Monthly Archives: May 2008

On Vacation

I will be on vacation, in Las Vegas, visiting family, from May 31st to June 9th or 10th. I’ll still be reachable via phone and e-mail. I’ll still be updating this blog and The Chalkboard Manifesto. I’d rather not be gone for more than a week, but it’s either go or not go at all, and I really want to see my brother and his family.

Mini Reviews

I am like 5 books behind, and I’m less than 50 pages away from being 6 books behind. Since I’m about to go on vacation, I need to do something so I don’t get too far behind. I’m going to write mini reviews for 3 books I’ve read. While I’d rather give each book I read a full treatment, I don’t think that will be manageable considering the pace I’m going to be devouring books this summer.

I enjoyed Why Most Things Fail because Paul Ormerod, the author, levels some harsh criticisms of traditional economics. I find traditional economics to be lacking because it assumes that man is rational — agh, I can’t even write that without becoming philosophically flabbergasted. Yet as much as I love digging into economics, I find some of Ormerod’s comments distracting, like when he said that economics purged certain facts from its textbooks and said that Stalin would approve.

Ormerod presents the insight that big things don’t necessarily have big causes as if it is amazingly profound, but I don’t think it says much. He cites how residential segregation can occur merely from the sum of small preferences among many individuals. That was interesting, but the generality he drew from it was banal. It gets better when he gets more specific and says that business extinctions are primarily caused by endogenous causes rather than external shocks. The agents are very close to zero-information, but even a small amount of information can confer a great advantage. Eh, it makes sense when you’ve read the book. It’s convincing and he doesn’t delve too much into the math. This is good if you’re someone like me with almost no background in economics (aside from a college class and a high school class), but it is probably frustrating if you’re more of an expert. Then again, you could just read his papers.

This book really gets weak in the last chapter or so. His solution to surviving is to innovate but everything in the last chapters is less supported by facts than in previous chapters. He carefully presents a case for why things fail, but then what you can do about it seems tacked on, rushed. It’s an interesting read, but not very practical for someone who wants to use it to get ahead in business.

The main lesson I pulled from Don’t Send a Resume by Jeffrey J. Fox was to sell yourself to the company. Do your research, look for their needs, and convince them that you can solve their problems. This book purports to be contrarian, but much of it is translating job search stuff into sales jargon. It has concrete tips, but it would be even more useful if I had some background in sales. I’m going to read more books on selling.

I read Adversity Quotient by Paul G. Stoltz. In my view, it’s kind of a dissection of the virtue of resilience. Resiliency is a habit and it can be learned and improved. He even goes into some science. Glad to see science confirms what Aristotle figured out thousands of years ago.

Don’t catastrophize is a good tip of his and he presents some ways on how to get out of that mode of thinking. I’ve already been working on reframing things in my head. At the end of every complaint, I force myself to think, “Now, what’s the solution.” I’ve been forcing myself to be more positive. Thus, I didn’t really use the tips in the book. But I like to think that this means I’m on the right path.

The chapter on increasing the “adversity quotient” of others was really good. It teaches you not to lecture, but to ask questions. More importantly, it tells you which questions to ask. When people come up with their own answers they’re more empowered than when you tell them what to do. I think Stoltz’s techniques will be rather useful.

I like to criticize, but I enjoyed all three books much more than you probably can infer from this posting. I hope to improve my book reviewing skills as I do more book reviews.

Social Conservative, Fiscal Liberal

So I was watching 30 Rock today on the internets, and it was the Subway Hero episode. When asked about his political views, he replies “social conservative, fiscal liberal.” I crack up because I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone describe themselves that way. I’ve heard it the other way around — fiscal conservative, social liberal.

But then I thought about it for a second. Isn’t that what Bush and the Republican Party stand for these days? Social conservatism and fiscal liberalism. Just look at their atrocious spending record.

The Most Salient Aphorisms From The Art of Worldly Wisdom

In lieu of a normal book report, I’m listing a collection of quotes. These are the most salient passages for me, at this time in my life. I plan on re-reading this book many times, and I’m sure different passages will jump out as more important at those times.

6. A man at his best. You are not so born: strive daily to develop yourself in your person, in your calling, until perfection is attained: the fullness of your every gift, of your every faculty. You will know it in the improvement of your taste, in the clarification of your thinking, in the maturity of your judgment, in the control of your will. Some never attain the perfect, something always being lacking, and others are late in coming to themselves. The man complete, wise in speech, wise in action, is admitted, yea, he is welcomed into that rare fellowship of those who understand.

