Wednesday

Early Morning Tee Time? Wake Up With a Putting Practice Session.

Early morning tee times definitely have their advantages... at least that's what I've heard.

In areas where mid-day temperatures soar, the fleeting coolness of the early hours may motivate some to rise with the sun, but  for the golfers I know, the biggest benefit seems to be that a less crowded course... and the absence of slower, casual golfers... allows for a much quicker round. "...so I can get my round in and be back home in time to have breakfast with the family" one friend of ours proudly put it.

I've also heard golfers liken their early AM rounds to a spiritual experience, where the purity of the untouched course and the awakening of flora & fauna, engender feelings of peace and well-being.

I'm more of a twilight golfer myself.  In fact, I like being in the last group out, if at all possible. Having more or less mastered the art of thermoregulation, even the most oppressive heat doesn't really bother me, and while there might be a bit of a backlog at the tees, if there's no one behind us stressing about it, I'm good. Plus, if you ask me there's something kind of Zen-like about reaching the 18 green at dusk.

Here's the thing though; according to certain sleep experts, most people hit the deepest part of their sleep cycles between 4a.m. and 6a.m.  So when you book that dew sweeper tee time you'll probably want to have a pretty effective wake-up system in place.  And that's where the small plexiglass orb pictured above comes in. It's the Sport Time Golf Green Alarm Clock and once it starts ringing, it won't stop till you sink a putt on its tiny plastic green. By that time, you'll not only be wide awake, you'll have some putting practice under your belt. How annoying awesome is that?

[Focalprice via GeekAlerts via Gizmodo]

Tuesday

Pundit



By a series of unlikely connections, I'm on a list of potential community panelists for Huffington Post Live. Yesterday morning I got a call (from an unknown NYC number; generally I don't pick up unknowns, but I thought it might be from my niece); turns out it was HuffPo asking if I'd like to participate in a panel later that day. A discussion of current events, topics to be determined at the last minute.

Well, I thought, why not. So later that day, around 1 pm local time, I found myself part of a video panel listening in and commenting when asked. First up, high on my list of things I think about, was Kanye West and his statement, hot off the presses, that he doesn't give a fuck what President Obama says. (Obama has twice called him a jackass.) I sat there as the HuffPo entertainment editor was interviewed, offering wisdom about Kanye's psyche, while I barely suppressed the desire to make a well-known hand motion indicating mental masturbation. Eventually I was asked my opinion; is it unusual, the host seemed to be asking, that an entertainer has influence on a president. Influence, I increduled? I think he has zero. I think he's a talented entertainer but I stopped listening to his opinions on anything a long time ago, I added. If he starts talking about how to remove a gallbladder, I might pay attention.

Another topic was the administration's announcement that access to research paid for by taxpayer funds will be freely accessible. Sounds fine to me. A young woman panelist said she thought all internet content should be free, and it's not right that some newspaper sites have a paywall. I said I agreed about taxpayer funded research, but that I didn't think providing high-quality news content for free was a viable business model. Otherwise, I said, you'd just get stuff like my blog, where I shoot off my mouth couple times a day, no charge.

The final topic was about an upcoming PBS show on the Women's Movement, to be aired, I think, tonight. The lady who produced it was interviewed, and was very nice. The host asked me something about whether women could get equal pay in a law firm, or access to med school. To which I replied by saying my grandmother had been the first president of the Oregon League of Women Voters, my aunt had been the first practicing female lawyer in Oregon; so I came from a family in which success for women was assumed. I pointed out that there are more women than men in med school nowadays, and that the place where I got my surgical training recently had a class of surgical interns that was all female. I could have added that the chairman (chairperson) of the department of surgery there is also a woman, but I forgot.

There was another segment about a Craig's List ad for dates to a wedding. At that point I was making faces. I was ready to say my son is getting married next month and I already had a date. But by then, they'd cut me off, I think.

[Image source]

Monday

Why We're Screwed, Part Who Knows



On the question of whether budget deficits are getting bigger, smaller, or staying the same, 96% of Americans have it wrong. That rounds off to everyone. Pretty amazing. To what should we attribute such misinformation? How about constant lies and distractions spewing from the right, including but hardly limited to Fox "news." How about the fact that Rs have long since given up even pretending they care about facts? How about teabaggers who take actual fierce pride in not knowing what they're talking about?

