Saturday, May 31, 2008

Publication, Potential Publication, Potential Production

A bit of personal good news.

1) My book "Diaphysics" -- what in philosophy would be called a work on metaphysics -- has been accepted for publication. It will be a while before it's out on the shelves, to say the least. I'll let you know when you can put in your orders. ;-)

2) My dissertation "Evolutionary Aesthetics" has been solicited by a German publishing house, so there's a fair chance that it will be published. They have the full document. Cross your fingers on that one.

3) A play house here in Dallas asked to see the full manuscript of my play "The Existentialists" after reading the first 30 pages. Again, cross your fingers that they will love the full play and produce it. I can only imagine the thrill of watching your own work being produced for the first time. With luck I will get to find out how that feels this Fall.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Criminals Running the Country

How on earth can it not be illegal for lawmakers to actually profit from earmarks they themselves offer up for vote? How on earth is it not illegal for lawmakers to be able to profit financially from any law they pass? Talk about a conflict of interest!

Apparently Dennis Hastert was one of them who personally profited. I never liked him and I thought he was the worst thing that ever happened to the Republican party. Now it turns out he was a crook of the worst kind in Congress. The project Hastert was involved with may not be illegal, but it was certainly improper -- no, wait, not improper . . . unethical! He always seemed a little sleazy to me, and now I know why. I think we also know why he wasn't exactly a fiscal conservative.

It seems too that Pennsylvania Democratic congressman Paul Kanjorski earmarked millions for a company run by his family. This is a clear ethics violation, and if it's not illegal, it should be. Such a slimeball should be thrown out of office and prohibited from ever running for anything ever again.

Congressman Ken Calvert, R-CA did something similar to that crook Hastert involving roads near land he owns, so he will be able to directly profit from the increase in land value created by the road he funded with his earmark.

These are just the three uncovered by Fox reporters. WHo knows how many more are out there. Reporters need to look into such unethical practices. People should not be going to Washington to personally profit from money that has already been stolen from the taxpayers. Of course, every tax a lawmaker votes for is a vote for extortion of the worst kind, so I suppose we shouldn't be all that surprised that crooks like these would find other ways to profit beyond the illegal seizures of power they've been doing for decades, violating our Constitution left and right. These crooks should all be thrown in jail.

Truth and the Weak-Willed

People who can't take criticism annoy me (to put it lightly). The worst ones are those who take themselves out of any sort of situation where they could possibly be criticized. Those people are either incredibly weak, spineless people, or they are so incredibly arrogant that they cannot imagine that someone could possibly be disagreeing with THEM! A third possibility: they are both. In the same way that the bully is also a coward, a person who is so arrogant as to believe that their ideas should never receive criticism are people who are spineless and weak and do not actually think their ideas are worth having. The worst thing in the world is for someone to come along and affirm that belief.

If you believe in something, if you truly believe in it, then you should have no fear of defending that belief. And if you are interested in the truth, you won't be afraid to change your mind, either, if you have better information. Perhaps that is what annoys me most about those who avoid criticism -- they aren't interested in the truth. They want to be lied to, to have their delicate egos stroked.

The problem is, what kind of a society do you end up with when people like this are your artists and writers, teachers and leaders?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Classrooms Need Fewer Problems, Not Susan Estrich's Ideas

Naturally, there is a lot of talk about the Kindergarten classroom that voted out the boy with Asperger's Syndrome. Naturally, people like Susan Estrich are outraged and want the teacher's head. Naturally, I'm going to contribute to the controversy.

It seems to be common sense that you should not pick on the disabled. Certainly. Anyone who picks on someone who is disabled is a bully of the worst kind. But are you really going to tell me that 14 out of 16 students in a classroom are bullies? Why, then, would these students vote this boy out?

At 5, the schools haven't beaten the love of learning out of the students yet, so the vast majority of 5 year olds love to learn. They are also annoyed when there is someone around who is disruptive and prevents them from learning. The "inclusion" approach our schools are now taking, where students who once upon a time were in special education classes and not put in with the regular students at all are now included with the general student population, has resulted in class environments where disruption is the rule and students are unable to learn nearly as much as they otherwise could. It is a terrible policy that is only working to create students who hate school even more and produce even less-educated students. These Kindergarteners wanted an environment where they could learn. Susan Estrich thinks they are immoral for wanting that. I think she is immoral for wanting our students to be in an environment where learning is increasingly impossible.

