Thursday, March 29, 2007

The facts are out there; the truth is in your head

I have been reading Michael Frayn’s The Human Touch, a collection of philosophical meditations about everything. Frayn admits that it is not a philosophical work, but more a commentary on philosophical problems. I have read several short dismissive reviews by philosophers, Colin McGinn in particular. However, Frayn, a novelist and playwright, writes engagingly, and it is worth a glance.

The book questions how the world is both independent of us, and constructed by us. I cannot avoid thinking about the slogan from the X-Files: The Truth Is Out There. Is it? Would it be better to say the facts are out there? Whether we discover them and arrive at true propositions is another story. There is plenty of slip betwixt cup and lip. There cannot be truth without the proposition, the proposition does not exist without language, and language does not exist without people who construct and use it.

I recall the controversy surrounding the Lancet study about the total number of casualties in Iraq. Undertaking a statistical study of this sort is notoriously difficult. The chaotic situation in the country, the challenges of sampling, and poor record keeping conspire to make the confidence interval rather large. I understand the Lancet technique was used in other countries experiencing war and civil unrest, so it is not a priori flawed as some claim.

What I find interesting and disturbing is the claim that the researchers did the study with a political agenda and motive. I could understand these kinds of suspicions if the researchers had merely posted the study on the Internet instead of in a highly respected peer reviewed journal. In addition, the researchers clearly put their work out there for expert scrutiny of methodological concerns.

As far as I can tell, the officially published government statistics underestimate the number of casualties. Those gathering the statistics admit there are casualties that they do not count. The facts are out there, maybe lost in the mist, but all we can do is construct a partial truth from the ones we find.

The carnage has been significant enough to ask certain questions. What if we could ask the dead this question: Would you support the overthrow of Saddam Hussein if you knew it would eventually lead to your death or the death of your family members?

Whose opinions count most when discussing the Iraq Occupation? Some would say the Iraqi people. Surveys continue to indicate that the majority of Iraqi’s feel they are less safe with the US military in Iraq.

We have a situation in two supposedly democratic countries, the US and Iraq, where the majority of the people want US troops to disengage from the conflict. Those who support the war have the very generous situation of heads they win, tails they win too. You can call it what you want, but that is not democracy. The facts do not support calling it democracy and neither does any reasonably constructed meaningful proposition.

Many scoff at evaluating the Iraq Occupation on practical or utilitarian grounds. If you do, many on the Right consider you a radical leftist, and many on the Left consider you a piss poor excuse for a leftist. Be that as it may, the collective rule of the sovereign citizens should be obeyed in a democracy unless it violates agreed upon rights and freedoms of the individual. Those who support the Iraq Occupation have no special right or freedom to keep US troops in country in violation of the wishes of the citizens of both countries.

Of course, we continue hearing President Bush’s bogus claim that the country will become a haven for terrorist attacks against the US. The irony here is that there was no al Qaeda operating in Iraq before the war. Saddam, with his usual ruthless efficiency, made sure of that. Some still deny the fact, and construct castles in the air with their counter claims.

When you go to Iraq, do not forget to pack your rose-colored glasses.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


KimDotDammit nails transgressing into the forbidden with her Jesus Makes Me Hot. It is not only the forbidden that makes me hot, but the inaccessible too. I have been lately obsessed with both, at least within boundaries.

The woman I really want, yet cannot have, for some reason known only to her mind, perplexes me the most. I know I want her precisely because she eludes me. She pains me, and I like that too. The pain associated with the futile chase makes me feel alive like no other experience.

Some might say I should put my energy and thought to better purposes and activities. I do not know how to do that. I suppose it is because prudence is a virtue, virtue is a habit, and I have never developed the habit. Aristotle would wag his finger at me. Or would he?

It is one thing to write about ethics and virtue, yet another to live a life of virtue. The students at the ancient schools went to learn and actually live a life based on philosophy. We no longer do that, or at least most of us do not. Maybe, the world is less forgiving of the pure philosopher, the one who lives her life based upon her beliefs.

In many ways, I live a life of exquisite hedonism, for one, because I can at least for now. For two, I have lost all sense of time horizon. I cannot see myself ten or twenty years from now. I suppose that is partially due to living alone for a long time. I can no longer imagine a regular guest such as a girlfriend in my place even though the memories of that haunt me.

I might add somebody to my list today to make up for the one I cannot have. In fact, even though I have not met her, I received a phone call from her last night. I was introduced to her a week and half ago on the telephone. They tell me she is attractive and nice. They say if I gave her a gentle nudge, she would fall right over. Oh well, she called me rather than the other way around.

In the meantime, I will remain obsessed with this other woman; for I know, it is just a matter of time before she is on my list. Patience, perseverance, and persistence have paid off in the past, so why not now?