Well, sure, those are easy. But 96% includes a lot of Democrats. What is it about them, too? Is it that, rather than making an effort to educate people, President Obama has had to spend his time responding to the idiocy and deceptions of John Boehner, and, just the other day, David Brooks? Is it that our media are so vapid and superficial that such matters take back seat to haircuts?

Whatever the reason, it's clear that not many people pay as much attention as I'd like to think. This stuff is pretty important; yet people simply don't care, or are too lazy to look beyond the crap they're fed, or are too invested in believing falsehoods in order to maintain their sense of self.

Well, I guess the good news is that even if this blog had more readership it still wouldn't make a damn bit of difference. We've become a nation of narrow-minded, unthinking, self-deluding and self-destructive idiots, well past critical mass. Well, I suppose on some level it's freeing.

[Image source]

Sunday

Golf-inspired Cake Sweetens A Dreary Connecticut Weekend

US Open Cake                                                     ©Golf Girl Media
Here in Connecticut, mid-February can be somewhat... bitter.

This past Saturday... with temperatures just above freezing and  continual, cold rain... certainly fit that bill.

Ample amounts of dingy snow still linger on lawns and area courses are shuttered, so local golf-nuts had few options to satisfy their obsession;  basically, they were relegated to stints on the simulator and afternoons on the couch, watching the pros play in the uncharacteristically icy AZ desert.  

There was also the "make-a-massive-cake-inspired-by-a-major golf-championship" option, which is what I chose.

To be honest I'd been planning this cake for a couple of weeks,  as part of a fund raising event for our town's Historical Society.  The "Cake Creation Celebration" was actually scheduled for early February, but postponed due to ...what else... a snowstorm.

And so it was that I spent Thursday and Friday... and Saturday morning... baking, constructing and decorating the towering three-tiered confection at left.

I've clearly got a lot to learn about the finer points of cake design, but I stayed pretty true to my original plan.. and for an initial multi-tiered cake-baking effort, I was pretty happy with the way this US Open inspired cake turned out.

The only downside was that I consumed an unhealthy quantity of cake batter and buttercream in the process, but that was definitely part of the fun.  An maybe it's just par for the course if you're looking for a sweet, golf-inspired weekend in the depths of a Connecticut winter.

From the initial sketch... to the baking, construction and decoration.  In the end, the cake was reduced to crumbs.

Compatability



Since my Sunday newspaper column is, once again, on a local matter, I offer instead the above thoughts on the compatibility, or lack thereof, between science and religion. Seems a decent Sunday topic.

I've puzzled many times over the fact that some people I know, doctors of very high caliber (by some definition, scientists), are deeply religious. So it's not exactly true that the two are in all ways incompatible in vivo; observation tells us otherwise. It's just that, in order to be both a scientist (meaning anyone who understands and accepts the scientific method, and one who considers her/himself a realist who prefers to base beliefs and actions on demonstrable fact) and a standard-issue religionist, one has to create certain lacunae of thought, entry into which is self-prohibited.

For those who need it, it seems to work. But it's not really compatibility at work: it's compartmentalization. Like potassium and water: they're fine together, long as you put the potassium in a water-tight box.


Friday

Message Fail



I wrote the following for my weekly newspaper column. And then I realized that, having already sent one in for this Sunday, it couldn't be published before the deadline. So I'll just plug it in here, rather than entirely waste the effort. Sorry for a certain redundancy vis a vis a previous post:

Working my way through the “sequester” fiasco as best I can, I conclude it’s a microcosm of everything that’s wrong in D.C. nowadays. And, yes, it reveals much more about the venality of today’s Congressional Republicans than it does about Democrats. Sorry, but when a thing is true, there’s no way to pretend otherwise. 
The sequester, as we’ve all heard by now, is the nonsensical name for the effects of a bipartisan agreement made many months back, in order to get Rs to buy into the Ds temporary fix to an impending fiscal crisis: if Congress couldn’t subsequently get its act together to address our budgetary problems, such drastic cuts would occur – in domestic spending that Ds would abhor, and in defense dollars that Rs would find impossible to countenance – that, surely, they’d act like adults and get to work. Yeah, right. 
Each side claims the monetary high ground at this point: Ds say they’ve offered cuts in domestic spending far beyond what they’d choose,and President Obama says he’s open to more; Rs say that since they agreed to slightly higher taxes on slightly hardly anyone, they’ve done all they need to do. We can argue about how much of which concession is the greater (or we can simply do the math and acknowledge that Ds agreed to far more in cuts than Rs agreed to in revenue.) 
But at this point Rs have taken all further revenue off the table; even the highly touted and lowly specified Romney/Ryan tax loophole closures are no more. It’s up to Ds, they say, to provide a wholly R-centric budget; meaning, they must do it entirely by cuts to get a single R vote, no matter the impact on the economy, or jobs, or our ability to educate our kids, leave them a livable future. We’re done, say the Rs, literally and literally. 
Okay, well, at least they’ve made clear their priorities: lower taxes, despite being half of what they were in the time of their hero, Ronald of Reagan. But what’s most revelatory of who and what they are is their attempt to characterize this sequester as the sole responsibility and fault of Barack Obama. Sure, they fictionalize history as policy (witness their intent to return to the policies that nearly killed us); but have they still not noticed that there are videos nowadays, and detailed records of what happened mere months ago? 
At the time of its inception, the sequester was welcomed as a policy victory by such congressional luminaries as John Boehner and Paul Ryan, the latter considered their finest fiscal mind. A majority of Republicans voted for it: you can look it up. Now, though, as President Obama is pointing out the real consequences of their fiscal intransigence, suddenly they’d have us believe it was rammed down their gullets. That’s the part I find so emblematic of who they are, and who they think their public is: dumb, and dumber. 
Over the last several years, thanks largely to their message maven Frank Luntz, Rs have been undeniably brilliant at messaging, making Orwell’s fiction and Goebbels’ reality look positively incoherent. “The Clear Skies Act, The Patriot Act, Government Takeover Of Healthcare, Death Panels.” But now, as if admitting they’ve run out of ideas or have given up even pretending, they’re using the term “Obamaquester.” Really? From the people who gave us “Death Tax?” That’s the best they can come up with? Doesn’t even scan. 
Pick a number: if the sequester happens, Rs get 87% of the blame. If forced, I’ll go down to 84, but really there’s not much wiggle room. At this point they’ve explicitly ruled out helping, while arguing that they’re innocent as lambs. The facts speak otherwise. But then, since deciding to cling to forty-year-failed Reaganomics, when have facts mattered? 
Boehner wrote an op-ed the other day in which he simultaneously blamed the sequester on Obama, claimed it will wreck the economy, and said he’s fine with letting it happen. Even conservative pundits went slack-jawed over that one. I’m almost feeling sorry for the Speaker, heading, as he does, a party chewing off its own head. He didn’t elect his Tea Party members; voters did. And until those voters think harder next time they have a ballot in their hands, there’s nothing anyone can do.
[Image source]

Thursday

Noë on the origin of life etc.


UC Berkeley philosopher (and atheist) Alva Noë is, as we saw not too long ago, among the more perceptive and interesting critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.  In a recent brief follow-up post, Noë revisits the controversy over Nagel’s book, focusing on the question of the origin of life.  Endorsing some remarks made by philosopher of biology Peter Godfrey-Smith, Noë holds that while we have a good idea of how species originate, there is no plausible existing scientific explanation of how life arose in the first place:

This is probably not, I would say, due to the fact that the relevant events happened a long time ago.  Our problem isn't merely historical in nature, that is.  If that were all that was at stake, then we might expect that, now at least, we would be able to make life in a test tube.  But we can't do that.  We don't know how.

But it is worse than that, in Noë’s view.  He holds that we also do not even know whether such an explanation is just around the corner, or instead will require a scientific revolution, or, alternatively, will turn out to be impossible in principle. 

Something similar can be said, in his view, of the question of whether science can explain intelligence:

If we really understood what makes a person intelligent, then it ought to be relatively straight forward, at least in principle, to manufacture intelligence.  Some people believe that this is possible.  Others that we can actually make intelligent machines and robots now.  I do not suppose that they are wrong. But I do take it as manifest that we do not know this to be the case.  Many mainstream scientists and philosophers believe that true artificial intelligence is at best unfinished business.