I think having students grouped according to age is the most ridiculous thing in the world as it is -- they should be grouped according to ability, which will allow students to learn more and more quickly. Students who are disruptive should not be in classes with other students. It doesn't matter what the reason is. And it's not "discrimination" to try to accommodate someone who has different abilities than others. The student voted out should have never been in a regular classroom. The school was doing him a great disservice by doing so. Susan Estrich wants to do such children a terrible disservice by pretending they don't have differences which need to be accommodated. Anybody who is not blinded by mindless egalitarianist ideology has enough sense to see that the student voted out will not be able to succeed in a regular classroom anyway. He has needs that need to be addressed, and cannot be addressed in a regular classroom.

Susan Estrich often makes ethically questionable comments all the time in her regular column at Fox News, but this one makes it abundantly clear that her position on most things is unethical. She is supporting a system that is designed to keep the populace ignorant, so that people like her can rule them. It's time we fought against their immoral, hateful vision.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Climate Change on Jupiter

Apparently Jupiter is undergoing some major global climate change. It seems evil capitalists have somehow managed to reach Jupiter and alter it's previously-unchanging, completely stable climate. Perhaps the ecotheists here will go to Jupiter and try to save it. We can only hope.

Counting All the Votes in Florida (and Michigan)

DNC lawyers are now saying that half the Florida and Michigan delegates can be seated at the convention. Naturally, Clinton is protesting, saying that we absolutely must count all the votes in Michigan and Florida. Hmm. "We must count all the votes in Florida." Now where have I heard that before?

Obama's Clarified History

And now for the clarifications from the Obama camp:

It was all a slip. He meant "great uncle," not uncle.

Further, he meant "Buchenwald," not "Auschwitz" -- because "Buchenwald" is SO phonologically similar to "Auschwitz."

Please ignore all past, er, slips of a similar nature.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Obama's Fictional History


So, despite the fact that Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, and despite the fact that his mother was an only child, apparently, Obama's uncle, with U.S. troops, liberated Auschwitz . . . Unless he has an uncle on his father's side (remember that his father and his father's family is from Kenya) who fought in the U.S. army.

Honestly, this is so bizarre I don't even know what to do with it. Is he really going to get away with his kind of lie? My guess is: yes, he will.

Conference-Bound

I just received notice that my proposed paper "Interdisciplinarity and the Language of Emergent Phenomena" has been accepted by the Fund for Spontaneous Orders' conference "Orders and Borders" in new Hampshire. It's very exciting. Below is the abstract that got me in:

Interdisciplinarity and the Language of Emergent Phenomena

The discovery of emergent phenomena by and in various disciplines, from chemistry and physics to biology to psychology, sociology, and economics makes it clear that interdisciplinary scholars who are conversant in various fields, from the hard to the soft sciences and the humanities, are needed. How is the chemical reaction between a sodium and chlorine atom similar to economic interactions among people? What can animal social behaviors tell us about human social behaviors? Are there paradigms that can help us develop an interdisciplinary vocabulary to understand self-organizing emergent systems and their interactions in any discipline as well as across disciplines?

In my paper I will explore these issues with the goal of laying the groundwork to develop a common interdisciplinary language that will allow those studying self-organizing emergent systems in different disciplines to be able to communicate with each other. I will discuss the differences between bottom-up self-organization versus top-down design, selection versus contingency, complexification versus simplification, cybernetics versus control, rules versus laws, as well as information, feedback loops, dynamic tension, connections (as emphasized by sociology) , agents, and creativity. Further, I will show that the world consists of a series of nested and interacting emergent agents, which will help tie the disciplines together by showing their relations to each other. Finally, I will show that interdisciplinary studies is itself an emergent order with the disciplines as its instrumental organizations.

This may seem a great deal to cover; however, these issues are in fact so deeply interconnected that, if we are to understand emergent orders, they must not be too disentangled. Bottom-up self-organization results from information communication, which gives rise to rules and, thus, to internal cybernetic steering of the system through the world. Information becomes communicated in bipolar feedback loops as different entities in the system conflict and cooperate to create an increasingly complex system. All of these terms will be more fully defined and applied to the specific example of the relations among an emergent economic order, corporations, and individuals – whose power law distribution is conducive to self-organization.


