Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FLG is currently listening to



FLG is currently listening to

Random Observations

ESPN Classic showed some old Mike Tyson fights the other day. FLG forgot how devastating he was back then. They showed an early fight. Tyson was 19. The announcers were legitimately shocked when Tyson knocked him out in the first round.

Georgetown has a couple of used bookstores. FLG was in one a few days ago and saw a book called something like Military Maps: Alexander to Vietnam published by the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. He was tempted to buy it, but decided against it. He also saw some old school Hardy Boys books, which he hasn't seen in years. This in turn got him wondering if they still made Hardy Boys books. Sadly, they stopped in 2005 and rebooted the series with a rename to, and FLG wishes he was making this up, Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers.

About Nobody Needs That Much Money

A few months back, maybe even more than a year ago, FLG and Alan got into a discussion about rich people not needing that much money. (Alan also has a theory that no American house should be bigger than Mount Vernon, which FLG can't say he completely disagrees with.) If memory serves, a news report that Oprah had over a billion dollars was the impetus. FLG forgets the specifics of the discussion. Therefore, he's not going to dwell on it, but today he heard somebody say that Bill Gates doesn't need 40 billion dollars. It reminded him of the conversation.

Besides the obvious point that Bill Gates has given away most of his fortune to charity (it's his own charity, but a charity nonetheless), most of the wealthiest people, you know the super-rich ones, started their own companies and grew them. Don't get him wrong, FLG is sure they like being rich, but it's not simply about them being greedy. If FLG starts a company, let's call it FLGCO, and builds it up while keeping control, then he needs to own a large portion of the stock. If FLG owns 51% of a $100 billion company, then he's a billionaire 51 times over, but it's not like he can just give that money away and maintain control. In fact, to keep control of the company he does need that money.

FLG Has A Thought

Strategy Page:
much can be learned by examining the Israeli experience, and their failure to get an autonomous battle droid into action.


FLG thinks much can be learned by examining the experiences portrayed in science fiction movies. Namely, YOU DON'T BUILD FUCKING AUTONOMOUS BATTLE DROIDS!

As The Debate About The NEA Call Continues

...over at The American Scene, something occurred to me.

I largely agree with Conor. The introduction of politics into the phone call in even the slightest corrupts the process. It's not a matter of what they were asking artists to do, but that they were asking artists to do anything other than to submit grant proposals or pitches or whatever the process is for conducting the business of the NEA, which is funding art. Once you ask artists to do anything at all political, it further tarnishes an already problematic relationship. Unlike George Will, I don't think this was a result of "the Obama administration's incontinent lust to politicize everything."

The government staffers on that phone call were campaign staffers and political activists before they worked for the government. Campaigns, and especially the Obama campaign, always try to enlist artists to get their message out. For many of the lower level people working in the administration that got their jobs primarily because of their loyalty and work during the campaign, which would include these two, they probably didn't even realize what they were doing.

What I'm talking about here are the idealistic types who fill the special assistant to the deputy undersecretary of White House communication policy. These are true believer types. People who really believe that through politics they can make the world a tangibly better place. People who believe that their message should be broadcast as far and wide as possible. These relatively young adults have spent a good portion of their time mobilizing people and resources to get their message out and further their agenda. When they moved to government positions they kept performing the same job they had before -- campaigning and social activism.

This is a problem. I agree. Government employees have different responsibilities and roles than campaign staffers or social activists, but I don't think the people in this case probably ever considered that. They just do what they do. Trying to get the message out. That is what drives them. What gets them off. When they won the election, they just kept doing what they were doing without thinking much about what had changed.

So, yes. I think it was a conscious effort to use the NEA to further their political agenda. That's what these people do. But, and I think this is important, I don't think they knew they had crossed a line. I doubt they ever contemplated much how they should act differently while under Uncle Sam's employ. They just kept doing what they'd always done.

I guess my point here is that I don't believe that the Obama Administration has a explicit agenda to politicize everything, but that the type of people who were drawn to his campaign are the type that breathe politics. It's like asking a fish if he likes being in water. They don't even notice it.

Again, yes. There was a problem, but I can also understand how it was simultaneously intentional and unintentional and not a nefarious plot from the White House to politicize everything.

FLG Hates People

...who talk on their phone or text while driving, but he hates the idea of the federal government banning it even more. It's an issue for the states, and many have already acted.

The Solution

dave.s. posted this in the comments. FLG had never read it before:
The Solution
Bertolt Brecht

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

EU Referendum

The Irish are voting this Friday on Lisbon treaty ratification. Charlemagne writes:
The idea of the emergency summit is being pushed forcefully by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, I am told. In his view, if the Irish vote No, an emergency summit is indispensable. And if the Irish vote Yes, it would be unforgivable for EU leaders to wait until a scheduled summit at the end of October before meeting to discuss the swift ratification of Lisbon.


What pisses off FLG, and he's not even fucking European, is the EU fuckers' insistence on moving forward without democratic support. Monarchies, empires, etc had various means of deriving authority, credibility, and legitimacy. Modern, democratic states base their legitimacy on, surprise, surprise, democracy.

Whenever the EU is put to a vote it's rejected. Yet, leaders start talking about how to move forward regardless. Vote No? Emergency summit. Vote Yes? Emergency summit. For fuck's sake, the Lisbon Treaty itself is the European Constitution repackaged to limit the number of referendums and to make the name more palatable to the ones that will hold them.

FLG knows he's gone over this before, but the arrogance of the Europhiles riles him. It's astonishingly and absurdly appalling.

Delusions Of Progress Through Politics

FLG has been a notable proponent, okay not notable, but a proponent nonetheless, of an economic theory of morality. Namely, that as the society in which we live becomes richer it also becomes less harsh.

FLG likes to compare virtues to a luxury good. For example, let's say that dolphin safe tuna is more expensive than regular tuna. A person who is living on a dollar a day ain't gonna go with the dolphin safe tuna. On the other hand, a BoBo at Whole Foods will. The extra ten cents a can ain't that big a deal.

He thinks this economics meets virtue is evidenced very clearly by one thing in particular -- abolition. Slavery was a sad fact of life since the dawn of history. Yet, humanity just happened, coincidentally, to become enlightened at exactly the same time that the Industrial Revolution was making slave labor largely unnecessary. Sure, it was happening industry by industry and country by country, but it was pretty damn clear that capital was replacing labor. To put it bluntly -- abolitionists succeeded when ending slavery was a luxury that society could afford.

Now, FLG isn't saying that slavery wasn't morally abhorrent. It was, but it's naive and stupid to portray the success of the abolition movement as solely the morally superior position winning out through sheer force of argument and the valiant efforts of rightly guided individuals. Slavery ended when it was economically convenient to do so.

With this understanding in mind, FLG thinks Freddie's portrayal at LOG of the success of the American labor movement is a bit romantic, and indeed might undermine the cause of other workers:
Check this, and believe it: the suite of comprehensive rights, protections and empowerment for workers that grew from the efforts of the American labor movement of the early 20th century amount to one of the greatest achievements of western civilization. An entire nation of workers’ lives changed in less than a hundred years. Many American workers once earned terrible pay in squalid and dangerous conditions, with absolutely no consideration for long term health effects, and in a regime with no meaningful recourse against unfair termination or other illegitimate actions by employers (which were ubiquitous.) In a few short decades, we moved to a period where almost all American workers were capable of earning a decent wage, with legally enforced standards of cleanliness and safety and enforceable regulation on how much individual workers could be called on to work, how they had to be compensated for overtime and under what conditions they could be fairly fired. Added to this over the years were protections ensuring that black workers could not be fired by virtue of not being white, that women workers who could perform their function could not be fired by virtue of not being men, that Jewish workers could not be fired by virtue of not being Christian. In the breadth and depth of this comprehensive series of protections and rights, a vast swath of the American populace had their lives materially improved. This is the very definition of social progress.