With respect to both controversies -- the origin of life and the nature of intelligence -- Noë writes:

What kind of disagreement is this?  To my mind it is foolish to cast it as a standoff between those who embrace science and admit its stunning achievements and those who reject the project of natural science itself.  It is not a conflict between those who know and those who are confused.  Some critics of Nagel's book adopt this pose, as if this were some kind of episode in our culture wars…

The issue at stake is internal to science.  We have not yet integrated an account of ourselves into our understanding of nature.  And so our conception of nature itself is, or threatens to be, incomplete.

End quote.  In my earlier post on Noë I noted that he also holds that “we haven't a clue” how “consciousness [emerges] from the behavior of mere matter.”  The issue here, of course, concerns what David Chalmers calls the “hard problem” of consciousness -- the problem of explaining why the neural processes that underlie perception, behavior, etc., are associated with qualia, those aspects of a conscious experience directly knowable only from the subjective or “first person” point of view.

Life, consciousness, intelligence -- is there anything significant about that particular triad?  There is.  It corresponds more or less exactly to the traditional Aristotelian distinction between the three fundamental forms of life: vegetative, sensory, and rational

“Vegetative” life as Aristotelians use that term -- and it is a technical, metaphysical usage, which is not meant to correspond exactly to the way the term is used is ordinary language or contemporary biology -- is any sort of life that exhibits the basic functions of life but nothing more.  Those basic functions include nutrition, growth, and reproduction, where these are taken to be “immanent” activities in the sense that they terminate in and promote the flourishing of the whole substance that carries them out.  “Immanent” causation is in this context contrasted by Aristotelians with “transeunt” or “transient” casual processes, which terminate outside the agent.  Digestion would be an example of an immanent causal process; one billiard ball causing another to move would be an example of a transeunt causal process.  For Aristotelians, the essential difference between living and non-living things is that living things are capable of both immanent and transeunt causation, whereas non-living things exhibit only transeunt causation.  And nutrition, growth, and reproduction constitute the basic package of immanent activities.

(I say more about this at pp. 132-138 of Aquinasand in some earlier posts about the nature and origins of life, here, here, and here.  For a lengthier recent defense of the Aristotelian account of the nature of life, see David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism.)

Sensory life is the sort had by living things that not only carry out the activities characteristic of “vegetative” life, but, on top of that, possess sensation, appetite, and locomotion.  Sensation involves the capacity to take in information from the surrounding environment via specialized organs (such as eyes, ears, skin that is sensitive to temperature, and the like).  Appetite involves the formation of inner impulses in response to what is sensed, and locomotion involves self-movement that is prompted by the appetitive impulses so as to take the living thing that has them either toward or away from the sensed objects that generated the appetites in question.  This package of capacities is, on the traditional Aristotelian view, essentially what distinguishes animals from plants, though there could of course be debate over whether some particular living thing is best understood as falling into the “vegetative” or the “sensory” category (see Oderberg for discussion).  But that the distinction between vegetative and sensory forms of life really is a distinction in kind and not degree is evidenced by the persistence of the qualia problem.  For the possession of qualia is an essential part of what it is to have the sensory and appetitive capacities that animals exhibit and plants evidently do not.  (I’ve said more about this distinction hereand here.)

Rational life, as Aristotelians understand it, is the kind had by living things that possess not only the characteristics typical of vegetative and sensory life -- nutrition, growth, reproduction, sensation, appetite, and locomotion -- but, on top of that, intellect and will.  Intellect involves the ability to grasp abstract concepts (such as the concepts man and mortal), to put them together into complete thoughts or judgments (such as the judgment that All men are mortal), and to reason from one judgment to another in accordance with logical principles (as we do when we reason from the premises that All men are mortal and Socrates is a man to the conclusion that Socrates is mortal).   Behavior that results from will or free choice is behavior that follows from reason rather than merely from the impulses of appetite.

