Archive for September, 2008


September 30, 2008 Leave a comment

What do Voltaire’s Candide, Huckleberry Finn, A Brave New World, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Anarchist Cookbook, The Satanic Verses, and the Harry Potter books all have in common? Well according to a Time Magazine poll they are the most banned books in the United States. Some of the books, while I don’t understand censorship, I do understand why certain people think that they need to be banned.

For instance “The Anarchist Cookbook” is an example of a book where I could see how someone might take offense. The books is filled with instructions on how to make explosives, arming devices, detonators, as well as numerous drug recipes. In this day of hyper-sensitivity to terrorism this one is probably the most understandable as to why someone would want to ban it*. Although it is a book, and the type of person that would want to read and use its information isn’t going to be deterred by not being able to get it from the library. “Lolita,” the story of an older man’s obsession with a 12 year old girl is another one that is plainly obvious.

Yet those books contain ideas. That’s it, the type of person that is going to attempt a sexual relationship with a 12 year old girl, isn’t the type of person sitting down to read about it. It’s not going to motivate anyone into action because the ideas of the book are not presented as instructions to action. While the depictions of the “feely films” in Brave New World are the least of the sexually charged depictions Aldous Huxley wrote into his novel would those on their own have gotten the books banned?

I often wonder at the censorship of ideas and words and books. What is it supposed to accomplish? Some parent’s group opposes the word “nigger” in Mark Twain because it is racially offensive? Isn’t that the point of the book, to satirize the viewpoints that Southerners along the Mississippi had.

I have made the claim before that there are bad books and immoral books. The former being poorly written while the latter being books that carried an unethical message. I could see stopping “Catcher in the Rye” because I find that book to be poorly written and rather pointless. I don’t think the literary device of the unreliable narrator is a particularly appealing one. While “The Turner Diaries” carries the unethical message of race supremacy; while i have never read it and cannot speak of it’s quality.

I think the idea of government censorship, whether directly making ownership illegal or indirect by which you just make something unavailable, is wrong. Shouldn’t Adam Smith’s free market take care of this? If people find a book so offensive then wouldn’t it just not be sold? Or would they buy it up to prevent other people from reading it (as they sometimes do)–which of course has the opposite effect because it causes more to be printed. Why involve the law in banning ideas, since doing that makes the idea that more taboo and thus that much more inviting?

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Debate I

September 28, 2008 2 comments

This time I actually watched the debate…instead of my usual practice of reading the transcript the day after. I think it was more important to see how the two candidates behaved rather than just reading their answers to questions that they had to have some idea of. I don’t trust the after polls, I don’t care who Fox News thinks won, or MSNBC, or CNN. All of those channels are biased in one direction or another. I pay attention of course but I don’t put much stock into it. Online polling is even worse because it relies on who can click their mouse the most, and the stupidest people usually just click away. There’s a reason the founders of this country didn’t trust the hoi polloi in deciding the president.

I have four pages of notes from the debate. I was going to live blog, but then I figured drinking would be more fun. So with baby in one hand and a beer in another Gwen, Lux, and I watched. Barring the emergence of a third party super candidate, one of these people are going to be the president, and it would be nice to see them spar.

Before last week’s economic fun the debate was supposed to be centered around foreign relations, alternatively titled “shit you can learn by looking at another country,” right Sarah? I could use my magical brain to summarize each candidate’s responses in one sentence.

McCain: I once worked with X and we did Y, therefore if we do Z it emboldens the terrorists.

Obama: We dropped the ball in Afghanistan, we need more troops there.

I swear that it is getting embarrassing for me to admit that I would have voted McCain in 2000 or 2004. I wonder how many hours the cleaning crew needed to pick up all the names that he dropped? I get the fact that he has experience, but his answers read like a roll call of American politicians in the last 20 years.

Obama on the other hand, at least tried to answer some of the questions differently. It seemed to me that his proposed solutions seem more long term than short term as McCain’s certainly were. It’s the difference between tactics and strategy John, I began to think that you didn’t know the difference.