And it only happened because of a demand, a demand made by workers, and fought for by many people at considerable sacrifice over a long period of time. Employers did not suddenly choose conscience over the profit motive but were forced through consistent organization and effort to adapt to a work environment much more conducive to worker protections and worker rights. The modern May Day celebration, if you weren’t aware, is a celebration of the American worker’s movement and its efforts to secure the eight-hour day. I will leave it for you to chew over what it says that no one in American cares about that celebration while people in Latin America and Europe do. Only people who have lived without the blessing of the protections that our workers enjoy could think to underestimate that blessing.


It wasn't only that workers demanded shorter hours. Workers wouldn't demand shorter hours if they couldn't afford to do so. No. Workers were able to take some of their productivity gains as non-monetary compensation. Increased productivity that occurred because of the continuation and further refinement of the Industrial Revolution and more use of capital.

As workers shifted to using more and more powerful machines they became more productive. Through labor organizations they decided to put those gains towards safety, short hours, and child labor protections.

Think of it this way. For centuries on farms, kids worked. They worked because people weren't all that productive and they needed extra labor. As people moved to cities and worked in factories, the increased capital per worker made each worker more productive. But most workers weren't productive enough to support a family on their own salary. So, kids still worked. Eventually, the individual worker was productive enough that child labor wasn't needed so much for the family to survive. And by banning child labor it decreased the supply of labor, thus increasing the salary of the adults even more.

Again, FLG isn't saying that this was right. Nor is he saying that in either case, abolition or labor laws, that the work of individuals and organizations wasn't important or relevant. What he is saying is that they were partially vessels through which economic growth led to virtue.

But why does this undermine the cause for other workers? Sweatshops.

There's all kinds of moral indignation about sweatshops and child labor in developing nations. It offends FLG too. But he realizes that developing countries are going through the same process of industrialization as the Western nations did a century or so ago. When they get richer, then they'll pass more environmental laws. When they get richer, they'll pass better safety laws. When they get richer, they'll pass better labor laws. It's a process that requires them to get more productive to support these luxuries. Trying to impose these before the economy can support them will slow growth and ultimately retard the process.

FLG realizes that some people will object to what they view as moral issues portrayed as economic luxuries. That's understandable. But you can't ignore that humanity removed the yoke of slavery only after it could more conveniently do so. Yes, it's a cynical view. But is it wrong?

FLG Is Going To Enter This Contest

America's Next Great Pundit

FLG's guess is that Alan will as well.

But FLG, didn't you just approvingly quote Shitmydadsays:
Don't ever say stuff just because you think you should. That's the definition of an asshole.
Yes. Yes, FLG did. And all bloggers are assholes by that defintion. FLG is comfortable with it and would rather get paid to be an asshole. Actually, if he was going to get paid to be an asshole, then maybe he should get a job on Wall Street or better yet as a Hollywood agent. Nah. He'll just submit to the contest and that'll be it.

The View From FLG's Window

French Stuff

FLG is totally confused by the suicides at France Telecom. Is working there really that bad?

The suicides were brought up in one debate FLG heard about privatizing the postal service, but he can't find that one and it was in French anyway. Instead, here's a link to a debate in English on the topic of privatizing La Poste.

In other, non-news related news, in case you didn't know this, on the French version of Wheel of Fortune, La Roue de Fortune, the Vanna White role is played by Victoria Silvstedt of Playboy and BASEketball fame. The contestant is actually the focus of attention in this video.

While searching for a video of La Roue de Fortune, FLG found a video of Fort Boyard, another French game show:


FLG is simultaneously offended and intrigued. Perhaps he ought to create a game show empire.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is It Wrong To Laugh At This?

Because FLG certainly did:
Let’s now take a look at the paradigm shift marked by the Prince Mohammed assassination attempt...The third tactical shift is perhaps the most interesting, and that is the use of an IED hidden in the anal cavity of the bomber...Such keistered items can be very difficult to detect using standard search methods, especially if they do not contain much metal.


I know. I know. It's not funny. It's nefarious. But, he he, wait...wait...I'm sorry...he he

Did Somebody Say Pirate Party?

Yes, but wrong kind of pirate and party.

Shitmydadsays, Changing My Opinion Of Twitter, One Tweet At A Time

It's not the gardener's job to pick up the dog shit. If you don't want to pick up the dog shit, then learn a skill like gardening.


You're gonna run into jerk offs. But remember, it's not the size of the asshole you worry about, it's how much shit comes out of it.


Do these announcers ever shut the fuck up? Don't ever say stuff just because you think you should. That's the definition of an asshole.


The man is like Yogi Berra, but with swear words.

FLG Keeps Bringing You Today's News Yesterday

FLG wrote on January 31, 2008:
[The problems in the mortgage market are] a result of the reduced or eliminated down payment requirements in recent years. A 10-20% down payment, which was common only a decade ago, served two purposes. First, it prevented irresponsible people from buying a house because, barring an unexpected financial windfall, potential home buyers had to manage their finances responsibly and save for many years. Second, it made the cost of simply walking away from the home very high because homeowners would lose their down payment.


Megan McArdle writes today:
the low downpayments, not the adjustable interest rate or other exotica, were probably the biggest single problem in the market.

Plato Blogging: Correspondence

GEC writes (sorry for posting without requesting permission first):
one thing that occurred to me...you can map Odysseus' choice of soul at the end and the experiences that led him through the Odyssey to the ordering of his soul at different stages of life. Think like this:

Troy = timocracy = sacking the city for treasure (and reputation, sort of)
return home = ship filled with booty = oligarchy
confusion on the way home, and various misadventures = failure to stay on mission/be driven by any one desire = democracy
staying with the goddess for too long indulging in immoderate desires at others expense (his dead crew) = tyranny
despair over the wages of tyranny leads him to head home, where he gets his life back in order, dies... then Plato (Socrates) puts him in Er's myth, where he pics a simple man with a balanced and ordered life.

Leaves me with this thought: NOTHING in that book is an accident, and there is no way in hell I can believe he meant a literal city be created, ever.


I hadn't thought of it like this before. There's something here for sure.

FLG Cannot Get Enough Of These



Roger Cohen

As wrong as Roger Cohen has been on Iran lately, I don't completely disagree with his latest column:
Sanctions won’t work. Ray Takeyh, who worked on Iran with Dennis Ross at the State Department before losing his job last month and returning to the Council on Foreign Relations, told me that “sanctions are the feel-good option.”

Yes, it feels good to do something, but it doesn’t necessarily help.


See Robert Pape's Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work. (PDF) and Pape's follow-up, Why Economic Sanction Still Do Not Work (abstract only).

Cohen's reason for why they won't in this particular case are compelling:
One: Iran is inured to sanctions after years of living with them and has in Dubai a sure-fire conduit for goods at a manageable surtax. Two: Russia and China will never pay more than lip-service to sanctions. Three: You don’t bring down a quasi-holy symbol — nuclear power — by cutting off gasoline sales. Four: sanctions feed the persecution complex on which the Iranian regime thrives.


I don't completely agree with this:
Iran’s sense of humiliation is rooted in its America complex; its nuclear program is above all about the restoration of pride.


The America complex is part of a larger anti-Western imperialism complex.

Where Cohen goes wrong is his analysis of the situation as primarily between the US and Iran. In this case, then living with a nuclear Iran is no big deal. The US can easily counterbalance that. If you add Israel into the analysis, then the situation gets dicier but Israel can counterbalance too. All of this assuming Iran is a rational actor, which I think is a reasonable assumption. They aren't going to nuke Israel when Tehran will hit 1 million degrees a couple of hours later.