The Aristotelian holds that, just as sensory life differs in kind and not merely degree from merely vegetative life, so too does truly intellectual activity differ in kind and not merely degree from the sort of which mere sensory forms of life are capable.  Indeed, the divide between the truly rational and the merely sensory forms of life is especially radical insofar as strictly intellectual activity (unlike sensory activity) is essentially incorporeal and cannot in principle be entirely reduced to the activity of any bodily organ.  I’ve discussed the reasons in many places, such as in Aquinas, but the most detailed treatment can be found in my new ACPQ article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”

For the Aristotelian, then, there are three radical “jumps” in nature -- the jump from inorganic phenomena to the basic, “vegetative” forms of life (i.e. the sort that exhibit the basic package of “immanent” as opposed to merely “transeunt” activities); the jump from merely “vegetative” forms of life to sensory forms of life (i.e. the sort that possess qualia); and the jump from merely sensory forms of life to rational forms of life (i.e. those with the strictly intellectual capacities that presuppose the possession of abstract concepts).  When I speak of a “jump,” though, it is important to emphasize that what I primarily have in mind is something ontological rather than temporal.  For the Aristotelian, questions of metaphysics (what a thing is) are more fundamental than, and to be settled prior to, questions of historical origin (where a thing came from).  Indeed, at least where we have no independent evidence of origins, we cannot fruitfully address the question of where a thing came from before settling the question of what it is, since only when we know its nature will we know what its possible sources might be. 

It is thus sheer, question-begging dogmatism for naturalists to insist that some phenomenon P -- where P is life, say, or intelligence -- simply “must” be purely material because we “know” P could only have had material origins.  If we have no direct evidence whatsoever of P’s origins (as is the case with life and intelligence, since no one has ever observed living things arising from entirely inorganic causes, or an intelligent creature arising from entirely non-intelligent causes), then we have to look to P’s nature to begin our investigation of what its causes might have been.  And if an investigation of its nature shows that it is not entirely material -- as an investigation of the nature of intelligence shows that it cannot be entirely material even in principle (again, see the ACPQ article referred to above) -- then we know that its causes cannot have been entirely material.

How, then, does the Aristotelian position relate to evolution?  The answer is complicated.  On the one hand, the Aristotelian obviously rejects the materialist conception of matter associated with contemporary naturalism -- a conception on which the material world is devoid of any immanent teleology or immanent natures (i.e. final causes and substantial forms).  On the other hand, nothing that has been said above has anything to do with “specified complexity,” probabilities, “gods of the gaps,” or any of the other themes of “Intelligent Design” theory and William Paley-style design arguments.  On the contrary, Aristotelians and Thomists are often extremely critical of ID and of Paley (as I have been in a series of posts).  And part of the reason is that ID is simply not radical enough in its critique of naturalism, but implicitly buys into the same false conception of nature to which the materialist is committed, and thereby merely muddies the conceptual waters. 

Moreover, modern Aristotelians (such as the Neo-Scholastic writers of the early twentieth century) are not necessarily opposed to evolutionary explanations as such.  They do agree, though, that such explanations have limits, and would by no means give a blank check to Darwinian naturalism.  And those limits are limits in principle (not mere matters of “probability”) because they have to do with metaphysical divisions in nature (not mere differences in the degree of “complexity” of the arrangement of mechanical parts or the like).  I have discussed the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to the origins of life here, and the question of human origins hereand here.

In any event, it is certainly telling that, although it is part of the modern conventional wisdom that the traditional Aristotelian distinction between vegetative, sensory, and rational forms of life is a historical relic, we have a mainstream, atheist philosopher like Alva Noë essentially admitting that the explanation of each of these forms of life in terms of something more basic is, even in AD 2013, still highly problematic.  And as I pointed out in my First Things review of Mind and Cosmos, Nagel -- another mainstream atheist philosopher -- essentially says the same thing about each of these traditional Aristotelian categories.  Various other prominent contemporary atheists and naturalists -- Jerry Fodor, John Searle, David Chalmers, and many others -- have acknowledged that at least one or two of these categories remain problematic.  And of course, as I noted in an earlier post on Nagel, renewed interest in Aristotelian themes can be found in much contemporary mainstream work in other contexts, such as metaphysics, philosophy of science, and ethics.  

