Sunday, March 14, 2010

In Response To A Philosophy Post

I was reading a blog and comment thread about philosophy, science and such that Josh posted a link to on Twitter. (Okay ignore how dorky that is on so many levels.) It was a post called "Non-foundationalism for the layman."

It was an interesting read. The author laid out some ideas and tied them to some other ideas and left enough unsaid to create some discussion. And the comments were certainly filled with discussion.

What I came away with, however, wasn't any better understanding of different philosophical approaches to finding what is true. What I came away with was two things.

First was a question. Why do philosophers always seem to clothe their ideas in the garments of other philosophers thoughts? Most conversations I hear or read between students (and here I mean anyone questing for knowledge through study) of philosophy seem to become clogged with allusions to philosophers and the theses they make. As an example, let me take a portion of a response to a comment by the author:

My encounters with Straussians left me respectful of and somewhat interested in the big names, but unconvinced of the total approach, probably because I was already into Alasdair MacIntyre before I met any Straussians.

Or a later response by someone else:

I am fine with not sticking my hand in any fires out of certainty about what will happen. I think you’re getting at Kantian distinction between noumenon and phenomenon here. I certainly think that we can judge the later, even if we have to make assumptions as to the former. As you say: “My belief that the word “fire” can’t ever perfectly correspond to the fire-in-itself in a transcendent way has never caused me to abandon my dedication to not sticking my hands in fires!”

Now, please don't get the idea that I am in any way holding any of this up for ridicule, because that is not my intention. I'm merely trying to relate something that I've often noticed in philosophical discussions.

As a layman, or mere philosophy dilettante, I am very clearly not well versed enough to offer much in the way of intellectual name dropping. But, I can see that for people who are well versed, this type of conversation could provide a shorthand of sorts. By referring to Kant (who, I hear, was a real piss ant), Nietzsche or Aristotle, one would also be referencing a whole series of ideas that these different thinkers have previously expounded upon.

It seems to veer away from what I have always perceived philosophy to be about though. That is, the simplification of our complicated world in such a way as to greater understand its meaning. (And, yes, that statement was a simplification itself.)

Anyway, after much thought, I'm still left wondering why philosophers so often use variations of "so and so said that x, thus y must be the case." Or to simplify further, why do they gotta use so dang many big words to say stuff?

I left with a second thing. (See, I didn't forget.) I left with a glimpse of truth. Or, perhaps, with a glimpse of a truth. It wasn't anything that was said in the blog or comments. It was more of a response to an underlying question in most philosophical discussions. What is the truth? It was clear and simple.

What is truth?

The sound of snow melting in the spring.

Not particularly elegant or ground breaking, but I think that might say just enough about life to be considered a truth. Then again, it could just be something that sounds neat to say. What do I know? Who am I? Why am I? Where...ahhh, forget it.

Just go out and hear the snow melt.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm tired of the foot stomping...just pass the thing

Hearing clips from the health care reform summit yesterday did little to restore any faith in the qualities of the men and women given the opportunity to represent us in Washington. The softness of the Democrats and the foot stomping and constant "No! No! No!" of the Republicans was enough to drive me to madness.

The repeated chorus from the Republicans was that the majority of Americans don't want this health care reform. Despite poll after poll showing the opposite and the fact that they are a party voted into the minority, these bull-headed obstructionists continued saying it over and over. Seemingly, the mid-term victory of a charismatic Republican over a dull, apathetic Democrat for Ted Kennedy's old seat is all the proof they need to bolster this out-of-touch belief.

Granted many people do oppose health care reform. The polls show that a lot of people don't want the current offering to pass and that a lot of people do. On closer examination though, it turns out that most of the main parts taken individually receive overwhelming support - even from conservative voters. What this shows is that the Republicans have done a great job of repeating "government takeover" but a poor job of listening to what Americans want.

