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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

End of Summer Reading

I spent much of the time this Summer reading, and sweating. The product of my toils, with occasional comments.

Crais, Robert

I heard good things about "The Monkey's Raincoat," which I liked quite a lot. I then decided to read the collected works. Sometimes a bit formulaic, and I'd take Thomas Perry over him any day, but he writes well, has interesting stories and observations, and two good characters. Interestingly, a relatively minor character--Elvis Cole's partner, Joe Pike--turned out to be more intriguing that Cole, and got two of his own novels.

The Monkey's Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
Lullaby Town
Free Fall
Voodoo River
Sunset Express
Indigo Slam
L.A. Requiem
The Last Detective
The Forgotten Man
The Watchman
Demolition Angel
The Two-Minute Rule

Iacocca, Lee Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

I have a friend Mike. He gives me lots of interesting books to read, even though I tell him I've got other stuff to deal with. He doesn't care. I end up reading them. Lee has some good ideas, and a lot of slogans. No one will pay attention to his complaints, although in some cases it might be a good idea.

Finkelstein, Norman Beyond Chutzpah

I've read Finkelstein's work before, both on how the Holocaust was treated in the U.S., and his evisceration of Joan Peter's "From Time Immemorial." Finkelstein, as you may know, was involved in a nasty--and to my mind, foolish and short-sighted--tenure battle, in part because Alan Dershowitz got involved. If you had been humiliated in the same way as Dershowitz, you probably would have gotten involved, too. In this case, a close reader and trained historian takes on a lawyer, his rhetoric, and his ideology. On its merits, the historian wins. On the other hand, one is wealthy and tenured at Harvard Law; the other, as of this writing, is looking for a job. It gets ironic when you consider the case in the context of justice.

Dershowitz, Alan Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence

To be fair, and because Mike imposed this on me, I thought I should read it. I agree with most of what it says, although I agreed with it earlier when I read Kramnick and Moore's "The Godless Constitution." Very little original stuff here, although some of the arguments are well-stated, and the very topic is an important one. When I read or hear Dershowitz, I always wonder what exactly he did to become the youngest tenured faculty member at Harvard Law? Because I haven't seen much evidence, lately, of what it would have been.

Greenwald, Glen A Tragic Legacy

Greenwald may be better known for his short "What Would A Patriot Do?," but this was a very nice discussion of the influence on Mani on George W. Bush, and uses Bush's Manichean world-view to discuss mistakes in the past (Iraq) and the potential for mistakes in the future (Iran). A bit scary at times, but some very nice writing, and a good reminder of what the Iranians were saying in 2003 about negotiating a whole raft of issues, including nuclear energy/weapons, Israel, etc.. The Bush administration doesn't seem to think Israel and Palestine is an issue worth much discussion or energy. It is wrong, and Greenwald is good at showing why.

Pennock, Robert Tower of Babel
Dennett, Daniel Breaking the Spell
Mills, David Atheist Universe

I'm planning to teach a seminar on atheism next time I offer a seminar, so I try to keep up on what is becoming a voluminous literature, with a great deal of overlap and repetition. Pennock's book is thorough, and takes seriously the arguments of both creationism and intelligent design. He particularly focuses on Phillip Johnson, and is a good reminder that virtually no biologists (yeah, I know about Michael Behe) employs supernaturalism. Dennett's is more of a philosopher's, than a philosopher of science's, book; both Pennock and Dennett cover much of the same ground in certain ways, but Dennett's angle is to argue that religion could be regarded as an evolutionary strategy. One whose time has come and gone. Mills' book is more superficial--although that isn't really a knock, it's just relative to Pennock and Dennett--and covers a wide range of general issues relating to atheism. A few interesting stories, and some helpful analogies.

McCullough, David 1776

I'm teaching the history of American political theory in China in October, so I thought I'd better get started. This kind of book is often derided as "popular" history--which it is--but I learned a good bit about the role New York played in the American Revolution, Washington, Paine, Howe, various other British folks, the degree of support the British has among the colonists, and lots of other things. A good way to get started. Next up: De Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

Pomfret, John Chinese Lessons

A very interesting discussion from a first-person perspective on the changes that have taken place--particularly among intellectuals and those who grew up during the Cultural Revolution--in the Middle Kingdom. A few views--specifically about the reasons China went into/invaded Viet Nam--that I might quarrel with, but the strength of the book is its account of various people, from Bluffer Ye to Little Guan. As they say, it's tough to be Chinese. I do wish Pomfret hadn't made it sound so darn easy to learn Chinese.