I know what I am doing, whether painful or pleasurable. Lynn, this is not a philosophy, you say. To which I reply, want to bet. There are all kinds of important disputed questions such as transgression. I am gathering empirical evidence being the rank materialist I am.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Cuppa

Happy birthday, Cuppa! I’m sorry this postcard is a couple of days late. It sounds like you had a good one. Thanks for being a special blogging friend.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Real Colored Postcards

I bought some crayon markers. Then I sent out some real postcards kind of colored. It was fun. Spring has arrived and everything ought to be colored in pastels—even postcards. Now it is not even midnight and I am not tired. What next?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dawdling with Riemann

A beautiful spring day. Dawdling over a math problem seems the best thing to do. Meditating on the primes less than any given number fits the mood even though I could never resolve it on my own. Yet the problem fascinates. So many puzzles; so few answers.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Strange Brew

Write one postcard each day. Let them accumulate in a stack. Then after several years, read them. Try to find the sense and sinew. Some days you laughed, on others you cried. You churned melancholy and haughtiness into a strange brew.

Fog in every direction and all the way

The wind and sun might blow and burn away the fog. What I really mean to say is I cannot believe she sleeps with him instead of me. Either she has no taste, or she is afraid of me. I feel sorry for her. Oh well, the fog is clearing.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Paris, 1946

From my window, I watch the woman with the pink umbrella as she walks down the street in the rain. She heads south. Shortly thereafter, she strides north. I imagine her in Paris, 1946 drinking cheap wine. Now, she is gone. The city swallowed her.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What Does a Postcard Do?

A postcard should impregnate rather than be pregnant or fully formed. Economy rules yet you should leave a trace of your voice while filling all the space. A poem takes years to write, a postcard takes minutes, yet adrenaline and wonder fuels them both.

As Ever

I looked at her face closely: the way it creased, folded, and sagged—all the little things I neglected before. Her smile and eyes shone as brilliantly as ever. When I kissed her and pressed my cheek next to hers, her face was soft and exiting.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I spent the better part of the morning reading Chekhov’s Ivanov. For the life of me, I cannot say why. Things like this happen to me frequently—activities with no discernable motive or objective such as this stupid diary entry.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A bloody nose and tears

When I was a boy in small town Iowa, I got into a fight with my best friend and gave him a bloody nose. It was the first time I ever gave someone a bloody nose. I cried. Our friends wondered why I was crying, for I had won. I’m still proud of that. Crying that is.

Can't get them off my mind

There is this young French woman in post World War II Paris, and a young American journalist who looks exactly like my Dad. And what are Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre doing with them? Why do these people haunt my imagination all the time?

Monday, March 19, 2007

David Hume and Getting Along

Some thinkers write books where one can remain submerged for a lifetime. David Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature does it for me. I believe skepticism is a virtue. Hume helps me in the exercise. Of course, I realize others do not need a great book to get along just fine.

A Letter on Iraq, Denial, and Gambling Addiction

I would like to be hopeful that some good result will come from the Iraq Occupation, but events do not create confidence that anything will. Those who propose to stay the course communicate no plans that provide the cost in money and casualties, realistic objectives, or timeframe. I am sure plans exist and they are not attractive given majority opposition to the current state of affairs.

President Bush leads the faith-based group of Iraq deniers. The denial comes from two beliefs: faith will carry the day and it is their god given right to do whatever they please. If The US just keeps sending in more troops, something good will eventually happen.

President Bush is part of my generation. Some of us learned that we cannot have everything we want. He is part of the group that never learned that. I know that sounds like folk psychology, but folk psychology is not entirely a bad thing. After all, it is essential to our daily survival.

Iraq deniers fail to see how so many of us could oppose the war and see President Bush in a bad light. Subtract out all the politics and it remains this simple. Iraq is a project gone badly. Bad projects need either to be set aright or stopped. The denier camp considers themselves above obeying the rule. Trust me they are wrong.

We also see the unsubtle shifting of the burden by those who support the war onto the shoulders of those who have opposed it from the beginning. The fish are not biting. The Iraq problem lies squarely on the shoulders of those who want to be there. They cannot have it both ways. Either take responsibility or get the hell out of the way.

When you do a risk/reward analysis on the situation in Iraq it comes out looking badly. The faith-based crowd does not think it matters and that it is just number crunching. Well you had better do some good number crunching when fighting wars. Once again, the deniers do not possess any special privileges when it comes to what the numbers say. If I were to say that I was taking my life savings to Las Vegas next weekend to get fabulously wealthy you would think me crazier than you already do. Yet we see those who support the Iraq Occupation take exactly that attitude.