17. Change your style; not always in the same fashion, in order to divert the attention, and especially if you are being rivalled. Not always directly, or they will know your course, anticipate you, and frustrate even your intent. It is easy to kill the bird on the wing that flies straight; not that which turns. Nor always indirectly, for that trick is learned after the second feint. Malice is ever alert and much thought is necessary to outwit her; a gambler does not play the card which his opponent expects much less that which he desires.

27. Rate the intensive above the extensive. The perfect does not lie in quantity, but in quality. All that is best is always scant, and rare, for mass in anything cheapens it. Even among men the giants have often been true pygmies. Some judge books by their thickness, as though they had been written to exercise the arms, instead of the mind. Bigness, alone, never gets beyond the mediocre, and it is the curse of the universal man, that in trying to be everything, he is nothing. It is quality that bestows distinction, and in heroic proportions if the substance is sublime.

50. Do nothing to make you lose respect for yourself, or to cheapen yourself in your own eyes: let your own integrity be the standard of rectitude, and let your own dictates be stricter than the precepts of any law. Forego the unseemly, more because of this fear of yourself, than for fear of the sternness of outer authority: learn this fear of yourself; and there will be no need for that imaginary monitor of Seneca.

129. Never cry about your woes. To make lamentation only discredits you; to better purpose, to be an example of boldness against passion, than one of timidity under compassion; to lament is to open the way to the listener, to the very thing of which you complain, and by giving notice of a first insult, making excuse for a second; many a man with his complaint of injustices past, has invited more, and by crying for help, or for pity, has merely gained sufferance; or even contempt: better politics, to laud the generosity of one, thus to lay obligations upon antoher; for to recite the favors done by those absent, is to compel them from your present, for this is to sell the esteem in which you are held by the one, to the other; and so a man of sense will never publish abroad either the slights, or the wrongs he may have suffered, but only the honor in which he is held, for it will serve better to constrain his friends, and to restrain his enemies

194. A proper conceit of yourself, and of your aims, especially at the start of life. All have a high opinion of themselves, particularly those with the least reason; each dreams himself a fortune, and imagines himself a prodigy: hope wildly promises everything, and time then fulfills nothing: these things torment the spiriit, as the imagined gives way before the truth, wherefore let the man of judgment correct his blunders, and even though hoping for the best, always expect the worst, in order to be able to accept with equanimity whatever comes. It is well, of course, to aim somewhat high, in order to near the mark; but not so high the you miss altogether a starting upon your life’s job; to make this proper estimate of yourself is absolutely necessary, for without experience it is very easy to confuse the conjectured with the fact; there is no greater panacea against all that is foolish, than understanding; wherefore let every man know what is the sphere of his abilities, and his place, and thus be able to make the picture of himself coincide with the actual.

197. Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice retrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.

204. Approach the easy as though it were difficult, and the difficult, as though it were easy; the first lest overconfidence make you careless, and the second, lest faint-heartedness make you afraid; nothing more is required in order to do nothing, than to think it done; to go at the job, on the other hand, accomplishes the impossible; but the greatest undertakings should not be overly pondered, les contemplation of difficulties too clearly foreseen appall you.

245. Talk always about the uncommon, and forego the common, for it makes the better head; do not hold in too high opinion the man who never opposes you, for that is not a token of love for you, but of love for himself: do not allow yourself to be deceived through flattery, or be pleased by it, but cast it from you; always hold it to your credit that some men speak against you, especially if it be those who speak ill of all that is best; let that man pity himself whose ways please everybody, for it is a sign that they are of no value, for the excellent is of the few.

246. Never make explanation unless asked, and even when asked, it is a species of crime, if overdone: to excuse yourself before occasion demands, is to accuse yourself; and to allow yourself to be bled in health, is to make eyes at disease, and at malice; to explain in advance is to awaken slumbering doubt; a man of sense will never show notice of another’s suspicion, for that is to go hunting for trouble; then is the time to give it the lie through what is the uprightness of your whole way of life.