Point by point:

Russia: both wrong. Georgia started the shit, then Georgia got their ass kicked. Is it because we have spent so long hating the Russians that we can’t see the truth here? The reason that there are Putin posters in Ossettia is because those people identify themselves as Russians, just check their passports.

Pakistan: At some point McCain just started making shit up. He accused Obama of saying that he would attack Pakistan, when in fact he said that if Bin Laden (who McCain would follow into hell to capture/kill, that is unless it’s Pakistan) were identified in Pakistan and the Pakistanis were unwilling/unable to get him he, as president would ok a strike. I think it funny that McCain, who has been rattling his sword at Iran would dismiss this as being wrong, or rather, not wrong, but “something you shouldn’t say.”

I wonder if Obama just shouldn’t say it, or if he shouldn’t do it either.

As far as fact checking, Obama did vote for the tax hike on those making 42k/year. If you were single this affected you, if married, you had to make double that to be under the hike.

McCain did worse. We don’t give 700billion to oil countries that hate us. We pay around 536 billion to import oil, and of that 1/3 comes from the British, Canadian, and Mexican bastions of terrorism. That’s if we count foreign aid which to be generous I’m allowing. And yes, John, Kissinger did say that we should have unconditional talks with Iran, just not on a presidential level. He said it a few days before the debate on Fox News. Plus, you should learn to say the President of Iran’s name, it might help.

I think Obama won the debate, McCain didn’t appear statesman like enough that would be in line with his years of experience. That should be his focus next time. Obama for his improvement, should continue to look affable but he should learn to wait his turn before talking.

I know that Deadmonywalking like Jim Lehrer but I didn’t. He kept baiting the two to talk to each other like it was a marriage counseling session and seemed to relish in the idea of a fight brewing. His lament that they were out of five minute responses was bullshit since there was no control exercised over the participants.

It’s a start. Thursday night is the VP debate and that should be like watching a poodle struggle in a sharktank. 

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September 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Yep it’s time for a baby post.

Little Gwendolyn (or Grendelyn as we call her when she is frantic), is now over two weeks old and she has made some interesting progress in that time since she has come home.

Headbutting: in what was initially an interesting phenomenon she began to lift her head and hold it up for a couple of seconds when she was only a couple of days old. I am told that this is ahead of schedule. I’m not sure of this but the pediatrician seemed to think so. It looks like the drunken head bob. You know when you have had too much to drink and you start nodding off but then you snap back to attention? It looks a lot like that, in fact alot of what she does reminds me of a friend that has had too much to drink.

Anyway, as time has progressed she can lift/move her head around under it’s own power. Her favorite game while doing this is to headbutt me right in the throat, over and over again. I wonder how exactly she isn’t in constant pain from this since on many occasions she has nailed my collar bone with enough force that it causes me pain.

Crawling: It started as a game between her and I. When she cries she kicks her legs, I am told that babies do this. One time, a week and a half ago, I placed my hands underneath her feet and she kicked down with enough force to propel her upward…straight into my chin. I don’t lift, mind you, my hands merely provide good footing within which she is semi-mobile. She can actually inch worm herself upwards/sidewards. Again, this is supposedly ahead of schedule but I don’t want to sound like one of those parents who think their child is the greatest person ever to have been born (although in this case it may be true). In two weeks she has achieved a semi-mobility that is usually only reserved for cows and goats that are seconds old.

Choking: Not herself choking, but her choking me. When she’s not crying (about 5% of her waking time) she is usually flailing her arms about in a grasping motion. Babies do this because their vision sucks and they learn the world by touch. If I am laying down with her face down on my chest (in the hole) it takes a few seconds for her to get comfortable and then she rams her fist into the hollow at the base of my neck causing me to gasp for air. The frequency of this event has led me to doubt its accidental nature.