Bibliography

Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. General System Theory. New York: George Braziller. 1968

Boulding, Kenneth E. The World as a Total System. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications. 1985

Campbell, Jeremy. Grammatical Man. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1982

Casti, John. Complexification. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1994

Fraser, J. T. Time, Conflict, and Human Values. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
1999

Fraser, J. T. Time: the Familiar Stranger. Redmond: Tempus Books of Microsoft Press. 1987

Holland, John. H. Hidden Order. New York: Helix Books. 1995

Kauffman, Stuart. At Home in the Universe. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995

Kauffman, Stuart. Investigations. New York: Oxford University Press. 2000

Kauffman, Stuart. The Origins of Order. New York: Oxford University Press. 1993
Kessler, M. A. and B. T. Werner. “Self-Organization of Sorted Patterned Ground” Science
17 January 2003

Prigogine, Ilya. The End of Certainty. New York: The Free Press. 1997

Prigogine, Ilya. From Being to Becoming. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co. 1980

Prigogine, Ilya & Isabelle Stengers. Order Out of Chaos. New York: Bantam Books. 1984

Sabelli, H├ęctor. Bios. New Jersey: World Scientific. 2005

Monday, May 26, 2008

Castro Pro-Free Trade?

Hold it, I thought that Cuba was a worker's paradise, where everyone was much better off, where everything anyone needed was free, and flowers bloomed out of Castro's ass. Why, then, is Fidel Castro saying that if Obama is elected and continues the embargo against Cuba, that it will result in starvation in Cuba? Could it be that Cuba needs access to free markets and needs to engage in free trade in order to feed it people? Could it be that Communism is a complete, miserable failure in Cuba, just as it has been everywhere else in the world?

Sounds to me like this is something I can agree with Fidel Castro on: free trade is good for the citizens of whatever country is engaging in free trade.

On a completely unrelated issue: Michael Moore is an idiot.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bob Barr for President


Looks like the Libertarian Party has just selected Bob Barr to run on the LP ticket for President. It Bob Barr a perfect libertarian? No. Will he get the libertarian message out there and garner far more votes than anyone else who was trying to get the nomination would have? Absolutely. I would love it if a purist could do what Barr is going to do for libertarianism, but we have to be realistic. Ron Paul did phase one of getting out the libertarian message this year. Now it's up to Barr to get it out in phase two, this second half of the year.

Republicans: you brought this on yourselves by ceasing to act like Republicans and instead acting like Democrats. If Bob Barr take away enough votes to make McCain lose, then you got exactly what you deserved. The future of the GOP is libertarian, or it's nothing.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Trust

In the newest issue of Scientific American, there's an article on the molecular biology of trust. Research on trust seems to show that people are much more trustworthy when you trust them than they are when you don't trust them. When people think they are trusted, they produce oxytocin, which makes them feel warm toward the trusting person, and want to reward them by being trustworthy. In other words, if you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, they will reciprocate.

What this means is that one can get into a vicious circle, for if you have someone who does not trust people, they will typically not find themselves disappointed in that belief. A person who does not trust people creates untrustworthiness in others. If you expect people to screw you over, they will.

On the other hand, you can stop this vicious circle by trusting. These studies show that people are much more likely to act in a trustworthy manner if you show them that you trust them. Sure, you will sometimes be disappointed and have someone cheat you, but you will be cheated far less if you trust people than if you don't trust people.

Trust is important in another way. Studies also show that countries with citizens who show more trust toward others are generally wealthier than those countries where the citizens show little trust toward one another. It seems to me too that one way of breaking out of the vicious circle of racism is to show trust toward those who hate you. By doing so, you will trigger oxytocin production, and they will feel warmer toward you. Having feelings of distrust toward those who may be oppressive toward you perhaps only makes matters worse. It seems that, indeed, we should love our enemies.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Big Gay Animal Emporium

Well, it seems that, at the very least, homosexuality is natural since, as this article states, the behavior has been observed in several species now. How could such behavior be selected for? The question assumes that behaviors are one gene = one behavior, which is patently false, and it also assumes that sexuality is entirely black and white in nature, which it is not. We need more research on animal sexual behavior that is uncolored by such mutually exclusive labels as homo- and heterosexual.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prayers for Ted Kennedy

Though I disagree with Ted Kennedy on practically everything political, my prayers nonetheless go out for him. I hope he is able to recover from the newly discovered brain tumor. Cancer transcends politics. I wish him good health.

Monday, May 19, 2008

On Literature and Health

My posting On Literature and Health can be found at The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture's blog.

Solutions, Obama?

"We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK," Obama said at a rally in Oregon.

