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.

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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.





Like a bird on a wire

28 02 2009

Tweet tweet, warble warble, titter twit. . .

Twit.

Yeah, that’s one question I have about Twitter: Does it turn us into twits?

I get it: You can pass along bits of information quickly and efficiently to large numbers of people. This can be useful, as in letting underage party goers know that the cops are coming—and even politically useful, as in letting activists know that the cops are coming. So I’m not anti-Twitter.

But I am skeptical. I awoke to NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday and a conversation between Scott Simon, Daniel Schorr, and some guy named Adam (?). As I was still in the process of rousing myself, I missed some of it (I’ll go back and listen to whole thing tomorrow), but I did get to hear Schorr’s main reservation about Twittering, namely, editing. Editing matters, he noted, not just in cleaning up the language, but in attempting to get the story right. Ain’t much editing happening among the Twits.

Now, one kind of reasonable response to this is to say that while any one Twit may not edit, a kind of ‘mass editing’ can occur, to wit: multiple witnesses to or participants in a particular event may offer alternate versions of the event, either at the same time or after the original Tweet. Yes, there’s the telephone game problem (information is distorted as it’s passed along), but, again, multiple tweets could obviate any distortion. On balance, then, I think conscientious Twits can add to good information about an event.

My concern is somewhat different: What happens to thinking? Twittering sends out small packets of data all at once about a breaking event; where is the reflection about that event? Where is the context, the history, the stories beneath the story? One gets information; does one get understanding?

I’ve already written about the distinction I make between blogging and writing—that I consider blogging draft-ier and less careful than writing—and it seems that there’s another set of distinctions to be made. Twittering, in the main, seems even draftier than blogging, information  on-the-fly (or wing?). Again, this isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t supplant other forms of communication.  Do Twits tweet and move on? In other words, what happens to the event after the event?

Some bloggers crow about the death of so-called dead-tree journalism, but it takes a hell of a lot of resources to be able to cover a story deeply and well. And as a blogger, I freely admit my parasitism on journalism: I need the much-maligned MSM to tell me about the world. But I don’t rely just on newspapers and radio; I regularly turn to magazines and books to drill into a story or phenomenon. Perhaps Twitter could be considered as the opening link to the already-existing chain of information. It’s a clue, a data bit, a passing word which leads to further exploration, to a news story, to multiple news stories, to books.

Do I carry the analogy further? From tweet to a few bars to a whole composition, repeatedly performed?

No, I didn’t think so.

Anyway. I don’t tweet, just as I don’t text. (Texting just seems a private form of twittering; given that I think that any use of Twitter is in the social information transfer, texting seems, mm, useless. I’ll save the justification for that judgement for later—or never.) A coupla’ months ago my friend S. gave me information on Twitter, and it all seemed so exhausting.

It still seems exhausting. But perhaps I’ll go back and look at the info again.

Reflection, leading to reconsideration. Look what Twitter hath wrought!