Punching the cat: On two separate occasions she has caused harm to the evil cat that my fiancee owns. The cat, who is used to being the center of attention, has begun to notice a shift in popularity propelling her from the #1 spot in the house to the #3 spot (I’m still #4). She has begun to investigate the new screaming bundle of cloth that is frequently causing her not to get petted. The first time she gingerly hopped on to the changing table, or what she had been using as a bed, immediately getting swatted by Lux. The cat fled in terror. In the cat’s mind Lux didn’t do it, the new creature did because her former owner would never hit her. This led to some reticence on the cat’s part to approaching the baby in any fashion. Today she had worked up the nerve to sniff the cat and this time Gwendolyn punched her in the head. The cat is learning a nice lesson about dominance and why having opposable thumbs is better than being able to see in the dark.

For the most part the baby sleeps and eats. Her favorite shows include Magnum P.I. and Oz. I shit you not, those two shows will calm her down, must be something about cheap synthesizer intro music and prison rape that settle the monster within. She also enjoys the book Howl’s Moving Castle, and my collection of Norse Mythology but she cries when the stories are focused on the father of lies. Odin’s hanging on Yggdrasil…that captured her interest. Her favorite video games include Final Fantasy X and Call of Duty 4, again she becomes calm when those are in the background.

Pictures still coming, I am probably going to set up a slide show and then link to it on here. We have some interesting ones.

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Economics II

September 23, 2008 1 comment

“Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”–From the actual legislation.

I did some reading, a tiny bit of research, consulted the augeries, and as it turns out I was pretty much right about the cause of the current economic woes. Albeit I was right in the most general of terms. My specifics were off, but I’m not a Yale/Harvard/ND economist, it’s not actually my job to watch this economic shit. That’s my brother’s job…he’s an account advisor/investor/something like that (you have to sign the book to see him) so he’s a bit closer to having to do this sort of work than I am.

Anyway, I’m more interested in the politics and ethics of anything more than just the money. Although everyone needs money, that’s why they call it money.* Politically I’m getting kind of worried. Read the quote again from the top of the page. That’s from the actual legislation.

In my history reading I’m aware of the methodology of the Roman Republic appointing a dictator in times of dire emergency. The idea behind the office of the dictator was that he could make decisions without having to go through the silliness of Senate approval or the messiness of voting. Ideally, and as happened almost all of the time; the dictator would lay down his power at the end of his term (usually no more than six months–but sometimes they just stuck around). I understand this method of thinking.

When, say, a bunch of Gauls are knocking at your door brandishing their spears and saying, “new neighbors, hi, just wanted you to come outside and say hey;” having someone in office that can draw up an army and go to war is nice without all that messy debating. I wonder though if this emergency that we are having now is the same type of threat.

My mind tells me no, my heart…tells me pretty much the same fucking thing. We are giving the Secretary of the Treasury powers that are beyond reproach. This was the type of shit that Mulder feared about FEMA. If the legislation passes, it means that the Secretary can do whatever he wants with 1 trillion dollars, and no one can do shit about it EVER. He will be beyond the reach of the courts, unless someone sues him, he appeals to the legislation and then someone appeals to the Supreme Court to get them to decide that the legislation is unconstitutional. Before we make Henry Paulson the defacto dictator of our money maybe we should think about things and let all of those people who are losing all this money suffer the consequences that they themselves caused.

*Danny DeVito said it, I’m just not telling you which movie it came from.

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September 21, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t write from a position of authority on the current economic state of the country, what I can do however is pretend to write from a position of authority on the subject.

I also know that everything that follows will subject to the disbelief of my readers based on the sentence that preceded. What else can I do? My understanding of what has been happening in the recent days is based on the very few articles that I have skimmed over in the newspapers, radio talking points and news briefs, and discussions on some political talk shows. None of it has been too in depth, and while I can’t get my hands on a new issue of the Economist just yet I will make an attempt to explain what seems to be the problem at hand.

