Thursday, April 28, 2005

Et cetera

1) No less than 3 people have have signed up for the Great War and Peace Giveaway, so far. Okay, exactly 3 people. And their books are on the way. I've bought up all the usable War and Peaces in town, so there are more to go around. Hey, if this goes well, maybe I should start up a society called "The Count Bezukhov Society" whose vocation is to put a War and Peace in every hotel in North America... And who is Count Bezukhov? Here is how to find out.

2) Personally, I think that copyrights are a bad business. While ostensibly encouraging art, they actually encourage the art industry (two very different animals). And the movie, music, and publishing industries haven't been doing us many favors in recent decades. Now, rather than focusing on making quality products, they have taken to suing college students. However, if you are going to have intellectual property laws, you should at least be consistent about it. Enter a Republic Congress. A recent bill has been signed by the President that allows companies to sell sanitized "filters" for DVDs which automatically cut out material that might be objectionable. Okay: this is very very dangerous. There was a time when black performances were cut out of films when they were shown in the south, because people there found them "objectionable." There was a time when classic novels were sanitized for public school libraries.

http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/movies/ny-ettel4232774apr26,0,932653.story

Here is a novel concept: If you don't want you kids watching a movie, don't let them watch it! Take some responsibility. There are plenty of movies out there that don't need to be cut up in order to be seen by kids. I'd suggest you make your kids read the Bible instead, but you may have a lot of crossing out to do...

Still I would have no problem with this law, if congress went ahead and made all copyrights illegal (i would question the ethics of the companies who made the filters, and the maturity of the parents who purchased them, but they would still have the legal right to screw up their children). As it happened, this is a losing scenario for everyone involved.

3) Here is an interesting article about the rise of right wing media.

http://www.consortiumnews.com/2005/042805.html

I actually don't get how people are taken in by the right's garbage media. I saw part of a Bill O'Reilly tv show a little while ago and I was shocked at how bad it was. I mean even setting aside his politics: his tone was patronizing and arrogant; his ideas were trite; his debates were superficial and unhelpful. And let's face it: if you have to mention how fair and balanced and intelligent you are every other sentence, you either have a very extreme self esteem problem or you are try to hide that you have nothing useful to say. In this case, I suspect it's a little of both. At any rate, the Right's Media machine would be merely pathetic if it wasn't so dangerous. Hey, America: these emperors are stark naked, and they're robbing you blind.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Oh boy, Tolstoy!

When I graduated from college four years ago, what followed (there was a recession, you'll remember) was four months of having no money but all the time in the world. I took the opportunity to read just about the entire cannon of Russian novels, so I consider that summer time well spent. Poverty has its good and bad points. What happened was that in Sept. 2001 I got a very nice job and terrorists smashed airplanes into the New York skyline.

So, it has been four years now and to celebrate being out of college longer than I was in it (and also my recent completion of graduate school), I am dusting off that old War and Peace paperback and rereading it. Now, I know what you are asking yourselves: what does this have to do with me? The answer is, I am pleased to announce:

The Great Matt's Blog War and Peace Give Away

I will send you your very own copy of War and Peace if you can figure out a riddle. The riddle is, 'Send your mailing address to Matt.' So what is my email address? If you already know it, then this a really easy riddle. Otherwise, here is a hint:

Matthew Dot L Dot Reed At GMail Dot Com

There are a few rules and caveats...
1) I am allowed to discontinue the contest at anytime and for any reason.
2) If for some reason I decide not to send you a book, even though you figured out the riddle and everything, well too bad.
3) I will send the book via US Mail, but that doesn't imply an endorsement of the US government.
4) I will very likely send a used book and probably a paperback.
5) If I've already given you a copy of War and Peace (you know who you are), I'll only send you another one if you can convince me that the one I already gave you has been lost or stolen.
6) You have to at least try to read it.
7) It is okay if you skip the sections where he goes into rather dry philosophy of history.
8) All books are given 'AS IS.' Okay, I don't know what that means either, but if for some reason your book arrives broken or contains anthrax or something, you can't sue me.

Cheers.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"No one ever died for the ontological argument"

Today is the feast day of St. Anselm (1033/4 - 1109), Archbishop of Canterbury 1093-1109, Doctor of the Catholic Church, intellectual giant.