I think I might have forgotten a couple of things I recently read; if so, I may add them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

O'Reilly and the Daily Kos

First of all, I probably don't have enough time, energy, or space (my physics pals will be happy to provide an equation showing the relationship among these) to do justice to this topic. But a number of my friends (mostly on what, in the US, qualifies as the "left") are unfamiliar with the Daily Kos website, which has been under attack recently by pundit extraordinaire, Bill O'Reilly. I won't go into all the details, but here's the gist:

The Daily Kos is a political blog, with lots and lots of visitors. It is explicitly committed to electing Democrats, preferably of the "progressive" stripe, to office, especially in contrast to their Republican opponents.

They have a convention, which this year invited the Presidential candidates to attend. All the Democrats except Biden--who had, evidently, a scheduling conflict--attended. To the best of my knowledge, the Republican candidates were also invited, but declined.

Bill O'Reilly has argued--repeatedly--that the Daily Kos is (and these are quotes, or nearly so) no different than the Klan, or the Nazis. His subsequent argument seems to be this:

Daily Kos is no different than the Nazis and the Klan.

Nothing different than the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan do. And yet the Democratic Party chooses to embrace and legitimize this website.

A candidate who appears at their convention is no worse than a candidate appearing at a convention of the Klan or the Nazis (although I believe the standard term for the latter is "rally," as in Nürnberg).

But Republicans have appeared at Bob Jones University. The founder of this institution made a couple of, um, provocative remarks: "I would rather see a saloon on every corner than a Catholic in the White House. I would rather see a nigger as president"; "God is the author of segregation."

O'Reilly didn't really seem to think it was a problem--at least nothing like Daily Kos--when John Ashcroft accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. Rather:

I spoke with Bob Jones III last week, and the interracial dating ban was still in effect when Ashcroft showed up. He needs to explain his appearance. . . . any public servant that accepts an honor from that school should provide an explanation.
On the other hand, when he was criticizing Brown University for having a party that seemed to involve sex and drugs, O'Reilly chose Bob Jones (not Wheaton? or Hope? or Albion? or Patrick Henry? or Liberty?) as his contrast of choice--saying, and probably correctly, “It doesn’t happen at Bob Jones [University].”

The evidence for O'Reilly's claim about the Daily Kos comes from the comments section, apparently, where the occasional scurillous thing is said, as well as the posting of a rather ribald picture of Joseph Lieberman going down on our maximum leader. I'm assuming it was photo-shopped.

I go to the Daily Kos frequently, sometimes more than once a day. It is a vibrant and active community of hundreds of thousands of people. I have also gone to lots and lots of right wing sites, with considerably fewer people--including those of folks self-identified as members of the Klan, or as Nazis.

There are some problems with O'Reilly's argument. First--and probably fundamental--is that its premise is false. One can read Daily Kos on a very regular basis, including a lot of the comments, without seeing anything but spirited debate and discussion, for the most part predicated on a commitment to the Democrats. No racism, anti-semitism, sexism. It doesn't really take that long at other sites to find all of these, often in the sites "statement of principles."

On one pretty conservative, but not vicious, site I frequent, the moderator of the board--a nice guy, if a bit naïve--recently asked

How long will it take for the world to recognize that Whites are being abused and taken advantage of? When will it be politically correct for other races to go far out of their way to accommodate our needs, and our sensibilities?
This is a comment that presupposes considerably more dubious identity politics than virtually any posting--with the possible exception of some comments, all of which would take a really long time to read--at the Daily Kos.

Others--Stephen Colbert better than anyone--has also shown that holding a site responsible for the views expressed in its comment section is ludicrous. (Colbert did a nice bit about boycotting a local Outback Steakhouse, because what was promised on its bathroom wall was not his idea of a "good time.") If something is really offensive, most places remove it. If something is questionable, some places leave it, some places remove it. The Daily Kos may take the strategy of leaving it, for the very argument about what qualifies as "questionable" is, of course, a political issue. O'Reilly's own site doesn't have this problem, I guess, for a few reasons: one must pay to join (Daily Kos is free); O'Reilly scrubs the comments section; O'Reilly (I've heard) removes members who are there--and have paid--to find comments that are scurillous, in order to have ammunition for their goose/gander argument.