Could someone not self-consciously Aristotelian or Thomist sound more Aristotelian than Noë already does?  Turns out he can.  Consider some remarks he made in the interview linked to above:

For a long time now, going back at least to Descartes and Galileo, we’ve liked to be told that things are not what they seem.  When we go to a magic show, there’s a feeling of delicious pleasure when the wool has been pulled over our eyes.  Similarly, to be told that the love you feel is actually just a chemical reaction, or that your depression is just a malfunctioning of your brain, is surprising and in some paradoxical way satisfying. There’s a modern pleasure in the unmasking of our everyday experience.  We feel like we’re seeing behind the curtain, seeing how the trick is done…

Galileo said that the apple in your hand is colorless, odorless and flavorless.  That color and so on are effects that the apple has on you, comparable to the sensation of the prick of a pin.  The flavor of the apple, he said, is no more in the apple than the prickliness is in the pin.  The taste and the prickliness are in you.  Galileo thought we were radically deceived by the world around us.  The contemporary neuroscientists simply extend this even further — this idea that the world is a kind of grand illusion that the brain creates.

Sure, it’s an important fact that the perception of colors depends on the physics of light and the nature of the nervous system.  If our physiology were different, our ability to detect colors would be different.  But none of that speaks to the unreality of color, any more than saying that I can’t see anything in my room if I turn the lights off speaks to the unreality of my desk.  We’ve almost made a fetish of this desire to be told that things are not what they seem.  We get a thrill from the paradox.

End quote.  Noë is particularly critical of reductionist accounts of human nature:

Trying to understand consciousness in neural terms alone is like trying to understand a car driving down the road only in terms of its engine.  It’s bad philosophy masquerading as science…

The brain is necessary for consciousness.  Of course!  Just as an engine is necessary in a car.  But an engine doesn’t “give rise” to driving; driving isn’t something that happens inside the engine.  The engine contributes to the car’s ability to drive.  Consciousness is more like driving than our philosophical tradition leads us to expect.  To be conscious is to have a world.  The fact is, you and I don’t have what it takes to make a world on our own.  We find the world, we don’t make it in our brains.

The brain is essential for our lives, physiology, health and experience.  But the idea that it is the whole story, or even the key to understanding the story, is not a scientific conclusion.  It’s a prejudice.  Consciousness requires the joint operation of the brain, the body and the world.

End quote.  What Noë is here decrying is, essentially, what I have described elsewhere as scientism’stendency to reify abstractions and to treat parts of substances as if they were substances in their own right, and his examples are more or less the same as the ones I gave there.  From the rich, concrete world of material objects presented to us in experience, which is characterized by colors, sounds, odors, flavors, warmth, coolness, meanings and purposes, causal powers and liabilities, physics abstracts out its mathematical structure.  That is extremely useful for certain purposes and certainly captures aspects of what is really out there in the world.  But scientism treats this abstraction as if it were the concrete reality itself, and the entirety of that reality.  From concrete human beings, neuroscience abstracts out the nervous system and makes of it the focus of study.  This too is useful for certain purposes, and is unproblematic as long as it is kept in mind that neural structures and processes can properly be understood only by reference to the whole organism of which they are a part.  Scientism, however, fallaciously tends to treat such structures and processes as if they were substances in their own right, and attributes to them activities -- “interpreting,” “perceiving,” “deciding,” etc. -- that can intelligibly be attributed only to the human being as a whole and not to any part, not even a neurological part.  (I’ve discussed various “neurofallacies” at greater length hereand here.)

Scientism claims to be “reality based” but that is precisely what it is not.  It recognizes only aspects of reality, and in particular only those susceptible of study via its favored methods.   When those methods fail to capture some aspect of reality -- God, consciousness, intentionality, free will, selfhood, moral value, and so on -- scientism tends to blame reality rather than its methods, and to insist that the reality either be redefined so as to make it compatible with its methods, or eliminated entirely.

The Aristotelian, by contrast, insists upon recognizing the world as it really is, and adjusting method to reality rather than reality to method.  Hence while the methods appropriate to physics -- the construction of mathematical models that capture those aspects of material nature susceptible of strict prediction and control -- are certainly suitable for the study of some phenomena, they are not suitable for biology, psychology, ethics, metaphysics, or what have you.

As we’ve seen, in his most recent post, Noë writes:

The issue at stake is internal to science.  We have not yet integrated an account of ourselves into our understanding of nature.  And so our conception of nature itself is, or threatens to be, incomplete.

But the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition had an account that integrated us into nature.  It is scientism, which abstracts out of nature everything that smacks of the human, that has created the problem of reintegrating us into it.  The solution is not a further application of its methods, which simply compounds the problem, but a realization that those methods are not the only ones available to us, and never were.  The work of Nagel, Noë, and Co. is evidence that that realization is increasingly to be found outside the circle of self-consciously Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophers. 

