Reason will not save us. Or maybe it will.

13 03 2011

Like wiping an eraser across the land: The New York Times allows you to see before and after satellite photos of the devastation in Japan.

Stunning.

~~~

The planet does not care about us. Nature does not care about us.

Any care in this world begins and ends with us.

~~~

Errol Morris does not understand Thomas Kuhn.

Part of this non-understanding is due to Kuhn; part of this non-understanding is due to Morris.

(I am not the only one who thinks so.)

~~~

Judith Warner confuses the consequences of inquiry with inquiry.

Michael Bérubé is not confused, but did he really not understand the implications of epistemological nihilism?

I am not a genius—repeat, I am not a genius—yet even I, as a 2nd or 3rd-year grad student was able to suss out the political dangers of such nihilism.

I wrote a paper for a course on the philosophy of knowledge in which I (budding-but-not-yet-full-epist-nihilist) noted that the slipperiness of fact was a constant problem which must constantly be confronted. That “fact” and “evidence” and “reason” could be used as weapons meant that one must be ready to contest the deployment of such weapons.

This was a problem for me, for awhile: If everything is up for grabs, how can one move?

I solved this particular problem by moving.

Yes, there’s more, much more, involved than this, but this isn’t the place for an explication of my solution. I brought this up simply to signal my recognition that, yes, this is a problem.

I’ll try to dig out the particular paper, but I believe I used an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which Captain Picard is tortured by a Cardassian; his torturer, in an attempt to break him, wants him to say that there are five lights when there are only four. Upon his release, he turns to his torturer and emphasizes that there are, in fact, only four lights.

Later, however, he admits to Counselor Troi that he did see five lights.

Given that people can be coerced into not seeing what is in front of them—that truth as an intersubjective activity means that it is vulnerable to domination—means that truth is subject to political debate.

Upshot:  those of us invested in particular forms of and inquiries into truth must defend against assaults on those forms and inquiries.

I got this, as a smart-enough grad student, and I’d bet that I wasn’t the only one.

But Bérubé and Warner are shocked—shocked!—that  “it turns out that the critique of scientific “objectivity” and the insistence on the inevitable “partiality” of knowledge can serve the purposes of climate-change deniers and young-Earth creationists quite nicely.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Okay, so that wasn’t very nice. Bérubé  is a lit professor and was busy mining his own particular veins of concern; that’s one of the benefits of scholarship, after all: to forsake the surface and plunge below. Conversely, it was really not such a stretch for me, as a budding political theorist, to have recognized the political implications of anti-foundationalism.

Anyway, Bérubé is now aware that excavations below can lead to instability up top:  “[P]erhaps humanists [read: humanities professors]  are beginning to realize that there is a project even more vital than that of the relentless critique of everything existing, a project to which they can contribute as much as any scientist–the project of making the world a more humane and livable place.”

Just so.

There is more to this story, of course, not least of which is a defense of such excavations given the possibilities of instability; the short version is that the cracks were always there.

The long answer awaits.

~~~

What makes NPR liberal? What makes any media outlet liberal or conservative?

On the Media didn’t quite ask this, but in a segment with Ira Glass (who insists NPR is not liberal), they introduced the possibility that they will ask this question, as well as, perhaps, whether it matters.

