Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Schopenhauer being, well, Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer, whatever else one may think of him, is one of the finest craftsmen of insults to grace the history of philosophy. I am in the process of reading On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (E.J.F. Payne tr., LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1974), and already by page 16, he cannot hold himself back—here, he manages to insult Schelling, Hegel, the ontological argument, and the German people as a whole, all in less than a paragraph (characteristically, Hegel fares the worst):
On the other hand, we can see how much Herr v. Schelling venerates the ontological proof in a long note on page 152 of the first volume of his Philosphische Schriften of 1809. Yet we can see something even more instructive, namely, how an impudent assumption of fine airs and swagger are sufficient to throw dust into German eyes. But so thoroughly contemptible a creature as Hegel, whose whole pseudo-philosophy was really a monstrous amplification of the ontological proof, tried to defend this proof against Kant's Critique. This is an alliance of which the ontological proof itself might be ashamed, however little in other respects it may be given to blushing. I must not be required to speak with deference about men who have brought philosophy into contempt.
Oh, Schopenhauer. Will you ever change?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Violence and opposition to Islam

The English Defence League riot today in Bradford raises, again, a worrying question: must the choice, in practice, come down to a choice between radical Islam and radical anti-Islam? I still have hope for the United States, but I am afraid that the future in Europe looks bleak—I fear that these two sides will just continue to grow, and that the matter ultimately will be resolved through violence, with the highest price paid, as always, by the innocent.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Intellectual honesty

From Susan Haack's Defending Science—within Reason (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2003), p. 306:
We describe a person as honest who is truthful in his dealings with others; we describe a person as intellectually honest who is truthful in his dealings with himself.
Not that this is our literal behavior. We in fact describe a person as both honest and intellectually honest who tells us what we want to hear.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Frailty, thy name is Blackboard 9

Sorry, just venting my frustration. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you are one of the fortunate ones.

I can't wait for Blackboard 10:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Shudder.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cordoba House: What's in a name?

I'm trying to quickly read through Feisal Abdul Rauf's 2004 book, What's Right with Islam, to try to get a sense of the man. I mentioned in an earlier post that some of the critics of Park51 point to the initial name "Cordoba House" as evidence that the project was intended as a symbol of Islamic conquest. I also pointed to Carl Pyrdum's response to this claim, wherein he pointed out that, among other things, the name is far more strongly associated with Islamic tolerance. So, it's interesting to read the last paragraph of Rauf's introduction:
We strive for a "New Cordoba," a time when Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all other faith traditions will live together in peace, enjoying a renewed vision of what the good society can look like. In this good society all religious voices are welcome and given maximum freedom, and no one religion (or even atheism) is allowed to inhibit any other. Toward this dream we aspire.
So, barring dissimulation—a charge for which I have not yet seen any good evidence—that's what the name "Cordoba" means to Rauf.

I want to finish the book before I comment more generally on him, but I must say that so far, he sounds much more like a fluffy religious leftist type (like Karen Armstrong, who wrote the foreword) than a jihadi monster.

Richard Dawkins: Faith School Menace?

Richard Dawkins' Channel 4 program about faith schools in the UK:



This is part 1/4. The rest will play automatically, in sequence.

H/T: Why Evolution is True

Cross-posted to The Secular Outpost

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hypocrisy, left and right

I wonder what would happen if someone were to physically attack Park51 after it was built.

My prediction: we would see a massive outpouring of hypocrisy. People on the left, who talk about nothing but "understanding the root causes" whenever members of the so-called "privileged" groups are attacked, would dismiss as sheer bigotry (and maybe racism, the most over-used slur on the left) any reference to the root causes of the rage of the attackers. People on the right, who in the same instances dismiss as political correctness and anti-Americanism any reference to root causes—any suggestion that American polices might have made some causal contribution to the violent hatred a large part of the rest of the world feels toward us—would, all of the sudden, start talking about how understandable—if inexcusable—the act was, and how Muslims need to understand that you can't just build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site and not expect repercussions, even though we—of course—think there was no excuse for the acts. Right and left would, that is, completely exchange the rhetoric exhibited in the aftermath of events like September 11. Cooler heads, who know how to split the difference, will be few and far between.

