Friday, December 31, 2010

Whooshing Up

I want to criticize David Brook's column today, but I am not sure I can. His column today is a review of All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. "They take a smart, sweeping run through the history of Western philosophy. But their book is important for the way it illuminates life today and for the controversial advice it offers on how to live.

"In today's secular world, where "there is no shared set of values we all absorb as preconscious assumptions ... we should have the courage not to look for some unitary, totalistic explanation for the universe. Instead, we should live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes that we can feel in, say, a concert crowd, or while engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup. We should not expect these experiences to cohere into a single 'meaning of life.'"

I am sure some obnoxious nerds would argue with Brooks' definition of secular society and say that secularism really means no centrality of religion. A society, however, in which religion is not central does not provide the shared values as opposed to encouraging individual development in a certain context that is broader than the context provided for individual development in a religious society, at least AT THE SURFACE.
But more important is Brooks' attempt to engage with Dreyfus and Kelly's idea of whooshing up. The psychological sensation of excitement (including passive excitement) described as whooshing up is only one of many psychological sensations that people exprerience over their entire lives. If you concentrate on the experience of this feeling, you can easily fall into either the passive destructiveness of laziness (and addiction) or the active destructiveness of enthusiasm for its own sake. Of these, enthusiasm for its own sake is a threat but is also easily countered when it becomes a threat. Laziness (and addiction) are more difficult to counter, but they are also not as obviously threats.

Brooks acknowledges the danger of the active destructiveness of enthusiasm for its own sake, which is in some ways similar to enthusiasm that is based on a unitary, totalistic understanding of the uverise, when he writes "Though they try, Dreyfus and Kelly don’t give us a satisfying basis upon which to distinguish the whooshing some people felt at civil rights rallies from the whooshing others felt at Nazi rallies." The violence that can come from enthusiasm for its own sake can also come from enthusiasm can be fought with force (either the neutral bureaucratic force of a modern state or the enthusiasm of others), but it can also be replaced with laziness and addiction.

Laziness and addiction arise by concentrating on whooshing up that happens passively, without much effort from the person expreiencing or enjoying that whoosh. Are people really pursuing happiness ( to say nothing of following a law of nature) when they go to football game? Brooks tries to address this when he writes about "engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup." This, however, means that people are giving special meaning to certain activities, an intellectual attempt to define their existences independent of whooshing up itself, which can them cause a whoosh up. It would be easy at this point, to suggest that David Brooks is, within the elegant word-count limits of the New York Times, introducing a more nuanced understanding of whooshing up that is more related to the fact that people's minds have other functions than the experience of excitement, but there is another explanation. This is that for the people David Brooks at least imagines as his readers, the people at the top, there is still both a possibility and even necessity of personal meanings in a highly technologized world. But even they should be open to considering life in terms of the sensation of excitement in case they join the remainder of civilization and have nothing left but the bread and circuses of whooshing up.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Moshe Katsev

Moshe Katsev, former President of Israel, has been convicted of the sexual assault of two women. I would not be surprised if Julian Assange, whose legal troubles involve being accused of rape by two women, is looking at this case with anxiety. The important issue is that Katsev and his accusers got the opportunity to present their cases in court and that political influence was not enough to keep Katsev from being held legally responsible for what are said to have been his actions. That being said, I do not claim to know what actually happened between Katsev and these women, but I do know that it is all unfortunate.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Mike Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, has said he is "extremely dissatisfied" with the city's attempts to clean up the snow that has recently fallen. Although streets in the parts of Manhattan crowded with residences and businesses may have been cleared earlier than other streets, there is really no good place to put snow when you are shoveling streets and sidewalks where almost every single square sqaurefoot is so important to so many people that it becomes important to the work of the city. Because there is no good place to put snow in the most important part of the city, it takes a lot of workers and machines to get rid of the snow, either moving the snow quickly to outliying areas of the city or to less crowded areas of Manhattan (like parks.) Because it takes so many workers and machines to clean Manhattan, there are fewer workers and machines who can work in other parts of the city. Because there are fewer workers and machines who can work in other parts of the city, there can be delays clearing the streets in those parts of the city.
My only point in this is to present an arguement that snow-removal is a negative consequence of density. That being said, I do not think that snow on the streets is the most important concern facing people in communitiies like New York in America and around the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