Yet, we still haven't analyzed the full situation, and I think this is where Cohen goes wrong. There are a whole bunch of countries in the area with a predominately Arab, Sunni Muslim population that aren't going to be too happy with a Shi'a Persian Nuke. The danger is not entirely from what Iran will do.

In fact, that's probably not the largest danger. The largest danger is an arms race launched by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and perhaps others. Why wouldn't they? If Iran becomes a de facto accepted nuclear power, then they will be scared as shit and the nonproliferation regime will have been proven a farce. What's to stop them?

The important question is whether our allies in the region will accept our nuclear umbrella as adequate protection from an Iranian bomb. My guess is that they will say they do in communiqués, but not mean it.

Quote of the day

Bjorn Lomborg:
In our eagerness to avoid about $1 trillion worth of climate damage, we are being asked to spend at least 50 times as much -- and, if we hinder free trade, we are likely to heap at least an additional $50 trillion loss on the global economy.


I'm not entirely sure about his numbers. He quotes a report that will be released next year. Nevertheless, I'm extremely concerned that the supposed taxing of carbon at borders to impose the anti-climate change regime in Western nations will end up hurting more than the benefits. Plus, the pain will be largely on the developing world.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Plato Blogging: The Republic Book I

There's a lot there in the beginning of Book I. People give whole lectures on the first sentence for goodness' sake:
I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more, beautiful.


In keeping with my theme of trying to argue that the book is both about the just and right ordering of the soul and a type of complicated reducio ad absurum about trying to impose this through politics, I will give a brief overview of the primary arguments in the book, but not dwell on every specific detail. Andrew accused me of cherry-picking, so I will try harder to honestly and objectively identify portions which both support and undermine my argument.

First, I think this passage, which the first time I read the book thought strangely out of place, supports my argument about this being primarily about the right ordering of the soul:
How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles, --are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men's characters and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.


He's talking about escaping base appetites of love and lust. A master, Sophocles calls it. When the passions release their grip we are free of not just one, but many masters. Ah, but it's not old age, but temper and character. Therefore, we can presumably order ourselves rightly such that we are calm, happy, and free.

I believe it is tremendously important that Plato writes about passions and temperament even before the question of justice is addressed. To most readers this probably seems like an odd introduction into a political text, and indeed it rather is. Unless, of course, you read it with an eye toward the soul being a primary issue, not a secondary one.

Socrates then moves onto Cephalus:
I see that you are indifferent about money, which is a characteristic rather of those who have inherited their fortunes than of those who have acquired them; the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men. And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.


Again, we are still talking about people. In this case, pursuit of wealth. Notice he is still talking about individual people. Or rather a soul type -- oligarchs, who are "very bad company."

Moving along, we get to this:
Hope, he says, cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and holiness and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey; --hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.


This is important, methinks -- "the soul of him who lives in justice" Again, the connection between justice and the soul, all before talking about any type of political organization whatsoever. Although, one could see how this is simply a literary choice to move the dialogue along from people simply talking together into a discussion of Justice and the Good, but I think there's more to it than that.

And then we come to the key question:
Well said, Cephalus, I replied; but as concerning justice, what is it?


Cephalus' definition actually appears before the question:
a good man, is, that he has had no occasion to deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally; and when he departs to the world below he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men. Now to this peace of mind the possession of wealth greatly contributes; and therefore I say, that, setting one thing against another, of the many advantages which wealth has to give, to a man of sense this is in my opinion the greatest.


Basically, tell the truth and repay debts. It's a simple rule of thumb type argument. Socrates shoots this down with one sentence:
Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him?


Polemarchus then offers up a logic that justice giving people their due:
justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies...justice is the giving to each man what is proper to him


Socrates goes onto dismiss this assertion, but I won't go too much into it basically because friends and enemies do not neatly correspond with Good and Bad.

Then we come to Thrasymachus' famous line:
I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.


There are many ways to look at this deceptively simple statement. He could be making an argument that "might makes right," which is how I believe most people generally understand it. But does he mean simply stronger physically or militarily? Or does he also mean stronger will, desire, or reasons? Would Nietzsche's will to power fall under Thrasymachus' view of justice? Does he mean that any arbitrary or capricious definition of interest by the stronger is necessarily just? Is it just before the imposition by the stronger? If a stronger chooses not to pursue their own interest, are they then acting unjustly? Or does their decision not to act redefine their interests? I'm getting off on all kinds of crazy tangents here, so I'll just move on under the assumption that he means "might makes right," but that it can also be understood to mean the stronger impulses or parts of one's own soul. Indeed, what's interesting to FLG is that these discussions of justice can easily be understood, at some level, as pertaining to the soul instead of an individual's interactions with others.

Anyway, Socrates tries to pick apart Thrasymachus' statement using some of my questions above. But the basic premise is pretty hard to refute. Might makes right is one of those timeless axioms, most eloquently explained in my opinion, within Thucydides' Melian dialogue.

But then it gets more complicated. Socrates talks about how people in every art, physicians, for example, pursue that art for the benefit of others, the patients in this case, not themselves. Therefore, it is implied that a just ruler must pursue politics that are in his subjects' interest. Thrasymachus responds that it's a question of scale:
they who do such wrong in particular cases are called robbers of temples, and man-stealers and burglars and swindlers and thieves. But when a man besides taking away the money of the citizens has made slaves of them, then, instead of these names of reproach, he is termed happy and blessed, not only by the citizens but by all who hear of his having achieved the consummation of injustice. For mankind censure injustice, fearing that they may be the victims of it and not because they shrink from committing it. And thus, as I have shown, Socrates, injustice, when on a sufficient scale, has more strength and freedom and mastery than justice; and, as I said at first, justice is the interest of the stronger, whereas injustice is a man's own profit and interest.


That last part, injustice is a man's own profit and interest, is fascinating to me because in some ways Socrates and Thrasymachus agree, but it depends whether you are talking about the polis, man, or the soul. But I'll get to that in later books.

Anyway, Thrasymachus admits that he believes "perfect injustice is more gainful than perfect justice."

And do the unjust appear to you to be wise and good?

Yes, [Thrasymachus] said; at any rate those of them who are able to be perfectly unjust


Socrates responds sometime later:
And is not injustice equally fatal when existing in a single person; in the first place rendering him incapable of action because he is not at unity with himself, and in the second place making him an enemy to himself and the just?


And Socrates continues:
And we have admitted that justice is the excellence of the soul, and injustice the defect of the soul?

That has been admitted.

Then the just soul and the just man will live well, and the unjust man will live ill?

That is what your argument proves.

And he who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who lives ill the reverse of happy?

Certainly.

Then the just is happy, and the unjust miserable?

So be it.

But happiness and not misery is profitable.

Of course.

Then, my blessed Thrasymachus, injustice can never be more profitable than justice.


So, here we have it. Justice is the excellence of the soul, and injustice the defect of the soul. Therefore, if this is a book about justice, then this is a book about the soul. Again, what I find so amazing about this book is that Thrasymachus and Socrates are both correct, but at different levels.

An excellent soul, justice, requires perfect injustice in its ordering. Reason must be a tyrant over the will, passions, and appetites so that the soul can work in unison. This ordering becomes easier as we age and the passions lose their grip. But Thrasymachus is correct that injustice is more profitable, but only when reason rightly dominates the weaker passions and appetites. Oddly, the perfect injustice of reason over the rest of the soul produces justice within the soul, and consequently manifest just acts from that person.