262. Know how to forget, even though it’s more luck than art. Matters best forgotten, are those best remembered, for memory plays the villain by forsaking us when we need her most, and the clown, by appearing when we would see her least; in all that gives pain she is most lavish, and in all that might give joy, most niggardly; at times the only remedy for an evil lies in forgetting it, and to be able to forget is the remedy; wherefore, train your memory to these comfortable manners, for she can bring you heaven, or hell: those self-satisfied are of course excepted, for in their state of innocence, they are already rejoicing in the happy state of feeble-mindedness.

268. A wise man does at once, what a fool does at last. Both do the same thing; only at different times, the first in season, and the second out. He who starts by putting on his understanding wrong side to, must continue in this style ever afterwards, wearing about his feet what he should have placed upon his head, making left of what is right, and so proceeding in everything he does: there is only one good way to bring him to account, and that is to make him do by compulsion what he should have done through desire: but the man of sense sees at once, what sooner or later, must be, and does it to his joy, and to his credit.

287. Do nothing in passion, or everything goes wrong. He cannot work for himself, who is not in command of himself and passion invariably banishes reason. Here have recourse to another more prudent, who may be anyone, provided impassioned. They who look on always see more, than those who are in the play, for they are not excited. As quickly as you discover yourself roused, let intelligence blow the retreat, for the blood has hardly rushed into the head, before all you do shows blood, and in one brief moment is spewed forht the substance of many days of shame for you, and of slander for another.

In addition to these aphorisms, here are some passages I highlighted from the text:

… it is worse to be busy about the trivial, than to do nothing….

Continuous luck is always suspect….

Choose an occupation that brings distinction.

… it is reflection, and foresight that assure freedom to life.

Rest in accomplishment, and leave talk to others.

Virtue alone is sufficient unto itself: and it, only, makes a man worth loving in life, and in death, worth remembering.

Sadr City Update

Let’s all breath a sigh of relief that Iraq hasn’t lapsed back into all-out civil war. Sadr was threatening war, but now Iraqi troops are being welcomed into Sadr City. It looks as if the negotiated truce is holding.

The spin, of course, will be that the surge worked. This, of course, would be wrong. There has not been some magical improvement in the Iraqi troops within the past few months. In fact, the reason for the peace is because Maliki agreed to this condition (among others, I’m sure): No American troops.

Sadrist leaders said they had demanded that American soldiers remain on the sidelines of the military incursion.

“We stressed that the occupation forces do not come in,” said Selman al-Freiji, a senior Sadrist leader in Baghdad. “We welcome the entrance of Iraqi troops.”

Let’s get this straight. No American troops = tenuous peace. They welcomed the entrance of Iraqi troops.

On the flip side? American troops = provoking the militias.

Sayah said he was relieved that U.S. troops were not playing a central role in the operation, which would have provoked the militias. He said U.S. forces should leave Iraq.

Our presence is a destabilizing force. Our presence helps prevent peace in Iraq. Our presence is entirely counterproductive. If our goal is a stable Iraq, then our objective should be to stop occupying Iraq.

The Republican party is completely delusional when it comes to the war. Please, stop trying to feed me this bullshit that if it wasn’t for us, then Iraqis would have nothing to do other than fight each other and al-Qaeda — full of foreigners — would magically take over. While we’ve been in Iraq, the Iraqis have engaged in ethnic cleansing and there has been massive urban warfare in Sadr City for the past month. This fighting, mind you, several years after Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.” I fail to see how the US has prevented any of this bloodshed. Instead, we have taken part in it. We have fueled it. Then, when the Sadrists demand that US troops have no presence in Sadr City, they manage to negotiate a truce with Maliki’s government. There is no reason to think that the Iraqi people don’t have the ability to negotiate amongst themselves, unless you have neo-colonialist pretensions about saving the savages from themselves. The Republicans will tell you that a savage civil war is the inevitable consequence of a withdrawal, but the experience with Sadr City seems to indicate that the opposite is the case.

It’s time to leave Iraq.

My Absence

My absence can be explained by the fact that I’ve just returned to California, and I’ve been very busy with the people I love — both friends and family. Regular blogging resumes tomorrow, in the form of some book reports I’ve yet to do. I’m about three books behind.

However, I will be trying to limit my internet and TV time for the rest of this week. That means I won’t be checking any blogs or news sites. All my news will be from the newspaper, except when I’m glued to the tube on Tuesday. I’ve got a very bad internet habit, and it needs to be broken. So, my political commentary won’t be as extensive for the rest of this week.

