Remembering Respectful Contempt

The occassional debates about religion that pop up in the comment pages of 3QD always remind me of a section in Putnam's Reason, Truth and History on the character of his disagreement with Robert Nozick. For Putnam, fundamental disagreement does not preclude mutual respect, but it may be respect of a peculiar kind. It was something I wanted to note in the wake some of our recent discussions. (There's also been a new interesting comment by Patrick Lee Miller on the underlying post at Immanent Frame that started our own discussions, for those who may be interested.) Anal Philospher has posted an excerpt from Putnam:

Perhaps the analogy I have (occasionally) drawn between philosophical discussion and political discussion may be of help. One of my colleagues [the late Robert Nozick] is a well-known advocate of the view that all government spending on 'welfare' is morally impermissible. On his view, even the public school system is morally wrong. If the public school system were abolished, along with the compulsory education law (which, I believe, he also regards as an impermissible government interference with individual liberty), then the poorer families could not afford to send their children to school and would opt for letting the children grow up illiterate; but this, on his view, is a problem to be solved by private charity. If people would not be charitable enough to prevent mass illiteracy (or mass starvation of old people, etc.) that is very bad, but it does not legitimize government action.

In my view, his fundamental premisses—the absoluteness of the right to property, for example—are counterintuitive and not supported by sufficient argument. On his view I am in the grip of a 'paternalistic' philosophy which he regards as insensitive to individual rights. This is an extreme disagreement, and it is a disagreement in 'political philosophy' rather than merely a 'political disagreement'. But much political disagreement involves disagreements in political philosophy, although they are rarely as stark as this.

What happens in such disagreements? When they are intelligently conducted on both sides, sometimes all that can happen is that one sensitively diagnoses and delineates the source of the disagreement. Often, when the disagreement is less fundamental than the one I described, both sides may modify their view to a larger or smaller extent. If actual agreement does not result, perhaps possible compromises may be classed as more or less acceptable to one or another of the parties.

Such intelligent political discussion between people of different outlooks is, unfortunately, rare nowadays; but it is all the more enjoyable when it does happen. And one's attitude toward one's co-disputant in such a discussion is interestingly mixed. On the one hand, one recognizes and appreciates certain intellectual virtues of the highest importance: open-mindedness, willingness to consider reasons and arguments, the capacity to accept good criticisms, etc. But what of the fundamentals on which one cannot agree? It would be quite dishonest to pretend that one thinks there are no better and worse reasons and views here. I don't think it is just a matter of taste whether one thinks that the obligation of the community to treat its members with compassion takes precedence over property rights; nor does my co-disputant. Each of us regards the other as lacking, at this level, a certain kind of sensitivity and perception. To be perfectly honest, there is in each of us something akin to contempt, not for the other's mind—for we each have the highest regard for each other's minds—nor for the other as a person—, for I have more respect for my colleague's honesty, integrity, kindness, etc., than I do for that of many people who agree with my 'liberal' political views—but for a certain complex of emotions and judgments in the other.

But am I not being less than honest here? I say I respect Bob Nozick's mind, and I certainly do. I say I respect his character, and I certainly do. But, if I feel contempt (or something in that ballpark) for a certain complex of emotions and judgments in him, is that not contempt (or something like it) for him?

More here.

Is the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ The New Opiate of the Subcontinental Masses?

Vijay Prashad in The Immanent Frame:

After the destruction of a sixteenth century mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, riots broke out across northern India. In Bombay, the forces of the Hindu Right led the riots; its armies killed a thousand Muslims. Two hundred thousand other Muslims fled the city. This was a form of ethnic cleansing that had a profound psychological impact on the city’s residents. A retaliatory attack led by a former Bombay gangster killed 257 people. Since then, attacks have come with remarkable frequency, almost one a year. Blame for these attacks often rests at the gates of either ex-Afghan Jihad veterans whose organizations are banned in Pakistan (such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba) or the foot-soldiers of the family of organizations that gather around the BJP. Violence is their tactic and their strategy; they have little else.