Anselm is credited (among other things) for developing the Ontological Argument for the existence of God, which happens to be the wittiest, most paradoxical, and most profound argument for the existence of God (although it wasn't named Ontological until later, by Kant I believe). Further, all traditional arguments for the existence of God rely on the ontological argument. It is the last line of defense; if it is invalid (as modern logic says) then there goes the ball-game (if the ball game is Certainity of the Existence of God).

Breifly stated it goes something like this (simplified of course and I don't know the complexities): We will call God 'something than which nothing greater can be conceived' (from Boethius). Now every attribute of God must of the greatest conceivable quality. Now consider the attribute of "existence." Since a being who is "nonexistent" is not as great as one who is "existant," it follows that God must be existent, or else there would have to be something greater and we could conceive, which would contradict our definition. [See Blackburn's excellent "Dictionary of Philosophy, from OUP]

Ridiculous, right? Well the interesting part comes when we consider the other tradition approaches to proving God's existence. Take "Design", which is very popular these days among certain red state school boards. Basically: the complexity of the natural word implies that a designer had to do the dirty work. Seems reasonable, right? Now think: what does this get us? It doesn't prove anything. Instead, it gives us a an Idea of a Designer, but it doesn't get us a Designer. To get from the concept of God to God Himself, we need something more. We need, hey presto, the Ontological Argument. [A side note: This argument from design is an interesting one, because it isn't an all that great argument, even if it is a beautiful idea. As science, it is pure balderdash. And as philosophy, it has been roundly demolished by Hume and Kant. As religion, it is only helpful when we work backwards: If we take it as a given that there is a Good God and he is the Creator of the world, than Creation and it's design has an importance than it might otherwise not have.]

Too bad that, while it is insanely beautiful, the Ontological Argument doesn't hold water (from a "Certainty" perspective). But, guess what? That's okay. Uncertainty isn't the worst thing in the world.

Anyway, I'm glad Anselm existed.

Information on St. Anselm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Anselm
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01546a.htm

Information on the Ontological Argument
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontological_argument
http://www.formalontology.it/ontological_proof.htm

[This is just a general disclaimer that goes with everything I write. I could be way off. I am not wedded to my writing or my ideas. I'm a natural born flip-flopper. If you feel I am (especially if you know that I've made a logical or historical error), please let me know! I'm wrong a lot.]

Monday, April 18, 2005

Life's Two Certainties: Death and Context Free Grammars (or something like that)

1) On death: A great article on Iraq by one of the Terrys from Monty Python, courtesy of my brother.

2) On Context Free Grammars: Okay, this one's a longshot, but some among you may find this interesting: simple rules governing the development of complex designs. This guy made up the language that generates really neat looking pictures. My favorite are the trees:

http://chriscoyne.com/cfdg/page2.php

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Questions

Okay, I've got two questions.

1) I just bought a Diet Pepsi and won a free i-Tunes download. So. What should I get? Anyone have any suggestions?

2) There has been a (petite) controversy of late (sorry i don't have a link, the book was about food i think) about a memoirist who used fictional devices in her book. Some people would then call it fiction (me too, but I also call it "who cares?"). Anyway, the questions is: why would anyone want to write a memoir when they could write an autobiographical novel instead? Is it that idiotic tendency in our culture to equate Fact with Truth??

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Game of Plato

The Game of Plato is easy to play and is a shore-fire deliverer of seconds (if not minutes) of enjoyment. It was invented by my old friend Bill and myself a few years back. The a game is for any number of players above one (although I suppose you could play it solitaire if you felt like talking to yourself). The rules:

1) Each person gets a turn and each turn consists of the following:

a. The player pick a intellectual figure at random (or not at random, the player's judgment here is required).
b. The player then picks a word or phase or understandable non-sensible device of some recognition that has a sort of poetic relationship with the word picked in step a (use your discretion when picking the trope: rhyme, alliteration, et cetera: all is fair game; but, you should try for the most funny and, or if funny is impossible, the most relevant relationship).
c. Say a and b together with an exclamation point.

2) Repeat until a player is stumped and then the other players mock him or her by saying "Read a book Moron!" Then they laugh at and with the stumped player.

