. I would fix caviar, shrimp, and cream cheese on cucumber slices for an appetizer, steaks, potatoes au gratin, and artichoke hearts with plenty of butter.

I would ask him if his mind was as on fire when he wrote the books as mine is when I read them. I would have plenty of vodka on hand and when he was tipsy enough, I would ask him who really murdered Fyodor Karamazov?

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky — what’s the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?

I have been celebrating it most of my life. Another couple of Buds at the local bar could not hurt though.

I tag Deertown Times, Raindrops, Empty Rhetoric, and The title conscious blog if they care to do it.

Welcome to the portfolio

At the heart of modern capitalism is the modern financial corporation. All corporations are financial corporations and are managed that way whether they are involved in pure finance or not. Business units, products, markets, human resources, and information technologies are all financial portfolios. They are there to generate share holder value. Nothing more and nothing less. They are financial assets to be bought and sold.

Modern American politics is composed of financial portfolios too. There are no longer political parties, philosophies, or even ideologies. What remains are political portfolios with ideas and concepts designed to garner share of mind that translates into votes, wealth, and power. If the political idea does not generate share holder value it must be sold to another party or become bankrupt.

We are all part of these portfolios whether we like it or not. Our differences are merely between who controls the portfolios and who does not.

Do you think there is a better place? Do you know the way to that place?

Category Theory: a possible tool for philosophy?

As we know, applying mathematical logic and set theory to philosophical problems was all the rage during the twentieth century. With the rise of modern cognitive science we better understand how the mind creates philosophy and mathematics. That understanding has at the least made philosophies based upon logic and set theory problematic.

However, over the past week or so, I have been wondering if applying category theory to philosophical problems might not produce some results. That does no alleviate the need for understanding the metaphors and metonyms underlying category theory, but it might be a useful tool all the same.

Trivial cases

One way of studying a new piece of abstract mathematics, say algebraic topology, is to study the trivial cases or models. One might study the real line or the plane as examples when taking up algebraic topology.

This turns out to be trivial and uninteresting work, but it has one virtue. If you don’t understand why those cases are trivial, then you probably won’t understand the more difficult problems and theorems either.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Unless the bubble bursts

I walked down State Street tonight into the Loop. The street north of the Chicago River will one day change completely into mid-rise buildings, chain stores, and upscale restaurants unless the bubble bursts.

0 for 2

Another bad day at the races. Oh well, what goes up must come down in the sports betting world.


The Chelsea vs. Barcelona match will be broadcast live at 1:30 CST on ESPN2. It could be a honey of a football game.

Going under for the third time

I am diving back into the deep end even though I am pretty much a drowned rat after yesterday's swimming expedition. Here is what I have on today's Champions League matches.

* Chelsea 2.16 to win at home vs. Barcelona
* Juventus 2.20 to win away at Werder Bremen

Hope springs eternal as they say.

Going under for the third time

I am diving back into the deep end even though I am pretty much a drowned rat after yesterday's swimming expedition. Here is what I have on today's Champions League matches.

* Chelsea 2.16 to win at home vs. Barcelona
* Juventus 2.20 to win away at Werder Bremen

Hope springs eternal as they say.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Reversal of fortune

In a stunning reversal of fortune, I went a perfect 0 for 4 in my Champions League football wagers this afternoon.

There are four more matches tomorrow. I plan on getting some of it back.

The action

I have won a spectacular 7 out of the 8 wagers I have made this month. In a fit of hubris and enthusiasm I just wagered on all four of today's Champions League matches.

* Real Madrid 1.61 to win at home vs. Arsenal
* Bayern Munich 2.28 to win at home vs. AC Milan
* PSV Eindhoven 3.12 to draw at home vs. Olympique Lyon
* Liverpool 2.35 to win away vs. Benfica

Just writing the list has given me buyer's remorse over blowing a potential good wagering month for February. I should have stayed with my original wager on Real Madrid and left it at that.

Oh well, I need the action today for some reason. My blood is up.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Champions League Matches

I picked up Real Madrid 1.61 to win at home vs. Arsenal. I should have bet this one last week before the odds dropped.

I'm still meditating on the other matches.

And now for something less shrill coming from a conservative

Conservative Francis Fukuyama has an interesting article After Neoconservatism in the NYT (link via arts & letters daily). It should be read by those conservatives whose reading never gets beyond Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. I won't mention other conservative writers who usually miss the mark.

As we approach the third anniversary of the onset of the Iraq war, it seems very unlikely that history will judge either the intervention itself or the ideas animating it kindly. By invading Iraq, the Bush administration created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, a training ground and an operational base for jihadist terrorists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at. The United States still has a chance of creating a Shiite-dominated democratic Iraq, but the new government will be very weak for years to come; the resulting power vacuum will invite outside influence from all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran. There are clear benefits to the Iraqi people from the removal of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and perhaps some positive spillover effects in Lebanon and Syria. But it is very hard to see how these developments in themselves justify the blood and treasure that the United States has spent on the project to this point.

We know Fukuyama as the influential conservative author of The End of History and the Last Man from the early nineties where he predicted what the post-Cold War world would look like based on his reading of Hegel and Marx. Here is what he has to say about his book in the article.
I have numerous affiliations with the different strands of the neoconservative movement. I was a student of Strauss's protégé Allan Bloom, who wrote the bestseller "The Closing of the American Mind"; worked at Rand and with Wohlstetter on Persian Gulf issues; and worked also on two occasions for Wolfowitz. Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.

"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.

The thing I like about Fukuyama is that his writing presents a tonic to the shrillness and laziness of conservative writing that passes for intellectual enlightenment in these days. I don't have to buy into all his philosophy to get a little relief from the usual conservative babble.

Another bit of blogging angst

Would Marx have been a blogger? From the article Time for the last post by Trevor Butterworth at FT.com about blogging:
As for Marx, journalism was an act of economic necessity that, initially, necessitated Engels doing all the writing. But Marx was a quick learner with a deft wit, and in his brisk biography, Francis Wheen posits that “had he but world enough and time Marx could have. made his name as the sharpest polemical journalist of the 19th century. But at his back he could always hear the nagging voice of conscience whispering, ‘c’est magnifique, mais c’est ne pas la guerre.” For Marx and Engels, journalism was trivial - an impediment to serious, memorable and above all influential work. “Mere potboiling,” wrote Engels of the more than 500 articles he and Marx wrote for The New York Daily Tribune, “It doesn’t matter if they are never read again.”