1) And what, exactly does Obama propose to do about it? The only reason to bring up an issue or set of issues like this is if you have an idea for a solution. So what could be some solutions? Is he planning to ban SUV's? Tax them more? ANd what does he mean by we can't "eat as much as we want"? Does he expect us to cut back to near-starvation levels? Does he have a plan to ensure that we do? What is his plan to prevent us from eating "as much as we want"? If this is a real problem, then he must have a solution in mind. And what about keeping "our homes on 72 degrees at all times"? What is his solution there? To install regulators in our thermostats so the government can decide at what temperature we should have our houses at (don't laugh, it was proposed in California)? If these are problems, he must have a solution -- and his being a Leftist Democrats, I guarantee you that those solutions are government-oriented.

2) Despite what he thinks, I don't think other countries actually think all that much about what Americans are doing or how we conduct ourselves in our own homes. And even if they do, who cares? Should we modify our activities just because someone somewhere might disapprove? Just because someone disapproves of something, that does not make that thing wrong to do any more than just because someone approves of something, it is the right thing to do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Holland's Hateful Anti-Hate Speech Law

In the Netherlands, a cartoonist was arrested for violating the Dutch hate speech laws. In the Netherlands, you cannot insult people on the basis of their race or beliefs. Let's deal with the latter first. If you can't insult people based on their beliefs, you cannot be a satirist, which this cartoonist was. Can't be a standup comedian, either. Insulting what people believe is the cornerstone of satire and standup. Further, it put a lid on any sort of ideological disagreement, as your disagreement can be interpreted as "insult." When you silence people for insulting belief, you have paved an excellent road to tyranny. As for insulting someone based on their race, that would, again, put many standup comedians out of work -- people like Chris Rock and Carlos Mencia. I think the world would be a much worse place if those two were silenced. And if someone insults someone based on their race or religious belief in such a way that it's clear that the person doing the insulting means it to be harmful, then it should be the audiences, including their employees, who refuse to have anything to do with them, and thus run them out of business, not the government. Never the government.

The Dutch need to beware. They are paving the road to tyranny. I find this especially heartbreaking considering their past.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

RIP Robert Rauschenberg

Now that Rauschenberg has died, perhaps we can move beyond (be finished with) his kind of late Modernist/postmodern art. Some of his works were interesting. Some were clever. But if we judge him by his effect on art, I'm not sure how well he'll be judged. Naturally, everyone's throwing in their two cents' worth, from Left to Right. His iconoclasm will undoubtedly be praised -- but what is praiseworthy about attacking what is at the very center of art? In the end, praising one's iconoclasm is praising one's hatred for beauty.

Over on TCSDaily, there is an interview with Tom Wolfe who admitted that artists create for the same reason as God created: for their own glory. This is perhaps true enough. The artist does in a sense pull works out of "airy nothingness" (Shakespeare). More, artists seem compelled to create. And what are they creating but parts of themselves? An artist's art is a reflection of his or her soul, whatever else it may be. More, it is also an attempt to transform the world to reflect the artist him- or herself -- to approve of the things the artist approves of, to condemn the things the artist condemns, to see the world the way the artist sees it. That can be comic, tragic, or romantic, beautiful or ugly, serious or nonserious.

Who, then, was Rauschenberg? And what kind of world was he trying so hard to create?

John Edwards: Prom Queen Wannabe

Is anyone really all that surprised that John Edwards endorsed Obama? Or that he did it when it was pretty safely clear that Obama had sewn up the nomination? He's a little slut that way: trying to find out who the popular kid is before he goes to bed with them. Trying to get another VP slot, seems to me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wearing Myself Thin

In case you're wondering why my postings have gotten shorter, it's because I've been spending a lot of time working on setting up The Emerson Institute. I also have to come up with something once a week for The Prometheus Institute. So I haven't really had a lot of time to formulate ways of making fun of Obama for saying there are 57 states.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stealth Bomb Myanmar (with Aid)

I hate being right about things like the aid situation in Myanmar. We should stop begging those thugs running the country to take our help and start stealth bombing the country with aid. And we should put on the boxes, "This is what your government tried to keep away from you."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Not-So-Brave Art

Greg Gutfeld gets it exactly right in talking about the making of so-called brave movies. This applies equally to "brave" art. Next he'll be putting out a polemical film about how bad racism is -- well, duh! But what more can you expect from Oliver Stone's brand of mealymouthed Leftism.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture

It is now official. The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture, Inc. is now in (nonprofit) business. The web site is currently under construction, but the blog is up and running. Our goal at EIFC will be to work to transform the culture through the arts and humanities to make it more receptive to free market ideas. I believe in bottom-up self-organizing systems, and EIFC is designed to change the bottom to change the top.