I think this is a very safe prediction, but I hope it never will be put to the test.*

*And, honestly, I am not worried that it will be. Whatever defects modern Americans might have, we still are very good—left, right, and center—about not solving domestic issues with violence. I still fear a tipping point in the future, especially if a Democrat wins the next Presidential election, but I am not worried about it in the immediacy.

Photo: wasp's nest?


Attached to the far groove of my patio door, 3 cm tall. What does it belong to?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Do anti-Islam protests cause radicalization?

The New York Times reports:
Some counterterrorism experts say the anti-Muslim sentiment that has saturated the airwaves and blogs in the debate over plans for an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.
The evidence the experts in question site is that radical and terrorist Islamic organizations are reporting the protests with seeming glee.

It is no surprise that al Qaeda and the likes would seize upon all of this, but I have to wonder what kind of impact it really has on radicalization. I can't see the Islamic world becoming any more radicalized against the United States just because a lot of US citizens equate Muslims with terrorists. I tend to think that those in the Islamic world who have not already become radicalized by religious or foreign policy concerns will not become radicalized by the domestic hostility of many American non-Muslims toward American Muslims. They may deplore that hostility, but would it really cause them to wish to kill Americans indiscriminately, any more than the mistreatment of non-Muslims in some Islamic nations causes those of us not already radicalized to wish to kill Muslims wholesale?

On learning

Awareness of one's own ignorance increases (or ought to) as an exponential function of one's knowledge—so often does the entry of a tiny new fact into one's mind open up grand vistas of wild and unknown territory. Many times, one is forced even to look back over lands already mapped out, only to find them distorted beyond recognition. This is both curse and blessing for an explorer—curse because one will never learn everything, and blessing, because one will never learn everything. Whether it makes life, on the whole, wonderful or intolerable depends on the balance of joy one gets from learning something new, against the suffocation and despair one feels for not knowing it all.

I am not yet decided where I stand. I know that the beauty of new facts—even new doubts—in their infinite variation, give me more than enough motive to keep going; yet, every step is bittersweet.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

School's in

I taught my first class of the semester at ASU today. Nearly everything about the experience was bad: the day was hot and miserable, I just discovered I no longer have even shared cubicle space (meaning I have to carry out my office hours on a bench in front of my classroom), my classroom has two huge stone pillars right in the middle, and transportation back home was late. The silver lining that compensates for it all: it looks like I have a really great group of students. It is the students that make or break a class; everything else is a footnote.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No libertarian impulses after all

I used to think I was torn between libertarianism and a moderate communitarianism (closer to Scandanavia than the United States, without going the full distance). It seems, on deeper reflection, that I have misidentified one of the poles.

I understand libertarianism as the stance according to which the state ought to take care of national defense and enforcement of voluntary contracts, and that's it. What appealed to me in this scheme is that I thought it respected negative rights, while denying that there are positive rights (where having a negative right to x means that if you have x, then no one has a right to take x away from you; while having a positive right to x means that if you lack x, then others are obligated to provide you with x). I have strong intuitions that resonate with that. Although I generally think far more highly of people who take care of others, than those who do not, the notion that it is permissible to forcibly redistribute resources does not sit right with me, at least half of the time, no matter how selfish the victims of redistribution might be.

So far, so good, except that the stance on rights I have described is not (assuming I have understood it correctly) libertarianism. Mandatory contributions to national defense or a contract enforcement system seem to me just as suspect as welfare or a national health care plan—if I think I'm strong or smart enough to survive on my own, and don't want anyone else's help, why should I be forced to help maintain even this bare structure libertarians want? Libertarianism does accept a positive right after all—the right to have one's own negative rights defended by third parties. But once the door to positive rights is cracked open, I don't see how one can shut out myriad other rights—like a right to decent health care—that libertarians would deny.