Anyone who isn't embarrassed by the state of health care availability in the United States is either incredibly lucky to have a stellar health insurance policy, or incredibly unaware and naive. We are the inheritors of a seriously flawed system that boasts some of the finest care available in the world, but also the most expensive and far from most effective care in the world.

The fault lies not in one or two places, but in many. Insurance companies are chalking up record profits, malpractice suits are out of control, costs of procedures are spiraling and drug costs are exploding. Any of these causes are complex and not easily explained or fixed. Regardless, they all need to be addressed.

Personally, I would love to say "fuck em all" and see a full government takeover. Eliminate the health insurance vultures, set prices for medical care and procedures, pay for the education of any doctors who sign on to practice medicine in the U.S. and tell the drug companies what we're willing to pay. That's what I would love to see. And, yes, that is socialism. It's socialism and I don't give a shit. That's how strong my frustration is. This system is broken and it needs to be fixed.

I'm not silly enough to believe something like that would ever happen. It's not a cure all. There is no magic bullet and that particular bullet would create a god-awful big mess. It would be such a big procedure that health care might not survive it. It's too drastic.

The proposed plan would also mean some big changes. Many people won't like it. So what. Don't like it? Stick with what you've got now.

The fact is, if the system isn't reformed drastically, it will not survive anyway. Less people have health insurance now than did two decades ago and those that do are facing increasingly high costs and limited benefits. Most people just haven't felt it yet because they've been buffered by their employers footing more of the bill. How long do you think that will continue?

In the last two weeks, Californians have seen a major insurance provider hike costs of policies by nearly 40 percent and another make a hike of over 30 percent. This in an economy that is seeing inflation at a near-record low.The economy is so weak that there is nearly no inflation and yet insurance giants are raising prices by nearly about 40 percent. There hasn't been a year in the last decade where inflation reached even four percent. Think about that and say with a straight face that serious reform isn't needed. And if you think that's only happening in California, you're not paying attention - just ask insurance buyers in Virginia.

Anyway, think what you will. I'm too tired and frustrated to even write any more about this. If you are even vaguely interested in health care reform, contact your Senator and your Representative. Let them know what you want. Maybe they'll put aside gamesmanship long enough to actually listen. I hope so. This shouldn't be a political game, it's about people's lives and health. more ass-hattery...

Jim Bunning says "tough shit" to extending unemployment benefits despite a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate. Here's his office number - 202-208-6611. I called and asked him to show some real solidarity with the unemployed and return his monthly paycheck to the treasury. It seemed like a good way for him to experience a little of the plight of the unemployed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Is Google getting less Googletastic?

I was reading a couple of blogs about SEO (search engine optimization) and it made me think about Google and how it's awesomeness seems to be failing.

I still remember the days of Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista and the other old school search engines. It wasn't a particularly great age of the internet back then. I had a small search aggregater that would do simultaneous searches on several search engines. That made things better, but it was a bit slow. The nice thing was that you could happily chance upon sites you never would have found on your own. Surfing at it's best.

Then Google started to blossom.

Google became the go-to search portal. All the cool kids were using it. Google left every other search engine in the dust because it did good searches. It was that plain and simple. Sure, there was a certain quality of coolness about it, but it was really the searches that set it apart.

Over the years, Google improved their algorithms and improved the quality of searches. That was a good thing. I still missed some of the old search engines and the fact that you could use them to get slightly different results, but the trade off was acceptable.

There's been a change going on lately though.

It seems that Google searches really aren't that great anymore. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there are fewer really relevant hits and a lot more current event and commercial hits. Check it out the next time you Google something.

I'm not sure what this means - maybe nothing at all - but it does worry me a bit. When searches become nothing more than advertising, they become essentially worthless. Sometimes you want the Yellow Pages. Sometimes you really do want know how to make a spinning wheel and not buy one, or learn about Abraham Lincoln and not open an account at Lincoln National Savings and Loan.