Friday, May 09, 2008

3rd World Corruption -- Sponsored by the UN

The government of Myanmar has seized the aid the UN sent them -- to sell, no doubt -- while rejecting direct aid from the US. Now, what could be the difference between US and UN aid? Could it be that the US will send troops with the aid to make sure it gets to the people, while the UN will just stand aside and let people get away with murder and theft?

Perhaps the fact that every 3rd world country in the world has a government like Myanmar's is why they are 3rd world countries.

Democrats' Identity Politics

The Democrats' identity politics and insistence that we separate ourselves into our own little groups is coming back to haunt them. While Republicans have ideological unity, the Democrats have attempted to make a coalition of different groups, while trying to keep them different groups. The consequence is that they now have a situation where if Obama wins, the Democrats will likely lose a large number of white union and blue collar workers and Hispanics, while if Clinton wins, African-Americans and Marxist intellectuals will be lost (well, perhaps not the latter, who will still turn out to vote even if their candidate wins). Paul Begala rightly pointed out that the Democrats can't win with the people attracted to Obama: "eggheads and African Americans." Indeed. Clinton seems to be attracting the voters who have been known to vote Republican in the past, and if she doesn't win, there's a good chance they will go vote Republican -- at least in the Presidential race. But if she does win, African-American voters might just stay home -- and Democrats will lose not just the Presidency, but perhaps also the Congress.

On the other hand, the Democrats' divisive, racist identity politics has done a wonderful job of keeping two groups -- African-Americans and Hispanics -- who do not like each other and whose political ideologies are much closer to that of the Republicans (both are socially more conservative, and African-Americans show high support for things like school vouchers) than to the Democrats. Somehow, the Democrats have managed to use racist ideologies like identity politics to convince minority groups that it is the Republicans who are racist. But it is Democrats who typically judge people based on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Just Say "No"

Brattiness among children has gotten so bad, that Oprah has done a show about how saying "no" and disciplining your children is how you actually show them that you love them. Good for her. I hope this understanding spreads.

Postmodernism's Paranoia

Humans have a deep need to believe in something outside of them affecting (controlling) the world. This in part comes from the fact that humans are social mammals, and social mammals all have leaders. WIth our more powerful imaginations, we imagine that there are things which control the world, thus making us less responsible for what happens. We are a naturally paranoid species.

THis first came about in the belief in natural spirits. Sickness was demon possession. This later was transfered to the gods, who were oftentimes in opposition to each other, so it was hard to determine what side to choose (a problem Socrates points out in "Euthyphro"). Still, they were out there, and you had to choose, or face the consequences. Sometimes you faced the consequences precisely because you chose (consider Euripides' "Hippolytus"). This problem was solved with monotheism. There was one good God running everything, and one bad one trying to mess up his work. When people started becoming atheists, they didn't shed this deep-seated need for something out there to appear to control them. Thus, early atheists embraced statism, and turned the state into God. Postmodern atheists, who no longer have faith in the state as God have embraced the Panopticon (as Michel Foucault predicted they would in his work by the same title). Belief in the panopticon makes one paranoid and distrustful of practically every human achievement, believing such achievements were and are part of an oppressive power structure designed (by whom?) to keep people down -- particularly women and minorities (for what reason? -- Who knows?). This is what happens when you have nothing to believe in, find the world utterly meaningless, and embrace nihilism.

Of course all of these religious forms accept that there must be someone out there controlling things. We need to move beyond this belief and shed our paranoia. The world is not a simple system controlled from the top-down; it is rather a set of nested, bottom-up, self-organized complex cybernetic systems. We try to impose the first on the second in our forms of government, and even try to make God out to be a control freak. To do so will be to find ourselves more in tune with nature as a whole, freer by recognizing the emergent naturalness of freedom, and thus happier.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Myanmar Government Murders Its Citizens Through Neglect

Dear postmodern theorists,

Can you please explain to me how the government of Myanmar is in any way just as good as Western-style governments when they seem determined to do everything in their power to ensure that the maximum number of people die there after the cyclone? If you can justify that position, you are as morally corrupt as that government.

Postmodernism is over. Time to move on to reality.

Happiness

Apparently conservatives (in the American sense of the term) are happier than Leftist because they have a more factually accurate view of human nature. That's not quite how it was reported, of course, but that's what it boils down to. The Left does not understand that people are literally not equal -- some really are smarter than others, some really are more physically able than other, some really are harder workers than others, etc. People like me understand that people are not literally equal, but should get equal treatment under the law -- meaning all laws should apply to people equally. If it turns out that that is impossible, then the law likely should not exist. Everyone should receive equal benefit of the law. How many laws fit that criteria?