Idiots. Nasty, Stupid, Dangerous Idiots.

Puzzle: What do you get when you combine reflexive hatred with chronic stupidity, mixed with such longstanding disregard for fact that you no longer can recognize reality, nor care to, and add in levels of credulity that most sentient humans left behind when they graduated kindergarten?

This:



These people got into Congress by being elected. There are voters out there who knowingly send people like that to represent them in influencing the policies of the United States of America. Who listen to Fox "news" and Rush Limbaugh, and read Breitbart's ghost-site, and buy it; believe it like they believe Jonah really set up shop inside a whale; believe it like they believe teabaggers arose from the roots of the greenest grass, like they believe Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor and John Boehner and Paul Ryan have their best interests at heart.

As long as there are people like that electing people like that based on listening to people like that, we're  simply and totally screwed. What a deadly combination of all the worst traits possible in humankind. What irony that they call themselves patriots. How thoroughly they've destroyed democracy. How blind.

I guess I should stop. There's no point jumping out the window: I'm on the first floor.


Wednesday

Sequestration



On my cardiac surgery rotations in training days, a prof used to like to ask interns for a list of reasons for seeing unoxygenated blood in the heart when on total cardiopulmonary bypass. To my surprise, I came up with one of the more obscure ones, pulmonary sequestration. I remembered that gem as I thought about writing concerning the upcoming "sequester." There's no relation, other than the fact, I guess, that things are about to get bloody.

It's the perfect symbol of everything that's wrong with our politics. Having been a bargaining chip proposed originally by President Obama as a way to get Rs to agree to be half-way reasonable, it was approved by a majority of Rs at the time. It was, in fact, lauded by none other than the teabaggRs monetary mandarin, Paul Ryan, who, naturally, is now furiously trying to weasel out of his words from back then. [Added: John Boehner himself thought the idea was peachy at the time, too.]

Rs, usually pretty good at coming up with Orwellian wordplay to disguise their real intentions, have tried again, pretty pathetically, calling the imminent sequester "the Obamaquester." If that isn't a sign that they've just about run out the string, I don't know what is. 

But if the newspeak is atypically laughable considering their previous efforts, like "clean skies" and "patriot act," the intent is par for the discourse. Rs are happy to wreck the economy and will do everything they can to pretend it's Obama's fault. And, if recent history tells us anything, Fox "news" and the usual RWS™will beat it into the heads of their gullible and frightened teabagging listeners, convincing them easy as pie.

All revenue is off the table, say Boehner and McConnell. Having previously agreed to a tiny fraction of it, in terms of total deficit reduction, they've closed the door on anything more, not even the "loophole" closures sung so strongly by The Rominee and his boy wonder; while Obama and Ds continue to be open to further spending cuts. But not, so they say, at the price of our future. I can only surmise that, somehow, Rs are convinced that if they succeed in stopping the recovery and causing another recession they'll be able to turn that into votes in 2014. And I suppose they're right, assuming they manage successfully to shift the blame to our president. 

Can they pull that off? They'll have to come up with something more Lunzian than "Obamaquester," that's for damn sure. On the other hand, teabaggers will buy in no matter what. People that can send a despicable McCarthyite like Ted Cruz to Washington will believe anything.

Monday

Amazing Synchronized Golfers & Their Simultaneous Putting Display

This is awesome. In the true sense of the word.



H/T @ISPSGolf, Brave Dave

Income Inequality



This rings true to me, and not just because Joe Stiglitz and I were college-mates. In the article he lays out the ways in which our nearly-unprecedented (except for right before the Great Depression) income equality is holding back economic recovery and wiping away what's left, for most people, of The American Dream: hard work allowing anyone to "make it."

Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena, when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth. When even the free-market-oriented magazine The Economist argues — as it did in a special feature in October — that the magnitude and nature of the country’s inequality represent a serious threat to America, we should know that something has gone horribly wrong... .
... There are four major reasons inequality is squelching our recovery. The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth. While the top 1 percent of income earners took home 93 percent of the growth in incomes in 2010, the households in the middle — who are most likely to spend their incomes rather than save them and who are, in a sense, the true job creators — have lower household incomes, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1996...
Bringing it up, of course, begs responses of Marxism, socialism, communism, hatred of America. But, as ought to be obvious, it's exactly the opposite. To want to address it is to want to see America survive, and, yes, as a capitalist nation.