Mirror images of each other, the Hindu Right and the Islamic Right offer nothing for the future, but boil the resentments of selected parts of the population, to artificially hasten their hope for change with promises of martyrdom and paradise. These are the alchemists of resentment, who use bombs and swords, guns and axes to do their magic for them. There is no development of the protracted struggle to change the conditions of the present, only the irrational commitment to fleeting acts of terrible violence. Terror in saffron robes or draped in green flags has absolute contempt for the desperate needs of people who are increasingly abandoned by the policies that bring homelessness and hunger to hundreds of millions.

it’s schadenfreude time


Only months ago, ordering that $1,950 bottle of 2003 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon at Craft restaurant or the $26-per-ounce Wagyu beef at Nobu, or sliding into Masa for the $600 prix fixe dinner (not including tax, tip, or drinks), was a way of life for many Wall Street investment bankers. “The culture was that if you didn’t spend extravagantly you’d be ridiculed at work,” says a former Lehmanite. But that was when there were investment banks. Now many bankers, along with discovering $15 bottles of wine, are finding other ways to cut back—if not out of necessity, then from collective guilt and fear: the fitness trainer from three times a week to once a week; the haircut and highlights every eight weeks instead of every five. One prominent “hedgie” recently flew to China for business—but not on a private plane, as before. “Why should I pay $250,000 for a private plane,” he said to a friend, “when I can pay $20,000 to fly commercial first class?” The new thriftiness takes a bit of getting used to. “I was at the Food Emporium in Bedford [in Westchester County] yesterday, using my Food Emporium discount card,” recounts one Greenwich woman. “The well-dressed wife of a Wall Street guy was standing behind me. She asked me how to get one. Then she said, ‘Have you ever used coupons?’ I said, ‘Sure, maybe not lately, but sure.’ She said, ‘It’s all the rage now—where do you get them?’”

more from Vanity Fair here. via Felix Salmon.

behold! the elbowed squid


In a brief video from the dive recently obtained by National Geographic News, one of the rarely seen squid loiters above the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico on November 11, 2007. The clip—from a Shell oil company ROV (remotely operated vehicle)—arrived after a long, circuitous trip through oil-industry in-boxes and other email accounts. “Perdido ROV Visitor, What Is It?” the email’s subject line read—Perdido being the name of a Shell-owned drilling site. Located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off Houston, Texas (Gulf of Mexico map), Perdido is one of the world’s deepest oil and gas developments.

more from National Geographic here.

Friday Poem

…..It's so easy to fall in love
..(it seems so easy)
…..It seems so easy, so doggone easy
……………………………..–Buddy Holly

The Buddy Holly Poem
Maurice Kilwein Guevara

It's so easy
when you realize
that all the squirrels
on the shingled rooftops
of Milwaukee
are Buddha
that all trees shake green
in the wind
that the moon is you

that the whole of every note
is individual and one
that love is free
every day
on the blue earth

Listen to me


From Edge:

Facebook_smiles520 Happiness is a fundamental object of human existence. To the extent that it is synonymous with pleasure, it could even be said to be one of the “two sovereign masters” that, Jeremy Bentham argued, govern our lives. The other master, lest we forget, is pain. Our happiness is determined by a complex set of voluntary and involuntary factors, ranging from our genes to our health to our wealth. Alas, one determinant of our own happiness that has not received the attention it deserves is the happiness of others. Yet we know that emotions can spread over short periods of time from person to person, in a process known as “emotional contagion.” If someone smiles at you, it is instinctive to smile back. If your partner or roommate is depressed, it is common for you to become depressed.

But might emotions spread more widely than this in social networks—from person to person to person, and beyond? Might an individual's location within a social network influence their future happiness? And might social network processes—by a diverse set of mechanisms—influence happiness not just fleetingly, but also over longer periods of time?

More here.

A-Z of English words with surprising origins

From The Telegraph:

Words When I set out to write a study of the history of words, I thought I had a decent grasp of where even the most curious English ones originate. Those with the prefix al- – as in alchemy and alcohol – often have Arabic roots, and many seafaring terms – skipper, schooner, land-lubber – are Dutch. But there were plenty of surprises. Who knew that marmalade, for instance, while eternally associated in my mind with Paddington Bear, is in fact Portuguese? So here is an A-to-Z of some of my favourite English words that have been absorbed from and inspired by other languages.

A is for…

Avocado, which comes from Nahuatl, a language spoken by the Aztecs. Their name for it, ahuacatl, also meant ''testicle”.

B is for…

Bonsai. Although we think the tree-cultivating art is Japanese, it originated in China.

C is for…

Coleslaw. Supposedly eaten in ancient Rome, it comes from the Dutch kool-salade (''cabbage salad”).

More here.

