kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Do As I Say?

President Ford is no longer with us; he seemed like a nice enough fellow, and clearly Homer Simpson got along with him much better than George H.W. Bush.

We are now in the phase of saying wonderful things about him--he healed the nation, he was a man of integrity, he was a fabulous human being. Perhaps. On the other hand, he was pretty much of a non-entity, helped Reagan figure out precisely how to get the 1980 nomination, became somewhat of a laughingstock with his "Whip Inflation Now" buttons, and historians and others argue about the Mayaguez incident. I don't have any particular truck with him, but when the history of this century is written, it will be abundandtly clear that another figure who died this week--James Brown--will be of vastly greater importance.

I'm more interested in what our current President had to say. Here are the quotes and paraphrases, with a brief remark following:

Former President Gerald Ford will forever be remembered for helping to "heal our land" following the Watergate scandal.

Our President, on the other hand, has done little but generate and exacerbate the genuine hostility that exists in the body politic, by ignoring environmental threats, by acting as if Christians have a special route to the truth, and by questioning the patriotism of those who criticize his Administration. Thus we have, as we did with Nixon, wounds badly in need of beng healed. Thus Bush seems to have followed Nixon by a) campaigning on a unity theme (remember Nixon's "Bring Us Together"?)--"I'm a uniter, not a divider" and b) doing almost everything imaginable to violate that theme.

Bush praised the former president for using common sense and "quiet integrity" to restore the nation's confidence.

Our President, on the other hand, has shown little common sense and less integrity, by invading a country that was not much of a threat, inflating whatever threat there was, changing the reasons from day to day for how he dealt with that threat, and then having, evidently, no clue how to deal with Iraq after militarily deposing Saddam Hussein, has disregarded much of the advice (and common sense) and chosen to escalate the US commitment to the war. People on the right don't like the comparisons between Iraq and Viet Nam, and the analogies aren't perfect, but how long until we hear that we have to destroy Fallujah (or Najaf, or even Baghdad) in order to save it? Nixon move number two.

"The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration.

Our President, on the other hand, has indicated that torture, illegal wiretapping, suspension of habeas corpus, and extraordinary rendition are his, and his alone, to approve--so much for "honorable conduct." W. confuses consistency with character; Emerson told us all we need to know about a foolish consistency. Duty, consistency, and resolve all sound like characteristics of a good leader, unless we look at the ends to which they are directed. Then they start to look like stubbornness, an unwillingness to look at the real issues, and a borderline paranoiac perspective on views coming from outside one's own perspective. Nixon move number three.

"With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency," Bush commented.

Our President, on the other hand, is responsible for the integrity of those who, for instance, choose to denigrate the military service of those who actually served in country; those who question the patriotism of critics; those who accuse journalists of being fifth-columnist terrorists; those who continued, long after it was plausible, to suggest links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and those who were willing to leak names and information as political payback. Our President had helped wound our land, and drawn down sharply whatever reservoir of good will and public confidence that had been extended to the presidency, most saliently after 9.11. He has shown little or no integrity, little or no common sense, few if any kind instincts; he has failed to heal our land and failed to restore public confidence in the presidency. Nixon move number four.

Evidently, W. didn't listen to what he himself said about Ford; the contrast is striking with Ford, and the similarities apparent between Bush and the man Ford replaced. The difference is that while Bush and Nixon may have shared the meanness, the pettiness, and the vindictiveness, Bush lacks what Nixon did have--a global vision, a sense of realism, and the political intelligence to try and reach those goals.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Now that I'm going to publish my own book, I still try and humor those who have done the same, by occasionally picking up some volume to see if they have what it takes. Here's the recent stuff.

Thomas Perry; Nightlife

Perry's best books--Island, Butcher's Boy, Metzger's Dog, and the Jane Whitfield series--are quite good. His characters tend to be smarter than you (and me), and have remarkably keen senses of what is going on around them, which is, generally, what keeps them alive. Jane Whitfield, for instance, is a woman who helps folks disappear (from the Mob, a homicidal spouse) and does a bang-up job of getting all the myriad details just right to be successful. It is something worth noting that such a strong and independent female character--much more admirable, in my view, than V.I. Warshawski, for instance--was created by a man. Perry writes very well, has an excellent eye for detail, and his best books really are, as they say, hard to put down. I read this one in about two settings; unfortunately (because I'm always looking for a new one) this wasn't very good. It is about a female serial killer being chased by a female cop--there seems to be some kind of Doppelgänger thing going on, that isn't very well developed--and, then, suddenly it's all over. There are a couple of very interesting characters introduced who then just sort of disappear, or don't play much of a role; this seemed like one Perry sort of "phoned in." But I will look for his next one (out in July 2007), because even bad Perry is better than the best stuff by most I've read in this genre.