Far too many of my friends--and folks in the "liberal" media--want to claim that O'Reilly is stupid. I don't think that is the case. I don't necessarily think he is all that bright, but what I think is going on here is that O'Reilly simply is using a set of conceptual tools appropriate to one kind of medium, and applying it to the "blogosphere." He's not really capable of thinking within the context of the Daily Kos and its extended milieu, and rather than adjusting his framework, he rejects those who work within a context so alien to him. He probably rejects those who use the word "milieu," as well, a position with which I have some sympathy.

Two good tests:

One: go to the Daily Kos and read it every other day for two weeks. Then go to a Klan site, or a Nazi site, and see if you can tell the difference.

Two: watch if, and how, the following (current as of today) phenomenon is treated. On Tommy Thompson's announcement that he was abandoning the race for President, this bit of "Danny Boy" doggerl was posted at the Daily Kos:

O Tommy boy/
the polls, the polls are falling/
from Council Bluffs, and down to Waterloo/
the summer's gone, and your numbers are dying/
because you failed/
to raise money like a Jew/
And don't come back, your time has come and gone, son/
You're just a hack, who can't hold in his pee/
But you were good for laughs, at least, dear cheesehead/
O Tommy Boy, O Tommy Boy/
we'll miss you . . . see? So? I'm sorry, what was that last word? My hearing aid isn't working . . .

The test is to see how this is treated (if it is), by the critics (including O'Reillly). The two comments boldfaced in black are Thompson's reasons for having given a problematic answer about firing workers because they were gay; the one in red will get the attention (and has, already), for it clearly sounds anti-Semitic, and one of O'Reilly's concerns was the alleged anti-Semitism of the Daily Kos (to be fair, it was pretty brutal to Joseph Lieberman; to be more fair, one can criticize a Jew without being anti-Semitic (otherwise, all of Chomsky's critics are guilty of this); the criticism of Lieberman had nothing to do with anything except his being a Bush lickspittle--especially on the war; and, finally, they were right, because Lieberman is a Bush lickspittle, especially on the war.)

The other part of the test is to see if it is mentioned that the claim (again, above boldfaced in red) is a reference to Thompson's own comment, again prompting an apology:

Washington - GOP presidential candidate Tommy Thompson apologized to a Jewish audience Monday after saying that making money is "sort of part of the Jewish tradition."

At the outset of a speech to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the former Wisconsin governor told an audience of a few hundred people that, "I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money."

Added Thompson: "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that."

For a longer account, from Thompson's home newspaper.

In sum, it isn't that O'Reilly is stupid. It's that he either doesn't get, or doesn't want to.

An update: Here's a posting dealing with O'Reilly, the alleged anti-Semitism of the Daily Kos, and a discussion about whether O'Reilly should be sued for defamation of character.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Zhong Guo

Around the first week of October, I will be headed for (as you can see from the above) the Middle Kingdom. I'll be teaching the history of American Political Theory in Nanjing--in English, of course--to students at Nanjing University, and possibly another university in Nanjing, for six weeks. Flying into the Northern Kingdom (Beijing), down to the Southern Kingdom (Nanjing), and flying out of the the town by the sea (Shanghai). Nothing like the chance to fly all the way across the world to talk about the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, as well as a couple of things that followed, namely the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and, just for fun, the Chinese Exclusion Act. Sort of theory vs. practice.

Perhaps most ironic is that I will be talking about the philosophical foundations of the Bill of Rights during a US Administration that views most of the rights adumbrated there as "optional," with the exception of the Second Amendment, of course. I'm almost with my conservative friends these days in thinking that with this kind of government, we should have access to guns, and lots of them, if only to protect us from our own government.

Anyway, anyone reading this should leave a comment, and, especially, if you've been to China, offer tips, suggestions, etc.. I may not be doing a lot of travelling--there's lots to see just in Nanjing--but I may try to do some.

I may try to blog from there, if I get a chance; no guarantees. I may also blog about my experience with learning the language. On my good days, I can ask young women back to my apartment, offering them the options of beer, wine, tennis, or bowling; I can also ask "who farted?" and complain that my toilet is clogged up. As far as reading and writing, I've got about 200 characters--I've been told after 300 they start to get easier, and I'm certainly hoping that's true--with the goal of getting to around 5,000. Depending on who you ask, one needs a minimum of 2,000 to 3,000 to read a newspaper, get around, etc., and I hope to do better than that. On the other hand, to become an officer in the Imperial Army, I will need 40,000, so that career option seems no longer a strong possiblity. Tant pis.