Well...that's that...back to the Olympics and the new Blackberry.

Friday, February 19, 2010

There goes the suspense...

I'm feeling lazy...but not too lazy to post something. This is actually part of a reply on Josh's blog about what's going to happen on Lost. So, without further ado, my guess about how Lost will end:

The whole cast is put on trial for breaking a Good Samaritan law, Jack doesn’t marry Winnie Cooper, they all reminisce about how they all met and leave one by one until only John and the Smoke Monster remain. John holds back a tear as he says they’ll probably never see each other again and Smoke Monster says not to worry about that and that he left a note for John – “Goodbye” spelled out in rocks. John leaves and Smoke Monster looks around the now-empty island, smiles and turns out the lights…and maybe an asteroid is in there somewhere too…and we learn that Kate married Pacie instead of Dawson when we see them watching the end of “Lost” and she wonders if they should call to congratulate Dawson.

So, there you have it. Now you have no need to watch Lost anymore. You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Scattered pictures...

Watched pairs figure skating last night.

The Canadian pair skated to 'The Way We Were', which I hummed in the shower this morning. The lyrics reminded me of you and I realized one more time that I miss you.

It's been twenty years and I still think about you - not every day, but often. I wish things had turned out differently. We had some wonderful dreams, didn't we? Life had different things in mind for us.

Glad we've remained friends all this time. Just thought I should let you know.

Damn figure skating.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

For every person a niche and every niche a person

It wasn't that long ago that there wasn't this thing we call the internet. Phones were just losing their cords and a couple people I knew were carrying around new mobile phones the size of Smart cars when I first caught a glimpse of this thing that would explode into our lives.

I was using a computer in the Poli Sci department at Oregon State University and opened up a connection to a bunch of other computers at colleges around the country. It felt like a scene out War Games. From this one computer, I could access what seemed like a wealth of knowledge. The only problem was that you had to know the language to talk to get to any of it. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to get these other computers to talk back to me. I could see there was interesting stuff out there, but it was no more accessible than exhibits on the other side of the world in the Louvre or the British Museum.

Mostly, what I found was a lot of indexes to information that was held at these other universities and a way to request copies be sent, by mail, to mine. Fascinating, but ultimately unsatisfying and only vaguely helpful unless you had a need for a specific book or study. My early hacking attempts were nipped in the bud by boredom.

The decade past and we got a Macintosh at home and I slowly stopped making fun of those guys with the mobile phones. The desktop revolution was in full swing and those phones got smaller and more popular. The Internet was opening up and bulletin boards were popping up all over it.

Fast forward - past the compact disc, the original MTV veejays who played actual music videos and airbags in every new car - to the brave new world of the internet, the internets, the tubes. Every kid has a cel phone and everyone - it seems - has some sort of web presence. If email was groundbreaking, then social networking has been earth shattering.

But what is this social networking?

There's an easy answer but not a not simple answer. It's this. In part, it's blogging, and yet blogging doesn't have to be part of it. It's about meeting new people and getting and staying in touch with old friends. It's part welcome wagon and part high school reunion. It can be as shallow as a "Hey Wazzup?" and as all consuming as an obsession.

Blogging is a big piece of the social pie. Who here hasn't found new and interesting people by following links on other peoples blogs? Sure, there's plenty of time that circles the drain, but there are also some new friends with shared interests that make it all worth while. I know my life has been enriched by the people I've met through blogging.

It's not just blogs in all their Blogger/WordPress/PersonalWebsite glory either. Spectacular and liberating as blogging has been - and still is - for many people, there are niches upon niches upon niches for everyone out in the social networking world. There's the once banner carrying MySpace and the now dominant Facebook. There's Second Life and Twitter and hundreds of other ways to connect in big ways and small.

Right now, I'm typing away on Blogger with a tab open to a story about Google coming out with Buzz that I found because Alyssa Milano read it and Tweeted it onTwitter. That's right, Alyssa Milano - the actress - tweeted it and myself and 1.4 million of her closest friends learned something new today.