Unless Marx was paid for it, it is highly unlikely he would have been a blogger. He would not have needed it for any other reason.

I have needed this blog many more days than this blog has needed me. The days when I needed it were the frustrating days of sitting alone in front of blank pieces of paper that seemed like they would never be filled with words--not even ugly words.

I am going through a fit of blogging angst. The news cycle is all against the Bush administration, so that makes politics much less fun to write about. My thoughts each day are absorbed in a story I can't talk about in public for fear of losing it. I don't have much hope the world will be a better place to live by the time I die. The eventual destruction of the world possesses a logic of its own that I cannot fathom. Overcoming inertia becomes more difficult each day. The only bright spot of each day is predicting the outcome of sporting events.

Yet I can still cut a deal with myself to be happy if by nothing else than grand forgetting.

Here I am all the same--writing my blog. I need this blog more today than it needs me.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Second Chance

President Bush keeps getting lots of second chances to make things right even though his administration has been one of corruption and incompetence. Now, Republican Senators such as Lindsey Graham and Arlen Specter, who have serious concerns about President Bush's spying program, are extending their help to revise FISA so that it protects both American liberties and American security. The question is whether President Bush will work with them. I would not bet on it. President Bush has not shown any desire to work with anyone on issues such as this.

One only need think about his opposition to the law against torture. We have this WaPo article, Navy Counsel Issued Warning On Torture:
The Navy's general counsel warned Pentagon officials two years before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that circumventing international agreements on torture and detainees' treatment would invite abuse, according to a published report.

Legal theories granting the president the right to authorize abuse despite the Geneva Conventions were unlawful, dangerous and erroneous, then-General Counsel Alberto J. Mora advised officials in a secret memo. The 22-page document was obtained by the New Yorker for an article in its Feb. 27 issue.

This squares with other insider reports about the Bush Administration. Intelligence reports that predicted the disaster in Iraq were ignored. The legality of domestic spying was seriously contested by experts inside the Justice Department. Competent government officials have left the government service in frustration over appointments of unqualified cronies. Respected career scientists have been dictated to by unqualified crony journalists.

The consequences have ruined many lives. Those who have made those bad decisions remain unrepentant.

Should the Democrats win the House this Fall, they should begin impeachment proceedings against Vice President Cheney and President Bush. The Republican controlled House lowered the bar significantly when they impeached President Clinton. A Democratic led impeachment of President Bush would restore a much needed balance in those proceedings. It would restore the balance between high crimes and misdemeanors and frivolous lawsuits. The Republican Party would sober up and realize that the sword has two edges.

Aston Villa 1 - 1 Manchester City

Micah Richards for Man City drives home a header off a corner kick at 93 + minutes to give Man City the draw. It was a honey of football match.

I win my draw wager and finish the week pretty darned well in sports wagering.

Now, it is time to get psyched for Tuesday's and Wednesday's European Champions League matches. There are a lot of good ones coming up and a lot of tough ones to wager on.


Not being content to spend the rest of the day without a football bet, I have the draw at 3.20 in the Aston Villa vs. Manchester City FA Cup match this afternoon.

Chelsea 3 - 1 Colchester

I win.


All good things come to an end and sometimes rather quickly such as life itself. But that should not bother me, for Montaigne says to philosophize is to prepare for death. However, I do not wish to discuss anything quite as gloomy as death even though it is bitterly cold again this morning in Chicago. It feels like a certain kind of death for me whose favorite attire is a t-shirt and shorts.

I had an idea for a story in 1982. I worked on it a little then. The idea was rekindled while I was talking to an acquaintance during the holidays. The idea has plagued my imagination while I have struggled to write this year’s book. I might abandon the work I have done this year and start working on this other idea if only to purge it from my mind. I hate to do it, but I may not be productive until I try to get the new thing on paper.

Worse yet, after seeing Shakespeare’s Pericles, I have recalled another idea for a novel from about 15 years ago. I see places where I went wrong with it back then that might be repaired.

This indecision immobilizes me. I cannot predict how it will come out no matter what I choose, so I don’t know why I worry about it.

During the past year, I have grown accustomed to the thought that I might never write anything good by the time I die. I can live with it and still be happy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Newcastle 1 - 0 Southhampton

I win.


It’s cold. About 0 degrees cold. 48 hours ago we had thunderstorms and temperatures in the mid-forties. I walked a couple of blocks down State Street to buy a coffee at noon, and the coffee cooled off quite a bit by the time I returned.

However, we have FA Cup football this weekend. I wagered on Newcastle at 1.41 to win over Southhampton in today’s match. I have Chelsea at 1.10 to win over Colchester tomorrow.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Philosophy, Chelsea, Colchester, and Barcelona

I wrote for a spell this morning. Then I went out to lunch. My mind turned to philosophical matters related to the current state of the world.

Now, I'm home and thinking about football. English Premier League leader Chelsea plays Colchester this weekend in the FA Cup competition. Chelsea, one of the world's best teams, is running at 1.10 to win. That means you win a dime for every dollar wagered. I cannot imagine Chelsea not winning, so a dime sounds like an OK deal.

Chelsea plays Barcelona in a few days in the first leg of the round of 16 in the European Champions League competition. Barcelona is one of the best football clubs in the world too. What if Chelsea is looking past Colchester to Barcelona and manage only a draw?

Despite all that, I think I'll try to pick up some dimes, and then get back to thinking about philosophy.


I just finished watching a small spot on WTTW PBS TV in Chicago about the neighborhood called River North around Hubbard and Clark. The area used to be seedy a while back: cheap strip and gin joints. When I moved to Chicago I worked in that neighborhood one block north of the Chicago River. Even then it had its charms such as lots of hotdog stands, hole-in-the-wall-bars, and XXX porn shops. Now it is gentrified.

That area, like all of downtown Chicago, has gotten gentrified over the past 21 years I have lived here. The guys who drink at the hole-in-the-wall-bar in my neighborhood wonder where we'll go to drink after the property gets sold for mid-rise property, as it eventually will.

People wait for the hammer to fall.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good football week

There is lots of good football coming up this next week. The fourth round proper of the FA Cup is being played this weekend. Liverpool plays Manchester United. I'm thinking about betting the draw in that match.