The upshot is that real poles that tear my political intuitions apart are not moderate communitarianism and libertarianism, but moderate communitarianism and anarchism. This should not surprise me, given my predilection for the much-maligned Wolff, but it does.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Philosopher's Annual

Here's a good philosophy resource I haven't seen before: The Philosopher's Annual. Somewhat redundant, for me, since I have university journal access, but it's nice to see what other philosophers think the must-read articles of the year are.

Monday, August 16, 2010

No, Virginia, genocide is not OK

I just ran into another Christian defense of genocide, and finally could take no more, and had to write about it. The result is one of more ungentlemanly articles I have written, but I think—certainly hope—it is fair. You'll have to judge.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Christopher Hitchens on Charlie Rose

Great interview, as always is the case with Hitchens. It's terrific that he has not retreated from public life. If you're looking for his current thoughts about religion, you have to wait until the last ten minutes, but do yourself a favor and don't skip ahead.

Through the looking glass

Recent episodes of a Saudi sitcom have the two main characters, both Muslim, discover that their mother's relatives are Christian, and that their uncle is a priest. The two, while remaining true to Islam, slowly gain respect for the faith. Not everyone is happy about this development.
Independent Islamic scholar Abdulwahab al-Salhi said the "indecent lot of 'Tash Ma Tash' ... used drama to destroy Muslims' stable religious principles by portraying Christians as believers and not apostates."
Hear, hear. Enough with this kind of PC garbage from the liberal media, designed to subvert the true values upon which this great nation was founded.

Question about Raza and Fatah's question

Sarah Palin approvingly tweets a question from an article by Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, critical of Park51. Here's the relevant passage from the article:
Do [Imam Rauf and his cohorts] not understand that building a mosque at Ground Zero is equivalent to permitting a Serbian Orthodox church near the killing fields of Srebrenica where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered?
I don't understand: are Raza and Fatah saying that the Serbian Orthodox Church should not be allowed to open any new churches within walking distance of Srebrenica or any of the surrounding villages where massacres took place, even if there still are Serbian Orthodox worshipers there, and even if the church is not intended as a provocation? Maybe they really are saying that. But I seriously doubt many of the people who cite them approvingly would agree with such sentiments. Wouldn't most of the same people attacking Park51 right now scream bloody murder about political correctness and hypocrisy if the Muslims in Srebrenica tried to prevent a new Orthodox church from being built there? Wouldn't they react with disgust to people who defended such a move because they thought that sensitivity to the feelings of Muslims was more important than religious freedom? And wouldn't they be correct in doing so?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"True" religion and violence

I agree with most of President Obama's Iftar dinner speech last night, but not all of it. At one point, the President claims:
Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam—it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders—these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children.
What is al Qaeda's cause? Presumably, according to the President, it is "nihilism." Nonsense. One of the great modern myths shared by the left and the center is that there is a dichotomy between "true" religion and violence, such that people who commit violent acts, no matter how obviously religious they are, cannot really count as religious at all. This is practically the mirror image of the myth on the right that "true" Islam is evil, so that special burdens can be justifiably placed on all those who would worship in a mosque.
 
The President was right to come to the defense of embattled American Muslims like Sharjeel Kashmir, who writes:
The day before the World Trade Center bombings, America was my home. The next day, I woke up a stranger in a strange land. I wish every American could understand that I am not the enemy.
What the President ought not to have done was to try to define Islamic terrorism out of existence. Steering away from Scylla, he plunged right into the gaping maw of Charybdis.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Adolix Split and Merge PDF

If you need to split or merge PDFs, but don't want to use web services, and can't afford the pro versions of Adobe or Foxit, Adolix's Split and Merge PDF does a great job. I just started using it, to help me correct page-ordering problems in scanned documents, and so far it has proved to be intuitive and lightning-fast. And it's freeware.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Merchants of Doubt

The contents of Oreskes and Conway's Merchants of Doubt need to be shouted from every rooftop. The anti-science segments of the right are correct about this much: profit, politics, and ideology have done a tremendous job of obstructing legitimate science, especially where environmental issues are concerned. They just happen to be wrong about everything else. It's quite amazing: a thick chain—same strategies, same players—running all the way from denial of the hazards of direct smoking, through denial of problems from acid rain, CFC damage to the ozone layer, and the dangers of secondhand smoke, all the way to contemporary denial of anthropogenic global warming, and modern revisionism about Rachel Carson and DDT—all driven by hysteria about socialism, and by dedicated funding from corporate interests.