Raul Hilberg; The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian

Some reading this may be familiar with Hilberg's 3 volume (definitive?) history of the Holocaust/Shoah, The Destruction of European Jewry, or perhaps seen Hilberg in Claude Lanzmann's (9 hour) Shoah. This was a strange book, and one of the saddest I've read in a long time; not because of the obvious reason of the content with which Hilberg has spent his life understanding, but because of his tragic self-conception. Clearly he has some bones to pick, in how his work has been received and/or treated by those who participate in what has been called "the Holocust Industry," and he has some incisive criticisms of Lucy Dawidowicz. He has some more subtle reflections on Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as various tales to tell about getting from Vienna to Vermont, where he spent most of his career teaching. But at the end, he clearly is concerned that his work has been for nought, and he begins and ends the book with some troubling and very personal considerations about what he has accomplished, what its value is, and whether he has really acheived what he sought. An oddly disturbing text.

Steven Pinker; The Blank Slate

I'm teaching "Philosophy and Human Nature" starting in January; this seemed to be an interesting text to use, so I've even read it. I was particularly compelled to do so when a colleague told me it was a terrible book and then conceded that he or she hadn't read it. Clearly Pinker is asking for trouble, here; by suggesting that just as it makes sense that height and eye color are determined genetically, what if other aspects of the human being have similar causal stories--such as violence, altruism, various strategies for getting and/or avoiding sex, language learning, and playing the violin? What if some of this genetic determination cannot be overcome by the environment? Pinker issues a challenge to those who wish to maintain the old empirical tradition of the "blank slate," as well as the "Ghost in the Machine" and the Noble Savage, and is willing to defend that challenge from various directions, including cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and linguistics (as well as more specific data, such as that gained through various studies of identical and fraternal (sororital?) twins and adoptees). It is interesting--and this will be the focus of my course--to see how those who wish to reject his conclusions do so: namely, simply assert that he either is directly supporting sexism and racism, or to take up the more difficult task of showing how genetics informs but doesn't determine the results in quite the way Pinker suggests. To complement this text, we will be reading Plato's Protagoras--a whole different approach--and I'm going to read Anne Fausto-Sterling's Myths of Gender as soon as it arrives in the mail. This should be a fun course: Pinker provides enough ammunition to piss off everyone.

in process

Richard Dawkins; The God Delusion

Speaking of pissing people off, Dawkins is gifted in this particular area. He is smart, he is courageous, and he writes very very well. This is a bad combination for those who don't like his thesis, which is, more or less, that given evolutionary biology's fundamental mechanism of descent with modification, the hypothesis of a supernatural creator (and its frequent corollary, a supernatural being that hears prayers, intercedes in human affairs, and cooks up the occasional miracle) is superfluous. Therefore, one should recognize that God plays no plausible explanatory role in any investigation that qualifies as "rational," that those who suggest their religious claims are off limits to criticism are intellectual cheats, and that in terms of probability, the hypothesis that God does not exist is much stronger than the opposing view. Thus agnostics are criticized for suggesting that since one cannot know (in a strong sense of "know") whether God exists, that each claim has equal possibility of being true. Fundamentally, Dawkins has written this book for those who are too chicken to admit that they are atheists, and thinks that they should come out of the closet and quit being respectful to the point of idiocy in taking seriously claims that have no evidence, no merit, and which, at best, are psychological crutches with a long pedigree designed originally to comfort those who are overwhelmed by the actual world, and continue to force their children to adopt those same crutches. (See how he can piss people off?)

Erich Auerbach; Mimesis

Nothing like a 600 page book on literature from Homer to Proust to get you through the day. Auerbach was one of those old school scholars who seemed to have read everything, and read it in the original. He has a lot to say, obviously, about the mimetic function of literature and its relation to the world we seek to describe and understand. If I finish this book, it will be precisely the kind of miracle that some would suggest calls into question Dawkins' cosmological worldview.