Policing Afghanistan

Graeme Wood in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_07 Dec. 05 12.24 In late 2007, in Pashmul, a tiny cluster of villages in southern Afghanistan, Muhammad Khan began his tenure as the police commander by torching all the hemp in a farmer’s field. Farmers in the area had grown plants up to seven feet tall, and, being teetotallers, like many Afghans, they smoked hashish constantly. Afghan soldiers and policemen in the area also smoked, to the exasperation of the NATO troops who were training them. But Khan wasn’t from Pashmul and he didn’t smoke. He ordered his men to set the harvest ablaze, moved upwind, then turned his back and left, with an expression of indifference.

Khan and his police officers are members of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority, identifiable among Afghans because of their Asiatic features; the population they patrol is Pashtun. Hazaras are mostly Shia, with a history of ties to Iran, whereas most Pashtuns are Sunni and have turned to Pakistan for support. Over the past century, the two peoples have fought periodically, and the Hazaras, who are thought to make up between nine and nineteen per cent of Afghanistan’s population—the Pashtuns make up nearly half—have usually lost. On the border between the Hazara heartland, in the country’s mountainous and impoverished center, and the Pashtun plains in the south and east, conflicts over grazing land are common. But, working alongside NATO soldiers, Hazara police units are now operating far to the south of these traditional battlegrounds and deep into Pashtun territory.

More here.

What to Do

Paul Krugman in the New York Review of Books:

Krugmanthecontraryindicator What the world needs right now is a rescue operation. The global credit system is in a state of paralysis, and a global slump is building momentum as I write this. Reform of the weaknesses that made this crisis possible is essential, but it can wait a little while. First, we need to deal with the clear and present danger. To do this, policymakers around the world need to do two things: get credit flowing again and prop up spending.

The first task is the harder of the two, but it must be done, and soon. Hardly a day goes by without news of some further disaster wreaked by the freezing up of credit. As I was writing this, for example, reports were coming in of the collapse of letters of credit, the key financing method for world trade. Suddenly, buyers of imports, especially in developing countries, can't carry through on their deals, and ships are standing idle: the Baltic Dry Index, a widely used measure of shipping costs, has fallen 89 percent this year.

What lies behind the credit squeeze is the combination of reduced trust in and decimated capital at financial institutions. People and institutions, including the financial institutions, don't want to deal with anyone unless they have substantial capital to back up their promises, yet the crisis has depleted capital across the board.

The obvious solution is to put in more capital. In fact, that's a standard response in financial crises.

More here.

Harvard Team Unlocks Clues to Genes that Control Longevity

Casey Kazan in The Daily Galaxy:

ScreenHunter_06 Dec. 05 11.48 Harvard Medical School Researchers have used a single compound to increase the lifespan of obese mice, and found that the drug reversed nearly all of the changes in gene expression patterns found in mice on high calorie diets–some of which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other significant diseases related to obesity.

The research, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging, is the first time that the small molecule resveratrol has been shown to offer survival benefits in a mammal.

“Mice are much closer evolutionarily to humans than any previous model organism treated by this molecule, which offers hope that similar impacts might be seen in humans without negative side-effects,” says co-senior author David Sinclair, HMS associate professor of pathology, and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Labs for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging.

“After six months, resveratrol essentially prevented most of the negative effects of the high calorie diet in mice,” said Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., the study's other co-senior investigator from the National Institute on Aging's Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology, Aging, Metabolism, and Nutrition Unit. “There is a lot of work ahead that will help us better understand resveratrol's roles and the best applications for it.”

Resveratrol is found in red wines and produced by a variety of plants when put under stress.

More here.

Hitmen charge $100 a victim as Basra honour killings rise

Afif Sarhan in The Guardian:

Leila_honor_killing_mother Authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have admitted they are powerless to prevent 'honour killings' in the city following a 70 per cent increase in religious murders during the past year.

There has been no improvement in conviction rates for these killings. So far this year, 81 women in the city have been murdered for allegedly bringing shame on their families. Only five people have been convicted.

During 2007 the Basra security committee recorded 47 'honour killings' and three convictions. One lawyer in the city described how police were actively protecting perpetrators and said that a woman in Basra could now be murdered by hired hitmen for as little as $100 (£65).

The figures come despite international outrage which followed The Observer's coverage of the death of 17-year-old Rand Abdel-Qader, who was murdered by her father last April in an 'honour killing' after falling in love with a British soldier in Basra. The 4,000 British troops stationed in the city since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 withdrew to the airport last September.

Rand Abdel-Qader was killed after her family discovered that she had formed a friendship with a 22-year-old infantryman whom she knew as Paul. She was suffocated by her father then hacked at with a knife. Abdel-Qader Ali was subsequently arrested and released without charge.