If wikipedia does not reach its fundraising goal for the year it is because Jimmy Wales thought it was a good idea for people to look at his face for 2 months.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Economy and Ecology

Paul Krugman has an interesting essay in the New York Times. The subject is the rise in commodity prices caused by the increasing prosperity of China and other recently poor countries along with droughts caused by unusual weather. Krugman mostly argues with people on the right who have said that this is a symptom of inlation which they say is caused by the policies of the Federal Reserve. This is interesting and true. There is so much unnecessary paranoia about inflation. The Federal Reserve is making money available to try to stimulate economic growth, but because of the weak economy, the money has not been spent in ways that have caused any serious increase in inflation that would discourage those who, like Rush Limbaugh, want Obama to fail, and also those who are highly fearful of inflation because of their deep fear of change or deep hostility to people who can think in abstract terms instead of considering money only as something they can use consistently to sustain and define themselves. Krugman does not discuss long-term risks of inflation by the Federal Reserve making so much money available and negative consequences associated with that inflation, like weakening the predictability which is important for a funtional economy (even for people who are not deeply fearful of change) and redistributing wealth in arbitrary ways that do not at all reflect how far people go in contributing to a market of goods for consumers, but it would be unreasonable to expect him to because there is no reason to give arguments for the people he is arguing against.
What is most interesting, however, is something that is only at the edges of this essay. When Krugman writes that "over the past year, extreme weather — especially severe heat and drought in some important agricultural regions — played an important role in driving up food prices. And, yes, there’s every reason to believe that climate change is making such weather episodes more common" but he does not bother to connect this speculation to what he had written before in the same essay about "As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they’re beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies." As more people drive cars and eat meat, the resulting pressure is not only economic in terms of greater demand for agricultural goods and fossil fuels, but also possibly environmental. As more and more people drive cars and eat meat, there are more cars and cows. As there are more cars and cows, there is more emission of greenhouse gases might contribute to climate change. As long as there is more emission of greenhouse gases from countries like China, and if there are already enough greenhouse gases being emitted to cause climate change, then the only changes in countries like Paul Krugman’s America that could have any effect on climate change are very deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. If the only changes in countries like America that could have any effect on climate change are deep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it may not be worthwhile for the government to impose cap-and-trade or carbon tax programs that only make things more expensive for Americans whose lifestyles or jobs require the emission of greenhouse gases while not actually addressing climate change in any serious way. While one could say, as I used to say, that it is possible that any step in the right direction may be good enough to address aspects of climate change in some way as opposed to eliminating it completely, that possibility may not be probable enough to justify cap-and-trade and similar policies and I only said that in the first place to argue with stupid blowhards. So there!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Medicare and Advance Directives

In a recent post I included as an example of conservative American conspiracy theorizing the belief that Barack Obama was trying to create death panels to encourage euthanasia through the new healthcare law. Obama is now using the regulatory process to issue a rule that Medicare will pay for voluntary advance care planning annually, instead of the version proposed for but then dropped from the health care bill that would pay for it every five years. This does not make the conservative conspiracy theorizing any more outrageous. These visits do not encourage euthanasia. They do not let the government make decisions about the patient's end of life on its own as 30% of people (over 65 years old) believed according to a September 2010 poll. They inform people about their options. It is still inaccurate conspiracy theorizing, therefore, to insist that this proposal is an attempt to kill people.

Maureen Dowd and Patti Smith

I am surprised that Maureen Dowd's column today would write about Patti Smith, a obviously talentless beneficiary of affirmative action for women. Why would Dowd invite the comparison? I suppose neither the friends nor family of either Maureen Dowd or Patti Smith would like my description, which they almost certainly will not read, but the fact is that those are really not good at what they are paid to do.

Friday, December 24, 2010


I believe that blogging can be a good use of time as a way of helping me to develop my thoughts and as a way of sharing those thoughts in the chance that they are noticed and I would offered the opportunity to become a professional public intellectual or at least that I would be able to give the world some worthwhile thoughts. On the other hand, I believe that blogging is not a good use of time because it leads to too much anonymous arguing that is more personal than duelling articles or books or protests back and forth between people who are addressing a general public and less personal than an actual argument between people who know something about each other. Because of this, I would often get too excited on the internet without accomplishing anything. Sometimes I would do the opposite and ignore ridiculous statements and opinions of other people because I did not want to get too excited for no good reason, even if it may have been possible for me to give the world a worthwhile thought.
Still I might as well try to blog to take advantage of the positive aspects of blogging as opposed to getting to excited about pointless arguments.

