Archive for April, 2009

On the Economic Meltdown: He said, he said…

Who’s to blame for the current crisis?  Here are answers from Thom and Thomas:

Thom Hartmann says it is the laissez-faire capitalists.

Similarly, the philosophy that playing the game of business and investment without rules (the technical term is Laissez-faire Capitalism) has driven our government since the election of Ronald Reagan, and went on steroids during the last two years of the Clinton administration and throughout the Bush administration. It’s equally wrong, flawed, and insane, and we’re paying a multi-trillion dollar price for it not unlike we are for the war.

The intellectual forefathers and mothers of the insane conservative economic policies that have brought us to where we are include Ludwig Von Mises, Freidrich Von Hayeck, Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Tom Freidman, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Ayn Rand. Phil and Wendy Gramm pushed through the Gramm/Leach/Bliley Act (which allowed banks to get into the gambling business) and the Commodity Futures Moderinization Act (also known as “the Enron Loophole”), and Bill Clinton merrily signed them into law.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., says “oh no you di’nt”–Thomas says Thom “don’t know much about capitalism.”

In a nutshell, the point is that when the government’s central bank intervenes in the economy to push interest rates lower than the free market would have set them, the result of its tampering is a massive cluster of errors (to use Lionel Robbins’ phrase) on the part of investors and consumers alike. It goes without saying that a government central bank’s intervention into the market to push interest rates lower than the free market would have set them cannot, by definition, be the fault of the free market.  The problems Hartmann identifies in his article, as well as the ones he neglects or doesn’t know about, are mere symptoms of a more fundamental cause, namely the creation of cheap credit by the Fed. Whatever happened to leftists’ interest in “root causes”?

I report. You decide.

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What’s to read?

Let’s see…anything good to read?

David Plotz says we should read the Bible, every single word of it.  And we should read his book, too.  Why?

Question: After someone reads the Slate article, do they have any reason to buy your book instead of just buying a Bible? What does your book have that a Bible doesn’t?
David Plotz: You can leave my book in the bathroom, and not feel guilty about it!
My book is by no means a substitute for the Bible. It’s an effort to bring a new, curious, irreverent perspective to a book that has been made inaccessible and difficult by clergy and academics. If there is anything I hope Good Book does, it is to show readers the exuberant, fascinating messiness of the Bible, and encourage them to read it themselves.

Seems like a good enough reason.

John Rawls also says (from the beyond the grave) that we should read the Bible.  He said the following in his recently published undergraduate thesis:

An ounce of the Bible is worth a pound (possibly a ton) of Aristotle.

Even the Peripatetic Prattler can’t disagree.

David Harvey says we should read Marx’s Capital.  He’ll even help us.

Economist and blogger  Paul Krugman says we should read torturers the riot act in order to reclaim America’s soul.  Why?

…because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for […] the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.

(“Never before”?  Really?  Maybe Krugman hasn’t read Zinn or Chomsky.  Maybe he doesn’t watch Democracy Now! Anyway, I hope his net’ll catch all the Democrats who were briefed a long time ago about all this, along with the Republican S.O.B.s).  You can read some of the relevant memos here.

A. N. Wilson says we shouldn’t bother reading C.S. Lewis.  Anything at all linguistic should be sufficient to lose our atheistic faith:

The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.”
This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.
Do materialists really think that language just “evolved”, like finches’ beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where’s the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena – of which love and music are the two strongest – which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

You can read an interview with this convert here.

Mark Edmundson says we shouldn’t be reading “readings.” Rather, we should just be reading.  He begins:

If I could make one wish for the members of my profession, college and university professors of literature, I would wish that for one year, two, three, or five, we would give up readings. By a reading, I mean the application of an analytical vocabulary — Marx’s, Freud’s, Foucault’s, Derrida’s, or whoever’s — to describe and (usually) to judge a work of literary art. I wish that we’d declare a moratorium on readings. I wish that we’d give readings a rest.

Amen, brother!

And speaking of amen, the Pope will have to read this secret memo (scroll down…it’s the second piece) before President Obama will visit the Vatican.

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It’s the end of the university as we know (and I feel fine)…

My inbox filled up faster than a grad student at a reception for the guest speaker with emails from correspondents alerting me to this pronouncement by Mark C. Taylor, calling graduate education “the Detroit of higher learning.”  Readers of this blog will find nothing new in Taylor’s bill of particulars:  we produce graduates for whom there are no jobs; we use grad students like indentured servants;  the students rack up huge debts; they’re trained to publish articles for journals that no one reads; there is over-specialization and undergraduate education suffers for it; disciplinarity is no longer the effective model for research and learning, yet the system poses obstacles to collaboration; colleagues in the same departments cannot pass informed judgment on each other’s work (if they can even understand it); departments operate independently from the university as a whole and tenured professors are a law unto themselves (Taylor twits us academics for screaming about regulation and oversight  in the financial industry while viciously opposing it on our own campuses); etc., etc.

So, in the immortal words of Lenin, what is to be done? Taylor proposes:

  1. Revise graduate curricula to be cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural.
  2. Abolish permanent departments, and center inquiry around various “zones of inquiry,” such as “Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water. “
  3. Increase collaboration among institutions, using new technologies for educational delivery.
  4. Transform the traditional dissertation (more on this in a moment).
  5. Expand employment options by broadening training.
  6. Implement mandatory retirement and abolish tenure for faculty.

Recommendations #1 and #3 are no-brainers, and, although the humanities lag behind the natural sciences in this respect, progress in these areas is inevitable.  I particularly like #2.  Check out Taylor’s rationale, for instance, for Water as a critical “zone of inquiry.”  There would be specialties, but departments would be ad hoc rather than self-perpetuating.  All in all, the first three recommendations would dovetail nicely with what we’ve been referring to as transdisciplinarity.