[Image source]

Sunday

Back from Blackfriars


Back from Oxford, and exhausted.  I thank Bill Carroll and the Dominicans at Blackfriars for their warm hospitality.  (And thanks to Brother James of Blackfriars for taking the photo, elsewhere in Oxford.)  Regular blogging will resume ASAP.

Sunday Column



My latest column for our local paper:



Well, just as predicted by Michele Bachmann and other members of the Legion of the Loose Screw, plans are afoot to round up patriotic Americans and put them in camps. Only thing is, having gotten tired of waiting for the government to do it, they’re doing it to themselves. 
Yessir. In the adjacent Potato Kingdom, white supremacist central, plans are being made for a heavily-guarded, multi-walled “citadel”, complete with neighborhoods, a farmers’ market, an amphitheater (for patriotic speeches!), a weapons factory, and a gun museum, to be built aside a reflecting pool. I assume they won’t be doing much reflecting on how idiotic it is. They will, however, each be equipped with an “AR-15 variant rifle and 1000 rounds of ammunition,” and a requirement to demonstrate proficiency, along with handguns, annually. 
Turning to the East, local expatriate Glenn Beck is raising money (when is he not?) to build a utopian community, along the lines, it appears, of the hippie communes of yore, or collective farms in the former Soviet Union (no fancy shops!) He calls it a libertarian paradise, though. The differences are elusive, except that he plans to allow commerce with the outside world (it’s a theme park!), taking advantage of the non-libertarian, regulated capitalism the rest of us enjoy. In selling his vision, Mr. Beck hasn’t yet gone down the path of militaristic paranoia that our neighbors have. 
As to them, well, I’m no military strategist, but it seems if you’re expecting an attack by the most powerful military in this corner of the cosmos (far as we know), gathering up all your people into one spot doesn’t seem all that wise. (They claim it’s preparation for “grid failure.” I’m unconvinced: it’s Idaho.) Maybe they haven’t gotten it under their three-cornered hats that whereas in 1776 it was “one if by land, two if by sea,” nowadays there’s also “three if by air.” 
When I was a flying doc in Vietnam, like every other flier I was issued a survival vest. Along with items that included a hacksaw blade encased in rubber for, uh, insertion in, well, you know, in case of capture, we were issued a .38 pistol and twelve rounds of ammo. Pilots being pilots, some added bandoleers with a couple hundred extra rounds. Me, I figured if I was on the ground, alone, in a situation where two hundred rounds were called for, all I really needed was one. I’d propose the same paradigm to a passel of paranoid patriots peering in peril at professional pilots plotting the paths of prodigiously powerful plummeting projectiles. But then I’m mostly a pragmatist. 
On the other hand, since there’s no chance in hell that anyone is actually coming after them, I find it comforting to know that these people will be safely stashed somewhere else. Less grandiose than Glenn Beck, who seeks two billion bucks for his project (I assume there’ll be management fees), the guys next door claim to eschew the profit motive. Liberals, though, will be “unwelcome,” as will “establishment Republicans.” Like Beck, they plan a libertarian lifestyle, where “neighbors keep their noses out of other neighbors’ business.” Good luck with that. 
If states, as some have said, are laboratories of democracy, then enclaves such as these might well be, at least, beakers. On that level, it could be interesting. After all, who could object to gatherings of people who differ from the norm? (Oh yeah. Them.) So, best wishes. It’ll be a fine experiment: how long can thousands of paranoid people packing heat (“3,500 to 7,000 families”) live together in harmony, without rules, before they start shooting each other? We may get a chance to find out. 
Meanwhile, let’s be clear about one thing: whatever these people choose to call themselves, they’re not patriots. Their beliefs differ fundamentally from those of the country for the love of which they claim sole possession. Like those demanding it after the last election, they are, in effect, seceding, rejecting the essence of living in a democracy, which is that you don’t always get your way. They abhor diversity, especially of thought. They prefer to ignore what citizenship in this country has done for them, and the fact that it’s one of a very few that would allow them to do what they’re doing. They repudiate America, and are, in effect, moving out. Just not too far away.



[First Image source
[Second Image source]


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