Biggish Picture

1. Liberalism is the political philosophy that the goal of the state and the law is to maximize freedom, being understood as the ability to act as opposed to a state that is not slavery, for all people, with restrictions on freedom being acceptable only to preserve greater freedom.

2. Conservatism is the political philosophy that the goal of the state and the law is to conserve and promote interests against the maximization of liberal freedom.

3. Conservatism in general is more vague than liberalism because there are so many different interests that people can choose to conserve and promote against liberalism, which itself is only concerned in theory with maximizing of liberal fredom.

4. Once one decides one is not a liberal because one has interests that one wants promoted over liberal freedom, the question is what kind of conservative one becomes. The many kinds of conservatism include attachment to class, to community, to religion, or, although it is not often thought of as being conservative, to nature.

5. The liberal thinks that this multiplication of types of conservatism is evidence that liberalism is true and conservatism is incorrect. "Why otherwise would there be so little consensus about what truth is among the conservatives?"

6. A conservative responds to this that his or her own kind of conservatism is in the same position with respect to all other political philosophies as the liberal is. If liberalism is correct because there is no consensus between all non-liberalisms, then Islamic fundamentalism is correct because there is no consensus between non-Islamic fundamentalisms etc.

7. The liberal argues that liberal societies are healthier, wealthier and happier than conservative societies.

8. The conservative responds that this was not caused by liberalism as opposed to prosperity allowing for the inanity of liberalism to survive and that liberal societies have often collapsed, and that the people in liberal societies are often unhappy because they have interests that they would like to be preserved against the maximization of liberal freedom.

9. The liberal argues that the present is based on past liberalism.

10. The conservative responds that in other cases past liberalism has been abandoned because it was too destructive and that there is thus no reason to believe that present liberalism is a conservative future.

11. The liberal argues that conservatism is heartless and brainless. This is sometimes true. Conservatism attemps to protect interests that are important to people against the interests of other people that may be enabled by liberal freedom. It is a small step from this protection of one's own interests to opposition to whatever is not part of one's own interest. This opposition to anything that is not part of one's own interests is heartless on its own, but it also is a cause the occasional brainlessness of conservatism. The brainlessness of conservatism is its use on conspiracies. In contemporary America, Barack Obama is believed to be born outside America, to be unlikely or even incapable of being pro-American because of some of his largely imagined differences from Americans, to try to take away guns, to try to impose a fairness doctrine on media, to try to establish death panels to encourage euthanasia, while at the same time sharia may become established in the United States and some in America even insist on a Jewish attempt to overthrow civilization.

12. The conservative can reply that heartlessness and brainlessness are neither required for nor unique to conservatism. Not only do liberals rely on their own conspiracy theories, but the clarity of their beliefs makes it easy for them in their hatred of everything that is not liberal to destroy what they decide is not liberal, as was the case in the Soviet Union, China under Mao, Cambodia under Pol Pot, but also makes it easy not to care about anything that is not liberal, as is the case with many, many self-satisfied American liberals now, especially on the internet.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Terrorism in Italy

Two bombs have exploded at embassies in Rome, wounding two people. The authorities suspect Italian poltically radical terrorists and not Islamic terrorists. This has happened in the context of vehement protests by students and the discovery of a defective bomb on the Metro in Rome.
Why is there political violence like this in Italy? One explanation is that there could be political violence anywhere and that in Italy is only worse than other countries as a coincidence. In the United States, for example, domestic terrorism has recently occured in the attack on the IRS office in Texas, the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in DC, and occasional crimes motivated by hatred, often against immigrants. Another approach to explaining Italian terrorism is that that there really is more of it in Italy than elsewhere. One explanation for why this would be so is the established practice of political radicalism in Italy. The fascists first came to power in Italy, largely through intimidation. For many decades after World War II, the communists were one of the largest parties in Italy. In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, there was violent terrorism in Italy. Strikes by labor unions are not infrequent and are sometimes confrontational.
So what can Italy do to deal with this terrorism? One approach is what it is doing now and what is done in all rich countries, to rely on investigation and enforcement of terrorism. This is probably the best approach, but another approach is to examine and attempt to address those roots of terrorism. I will not discuss this approach now because, even if I knew much about Italy, it would take more time and words than I am willing to use on that subject right now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No Labels