For many, Twitter is nothing more than people telling you what they had for lunch today. It is. It's that and so much more. It's also making connections and being part of big, giant cocktail party. Some people are dull as sanded brick and many more are sterling conversationalists - albeit in exchanges 140 characters or less.

Sure, there's the lunch thing - I had a free Grand Slam breakfast with my brother, by the way. But, also got to take part in a lively free for all coming up with four word things said after having sex, eavesdropped on author/screenwriter/graphic novelist Neil Gaiman bantering with movie maker Kevin Smith, helped a fabulous musician in Alaska find info on adding an MP3 player to her website, caught up with an old blog buddy in San Francisco, poked fun at my friend Josh and heard instantly that President Obama was appearing in person at the White House press briefing after meeting with Congressional Republicans. Not a bad day's work.

Don't even get me started on all the old friends that Facebook has brought back into my life. Yeah, I've wasted plenty of time playing Farmville, but I've also found many people I never would have found otherwise. And now I get to have friends from old workplaces, high school and even old crushes from elementary school back in my life.

All this is really just a long-winded way of saying that social networking is an amazing wonder and we all get to take part in it. We get to make of it what we will. We can take a bit here or there or we can dive in the deep end and take it all. There's a little something for everyone and a lot to go around. Take a nibble or heap your plate and go back for seconds and third, it doesn't matter.

It's an amazing world we live in. I feel lucky to be alive in our times and I feel honored to share the ride with all of you - friends old and new - out there. Thanks for sharing your lives with me and taking an interest in my mine. Hopefully, we're all a bit enriched by the experience.

Now, if you wouldn't mind, pass that pie...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Learn how to drink

Why do all stories about getting so drunk you can't remember anything always include a detailed report of how many shots you had...amateurs.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Note to self...adding peanut butter and hot pepper to top ramen doesn't make it Thai food. That is all...carry on.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Punk this Phil

Groundhog Day...shadow...hmmm. I think I'm okay with this. The standard line is to moan about more winter, but I just don't feel like it.

First of all, it's been a pretty mild winter here. We just got our first snowfall in over a month. What's to complain about if you haven't had to shovel out all year? I guess I wouldn't mind a bit more snow. It's still February for cryin' out loud. If it's still snowing in May or June, I'll get back to you on how I'm handling it.'s a groundhog. A groundhog!

No wonder nobody is worried about humans trashing the environment and perhaps...wait for it...contributing to climate change. Maybe if The Groundhog was letting us know about climate change, Americans would believe it. Science? Hell no...we got it from The Groundhog.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a thing against The Groundhog. He made a great movie and was smart enough to cast Andie McDowell in it. Clearly, The Groundhog knows his hot women. Ladies man yes...brilliant scientist...ummm, no.

So, let's just all remember that The Groundhog is a celebrity and a movie maker, but that doesn't mean he knows anything about science and weather. Respect the guy for his achievements, but listen to what he says about things out of his areas of expertise with a certain amount of, well, skepticism.

I just wish there was a way to tie these thoughts to a bigger message about the current shallowness of our society...but it's not like we listen to politicians instead of scientists, or labor to send our kids to college and still call the very professors they're learning from liberal elites in sneering tones. Nobody took what an unemployed plumber not really named Joe as gospel during an election for the highest office in the land after all.

Maybe, if there were things like that to point to...

Monday, January 25, 2010

One is an amazing number if it's your birthday

Sunday offered up a fun afternoon. Went over to my brother and sister-in-law's place for a birthday get together for my little niece. It was her first birthday and as is usual for this kind of thing, she didn't have a clue what was going on but sure found it neat that there were so many people - big and little - were around.

