Thursday, February 26, 2009

5 Thoughts on a Thursday

1) Am I the only one who is OK with looking into a mirror while he pees but not while he poops? (What kind of person puts a mirror there in a public restroom, anyways?)

2) So I’ve moved on to proofreading the next title from my company, Transformers and Philosophy. And there’s something that one of the authors mentioned that really struck me. He’s talking about the level of technology that would be required for an alien civilization (like the Transformers, you know, Optimus Prime and Megatron) to travel to our solar system and make contact with us. The closest analogy that he can come up with is Columbus as the Transformers and the Native Americans as humans, only if Columbus showed up on a nuclear submarine with access to the internet, and that, instead of Native Americans, the most advanced civilization that he encountered was a colony of lemurs.

3) While proofreading, I often catch myself humming or singing softly. This isn’t much of a big deal, as I am in a cubicle at the end of the office, well outside of humming range from any of my co-workers. However, I have also realized that, when I was doing marketing for Radiohead and Philosophy, I was singing ‘Karma Police’ and ‘There There,’ for Jimmy Buffett it was ‘Margaritaville’ and ‘Fins.’ Now that I’m on to Transformers? ‘The Touch’ by Stan Bush. Featuring the awesome lyrics: “When all Hell’s breaking loose/ You’ll be right in the eye of the storm!”

4) The English word "virtue" is descended from the Latin virtutem, which means, roughly, "moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth." Now, I don't know about you, but I tend to use our word "virtue" in four of those five ways. But, of course, it's that fifth, hidden, concealed meaning of the word that might just be the most important. (Politically speaking, I mean.) The English word "virile" is descended from the Latin virilis, meaning "of a man" or "manly." Both virtutem and virilis have the same root word of vir, which means, of course, man. (This is according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. R.A. told me that vir can mean either “man” or “human”.) If we take this etymology literally (ba-dum-dum-ching), then we might be forced to conclude that phrases like "virtuous woman," or "womanly virtue" are oxymoronic, insofar as they insist upon a woman 'acting as if she were a man.'

5) “Enlightenment hitherto has fortunately been men’s affair, men’s gift – we remain therewith “among ourselves”; and in the end, in view of all that women write about “woman,” we may well have considerable doubt as to whether woman really DESIRES enlightenment about herself – I believe ornamentation belongs to the eternally feminine? – why, then, she wishes to make herself feared: perhaps she thereby wishes to get the mastery. But she does not want truth – what does woman care for truth?” – Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #232. (Particularly interesting when cross referenced with what Nietzsche believes about the concept of “truth,” such as in his essay “Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense.”)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Resolutions Were Meant to be Broken

I have been meaning to post about this incident for awhile now, but for some reason or another it just has never come out right. So now I am just going to go ahead with it, and damn the torpedoes.

Every Tuesday and Thursday - before my internship at the publishing company - I stop by the Starbucks on Randolph and Wabash for a tall coffee and a croissant, or, barring the availability of any croissants, a blueberry muffin. And, barring the availability of a blueberry muffing, a glazed doughnut, although I personally believe that Starbucks' doughnuts are gross. I just need something to out in my stomach in the morning.

Anyways, back in January - during that period of unbearable coldness - I was sitting in this one particular Starbucks when a homeless man wandered in. Despite being African-American, his hands were white, as in, they were frostbitten to the point of total lack of blood circulation. My guess is that he had spent at least one night out on the streets, maybe more. Also, I don't think that he was altogether there upstairs... he kept talking to himself and was weirdly dancing to the lite jazz that they were playing on the Starbucks corporate radio at eight in the morning. Muttering to himself, he sat down at the counter by the window next to me, when W-, the store manager who, every morning, greets me and every other customer with a "How are you, honey, and what will you have today?", said to this guy: "Excuse me, sir, you'll have to buy something in order to sit there." He responded by getting up from the stool where he was sitting and doing this weird little dance across the cafe floor.

"Sir, please buy something, or I'm going to have to ask you to leave!" said W-.

"Ah, fuck you!" said the guy.

"Sir, I am the store manager, and if you don't buy something or leave, I'm going to have to call the police." said W-.