Next week is the first leg of the round of 16 in the European Champions League.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Blackburn 2 - 0 Sunderland

I win.

Today's football wager

I have Blackburn 1.45 to win at home vs. Sunderland.

Two recent events and marxist ideals

Ann Coulter's comment during a recent speech about Muslims being ragheads and the reaction of Muslims over the Danish cartoons forces one to reassess one's political philosophy. A marxist interpretation of events is useful in this regard.

It is the supreme irony that the group of people who most vociferously back the Iraq War and preemptive war against Islamic states in general in the name of freedom and democracy should hold the opinion of those, whom they purport to liberate, as ragheads. What we have is the perfect picture of modern radical fundamentalist conservatism showing itself to be exactly like the radical fundamentalist Muslims they hate.

How does a marxist view these two events. Let's look at some basic assumptions of marxism.

* The marxist is deeply distrustful of religion. Religion in many of its forms prevents people from realizing their best natures. Religion might offer up some ideas about justice and the value of all human beings, but those are never the values of the authoritarian fundamentalist religious elites.

* The marxist is a rationalist. It is through reason and its freedom that humans gain both moral authority and the will to create better lives for themselves.

* The marxist is a humanist. Humans are alienated by certain forms of economic and political regimes. The marxist ideal is to create a society where humans reach their potential and make progress.

* The marxist believes in freedom. One of those freedoms is an uncensored press.

* The marxist believes that true democracy cannot come about until a state has rid itself of capitalist excesses.

Taken in these terms, marxism is part of the Western humanist tradition with the addition of justice for the working class.

A marxist must stand upon principles and ideals that oppose the dangerous tendencies of all radical fundamentalist beliefs and regimes. Taking sides between Ann Coulter and the radical fundamentalist Islamic world is no choice at all. It is merely the same choice packaged and marketed to look differently.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Break

I spent a lot of time writing over the weekend which I should not have done since I needed a break. Now, I can't write at all.

I am not going to write tomorrow morning when I wake up.

Hook 'Em Hawkeyes

I have Iowa -2.5 at home vs. Michigan St. Iowa is up by 12 with four minutes to go.

Liverpool 1-0 Arsenal

I lost.

Today's Match

I won my Villanova wager yesterday. In the spirit of feeling lucky again today I have Arsenal at 3.55 vs. Liverpool. It should be a good football match. Start time is 2 PM Central.

Monday, February 13, 2006

There is a first time for everything

I never bet college basketball except for a couple of bucks on March Madness brackets. However, I bet Villanova +3.5 at home against UConn in tonight's game. I figure it is a real deal.

Just the bare minimum mind you.

The Ponies

Chicago has a lot of off track horse race gambling parlors. There's one a mile down State Street from where I live. I might start going to it one night a week to bet the ponies.

Strictly at the pocket change level mind you.

And I really have to get better at remembering to buy my $1 quick pick on the Mega-millions lottery twice weekly. Here is what I would do if I won the darned thing. I would buy a nice condo in downtown Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan. Nothing too fancy, but a place where I could have a decent room for my study and library. I'd buy a condo in Kauai too. Then I'd buy season tickets to the Cubs and White Sox so that I could go to a game everyday during the season. I'd spend the Spring and Summer in Chicago and the Winter in Kauai. That's all I really need. I don't want anything fancy like expensive cars or the other trappings of the wealthy.

More Pocket Change

I got the urge to play a little poker after my last post. I won $.67 by the way.

I continued to think about how much I like to gamble while I was playing. Here is what I have decided to do. I will gamble a lot on sports and poker at the minimum risk free pocket change level rather than fewer times at higher stakes.

We talk about sports betting a lot at State Street as you know. I consider sports gambling a coin flip proposition. The challenge is to find the best places to wager so as to minimize the juice.

The United States Attorney General's Office says that Internet gambling is illegal. I really should not be talking about it here even though the law is not enforced. In fact, I read a recent article in the business news that said that several large Wall Street financial firms have sizable investments in overseas companies who run gambling Internet sites.

It has been said many times that life is a gamble. Capitalism is the ultimate gamble and the ultimate gambling addiction.

Pocket Change

The place where I play poker on the Internet has penny limit Hold 'Em game which has become my game of choice. But why?

I used to play for much higher stakes. The interesting thing about the penny games versus the higher stakes games is that the players in the penny games seem to play better than the folks in the higher stakes games. You would think the opposite would be true.

Let us say on average a good poker player can win two times the amount of the big blind per hour. In my penny game that translates to 8 cents an hour. Assuming a lot of good players are in the penny games, the pure and real challenge is to beat them at the rate of a dime an hour.

Plus, playing an hour of penny poker means I am playing for far less than my pocket change. It's risk free gambling: merely a sporting proposition.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Come on, Baby, tap my wire

I know that being in the majority of opinion about any matter does make one right. However, here is a press release from the ABA about a recent poll regarding wiretapping:
CHICAGO, Feb.10, 2006 – According to a poll commissioned by the American Bar Association and released today, 52 percent of respondents said that in the fight against terrorism, the President of the United States alone cannot suspend constitutional freedoms, with an additional 25 percent saying he must obtain authorization by a court of law or Congress. Thus 77 percent of Americans express deep reservations about the president’s secret surveillance program.

The telephone poll conducted by Harris Interactive® over the past weekend found that only 18 percent of respondents believe the president can suspend constitutional freedoms "anytime the President thinks it is necessary to protect the country."

"While everyone agrees on the need for aggressive deterrence of terrorism, the disclosure of unchecked domestic spying by the president is deeply troubling to many Americans," said ABA President Michael S. Greco, who released the poll results today in a news conference during the ABA’s 2006 Midyear Meeting in Chicago.

"Our Founders gave us a government that can act swiftly in times of danger, but also protect our basic freedoms. It’s very encouraging that Americans understand and insist on preserving that balance," he said.

Clearly, Greco said, the poll results demonstrate that Americans are deeply interested in and alarmed by issues raised by secret spying on citizens’ communications by the National Security Agency. "It is a time when we should be having conversations about our constitutional freedoms as well as our security," he said. He invited members of the public to download their own free copy of the Constitution and learn more about the Constitution and presidential war powers at http://abaconstitution.org, and to express their own views on domestic surveillance in a separate poll available there.

And isn't about time for those left who idolize President Bush to think about what a free America truly means?

