motto lotto

Thursday, October 30, 2008

does Nietzsche's morality have space for genuine love?

Most other systems of moral value are other-oriented: morality, after all, is meant to limit our behavior for the sake of others. But, for Nietzsche, others have value only insofar as they may, in one way or another, encourage our own strength. Indeed, given Nietzsche’s will-to-power psychology, it is hard to see how any genuine concern for others can even arise, except as a kind of sickness. If Nietzschean health is a flourishing of drives, each of which is concerned with its own strength and enhancement, then the only way I can will or desire your own flourishing, for your own sake, is if some of my drives are somehow twisted toward the ends of your drives. In other words, some part of me has to be tricked and turned into a pursuit for your own sake. That, technically, is a Nietzschean sickness. But that, on the other hand, is just what love is: a selfless concern for the welfare of another. Nietzsche is free to redefine love any way he likes, of course, but that would not change the fact that love, as we know it, is a disease, in Nietzsche’s view.

The closest Nietzsche’s philosophy comes to allowing for the possibility of healthy love is when a superior individual is so full of power that it pours out in all directions in a flood of noble generosity. But this again is not quite love as we know it, since it is not at all focused on others. It is accidental, and the lucky recipients of this generous outpouring could easily be replaced by others without affecting the attitude of the great soul. My love for you, we like to think, is more about you than it is about me, and that is simply what should not happen, according to the standards of Nietzschean health.

My valuation of Nz’s revaluation - Charlie Huenemann

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The difference lies only in the fact that one stick of dynamite explodes once, but one book explodes thousands of times.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

a good question

"What does it mean to a society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?"

preface to Remix - Lawrence Lessig

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Michael Pollan's open letter to the next president

This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you’ve inherited — designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so — are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food — organic, local, pasture-based, humane — are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform. Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that “this is a conservative cause if ever there was one.”

Farmer in Chief

a muslim's take on the Narnia books

But there was an aspect of Lewis's world which caused me great discomfort. The enemies of Narnia were from a country called Calormen, and we learned more about them as we progressed through the books - especially The Horse And His Boy. These people looked unmistakably like Saracens, medieval Muslims; the Narnians themselves looked like Crusaders. In wanting to identify with the characters, I was torn between a natural desire to be on the side of 'good', the white English children, and a feeling that I was condemned to be in the other camp, the Calormenes, the darkies from Calormen (coloured men?) with their curved swords and spicy food and unmistakable Islamic cultural symbolism. These thoughts caused me discomfort, but I still enjoyed the stories.

One specific example troubled me deeply. Whenever Muslims mention the Prophet Muhammad, they are supposed to proclaim 'Peace be upon him!' as a sign of respect. Whenever the Calormenes mentioned their leader, they always proclaimed 'May he live forever!' in exactly the same tone. It seemed to be a deliberate imitation of the Muslim custom.

It wasn't until my 11+ assessment for the local boys' grammar school that I suddenly realized the Christian religious parallels.

Imran Ahmad on the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the loss of culture and identity


Culture (language) is the primary identity forming force.


Cultures (languages) are being destroyed by the day.


What is being lost is depth of identity or the possibilities for genuine variation in depth of identity.


We keep thinking in terms of those tiny morsels called ideologies and thereby fool ourselves into believing we aren't really losing something so valuable.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." - Orwell

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we're not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there is no reason or excuse for committing thought crime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won't be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak," he added with a sort of mystical satisfaction. "Has it ever occured to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now."

"Except- " began Winston doubtfully, "and then stopped".

It had been on the tip of his tongue to say "except the proles," but he checked himself, not feeling fully certain that this remark was not in some sense unorthodox. Syme, had divined what he was about to say.

"The proles are not human beings" he said carelessly. "By 2050- earlier probably- all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron- they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like, 'freedom is slavery' when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction, Syme will be vaporized. He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.

George Orwell - 1984

Friday, October 17, 2008

why I blog

I'm smart enough to put words together in sentences but not smart enough to realize the utter futility in doing so.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

does blogging herald a golden age of journalism?

For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.

Why I Blog - Andrew Sullivan
Might be a bit optimistic but still an interesting meditation on the medium.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vonnegut around the web today

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.

From a blog called Off With Her Head!

So It Goes: Guillermo Del Toro Discusses His New Take On Kurt Vonnegut’s "Slaughterhouse-Five"

That's Vonnegut's way through it, and Beckett's and Kafka's and Bill Hicks' way through it; it seems to be the way I get through it, too.

Shalom Auslander describing his new memoir (
Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead.

Vonnegut on Chaos
It turns out that the Dandy Warhols recorded an entire album of songs (2003’s “Welcome to the Monkey House”) about a book of Kurt Vonnegut short stories with that title.

I am a scientist. (not-pop jukebox)

joining the commons

I just joined the creative commons network. They started their annual campaign today.

blog action day - spotlight on poverty

Papua New Guinea is but one of many developing countries in a state of poverty, and even the developed nations of the world aren’t free of it. In the United States, 37.3 million people live in poverty, 13.3 million of whom are children. Poverty is a worldwide plague with far-reaching consequences.