Recommendation #4–to transform the traditional dissertation–means, for Taylor, that students should move away from print and learn to produce “theses” in formats such as html, film, even video games.  (I once had a cartoon of a grad student standing in front of the desk of his advisor, proudly presenting his work:  “I’ve been working on a pop-up dissertation!”  I don’t think that’d count as one of the new formats).  Given the way Jacob Weisberg gushes about the Kindle, maybe Taylor is right.  I guess I will have to work on a video game for solving the riddles of non-reductive physicalism….

Recommendation #5 is somewhat less inspired.  Attending grad school, at least in the humanities, means training to be a grad school professor.  Since there are no grad school professorships to be had any more (your advisor will keep her job until they carry her out on a slab), grad students should get training for other types of work in business and nonprofit organizations.  But it does seem like this suggestion admits a certain defeat.  I wonder if Stanley Fish would approve (although, I am sure he would agree with Taylor that things are going the way Taylor describes).  The humanities, says Fish, are of no use whatsoever…but that is their beauty and most valuable feature.  The same would go for basic research, which gets ever-more crowded out by the demand for utility and profit at University, Inc.  I’m not sure I want to throw in the towel just yet, making grad school (and even undergraduate education) solely about job training.

As for recommendation #6, well, good luck with that!  Faculty members:  all in favor, raise your hand!?  This one is like our current economic crisis.  We will patch it, keep the system on the road as much as possible, bury the dead, and try to move on.  But we will not seriously try to change the financial system.  And we will not seriously try to change the educational system.  It’d take a revolution….

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The Lord is Risen Indeed!

resurrection

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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

–The Gospel according to St. Matthew 27:45-54.

velazquez_christ

Diego Velazquez
Christ On The Cross
C. 1632
Oil
250 X 170 Cm
Museo Del Prado, Madrid

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Blessing of the Sun–April 8

Birkat Hachaman, the  blessing of the sun, is a Jewish ritual performed once every 28 years, when, it is said, the sun aligns to its exact location as it was on the fourth day of Creation as it began to shine in the primordial heavens.  See here for a video introduction.  And here is a passionate plea by the Rebbe for development of solar energy from 1981, the last time Birkat Hachamah was celebrated.  You can learn more here [.pdf], including a table for finding the exact time of sunrise in your area for tomorrow, April 8, 2009 (Erev Pesach 5769).

The Blessing
Blessed are You, HASHEM our God,
King of the universe,
who makes the work of creation.
God, Master over all created things, blessed and
praised in the mouth of every soul. His greatness
and goodness fill the universe; knowledge and understanding
surround Him.
He Who is exalted above the holy beings, and is
adorned with glory above the chariot. Purity and uprightness
are before His throne; lovingkindness and
mercy are before His glory.
Good are the luminaries which our God has created;
He formed them with knowledge, insight and reason.
Strength and power has He placed in them, that they
may have dominion throughout the world.
Full of luster and radiating brightness, beautiful
is their luster throughout the universe. Joyous
in their rising and exultant in their setting, they
perform with awe the will of their possessor.
Glory and honor they give to His Name, jubilation
and song to the mention of His sovereignty.
He called to the sun and light shined; He
observed and ordained the form of the moon.
All the hosts on high render praise unto Him;
the Seraphim and Ophanim and holy beings render
glory and greatness.

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The sound of one hand typing…

According to a metaphor offered by Jacques Maritain, it is either the sound of the poverty of “scientism” on the one hand or the vacuity of “ideosophy” (the unwarranted allegiance to rationalistic categories themselves instead of to the world they are meant to disclose) on the other hand.  Maritain counsels:

What will also be needed…is an uncanny sense of the requirments of that ‘subtle and delicate’ art which consists in distinguishing in order to unite. […] I will simply note that the sciences of nature, all of them, have a hold on the real insofar only as it can be observed (or within the limits of the observable).  [The natural sciences] are all, therefore, equally dependent upon an intellection of an ’empiriological’ order….  They are ‘sciences of phenomena.’  The philosophy of nature, by contrast, is dependent upon a type of intellection which, through the observable, or through signs apprehended in experience, attains the real in its very being, and must be called an intellection of an ontological order (the most natural kind of intellection, to tell the truth; the other kind requires a more particular sort of mental training and discipline).  The functioning of thought, and the conceptual vocabulary, then, are typically different in the sciences of nature and in the philosophy of nature.  The error of antiquity was to believe that the functioning of thought and the conceptual lexicon proper to the philosophy of nature extended to the sciences of nature.  The error of certain modern scientists, insofar as they are in serach of a philosophy, is to believe that the kind of thinking and conceptual vocabulary proper to the sciences of nature can serve to build a philosophy of nature.  We are faced here with two different keyboards.  […] It is first and foremost through such an awareness [of this distinction] […] that […] a philosophy of nature [could be] entirely renewed…. In the team which will work as such a renewal, each man must be able to use (with relative ease) two typewriters, one equipped with a certain keyboard, the other with a quite different keyboard–one that his discipline has made familiar to him, and the other which, as a man of good will, he will have to learn how to use rather late in the day.  The philosophers should know how to use, at least as amateurs, the machine equipped with the scientific keyboard, and the scientists the one equipped with the philosophic keyboard.  May the angels of true knowledge be there to help them!

But what about a theological keyboard (if there really is such a thing)?  Do we actually need three typewriters?  If so, we’ll definitely need each other to act as the “team” Maritain is envisioning.  I am not so sure the “unity of knowledge” is something I can have, but it may be something we can have.

If only our angels would lend us a hand….

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