Learning football

I am trying to learn about football (soccer). I get Fox Soccer Channel on my cable hookup, so I have been watching a lot of English, French, German, and Italian league games. I have been reading a lot of news stories on the football Web sites. I think one picks up the patterns and flow of a new game by watching a lot of games.

A lot of American football fans say international football is boring. I don't agree. American football can be very frustrating to watch with its incessant commercials, timeouts, and delays between plays. With international football the ball is in play almost all the time. I like that.

It's been fun so far even though I don't know if I have learned anything yet.

Baseball will always be my favorite sport though. Speaking of which, it's coming soon.

Good Questions

I was working on the idea that good questions are not necessarily easily answered questions and most of the time are more valuable then good answers to bad questions. Then I saw Adam Roberts's post A Question About Wrongness at The Valve which opens like this:

Here’s a question that bothers me. How valuable is a philosopher if she or he is wrong?

He uses Plato as one example.

Now, here’s some philosophy. Here’s Plato, the man of whom it’s said that the writing of footnotes to his work has been the whole occupation of subsequent Western philosophy. Plato says that when we point at a chair and say ‘that’s a chair’ what we’re doing is identifying something intrinsic to the chair, noting the resemblance that this particular chair has to a perfect, ideal chair that exists in some otherworld realm which he called the Forms. This resemblance, he says, is what all the chairs in the world have in common. They may have lots of points of difference (three legs or four, black or red, big or small) but they all nevertheless share one crucial thing: their resemblance to the form of Chair. How else, Plato asks, could we see a chair and recognise it as a chair? This doctrine of ideal forms is pretty-much central to almost everything that Plato’s thought is about.

Plato is wrong here. The resemblance between these chairs is a feature of the pattern-recognising nature of human consciousness, not an aspect of the external world. This business of grouping things together into sets goes on inside people’s crania, not in the real world, nor in some otherworld.

It’s not hyperadvanced thinking to point this out; it’s more like Philosophy 101. But if Plato is wrong, we might wonder why he is still studied as a live thinker—which is to say, not as a historical curiosity, or as a rudimentary sophist whose ideas have been largely superseded, but as a Philosopher in the fullest sense. How would we feel if, on Medicine 101, the relevant professor started his lecture course with: ‘Western Medicine is all footnotes to the miasma theory; until you’ve grasped it you won’t understand anything about modern clinical practice’?

I don't wish to argue what Plato may have been right about even though I am in sympathy with Roberts's remarks about ideal forms. I want to explore good questions.

I am reading Plato's Republic for the sixth time as part of my program of rereading the classics of political philosophy. My reading is going very slowly. The thing that engages me this time is that I feel I am on firmer ground in my thinking about the questions he tries to answer and why I disagree with Plato's answers. I find Republic to be a case of good questions with bad answers to them.

The good questions a philosopher asks seems to be a prime motivator for studying a philosopher whose work is part of the canon even if one disagrees with the philosopher's answers. I think of drawing a 2 x 2 matrix with columns labeled good and bad questions and rows labeled good and bad answers. One would dearly love to have good answers to good questions, but one often has to settle for a good question whether it comes with a good answer or not.

This leaves it open as to what is a good question in philosophy? Let us say the question poses a fundamentally difficult problem for philosophers, one that crosses boundaries to other disciplines and is important to a broad audience. For instance, I am in Book III of Republic where Plato discusses the education of the guardians. One is forced to think about the education of the young and to what extent that education will lead them to a life of virtue. Other questions abound.

The temptation I have while reading Republic this time is to throw up my hands and say this is bullshit, so I think I'll move on to Aristotle. However, I restrain myself from doing it by asking if it is bullshit, then what is the right answer? And what is the right question in the first place?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Saturday Night

I didn't watch any movies. I didn't watch TV at all. I worked on Sudoku puzzles and played a little 2-4 cent limit Hold 'Em poker. I won 41 cents. I am half way there to my next Hershey bar.

Bad Girls

Here are my movie choices for tonight unless I go out. I can watch The Graduate, which I have seen many times over the years, on Turner Classic Movies. I can also watch Bad Girls on Fox Movie Channel.

I have never watched Bad Girls all the way through on commercial free TV. Tonight offers the opportunity to do that.

Bad Girls is a Western movie starring Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell, and Drew Barrymore. Hmm?

Friday, February 10, 2006

War and Taxes

Paul R. Pillar's article in Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Policy, and the Iraq War, is interesting reading.

Summary: During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.


Before the war, on its own initiative, the intelligence community considered the principal challenges that any postinvasion authority in Iraq would be likely to face. It presented a picture of a political culture that would not provide fertile ground for democracy and foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition. It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq's abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shiites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks -- including by guerrilla warfare -- unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the first few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam.

In addition, the intelligence community offered its assessment of the likely regional repercussions of ousting Saddam. It argued that any value Iraq might have as a democratic exemplar would be minimal and would depend on the stability of a new Iraqi government and the extent to which democracy in Iraq was seen as developing from within rather than being imposed by an outside power. More likely, war and occupation would boost political Islam and increase sympathy for terrorists' objectives -- and Iraq would become a magnet for extremists from elsewhere in the Middle East.

PAUL R. PILLAR is on the faculty of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. Concluding a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency, he served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.

One wonders what public opinion would have been if these assessments were public knowledge even though there were those who did predict the inevitable result of invading Iraq. There's no accounting for taste as they say.

There were those who also predicted a $1 trillion cost to the war. The recent Bilmes and Stiglitz estimates of a $1 to $2 trillion cost to the war validate those predictions.

It would seem the first place to look as far as getting the nation's fiscal problems in order is electing a government who will not hide the ugly facts of their policies from the public. Those who worry about trimming the budget need look no further than the trillions of dollars spent on foreign adventures predicted to go badly. The ever escalating defense budget indicates not many in the current regime have the desire or the will to do it.

You can't have popular and necessary social programs when you fight multi-trillion dollar wars that one day need to be paid for. Imperialism has its price just like everything else.

You can only try to hide the truth about your intemperate adventures and their cost. But you can't hide from history forever. Large nation states have needed tax revenue to pay for their wars since their rise. The public good is twice impaled, one by the war and a second time by the sacrifice of the the public welfare.

Those states who fail to raise sufficient revenue for their wars either default on their debt or inflate it away. Such are the ways economies are wrecked in a spectacular way.

