Continued elsewhere

I've decided to abandon this blog in favor of a newer, more experimental hypertext form of writing. Come over and see the new place.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of year wordle

Who knew I was such a people person? This is based on the last few months of my rantings here and elsewhere.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boob obsessed

I don't usually spend that much time viewing the really retarded wingnut sites, or bother to comment on the nuggets of inanity found there. There are many other sites that do a fine job (and in fact, it's voting time for The Golden Winger Awards). But here's a good one from Debbie Schlussel (sort of a down-market Jewish version of Ann Coulter) that hasn't gotten much play:
Much is being made of the photo of President-elect Barack Hussein Obama shirtless and buff in Hawaii (where he's still failed to memorialize "typical White person" granny).
But in fact, it's a carefully orchestrated exercise in the homo-erotic, dreamed up by the Uber-conceit of Obama himself (look at me, I'm bugg) and his largely male team of advisor-ooglers. Just wondering if this is his sad attempt to mollify the gay men who are angry over his invitation to Pastor Rick Warren to make the invocation at the Inauguration. Don't count that out. A lot of gay men can be bought off by a man who looks nice (in their eyes) with his shirt off.
The bit about his grandmother was a gratuitous near-lie, since it was well-known that Obama was planning to attend a memorial service for his grandmother towards the end of his Hawaiian trip (and did). The part about homoeroticism, though, achieves a certain near-perfect combination of dumbness, nastiness, projection, and obsession with trivia. Stuff like that isn't flashy, it won't garner Schlussel a Kippie any time soon, but I salute it for its presentation of the conservative mind in all its splendor.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Yeshua

A follower of neither Jesus nor Buddha, I feel free to misinterpret them both, together. There's a similarity in their stories: a bit of sacrifice of the divine to save the rest of us benighted creatures. In Jesus' case it involved a one-time event of bloody sacrifice. In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhisattvaa take a vow to renounce nirvana until all sentient beings can likewise be liberated. While the emotions and narrative arc of the stories seem similar, their interpretations are very different. The sacrifice of Jesus is taken to be a literal historical event; the Buddhist version seems abstract, distributed, and continuous. Buddhism has always seemed light-years more sophisticated philosophically than Christianity. The latter's insistence on interpreting spiritual teachings as literal truths gives rise to a lot of nonsense enforced by violence and torture.

BUT, I don't come to give Christianity shit on this day, I'm rather trying to appreciate the shared feelings, longings, motivations, needs, whatever, that are common to both religions and perhaps all religion. The belief in a better way of being; the universal truths that bind all humans together; the thread of compassion that links humans and the divine. The longing for a savior. The role of religion as a focus for these otherwise inchoate feelings.

I'm no good at all at this kind of stuff, but what the hell, it's Xmas. So I'm taking a moment to dwell in these feelings before returning to the usual rounds of sectarian hatred. I'm by nature a negative person, an againstist (like Mr. Rollins who on another day I would be sparring with), I'm with Heraclitus that conflict is the father of all things. But I'm tired of it, I want and need to get more peace love and understanding into my personal mix. Hence this slow, reluctant, erratic, but seemingly inevitable slide into religion. Most of my being resists it, truth to tell. But I have to assume that I'm just as human as the rest of the billions of people that exist now and in the past, and religion is just something humans do, as much a part of the game as eating, shitting, making love and dieing.


Well, as is quite often the case when I think I've had an original thought, I find there have been plenty of others there before me. In this case, there is an entire academic journal devoted to Christian-Buddhist studies, and numerous probably crank sites that purport that Christianity was lifted in whole from Buddhist sources. Here's an excellent article from the Boston Globe that describes some of the syncretic interactions between Christianity and Asian religions in the early history of the faith:

By the 12th century, flourishing churches in China and southern India were using the lotus-cross. The lotus is a superbly beautiful flower that grows out of muck and slime. No symbol could better represent the rise of the soul from the material, the victory of enlightenment over ignorance, desire, and attachment. For 2,000 years, Buddhist artists have used the lotus to convey these messages in countless paintings and sculptures. The Christian cross, meanwhile, teaches a comparable lesson, of divine victory over sin and injustice, of the defeat of the world. Somewhere in Asia, Yeshua's forgotten followers made the daring decision to integrate the two emblems, which still today forces us to think about the parallels between the kinds of liberation and redemption offered by each faith.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Never seen in the same room at the same time

It's always been somewhat confusing to me that there are two rather good bloggers, one named John Cole and the other named Juan Cole. And now that they've both made postings that more-or-less defend Obama's selection of Rick Warren for the inaugural, I wonder if they are the same person, like Stephen Colbert and Esteban Colberto.