But to get back on topic, the Left are unhappy because the world does not and never will live up to their unrealistic expectations. As they learn that, they turn bitter and nihilistic and begin to attack all the best, most meaningful, more valuable things in the world. Let me let you in one something: that certainly won't make you happy. Time to grow up and learn how the real world actually works. Then you might actually find ways of making it better -- and be happy doing it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Al Gore's Assault on Reason

I laughed when I first saw several months ago the title of Al Gore's new book: The Assault on Reason. Naturally, coming from Al Gore, I thought it was a how-to book. But then it seems that Gore was actually making an argument for reason, which he finds under assault (which is true). Somehow he fails to see that he is as guilty of this assault as anyone else. He uses fear and exaggerated claims to garner support for "doing something" about global warming, and has shown no interest in having any sort of discussion with anyone who disagrees with him. Of course, Gore is the kind of egomaniac who believes that anyone who doesn't agree with him cannot possibly be rational.

I would certainly welcome more rational, logical, fact-based discussions of issues. I suspect, however, that if such were to occur, Leftist policies would be the ones to suffer most, as they are not based on the facts of the world as we know them to be. Leftists think the world is a zero-sum game, a pie that must be divided up, with some getting more, others getting less. What they and too many others do not understand is that this is not at all how the world works. The world is not running down -- it's becoming more complex, more creative, and is growing. Like in an ecosystem, an economy is strongest when all its members are healthy. The world is a bottom-up self-organizing, growing, creative, cybernetic, emergent system. This is true of the universe at large, living things, the ecosystem, brains, societies, and economies. Malthus was wrong. All the evidence to date shows that, if we have a naturally emergent economic system rather than a centrally controlled economic system, Malthus' predictions are completely wrong. He is only right when we have a centrally-controlled socialist entropic system. If we were to have an actual, rational, logical, fact-based discussion of issues, most of what Al Gore believes would be proven false, illogical, and irrational.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Poetry

We forget that poetry had its origin in song. The Iliad and The Odyssey were sung (can you imagine memorizing those songs?). The Greek tragedies too were sung. So rock music, blues, etc. are much more originary in their poetry than is what we now consider to be poetry.

Unless you understand what poetry is, nobody should take you seriously as a poet -- least of all yourself. In the same way that if you can't draw a picture of something someone could clearly and obviously recognize, you're not an artist no matter how much paint you fling around, if you can't write a sonnet or some Sapphic verse, you're not a poet. Artists have to know the history of their art if they're ever going to be worth anything. Even such Modern poets like Ezra Pound, who famously said, "make it new," understood that. So has any poet that has ever lasted. Walt Whitman didn't write free verse because he couldn't write a sonnet (which seems to be the case with most "poets" these days), but rather he wrote in free verse because, having mastered the forms, he wanted to push poetry into new territory. As an artist, if you don't know where you came from, you are lost. The fact that poetry has its origin in song is vital to understanding poetry at all and thus to making poetry worth reading. In the same way, it's important to understand that your egg came from a chicken if your plan is to make more chickens. But your scrambled egg analogy is apt: it doesn't matter what animal an egg comes from if you're going to mess it up, break it down, and chew it up -- the end result is crap. I prefer chickens.

So what is poetry? How can we identify it? Can we talk about its essence? You should at least have read a sufficient amount of what has been identified as poetry -- both past and present -- to have created some sort of concept, even if you can't create a scientifically acceptable definition of poetry. How else will you be able to tell the difference between poetry and prose? I've read poetic prose and read prose broken up into lines. If you can't sing it or dance to it, it's probably not poetry. A lot of prose has been mistakenly called poetry -- but if we call everything poetry, then poetry indeed has no meaning or definition.

The issue of definitions goes back to Socrates (and likely before). Remember that Socrates was always asking experts to define the thing they were expert in. Every time he would do so, he would find them giving him examples of, say, justice or piety or love, but they could never define the thing itself, which Plato developed into a theory that such Ideas or Forms were external to the world, which was just a poor set of shadows of the real. Nietzsche observed that we create ideas or concepts by looking at a set of unidentical similar objects and subtracting away the dissimilarities. Wittgenstein observed that this results in objects being able to be conceived and reconceived due to "family resemblances." A shoe is not a hammer, but it can be used as a hammer, so when you reconceive of a shoe as a hammer, you are saying it has a family resemblance to hammers.