Are you sure?

I have been working hard this past year to establish with certainty a philosophy that seamlessly stitches all truths of metaphysics, morals, and politics together. I’m still scuffling with the whole thing.

I don’t plan on writing a grand philosophical treatise. I do want to cultivate a withering stare that says, “you surely cannot really believe that,” when someone says something I disagree with.

I Wanna Be Around

She was sitting a ways down the bar from me. I could tell she was about my age, and I tried not to stare even though she was very attractive.

I focused my attention on the baseball game playing on TV.

She startled me when she asked if she could use my lighter. It felt good when my finger tips brushed against her hand as I passed my lighter to her. I would have lit her cigarette for her, but I am damned clumsy doing that kind of thing.

I was still thinking when her guy came into the bar.

That night I dreamt I was talking to Tony Bennett and telling him how much I liked his songs, which I do.

The next day the Tony Bennett song with these lyrics preyed upon my mind.

I wanna be around to pick up the pieces
When somebody breaks your heart
Some somebody twice as smart as I

A somebody who will swear to be true
As you used to do with me
Who'll leave you to learn
That mis'ry loves company, wait and see

I mean, I wanna be around to see how he does it
When he breaks your heart to bits
Let's see if the puzzle fits so fine

And that's when I'll discover that revenge is sweet
As I sit there applaudin' from a front-row seat
When somebody breaks your heart
Like you, like you broke mine

I Wanna Be Around, Sadie Vimmerstedt and Johnny Mercer

Enter Pirates

Let us assume there are only finitely many story structures. That helps the writer who has a small imagination. The writer can reduce the amount work and save a lot of time by picking from a menu.

Let us assume there only a finite number of character types in literature. That also helps.

We can identify more categories and their elements and build a story menu from them. Those of us whose brains are not up to the task can buy software with the menu included.

Now that we have catalogued the tradition what is left for the writer to do? How about those troublesome voice and vision things that might insert themselves into a story? What is the menu for those items?

Then there are those words that remain to be written such as, “enter pirates.”

How many more weeks?

Yesterday, I wrote from 5 AM to 5 PM. The work went well. It was the first good day of writing this year.

I drank a couple of cocktails after I finished. Then I saw Pericles, a play very nicely done, at the Goodman Theater. After that, I drank some more cocktails. It was pretty much a perfect day when you run the totals.

Now, I am writing this while wondering how many more weeks will pass before I have another good writing day. Days like yesterday appear to be random, so who knows?

Time to take a nap. Then start writing.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cartoons and local politics

Juan Cole has a good article in Salon explaining how reactions to the Danish cartoons relate to local politics in the Mideast. See All cartoon politics are local.

If you are interested in Mideast politics, Mideast history, and the Iraq War, and you have not been reading Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog, you are missing out.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I read it in Business Week

Some things require deep analysis. Some others don't.

Business Week, the Commie rag, has an article called Death, Taxes, and George Bush.

The contrast in President Bush's new budget could not be more stark. On one hand, he wants to eliminate what he likes to call the "death tax" -- a levy imposed on a handful of the nation's biggest estates. On the other, he wants to end Social Security's lump sum death benefit -- a $255 check that the families of many of the nation's poorest use to help pay for their funerals.

Cleopatra, zzzzzzzz

I have tried to watch the movie Cleopatra many times in my life. Each time I have fallen asleep. Such was the case again tonight. This time I fell asleep at the beginning of the movie and saved myself a lot of time. I am at least getting more efficient at performing some activities in my old age.

I have read Plutarch’s life of Antony and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, so maybe I am not missing out on much.

An Old Dispute

This is one of those awful days when I keep thinking about past disputes. I had one last year with several people about MSM.

My assertion was that television news was owned by large corporations. As such, those news business units were run by business models and marketing plans. So, there is niche marketing such as Fox News' "Fair and Balanced" concept which cashes in on conservative viewers and CNN's Lou Dobbs "Red Star Rising" and "America's Broken Borders" concepts which cash in on populist themes.

Some folks begged to differ with me. They asserted that there were some MSM organizations that were so public spirited that they did not have business models that catered to niche audiences.

Besides viewers, the large corporations who own the news must also have advertising revenues. You don't get or maintain those revenues by pissing off your advertisers by lack of audience. You can be a prairie populist news anchor and criticize big business as long as you get the audience and keep the big bucks rolling into the coffers. Even a critical news story on Wal*Mart reminds people they need to go there to pick up some cheap toilet paper.

What is a few disputes between big business friends when everybody's share price is rising?

It's the way business works in the current system. Maybe, I have missed something?


Good news: Evangelicals urge action on global warming as reported from WaPo.

Those pesky taxes

I have been reading through the Bush budget. As you can imagine I am shocked to find that there is gambling going on here. Thank you for my winnings all the same.

The essentials of the budget have not changed. The most important piece is extending tax cuts. The miracle expected of the last tax cuts has not materialized for the majority of Americans. Job growth is historically low and real wages have declined for most Americans.

From tax cuts all other illusions flow.

You don’t have to pay the $1 to $2 trillion cost of the Iraq War. You can simply hide from it.

You can remove any possibility for creating a health care program that takes care of all Americans and nobody will care.

You can still buy all kinds of fancy defense do-dads that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism which is essentially a struggle for the minds of people.

You can pretend the ownership society is for one and all. Back in my day we called it a piggybank filled with pennies.

You can hope for a soft landing when the fiscal and international deficits unravel and adjust.

You can push national programs down to the state and local level and pretend that you have eliminated nonperforming programs.

You can donate your lawn clippings for alternative fuel sources.

With tax cuts you can go all kinds of places and see all kinds of marvels. Let’s get rid of all those pesky taxes once and for all. Let’s not miss out on a bargain. Sacks of shit are selling for half price.

A guy on a train, TV political pundits, and economics

Reference: Why are people so dissatisfied with today’s economy? At the Economic Policy Institute.

I was on the train late Sunday night traveling from the suburbs to Chicago. It was obvious that everyone in my car was going to work except me.

A man started talking rather loudly about how he was working more hours and making less money. He gathered a sympathetic audience to what he was saying.

That leads to a question: if the economy is doing so well, then why are so many people bitching and dissatisfied with it?