Still would have liked to have heard them discuss O’Keefe’s edits of the vid.

~~~

I am old. I like to go fast.

That I put the “I am old” statement first tells you that I blame my age for my hesitations regarding speed.

Whatever.

I took my road bike out yesterday—first time in years—for a coupla’ spins around Prospect Park. Oh, every time I get on this bike I marvel at how quick it is. Unlike my road bike, this baby just sssshoooms when I crank the pedals.

That light narrow frame, those smooth skinny tires, the aerodynamism of the hunched-over posture. . . ack! That light narrow frame means it’s less stable! Those smooth skinny tires are apt to skip across the road! In my hunch I can’t see as well!

Ack!

No, I didn’t wipe out. (I will: I wipe out at least once every biking season, usually because I panic and can’t untangle my shoes from the clips fast enough. I try to have this happen away from traffic.) But the marvel at the speed competed with the concern that things are more likely to go wrong at speed.

Prudence is a fine thing, but so, too, is the exhilaration which follows recklessness.

Anyway, I’d rather not be afraid, and think that the more I ride the road bike, the less anxious I’ll be.

All the shit I have yet to learn and still, all the shit I have to re-learn.

Criminy.





Checking it twice

11 03 2011

Silly me—no, stupid me: for not considering that a James O’Keefe-sponsored NPR video just might possibly maybe could have been. . . edited.

That should have been my first response: Is this even real?

h/t to the commenters at TNC’s joint, especially &chik and his/her link to a critical look at the video at (goddess help me) Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.





Doomed: candy-assed conservatives and sniveling liberals

9 03 2011

Oh, please.

I had a nice long (eh, decently-lengthed) post about the NPR kerfuffle in mind, but the filthiness of my mood is hindering my ability to string coherent thoughts together.

So, lemme just toss a few of ’em out there, and let them scatter as they will.

  1. NPR guy Ron Schiller was dumb. Dumb for not recognizing that the Malign Pranksters are out to get everyone they don’t like. Dumb for not taking into account that NPR/Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds are subject of debate in Congress, and thus making them a likely target for such MP activity.
  2. NPR development staff was dumb for all the reasons listed in 1, and thus for not bothering to get information on a possible donor. (And development people, doncha want as much info as you can get, regardless, if only to make your own pitch more convincing?)
  3. Karma for Juan Williams? Eh.
  4. Karma for Juan William for Vivian Schiller? Eh.
  5. Schiller’s right: NPR would be better off without (i.e., freer) without federal funding.
  6. Schiller’s wrong: It’s ridiculous that the federal government buckles at the thought of liberals working for NPR.
  7. Schiller’s wrong: It’s ridiculous that the federal government buckles at the thought of NPR.
  8. NPR caved. This guy Schiller was out already, and NPR acted like a fucking Oliver Twist orphan before the cameras.
  9. NPR should have gone on the offensive and made a passionate argument in favor not only of public radio, but of public life in general.
  10. No one sticks up for public life in general.
  11. We on the left ought to stick up for public life in general.
  12. Everyone in an open society ought to stick up for public life in general.
  13. Can people who work for public agencies not have any opinions whatsoever?
  14. Can people who work in media not have any opinions whatsoever?
  15. Can people who work anywhere not have any opinions whatsoever?
  16. What about Juan Williams, again? Should NPR have fired him for his Muslims-scare-me remarks? Eh.
  17. How far can any employer go in basing employment and promotion decisions on private expressions of opinion?
  18. Does it matter that Schiller was on the job and expressing opinions?
  19. Does it matter that the opinions Schiller expressed were unkind to TeaPers?
  20. Does it matter that Juan William was not on the NPR job but his other job and expressing opinions?
  21. Why aren’t more people upset at this whole notion that any conversation might be filmed and used against you?
  22. Why aren’t more people skeptical of the Malign Pranksters, especially given their history of distorted editing and criminal activity (as in attempt to bug the office of US Senator Mary Landrieu)?
  23. I’ve been agreeing with Jeffrey Goldberg a little bit too often for my comfort level.
  24. Is there a difference between using undercover video to attack political opponents than to reveal (as in back-in-the-day 60 Minutes) wrongdoing?
  25. Given my strong beliefs in privacy, would it be wrong for me to advocate someone camping out at O’Keefe’s home or office and constantly following and taping him and all known associates?
  26. Given both my strong beliefs in privacy and the necessity of political hardball, is “fighting fire with fire” an appropriate  response?
  27. Given  my strong belief about the necessity of political hardball, is going on the offensive regarding our apparent inability to handle the fact that adults disagree about politics an appropriate response?
  28. Why is the phrase “candy-assed” (or, in G-rated form, “crybaby”) conservative not in wider use?

And those are just the thoughts I could untangle.

Fucking American politics. I mean, really.





OK computer

8 03 2011

This is what I get for not being paranoid.

Okay, so “paranoid” is a strong word; sufficiently cautious, perhaps.