All of this is to say that if we are trying to come up with the Platonic Form of poetry, we will never succeed, since such a form does not exist. However, we should be able to look at a sufficient number of poems and be able to work out their family resemblances. Along those lines, your definition is a good start. Can we add to it? Subtract from it? The use of tradition as a criteria (and I think one should have that as a criteria in the arts) suggests that we should put quite a bit of weight on past "verbal happenings." If we look at poetry around the world, such works have repeated structures (whether rhythm, rhymes, parallelism, etc.) and are broken up into lines that take optimally 3 seconds to speak -- not coincidentally, our short term memory works best in 3 second chunks. These are typical, but are they necessary?

Let's also return to the issue of song and poetry. There is no question that poetry began as song -- but there is equally no question that there was a bifurcation, resulting in the two traveling down somewhat different (though periodically intersecting) paths. Where does one draw the line? Many poems can be sung -- does that make them songs? I have sung my daughter's Dr. Seuss books to her (had to throw some variety in, since I read her the same books every single day), but I don't think Dr. Seuss intended his books to be sung. I suppose we could look at songs as "low art" vs. the "high art" of poetry -- especially modernist and postmodernist poetry, which is read (and sometimes enjoyed) almost exclusively by overeducated people like me -- but I don't like such distinctions, as it creates an unnecessary bifurcation in the art. A great work of art is one where anyone can enjoy it, but the more you know, the more you appreciate the work, one where repeated readings/viewings/listenings result in your coming to understand the work more and more. Perhaps by reconsidering song as poetry and consciously including it in the tradition, we will come to a better understanding of what poetry is, and become better poets ourselves.

Cybernetic America

In the latest Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria suggests that Pax Americana is over. Not because American power is falling, but because the rest of the world is beginning to rise up and make an economic, social, cultural, etc. impact. The U.S. continues to be politically and militarily dominant, but the rest of the world is beginning to catch up in everything else. Which is a good thing. Also, it could put the U.S. (if we're smart and wise) in the position not to be the leader of the world, per se, but in a more cybernetic position. The word "cybernetics" comes from the Greek word for "steersman." A steersman doesn't have complete control over something, but rather tries to guide the system he's in charge of as it moves through a current that is in no way under the control of the steersman. The world is increasingly out of our control (perhaps it was never really under our or anyone else's control -- it's just now become clear that it's not), but we can encourage and influence. And we can do so by providing the world with a positive model. This will mean that we will have to overcome many of the negative elements in our own country, which are oftentimes actively seeking to reduce our influence and attack Western civilization for being racist, sexist, homophobic, and oppressive (though the West has been the least of each of these of any other culture for a long time, and continues to be so). We should make ourselves to be the target which everyone aims at if they want to be successful. As Aristotle says, virtue aims as the beautiful -- thus, the U.S. should be as beautiful as possible, so the rest of the world has something worth aiming at. To do this, we will need to reverse direction on a lot of issues. We will have to go beyond the culture of nihilism which rules our arts and humanities works. We will have to strengthen our property rights protections and reverse programs which work to do little more than make life worse for our poorest people. We will need to radically reform education and get beyond the romanticism which rules or educational system. We will have to recognize all the good we have in fact accomplished, while continuing in our grand tradition of self-criticism (a tradition which has helped to make us great, though you have to be careful that you don't move from constructive criticism, which works to make you better, to destructive criticism, which is only intended to tear you down and keep you down). We need to a culture that makes works of art, literature, and philosophy that is valuable, meaningful, and beautiful. By acting as a lighthouse, we can work to steer the rest of the world toward greater peace, prosperity, and love of virtue, value, meaning, and beauty.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

99 Luft Balloons Go Bye

It's nice to know that the Puritan spirit is alive an well in California, where they plan to ban mylar balloons. Why do I accuse them of having the Puritan spirit? Because, as the old joke goes, "A puritan is a person who is haunted by the fear that someone somewhere is having fun."

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Sooreh Hera

The situation surrounding the display of the work of Iranian photographer Sooreh Hera in a Dutch museum raise several questions regarding art, religion, and freedom of speech. First, let me make some comments on the work itself, which can be seen here. Then I will talk about the religious issues. Finally, I will talk about freedom of speech and Western culture.

