Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tom Elia:
The Democratic Party is not so much a political party anymore as much as it is a public relations firm whose primary target audience is a remedial civics class.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Reason

“You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason—if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his.”

“Then let’s get at those postulates in a hurry. The storm’s due tomorrow.”

Powell sighed wearily. “That’s where everything falls down. Postulates are based on assumptions and adhered to by faith. Nothing in the Universe can shake them. I’m going to bed.”
–Isaac Asimov, Reason (1941)

Friday, June 29, 2007

France: "one of the least popular countries…vanity…arrogance"

Reflecting on the reasons for the drubbing Paris received when she submitted her candidacy to host the 2008 Olympics, Jacques Julliard wrote with perceptiveness and candor:
In Moscow we have been abandoned by our European partners, by our Arab 'friends' and by our African supporters. The plain, unvarnished truth—which the whole political community does everything it can to hide—is that France has become one of the least popular countries on the planet. I have already mentioned its arrogance and vanity. To these should be added the way our rulers presume to lecture the entire world.
Jacques Julliard, "Sur une déculotée," Le Nouvel Observateur, July 19, 2001. The meeting of the International Olympic Committee before choosing the host city for the 2008 Olympics took place in Moscow.
Jean-François Revel, "Anti-Globalism and Anti-Americanism", Anti-Americanism, Encounter Books 2003.

Friday, May 04, 2007

More Jefferson quotes

Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington (January 16, 1787) Lipscomb & Bergh ed. 6:57
The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
Letter to John Norvell (June 11, 1807) (various errors uncorrected)
To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted so as to be most useful, I should answer ‘by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.’ Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits, than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood.
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.
I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time: whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables. General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will &c &c. But no details can be relied on. I will add that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.
Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4. chapters, heading the 1st. Truths, 2d. Probabilities, 3d. Possibilities, 4th. Lies. The 1st. chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The 2d. would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This however should rather contain too little than too much. The 3d. & 4th. should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.
Such an editor too would have to set his face against the demoralising practice of feeding the public mind habitually on slander, & the depravity of taste which this nauseous aliment induces. Defamation is becoming a necessary of life: insomuch that a dish of tea, in the morning or evening, cannot be digested without this stimulant. Even those who do not believe these abominations, still read them with complacence to their auditors, and, instead of the abhorrence & indignation which should fill a virtuous mind, betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them, tho they do not themselves. It seems to escape them that it is not he who prints, but he who pays for printing a slander, who is its real author.
Letter to Thomas Pinckney (May 29, 1797)
Political dissension is doubtless a less evil than the lethargy of despotism: but still it is a great evil, and it would be as worthy the efforts of the patriot as of the philosopher, to exclude it's [sic] influence if possible, from social life. The good are rare enough at best. There is no reason to subdivide them by artificial lines. But whether we shall ever be able so far to perfect the principles of society as that political opinions shall, in it's intercourse, be as inoffensive as those of philosophy, mechanics, or any other, may well be doubted.
Letter to John Adams (January 11, 1817) (sometimes referred to as "Jefferson's Axiom")
What all agree upon is probably right; what no two agree in most probably is wrong.

Bertrand Russell on Communism and Religion

The City of God contains little that is fundamentally original. The eschatology is Jewish in origin, and came into Christianity mainly through the Book of Revelation. The doctrine of predestination and election is Pauline, though Saint Augustine gave it a much fuller and more logical development than is to be found in the Epistles. The distinction between sacred and profane history is quite clearly set forth in the Old Testament. What Saint Augustine did was to bring these elements together, and to relate them to the history of his own time, in such a way that the fall of the Western Empire, and the subsequent period of confusion, could be assimilated by Christians without any unduly severe trial of their faith.

