“These two parties are lying to you. They can’t tell you the truth because they are each trapped in decades of special interests. I am not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world’s leaders, not the new Romans.”
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Just a brief note of explanation.
I've found Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained to be pretty heavy going. It's good in that it tends to deal pretty systematically with a range of different approached to each of the central questions about religion it treats, but I always get the feeling--the same feeling I got reading Pinker's Blank Slate--that many of the arguments get presented in such a way as they are nothing but epiphenomena of Boyer's own argument.
As in Pinker, there is a veneer of reasonableness and even-handedness that is really disingenuous. So I don't get very far reading before I'm diverted into a) dealing with the actual arguments; b) filling out some of the detail Boyer seems to me to neglect and c) noting the rhetorical strategies he uses to cover up his elisions.
Lastly, I get the feeling that over the course of the book he might return to some topics to treat them in greater detail, so I'm reluctant to attack something I find on page 50 that he addresses on page 150. So, this will probably have to wait to I get all the way through . . .
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Before coming to the real object of this letter, I'd like to reassure you that I am not a "hater." I don't chortle when I read articles about how fat you are, and I don't smile in self-satisfaction when I read that you don't know which continent Somalia is in, or that you think Arafat is an even worse version of trans-fat.
I've always been happy to live in your land of freedom, convinced that a working-class scholarship boy probably could hope for no better chances at life than I've had here. And I've always found foreign affectations and foibles to be even more annoying than yours. So rest assured, I have your best interests at heart, and I always try to think the best of you.
These past few months have been a challenge, though. A couple of years ago you surprised a lot of people by electing a black President, but not me: I knew the open-mindedness you were capable of. But apparently I had forgotten about the fecklessness, cowardice and paranoia that lurked beneath that veneer of open-handed reasonableness. I had forgotten that in spite of your 234 years, you still possess the intellectual and emotional maturity of your average nine-year-old.
Now, granted, things have been tough, and tough times can bring out a cranky streak in the best of us. But watching Velma Hart, a representative, apparently, of your deepest held feelings and thoughts, wail and complain to the President the other day really drove home to me that, you, America, are unfit to rule yourself.
"I've been told that I voted for a man who said he's going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people, and I'm waiting, sir. I'm waiting. I don't feel it yet. . . . I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."
In short, you are still waiting for a parent, or a superhero or God to do the things that only you can do and, while he or she is at it, to do a bunch of things that no one can do. While you just go on doing whatever it is you do.
Well, guess what America? It doesn't work that way. Change isn't made by electing someone whose slogan is change. No elected representative is going to Washington waving a magic wand to make everything better while you watch re-runs on television or post inane observations on Facebook (or write blogs, for that matter). Change comes through work and cost to yourself.
No elected representative has a time machine to undo the dumbass things you and your poorly supervised representatives have done in the past. So, no you haven't just up and left Iraq and Afghanistan, becuase having already invaded and overthrown the governments there you have a moral responsibility to see the transition through. And no, you don't get your money back because you belated think adventurous wars aren't such a good idea. And no, you don't get the money back from the huge deficits run up from the last administration you elected because now you've decided that maybe deficits are a thing to worry about. And yes, you did still have a huge, expensive, nearly cataclysmic economic crisis just two years ago. And, yes, you'll be paying the price for the idiocy of the last ten years or so for some time to come.
The "change" that needs to happen is a change is a change in YOU, America. YOU have to stop thinking that Obama or Palin or tinkerbell is going to save you and make every little thing alright. It ain't going to happen. And you have to stop thinking that the political managers you install are going to work in your interests when you a) have no real conception of what those are; b) you don't do much at all to supervise the activities of these managers; and c) you know so little about what these managers do.
"I am waiting" is frankly a pathetic attitude to take when you are supposedly in charge of yourself. You are waiting for what? The waving the magic wand option being out, as discussed above, what economic tradeoffs look wise to you right now? Oh, you didn't know low taxes came at a cost? Or that you might have to choose between two unpleasant options like deficits or stagnation? Don't like the War in Afghanistan? Well are you willing to take responsibility for what happens when you leave? No, of course you aren't. Don't like torture and the extra-legal detention in Guantanamo? Well, are you willing to live with the consequences of closing the place? Willing to support a prison on the mainland? And trials on the mainland? No, I thought not.