I'm too worn out to do more rooftop-shouting right now—as sober as Oreskes and Conway are, the book is emotionally exhausting—so, I'll just point you to a partial synopsis by the authors, and their Facebook page, which will link you up to plenty of reviews and more.

Questionable endorsements

I hear some buzz surrounding Gaubatz and Sperry's Muslim Mafia, and I'm generally on board for their kind of thing, so I'm like, "Cool, let me go look up more about it." I start in on the publisher's description:
You've heard about the courageous young investigators who covertly videotaped officials of ACORN advocating illegal activities.
Uhhh....

Nice work, guys: you talked a prospective buyer right out of it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A plea for gay bars everywhere

Juli Weiner reports:
Important news in the annals of publicity stunts today, as Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld announced on his blog—the truly unfortunately named “Daily Gut”—that he has aims to open a Ground Zero–area gay bar catering to Muslim men in the space next to a proposed mosque. “As you know, the Muslim faith doesn't look kindly upon homosexuality, which is why I’m building this bar. It is an effort to break down barriers and reduce deadly homophobia in the Islamic world,” the Red Eye host wrote, identifying the bar’s raison d'ĂȘtre. “After all, the belief driving them to open up their center near Ground Zero, is no different than mine.”
Gutfeld is a bigot, but I actually don't have a problem with the idea of opening up a gay bar next to Park51. When a religion itself supports bigotry, it deserves to have its sensibilities stomped over—if the attendees of Park51 have a problem with gay bars, I could care less about their hurt feelings. If they don't have a problem, then the whole thing is a non-issue. The only catch is, that everyone who supports this move automatically forfeits any right to complain when their own bigoted religious sensibilities are stomped all over, as surely will happen in retaliation.

So, I say, yes—yes to a gay bar next to Park51, yes to a gay bar next to Trinity Church, yes to a gay bar next to the Mormon Tabernacle. From coast to coast, a great big yes to gay bars everywhere. Wherever a minaret stands, or a giant cross looms—indeed, wherever two or more are gathered together in His name—let there also be a gay bar there. Hallelujah, and God Bless America!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thoughts on Park51/Cordoba House

My views on the construction of Park51/Cordoba House have changed quite a bit over time. The issue is, I admit, difficult for me to get clarity on. So, naturally, I will blog about it and seek feedback.

While I do not think the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero is a provocation in and of itself, I would consider it a provocation if it were intended as such. If those responsible for Park51/Cordoba House intend it as a symbol of Islamic conquest, then the project is an abomination, and should be viewed no differently than an al-Qaeda training center. If, however, the people responsible for the project do not intend it as such, then it is not a provocation, even if it hurts the feelings of those who equate September 11 with Islam across the board.

So, the question that exercises me is whether I can discern the intent of the project managers. Here are the items I have seen offered as evidence that the center is intended as a provocation, and what I think about them:

1. Initial reports said that Cordoba House, as it was named at the time of the reports, was slated to open on September 11, 2011. Later reports say this is not true. I do not what to believe, here. If it does turn out that any of the project managers so much as suggested that it be opened on September 11, that would, of course, be virtually a smoking gun to me. I can think of one or two reasons why a perfectly loyal American Muslim might want to open an Islamic center near Ground Zero on September 11, but I would need to see proof that these reasons were their real motivation—the burden of proof would swing firmly to their side, as far as I am concerned.

2. Some have argued that the name Cordoba House, by referencing Cordoba, is itself a symbol of Islamic conquest. Carl Pyrdum, however, has written a response to this claim which shows selection of the name to be consistent with the wish to promote a message of interfaith harmony. The initial naming of the center is, therefore, ambiguous, and intent cannot be inferred from it.