Feel free to call bullshit or point out something I've missed. I really do believe this reconciles the inconsistencies and superficially crazy political ideas in the book. They are crazy ideas if they were political ideas, but they aren't. They're about how to manifest perfect injustice within the soul, so that justice can manifest externally. Quite a paradox and contradiction.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bailouts

The chancellor and vice chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, Robert J. Birgeneau and Frank D. Yeary, write in the WaPo:
Specifically, the federal government should create a hybrid model in which a limited number of our great public research and teaching universities receive basic operating support from the federal government and their respective state governments. Washington might initially choose a representative set of schools, perhaps based on their research achievements, their success in graduating students, commitment to public service and their record in having a student body that is broadly representative of society.


Sounds like somebody wants a bailout because their state is run incompetently. Believe me fellas, you'll eventually rue the day if federal government bails you out.

I gotta give them credit for the ballsiness of it though. Let's define a set of criteria within which Berkeley and a "limited number" of other schools fall, but most importantly Berkeley, then argue Uncle Sam needs to fund them.

Dumbass Hippies

One of the best things of writing at Patum Peperium is that FLG is on the super secret Patum Peperium mailing list where the Catholic Mafia's plot for world domination is continuously being hashed out.

And he does get links like this one sent to him:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blaspheming Blues Brothers

Miss Self-Important hates The Republic. FLG told her, "Don't you blaspheme in here!" But then he wondered if this is even part of many people's pop culture reference anymore. From the choices on Youtube, it doesn't look good. All we got is a shitty video of a tv with fucking Asian subtitles:


It's a sad state of affairs.

Correspondence

A reader writes:
I read your quote of the day...and thought to myself...Burke isn't postmodern. What is this imbecile talking about? I clicked the link and he isn't an imbecile. He actually means the opposite of the words you posted out of context. Very underhanded of you FLG.


FLG underhanded? Never.

Alan, Please Explain

Alan wrote:
Iran imports 210,000 barrels of oil and oil products each day and almost as much natural gas as it exports, according to our CIA. It also exports electrical power. I suspect the Russians have more confidence in their deterrent and Iranian pragmatism than some here profess to have although our last NIE indicates Iran dropped its plans for a weapon years ago.


This seems to imply that you bought into the idea that their nuke program was for peaceful energy purposes and not for weapons.

Yet:
President Obama and the leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.


Please clarify your position on the intent of the Iranian nuclear program.

Quote of the day III

Charlemagne:
as more and more Europeans speak good English, the benefits to a Briton of learning European languages are reduced and the costs increase. The benefits are reduced because a smaller and smaller group of people can be reached only by speaking their language. The costs rise because Britons have to learn to speak foreign languages really well, to avoid inflicting halting French, say, on a room full of fluent English-speakers.


An astonishing oversight is the written language. I almost never speak French unless I'm trying to teach Miss FLG. I listen to French audio or television programs several times a week, but I read French everyday. I find my ability to read French far more important than speaking it.

Quote of the day II

Charlemagne:
I veer between feeling sad at the decline into Pravda-style servility of a newspaper that still has some excellent correspondents, and wondering if the whole thing is an elaborate post-modern joke.


It is appalling.

Mmm..

Please go here, click on drinks, and check out the Sunday special.

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

Anti-Climacus:
Burke, never mind when he actually wrote, is actually 'postmodern' in his response to the French Revolution

Just FYI

Timothy Burke left a thoughtful response to my criticisms.

FLG is currently listening to

On Faculty Intelligence

A comment over at Nobody Sasses A Girl in Glasses by hardlyb jogged my memory that I wanted to write something about faculty intelligence:
First of all, lots of the faculty are fairly miserable, and they like to make other people feel worse, and since at a place like Hahvahd they are almost all at least pretty smart, when they put their minds to that, they will likely succeed.


FLG hasn't really seen a noticeable difference in the intelligence of his professors at any of the schools he's attended, and these run the gamut from community college to flagship state school to Georgetown. He thinks this is a function of the glut of PhDs in many areas. The supply is so great that there are more than enough smart people with the requisite education to fill the spots. Probably many times over.

Another thing is that the people who get into grad schools have all already done well in school, and presumably are all pretty smart. Say Harvard PhD programs take people with 3.7 and higher and the programs at the University of Massachusetts take people with 3.5 and higher. Much of that discrepancy is probably do to a marginal difference in the focus on academics vis-a-vis other commitments by the student, not primarily an intelligence difference. Moreover, FLG'd argue the law of diminishing returns is kicking in. At some point being smarter and smarter doesn't really matter all that much in the big scheme of things. Basically, my point is that the faculty at Princeton probably isn't noticeably smarter, on average, than the faculty at, say, Rutgers.

The undergraduate student body is a whole different issue, and I'm sure Princeton professors can teach their classes at a much more accelerated rate and advanced level than Rutgers professors. But, again, FLG is not so sure that it really matters too much. The difference in the amount of knowledge he gained from community college classes versus Georgetown classes was, while not insignificant, may not be worth the effort in the long-run simply because FLG will, in all likelihood, forget those details.

Perhaps somebody would disagree and say something like Princeton economics consists of MIT, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Stanford, and Princeton PhDs. Those are the BEST schools. At Rutgers, riff-raff snuck in from lowly places, like UPenn, Cornell, and Duke.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perhaps FLG Is Missing Something

On the radio today, somebody suggested that we needed to reinstate Glass-Steagal because separating investment banking from retail banking would isolate risks in investment banks that could then be left to fail during the next crisis. FLG would like to point out one obvious fact. Lehman Brothers was a straight up investment bank, no retail, and its collapse almost brought everything down. So, it would appear, sophisticated observer of the financial world, that your understanding of the crisis has a major fucking hole in it.

For the N-th time, Glass-Steagal was not Pandora's box and isn't a panacea. I'm not sure putting it back in place would even help. The universal banks, i.e. ones that have both investment and retail banking, seemed to have weathered the storm better.

I'm still waiting for somebody to make even a slightly plausible case on this point.

The Obama Administration's Naivete And Nuance

From his UN speech:
Like all of you, my responsibility is to act in the interest of my nation and my people, and I will never apologize for defending those interests. But it is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 - more than at any point in human history - the interests of nations and peoples are shared.

The time has come to realize that the old habits and arguments are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our people. They lead nations to act in opposition to the very goals that they claim to pursue, and to vote - often in this body - against the interests of their own people. They build up walls between us and the future that our people seek, and the time has come for those walls to come down. Together, we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides - coalitions of different faiths and creeds; of north and south, east and west; black, white, and brown.


Health Care Speech:
Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. (Applause.) Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care. Now is the time to deliver on health care.


Here we have two passages with similar language. Old divisions divert us from progress. Time to move passed them. FLG'd argue, however, that the tone of the two is vastly different. In the first, Obama's almost deferential. America has acted poorly in the past. I'm sorry. Please forgive us and let's move forward. In the second, he's somewhat bullying or condescending. You Republicans are just playing games to score political points. Time to man up and start getting to work on this.

In both cases there is some truth to it. Republicans have been obstructionist in some areas. Democratic health care reform is not really in their political interest. Also, America has acted poorly of late. Abu Ghraib and Gitmo aren't exactly examples of American values.

Nevertheless, what's both naive and nefarious about Obama's approach is the idea that cynical politics is all that's in the way. In the case of the Republicans, the proposals put forward by the Democrats for health care reform aren't ideologically congruent with Republican values. It's not that Republicans are solely being obstructionist for narrow political reasons, but many of them have a fundamental disagreement on principle with the approach the administration and leadership in congress are taking. On the other hand, and what FLG would find funny about Obama's international approach if it weren't so naive, is the idea that all people share the same interests in the international arena. It's true in large part, but states and governments don't always have interests in common with their people, especially dictatorships. What's funny is that Obama has harsher language for Republicans than dictators. For some reason, he can rationalize the motives of foreign leaders in his mind, but seems to have less patience for domestic opposition to his policies.