Another question of related interest is why are so many TV political pundits of all political stripes so willfully ignorant of the basics of economics—the kind of ignorance that could be corrected by reading a few short articles on economic literacy.

It would seem that almost every TV pundit is in awe of a big number. The administration says they created 4.6 million jobs in five years. Golly, that is a big number, so things must be great. How does it compare historically to other periods? Short answer, it sucks.

The TV pundits are totally fixated on what appears a decent unemployment rate. How does that rate compare historically? Short answer, it sucks. Also, the participation rate in the labor market has dropped over the past five years. That means that there are millions of Americans who have become discouraged and are not even looking for a job. Those numbers are not included in the unemployment rate. If they were, we’d be looking at an unemployment rate of around 7-8% which sucks.

Another simple number readily available is how people are doing as far as wage growth. During the past three years, for people in the 20th and median percentiles it is down. For those in the 95th percentile it is up. How does this compare to other economic cycles? Short answer, it sucks.

One concludes that either TV pundits are willfully ignorant of the things they claim to know about and discuss, hiding their knowledge because they feel uneasy about their expertise, or just plain obfuscating the facts for political agendas.

So, when I net it all out, I would rather take the word of a stranger on a train than the word of a TV political pundit. And, of course, when I am in dire need of information, I can always go and look up the numbers that are readily available all over the place.

I, however, realize that many TV political pundits are too busy thinking great thoughts to be slowed down by searching for the facts.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Bush Budget

As usual, Annotated Life is dead on the Bush budget and other matters economical with some cold hard numbers.

If I changed, how much would I change?

I occasionally wonder what I would believe if I were to become a Christian again. Most of my positions about religion would not change.

• I would believe in evolution.
• I would believe that religion is a by-product of evolved mental processes used for other purposes.
• I would believe questions about whether Christ was God are totally irrelevant to being a Christian.
• I would believe that Christians need to be fully engaged with the world while they live in the world.
• I would believe that God does not lay down principles by which people should live.
• I would believe that God demands of Christians that they search for the truth in God’s name, and that there is no royal road to those truths.
• I would believe that Christ’s great teaching was the Sermon on the Mount.
• I would believe that much of fundamentalist religious belief in every religion around the world is destructive of the world and humanity.
• I would read Marx and have no problem with him and my Christian beliefs.
• I would believe the soul is mortal and material.
• I would believe that God does not intervene in human affairs.

Some might say, Lynn, you can’t be a Christian if you believe all those things. I suppose they are right. It’s fun to try to reconcile Epicureanism with Christianity. Still, Christianity has been reconciled with Platonism, Aristotelianism, and other philosophical positions. Maybe, the folks who did that were flat out wrong, or only partially right?


One of the nice things about possessing Epicurean strains to my thinking is that a lot of times I can sit in my garden, sip coffee, watch people throw gasoline on bonfires, and say, “see, I told you so.” It is a kind of smug self satisfied pleasure to be savored and enjoyed if one has the stomach for it and can bring a slightly decadent attitude towards it.

Such is the case with the Danish cartoon crisis.

The Bush administration issued a rather mild statement about the affair and then has had the wisdom, rare for them in these matters, to shut up about the whole thing. It would appear they realize that getting involved would throw a whole lot of gasoline on more bonfires burning around the world. The U. S. has its own bonfires raging and doesn’t need any more unless they burn artifacts that do not promote U. S. interests. Enlisting aid from oil producing countries to assist with the Iran nuclear arms issue is a delicate operation and not conducive to creating yet another anti-American bonfire.

Just as interesting is reactions from folks on the left—the broad left that is. Some folks, such as me, have defended free speech by returning to Enlightenment values which I admit is not always a reliable defense or motive.

The case I find interesting is the side taken by some others on the left. They feel the cartoons are racist and that is the end of the story. Any reaction by certain religious sects, political groups, or other categories of folks is justified in light of this. I won’t quibble. The cartoons are racist—sort of. OK, I quibbled a little bit.

One blog of a Leninist strain, you can find it on the blogroll at the side (guess which one for extra credit on your homework assignment), is an interesting blog and often has good things to say. I find it irksome at times though. It’s primary author has set himself the task of being the world’s arbiter on what is racist and what is not. OK, no big deal. It is a damned dirty job and somebody has to do it.

What is irksome is that the racist card is played quite often when someone disagrees with said arbiter’s opinions, ideas, and arguments about any matter of dispute. It is a form of censorship that shuts down all discussion except those comments that happen, by coincidence if nothing else, to agree with said arbiter’s position on any issue.

In particular, accusing people of being racist doesn’t seem to add much to the current Danish cartoon brouhaha. Yes, there is a racist element to it just like so many other published racist attitudes in all parts of the world. However, making fun of religion is not racist in of itself.

Keep in mind I am playing the Epicurean in his sunny garden watching the world go by and contemplating on the mysteries of the universe. This is a much more pleasant task than being the world’s arbiter on racism.

The ability of religion to stand astride all political categories always amazes me. Sometimes religion uses politics. Other times politics uses religion. Add economics to the mix and the combinations multiply. I search for answers via a Epicurean, Marxian, and anthropological orientation to untangle this knot of religious belief, its power, and its consequences. My failure to comprehend is probably due to lack of intellectual ability.

I confess I have not done nearly enough research and thinking into the matter. However, we do know that organized authoritarian religions tend to react unkindly to those inside and outside the religion when they don’t believe in the accepted orthodoxy of its leaders.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Season Totals

I won my moneyline bet on the Steelers and lost my Seattle +4 bet against the spread. I finished the season at 19 wins, 21 losses, and 2 ties against the spread. I won 2 and loss none against the moneyline.

Netting it out, that means I lost one wager for the whole season. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Reason and Enlightenment: one more time with feeling

Sectarian violence is in the news again with the advent of the Danish cartoon series.

I have before expressed some opinions here about where religion comes from. I am persuaded by Pascal Boyer’s hypothesis that religion is the by-product of evolved mental processes we use for other purposes than religion. Because of this, religion will be around for a long time.

I have also said that it is useless for the atheist to argue her positions via normal logic and persuasive techniques. The religious will not be persuaded by this. In fact, it is far easier for the religious to persuade the atheist of the error of her position since the atheist is susceptible to the same unconscious mental processes as the religious.

I am far from an enemy and committed foe to religion. Even if religion is indirectly evolved it doesn’t clinch the case for atheism. But…and isn’t there always a but?