There is poverty at home in every country around the world. Perhaps the only system that truly transcends these boundaries and borders is the Internet, a system that gives the citizens of Earth a voice. People become something greater when they act as citizens of the planet and transcend arbitrary borders.

This is the kind of issue that Blog Action Day tackles. These are big issues, important issues, and most importantly, urgent issues. But what makes these issues so suited to the discourse and conversation of blogs is their multi-dimensional nature. There are so many factors, facets, points of view and stakeholders to consider that one book or even one library couldn’t adequately tackle them all.

blog action day unites bloggers to raise awareness about poverty
I just heard about blog action day. If I had heard about it sooner I would have participated in a less lame way. I've got The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs checked out from the library but haven't had a chance to get into it.

the monotony remains

I previously posted about some lady in Australia predicting UFOs over Alabama on October 14. It's the 15th now and it doesn't look like it happened. The aliens must have messed up their communication somehow.

The monotony remains.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

brain in a vat

Source: wikimedia commons

Orwell's Essays

It’s a shame that “Politics and the English Language” is the only Orwell essay many readers know. The essays are the essential Orwell, where his voice is at its strongest and the working of his mind at its clearest. There are too many great ones to put between the covers of a book—which is why a new, two-volume edition of Orwell’s essays, edited by yours truly, has just been published by Harcourt: “Facing Unpleasant Facts,” which gathers the narrative essays, such as “Shooting an Elephant,” and “All Art Is Propaganda,” which compiles the critical essays, like the studies of Dickens and Dalí. I made sure to include lesser-known gems alongside the more famous essays: you’ll find Orwell’s wartime diary from 1940, his dismal recollection of working in a bookshop, his review of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” his brilliant takedown of Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” and a truly obscure piece called “Dear Doktor Goebbels—Your British Friends Are Feeding Fine!”

On November 5th, you’ll need to clear your head of a great deal of accumulated nonsense. I would suggest a long, deep, surprising drink of Orwell.

The Cure for the Campaign - George Packer

Sounds like good advice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"a rather obvious and fundamental design flaw"

But then voting season comes and reminds you that all those Americans that are individually sane and normal tend to be collectively crazy and very odd. And that's when you really notice that you're not in Finland any more.

That's when you also notice that the whole US voting system is apparently expressly designed to be polarizing (winner-take-all electoral system etc). To somebody from Finland, that looks like a rather obvious and fundamental design flaw. In Finland, government is quite commonly a quilt-work of different parties, and the "rainbow coalition" of many many parties working together was the norm for a long time. And it seems to result in much more civilized political behaviour.

Stranger in strange land (from Linus Torvalds' blog)

overheard in SLC

on the street

Biking up the street I saw a kid with a backpack on. He was crying, about to get into his mom's car.

He sobs to his mom, "my life is the worst life ever!"

As he got in and closed the door she said, "well, don't blame me, blame God! It's not my fault if your life is the worst life ever."

at a party

He says, "you're a Ph.D. candidate, your friends probably expect you to know a lot."

She responds, "They don't expect much from me at all. They think I'm just really good at taking tests."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008

confirmation bias

Steve emailed me about this "Talk of the Nation" show on confirmation bias-- how we believe our side by default, even when they're saying false things.

About four minutes from the end of the interview, the person he's interviewing sites a study by Diana Mutz. Steve was especially surprised that people with degrees were the least likely to engage with people who disagreed with them. I dug up what I could find on it from the internets. It turns out that stat is related to the ability of people with degrees to move more easily to a more like minded environment (something I'm unapologetically guilty of). Here's the relevant piece.

Because Americans are so mobile, even a mild preference for living with like-minded neighbours leads over time to severe segregation. An accountant in Texas, for example, can live anywhere she wants, so the liberal ones move to the funky bits of Austin while the more conservative ones prefer the exurbs of Dallas. Conservative Californians can find refuge in Orange County or the Central Valley.

Over time, this means Americans are ever less exposed to contrary views. In a book called “Hearing the Other Side”, Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania crunched survey data from 12 countries and found that Americans were the least likely of all to talk about politics with those who disagreed with them.

Intriguingly, the more educated Americans become, the more insular they are. (Hence Mr Miller's confusion.) Better-educated people tend to be richer, so they have more choice about where they live. And they are more mobile. One study that covered most of the 1980s and 1990s found that 45% of young Americans with a college degree moved state within five years of graduating, whereas only 19% of those with only a high-school education did.

There is a danger in this. Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats.

America's Big Sort (
My initial thought was that perhaps people were realizing studies like this "There's No Arguing With Conservatives" (which incidentally should read, "There's No Arguing With 'Conservatives'") had some weight to them. If the term "conservative" weren't absolutely meaningless at this point, I might consider myself one. I would prefer, where some sort of socialism must be done, that it would be done on a closer to home level-- that allows for pluralism as well as better accountability. The federal government is so distant to us that it's barely more than a concept. I know: something like that could never happen, historically the shift was necessary for civil rights (does that mean it would be the same in the present?), I'm a wishful thinker, etc. I'm just not looking forward to everything being the same.

maps of the "real" world

Here is a Telegraph picture gallery that shows what the map of the world would look like if we look at metrics other than land mass. This is what the world looks like based on war deaths from 1945-2002.

I got pointed to this from Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Update: here's the mondo version of this (