What's so interesting about this approach is that its a very nuanced rhetorical way of getting your goals. Obama frames his policy idea as the adult, responsible, reasonable, commodious approach, and thereby paints opposition or disagreement as childish, irresponsible, unreasonable, and incommodious. As a matter of political rhetoric, it's is fascinating to FLG.

What's most interesting is the idea that the time for disagreement has passed. Now it is the time for action. The actions that I propose.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Proof Of Time Travel?

Printed, First Edition of The Republic, signed by Plato?

Protectionism

FLG's favorite metaphor for protectionism is blotting out the Sun. The Sun causes skin cancer. Skin cancer is bad. So, we must blot out the Sun to lower skin cancer rates. Now, any right-thinking person will realize that as bad as skin cancer is we still get far more benefits from the Sun's rays. That's roughly how FLG views arguments about trade from protectionists. They are completely oblivious to the indisputable gains and benefits of trade.

Buttonwood, however, offers another illustration:
If tariffs are such a good economic idea, then why stop at national boundaries? If they make everyone richer, why not have customs posts between New York and New Jersey? Cars entering and leaving the Lincoln tunnel would have to pay, on top of the toll, a surcharge on all the goods they contain. Why not, indeed, make New York and New Jersey self-sufficient in all their needs, making all their own cars, growing all their own food etc?

...

So next time you hear some politician or union leader sounding off in favour of protectionism, substitute "New Jersey" jobs for "American" jobs and and "New York" competition for "foreign" competition and see how much sense his statement makes.

FLG, Still Bringing You Today's News Yesterday

Conor Friedersdorf discovers what FLG has known for months.

To wit:
Freddie is a sarcastic prick.

FLG, isn't that an ad hominem attack? No, I'm simply stating the facts. Okay, well, maybe my opinion, but there is copious evidence of Freddie's sarcastic prickdom.

In fact, isn't he a nutmegger? All nutmeggers have a mean, sarcastic prick streak in them. Some are just better than others at controlling it.

Quote of the day

dave.s.:
[Comte's writing] Certainly gives the lie to anyone who claims today's academics write uniquely silly and dense text.

Genocide

Otto posts an abstract for an article in the Journal of Genocide Research:
This article seeks to examine the mass violence unleashed by Joseph Stalin and his regime against the USSR's ethnic Germans.


This article examines a topic worthy of investigation and study. The journal itself covers a topic, genocide, which is certainly worthy of further study. The thing that worries me though, and I must admit I've never even heard of the journal until just now and consequently have never read a single article, is whether the existence of a journal devoted to the study of genocide won't, in some fashion, dilute the power of the word.

For instance, was Stalin's goal to wipe out all the ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union? If not, then I have trouble calling it genocide. Now, I realize the definition many use is similar to the first sentence of the Wikipedia article:
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.


But that's too loosey-goosey for me and I'm not sure that systematic oppression should be called genocide. I'm not questioning that the injustice of what may have occurred. I just don't know enough about it, but it's certainly reasonable to me that Stalin would have done some seriously bad shit to ethnic Germans. The question though is whether what is described is genocide. From the abstract, I'd say no. Then the question for me becomes whether publishing this in a journal with genocide in the title doesn't somehow undermine the word genocide?

It's a small, pedantic, esoteric linguistic-political point, but that's how I roll. All told, I'd must rather prefer people studying these crimes than worry about what the journal they publish in is called.

FLG is currently listening to



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Case You Were Wondering, FLG Dislikes Comte

For those of you who haven't read him...

Positive Philosophy:
From the study of the development of human intelligence, in all directions, and through all times, the discovery arises of a great fundamental law, to which it is necessarily subject, and which has a solid foundation of proof, both in the facts of our organization and in our historical experience. The law is this: that each of our leading conceptions -- each branch of our knowledge -- passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the theological, or fictitious; the metaphysical, or abstract; and the scientific, or positive. In other words, the human mind, by its nature, employs in its progress three methods of philosophizing, the character of which is essentially different, and even radically opposed: namely, the theological method, the metaphysical, and the positive. Hence arise three philosophies, or general systems of conceptions on the aggregate of phenomena, each of which excludes the others. The first is the necessary point of departure of the human understanding, and the third is its fixed and definitive state. The second is merely a state of transition.

In the theological state, the human mind, seeking the essential nature of beings, the first and final causes (the origin and purpose) of all effects -- in short, absolute knowledge -- supposes all phenomena to be produced by the immediate action of supernatural beings.

In the metaphysical state, which is only a modification of the first, the mind supposes, instead of supernatural beings, abstract forces, veritable entities (that is, personified abstractions) inherent in all beings, and capable of producing all phenomena. What is called the explanation of phenomena is, in this stage, a mere reference of each to its proper entity.

In the final, the positive, state, the mind has given over the vain search after absolute notions, the origin and destination of the universe, and the causes of phenomena, and applies itself to the study of their laws -- that is, their invariable relations of succession and resemblance. Reasoning and observation, duly combined, are the means of this knowledge. What is now understood when we speak of an explanation of facts is simply the establishment of a connection between single phenomena and some general facts, the number of which continually diminishes with the progress of science.

Quote of the day

Anne Applebaum:
Let's be brutally frank: The 60th anniversary of the NATO alliance, celebrated in April, was a bore. The American president was visibly uninterested. His European counterparts, though more accustomed to "celebrations" consisting of somnolent speeches delivered in multilingual bureaucratese, were no more enthusiastic. The affair closed with a limp American request for more troops in Afghanistan that had almost no echo.


Say it with me, "NATO should be abolished." Nobody can even be bothered to care anymore.

Stupidest Thing FLG Has Heard In A While

Somebody on the radio said that they stopped using e-cigarettes because e-cigarettes aren't approved by the FDA and so they didn't know if they were safe. Their solution?...wait for it...wait for it...start smoking regular cigarettes again.

Fucking geniuses we have in this country.

eBook Note

It's cool that Barnes and Noble offers books in the public domain, or at least some of them from Google Books, for free. Particularly cool for FLG is that they offer Auguste Comte's Positive Philosophy in both English and French. But FLG would much prefer a simple PDF rather than having to install a separate Barnes and Noble eBook reader.

A Conversation

FLG: I think we need to lop about two feet off the top of the roof.

Mrs. FLG: Sigh. Why this time? We're still not building an elevated remote controlled airplane runway on our roof.

FLG: No, nothing silly like that.

Mrs. FLG: Silly how then?

FLG: Not silly at all in fact. The proportions of our house are completely off. There's no sacred geometry. I think that's what's causing my insomnia.

Mrs. FLG: Drinking two red bulls back to back before going to bed is why you can't sleep, not geometry.

FLG: I dunno. I think we we could shorten the height such that the width divided by the height approximated the golden ratio, then I'd sleep better.

Mrs. FLG: We're not cutting part of the roof off. Just stop drinking the damn red bulls.

This Is Disturbing

NEA used as political mobilization mechanism.

This is what conservatives are afraid of when government begins to get its hands into things. Let's fund the arts. The arts are good, right? The fear is that once government inserts itself into a field it will use that power for political ends. This seems to be an egregious example.

