Sunday, November 23, 2008

Philosophy, Really, Is Just A Kind of Theory

It is 5 in the morning, and everyone is asleep but me. I am back in Hyde Park - I love Hyde Park - but I don't miss it. And my friend has the complete works of Wittgenstein in German on his shelf, and, because everyone else is asleep, I am left with only you to torture. So here we go.

§356 Man ist geneigt zu sagen >>Es regnet, oder es regnet nicht - wie ich das weiß, wie mich die Kunde davon erreicht hat, ist eine andere Sache.<<>> eine Kunde davon, daß es regnet?>> (Oder habe ich auch von dieser Kunde nur Kunde erhalten?) Und was kennzeichnet denn diese >Kunde<>>Mein Auge gibt mir Kunde davon, daß dort ein Sessel stehe<<

OK... I suck at translation. But here we go...

§356: One is tempted to say, "It rains, or it doesn't rain - this much I know, that my experience has amounted to a complete proposition. " But our experience makes us ask: What do I mean by, "my experience tells me that it rains?" (Or have I also from this experience had another experience?) And what then does the knowledge of this "experience" lead to this other kind of knowledge? Do we allow ourselves to ask questions of this type? It is not unlike the familiar metaphor of, "My eye gives me the experience of seeing."

I don't know if that's right at all. I'll let you know tomorrow, when I can find an English translation of that damn book.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Philosophy, Really, Is A Kind of Therapy

I'm sorry everyone, but it is late, and I have discovered that R.A. and I can more than handle a fifth on our own. And you are all asleep right now. So I have to do this.

§354: The fluctuation in grammar between criteria and symptoms makes it look as if there were nothing at all but symptoms. We say, for example: "Experience teaches that there is rain when the barometer falls, but it also teaches that there is rain when we have certain sensations of wet and cold, or such-and such visual impressions." In defence of this one says that these sense-impressions can deceive us. But here one fails to reflect that the fact that the false appearance is precisely one of rain is founded on a definition.

OK - the best that I can, at this moment provide, is that it is not the sense-impressions that deceive us but instead it is our not understanding how the word "experience" is used. It's a kind of a trick, a sleight of hand, that makes us think that the experience of watching the barometer drop is in someway comparable to watching wet, cold, droplets fall from the sky, insofar as both are (somehow) evidence of the fact that it is raining.

OK - the bottle of bourbon is starting to empty, and I think that I understand the difficulty in caring bout the difference between drops of water and barometers and vampires and vampire slayers. The existence of the latter proves the existence of the former. But, I continue to contend, the one cannot exist without the other.

The question is: In what sense does the barometer count as evidence for the fact that it rained last night, and in what sense does the fact that water fell from the sky count as evidence that it rained last night?

One night I was laying down. I heard mama and papa talking. I heard papa tell mama, "Let that boy boogie-woogie." And I felt so good. And I went on boogie-woogie just the same.

This Had Me Laughing For Hours

From Minnesota Public Radio:

Ballot #5: Lizard People

This Beltrami County voter cast their ballot for Al Franken, but also put "Lizard People" as a write-in candidate, not only in the U.S. Senate race, but for several others. The county auditor/treasurer ruled that the vote should not be counted because it's considered an overvote. Representatives for Franken challenged that decision. (MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)

Personally, I don't see what the big deal is. Obviously, the voter intended to vote for Franken for Senator, but for the Lizard People for President.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday: What I Have Been Reading, Vampire Edition!

First off, reviews of the new movie "Twilight." The reviews are all pretty "so-so," mostly involving praise for the cast and the director, Catherine Hardwicke. Some of what I consider to be highlights are as follows:

The New York Times
gets the tone of the critic perfectly when it opens its review with:

It’s love at first look instead of first bite in “Twilight,” a deeply sincere, outright goofy vampire romance for the hot-not-to-trot abstinence set. Based on the foundational book in Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling multivolume series, “The Twilight Saga” (four doorstops and counting), this carefully faithful adaptation traces the sighs and whispers, the shy glances and furious glares of two unlikely teenage lovers who fall into each other’s pale, pale arms amid swirling hormones, raging instincts, high school dramas and oh-so-confusing feelings, like, OMG he’s SO HOT!! Does he like ME?? Will he KILL me??? I don’t CARE!!! :)

LOL. But the Times also touches it with a needle when it concludes:

If Ms. Meyer has made the vampire story safe for her readers (and their parents) — the sole real menace comes from a half-baked subplot involving some swaggering vampires who like their steak saignant and human — it’s only because she suggests that there actually is something worse than death, especially for teenagers: sex. Faced with the partially clad Bella (who would bite if she could), Edward recoils from her like a distraught Victorian. Like Ms. Hardwicke, the poor boy has been defanged and almost entirely drained. He’s so lifeless, he might as well be dead — oops, he already is.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle sits Time Magazine's Richard Corliss, who judges that, "So Twilight isn't a masterpiece — no matter. It rekindles the warmth of great Hollywood romances, where foreplay was the climax and a kiss was never just a kiss." Can you see my eyes rolling?

