motto lotto

Monday, June 23, 2008

first encounter with Seneca

Something Hadot wrote in What is Ancient Philosophy? drew me to Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65). The Loeb version of his moral essays makes abundantly clear in the introduction that Seneca was a hypocrite (for some contrast check out Wikipedia's take on his reputation). From the cover:
Wealthy, he preached indifference to wealth; evader of pain and death, he preached scorn of both; and there were other contrasts between practice and principle.

In any case, I really like On the Shortness of Life:
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death's final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.

But Fabianus, who was not one of today's academic philosophers but the true old-fashioned sort, used to say that we must attack the passions by brute force and not by logic; that the enemy's line must be turned by a strong attack and not by pinpricks; for vices have to be crushed rather than picked at. Still, in order that the people concerned be censured for their own individual faults, they must be taught and not just given up for lost.

The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
He ends up advocating the philosophical life as the only life worth living (and he blasts everything else, big surprise) but he makes a number of more broadly applicable insights along the way. He especially keeps reiterating that time is our most valuable possession.

Friday, June 20, 2008

ever have the feeling you're being watched?

SurveillanceSaver is a screensaver for OS X and Windows that shows live images of over 400 network surveillance cameras worldwide. A haunting live soap opera.

Download from google code.

It's actually a pretty cool screensaver, you can look at many parts of the globe all times of day and some of the cameras are pointed on marketplaces, others on pigs, computer labs, outdoors, etc. It's a live video snapshot of a bunch of different places around the world. It also tells you the Country, City and Lat/Long of each feed as they show up.

I wonder how many people who regularly visit these locations know this application exists. I haven't seen my lat/long show up yet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

McCain's soulless posturing on Guantanamo

George Will takes on McCain's problematic posturing on the recent Supreme Court decision.
The day after the Supreme Court ruled that detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo are entitled to seek habeas corpus hearings, John McCain called it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country." Well.

Does it rank with Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), which concocted a constitutional right, unmentioned in the document, to own slaves and held that black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect? With Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which affirmed the constitutionality of legally enforced racial segregation? With Korematsu v. United States (1944), which affirmed the wartime right to sweep American citizens of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps?

Did McCain's extravagant condemnation of the court's habeas ruling result from his reading the 126 pages of opinions and dissents? More likely, some clever ignoramus convinced him that this decision could make the Supreme Court -- meaning, which candidate would select the best judicial nominees -- a campaign issue.

Further evidence that the "culture war" is about facts and not so much about values ( This breaks down (of course) because it ends up being about values related to facts (usually implicit, rarely do people explicitly deny the value of scientific method, for instance).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

short essay on art and faith in The New Yorker

I really enjoyed Winter Light (by Tobias Wolff).

"We like to think of our beliefs, and disbeliefs, as founded on reason and close, thoughtful observation. Only in theory do we begin to suspect the power of aesthetics to shape our lives."

Monday, June 16, 2008

philosophers' soccer

I've seen this Monty Python clip a hundred times but I never get tired of it.
Nietzsche has just been booked for arguing with the referee. He accused Confucius of having no free will and Confucius he say, "name go in box".

Friday, June 13, 2008

habeas corpus and James Yee

Good news yesterday that the Supreme Court restored habeas corpus. From Glenn Greenwald
As a result, Guantanamo detainees accused of being "enemy combatants" have the right to challenge the validity of their detention in a full-fledged U.S. federal court proceeding. The ruling today is the first time in U.S. history that the Court has ruled that detainees held by the U.S. Government in a place where the U.S. does not exercise formal sovereignty (Cuba technically is sovereign over Guantanamo) are nonetheless entitled to the Constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus whenever they are held in a place where the U.S. exercises effective control.

This is great news but it's still disconcerting that this decision was 5-4. These measures are more troubling to me because I've heard, from a lot of people who have a lot to lose (Col. Morris Davis, James Yee, numerous people who were formerly part of the GWB administration), that the majority of the decisions being made with these newly granted powers are politically and not strategically motivated. We know the "war on terror" is a lot of hand waving but even those who believe strongly in using every means possible to go after terrorists are terribly concerned when they come into contact with the specifics of what's being done. Perhaps the GWB administration is doing us a favor by showing how these reversals of long standing principles can go so terribly wrong so quickly. I just hope we have the presence of mind to overturn these things once we get a new administration.


The Hinckley Institute of Politics got the audio of James Yee's talk up on KRCL's audio archive a week or two ago. James Yee is the former army chaplain at Guantanamo who was himself detained and underwent sensory deprivation.

Yee also made it clear that he didn't think the facilities in Guantanamo were going anywhere, no matter who becomes the next president. This is James Yee's last statement before he asked for questions. He was showing slides of some of the things he'd been describing. I suck at transcribing.