It is kind of funny to notice that even when people send out invites with "no presents please" on them - in this case in all caps and followed by "seriously" - invitees are almost culturally incapable of not showing up with a gift. I was no different, but in my case it was because I had stopped by earlier in the week and my niece claimed emminent domain on my new hat and it looked so cute on her that her mom and dad asked me if I could make that her present. That's her in her hat with her dad in the photo.

Anyway, it was sort of nice to hang out with family and friends for a wholesome, slice of American life kind of way.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Are You Wearing Cashmere Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Sometimes you just never know when the meter on the day is going to peg out at stupendous. It didn't seem like that much of a day, but lo and behold...

Stopped at Goodwill for some bargain hunting today. I looked and looked and was beginning to think I was gonna get skunked. Then I found a really cool Ex-Officio shirt. It was a cool color and like new. Sadly, it was a bit too big. Tried on a couple of nice jackets, but they just didn't quite do it for me. As I was putting stuff back on the racks, I stumbled upon a great feel.

What? Surely this isn't just a coat? Guess what? It wasn't...

There, quietly waiting on the rack was a cashmere coat. It was a nice dark grey - not quite charcoal, but not quite slate. There wasn't a sign of wear anywhere on this beauty either.

I tried it on and as my arms slid smoothly into the sleeves and I pulled it on, my first thought was 'this is like butter.' It fit great.

And the best part? It was under 10 dollars! Life, my friends, is pretty damn nice sometimes.

Tomorrow I'm going to clean my place...a coat this nice needs a tidy, well-cleaned place to live!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Maybe Vampires That Sparkle Are Okay

The other morning, my brother and I were driving out to Brookfield. It was nice and sunny for the thirty minute drive. The sunshine was a welcome break from the previous few days of grey skies.

Looking out the window, I saw a remarkable sight. As we moved along the road, the snow caught the sunlight and sparkled. That's nothing new. The light bounces of the variously angled crystals and creates a sparkle effect. What was amazing was that it just kept on going and going.

Signpost by signpost, the sparkling kept up. And it wasn't just right along the side of the road. When we passed open fields, I could see sparkles far out into the distance - forty, fifty, sixty yards. Incredible.

Somewhere along the line, it reminded me of something. What you ask? Well, it looked almost exactly like the cheesy sparkling skin effect for the vampires in the Twilight movies. The idea from the books being that vampires avoid sunlight not because they burst into flames, but because their skin sparkles in a crystalline and clearly otherworldly way. In other words they avoid sunlight so as not to call attention to themselves.

The sparkle effect wasn't a deal breaker for me, but I do have to admit a couple of things. First, not only did I indeed read all the books and enjoy them, but I've also seen the movies and liked them too. Second, I hated the sparkling bits.

Driving along watching the snow sparkle in some bizarre, beautiful way, I suddenly didn't mind the Twilight special effects so much anymore. Even when a live Cheap Trick came on the radio and the sparkles took on the look of thousands of flashes going off during a Super Bowl kickoff, the feeling stuck with me. Maybe, just maybe, sparkling vampires are okay.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Knits Keep On Coming

Maybe it's the winter, maybe it's the unemployment, but I can't seem to stop this whole knitting thing. It started innocently enough with a scarf. How can a scarf be bad?

On it's own, a scarf isn't much more than something to keep your neck warm. But it's not such an innocent thing. It's really a gateway to knitting depravity. First a scarf, then a hat and the next thing you know you're trolling yarn shops trying to figure out how much yarn you need to buy to make a sweater you don't even know how to make yet.

Okay, maybe it's not that bad. I mean, really, I only made a scarf.

Ummmm...well...about that...

Figured out how to do some fingerless gloves, which turned out pretty well. Nice enough to give them away to one of my favorite bartenders, Rachel. And she hasn't hid them in the bottom of her laundry basket to avoid wearing them.

Then there was a hat. I'm keeping that one. It's sort of a tight-fitting beanie. It seems like the sort of hat you would wear checking out the waves on the dawn patrol. Warm enough to keep the noggin warm, but not too bulky to wear to the bar. In fact, I wore it when I went to the bar to watch the Chargers/Jets game.