However, Mr. Corliss does manage to win the award for "Most Outrageous Statements Likely to Anger My Girlfriend" award, all of which I will reiterate here, because it will be funny:

a) "The Cullens are a fastidious family of vampires; in their tennis whites, with their regal airs, they resemble the aristocratic Flyte brood in Brideshead Revisited."

b) "Defiantly old-fashioned, the film wants viewers to believe not so much in vampires as in the existence of an anachronistic movie notion: a love that is convulsive and ennobling. Bella could be any Hollywood heroine in love with a good boy whom society callously misunderstands. She's Natalie Wood to Edward's James Dean (in Rebel Without a Cause) or Richard Beymer (in West Side Story). Cathy, meet Heathcliff. Juliet, Romeo."

and, of course:

c) "Hardwicke is faithful to the book's chaste eroticism. The couple must put off having sex because, well, it could kill Bella. (AIDS metaphors are unavoidable here.) Yet waiting has its own delicious tension."

LOL and weep.

However, there is at least one voice of sanity amidst this howling storm of nonsense, and it belongs, believe it or not, to Roger Ebert:

Come on now, what is "Twilight" really about? It's about a teenage boy trying to practice abstinence, and how, in the heat of the moment, it's really, really hard. And about a girl who wants to go all the way with him, and doesn't care what might happen. He's so beautiful she would do anything for him. She is the embodiment of the sentiment, "I'd die for you." She is, like many adolescents, a thanatophile.

Ebert gets bonus points for the use of "thanatophile," which, I believe, is not a neologism, but he is using it in an unusual sense. I think it is supposed to be synonymous with necrophile, but it obviously isn't. Ebert's use is way, way more awesome

It's all about Thanatos, darling. Thanatos.

Post-Script! Sub-Question! In what way or ways does Christianity itself, in particular the Church of Latter-Day Saints, of which Ms. Meyer is a member, embody the principle of Thanatos, and how is this reflected through the myth of the "good" vampire?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 4th, 2008: Part Three

I think that I took my first breath of that evening after CNN called Ohio for Obama. It was pretty well known among the crowd at Grant Park that - as long as that projection remained valid - Obama was going to be elected. With one swift move, the drama that had surrounded the outcomes in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana had dissipated. They were now all completely and totally irrelevant. Maybe this ought to tell us something about the nature of the Electoral College. Either way, having lost both Pennsylvania and Ohio, McCain's path to the White House had now been blocked.

By this time, also, R.A. and I were starting to get quite cold. Our butts were wet from the grass, and our legs were starting to get cramped. Or at least mine were. Anyways, the point is that we decided that now was as good of a time as any to go for a walk. The crowd that we had been a part of had begun to disperse a bit, and so we wandered towards the south side of Grant Park, closer to where the ticket-holders had been roped off from the rest of non-ticket-holding proles.

As we neared the area where Obama would be giving what was becoming more and more likely his victory speech, the atmosphere became more and more festival-like. There were wall-sized portraits of the candidate along the walk-ways, vendors hocking Obama and "I Was There" t-shirts (Viva la Capitalisme!), and local youth hanging from the trees trying to get a fleeting glimpse of the still-distant stage. Eventually, we hit that point in the crowd/ potential gigantic mosh-pit where we could no longer push our way forward, and had to settle with standing on our tip-toes and peering over the shoulders of the people in front of us at the news-cameras and enormous video screens.

I remember that, at about this point, my cell phone rang. I picked up, but, at that same moment, CNN called Virginia for Obama. It was impossible to talk or to hear anything over that noise. As I was shouting in vain over the phone, the decibel level rose by several degrees. The polls on the West Coast had just closed: Obama was officially the winner.

I feel like I have spent my fair share of time in large crowds. I've been to protests, concerts, sports events. I even spent hours in a crowd of several tens of thousands of people in Rome waiting for the Pope to come out and bless us all so we could go home. (The last Pope, not the German one now; he gives me the willies.) But this experience was completely different. Hundreds of thousands of people- packed into a relatively small space - all erupting at once with joy and jubilation. People were crying and hugging and high-fiving and dancing. Some of the dancing was pretty hilarious. But it was a strange atmosphere, very calm and a little aphrodisiacal, made even more so, I think, by Obama's cool-headed and somber speech.