For the record, Warren's pick pissed me off, but think we should at least let Obama hold office for a week or two before dismissing him as a complete sell-out.

Myth of the outsider intellectual

A review of The Myth of Natural Rights by L.A. Rollins.

You know, I like outsider art as much as the next hipster, and outsider intellectuals too, at least in theory. People like Eric Hoffer, Harry Smith, various sixties visionaries (who are now part of the establishment, but weren't when I liked them), Robert Anton Wilson. Can't think of too many others right now, probably because I myself have gone mainstream long ago. But I am very sympathetic to the general feeling that the academic establishment has climbed up its own bunghole when it comes to actual thinking. Oh, academics can do wonderful work when they have actual subject matter, scientific or otherwise, but who expects shattering philosophical insight to come from someone with tenure? Mad geniuses on the margins, that's what we need.

Unfortunately simply being marginal and bereft of higher education does not in itself constitute a guarantee of quality. So I have to report that The Myth of Natural Rights by L.A. Rollins and with an introduction by omniorthogonal reader tggp, is for the most part a combination of the banal and the offensively stupid.

The book itself: I was impressed with the jacket design and typography, although the cover illustration is ugly and I have no idea what it is supposed to mean. It's a nice package -- too bad about the contents. There are four sections:

1) A long argument that rights are not natural objects like rocks or the law of gravity. Well, duh. I figured that out all by myself long ago. I suppose this might be useful new information for dim-witted libertarians, but I didn't get anything out of it. Rollins goes on to declare that all morality is a sham, which is the kind of deep insight most people have and get past at age 16 or so. The interesting questions lie beyond that realization -- if morality isn't dictated by god or nature, then what is it, how does it work, how should we deal with moral issues if we can't refer back to god's authority? It's not like people haven't given this some thought, but Rollins ignores this work, preferring to spend a hundred pages beating a mostly-dead horse.

2) Holocaust revisionism. This part made me sorry to have paid money for the book. Here's a rule of thumb: anyone trafficking in this crap is ipso fact a moron, a dipshit, a bottom-dwelling creep. It's hard to tell whether Rollins actually believes the Holocaust didn't happen, or if he's just trying to prove some point by being independent of respectable opinion. In the former case, he's an idiot. In the latter case, he's playing around with the deaths of millions for his amusement and retarded self-gratification. I guess I'd hope it's the former; stupidity is more forgivable and correctable than being an asshole.

3) A satiric lexicon in the style of Ambrose Bierce / Bob Black, which was actually pretty good.

4) Some juvenile stuff aimed at Allah and George Bush. Yawn.

So much for the alternatives to the mainstream. The one good outcome for me from reading this book is that it caused me to move Marc Hauser's Moral Minds to the top of my pile. Kind of establishment, being a scientist at Harvard no less, but he actually knows what he is talking about (I presume) and doesn't (I presume) regurgitate sophomoric philosophy as if it were news.

It occurs to me that I might be less hard on section (1) if not for the offensive nature of section (2). Is that fair? Who knows. Presumably Rollins doesn't believe in fair, so he can't complain.

There are two points that merit longer responses and I may get to them eventually: First, if rights are not natural objects, then what are they? I hinted at an answer to that here but it deserves a longer explanation. Second, the question of how one evaluates the quality of information sources is one that interests me. Holocaust revisionism itself is supremely non-interesting, but how do I know that I should trust mainstream historians and not the dedicated scholars of the Journal of Historical Review? That is an interesting question in this age when all sorts of information and mis-information flows freely across the internet.

[2014 postscript -- how did I not realize until just now that this Rollins book was, in its earlier incarnation, the inspiration for Robert Anton Wilson's book Natural Law: or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy? I am remarkably dense sometimes.]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Proud parent moment

My youngest kid developed an out-of-the-blue interest in ballet a year ago, and this week he's performing in the SF Ballet's production of the Nutcracker. This is one of the top ballet companies in the country and it's all a very big deal. I saw the show yesterday and he did great (he's a "party boy"). Classical ballet is probably the art form furthest from my usual tastes, but nothing like having your flesh and blood up on stage to broaden one's horizons.

More pictures here and a version of the production from last year is going to be shown on PBS Wednesday evening.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights Day

Today is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

Got nothing very interesting to say about it, but it hasn't been very widely publicized so I thought I'd do my little bit.

If anyone wants to debate what a right is or if they exist, go wild. I will just point out that a Declaration is a performative speech act, akin to wedding vows, that creates a state of being (or hopes to) by virtue of being produced.