"You ain't the store manager!" said, the guy, shutting his eyes and rising up in his tippie-toes. "And you know how I know's that? 'Cause you's black!"

And I guess that this is what shocked me about this whole episode. Because, even though it seemed rather apparent to me that this vagrant man wasn't sane, he still had the presence of mind to acknowledge the fact that black people don't own things, that they cannot have a place of authority because they are black, that no black person (let alone a black woman like W-.) could ever rise to the position of store manager.

No cops were called. W-. got pissed and she and her co-worker - also a black woman - showed the homeless man the door. It was cold outside - well below zero - so I don't know if he had the resources or the presence of mind to survive. After he left, the ladies had a laugh at how crazy he was, and then got back to their jobs of serving coffee at (now) eight-thirty in the morning.

And I suppose that my point is this: that four months ago, the homeless man would have had a point, that W-., even if she dared to call herself store manager and even if she had some power to decide who can or cannot come into her store, was never in a position of real power, because she was black. Nobody really ever had to take her seriously. But that the election of Barack Obama has changed alot of that. That is, that he's not a symbol of African-American advancement in America to places of power; he is it. You can't call his position of power merely symbolic or ceremonial. And, not that that's an end to racism in America or anything, but it is the beginning of the end to the idea that any authority wielded by African-Americans is as nothing more than a place-holder, that W.- was only acting out the will of the white male who is her boss. (And, I guess a little unfortunately for this narrative, happens to be Jewish.)

Because Obama is the boss. He's the store manager. He gets to decide who gets to eat and who doesn't.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What Is This "Warmth" of Which You Speak?

Yesterday, the weather in Chicago was sunny and in the 60's. So on my lunch break, I just had to step outside and wander about Millennium Park, and soak up some of the sunshine. On my way there, I passed the corner of Michigan and Randolph - which quite possibly could be the single busiest corner in the entire city - and saw this homeless guy, just sitting on some steps, pounding a 40. And when I came back from stroll through the park, about thirty minutes later, he was still there, a little more than half way through his malt liquor (Colt 45 - it works every time), resting against a slab of concrete, just kind of enjoying the sunny day.

I like to think that everyone who saw this guy - even the cops - sort of figured that it was too nice of a day to hassle him about drinking in public. I mean, if this guy was able to find/ panhandle/ steal a couple of bucks (maybe he found a 10 on the ground), and decided that it would be best spent on some booze and cigarettes, and that he's got nothing better to do on a beautiful day then to sit in a warm spot and get drunk, good for him. I mean, isn't that what the American Dream's all about?

It's supposed to snow tomorrow. And I say good. Everybody needs to get back to work, anyways. What are we, for Christ's sake, San Francisco?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

False Spring

The weather is beautiful today, upper 50's and sunny. We've opened up all of the windows, and are playing Indian music. Tonight, we're going to volunteer at a fundraiser being held by the sarcoidosis foundation in R.A.'s building. It is supposed to stay nice through Tuesday. Then it should get back to normal, i.e., zero degrees with a negative fifteen wind chill factor.

Friday, February 6, 2009

6 Famous Philosophy Majors (Who Are Not Philosophy Teachers)

Whenever I would tell someone in college that I was majoring in philosophy, I would invariable get some kind of reaction akin to, "Philosophy, huh?" [He takes a sip from his red plastic cup.] "So whaddaya gonna do with that? Teach?"

Teaching has always been at least a part of my career plans. But now, with the economy shedding jobs like a Bernese Mountain Dog on the French Riviera in July, I figure that it's about time for me to get creative about this job search. And to blog about it. So, for motivation, here are six men who majored in philosophy in college and went on to have successful careers. (Sorry, Philosophy Club is strictly No Girls Allowed!)

Steve Martin

Steve Martin
The eyes of a madman philosopher.

He's the one that got me started on this list, after reading this article about his Top Ten performances on Rotten Tomatoes. Steve Martin majored in philosophy at Long Beach State College. His experiences at LBSC led him to the following conclusions:

It changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, 'Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!' Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up, that it's easy . . . and it's thrilling."[9] Martin periodically spoofed his philosophy studies in his 1970s stand-up act, comparing philosophy with studying geology. "If you're studying geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all, but philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life.