3) It is good form to start of with 'Way to go, Plato!' and 'Gobble gobble, Aristotle!' These are freebees.

Example:
Person A: Way to go, Plato!
Person B: Gobble gobble, Aristotle!
Person A: And how, Chairman Mao!
Person B: Girl Power, Schopenhauer!
Person A: I say, Hemingway!
Person B: Um, Er. Well. Something like...
Person A: Read a book, Moron! (ha ha ha ha)
Person B (ashamed but nonetheless pleased): ha ha. You really got me there. I didn't see that old Earnest coming. Good show. ha-a.

And so on.

Enjoy!

Letter to a Young Googlist

When I want to find general information about something online (for instance, Daylight Saving Time or Robert Browning), I don't usually go to Google first. For general information, I perfer wikis to searches:
1) Wikipedia for instance is a free encyclopedia with a very non-elitist view on stories.
2) Wikinfo is similar but with a slightly different philosophy.
3) Answers.com is nice because it includes information from a number of sites like dictionaries and encyclopedias

Now, these things have been criticized because there is no gate keeper and other reasons. Basically, the way they work is if you have something to add or change, you can add or change it. Typically, there are moderators to keep the crazy stuff out. Also, there is typically discussions for each article where people can voice concern about content and objectivity, etc. (Still, just in case, I have a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica on my laptop. It's pretty cheap, actually).

If serious research is in you line, here are a couple google sites you may like to know about:
1) Google Scholar which lets you search citations and scholarly papers.
2) They are also sitting around and scanning books that can be searched and read at Google Print.

A lot of researcher and acedemic types are making there papers available for free online. You just need to know where to look. For instance, here is a neat page for all of you (any of you?) who are interested in the Cognitive Sciences (Neurology, Psychology, AI, etc.) I am sure there are others like it for other fields.

If you want to find a rare book, alibris is a good place to look.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Life as a Zero Sum Game

"The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!" (Robert Browning)

It is about this time that the world, with her classic sense of humor, pulls an old ashes-ashes-all-fall-down. After all, the weather can't be this nice without making some other parts of the day worse to compensate. In this case, I feel lucky. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me draw your attention to the salient facts:

1) A sunny warm Sunday late morning.
2) Somewhere near the town of Amaranth, PA near the Maryland border on home stretch from a visit to State College. Note the Biblical name of the town, sounds like a humble village with high-place near Ur.
3) Two flat tires simultaneously, inexplicably. A half empty spare, which wouldn't matter anyway considering aforementioned tires, but still insult to injury. (and of course anyway the flat spare was my own fault. still.)
4) Only two bars left on the cell phone power (Although, I will point out to frequent and observant said cell phone that had been lost was found after only a mere two weeks of being lost).

I'll spare you the details of the upshot of these facts, but suffice it to say it involved several hundred dollars and 6 hours and a sunburned left arm. So it goes.

And so it went. And yet:
5) A online order seemingly lost in the mail. Yes, the Godfather DVD Collection and new John Vanderslice and Les Sans Culottes albums may be gone for ever.
6) A positively horrendous awful week in the day job department. (And it is only Tuesday!)

What's next?? The mind boggles.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

So-called 'German Engineering' and other thoughts on Globalization

1) Writes Alan Watts(1951)* in his 'The Wisdom of Insecurity':

'I have always been fascinated by the law of reversed effort. Sometimes I call it the "backwards law." When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; when you try to sink you float. When you hold your breath you lose it--which immediately calls to mind an ancient and much neglected saying, "Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it."'

He goes on:
'...insecurity is the result of trying to be secure, and..., contrariwise, salvation and sanity consist in the most radical recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.'

Why do I bring this up, today? Two recent news headlines reminded me of this quote:
a. Currently there are a bunch of reactionary nit-wits prancing around the Southwest calling themselves Minutemen (historical note: the Minutemen they are alluding to were a revolutionary terrorist, er, insurgent group that fought the British occupation a couple centuries ago. I believe they were called 'Minutemen' because while at war they swore by Instant Rice and gobbled it up at every opportunity).
b. Starting in 07 we will need passports when returning from Canada.

'Freedom' continues to march on.