The new group No Labels is supposed to discourage "hyperpartisanship." Now hyperpartisanship is bad when it means that people are unwilling to support ideas that are not their own or when it means that people are not willing to compromise at all. On the other hand, hyperpartisanship can be good when it means that people do not embrace bad ideas just because they are not their own idea. This should be completely obvious, but I am concerned that it really is not and that too many people want to show how civil and bipartisan they are. Frank Rich writes "the notion that civility and nominal bipartisanship would accomplish any of the heavy lifting is ... a mindless distraction from the real work." Political movements have goals. To say your goal is only to get to work and deal with issues without too much clarity about what kinds of ways it is going to deal with what kinds of issues, is at best not going to accomplish anything. At worst, it will accomplish the complete centralization of political power around itself, as its own cause too good to share power with the unworthy politicians.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Conversation, Arguing and Silence

Often, I do not bother continuing an argument or flamewar not because the other side is right or even because I do not know what to say to the other side, but only because I do not know what I can say that will make the conversation useful or interesting as opposed to words alone.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

wikileaks iii

Honestly, it is stupid for Gingrich, Kristol and Palin and to a lesser extent for Lieberman to believe that the DANGER (which is a better word than threat for this situation) posed by these wikileaks is enough to justify the kind of legal penalties, non-legal penalties, or even illegal penalties, that they have proposed.

wikileaks ii

There are worse things one can do than cut off a server; for example, cut off a head. That seems to be where other WikiLeaks critics are headed. Sarah Palin said that Assange should be hunted down like Osama bin Laden; Newt Gingrich said that he should be treated as an enemy combatant; and Bill Kristol wants the Obama Administration to think about kidnapping or killing Assange “and his collaborators.” (Kristol doesn’t use the word “kill,” but rather “whack” and “neutralize,” as if some combination of slang and clinical talk made everything all right.)

I though that the right-wing of American politics since January 2009 was all about the rediscovery of America's anti-imperialist heritage. I thought the right wanted a government that was limited in scope. Instead, there are strong attacks against wikileaks from the right. Maybe the basic goal of the right, the desire to advance yourself and to punish people who are not like you, is simply too strong (this is often better than the alternative of approving equally of everything, but that is another issue).


The documents wikileaks recently released by wikileaks are interesting in that they show how politicians and diplomats across the world understand each other or at least how they want themselves to be understood by American diplomats. Similarly, they could make AMerican diplomacy more difficult as politicians and diplomats learn more and more about how American diplomats understand them. At the same time, I do not believe these particular documents are a serious threat to the security of nations like other kinds of espionage may be (including that which is routinely done by American diplomats, often merely to improve understanding of situations and occasionally to harm specific people,). These documents are widely available and much of the information could easily be inferred by people who regularly read the newspaper.
Many American politicians and bureaucrats understand that it would be difficult to prosecute Julian Assange of wikileaks for espionage for sharing these documents, and this whole scandal should and probably will diminish and become less important.

But despite this good sense in public, I find it very suspicious that the Swedish government is moving forward so aggressively in its prosecution of Julian Assange for sexual assault at just this time and would not be surprised if in the future wikileaks or somebody else publishes documents showing that the U.S. government did put pressure on Sweden to do something about his history of sexual assault.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Welcome, to Wido Incognitus. I have decided that the long period of time between my most recent serious blogging, in the sense that I ever blogged seriously, and this is too long to justify returning to that old blog, so I have made this new one. I do not intend to put forth any deeply important insights about the world, but I do hope that writing this leads to better thinking and being, not only for me but for whoever reads it too.

This blog will be mostly about the big picture. I do not want it to be too personal because I do not think that is either interesting or productive, generally speaking. In fact, I would go so far as to say that one of the main challenges of our era is the replacement of the individuality of people living their lives in different ways among each other, with the identity of people pretending that they can select themselves and then talking (or blogging, facebooking, whatever) on and on about this new identity.