"New dental chair, surgical equipment in which prisoners, uh supposedly, according to Michael Moore in his last movie "Sicko". The prisoners supposedly get better treatment than our U.S. service personnel. But I don't think that's the case. Because there are also force feeding chairs in which prisoners who are on hunger strike who deteriorate to less than 80 pounds are force fed through the nose after being strapped into these chairs. Because the mission in Guantanamo is to preserve life, so prisoners who go on hunger strike are not allowed to die. they're forced-fed a tube is lubed with petroleum jelly, like vasoline, shoved down the nose, that prisoner is then fed with a liquid diet. A torturous process that stopped a hunger strike of 130 prisoners down to 4 within two days. After being strapped in these chairs, they stopped their hunger strike."

The full audio ( Hearing mild mannered Yee talk in person, with lawyers and a few military personnel (they came to the talk) was more persuasive to me than all the other stuff I had read on the internet. For people who spend way too much time on the net (like me) it's good to remember that in person interaction has its own, unique benefits.


What I really think the US should be doing with all the resources wasted on the TSA, Homeland Security and the "war on terror" is to track down and monitor every nuclear weapon (oh yeah, something like that would require diplomacy, a word GWB can't even pronounce correctly). Of course we want some safety in our cities but do we really need these sorts of bungling bureaucratizes on high?

It's been a terrible eight years. I'll go back to watching the clock tick, tick, tick until January.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Let that which stood in front go behind,
Let that which was behind advance to the front,
Let bigots, fools, unclean persons, offer new propositions,
Let the old propositions be postponed,
Let a man seek pleasure everywhere except in himself,
Let a woman seek happiness everywhere except in herself.

Walt Whitman
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind."

Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?"

Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains."

John 9:39-41 NASB
Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,-- for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know.

Socrates (Plato's Apology - Jowett)

I once could see but now I'm blind. I was found but now I'm lost.

When I was a child, I used to speak like adults, think like adults, reason like adults. As a man I seek anew the voice of the child.*

Monday, June 9, 2008

"It is more important to want the good than it is to know the truth."

In the fourteenth century, Petrarch rejected the idea of a theoretical and descriptive ethics, noting that reading and commenting upon Aristotle's treatises on the subject had not made him a better person. He therefore refused to apply the term "philosophers" to "professors sitting in a chair," and reserved the word for those who confirmed their teachings by their acts. It is to Petrarch that we owe the following remark, which is essential to the perspective we are investigating: "It is more important to want the good than it is to know the truth." We find the same attitude in Erasmus when he repeatedly affirms that the only philosopher is the person who lives philosophically, as did Socrates, Diogenes the Cynic, and Epictetus, but also like John the Baptist, Christ, and the Apostles. We must note that when Petrarch and Erasmus speak of the philosophical life, they, like some Church Fathers and some of the monks, have in mind a Christian philosophical life. As we have seen, moreover, they admitted that some pagan philosophers also realized the ideal of the philosopher.

During the Renaissance, we see the renewal not only of the doctrinal tendencies of ancient philosophy but also of its concrete attitudes: Epicureanism, Stoicism, Platonism, Skepticism. Montaigne's Essays, for example, show the philosopher trying to practice the various modes of life proposed by ancient philosophy: "My trade and my art is living." His spiritual itinerary led him from the Stoicism of Seneca to the probabilism of Plutarch, through Skepticism, and finally --definitively-- to Epicureanism: "'Today I did nothing.''What? Have you not lived? Not only is that the fundamental point, but it is the most illustrious of your occupations... Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. To know how to loyally delight in our being is a perfection which is absolute, and as if divine.'"

Michel Foucault held that the "theoreticizing" of philosophy began with Descartes, not in the Middle Ages. As I have said elsewhere, I agree with him when he says: "Before Descartes, a subject could have access to the truth only by carrying out beforehand a certain work upon himself which made him susceptible of knowing the truth." (emphasis mine)

Pierre Hadot What is Ancient Philosophy p. 262-263

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Fall of Conservatism?

It seems a bit premature to say the current lame brand of conservatism in the U.S. is falling. For all its faults, it seems oddly resilient. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading George Packer's recent article in the New Yorker (in the print version, thankfully).
When I met David Brooks in Washington, he was even more scathing than Frum. Brooks had moved through every important conservative publication—National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard—“and now I feel estranged,” he said. “I just don’t feel it’s exciting, I don’t feel it’s true, fundamentally true.” In the eighties, when he was a young movement journalist, the attacks on regulation and the Soviet Union seemed “true.” Now most conservatives seem incapable of even acknowledging the central issues of our moment: wage stagnation, inequality, health care, global warming. They are stuck in the past, in the dogma of limited government. Perhaps for that reason, Brooks left movement journalism and, in 2003, became a moderately conservative columnist for the Times. “American conservatives had one defeat, in 2006, but it wasn’t a big one,” he said. “The big defeat is probably coming, and then the thinking will happen. I have not yet seen the major think tanks reorient themselves, and I don’t know if they can.” He added, “You go to Capitol Hill—Republican senators know they’re fucked. They have that sense. But they don’t know what to do. There’s a hunger for new policy ideas.” (emphasis mine)
They might be stuck in the "dogma" of limited government but they haven't even been practicing it while in office (Packer gets into that a bit). This section is all David Brooks, add global poverty and inequality to his "central issues of our moment" list and maybe we've got a good start. The article goes on to describe a few younger conservatives appealing to the older generation to stop pushing the "head in the sand" approach to governing.