Blagojevich Blagojevich Blagojevich

My reaction to the Blagojevich story is something along the lines of "I'm shocked, shocked, to find corruption going on in the Illinois State House!". It doesn't seem to me that Blagojevich has done anything qualitatively different from what nearly every politician does, namely, dispense offices and favors to those who contribute to their campaigns or give them political favors. The sale of ambassadorships is essentially institutionalized, an entire street in DC is given over to funnelers of money from industry to congress, etc. In California, the state is basically completely in thrall to the prison guards union, which is one reason we have more people in prison than in college.

What Blagojevich did wrong was to be just really, really, blatant and stupid about the way he played the game. For that he will be punished, but he's just the sacrificial goat for the entire culture.

On the other hand, the idea has been floated that Patrick Fitzgerald be appointed special prosecuter to investigate the numerous crimes of the Bush administration. Won't happen -- if Obama was going to do anything like that, he wouldn't have retained Bush officials like Robert Gates -- but it's a nice dream.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Kicking conservatism while it's down

P.J. O'Rourke wrote a widely-read article called "We Blew It" about how the right unaccountably has lost power despite their manifestly better approaches to life, money, etc.

For some reason the article calls to mind Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin. The Party has been let down, it has clearly lost sight of the true nature of (conservatism) (Marxism/Leninism), we need to do better in the future. We are absolutely certain that our party, armed with the historical resolutions of the 20th Congress. will lead the Soviet people along the Leninist path to new successes, to new victories. We see how well that worked out.
Where is this land of freedom and responsibility, knowledge, opportunity, accomplishment, honor, truth, trust, ...It lies in ruins at our feet, as well it might, since we ourselves kicked the shining city upon a hill into dust and rubble. The progeny of the Reagan Revolution will live instead in the universe that revolves around Hyde Park....Those leafy precincts will be reserved for the micromanagers and macro-apparatchiks of liberalism--for Secretary of the Department of Peace Bill Ayers and Secretary of the Department of Fairness Bernardine Dohrn.
I really like this effort to paint Hyde Park (home of the University of Chicago) as the new Berkeley, since I was born there. I haven't spent much time there in the last 30 years, but it's hard to imagine a more sober-minded academic community. The winters help with that.
After the events of the 20th century--national socialism, international socialism, inter-species socialism from Earth First--anyone who is still on the left is obviously insane and not responsible for his or her actions.
Oh, it's "Hitler -- man of the left" time again. I thought Jonah Goldberg had the copyright on that.
Blacks used to poll Republican. They did so right up until Mrs. Roosevelt made some sympathetic noises in 1932.
No, they did so because the Democratic party used to be the party of southern segregationists, until the Dixiecrats split off, Johnson realigned the party behind civil rights, and Nixon grabbed the racist demographic. Roosevelt did start this process, to be sure, but it took considerably more work than "sympathetic noises".

The subtext of this is that Blacks are stupid enough to change parties because someone make sympathetic noises, and it ought to be easy for the Republicans t make similar noises and recapture them. Right. Good luck with that.
Nobody with kids is a liberal, except maybe one pothead in Marin County. Everybody wants his or her children to respect freedom, exercise responsibility, be honest, get educated, have opportunities, and own a bunch of guns.
Well, I have kids and live in the Bay Area, so maybe I'm the one pothead, but it's deep thinking like this that got the Republicans out of power. Yes, I know O'Rourke is allegedly some kind of humorist, but he is also supposed to be one of the saner people on the right -- his article is structured as a plea for Republicans to refrain from various religious excesses, including giving up opposition to abortion. REAL good luck with that one!

Furthermore, having kids tends to put one in mind of thinking a bit more seriously about the future, and who can doubt that the Democratic party is the one who can take us into the future? The Republican party is dominated by apocalyptic types, including the straightforwardly mad religious ones who expect Jesus to come back any minute now, and the neoconservative ones whose theory of government is to keep launching wars of aggression and break the treasury until government is completely non-functional?

Kids will require, among other things, education, healthcare, a functioning climate, a decent economy. They would be better off in a world with less war and a world in which Americans are not seen as lawless advocates of military force and torture. Can anyone with kids and a functioning brain support the Republican party?

There's this quaint notion of conservatism as somehow involving realism, caution, prudence, and attunement to moral values. Those sound like very nice things, but they are entirely absent from the governing provided by actual conservatives.

For a nice analysis of what conservatism really is, I recommend this paper by Phil Agre, What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Art Notes

Psychedelic artist Alex Grey does his part to feed the Obama-as-messiah/antichrist meme.

Also revealed at his website: HR Giger looks even creepier than his art does.

via Sentient Developments.