Long term, we need to find a way that mistakes like President Bush’s Presidency and the Iraq disaster do not happen. In the meantime, show me the money or get out of my way. I was not born to support your gambling addiction.

What we see with the Iraq Occupation is that some people clearly have a gambling addiction. As long as those who oppose the occupation keep supporting the addiction with lives and money, they will remain addicted. The last election was supposed to help break the vicious cycle in which we find ourselves. As I predicted, the new Congress has not done a damn thing to help. Trusting the Democratic Party is no better than trusting the Republican Party. Until the country moves clearly into the libertarian/leftist quadrant, nothing good will happen. Things are that broken.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Postcard from the Ozone

I just got home after breaking my drinking record and other merry activities: lost in the ozone again, as the song says. I am glad Amateur Night comes but once a year.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Amateur Night

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, or as I like to call it Amateur Night. I don’t usually go out on St. Patrick’s Day. Too many amateur drinkers crowd the bars. In fact, rubbing shoulders with them tarnishes my reputation as a professional drinker and full-fledged member of the drinking culture. However, I have company who think they want to drink.

We’ll see who the last man standing is tonight. I am betting on me. I figure after a good night’s sleep I am good for a fifth of whiskey and twelve beers if anybody wants to match up with me.

Friday, March 16, 2007

New Day

The time when you wake up at 3:30 and wait until the sun comes up feels like a long time, especially when you think about all things you wanted yesterday that you could not have. When the sun comes up, you start wanting all over again.

It’s a new day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Falling to Normal

The temperature rose into the low seventies yesterday, so I went to North Avenue Beach and sat in the sun for a couple of hours. The rest of the day, I drifted and dreamed of love. Now, it is overcast and the temperature will fall to around freezing—sort of like my dreams.

Still, it was nice for a change.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dang Me

Dang me. They ought to take a rope and hang me.

Roger Miller

Spent the whole weekend carousing pure and simple.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Personal Cards: Part 2

I am still trying to figure out what to print on my personal cards. How about this?

The real deal, the total package, 100% U.S. prime—Chicago’s premier geezer.

Or is that being too modest?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

State Street Exposed

A view of State Street from my balcony. Just another cold crappy day in the city.

Bigger Than Me

A question plaguing me recently is why the universe is so much bigger than I am. I know there is no answer to the damned question, but I really want to know anyway.

Bar Flirting

The Chicago Tribune produces the Redeye—a free newspaper designed for the young professional on the go and who does not have much time to absorb all the news. However, when they get to the office, they at least know enough about what is going on in the world, in general, to hold a conversation.

A few weeks ago, they ran one of their typical articles about bar flirting. I was intrigued because when I am in the mood I love to bar flirt. I was very pleased that I knew all the tips they gave away. I did not need to read the article to learn them.

Practice, practice, practice, and three cheers for bar flirting.


Why is it we turn to a few poems for consolation when they do not console? It must be the rhythm like the throbbing of a heart broken yet still alive. Even our tears cannot replace a poem.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hot Dog

I woke up yesterday morning yearning for a Chicago hot dog with everything on it. Fortunately, one of the best places is Downtown Dogs located next to my local tavern, so I ate one for dinner.

I also decided I was in love, but love is a little harder to get in Chicago.

Yet a Chicago hot dog— loaded with mustard, onions, pickles, relish, tomatoes, and peppers (no ketchup)—is not a bad consolation prize.

Prediction: the fish will not bite.

The NYT announces, “The president will introduce plans to cut poverty and create jobs in Latin America, where anti-U.S. sentiment has grown.” When he can’t do it in the U.S., why should people believe he can do it there.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Why be queasy about the scientific study of religious belief?

The NYT has an interesting article about the scientific study of religion: Darwin’s God (via ald):
Today, the effort has gained momentum, as scientists search for an evolutionary explanation for why belief in God exists — not whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does.

This is different from the scientific assault on religion that has been garnering attention recently, in the form of best-selling books from scientific atheists who see religion as a scourge. In “The God Delusion,” published last year and still on best-seller lists, the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins concludes that religion is nothing more than a useless, and sometimes dangerous, evolutionary accident. “Religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful,” Dawkins wrote. He is joined by two other best-selling authors — Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith,” and Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University who wrote “Breaking the Spell.” The three men differ in their personal styles and whether they are engaged in a battle against religiosity, but their names are often mentioned together. They have been portrayed as an unholy trinity of neo-atheists, promoting their secular world view with a fervor that seems almost evangelical.

Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.

One of the things I find interesting about these kinds of articles is the reactions that come from some religious skeptics. Some skeptics seem to think that scientists should not try to answer the question of where religious belief comes from. It is almost as if scientists have invaded some special preserve. However, as the article points out, studying religion from an evolutionary and cognitive standpoint does not infringe on philosophy or theology and attempts to answer the question about the existence of god.