Andrew Sullivan has a response to the article. More responses on Packer's recent blog post.

Friday, June 6, 2008

i'm sick -- abscessed tooth

Somehow I got an infection in the gum below a tooth where I'd had a root canal. I finally got some pain medication and antibiotics but I'm still barely functional.

When I'm in a lot of pain I feel like death isn't so bad.


My grandma woke last week in a lot of pain, she stayed lying in bed, crying, for an hour.

She realized, as many of us will, that these bones, this shell, can only heal itself so many times.

The pain she feels now will be with her until the end.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Whitman out of context

I've only really gotten into Whitman recently but that hasn't kept me from taking his lines and using them out of context in the past. Here are the lines I take out of context most.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.

I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Here they are with context--


The past and present wilt--I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?



It is time to explain myself--let us stand up.

What is known I strip away,
I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown.

The clock indicates the moment--but what does eternity indicate?

We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers,
There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.

Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.

I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Were mankind murderous or jealous upon you, my brother, my sister?
I am sorry for you, they are not murderous or jealous upon me,
All has been gentle with me, I keep no account with lamentation,
(What have I to do with lamentation?)

I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I an encloser of things to be.

My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel'd, and still I mount and mount.

Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.

Long I was hugg'd close--long and long.

Immense have been the preparations for me,
Faithful and friendly the arms that have help'd me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.

For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it
with care.

All forces have been steadily employ'd to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.

Walt Whitman "Song of Myself" Leaves of Grass

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Richard Kearney

A friend of mine has been taking some classes from Richard Kearney and has had nothing but positive things to say about him.

As a scholar, essayist, activist, poet, novelist, and television talk-show host, Kearney (pronounced like Carney) seemed ubiquitous in Ireland in the 1980s and through much of the 1990s. Working with Northern Ireland’s John Hume, who became the Nobel Peace laureate of 1998, and Mary Robinson, who would become president of the Republic of Ireland in 1990, he articulated a new and spacious sense of Irish identity, applicable in the North, in the Republic, and everywhere else (“the greatest Irish thinkers,” Kearney wrote, “flouted the confines of geographical and mental maps”), a contemporary redefinition that might allow men and women living in Northern Ireland to choose fairly for themselves either British or Irish citizenship.

Kearney does not draw unflattering distinctions among philosophers. What he describes is a difference between the “existential” philosophers—by which he means thinkers like Socrates, Kierkegaard, and Sartre, who threw themselves into the agora, or marketplace, of ideas—and the “speculative” philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, who systematized philosophical thought and created academies (and in latter days were endowed with chairs). “I’m between these two” traditions of philosophical engagement, Kearney tells me in an interview in his living room, sitting in a deep chair between a bookcase containing more than a few of his speculative works and a magazine rack that holds an anthology of Beatles songs (an acoustic guitar, his, stands in a corner). “If I had to choose, I’d be on the side of the existential thinkers, but”—he adds, as if to say he’s not letting go of his professorial chair—“it’s a dialectic.”

Kearney is often drawn dialogically to those who “can rightly pass” for atheists (as Derrida once said of himself), but he is no atheist and rightly passes for an Irish Catholic, as he describes himself in conversation. In his writings, however, notably in The God Who May Be, he is harder to place:

I would say that if I hail from a Catholic tradition, it is with this proviso: where Catholicism offends love and justice, I prefer to call myself a Judeo-Christian theist; and where this tradition so offends, I prefer to call myself religious in the sense of seeking God in a way that neither excludes other religions nor purports to possess the final truth. And where the religious so offends, I would call myself a seeker of love and justice tout court.

From Kearney's Choice - Boston College Magazine

Monday, June 2, 2008

Whitman on the soul, body, God


I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own
funeral drest in his shroud,
And I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye or show a bean in its pod confounds the
learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it
may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel'd universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed
before a million universes.

And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and
about death.)

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd
by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

"Song of Myself" Leaves of Grass (Project Gutenberg)

When I read this section to Sarah she got stuck on the "Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself." With the light of some of the other lines of his I've posted hopefully it comes across less egotistical because I really think, to Whitman, self and others are cojoined.