3. Some people declare Abdul Rauf a militant, on the basis of statements he made after September 11, which connected the root causes of Islamic terror to United States foreign policy, and pointed out that the United States has participated in avoidable massacres of civilians during wartime. I can do no better than quote Fareed Zakaria, here:
He has said one or two things about American foreign policy that strike me as overly critical—but it’s stuff you could read on The Huffington Post any day. On Islam, his main subject, Rauf’s views are clear: he routinely denounces all terrorism—as he did again last week, publicly. He speaks of the need for Muslims to live peacefully with all other religions. He emphasizes the commonalities among all faiths. He advocates equal rights for women, and argues against laws that in any way punish non-Muslims. His last book, What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America, argues that the United States is actually the ideal Islamic society because it encourages diversity and promotes freedom for individuals and for all religions. His vision of Islam is bin Laden’s nightmare.
This is the part where critics begin to shout "Taqiyya!" And, truthfully, they may well be right. However, they must prove the charge, not take it for granted. The assumption of taqiyya on the part of any Muslim cleric who seems moderate reminds me of the reasoning of the door gunner in Full Metal Jacket, while mowing down droves of Vietnamese villagers from above: "Anyone who runs, is a VC. Anyone who stands still, is a well-disciplined VC!" Great caution must be taken, or this kind of thing can become Kafka-esque.

My conclusion at this time is that, notwithstanding concerns about the initial building date reports, I do not, personally, have enough evidence to impute the intention of provocation to the people behind Park51/Cordoba House, and, as such, I am unwilling to oppose it. Maybe readers can clue me in to more evidence I have overlooked, or considerations other than the ones I am concerned about. But I will say this much: the situation is sufficiently ambiguous that I hope that once the center is built (as it surely will be), residents will engage with it, and keep close watch on what is said and done in it—if there truly are militant intentions behind it, that will emerge much more clearly over time, and can be dealt with then. If not, then it is all the same to me whether an Islamic center or a Christian one, or a Burlington Coat Factory, sits there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Escape and Triumph

Believe it or not, I do have a few heroes—people who manage to make me feel, in unguarded moments, as though the erasure of humanity from the universe might not be a good thing. After having finished Escape and Triumph, I have to declare Carolyn Jessop one of my new heroines.

Jessop reminds me very much of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, my other hero of the female persuasion. Both women showed remarkable courage and resourcefulness is extracting themselves from violent, oppressive religious communities—Somali Islam in Ali's case, the FLDS in Jessop's case. Despite the much lower risk of outright murder in Jessop's case, her story is the more remarkable for the extraordinary feat she pulled off in extracting all eight of her children with her, including one who required constant medical attention. Word has it Jessop is about to remarry, this time by her own choice, to a man she loves—good for you, Carolyn, and many happy years.

The problem with trying to do continental philosophy

By Odin's beard, this is the truth. (Warning: vulgar f**king language alert.)


H/T: Leiter Reports.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bird cognition with respect to crackers and water

Every once in a while, an animal will do something that really surprises me, though this no doubt speaks more to my human parochiality than anything else.

As anyone who has walked along Mill Avenue at dusk is aware—painfully so, for those who run the gauntlet without earplugs and an umbrella—Tempe has a sizable Great-tailed Grackle population. They are the most common of birds, and always seemed to me unremarkable, though fun. But when I was reading outdoors at ASU a few months ago, I saw a female of the species fly over to a nearby puddle, and repeatedly dip a cracker into the water before pecking at it. I have never seen this kind of thing before. I did not automatically impute food-softening intention to the bird, thinking that the behavior I observed might be accidental, but I have seen it twice more since then (once today, prompting this post). I wonder where this behavior comes from—is it hardwired into them, do they each learn it by trial-and-error, or do they learn it from one another?

Remembering distantly that crows can solve problems that will leave your Golden Retriever baffled, I search a little on the web and find this:


Not grackles, but still—cooool.

On mixing it up

Personal question to any readers who would like to give their input: how often do you change anything in your life—from the major (like careers or citizenship) to the minor (like furniture arrangement or walking routes)—simply for the sake of breaking routine?

Monday, August 2, 2010