UPDATE: Complete failure. Still addicted to the internets, and still writing political commentary. And it’s only Wednesday.

Finished With Exams

I just finished my last final. I completed the test a bit early, so I had to sit there. He said we could draw, so I drew some dinosaurs with party hats on the back of the test. I think my professor will be confused because I didn’t have time to draw the party.

The Superdelegate Flood and other matters

Clinton has won big in West Virginia, and it could be a 2:1 margin of victory. Still, she’ll get maybe a 10 or 11 delegate advantage. To put that in perspective, Obama has won 27 superdelegates since the North Carolina and Indiana primaries a week ago. That’s astonishing. That’s a flood. At this rate, it’ll take Obama half a week to wipe her victory out.

A Clinton victory can’t depress me like it used to. Obama has the nomination wrapped up. Moreover, we are going to dominate in November. New voters are going to create battlegrounds in new states. A cash-strapped McCain, compared to the Obama fundraising juggernaut, will not be able to defend everywhere. I am very fortunate to go to school in Maryland, which is close to Virginia, a state which I think Obama can turn blue. I know I will do whatever I can to make that happen.

I still think Clinton should stay in the race. Her last speech, the victory speech in West Virginia, refrained from negative, personal attacks on Obama. She says she will work hard for whoever is the nominee. I don’t think she’s dividing the party right now. Her speech was boring for me, aside from anecdote about the dying woman who cast her absentee ballot for Clinton. That woman was born before women had the right to vote and now she could cast a vote for a woman running for president. It really tugs on the heartstrings. Give them their symbolic vote. We will unite and win in November.

Studying for Life

I was reading a book on the couch. My friend, who was over, noted, “Shh. He’s studying.” I was indignant, “No, this isn’t for class. This is The Art of Worldly Wisdom.” My friend then proceeded to point out that I had inserted post-it notes all throughout the book; it looked as if I was studying it. I had to concede that. Indeed, I was studying the book, but not for class. I was studying in order to gain wisdom.

She was confused that I would read a book for fun and study it, but I think this reading is a thousand times more useful than almost every reading I’ve done for any class. When I study for class, I study to forget. It goes to short-term memory. I study; I take the test; I forget. Unfortunately, school does not teach you how to be virtuous. You can only learn that from other people and from books.

I’ve just finished the book, and almost all of it is useful. The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a collection of aphorisms by Baltasar Gracian. I’ll soon be posting a list of the passages that stuck out most for me at this time. I’m sure when I re-read the book in the years to come, different passages will stand out as important. I’m not posting that yet because I don’t quite have the time (finals season at my university).

I do want to write down one piece of hard-won knowledge. It is a synthesis of what I read from that book, and what I’ve learned from Machiavelli and other political philosophers. It’s a rough draft, but it means something to me, for now.

Govern thyself with virtue. Just as society must be ordered by laws, you must order yourself. Without laws, a people is ruled by its passions. They are torn apart by war and weakened by corruption. Likewise, without the iron chains of virtue, one is a slave to one’s passions. Freedom is only possible when laws create order for society; so too for a person, to be free you must first be governed by virtues.

Iraq Reading

Required reading:

On the uptick in deaths in Anbar: The Anbar Problem No One is Talking About. The deaths further reveal the Sisyphean nature of our task in Iraq.

The consequences of our reliance on mercenaries: Iraq Contractor in Shooting Case Makes Comeback. Last year, Blackwater massacred Iraqi civilians. Now, they’re back in business without so much as a slap on the wrist. The reason they got their contract renewed was that we had no other choice. We have a dangerous reliance on mercenaries. This needs to end.

Truce in Sadr City?: Outlines of a Truce for Sadr City. The thing that pisses me off is that fighting has been going on for over a month, and yet this has not dominated the news cycle. Of course, this is not surprising given that our media has become a propaganda factory for the US government.

Glenn Greenwald is sharp, as usual, detailing and criticizing the Pentagon’s illegal domestic propaganda program and how our media is complicit in all this. Read both this entry, CNN, the Pentagon’s “military analyst program” and Gitmo, and this entry, How the military analyst program controlled news coverage: in the Pentagon’s own words.