It felt a lot like a rock concert or festival, at least in terms of the magnitude of energy. But even those events have a kind of pent-up (youthful) agression to them, however upbeat and optimistic they might try to be. At Grant Park, there was a good deal of anxiety and trepidation, at least at first, along with a whole lot of silent, black helicopters, spy planes, mounted cops, and hidden snipers. But at the end, after Obama said good-night, loitered on the stage for a bit with his family and the Bidens, and then disappeared, there was just a feeling of relief and tired euphoria. Smileyness, maybe.

And then there was this moment of, "What next?" Everybody just kind of turned and walked home. It wasn't a "march," per se, but there was just such large amount of mass that, as we left the park, we occupied all of Michigan Avenue and State Street, halting traffic throughout most of downtown Chicago for a good long time - it felt like hours, but probably wasn't. There was some sporadic cheering and chanting and quite a bit of honking of horns and high-fiving car passengers. R.A. took some pictures, and then we went to a weird little bar/ diner on State Street for some drinks, and to wait for the crowds to thin out enough so that we could get on the Red Line and go home. Inside, there was that same feeling of exhausted glee.

When we got back to Roscoe Village, I immediately checked the results online, and was pleased to see that Obama had won Indiana.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Intermission: About That New Puppy

So the internets have been all abuzz about the Obama's new puppy and ohmygod what kind of puppy should the Obama's new puppy be and I want a new puppy please daddy daddy can I have a new puppy nooooowwww?!?!?!?

Well, I just wanted to remind that part of the world that is living in the world of rainbows and cotton candy that President Obama will be the commander-in-chief. That means that he will need to be able to command and chief. And in front of whom will he need to be doing all of this chiefing? In front of Vladimir "The Putin" Putin, that's who.

And do you know what The Big P keeps as a pet?

That's right. A tiger. A Siberian, Russian, Dostoyevsky-reading, Nazi-devouring tiger. So no chocolate lab or Peruvian hairless is going to lead to the next Perestroika.

Therefore, I am hereby opening the floor to new, more badass suggestions for Presidential Pet/ Mascot. R.A. and I hashed over a couple of possibilities. Cheetah? Well, it's got the whole Kenyan angle going for it, but it's really just the poor man's tiger, now, isn't it. Bear? No, no, far too Russian. Chinese Snapping Turtle? Now that doesn't even make any sense.

As of now, our best suggestion has been bald eagle. It's big, it's lethal, and it's patriotic. Also, we think that Obama has kind of that avian "lean and mean" look about him. But I'm not sure; he may be more of a Peregrine Falcon kind of guy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 4th, 2008: Part Two

Editor's Note: We have been trying to get the second installment of Mr. J's election night report for several days now. When he failed to meet deadline and ceased to return our phone calls or e-mails, we visited his home in Chicago. There, we found him asleep on his sofa, an empty bottle of "Old Grand Dad" bourbon rolling on the floor, wearing nothing but an upside down Chicago White Sox baseball cap and the words "Obama '08" written in chocolate syrup across his cheast. We found the following pages next to his Hermes 3000 Typewriter and, after feeding the cat, took them for publication. We have decided not to telephone him for the third installment until the morning.

So there we were, sometime between eight and nine at night, with everything pretty much hanging in the balance. The air is heavy with the scent of indecision, with all of those south-eastern and mid-western states being still undecided. The crowd was tired, anxious, and just a little too moist and a little too aware of the fact that most of them had to be at work tomorrow at nine in the morning. Morale was reaching a bit of a nadir (Nader?) with our crowd. But, I think, that the next announcements were timed quite well.

First, came Pennsylvania. The crowd cheered, with as much relief as anything else. I never thought that Pennsylvania was ever going to in play, regardless of what the McCain campaign had been claiming. But with Obama still behind in both Virginia and Indiana at that point, seeing the Keystone State go blue breathed a little bit of life back into Grant Park.

A few more minutes passed. The crowd booed when CNN showed McCain with a 5-point lead in Texas. "Wait, why are you booing?" I shouted, "Texas is still too close to call! That's great news!" "Shh," said R.A., "Don't argue with the mob."