First off we have the cause. From what I understand, it seems that the various economic institutions tried to take advantage of an economic bubble. Much like they did in the 90s with regard to the Dot Coms, only this time it was real estate. It seems to be based on the flexible low mortgage rates that the banks were handing out to anyone that asked. Then those rates went up and instead of handling the problem internally the banks sold the debt to third parties who went into hock to buy them with a higher interest rate. Any debt that could be sold was, leaving the banks more money to hand out in which they eventually sold again. Thus the cycle went on.

Then there was the “short selling” of stock. This is a practice by which people sold stock that they didn’t actually own in order to drive down the price so they could buy it at a reduced cost. How the hell this worked, or was even thought of, is beyond my comprehension. While I haven’t directly read Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” I have read enough academic commentary about it to understand that this isn’t how free-market capitalism is supposed to work.

You can’t sell something you don’t own–unless you are a con man in which case there is a whole other problem going on. Is that what the Wall Street brokers can be classified as? This practice has brought down a couple of investment houses (think Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd) which then have received bail outs from the federal government. Or, they are being bought up by foreign interests.

In the case of the former it is interesting that his sort of socialist involvement by the government would be happening. The current administration struck down the SCHIP funding (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) because it was expanding into a form of socialized health care but then it thinks nothing of doing the same to the banking system. Is it because programs like SCHIP help the lower classes while the banking industries’ leaders are in the upper classes. I’m not a Marxist or a class warrior but this might be too hard to ignore.

Having never taken an economics course it’s hard for me to understand how this works and more importantly what the long range effects are. I have no serious outstanding debt so I can’t think that it will directly affect me. Will it indirectly affect me with rising costs? Is this situation more than just something that the monetary elite must endure? Or am I like the person who doesn’t vote, rationalizing to myself that the problems are so distant that I can’t make a difference so why should I care? I don’t have any answer to those questions, but I do know what I will be looking for next time I’m at the library.

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Philosophy Club II

September 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Last night I went to my second meeting of the Flower City Philosophy Club (FCPC from now on) at the Old Toad Pub. I hadn’t been there for a week and sometimes I have this pattern were I can stop doing something for a period of time and that thing stops happening. I’m not saying I’m integral to the meetings but that it is a pattern that can’t really be ignored.

Before I went to the first meeting I was a bit nervous. Without too much braggadocio, I can say that usually I am the smartest person in the room. Most people will verify this fact. It’s rare that I am completely out of my league. That being said my nervousness stemmed from the possibility that I could have been introduced to a group of people that were on a different playing field than I.

After the first meeting I wasn’t too worried, but then again the topic of the night was contemporary politics. Most of the arguments came from emotional places in their minds as heated elections are often want to do. It didn’t lend itself to really displaying the mental alacrity of the people in the group. Perhaps worse for this display, was that no one in the group really disagreed. There was one jackass that thought it could really help the Democrats if they lost this election, although he was immediately shot down by myself and several others.

Last night the topic that I walked in on was Philosophy of Religion; specifically they were attempting to come up with a clear difference between a cult and a religion. Very shortly deference was made to me. It was more than just keeping the “new guy” involved it felt (and perhaps this is my ego talking) like they were running ideas by me for acceptance. I should note that at the time they had no idea that i had taught the class on several occasions.

I wouldn’t say that my intellect is superior with this group but I can say that I am more versed in different and competing theories on the subject. My initial expectation of a group full of professionals (i.e. Professors and students) has been completely eradicated. Most of these people are dilettantes. Adding to that they all share common ideals which quickly leads to the stunting of discussion. Perhaps the biggest fault of the group lies in the fact that most of them are too liberal.

One person in particular struck me in this. He was unwilling to criticize anything that wasn’t the current status quo. Discussing things like cults can usually lead to some humor at the expense of the kool-aid drinking followers but I didn’t hear any of that. In fact, one person likened the kool-aid to the Catholic practice of the bread and wine. I appealed to the idea that the two things are only similar in the act of imbibing but that is where the likeness ended. Cracking a joke about what kind of sneakers the Heaven’s Gate people wore, which was shot down.