FLG loves the arts. He attend operas and visits museums. Yet, there are questions in FLG's mind about whether the government, especially the federal government, should have a role in arts funding. Local governments, FLG can see, but the federal government, not so much. There just doesn't seem to be a compelling reason why the federal government must fund arts. There are charitable organizations and even local and state governments that can take care of this type of thing. In fact, local and state governments make more sense because art is usually only enjoyed by a small group of local people anyway. Not sure what compelling reasons the federal government has for even being involved. Given this latest fiasco, FLG is whole-heartedly in favor of abolishing the NEA altogether. That's $160 million or so saved.

FLG Must Admit

...that despite all his readings on the topic of foreign affairs, he'd never heard about, let alone considered, the consequences of China's Antarctic activities.

It gives a whole new meaning to Mao Zedong: A Penguin Life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's A Ninja Movie

A ninja movie, you ask? Yes, a ninja movie. But I've seen crappy 1980s ninja movies. No, you don't understand. It's a ninja movie.

Alexander

Apparently, there's a Xenephon roundtable going on over at ChicagoBoyz.net, including a fascinating post about a topic near and dear to FLG's heart, Alexander. Not a week passes where FLG doesn't kick himself for giving away his copy of Arrian.

Plato Blogging: Literal Just Doesn't Make Sense

Andrew offered a thoughtful response:
I certainly think it's possible to discern what Plato meant and I don't insist that I know what Plato meant, since I can't even really read him in his original language and tons of context have probably been lost over time.

My skepticism over your interpretation of Plato is principally because you seem to be cherry picking bits of the text to make your case and ignoring the main thrust of what Plato actually said. Perhaps Plato did intend The Republic to be primarily a metaphor (and that metaphor is unquestionably present in The Republic), but since it makes perfect sense to read it literally, I don't know why we would prefer the metaphorical interpretation only.

I am reminded of a talk I went to as an undergraduate where a leftist professor made the claim that all the "diversity" in The Republic meant that Plato couldn't possibly be serious about his totalitarian message. Nobody in the room bought it. It's hard for admirers of Plato (and I am, occasionally, one myself) to realize that he was a totalitarian, but that's where the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence lies.



If Plato's theory is simply, true philosophers should rule and here is how they should rule, then why write The Republic? The people he wants to rule wouldn't need it, right? They already know Truth.

I guess my point here is that if we define Philosophers as the only ones who know the truth, then it's almost tautological that they should rule. Or perhaps it's more of a syllogism:

Only philosophers know truth.
Truth is required to know justice.
Therefore, philosophers should rule.

Well, no shit. Who wants the blind leading the blind? Then isn't it more important, and far more interesting, if the point is how one becomes a philosopher? Or baring that how one orients one's own soul for flourishing?

On the totalitarian point, I would accept his totalitarianism if it weren't so contradictory. And I'd accept contradiction if his writing weren't otherwise so clear, thoughtful, and coherent on multiple levels. Nietchze's contradictions I can chalk up to his incoherence. I can't do the same for Plato.

Anyway, I understand why people are skeptical. Indeed, I used to take it literally too. I like taking people at face value. They wrote X, then they must mean X. It gets hairy when you start going down the path of, for example, the author wrote about how he was motivated by his faith in God, but that's all cover to placate the societal norms. He was really an atheist.

Platonic dialogues are also incredibly complex and rich. They offer many plausible interpretations.

Lastly, I'm not hubristic enough to say that I have the definitive truth of Plato. Although, it does chap my ass though when people use the term philosopher-king as some sort of utopian political vision of a world run by the wisest.

Anyway, perhaps I'll change some minds once we get into The Republic. Or even open the possibility to people.

Sponsor Change

An unforeseen issue has arisen in our previously fruitful relationship with The Vince Lombardi Service Area. This recent unpleasantness involving a gun and cannoli has forced both parties to sever the relationship.

Not to worry though. Fear and Loathing in Georgetown will now be brought to you by the Gas Station in Two Guns, Arizona.

FLG is currently listening to



Which reminds him that there's been a sponsor change...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plato Blogging: Poll

Wondering where everybody stands on my Plato theory, namely, that The Republic is simultaneously about the soul and a cautionary tale about using politics to rightly order society, as we move onto The Republic in two weeks. As I see it, Alpheus and Andrew are skeptical and George thinks I'm nuts. Miss Self-Important is skeptical and thinks I'm nuts.

Bon Mots

From that Twitter feed referenced the other day, Shit My Dad Says:
Sometimes life leaves a hundred dollar bill on your dresser, and you don't realize until later that it's because it fucked you.


The guy is the Botticelli of Blasphemy. Caravaggio of Curses. Cézanne of Cusses. Seurat of Swears. Pollack of Profanity.

I sit in awe of his mastery.

For Those Of You Who Missed It

I had a Talk-like-a-pirate day post over at Patum Peperium.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Plato Blogging: Seventh Letter

A big case against my theory is contained in Plato's Seventh Letter:
As I observed these incidents and the men engaged in public affairs, the laws too and the customs, the more closely I examined them and the farther I advanced in life, the more difficult it seemed to me to handle public affairs aright. For it was not possible to be active in politics without friends and trustworthy supporters; and to find these ready to my hand was not an easy matter, since public affairs at Athens were not carried on in accordance with the manners and practices of our fathers; nor was there any ready method by which I could make new friends. The laws too, written and unwritten, were being altered for the worse, and the evil was growing with startling rapidity. The result was that, though at first I had been full of a strong impulse towards political life, as I looked at the course of affairs and saw them being swept in all directions by contending currents, my head finally began to swim; and, though I did not stop looking to see if there was any likelihood of improvement in these symptoms and in the general course of public life, I postponed action till a suitable opportunity should arise. Finally, it became clear to me, with regard to all existing cornmunities, that they were one and all misgoverned. For their laws have got into a state that is almost incurable, except by some extraordinary reform with good luck to support it. And I was forced to say, when praising true philosophy that it is by this that men are enabled to see what justice in public and private life really is. Therefore, I said, there will be no cessation of evils for the sons of men, till either those who are pursuing a right and true philosophy receive sovereign power in the States, or those in power in the States by some dispensation of providence become true philosophers.


He explicitly states what people believe to be his argument:
there will be no cessation of evils for the sons of men, till either those who are pursuing a right and true philosophy receive sovereign power in the States, or those in power in the States by some dispensation of providence become true philosophers.


But the problem is the populous is dominated by appetites and base instincts, which he immediately precedes to dicuss:
With these thoughts in my mind I came to Italy and Sicily on my first visit. My first impressions on arrival were those of strong disapproval-disapproval of the kind of life which was there called the life of happiness, stuffed full as it was with the banquets of the Italian Greeks and Syracusans, who ate to repletion twice every day, and were never without a partner for the night; and disapproval of the habits which this manner of life produces. For with these habits formed early in life, no man under heaven could possibly attain to wisdom-human nature is not capable of such an extraordinary combination. Temperance also is out of the question for such a man; and the same applies to virtue generally. No city could remain in a state of tranquillity under any laws whatsoever, when men think it right to squander all their property in extravagant, and consider it a duty to be idle in everything else except eating and drinking and the laborious prosecution of debauchery. It follows necessarily that the constitutions of such cities must be constantly changing, tyrannies, oligarchies and democracies succeeding one another, while those who hold the power cannot so much as endure the name of any form of government which maintains justice and equality of rights.


Now, some may claim this is a self-serving rationalization for his failure to enact a just system. However, I still contend that The Republic is more about how to rightly order the individual soul and that his Just City is an allegory for doing so. And simultaneously a cautionary tale not to try to impose justice through the state because people must order their own souls in pursuit of the Good for true justice to flourish.

The question is when did he have this realization? The letter was supposedly written in 360 BC. If The Republic was written in 360 BC (oddly Wikipedia lists 380 BC) and we assume the Seventh Letter as actually written by Plato, then my theory certainly make sense. At least it does to me.