Rand's mother, Leila Hussein, who divorced her husband after the killing, went into hiding but was tracked down weeks later and assassinated by an unknown gunman. Her husband had told The Observer that police had congratulated him for killing his daughter. [Photo shows Leila Hussein.]

More here.

If we can resurrect Neanderthals through fossil DNA, should we?

William Saletan in Slate:

ScreenHunter_05 Dec. 05 11.26 Last week in Nature, scientists reported major progress in sequencing the genome of woolly mammoths. They reconstructed it from two fossilized hair samples. One was 20,000 years old; the other was 65,000 years old. Now, according to Nicholas Wade of the New York Times, biologists are discussing “how to modify the DNA in an elephant's egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother.”

Cool, huh? But that's not the half of it. Wade notes:

The full genome of the Neanderthal, an ancient human species probably driven to extinction by the first modern humans that entered Europe some 45,000 years ago, is expected to be recovered shortly. If the mammoth can be resurrected, the same would be technically possible for Neanderthals.

In fact, Wade points out, there are good reasons to re-create a Neanderthal: “No one knows if Neanderthals could speak. A living one would answer that question and many others.”

More here.

sullivan on milk


The tidiness of Harvey Milk’s martyrdom gave the Gus van Sant movie a shape and a narrative. And within that tight frame, he let this life breathe a little with its contradictions and complexities. I remembered that Milk understood two things: that organizing a gay community from the ground up was essential if homosexuals were ever to be free of threat, persecution and violence; and that such a ghetto would never be enough – because the most vulnerable gays and lesbians and transgenders are destined to be born every day in the great heartland between the coasts. This is the paradox of gay existence that is often the source of so much misunderstanding. The outside world sometimes puts us in a box of cultural otherness – “San Francisco values” – while we are also, simultaneously, as integrated into normality as any heterosexual. Because we are your kids. We grew up in your homes. We can never be totally other when we are also totally mainstream.

more from The Daily Dish here.

Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly


The historian who sets out to write a new biography of Samuel Johnson is in more or less the same position as someone who sets out to write a day-by-day account of the life of Samuel Pepys. Although the promise is to see the thing from a new angle, the truth is that the thing and the angle it was seen from originally are essentially the same. Samuel Johnson was a fine poet, a good if solemn essayist, and an inspired critic of other people’s writing. But the Johnson we remember is the one James Boswell wrote down. Great wits abound. The novelist Reggie Turner was, most people agreed, the wittiest talker of the eighteen-nineties, not a bad vintage for witty talkers; when he eventually got a biography, not a single witty remark remained, and his life sank with his Life. Johnson survives because Boswell was there to write down that when Johnson was asked if any man alive could have written the pseudo-bard Ossian’s poems he said, “Yes, sir, many men, many women, and many children,” and that when he was asked his view of “Gulliver’s Travels” he said, “When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest,” and that when a dense disciple said, “I don’t understand you, Sir,” Johnson, speaking for every teacher, said, “Sir, I have found you an argument, but I am not obliged to find you an understanding,” and that he observed of a pious libertine, “Yes, sir, no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.” He lives in his talk, and his talk lives because of his listener.

more from The New Yorker here.

the spitz is a columnist now


It is time we permitted the market to work: This means true competition with winners and losers; companies that disappear; shareholders and CEOs who can lose as well as win; and government investment in the long-range competitiveness of our nation, not in a failed business model of financial concentration and failed risk management that holds nobody accountable. This point will be all too well driven home when the remaining investment bankers in New York board a CACC jet to fly to Washington to negotiate the terms of a government bailout of yet another U.S. financial institution that was deemed too big to fail.

more from Slate here. my piece on Spitzer’s fall here.

Thursday Poem

Some Final Words
Billy Collins

I cannot leave you without saying this:
the past is nothing,
a nonmemory, a phantom,
a soundproof closet in which Johann Strauss
is composing another waltz no one can hear.

It is a frabrication, best forgotten,
a wellspring of sorrow
that waters a field of bitter vegetation.

Leave it behind.
Take your head out of your hands
and arise from the couch of melancholy
where the window-light falls against your face
and the sun rides across the autumn sky,
steely behind the bare trees,
glorious as the high strains of violins.

But forget Strauss.
And forget his younger brother,
the poor bastard who was killed in a fall
from a podium while conducting a symphony.