2) Did you know that Nora Jones is half Indian? I honestly had no idea. Turns out her father is world famous Sitarist Ravi Shankar. Twenty years ago today Ravi Shankar taught the Beatles to play (the sitar). Actually probably a lot longer than twenty years...

3) As the price of oil continues to be close to record levels, I have one thing to say to my fellow Americans who drive SUVs: Hahahaahahahaha aha. Asses. Also, visit this hilarious web site.

4) Here is a good example of how small the world continues to grow: The other week on (American) National Public Radio there was a story about the Turkish population living in Germany. It was followed by a brief part of the song Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) by The Arcade Fire an excellent group based in Montreal, Canada and sing in both English and French although the main chap in the band is from Texas. Further, the very next song on that album "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" is a song about (at least partially) a Russian dog which traveled into outer space (and the song is the group's single in Britain). [Editor's note: Go buy this CD right now. What are you waiting for?] I listened to this NPR story on a Japanese radio in a German car. Don't buy a German car. Sure they are nice to drive, but when time to get something repaired they guzzle dollars like there is no tomorrow.

* his age when he wrote the book. You can't step into the same river twice.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Springtide

I have a difficult time sticking to books in the winter and I am generally more concerned with getting through the season in one piece. Reading is just a bit too high up on old Maslow's Hierarchy at least in the colder months, though I confess that even in the spring time I am rather far from self-actualization, but what can one do? At least I can read again and I'm very happy to have had the opportunity to go from Puzo to Wodehouse. First, early springtime isn't the time for heavy literature (like Dostoyevsky, say, or Mann). Second, they're fast, light reads that go well together despite being complete opposites.

From The Godfather I was left with the following impressions:
1) For whatever its merits, the book was not as good as the movie
2) Examining my life, I doubt that Vito would have anything approving to say about it
3) On the other hand, for all my faults--and I will note in passing that I have more than few faults--I have never committed murder.

The Jeeves books were funny and pleasant and clever, and of course I found myself sympathizing with the narrator, because like Bertie Wooster I am always landing in the soup. There are some key differences between the two of us though:
1) Unfortunately, unlike him I don't have a sagely servant to solve all my problems
2) Also unfortunately I am not one of the idyll rich. A drawback.


And so forth. Et cetera.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Spring Forward

I dare say there couldn't be a more rotten event than the Spring Daylight Savings Time observance. I still haven't recovered. Note that this post comes one hour late. Blast.

Friday, April 01, 2005

'Our Aspirations Are Wrapped Up In Books' (Semi-Weekly Roundup April One 2005)

1) You will be happy to note that I'm not posting an April Fools joke.
2) Well the year is a quarter over, if you can believe it. Anyway, I've started keeping strict accounts of the sorts of media I've been ingesting, but I didn't keep track of all of March, so this should be more accurate in the future (Note: I am leaving out technical books I have to read for work):

Books Read, March 2005 (Semi-Ordered by Time)
"Plato: A Very Short Introduction." Annas, Julia.
"Galapagos." Vonnegut, Kurt.
"The Godfather." Puzo, Mario
"The Inimitable Jeeves." Wodehouse, P. G.

Books Started Not Yet Finished, March 2005
"Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction." ?? (lost it at the gym)
"Art History: A Very Short Introduction." ?? (almost done. i read these great little books while riding fake bicycles)
"The Lamb's Supper." Hahn, Scott. (I'm borrowing this one from a colleague, and I really need to finish it and return it. It's an interesting book on Eschatology and Liturgy. Though a bit heavy on puns for my taste.)
"Orthodoxy." Chesterton, G. K. (almost done)
"Rembrandt." Bockemühl, Michael

3) A good Wodehouse passage:

'...For do you realize, Jeeves, that my aunt says I mustn't smoke while I'm here?'
'Indeed, sir?'
'Nor drink.'
...
'Too bad, sir. However, many doctors, I understand, advocate such abstinence as the secret of health. They say it promotes a freer circulation of the blood and insures the arteries against premature hardening.'
'Oh, do they? Well, you can tell them next time you see them that they are silly asses.'
'Very good, sir.'

4) I definitely prefer the British way of starting with single quotes rather than double quotes. It certainly makes more logical sense.