The Jewish pattern of history, past and future, is such as to make a powerful appeal to the oppressed and unfortunate at all times. Saint Augustine adapted this pattern to Christianity, Marx to Socialism. To understand Marx psychologically, one should use the following dictionary:

Yahweh = Dialectical Materialism
The Messiah = Marx
The Elect = The Proletariat
The Church = The Communist Party
The Second Coming = The Revolution
Hell = Punishment of the Capitalists
The Millennium =The Communist Commonwealth

The terms on the left give the emotional content of the terms on the right, and it is this emotional content, familiar to those who have had a Christian or a Jewish upbringing, that makes Marx's eschatology credible. A similar dictionary could be made for the Nazis, but their conceptions are more purely Old Testament and less Christian than those of Marx, and their Messiah is more analogous to the Maccabees than to Christ.
History of Western Philosophy, Book 2: Catholic Philosophy, Part I: The Fathers, Chapter IV: Saint Augustine's Philosophy and Theology

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Martin Gardner on Einstein and Stalin

I have been criticized for calling Einstein "blind" to the realities of Stalinism. Much as I revere Einstein, it must be said that he, like so many other intellectuals of the thirties, made only the feeblest effort to learn the truth about Stalin. Here is a quotation from a letter he wrote to Max Born, and which you will find on page 130 in The Born-Einstein Letters (1971), edited by Born:
By the way, there are increasing signs that the Russian trials are not faked, but that there is a plot among those who look upon Stalin as a stupid reactionary who has betrayed the ideas of the revolution. Though we find it difficult to imagine this kind of internal thing, those who know Russia best are all more or less of the same opinion. I was firmly convinced to begin with that it was a case of a dictator's despotic acts, based on lies and deception, but this was a delusion.
Born's comments are in my opinion just:
The Russian trials were Stalin's purges, with which he attempted to consolidate his power. Like most people in the West, I believed these show trials to be the arbitrary acts of a cruel dictator. Einstein was apparently of a different opinion: he believed that when threatened by Hitler the Russians had no choice but to destroy as many of their enemies within their own camp as possible. I find it hard to reconcile this point of view with Einstein's gentle, humanitarian disposition.
Postscript to "'Bourgeois Idealism' in Soviet Nuclear Physics", in Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus, Prometheus Books, New York, 1981

Friday, April 27, 2007

How much carbon was released for this?

How much carbon was released for this?

How much of an effect will this have on global warming? None. In fact, by totally unnecessary travel, it increased global warming.

This is just an executive's junket disguised as some noble gesture.

Publicity? Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth has gotten more.

Really, this is worthless, like all similar actions.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fascism in America

Jean-François Revel:
Strangely, it is always America that is described as degenerate and 'fascist,' while it is solely in Europe that actual dictatorships and totalitarian regimes spring up.
Jean-François Revel, Anti-Americanism, Encounter Books, 2003, p. 156:
The strange thing is that it's always in Europe that dictatorships and totalitarian regimes spring up, yet it's always America that is 'fascist'.
The Volokh Conspiracy:
I wanted to get the source for the "dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe," so I tracked it down to Tom Wolfe's "The Intelligent Coed's Guide to America," republished in Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine (1976). In the process, I found a more extended discussion that struck me as worth repeating. Here's the relevant excerpt, from pp. 115-17 of the hardcover edition; it reports on a panel discussion at Princeton in 1965, in which the participants included Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist magazine, Günter Grass, and Wolfe:

The next thing I knew, the discussion was onto the subject of fascism in America. Everybody was talking about police repression and the anxiety and paranoia as good folks waited for the knock on the door and the descent of the knout on the nape of the neck. I couldn't make any sense out of it. . . . This was the mid-1960's. . . . [T]he folks were running wilder and freer than any people in history. For that matter, Krassner himself, in one of the strokes of exuberance for which he was well known, was soon to publish a slight hoax: an account of how Lyndon Johnson was so overjoyed about becoming President that he had buggered a wound in the neck of John F. Kennedy on Air Force One as Kennedy's body was being flown back from Dallas. Krassner presented this as a suppressed chapter from William Manchester's book Death of a President. Johnson, of course, was still President when it came out. Yet the merciless gestapo dragnet missed Krassner, who cleverly hid out onstage at Princeton on Saturday nights. . . .

Support [for Wolfe's view that fascism wasn't coming to America] came from a quarter I hadn't counted on. It was Grass, speaking in English.

"For the past hour, I have my eyes fixed on the doors here," he said. "You talk about fascism and police repression. In Germany when I was a student, they come through those doors long ago. Here they must be very slow."