I bet that philosophy also made him do this:

and this.

And this:

Ah, yes. The inspirational properties of Western Philosophy. And cocaine.*

Stephen Colbert

Stephen making a subtle point concerning the nature of presentation and representation.

Colbert majored in philosophy at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He didn't graduate from there though. After two years, he decided to transfer to Northwestern, where he eventually joined the comedy troupe Second City and met Amy Sedaris, with whom we he would start Strangers with Candy. So the world is probably a better place because he changed majors.

Fortunately, Colbert's philosophical background will soon be back to haunt him, because Open Court Books will be releasing "Stephen Colbert and Philosophy," scheduled to hit book shelves in May, 2009!

Buy it! Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!

Matt Groening.

Just in case... you know... you didn't know...

This one everyone knows already. But I wanted include him just to remind you that (a) he was born in Portland, OR, and that many of the names and references in The Simpsons come from his childhood growing up there, and that (b) he studied at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, which he described as, "a hippie college, with no grades or required classes, that drew every weirdo in the Northwest." No shit - Evergreen's list of "notable alumni" on wikipedia includes
and, of course:
Freaks. All of them, freaks.

Also, from Philosopundit:

Do you see a pattern starting to develop here? As in, a pattern of white, middle-class, male, comedians? Well, what about a Jewish, upper-middle-class, male bad-ass?

This image is from If you ask me, Rahm is

White House chief of staff Rahm
Emanuel didn't technically major in philosophy, because he went to Sarah Lawrence College, which doesn't technically have majors. What was that about "hippie" colleges full of "weirdos"? However, according to this article from the New Yorker, Emanuel "loved philosophy, especially the nineteenth-century German thinkers..." and that Rahm's professor "remembered getting into philosophical discussions with his advisee, trying to temper Emanuel’s infatuation with Hegel by showing how much Hegel had actually been influenced by Goethe..."

Apparently Emanuel was obsessed with Hegel for a while in college, which has got me looking at Obama's recent economic policies looking for how they reflect the transcendental dialectic and manifest the ideal spirit of history.

Also, Emanuel - born and raised in Chicago - returned after college to get his master's degree in speech and communication from Northwestern, making him the second Wildcat alum on this list.

Ethan Coen
Joel and Ethan Coen. Photo: EFE
"Get out of my photo!" "No, you get out of my photo!" "I hate you!" "You were an accident!" (P.S. - Ethan is the short one.)

Ethan Coen of "Joel and Ethan Coen" fame, was born and raised in St. Louis Park, outside of Minneapolis. Their parents were both academics; their father taught economics at the University of Minnesota (go Gophers!) and their mother taught art history at St. Cloud State University. (Watch out for those Minnesota Nazis.) Both of the Coen brothers graduate from Simon's Rock in Massachussetts and, while Joel went on to attend the prestigious film program at NYU, Ethan had to settle for studying philosophy at Princeton, where he wrote his thesis, "Two Views of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy."

So that's why we like "The Big Lebowski."

What's that you say? That all of these guys are pussies, with soft-doughy flesh? That three out of five are still some form of comedians, and that one of the other two became famous for essentially making darkly comic films aimed specificially at undergraduate philosophy majors? Well, try telling that to this guy:


Bruce Lee. That's right. The Dragon. Bruce enrolled in the University of Washington (go Huskies!) shortly after moving to Seattle in 1959 and majored in philosophy. Lee focused on Eastern Philosophy (duh! He's Asian!). He had vast knowledge of Taoism, Buddhism, and the works of 20th century Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. He also incorporated aspects of these teachings into his fighting styles, and even wrote a manifesto explaining his own personal philosophy, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

So, yeah. Martial arts expert/ film star. That's my fall-back plan in case this whole "philosophy professor" thing doesn't work out.

* It's a little known fact that Kant wrote the entirety of the First and Second Critiques on one wild, coke-fueled weekend in 1791. His original title was going to be "Fear and Loathing in Konigsberg."