To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of photography as art. You have to really do something spectacular for me to even agree that a photograph is art. Any idiot can take a picture, and with a sufficient number of photographs, any idiot can take a great photograph. The same cannot be said of painting, sculpting, acting, writing poetry, or any of the other traditional arts. However, that having been said, there are a few ways one can push a photograph over the top: 1) through effects that can only be accomplished through the use of a camera and/or photograph development, or 2) through arrangement, in which case the arrangement itself is the art, while the photograph works to record the work. Take a picture of a mountain or some trees, and as far as I'm concerned, it's not art. That's an example of something anyone can do -- and you don't have to have any special talents to do it. With these criteria, Hera's work fits into the second category of photography as art, and it is precisely the subject and arrangement which is causing all the problems.

Personally, I find Hera's work to be boring. She's trying too hard to be shocking, and when someone tries to be shocking, most of the time the only thing they manage to do is create something that isn't all that interesting after the first time. I do find this photograph to be quite interesting simply because of the split tan. The backwards tie also reminds me a bit of several of Magritte's paintings, where emphasis is directed toward the head (or lack thereof). But the last set of pictures, where she uses backward-worn masks, itself an interesting idea, is where the problem lies. I like the idea of the backward-worn masks, but the use of Muhammad and Ali makes it clear that she was more interested in the shock element rather than the artistic one. Which is a shame, because she takes away from what she is doing artistically.

Now, as a propaganda piece, she has done exactly what she wanted: shocked people and challenged their beliefs. I have no problem with that, but let's call it what it is: propaganda. When the message is the point, we have propaganda, not art (no matter how artistic that propaganda may be). We can also have propagandistic art, where the point is the art, with the message secondary to and submissive to the artistic elements, but I don't think that's the case with Hera's work. Not that this can't be debated, of course. But her explanation of what she did and why suggests it was intended as propaganda first, art second.

So certainly Muslims have as much a right to be offended by this piece as Christians have to be offended by Piss Christ. The difference seems to be that Christians in the 21st century are much less likely to kill you over offensive work which insults the religion than are Muslims. However, if you consider the fact that Islam is currently in a Medieval mindset, all we have to do is look to the way the Catholic church reacted to such works to understand why they react the way they do. Not that this excuses murder or even threat of murder, but it does help us understand what we are facing, and why we in the West both do not react this way and are flabbergasted when others do.

That being said, Hera is working and showing in a Western country. Should she go out of her way to offend someone's religious beliefs? It depends on whether or not you think she's being brave or just being a jerk. Should she be able to offend someone's religious beliefs without facing a real threat of being murdered? Definitely. We have to defend her right to say what we may nonetheless find offensive. Those who are offended may feel free to engage in any activity against her that does not involve either force or the threat of force, such as picketing or boycotting the places where she shows, and we should support those people's right to freedom of speech as well.

When we say something is offensive, it is we who are taking offense. The person is just doing what they are doing. It is our interpretation of what they are doing that result in our taking offense or not. Thus, you are the one responsible for being offended at something, not the one whose work you are offended at. So offense is something that shouldn't even be actionable, let alone something that gets you killed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Global Cooling Over Next Decade

In a news article in the upcoming issue of Science, Richard Kerr reports that Noel Keenlyside of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Kiel, Germany, and colleagues discovered that it is likely the globe will experience cooling over the next decade or so as changes in ocean currents affect the climate, but that they expect anthropgenic warming to continue afterwards. The part of this article that really caught my eye, though, was the Keenlyside et al actually used initial conditions of the oceans to make their predictions while, as the author pointed out, long-term forecasters don't bother with initial conditions. Don't bother? How can the field that discovered the importance of initial conditions and laid the initial groundwork for chaos theory not take initial conditions into consideration? We know that even the tiniest variation will result in wildly different outcomes -- especially over the long term. In light of what Edward Lorenz (who recently died, may he RIP) discovered, how can anyone who expects to be taken seriously when making forecasts of climate not take initial conditions into consideration? Worse, how can anyone take them seriously?

My guess too is that they ignore plenty of relevant factors, like sunspot activity, which is at the lowest levels in 400 years -- since what was called "The Little Ice Age."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

All Souls Are the Same

In light of Rev. Wright's racist "Christianity," I thought we should take a look at a poem by William Blake on the issue of the nature of the soul and race:

The Black Boy

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but oh my soul is white!
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And, pointed to the east, began to say:

"Look on the rising sun: there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives His heat away,
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

"And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

"For when our souls have learn'd the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear His voice,
Saying, 'Come out from the grove, my love and care
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice',"

Thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy

I'll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father's knee;
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.