Wolf Blitzer then said something that really made me cross. "We're going to go to commercial break right now, but don't go away. CNN is ready to make a big projection in this race, and we're going to do it right after these messages. CNN: The best political team on television." Oh, they're ready to make a call, one that is really important, that you really don't want to miss, but you have to sit and watch more health insurance and creepy Viagra adds before they do.

When they came back from commercial, they showed us at Grant Park, and everyone stood up and cheered. Then they cut back to their special "Projection" screen, with those laser sound effects. "CNN," said Wolf, "is ready to call Ohio for Barack Obama."

The crowd went wild. Jumping, shouting, even a little dancing. My initial reaction was a combination of disbelief and skepticism. Ohio had just closed their polls. Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana had all close their polls between 1-2 hours ago, and none of them ad been called. And Ohio was supposed to be just as close as any of those states. Also, and this was probably at the heart of my suspicions, we'd heard this story before. If it were true that Obama had won Ohio, then the election was over - there was no way that McCain could come out ahead in the Electoral College. But that was what John Kerry had thought, too, and he still managed to find a way to lose. So you'll please pardon me if I wasn't quite in the jubilant mood yet.

November 4th, 2008: Part One

So yes, I was at Grant Park last night, along with the rest of the city of Chicago. R.A. took a lot of good pictures; I will start hassling her to put them up on her blog. We got to he park at around quarter to six, and were duly herded into the non-ticket holding section of the park, at the north end, by the Pritzker Auditorium. There was a jumbo-tron set up there, tuned in to CNN, along with food and drink vendors and lots and lots of porta-johns.

About twenty minutes after we arrived, CNN called Vermont for Obama with 0% of the precincts reporting. (I love Vermont.) The crowd went absolutely wild. A few minutes later, they called Kentucky for McCain, and everyone booed and cat-called the man on the giant television. Everyone seemed both very nervous and very excited, and there was lot of energy going around. And a little bit of weed, too. But mostly energy.

The crowd got a lot more tense after the early returns from Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida all came in. At first, none of them looked good. I was particularly scared when Obama was behind in both Virginia and Florida. I had been reading about all of the voting problems that they were having in Virginia, and I definitely did not want it to prove to be like Florida of 2000 or Ohio of 2004. I also was worried for that completely unrelated reason of realizing that I was in the middle of a crowd of several hundred thousand people that could very easily enter the "angry mob" category if things didn't go their way. So, yeah, it was tense there for a while.

Things started looking up when the East Coast polls closed and CNN marched out all the Big Blue States for Obama. We all stood up and cheered as, one by one, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and D.C. all went blue. A few minutes later, CNN called New Hampshire. R.A. and I stood up and cheered. (Obama ended up with 355,901 votes in New Hampshire. That 355,901st vote? That's R.A.)

But after that, the excitement of the crowd started slowly to dwindle. Six o'clock became seven o'clock, and seven o'clock eight, and what had been a warm, balmy day started to get chilly and damp. And I think that we started to realize that we had all gathered, thousands of us, to sit in this park together and watch the news. For four consecutive hours. My favorite part of this was that, whenever CNN would cut to Chicago, everybody would stand up and start screaming like crazy. But as soon as the cameras were back in the studio, we would all sit down and be quiet again.

But that's not to suggest that the crowd was in anyway complacent. A big roar went up when the Midwest checked in, and Illinois got to lead Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota into the blue column. A few minutes later, the crowd loudly greeted New York when they finally closed their polls and voted officially for Obama. (Oh My God!! "Obama" is no longer being flagged as a misspelling by Blogger!! He's a real word now!) And whenever CNN would play their dramatic "Projection" music, everyone would immediately get to their feet, only to boo and hiss in disappointment when they found out that Alabama or Arkansas was being called for McCain. And through it all, everyone was keeping a nevous eye on those yellow states (was CNN sending us a metaphorical message?) - Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Nervously Waiting For the Polls to Open

It's 1:30 in the morning, and I can't sleep. My stomach feels like a giant ball of lead, and I've spent the last couple of hours reading New York Times articles, making iTunes playlists, and playing solitaire. I keep telling myself that Obama's going to win tomorrow, because all of the data points to it. is now giving Obama a 98.1% chance of being elected. But you know how the human brain processes those kinds of statistics; even looking at Nate Silver's pie charts don't make me feel any better. They just kinda make me hungry.

Maybe it was an attempt to assuage my feelings of guilt and helplessness, but I made, like, 150 calls today to Indiana on behalf of the Obama campaign. There was one young woman - I'm pretty sure that she was black - who told me that the last time that she tried to vote, in 2004, she was told by the officials at her polling place that it was illegal to vote for a straight Democratic ticket, that she had to vote for at least one Republican. And she just wanted to ask me if that was true, because she wasn't sure or not.