So, I guess a scarf isn't just a scarf.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ventured down to the tea room on Thursday for Brynn's art opening. I'm finding myself less and less desirous of stopping in the longer I've been away, but it was for Brynn and I had promised.

She had a nice showing of some of her travel photos. They were mostly people pictures, which was nice, and they really captured a lot of joy even in some dreary places. They were primarily photos taken in Uganda and in India.

Anyway, had some tea, bypassed the wine and had some good food. It was a nice opening and I was really proud of Brynn. She had a great time. So, it was worthwhile.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Don't get caught out on Packers Day

I've got to take my Mom to the store pretty soon. It's NFL playoff time and the Packers play this afternoon. I'm pretty sure there's a special place in Guantanamo for anyone caught out on the streets at game time. You think I'm perhaps exagerating a tad... Ask anyone in Wisconsin and they'll probably be able to tell you a tale of an uncle or brother who tried to run to the store on a Packer day and never returned.

So, knowing all that...why is it so hard to get moving this morning? I know I want to get this taken care of as soon as I can, but can't seem to get beyond making a cup of coffee. I guess I just have to grab myself by the scruff of the neck and drag myself whining to the shower and get myself dressed and out into the car.

Or...I could just take a nap.

***Just found this goodie...

It's good stuff and good for you too. The album can be found at It's a free download. The artists ask that you make a donation to a worthy cause.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Knittle me this Batman

Yesterday was a nice snow day. It started snowing during the night and continued all day long. Light and powdery, easy cleanup. We were supposed to get about 10 inches. we might have come close to that, but it seems like a bit less.

Anyway, it's pretty today. Everything is so fresh looking. But, I have to admit I like the day of a snow storm better than the day after. It's nice to have that snowed-in feeling. A cup of coffee, a project, and a view of the falling snow.

Just before Christmas, I had a strong urge to learn how to knit. I know, "boys don't knit", but what do I care? I have always loved thick, hand-knit wool sweaters and have always wished I could make one. The urge stayed with me through the holiday so after Christmas came and went, I bought some yarn, needles and a couple of books.

You have to walk before you run and I hadn't even stood up on my own yet. After some false starts, I finally figured out just what "cast on" meant and puzzled out how to create a knit stitch. It took a day of trying to limp through that only to not like what I saw and pull it apart to start again. The only thing that happened quickly was that I mastered starting and pulling apart. It wasn't until later that I found out that the pulling apart was called "frogging".

Frog master, master of the frog, frog daddy...the frustration built.

Day two saw some progress. And, oddly, the progress sped up. I was doing the simplest knitting process possible, something called a garter stitch. It's basically just the same thing over and over again. Knit a row, flip it around and knit another row. It wasn't exactly fun, but it was satisfying in an odd sort of way.

I went through a skein of yarn. That's more than a ball and less than a hank. Most of the yarn you can buy at the local store comes in a skein. I went back to the store and picked up some more yarn. I was going to use the same color and just keep going, then decided I didn't want to drive all the way to the same store I originally bought the yarn at.

That led to learning how to do horizontal stripes. Oddly enough, the pictures in my books and the accompanying descriptions didn't look like blueprints for a nuclear power plant and this part of the job was easy. And, more important, easy to learn.

Around this point, it started to get fun. Maybe it was the visible progress or maybe the whole finally "getting it" thing.

I plowed on and on and on.

Finally, all that was left was to finish it. Back to the books I went. It might as well have been ancient Sumerian. I couldn't figure out what the heck they were talking about. Thankfully, my friend Mel has been knitting forever and she explained it to me. Of course, it was amazingly easy once you knew how it was supposed to be done.

So, there you have it - boys can knit. And, now that we've had a great snow storm, I'm glad that boys can knit because my new scarf is really, really warm.