Sectarian violence has been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes in all history. The powers of rational reflection by those who belong to large organized hierarchical authoritarian religious groups cannot always be trusted.

If one takes the view of someone who is outside the fold, then one empathizes with her when she feels religious sects are not to be trusted to do the right thing at all times. To the religious who howl about that statement, I say history is not on your side. Prove me wrong in the future, but don’t try to cover your tracks stretching from the past into the present.

To those who say I am stereotyping, I say tough. You have earned it.

I have also in the past written about Kant’s essay What is Enlightenment? It is the essay where he says that reason should not be controlled by secular or clerical authority. Reason needs its own freedom and space in which to operate. Kant was a very religious man by the way.

I agree that the worship of Reason can take on some of the characteristics of religion both good and bad. Hume did not have it entirely wrong when he said that reason is the slave of the passions. Here comes another but.

Despite all the insights about the workings of the human mind since Hume’s and Kant’s time, I still say that reason, in some form, exists and that it is valuable. We have logical and persuasive argument. We have science with its successes. We still attempt to negotiate our way through the confusing thicket of conflicting sectarian beliefs and morals.

Kant had this possibly naïve idea that reason should not submit itself to authority be it secular or sectarian. When certain elements of humanity succeed in blowing up the world once and for all in the name of their sectarian and authoritarian beliefs, it won’t seem so naïve.

Question and Answer Time

The Senate hearings on Domestic Surveillance has begun. What is interesting about it so far is the questions that those testifying before the Senate Committee refuse to answer in open session or not answer at all. These questions are about broad surveillance of U. S. citizens beyond the NSA wiretapping surveillance.

Government lawyers and legal scholars have published many excellent opinions about the legality of the these surveillance programs and the President’s authority—both pro and con. Reading through these opinions is no easy chore for the interested citizen who does not possess expertise in these areas.

The fact remains though, that a citizen is supposed to be the sovereign ruler of the country. Citizens, if they take their leadership duties seriously, are the ones who must have the thing explained to their satisfaction by their elected government officials no matter what branch of government or political party. They must also be the ultimate arbiter of what ought be allowed and what should not be. This means understanding what is at stake with these kinds of issues such as the Bill of Rights.

The program was carried on in secrecy for four years. No government official publicly announced the existence of this program, and now in front of Congressional Committee they refuse to comment on others like it.

The press following information gathered through their own intelligence networks has been the whistleblower. Too many people want to shoot the messenger rather than look to the real culprits—elected officials—for answers.

Surveillance activities on U. S. citizens is another issue that has roughly divided the country along two fundamentally different political views. The authoritarians don’t care much about the Bill of Rights as long as clear authority is established, and they have a proper place in the authoritarian pecking order. As long as they are not wiretapped, to Hell with everybody else.

The other group (supply your own name) believes in the ideals stated in the Preamble to the Constitution. They believe that U. S. history is a struggle to make progress toward those ideals for all its citizens. Critiques abound as to why those ideals have not been achieved, but the ideals remain.

Whatever side one lines up with, the questions also remain. Like, why does our government feel the desperate need to keep its citizens in the dark about programs that gut the heart of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Should we trust people who have no desire or compulsion to tell the truth? Why don’t they use Constitutional and legal means to carry out their programs such as amending the Constitution or enacting new laws?

The citizens must take the leadership role in having their questions answered because the Courts, Congress, and President won’t. It is only because of the 53% opinion (WSJ/NBC poll) stating the President should not wiretap outside of FISA that has kept the pressure on any of them to answer questions for and be accountable to the ultimate authority of this country—its citizens.

The citizens are asking questions and the elected officials are answering questions. If the elected officials find the chore too burdensome or tiresome, then they need to be excused from their chores after the 2006 elections.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Nature of Things

The brouhaha over the Danish cartoons and embassy burnings has left me rather cold. I am having an Epicurus moment about the whole thing.

Being a follower of Epicurus I can have my cake and eat it too. I can believe that scientific inquiry explains the natural world. I can also believe in the existence of the gods.

Epicurus had the right idea.

The gods exist, but they do not intervene in human affairs. In fact, the gods are ignorant of humans and human affairs.

Science and philosophy explain the natural world since there is no supernatural intervention by gods to help with the explanation.

The gods exist, but they have nothing to do with me. It is all the false beliefs people hold about the gods that affect me. That is worrisome enough in the era of mass destruction. Still, I get a little psychological relief many others can’t aspire to.

I think I’ll spend the day reading Lucretius. I feel sorry for all the other folks who aren’t Epicureans on days like these.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Certainty outside Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue

Let us say I am walking past the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue. Sunday services have just ended. I find myself in a crowd of people who are talking about the sermon. They speak of events in the dim past, miracles, what one ought to believe, and what one ought to do. Do I care? Most likely not. I have heard most of it before.

What interests me is the tone of their voices. The tone hints that these people are certain about their beliefs. Their beliefs are justified, true, and beyond doubt.

I walk past that same spot on Monday in a crowd. People express fear and doubt by the tones of their voices. But for the present moment I walk next to people who are certain about their beliefs.

The tone of their voices catches my ear.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chicago Fire

Most Americans consider the football season over after the Super Bowl. However, Major League Soccer starts their season the beginning of April.

The Chicago Fire will be playing in a brand new 20,000 seat stadium in Bridgeview, IL located near Midway Airport. The stadium is being billed as a world class facility. The pictures of the construction indicate that to be the case.

Hook 'Em Fire!

Friday Super Bowl Wagering

I just wagered on Pittsburgh to win at -180. That along with my Seattle +4 wager wraps up this season's football wagering. I could have gotten better points and odds on both wagers if I had played heads up the past two weeks. It'll have to do.

It is always tempting to try to hit the big score in the Super Bowl especially as I stand 1/2 wager down for the season. However, as I explained in a post at the beginning of the season, the mathematical expection of winning in pro football is zero sans the juice. Given the number of wagers I made this year, I am right where I expected to be.

It's been fun. Plus, it was all relatively risk free given the statistics of betting against the spread.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

It seems like only yesterday

From a June 29, 2005 Washington Post article.

VA Faces $2.6 Billion Shortfall in Medical Care

Agency Undercounted Size of Returning Force
By Thomas B. EdsallWashington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 29, 2005; Page A19

The Bush administration disclosed yesterday that it had vastly underestimated the number of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and warned that the health care programs will be short at least $2.6 billion next year unless Congress approves additional funds.