Merry Christmas to my reader, and remember the Festivus "airing of grievances" on December 23!

Monday, December 11, 2006

COGS? ROI, EVA, or Residual Income?

Tempted as I am to extol my love of accounting, both financial and managerial, I shall instead take this opportunity to respond to the one request (it doesn't take much) to say something about my book.

First, it's an unbelievable thrill ride, a roller-coaster of action-packed excitement, with sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, perversion, politics, murder, mayhem, carnage, and cosmic significance.

Oh, wait: Kant was against lying. My apologies.

It is a study of the Critique of Pure Reason, suggesting that we read it the way Kant saw it: as a logic. That is, as identifying and justifying (in one way or another) a set of universal and necessary rules for the possiblity of the domain over which those rules range. To keep my one reader here, I'll just say that for thought to be possible, it must conform to rules we might call "logic"; for cognition to be possible, it as well must conform to rules, which Kant refers to as the "logic of experience." My guess is that the same thing applies to the moral philosophy, as well as aesthetic and teleological judgements. The central idea is that "transcendental" is to be glossed as "necessity for a possibility," and reading the Critique that way makes Kant's claims relatively modest and relatively defensible.

To scotch any ill-founded rumors, often started by the French department at Wright State University: it is not a pop-up book. There are no pictures. It is in English (sort of). It can be read by those with a general interest in philosophy; there is some slow-going stuff, but not all that much. It will not be a book on tape, the author will not appear on Oprah, it will not be reviewed by the NY Times, and it will not make the best-seller list. It is what it is: a nice solid little book explaining the final and absolute truth about Kant, that makes all others obsolete and superfluous.

It is being published by the Catholic University of America Press, apparently as part of the Vatican's continuing attempt to get me to enroll in its 12-step program (or to convert; I'm not sure of the difference)--after all, I've taught mostly at Catholic Universities (Loyola of Chicago and the University of Dayton), a really Catholic school (I guess) is publishing my book, and I have yet to be put on the Index (is it still going?). The odd thing was that a) a surprisingly large (I don't know how to do exponents here) number of publishers chose not to publish this piece of brilliance and 2) after I had accepted CUA's offer, I was called by a pretty good publisher asking me why I hadn't responded to their e-mails of six months ago, offering to publish it. I thought my reason a pretty good one, and I told them: "Because I never saw them." But I was in the unique situation, for me almost certainly never to be repeated, of saying "I've decided to go with another press." I tried to use my best Gore Vidal voice, albeit masculino voce.

So when I find out when it is appearing, I'll let you know. As I've indicated elsewhere, expect the kind of madness that occurred a few years ago with "Tickle Me Elmo."

And for those who really care, here's the Table of Contents:

Necessity and Possibility: The Logical Strategy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

Chapter One Kant's Critical Model of the Subject

1. Introduction
2. The Archytpal Model
3. The Ectypal Model
4. The Archtypal and Ectypal Model
5. Kant's indirect argument for the "critical" model
6. The judging subject and objective validity

Chapter Two Kant's Conception of General Logic

1. General Logic and Aristotle
2. The Role of General Logic
3. General Logic as A Priori
4. Criticisms of a Kantian Conception of General Logic

Chapter Three The Historical Background of Kant's Logic

1. General Logic and Grammar
2. The Historical Background of Kant's General Logic
3. Kant's General Logic: Some Conclusions

Chapter Four The Metaphysical Deduction

1. The Goal of the Metaphysical Deduction
2. The Strategy of the Metaphysical Deduction
3. The Argument of the Metaphysical Deduction
4. Logic and Common Sense

Chapter Five Kant and Contemporary Philosophy

1. Introduction
2. Kant and Laurence BonJour's "Moderate Rationalism"
3. Kant, Davidson, and Conceptual Schemes
4. An excursus into the postmodern
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The tenets of postmodernism
4.3 Kant and the postmodern
4.4 Kant, Foucault, and Foundationalism

Chapter Six The Modesty of the Critical Philosophy

1. Introduction
2. Kant's epistemological modesty
3. Kant and Common Sense
4. Conclusion