I can understand why skeptics might not find the theories or evidence compelling, but to be a skeptic and deny the role of science in understanding religious belief seems inconsistent. Even if one is a secular humanist skeptic, one still might be a little curious about religious belief from a scientific point of view. After all, most people have religious beliefs, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

An Odd Fellow

An odd fellow found sitting in the cafeteria at the Chicago Art Museum.

The only comment he made on the picture was that his hair looked a fright.

The Material Writer

A blank sheet of paper lies before you on the table, rolled into a typewriter, or in electronic form on your computer. You feel a story coming on. Let’s say it is a play. The image that incited it is a woman you know—a woman who bears an ambiguous relationship to you. You dimly see two brothers who have both been in love with her, but you cannot see their faces or make out their ages. That’s all you have: a blank sheet of paper and three bodies.

Where will the words come from to fill the pages before the paper and ink become an accomplished work of art? They will come from inside you. You will create it all from a material body. No spirit such as a Muse will sit beside you whispering in your ear. When a scene calls for anger, you must recall what it feels like to be angry and become angry yourself. When a scene calls for tears, you must cry to write it. If your hero attracts men, you must see her devastating smile that attracts them.

If you believe the mind is thoroughly embodied, you must act on that belief even when you approach a work of art. For all the words arise from your material makeup. If you wait for a Muse in whom you do not believe, all is lost. Experience, imagination, and decision-making ability are all you have to rely on. They come from that mush embedded in your head.

Art Versus Religion

Renegade Eye points to the furor caused by the University of Minnesota’s production of Dario Fo’s The Pope and the Witch.

In Minnesota a big discussion is going on about a play opeming at the Rarig Theater, at the University of Minnesota. Theater openings at schools, are not usually mentioned in any media. When the might of the Catholic Church, tries to shut down a show, the media takes notice.

This blog has always supported the right to ridicule a religion, without repressive repercusions (hello Maryam). I'm happy to see director Robert Rosen, not backing down, despite pressure. The play has been picketed by seminarian students, while Catholic leaders, have been pressuring the University to close the play. A forum sponsored by the university will take place this week, to discuss the issues raised. Catholic leaders don't believe, the issues are debatable.

I join Renegade Eye in appreciation that the university administration is not backing down.

The Catholic Church or any other religious organization does not have any privileged position regarding the production of art. In fact, I have zero tolerance for their intolerance.

To the thin-skinned religious folks, I say tough. Deal with it just as I deal with the daily silliness coming from the so-called religious.

I cross the border from passive atheist to militant atheist when these sorts of issues arise. I wonder if it is better to remain militant rather than a fool who too often excuses religious belief that leads to this intolerance.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Geezer Goes Ice Skating

After leaving the art museum today, we stopped by the ice skating rink in Grant Park to watch the skaters. We decided to do some skating ourselves. I only fell three times.

I will be sore tomorrow.

A Tavern

Home away from home.

A Blank Space

Saturday morning. More snow.

I will spend the afternoon at the Chicago Art Museum. Lucky me: wandering about in a daze and trying to enjoy the art while thinking about other things. If only the trip would turn out to be a real distraction, I would be thankful for that.

Damn, I feel lonely today. Oh, for some attractive company.

Friday, March 02, 2007


I just finished watching Breaker Morant, for my money, the best war movie of all time.

War convicts everyone whether guilty or not. War stains everything.

Drifting and dreaming again

Can I say anything at all to a public audience on a postcard? Maybe, postcards only work when one has an emotional tie to the recipient.

Can I explain how the cold gray sky and the snow blowing from the west do not bother me now that it is March again? Why would you care if I could? Can I describe the arms I imagine wrapped round me—or the smile and eyes that light the world—in a mere postcard?


I sat with two women friends last night while they swapped stories about trimming their pubic hair. That is the second time in the last year I have been a little fly on the wall listening to that kind of conversation. I wonder if I should read something into it, but I can’t.

I was not titillated. I felt rather remote even though I have imagined their pubic areas many times. I felt like a little boy. Hmm?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Indulge Me

I am absorbed with my relationship to the world. I cannot think of anything else to write about here. I am not in the mood to write extended analyses about anything. Brief personal comments, not too subjective, will do.

The postcard from me to you seems to do the trick even though it is irritating at times. With a postcard, I may bore you, but not for long. Indulge me for a while. Please, please, pretty please.

Excavating Desire

It seems as though some things we want are irrelevant, for they are either not obtainable or they are obtainable at such a high cost we would be embittered by the extravagance at some point. Sometimes, it might be better to bury the desire out of sight rather than suffer the conscious recognition of defeat. Excavating a hidden desire seems almost cruel, for you have merely traded heartache for heartache.