Veterans Affairs budget documents projected that 23,553 veterans would return this year from Iraq and Afghanistan and seek medical treatment. However, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson told a Senate committee that the number has been revised upward to 103,000 for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. He said the original estimates were based on outdated assumptions from 2002.

Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., during a news conference on Capitol Hill Monday refers to a letter written by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson declining emergency supplemental funds for 2005. Reid, joined by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., is seeking an increase in veterans benefits.

"The bottom line is there is a surge in demand in VA [health] services across the board," Nicholson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Just last week, the VA revealed that the rise in demand for VA health facilities had caused a $1 billion shortfall in operating funds for the current year. That would more than double in the coming year without congressional intervention.

Senate Republicans, embarrassed and angered over the revelations, yesterday announced plans to pass emergency legislation this morning to add $1.5 billion to the fiscal 2005 appropriation. The move is designed to appease angry veterans groups and preempt a Democratic proposal calling for $1.42 billion in increased VA spending.

The action represents a reversal of GOP policies toward the VA. For the past four months, House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly defeated Democratic amendments to boost VA medical funding.

Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, faced criticism from House and Senate committee chairmen at two hearings.

"I sit here having recently learned that the information provided to me thus far has been disturbingly inaccurate," Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) told Nicholson. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) told Nicholson that the failure to alert Congress earlier about the VA's money problems "borders on stupidity."

"Somebody was hoping they could hide the ball for a while and talk about it later, and frankly in this arena you can't afford to do that," Lewis said.

As GOP House and Senate leaders scrambled to deal with the politically damaging shortfall and quell criticism from veterans' advocacy groups, Democrats intensified charges that the Bush administration and the Republican congressional majorities are failing to care for those who put their lives on the line for the country.

Rep. Chet Edwards (Tex.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on military quality of life and veterans affairs, said the administration and Republican leadership had been made aware of the problems as far back as 2004 when Reps. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) and Lane Evans (Ill.,), then chairman and ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, called for major increases in spending.

Instead of dealing with the problem, Edwards said, the House Republican leadership "fired Smith," forcing him out of the chairmanship.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a news release declaring: "Republicans can't hide from their record of neglecting our nation's veterans." The release cited repeated rejection by the Senate Republican majority of amendments sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to boost spending.

The new efforts by Republican leaders to increase veterans spending may jeopardize administration and congressional efforts to reduce the budget deficit. The budget resolution already passed by Congress calls for $31 billion for VA health care in fiscal 2006, a limit that now appears virtually certain to be broken.

The House yesterday rejected an Edwards move to boost 2005 VA spending on a party-line vote, 217 to 189.

By all accounts, there have been dramatic improvements in VA health care, and its accessibility, over the past 15 years. In addition, the current co-payment on prescription drugs is $7, far lower than that of private plans and the new drug benefit under Medicare.

Nicholson said the VA and its actuarial advisers based their calculations for the patient load in 2005 on data from 2002, before the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were fully engaged. The revised projection of 103,000 new enrollees this year includes some of the 13,700 veterans wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as others who served overseas seeking medical care.

It would have been good last night if President Bush had reminded Americans they needed to start picking up the tab for our veterans and their families.

He preferred to tell Americans about the next round of tax cuts instead. One wonders if veterans benefits is not on his list of nonperforming programs.

House Rules

I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in

Just Dropped In, lyrics by Mickey Newbury

I yawned through most of President Bush's State of the Union speech. The comic relief came when the Democratic side of the isle stood up and applauded after President Bush mentioned that Congress had failed to act on his Social Security reform measures.

The real action was before the show. Cindy Sheehan got a ticket to the show and was thrown out before the whole shebang started. From this ABC news article:

WASHINGTON Feb 1, 2006 — Cindy Sheehan, mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq, wasn't the only one ejected from the House gallery during the State of the Union address for wearing a T-shirt with a war-related slogan that violated the rules. The wife of a powerful Republican congressman was also asked to leave.

Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee was removed from the gallery because she was wearing a T-shirt that read, "Support the Troops Defending Our Freedom." . . .

She (Sheehan) was sitting about six rows from first lady Laura Bush and asked to leave. She argued with police in the hallway outside the House chamber. . .

Capitol Police took Sheehan, invited as a guest of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., away in handcuffs and charged her with unlawful conduct, a misdemeanor. She later was released on her own recognizance...

In her blog, Sheehan wrote that her T-shirt said, "2245 Dead. How many more?" a reference to the number of soldiers killed in Iraq.

But what are the House rules on this sort of thing? Here is what I could find from the Rules of the House of Representatives.

Rule I Preservation of Order

2. The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum and, in case of disturbance or disorderly conduct in the galleries or in the lobby, may cause the same to be cleared.

Rule IV Gallery

6. (a) The Speaker shall set aside a portion of the west gallery for the use of the President, the members of the Cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, foreign ministers and suites, and the members of their respective families. The Speaker shall set aside another portion of the same gallery for the accommodation of persons to be admitted on the cards of Members, Delegates, or the Resident Commissioner.

(b) The Speaker shall set aside the southerly half of the east gallery for the use of the families of Members of Congress. The Speaker shall control one bench. On the request of a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator, the Speaker shall issue a card of admission to his family, which may include their visitors. No other person shall be admitted to this section.

Rule XVII Galleries

7. During a session of the House, it shall not be in order for a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner to introduce to or to bring to the attention of the House an occupant in the galleries of the House. The Speaker may not entertain a request for the suspension of this rule by unanimous consent or otherwise.

That is about all I could find on first pass through the House Rules. I did not see any House Rules that called for the arrest of anyone in the House. The punishment for disobeying the rules is getting tossed out.

Here is what I would have done if I had been Citizen Sheehan. I would not have worn anything that would draw attention to myself. I would have sat quietly during the proceedings and reaped the camera and media coverage given I was sitting so close to the Presidential box.

I think she blew a great opportunity. Sometimes, "you say it best when you say nothing at all."

I might try to get a pass to the show next year. I think I will wear my Toledo Mudhens t-shirt just to test the limits.

P. S. I did not see where Citizen Young was put in handcuffs and arrested for unlawful conduct. Maybe, I missed it. If it happened, please let me know.