Forget the past,
forget the stunned audience on its feet,
the absurdity of their formal clothes
in the face of sudden death,
forget their collective gasp,
the murmur and huddle over the body,
the creaking of the lowered curtain.

Forget Strauss
with that encore look in his eye
and his tiresome industry:
more than five hundred finished compositions!
He even wrote a polka for his mother.
That alone is enough to make me flee the past,
evacuate its temples,
and walk alone under the stars
down these dark paths strewn with acorns,
feeling nothing but the crisp October air,
the swing of my arms
and the rhythm of my stepping—
a man of the present who has forgotten
every composer, every great battle,
just me,
a thin reed blowing in the night.


Money Matters

Amit Chaudhuri in The International Literary Quarterly:

Money The poet C P Surendran once gave me an insight, in Delhi, into why the situation as we know it exists. We’d arrived in Khan Market late in the morning; we had to pay the fare; not a single auto driver, though, among the line of autos parked in the front, could give us change for a hundred rupees. My old puzzlement came back: ‘How can not one of them have the money?’ C P said: ‘These people don’t bring the last day’s earnings when they return to work. They begin each day afresh.’ And this was the first time someone had said something illuminating to me on the subject, and opened my eyes to the most common sort of employee around us: the daily wage-earner. This person goes back home at night, possibly having spent part of his money on beedis, gutka, or drink, possibly giving some of it to the family, or part to an employer to whom he owes a species of mortgage. The next day he’s back, like a migrant, to whom the business of livelihood is old and inevitable, but to whom money is always new. He could be anywhere. Having money doesn’t mean owning it; it means to relentlessly make or break the makeshift rules of exchange. Change isn’t hoarded for the purposes of saving or spending, but because it constantly needs to be earned. Others, in the salaried middle classes, or in trade or business, have to deal with this person in their own manner: by outwitting or outwaiting him, or – what’s more common – by mimicking him.

More here.

Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit

From Scientific American:

Procrastinating-again_1 Procrastination does not mean deliberately scheduling less critical tasks for later time slots. The term is more apt when a person fails to adhere to that logic and ends up putting off the tasks of greater importance or urgency. That is, if just thinking about tomorrow’s job pricks the hair on the back of your neck or compels you to do something more trivial, you are probably procrastinating.A penchant for postponement takes its toll. Procrastination carries a financial penalty, endangers health, harms relationships and ends careers. “Procrastination undermines well-being on a wide scale,” notes psychologist Timothy A. Pychyl, director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa. Nevertheless, recent work hints at potential upsides to this otherwise bad habit: perpetual foot-draggers seem to benefit emotionally from their trademark tactics, which support the human inclination to avoid the disagreeable.

Procrastination is learned, but certain hardwired personality traits increase the likelihood that a person will pick up the habit. “Procrastination is a dance between the brain and the situation,” Pychyl says. That nature-and-nurture view is part of a new line of research into the process and prevention of procrastination. Understanding why people put off projects has led to strategies for helping all of us get and stay on task.

More here.

Whatever you do, don’t panic

A fire is raging; a man cuts off his arm with a chainsaw; a woman gives birth alone … Oliver Burkeman introduces six unpublished 999 transcripts, where the drama of an emergency call unfolds.

From The Guardian:

Ambulance The extraordinary 999 transcripts reproduced here, with the consent of those involved, don't have much in common with each other: the five-year-old boy reporting his mother's epileptic fit, the woman giving birth at home alone, and the man whose neighbour has sliced his own arm off seem to share only their sense of urgency and panic. But all the conversations demonstrate how much is demanded of the call-takers. At a distance, and without being able to see what's going on, they often must explain to untrained strangers how to carry out life-saving medical procedures. At the same time, and no less importantly, they're frequently the caller's only human connection during the long, edgy minutes before the emergency crew arrives. “The first-aid instructions are scripted, but the bit you can't do from a script is the bit that actually gets the caller to follow your instructions,” says Mark Myers, a London ambulance service worker who writes a compulsively readable blog at (Mark Myers is a pseudonym.) “We're trained with various techniques, but a lot of it's just intuition: what does this person need to hear? What's the thing that's going to get through to them?”

One thing that rarely seems to get through is the fact that help's already coming. “It's on the way,” the operator repeats to Steve Francis, in Telscombe Cliffs, as he struggles to stanch the bleeding where John Stirling's arm has been severed by a chainsaw. “It's only round the corner … it's just coming now.” The news seems to cause astonishment. “Yes. It's literally round the corner …”

More here.