So I guess that I'm only partly anxious about the actual outcome of the election. Most of the McCain supporters with whom I spoke were very nice and polite. I even gave some of them polling information; I figured, y'know, that they ought to know where to go to vote, too. There was just one young man who shouted at me, "Fuck Barack Obama!" and then slammed down the phone. (Have you ever noticed how you can tell when the person on the other end of the line actually slams the phone down?) That's fine with me - I've done a lot of work in phone banks. I'm OK with being hung up on.

But what worries me is thinking about what happens when these two young people meet at the polls tomorrow. And then get multiplied by standing in line for six hours and by being tens of millions of people, and not just two. So, yes, I guess that I'm saying that I will be surprised and relieved if we get through tomorrow without any kinds of violence or disruptions of the voting process. I'm guessing that I'm not the only one tense and uptight about this election, and anxiety is always the surest recipe for well, maybe not disaster - let's just call it mass stupidity.

And then what? Say we do get through tomorrow without any pitched battles in the polling lines, without ant disputed or litigated voting results, without any Brooks Brothers riots, without any kinds of national emergencies, and let's go so far as to say that Obama not only wins, but wins comfortably, with a mandate. Then what? It's not like we're not in an economic depression, or that we're not involved in two foreign wars. All of the headlines that I've been reading tonight have been saying that this is the end of a historic journey, but it's not. It's just the beginning. I can kind of imagine all of Obama's campaign cheering and congratulating each other after he wins, and the whole city of Chicago erupting in a giant celebration, and Obama just standing there, thinking to himself, "What now?"

Does anyone else remember this movie?

It's nice to know that some things never change.

"America is therefore the land of the future, where, in the ages that lie before us, the burden of the World's History shall reveal itself." - Hegel

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." - H.L. Mencken

Sometimes, It Is Worth The Effort

Me: Hello, my name is Joel, and I'm calling on behalf of the Obama campaign. May I please speak with Jane Doe?

Voter in Indiana: Yeah, that's me. Look, I wanna vote for Obama, but I've gotta work tomorrow, so I just can't vote. I just can't.

Me: Well, did you know that the polls in Indiana are open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm tomorrow?

Lady Who's Vote Just Might Matter: Oh... they're open until six? I thought they closed at five. I guess I can do that...

Me: Your nearest polling location is Lincoln Elementary School at 10 Main St. Do you know where that is?

Undecided Voter Who Has Been Leaning Obama For Awhile: Yeah... yeah, that's near here. I can get there after work. OK, I'll do that.

Me: Great. If you have any more questions, you can call the Obama Voter Hotline at 1-877-235-6226. (Real number).

One More Voter: OK, thanks very much. I'll do that. (click)

What I Am Reading This Morning

1)"For McCain, Lighter End After Years On the Trail" - In some alternate universe, John McCain picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate, openly rebuked the far-right wing of his party, fired Steve Schmidt, and publicly refused the endorsements of Bush, Rove, and Cheney. He agreed to do three town-hall meetings with Obama, where they had several exciting and informative exchanges about the intricacies of the capital gains tax and the difference between "tactics" and "strategy" in modern warfare. No one in the McCain campaign has ever used the phrases "socialist," "appeasement," or "pallin' around with terrorists" in reference to Obama. Latest polls show Obama coasting to a victory, winning every state but Arizona and Utah.

2) "Nuggets Dealing Iverson to Pistons" - Go Celtics. Go Cavs. Go... Bobcats. I now have a new team to despise in the East.

3) " 'Joe said this morning when I walked into the coffee shop, 'It sure is quiet in town,' ' Clark Weber told me, referring to one of his neighbors. 'There was nobody on the streets. Everybody's pickup was in front of the right house. Nobody had run off with nobody's wife. Joe and I sat there and looked at one another and drank coffee, and we couldn't even think of anything to talk about.' " - Pamela Colloff, "Exile on Main Street: George W. Bush's Weary Neighbors"

4) "It was not really till after their recent long talk that she knew how deeply, how quite exhaustively, they had communicated - so that they were to remain together, for the time, in consequence, quite in the form of sociable drinkers who sit back from the table over which they had been resting their elbows, over which they have emptied to the last drop their respective charged cups. The cups were still there on the table, but turned upside down; and nothing was left for the companions but to confirm by placid silences the fact that the wine had been good." - Henry James, The Golden Bowl