America, you have too long been an absentee landlord in Washington, blissfully ignorant of what's going on there, and swooping in occasionally to kick out a few obvious bad tenants and a few others more-or-less at random. Of course things don't go well with you. In fact, you've gotten way better service than you've deserved over the years. Luckily, the good old boys and girls DO actually seem to feel a bit of paternalistic affection for you in spite of your fecklessness.
But, as I said, tough times do bring out the crankiness in us. America, it is time to grow the fuck up or shut the fuck up. Let Velma know what you decide.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
A disappointing novel, and not at all the "return to form" touted by the publisher. Stone's Fall is a sloppy, half-hearted and poorly planned novel with, really, little point. As adventure it is far too long and far too slow; as an intellectual mystery in the tradition of Name of the Rose, it has little to say of an intellectually stimulating nature.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
For a long time, people used to think that the brain was a rather simple organ. Apart from the bits that control the body machinery, there seemed to be a vast empty space in the young child's mind destined to be filled with whatever education, culture and personal experience provided. This view of the mind was never too plausible, since after all the liver and the gut are much more complex than that. But we did not know much about the way minds develop, so there were no facts to get in the way of this fantasy of a "blank slate" where experience could leave its imprint. The mind was like those vast expanses of unexplored Africa that old maps used to fill with palm trees and crocodiles. Now we know more about minds. We do not know everything, but one fact is clear: the more we discover about how minds work, the less we believe in this notion of a blank slate. Every further discovery in cognitive science makes it less plausible as an explanation. (3)
Monday, August 30, 2010
While Mr. Obama took three sometimes maddening months to decide to send more forces to Afghanistan, other decisions as commander in chief have come with dizzying speed, far less study and little public attention.
He is the first president in four decades with a shooting war already raging the day he took office — two, in fact, plus subsidiaries — and his education as a commander in chief with no experience in uniform has been a steep learning curve. He has learned how to salute. He has surfed the Internet at night to look into the toll on troops. He has faced young soldiers maimed after carrying out his orders. And he is trying to manage a tense relationship with the military.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Sorry, I've been distracted from Pascal Boyer by a couple of other books, including Iain Pears' new one Stone's Fall.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
A few notes before I set out:
1. This book tries to lay out many serious lines of argument regarding religion, assess them, and use them as seems fit. So, as I read along in the text I will no doubt be making caveats that Boyer himself makes later on in the book. So reading my notes on the book will require a certain amount of charity--both for me--because I just haven't gotten to that part of the book yet--and for Boyer--because I just haven't gotten to that part of the book yet.
So when I complain about a passage in Religion Explained, that doesn't mean that Boyer doesn't see the same point or that there is necessarily a huge gap between my understanding of religion and his. I'm more or less taking this book as a good launching place for intelligent discussion of where religion may have come from.
2. This is a pretty old book--copyright 2001--so there's no doubt more good data out there than this book reflects.
3. Boyer uses the concept of memes and I hope to line out some of the weaknesses of memes even as a heuristic device here. But I am decidedly biased against memes.
Anyhow, I hope to get a few passages from the book posted here shortly with a bit of critical analysis.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I don't know Naomi Klein's writings very well. I know her name (her brand?) and I saw her in the Copenhagen video I wrote about earlier, but I haven't really spent too much time with her.
Reading the excerpt of her 10th Anniversary edition of No Logo, I was tempted to write that the age of branding has a suitable commentator: a shallow one.
I suppose if you write the anti-branding book, you have to take branding seriously, but Klein really takes the branding gurus at their word a bit too much. the fact is that branding, like many of the other hot management trends of the last 50 years or so, is a pretty nebulous phenomenon.
If by branding we mean products whose cache far exceeds their material function (Nike, Starbucks) . . . well that's been with us for a long time. A very long time. In fact, it is one of the things that has been complained about since the birth of consumer culture and was observed by writers of pastoral condemnations of frivolous, rich, urban sophisticates thousands of years ago. The Marxist writer Baudrillard made this phenomenon a particular focus of his work in the 1960s and 1970s.