Grass was enjoying himself for the first time all evening. He was not simply saying, "You really don't have so much to worry about." He was indulging his sense of the absurd. He was saying: "You American intellectuals — you want so desperately to feel besieged and persecuted!"

He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.

Not very nice, Günter! Not very nice, Jean-François! A bit supercilious, wouldn't you say! . . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bertrand Russell on Hegel (2)

But this purposeless see-saw, which is all that science has to offer, has not satisfied the philosophers. They have professed to discover a formula of progress, showing that the world was becoming gradually more and more to their liking. The recipe for a philosophy of this type is simple. The philosopher first decides which are the features of the existing world that give him pleasure, and which are the features that give him pain. He then, by a careful selection among facts, persuades himself that the universe is subject to a general law leading to an increase of what he finds pleasant and a decrease of that he finds unpleasant. Next, having formulated his law of progress, he turns on the public and says: 'It is fated that the world must develop as I say; therefore those who wish to be on the winning side, and do not care to wage a fruitless war against the inevitable, will join my party.' Those who oppose him are condemned as unphilosophic, unscientific, and out of date, while those who agree with him feel assured of victory, since the universe is on their side. At the same time the winning side, for reasons which remain somewhat obscure, is represented as the side of virtue.

The man who first developed this point of view was Hegel. Hegel's philosophy is so odd that one would not have expected him to be able to get sane men to accept it, but he did. He set it out with so much obscurity that people thought it must be profound. It can quite easily be expounded lucidly in words of one syllable, but then its absurdity becomes obvious. What follows is not a caricature, though of course Hegelians will maintain that it is.

Hegel's philosophy, in outline, is as follows. Real reality is timeless, as in Parmenides and Plato, but there is also an apparent reality, consisting of the every-day world in space and time. The character of real reality can be determined by logic alone, since there is only one source of possible reality that is not self-contradictory. This is called the 'Absolute Idea'. Of this he gives the following definition: 'The Absolute Idea. The idea, as unity of the subjective and objective Idea, is the notion of the Idea—a notion whose object is the Ideas as such, and for which the objective is Idea—an Object which embraces all characteristics in its unity.' I hate to spoil the luminous clarity of this sentence by any commentary, but in fact the same thing would be expressed by saying 'The Absolute Idea is pure thought thinking about pure thought.' Hegel has already proved to his satisfaction that all Reality is thought, from which it follows that thought cannot think about anything but thought, since there is nothing else to think about.

from "Philosophy and Politics" in Unpopular Essays

Big Bang

From THE ALCHEMY OF THE HEAVENS by Ken Croswell
(page 113):

Popular books claim Hoyle intended "big bang" to be pejorative, but Hoyle disputed that. "The BBC was all radio in those days," he said, "and on radio, you have no visual aids, so it's essential to arrest the attention of the listener and to hold his comprehension by choosing striking words. There was no way in which I coined the phrase to be derogatory; I coined it to be striking, so that people would know the difference between the steady state model and the big bang model."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bertrand Russell on Hegel - the most intellectual joke I've ever read

For [Hegel] the course of logic and the course of history were broadly identical. Logic, for him, consisted of a series of self-correcting attempts to describe the world. If your first attempt is too simple, as it is sure to be, you will find that it contradicts itself; you will then try the opposite, or "antithesis", but this will also contradict itself. This leads you to a "synthesis", containing something of the original idea and something of its opposite, but more complex and less self-contradictory than either. This new idea, however, will also prove inadequate, and you will be driven, through its opposite, to a new synthesis. This process goes on until you reach the "Absolute Idea", in which there is no contradiction, and which, therefore, describes the real world.

But the real world, in Hegel as in Kant, is not the apparent world. The apparent world goes through developments which are the same as those the logician goes through if he starts from Pure Being and travels on to the Absolute Idea. Pure Being is exemplified by ancient China, of which Hegel knew only that it had existed; the Absolute Idea is exemplified by the Prussian State, which had given Hegel a professorship at Berlin. Why the world should go through this logical evolution is not clear; one is tempted to suppose that the Absolute Idea did not quite understand itself at first, and made mistakes when it tried to embody itself in events. But this, of course, was not what Hegel would have said.

from "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives" in Unpopular Essays