Surprising Oversight

Withywindle links to Easily Distracted. To my surprise I find the post completely off-base. I write to my surprise because whenever I read Easily Distracted I usually find it very thoughtful. This, however, I don't believe is:
I can’t see any reason why someone like Megan McArdle would be intensely anxious about government and yet be relatively sanguine about industry, civic organizations, and so on, if the issue is that it is impossible to account for or anticipate unintended consequences.


I'll give you one very important reason -- coercion. Put simply the government has guns and can force people to do things. This is something no corporation, industry, or civic organization can do. Market-based transactions are generally mutually beneficial. Therefore, a large difference in both theory and practice exists between the unintended consequences of changes in corporate/industy and government policies. Government actions are in an entirely different category from other actions, and it follows that so are the unintended consequences.

If a customer doesn't like the change in policies of a corporation, then they stop being a customer. One can't opt out of falling under government policies. Therefore, there is a response mechanism built-in to the market that doesn't exist in government actions. Sure, one could not vote for the incumbents in the next election, but that is a diffuse protest. One vote every four to six years isn't a good feedback mechanism. Sure, one could write their representative, but again you can't opt out of the policy once enacted.

Nevertheless, the material difference is government ability to coerce.

Happy International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day!

September 19th is International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day.



Shiver me timbers!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plato Blogging: Phaedrus

Phaedrus is probably my favorite Platonic dialogue and contains a plethora of avenues for discussion. Yet, I will limit my posts on both this dialogue and the books of The Republic largely to what is relevant to support my theory. I will endeavor to be balanced in my analysis, but not in my focus. Unless, of course, I find something unrelated very interesting.

Phaedrus is ostensibly about Love, but transitions into a discussion of rhetoric.

First passage I'd like to mention, this is Socrates speaking:
Every one sees that love is a desire, and we know also that non-lovers desire the beautiful and good. Now in what way is the lover to be distinguished from the non-lover? Let us note that in every one of us there are two guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they will; one is the natural desire of pleasure, the other is an acquired opinion which aspires after the best; and these two are sometimes in harmony and then again at war, and sometimes the one, sometimes the other conquers. When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best, the conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid of reason, rules in us and drags us to pleasure, that power of misrule is called excess. Now excess has many names, and many members, and many forms, and any of these forms when very marked gives a name, neither honourable nor creditable, to the bearer of the name. The desire of eating, for example, which gets the better of the higher reason and the other desires, is called gluttony, and he who is possessed by it is called a glutton-I the tyrannical desire of drink, which inclines the possessor of the desire to drink, has a name which is only too obvious, and there can be as little doubt by what name any other appetite of the same family would be called;-it will be the name of that which happens to be eluminant. And now I think that you will perceive the drift of my discourse; but as every spoken word is in a manner plainer than the unspoken, I had better say further that the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency of opinion towards right, and is led away to the enjoyment of beauty, and especially of personal beauty, by the desires which are her own kindred-that supreme desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of passion is reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called love."


The striking thing for my theory here is the use of words like "rule," "misrule," and "tyrannical" within an individual. What's also interesting is that Socrates seems to believe our desires or appetites naturally draw us to the Good, but that reason must hold the reins, a metaphor that I introduce now in foreknowledge of what is to come later.

Then he moves on to talk of the immortality of the soul:
The soul through all her being is immortal, for that which is ever in motion is immortal; but that which moves another and is moved by another, in ceasing to move ceases also to live. Only the self-moving, never leaving self, never ceases to move, and is the fountain and beginning of motion to all that moves besides. Now, the beginning is unbegotten, for that which is begotten has a beginning; but the beginning is begotten of nothing, for if it were begotten of something, then the begotten would not come from a beginning. But if unbegotten, it must also be indestructible; for if beginning were destroyed, there could be no beginning out of anything, nor anything out of a beginning; and all things must have a beginning. And therefore the self-moving is the beginning of motion; and this can neither be destroyed nor begotten, else the whole heavens and all creation would collapse and stand still, and never again have motion or birth. But if the self-moving is proved to be immortal, he who affirms that self-motion is the very idea and essence of the soul will not be put to confusion. For the body which is moved from without is soulless; but that which is moved from within has a soul, for such is the nature of the soul. But if this be true, must not the soul be the self-moving, and therefore of necessity unbegotten and immortal? Enough of the soul's immortality.


Let's look at the first line in particular:
The soul through all her being is immortal, for that which is ever in motion is immortal; but that which moves another and is moved by another, in ceasing to move ceases also to live.


If we assume that government moves people, and by this I mean compels their actions, especially as we'll see in The Republic, then a person's soul ceases to live? Some may consider this a logical leap too far, and perhaps in this specific context, but as part of Plato's larger work I believe it is not. An interesting conclusion, if I am correct, is that ruling or "that which moves another" also causes the soul to cease to live.

Socrates then moves on to a metaphor of the soul as two-horsed chariot. Gods have two noble steeds. Humans have one noble and the other ignoble. I like the metaphor. He does return to linkage of the soul and governance:
the soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher, or artist, or some musical and loving nature; that which has seen truth in the second degree shall be some righteous king or warrior chief; the soul which is of the third class shall be a politician, or economist, or trader; the fourth shall be lover of gymnastic toils, or a physician; the fifth shall lead the life of a prophet or hierophant; to the sixth the character of poet or some other imitative artist will be assigned; to the seventh the life of an artisan or husbandman; to the eighth that of a sophist or demagogue; to the ninth that of a tyrant-all these are states of probation, in which he who does righteously improves, and he who does unrighteously, improves, and he who does unrighteously, deteriorates his lot.


Some may argue that this is where my argument falls apart. That there is a place for each person and Plato means the Just City literally to organize according to those places. I respectfully disagree. He seems to be saying here that we will be what we are destined to be, according to level of our understanding of the Truth. If so, then the important thing remains the right ordering of an individual soul so that next time the person will have moved up the teleology.

A nice description of the different horses and charioteer that make up a human soul commences, and he discusses their actions regarding love. This quote, a little bit later, stuck out:
After this their happiness depends upon their self-control; if the better elements of the mind which lead to order and philosophy prevail, then they pass their life here in happiness and harmony-masters of themselves and orderly-enslaving the vicious and emancipating the virtuous elements of the soul; and when the end comes, they are light and winged for flight, having conquered in one of the three heavenly or truly Olympian victories


Notice he talks about self-control and order and harmony within their own souls, not imposed from the outside. The discussion then transitions, some may think oddly, to a discussion of writing and rhetoric, but they are related. Writing and rhetoric are the politician's tools for controlling others, is it not?

Socrates says:
And when the orator instead of putting an ass in the place of a horse puts good for evil being himself as ignorant of their true nature as the city on which he imposes is ignorant; and having studied the notions of the multitude, falsely persuades them not about "the shadow of an ass," which he confounds with a horse, but about good which he confounds with evily-what will be the harvest which rhetoric will be likely to gather after the sowing of that seed?


And

Is not rhetoric, taken generally, a universal art of enchanting the mind by arguments; which is practised not only in courts and public assemblies, but in private houses also, having to do with all matters, great as well as small, good and bad alike, and is in all equally right, and equally to be esteemed-that is what you have heard?


Notice enchanting the mind, as if by magic spell. It continues...

And a professor of the art will make the same thing appear to the same persons to be at one time just, at another time, if he is so inclined, to be unjust?


...until we arrive at this line, which I think is crucial:
But when any one speaks of justice and goodness we part company and are at odds with one another and with ourselves?


Emphasis mine. Rhetoric can disorder our soul.