I like going because it makes me feel like a professor again, a feeling that I dearly miss. Next week we are not supposed to go to the bar but instead the leader of the group’s apartment, which is the alternating week schedule. Next week is consciousness and where it comes from. I think it will be fun to see how many people come prepared for that.

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Iconoclast IV: Boba Fett

September 16, 2008 Leave a comment

My hate for the Star Wars movies is well known to my former students and to those with whom I know on a real life basis. When I was a child I used to like Star Wars, when I was a teenager I liked it as well. The prequels reminded me what they are: kids’ movies. I still have the nostalgia for the sense of wonder and fantasy that they instilled in me then, and for the most part I can watch the movies on television up until the commercial break. Certain characters or scenes pop up and I smile. There is one character however that gets my blood up, that character is the bounty hunter Boba Fett.

In the tradition of what I did with Superman, Descartes, and the movie Scarface several blogs back, I am going to present my argument for why Boba Fett is completely lame.

Premise I: He doesn’t do anything. In the original trilogy we don’t see the character until Empire. In the remastered series (1997) he has as a cameo, a literal walk by, in A New Hope. If you chart his actions in the movies you will find that he is rather inconsequential to the plot. If you replaced Boba Fett with any of the other bounty hunters in the movies it wouldn’t change anything. Anyone could have done what he did, nothing inherent to the character gave him an edge or a unique perspective in regard to the story.

Premise II: Not only does he not do anything, he doesn’t accomplish anything either. Sure, he has the wit to see that maybe the Millenium Falcon would hide on the Star Destroyer rather than escape it, but that is it. That is the only thing the bounty hunter does. One might want to say that he captured Han Solo, but I would counter by asking, did he? He followed the Falcon to Cloud City, but as Lando remarks upon revealing his treachery that the Empire, “arrived a few days before you.” Sure maybe Boba Fett radioed them with their direction, but that’s like winning a fight by calling the cops.

He doesn’t capture Solo &C, Vader does. He doesn’t bring cuff and shackle Solo, Vader does. In a sense, Boba Fett just made a phone call, and the evidence for that is specious at best. If he did, that means he divined (all concede that he could be Force sensitive) their direction, radioed the Empire, who then arrived before the Falcon. If Lando hadn’t made the comment it might seem more probable that Fett did help out. Since he did, more than likely the Empire already had agents there who called out and Fett was the first Bounty Hunter to the scene. In Jedi he does one thing…

Premise III: Lamest death ever. In Jedi, Fett is seen in Jabba’s lair in an apparent role as bodyguard. Or he is just being held on retainer, either way it’s work. Fast forwarding a little bit, when Luke Skywalker as Jedi Knight begins to fight Jabba’s soldiers, Boba stands idle until finally deciding that it is appropriate to earn his pay as a bodyguard. What happens? He gets beaten by a self-appointed Jedi and a half blind Han Solo. Solo, who accidentally kills him I might add. Fett can shoot a rope around a Jedi but when it comes to avoiding accidental debris he fails.

Premise IV: He’s a genomic failure…like his father before him. Jango Fett couldn’t kill Queen/Senator Amidala, so why should we expect anything more out of his progeny? Let me restate that: Jango Fett couldn’t kill Natalie Portman.* Boba Fett is made from the same genes as Jango, he’s a clone. The same genetic stock that makes up Boba makes up the Storm Troopers. The storm troopers couldn’t shoot ice at a hockey arena. The systemic failure in their genome means that Boba Fett is actually incapable of being anything other than randomly lucky.

Conclusion: Boba Fett is a character who is only interesting in the minds of the fans. If he was a character in any other movie he would clearly be forgotten. So what, if anything explains his popularity? It is obvious, his tailor. Fett, dressed in clothing other than his armor is a non-entity. As kids (re:boys) the cool suit of armor is what attracts us to him, as we get older we realize that this is kind of lame so we have to invent stories around him to justify an earlier fascination. He’s a tool plain and simple.

*Of course Gary Oldman couldn’t kill Natalie Portman either so that might not be saying much. At least Oldman didn’t sub-contract the work out to someone else though.

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