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

(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."