Then clearly, Thrasymachus or any one else who teaches rhetoric in earnest will give an exact description of the nature of the soul; which will enable us to see whether she be single and same, or, like the body, multiform. That is what we should call showing the nature of the soul.


I don't think it's a coincidence that Thrasymachus is mentioned here and is Socrates' main opponent in The Republic.

He continues with this argument:
He will argue that is no use in putting a solemn face on these matters, or in going round and round, until you arrive at first principles; for, as I said at first, when the question is of justice and good, or is a question in which men are concerned who are just and good, either by nature or habit, he who would be a skilful rhetorician has; no need of truth-for that in courts of law men literally care nothing about truth, but only about conviction: and this is based on probability, to which who would be a skilful orator should therefore give his whole attention.


I think you're getting my point here.

Anyway, I'll leave with one last quotation, a myth about the birth of writing:
At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.


Isn't this, the real gist of this, saying that truth cannot be transmitted in its entirety? That only a portion or semblance can be. If so, then doesn't that imply that each person must pursue truth themselves and organize their own soul accordingly? And lastly, then doesn't that mean that trying to impose justice, which requires knowledge of the truth, is doomed to fail if attempt from outside?

Feel free to disagree or to call my attention to any phrase that you feel doesn't jive with this interpretation. Next, Book I.

Michael Moore And Alan

Michael Moore was on The Jay Leno Show recently, and FLG realized something about Moore and Alan. No, it's not that they are both wackjob liberals.

FLG saw in Moore's eyes and speech, and he always forgets it until he sees it, a passion for the little guy. FLG assumes it comes from Moore's upbringing in Flint. A sense of that something is just wrong and should be corrected.

FLG sees that same thing in Alan. A sense of -- this just isn't right and we need to roll up our sleeves and do something about it. FLG thinks it might have to do with Alan's upbringing, which was also in an area with declining industry, but he has no idea.

There's a stark contrast though. Alan is, despite his Godless heathenism and insane politics, one of the most patriotic, honest, decent, and compassionate people FLG has ever met. He might even go so far as to call Alan virtuous. Michael Moore is most certainly not. He's so loose with the facts that his films border on unethical, even if they are often good entertainment.

As regular readers will know, means are often just as important as ends to FLG. It seems to him that both Alan and Michael Moore began at the same place -- righting what they see as obvious wrongs and ensuring a sense of fair play, but choose two different paths. Moore's an end justifies the means type of path that has led to international fame and riches. Alan's more honorable means of achieving the same ends led to him writing a blog and lobbying legislators, among other things, in relative obscurity. It's a shitty world.

The Racism Thing

Recently, Alan wrote in a response to a quote I posted from Alpheus:
"But there's a general assumption on the Left that antipathy toward Obama has something to do with his race."

I agree that we should not impugn others motives, but using a generalization to criticize the use of a generalization is not especially effective.


A number of recent comments by people on the Left have made the generalization, at least in my mind, more accurate. Or at least demonstrated the relevance of Alpheus' original generalization. Whether it is purely accurate is open for debate. Probably not, like all generalizations, but I did have some things to say on the topic.

There is actual racism in this country. The blatant type is, thank God, dying out. Unfortunately, this has been replaced to some extent by a more nefarious hidden racism. Yet, there are those who are seriously misguided in their crusade to drive it out and cynical in identifying it.

For example, Jimmy Carter:
I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American.


Also:
There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.


I'll agree that some of the people protesting against Obama are racially motivated, but certainly not all. Furthermore, even if some are, pointing it out is not particularly helpful. None of the people who are against Obama are protesting that he is black. They are protesting specific policy proposals.* So, in an important way, who gives a shit of they are racists? They aren't asserting that whites are superior and a black man should not be president. They are asserting that his health care plan sucks and he's spending too much money. Those policy issues can and should be addressed without calling any of the opponents racists. It's just not helpful.

And then there's the CEO of Acorn accusing its attackers of racial motivation:
Much of this has to do with the right’s assessment of ACORN’s effectiveness: we play a critical role, on a massive national scale, in organizing low income people of color to participate in elections and to campaign in support of a progressive agenda.

But let’s also be clear: much of this has to do with race.

The attacks on ACORN are part of the same rightwing machinery that has been attacking President Obama by calling the President a racist, that has been mobilizing all-white tea parties to rail against immigrants, and that has attacked Eric Holder, Sonia Sotomayor, and, with more success, Van Jones. We have seen a conscious strategy from the right to divide and conquer the nation using race, and the attacks on ACORN must be understood in this context.


Let's say I even grant the first point. Republicans don't like Acorn because it gets people of color out to vote for Democrats. It still does not change that numerous Acorn employees are morally retarded. (Incidentally, I got a comment on my previous post accusing me of responding like a 7th grader. I was perplexed, but then realized that the problem was the commenter must not have understood the meaning of the word retarded -- slow or limited in capabilities -- and thought I was calling Acorn employees mentally retarded.) Nobody told the Acorn offices, multiple offices, to act immorally, unethically, and suggest illegal activities. To suggest that the motivation of those investigating was racially motivated is a cynical attempt to divert attention.

The problem is, of course, related to the difficulty in identifying motives. Only God knows what lurks within the hearts of men. We can only surmise based upon word and deed. I certainly won't deny that there are racially motivated people in this country, but oddly the success of the civil rights movement has also made it more difficult to combat.

A black man passed over for a job might honestly believe the problem was racism, but one of the other candidates may have been a better fit for reasons completely unrelated to race. Likewise, a racist employer can always find some reason to not hire somebody.

Part of the problem that results is that people who are looking for racism can find it even if it doesn't exist where they are looking. Any interaction where a member of an out group receives an unfavorable outcome is potentially a incident of bias. Yet, it is potentially not. It really depends on circumstances, and too often many people jump to conclusions based upon their own perceptions or misconceptions.

In the case of Obama, I have to ask who really gives a shit if some of his detractors are racist? The issue with racism is not that people are racist per se, but if racists hold power over fate of those whom they despise. Obama is the most powerful man in the world. So, who gives a shit if some wackos hate him for being black? People hate the president for all sorts of stupid reasons. It doesn't really matter.

Furthermore, if the anti-Obama sentiment is primarily race related and considering that more than half the people in this country voted for him, then the anti-Obama sentiment will always be a minority movement. If we further assume that no racists voted for Obama that is.

The issue I have with the Carter statements is the issue that it presupposes that there must be an irrational, evil reason for opposing Obama's policies. It must be racism or something nefarious, as opposed to the idea that people may genuinely disagree. This happens to be one of the most annoying things about Carter to me, his moral superiority and sermonizing when he, as far as I can tell, is so divorced from reality and motivated almost entirely by his emotions that he can't see the big picture. But I'll leave that aside for now. Nevertheless, his comments distract from the issue at hand, health care reform, and undermine the cause of anti-racism. It undermines anti-racism by drawing attention to an issue that is almost entirely irrelevant to the problems of racism. Put simply -- this isn't about some little, old, black lady having to give up her seat or not able to eat at a restaurant; no, in this case the black man is the one in power. Bringing up racism in this context just sounds silly.

On the Acorn issue, the counter-accusations of racial motivations appear, as I mentioned before, cynical. Personally, I don't particularly care if the people who posed as a pimp and hooker were grand dragons or wizards or whatever of the KKK. On the tapes Acorn employees, at several locations mind you, acted in morally reprehensible ways. Claiming racial bias as part of explanation for this bad conduct again undermines the cause of anti-racism because it appears to be both a cynical act and a scape goat for people of color acting immorally. Neither of these are particularly helpful.


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* Or more accurately their flawed understanding of what he is proposing.
 
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