One of my e-mail servers went down and I’ve been unable to access that account. That’s a bummer, one which has been magnified since I didn’t import every last address into my alternate account.

Laziness, blah blah. Yeah, I know.

See, I was smart enough to set up an alternate account, but not smart enough to duplicate the information across the two services. Until the problem (whatever it is) gets fixed, a whole lotta addresses are out of reach.

I could have set up the second account so that mail from the first is automatically forwarded to it, but I prefer keeping the two sets of mails separate. No, there’s no clear dividing line between the types of mail get shunted into each account, but, still, I like them separate.

So I’m not kicking myself for that—I made a decision, after all, one which makes sense to me even amidst this mini-blackout. (Although I may end up creating yet another account and using that as a drop-box. Christ.)

When I was working on my dissertation I was freaked out at the thought of losing chapters. (I mean, I wrote a lot of nonsense, especially at the start, but I wanted to be the one who got rid of something, not my computer.) I made copies of copies on goddess knows how many computer disks (remember those, anyone?) and kept some of these in my office—in case, you know, my apartment burned down or something.

Given the importance of the dissertation, how much work I put into the various chapters, and the circulating story of someone who lost half of her dissertation, well, I considered the investment in 3.5″ diskettes and the time it took to copy that work on to those disks to have been well worth it.

Nothing happened, happily, but the insurance of those back-ups did assure me. I had precious little peace of mind in those days, so one less thing to worry about did matter to me.

Which reminds me: I’m overdue for a copy of my documents on to my external hard drive.

♪ Better safe than sooorrry. . . .♫





Now give me money, that’s what I want

6 03 2011

Dr. Donald Levin feels bad.

The psychiatrist is no longer able to treat patients with talk therapy, is no longer able to meet with them for those regular 50-minute-hour sessions, no longer able to sit and take in the vagaries of human existence. Instead, he must limit himself to 15-minute increments, enough time to write a scrip for meds but not, alas, much time to get to know them, or even remember their names.

As he told a reporter from the New York Times,

“I miss the mystery and intrigue of psychotherapy,” he said. “Now I feel like a good Volkswagen mechanic.”

“I’m good at it,” Dr. Levin went on, “but there’s not a lot to master in medications. It’s like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ where you had Hal the supercomputer juxtaposed with the ape with the bone. I feel like I’m the ape with the bone now.”

I had some sympathy for Dr. Levin. Insurers are stingy in reimbursing all types of medical care, and can be especially stingy in mental health care. Levin has to pay the bills, which means adjusting to a reimbursement system which pays him more and more reliably for those 15-minute increments than it does for the 5/6 hour.

But then I read this:

He could have accepted less money and could have provided time to patients even when insurers did not pay, but, he said, “I want to retire with the lifestyle that my wife and I have been living for the last 40 years.”

“Nobody wants to go backwards, moneywise, in their career,” he said. “Would you?”

My sympathy shriveled.

There is still a nugget of fell0w-feeling: The man has lost a way of life which was both congenial and supported him, and loss is loss.

The shrivel comes in, however, insofar as he made a choice: Psychotherapy or money, and he chose money.

A very practical choice, and not one to be gainsaid. After all, as the article pointed out, a psychiatrist can make $150 for three 15-minute med visits versus $90 for 50 minutes of talk therapy. Levin (with help from his wife, a former psychotherapist), now works 11-hour days and sees around 40 patients per day. They charge for missed appointments, faxed refills, and penalize for missed co-pays.

It’s quite a business they have set up, and the patients who spoke to the reporter seemed satisfied with their relationship to Dr. Levin.

But here’s where the shrivel comes in: Levin chose this business. Not a “free” choice, true, but most vocational choices are not. He could have chosen to continue to practice psychotherapy and forgo the money; he could have chosen to mix psychotherapy with the scrip mill, sacrificing some money but keeping some of the “intrigue” of the therapeutic relationship; or he could turn his office into a full-time scrip mill, in order to maximize financial returns—which is, of course, what he did.

He may lament the consequences of this choice, but, as he noted himself, he wanted the money. More than anything else, he wanted the money.

I don’t begrudge him that. Really. There is nothing dishonorable in what he’s doing, and, as noted, he appears to be helping his clients.

But I also don’t know why I should in any way care about Dr. Levin’s lament that “I had to train myself not to get too interested in their problems”—because doing so would mean he’d spend too much non-reimbursable time with them.

He might genuinely feel bad about his loss, but if so, he’s crying all the way to the bank.





Up against the wall

1 03 2011

He has promised that he will not leave the country, that he will fight to remain in power “to the last drop of blood.”

The last drop of his blood: This man ends  like Ceaușescu, dead against a wall.

This is what he has done to his country; this is what he has done to himself.

Photo: AP