After Politics

I don’t plan on doing one thing all my life. During one phase of my life, I will devote myself to politics. After politics, I want to devote my life to science.

Job for the Summer

I have a job for the summer. I’m going to be self-employed. I’m going to be working on The Chalkboard Manifesto full-time. I’ll be able to redesign the site (including overhauling the archives), add merchandise, increase updates to 5x a week, and build a community of readers around my comic.

I’m really excited about this!

I don’t foresee making as much money as last summer. However, this will not only be more fun than my last job, but it will be more fulfilling. It will be a project based on my own initiative. The project will require much self-discipline, which is one of the most important skills to have. Having my own business venture is a goal of mine. This will not only fulfill that goal but be good practice for the next big thing.

The best part, though, will not be the merchandise, but the community. I’ve rediscovered the notion of self-concordant goals and realized that what keeps me going is connection to my readers. My goal is to develop relationships with them. Furthermore, I want to associate TCM with my political writing. I don’t know if my views will turn off some fans, but I think it’s better to have more ardent fans than many, many fairweather fans. They’re the ones who buy the merchandise anyway, and they’re the ones e-mailing me, anyway. They’re the important fans.

I don’t know how well this whole thing will go. But I plan on spending my entire summer working on this. The merchandise will come after the increase in readership, of course. I’m not nearly prepared enough to build a business venture, but I should have enough hours to prepare myself. This’ll be a lot of fun.

Brawl COIN Match

Wow, video games are getting more and more complex. I started Super Smash Brothers: Brawl and wanted to try a COIN Match. It was rough. Once the Goombas suicide bombed my embassy, I decided to call it quits.

It’s Over, But She Should Stay

It’s over. Barack Obama is essentially the nominee. By every metric, Barack Obama is ahead. Whether you count total delegates, pledged delegates, or popular vote, Barack Obama has an insurmountable lead. He has this lead even if you count Michigan and Florida, which had their delegates stripped due to breaking party rules. The Clintons have no more trump card.

It’s not impossible for her to win, just incredibly unlikely. Let’s make a football analogy. It’s first and 10, there’s less than 2 minutes on the clock. All Obama has to do is take a knee. He doesn’t even have to play defense anymore. And even if he fumbles it away, she has to get a field goal, retrieve the onside kick, and score a touchdown. It’s over.

Obama has essentially been running out the clock. As more and more delegates were dealt either way, Obama retained his lead. Clinton never made a significant dent. At some point, one runs out of time to regain the lead. Clinton has run out of time. There aren’t enough delegates left.

This is true even when you factor in superdelegates. By the end of the process, even you give Clinton a generous number of pledged delegates, she’ll need to convince over two-thirds of the remaining superdelegates to overturn the will of the people. If you give her a generous number of Florida and Michigan delegates, the number decreases, but she still has to convince more than a majority of superdelegates to switch sides.

It’s not only a tall order; it’s essentially impossible. Many superdelegates have already said they’ll vote for the candidate who won the most pledged delegates. Psychologically, the superdelegates are afraid of backlash and afraid of turning away a generation of energized voters.

Clinton started out with a 100 superdelegate lead on Obama, and now they’re essentially tied. Just today, Obama picked up 3 superdelegates and a Clinton superdelegate defected. Clinton picked up one. Clinton has 271 superdelegates; Obama has 261 superdelegates. That’s over 500 delegates who have picked one side or the other. There’s less than 800 superdelegates total. There are less and less superdelegates to convince, and they’ve all been coming to the Obama camp. I don’t know of any defections the other way around.

She can’t win.

That being said, I think Clinton should stay. If she stays in the race without launching super negative attacks, then I think it’s good that she stays in. She looks as if she’ll win Kentucky and West Virginia. It’ll look really bad if Obama loses those states running against no one. Obama will win in Oregon on May 20, achieve a majority of pledged delegates, and then a wave of superdelegates will switch. She should still stay in longer and make Obama’s final June 3 victories more meaningful.

Why should we continue with these beauty contests? Because they have real consequences. The primaries and caucuses have seen record turnouts in many states. We want more Democrats registered to vote in the primaries. When they vote in a primary, they’re more likely to vote in the general. Voter turnout will be key to defeating McCain.

If Clinton refrains from personal negative attacks, this will be a net positive for the Democrats. The convention is not until August, and we will see a huge post-convention bounce for Obama. Don’t listen to the polls saying Clinton or Obama voters will switch to McCain. They won’t. These polls are as useless as those saying Rudy Giuliani was the man to beat — mind you, Giuliani did not win a single primary or caucus. It’s way too early to judge that (and if you want, I’ll pull out my knowledge of cognitive science to prove it). When Democratic primary voters look at the war, the economy, and health care, they’ll know that they prefer Obama. No matter how you spin it, record turnout for Democratic primaries is not going to help McCain.

Let Clinton finish the game. Maybe I’m giving the Clintons too much credit, but I think they can do it with dignity. I think going to the end, and getting Michigan and Florida seated, will reduce any bitterness. Forcing her out may engender too many hurt feelings, but leaving her in can mean more new Democratic voters.

Again, this assumes Clinton runs a decent campaign here on out. If she doesn’t, the superdelegates should force her out.

Brief Elation

It was a wonderful day, punctuated by a sense of foreboding.

Obama has pulled ahead even further today. Win or lose in Indiana, it will be too close to make Clinton’s advantage more than negligible. He will wipe out any gains she made in Pennsylvania. The noose tightens.

Yet Clinton’s speech gives me reason to not think this is wrapped up. Clinton will fight to the convention. She will fight for the illegitimate primaries in Michigan and Ohio. It will be an ugly fight, I fear.

The next primaries will be important. We must put this beyond Clinton’s reach. I guess I’m going to have to reach into my pocketbook again.

EDIT: The alternative scenario is that the threat of a bloody battle is used as a bargaining chip. But what would they (Bill and Hillary Clinton) want in exchange? Would Clinton be satisfied with the Vice Presidency? Will she want a cabinet position? I’m just not sure that anything short of the presidency will satisfy her; hence, I fear a bloody battle.

UPDATE: MSNBC says the math means Clinton can’t make up the difference even with Florida and Michigan whether you count pledged delegates or popular vote.

UPDATE: More people on MSNBC are saying, “It’s over.” Clinton has cancelled all her appearances tomorrow. Will she quit?

UPDATE: Brit Hume looks grouchy and looks like he wants to go home already. One of the Fox News commentators points out that Bill Clinton had a “sour” look on his face while Hillary Clinton was giving her speech. Big loss for Clinton tonight.

UPDATE: Mayor of Gary on the phone with CNN. Did not have a good explanation for why it took so long to get any votes in. I’m suspicious of any vote tallies, so I suspect we may not know who really won Indiana any time soon. It doesn’t matter though. This is out of reach for Clinton.

More Fighting in Baghdad

More violence in Baghdad: Iraqi civilians flee fighting in Baghdad militia stronghold.

The American push in the Sadr City district — launched after an Iraqi government crackdown on armed Shiite groups began in late March — is trying to weaken the militia grip in a key corner of Baghdad and disrupt rocket and mortar strikes on the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

But fresh salvos of rockets from militants arced over the city, wounding at least 16 people and drawing U.S. retaliation that escalated civilian panic and flight to safer areas.

One rocket — apparently aimed at the Green Zone — blasted the nearby city hall. Three 122 mm rockets hit parts of central Baghdad, including destroying some playground equipment in a park. An Iraqi police station was damaged by a rocket that failed to detonate, the U.S. military said.

I’m going to reiterate this. The stated purpose of the surge was to decrease violence in Baghdad to create space for political reconciliation.

No political reconciliation. Violence on the rise.

The surge has been a complete strategic failure.

The boulder has rolled back down the hill.

Utterly predictable and utterly preventable.

Remember, this is not the work of “terrorists” nor Iran. This was instigated by Maliki, who is using our soldiers to fight his civil war. This is despicable.

It is time to leave Iraq.

I Saved My Life For $1.00

I found A.M. Homes’s This Book Will Save Your Life in the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble. It was priced at $1.00 and seemed like the kind of book I would like, so I grabbed it. Plus, saving my life for a buck? Good deal.

It’s about this guy, Richard Novak, who was living a life cut-off from the outside world. Every morning he puts on these noise-cancelling headphones, which seemed to underscore the point of him cocooned from the outside world. He is “functionally dead,” as the book jacket describes him. After a few crises, including a bout of intense pain that sends him to the hospital, he starts opening himself up to people, making new friends in a startlingly (for the reader) easy manner.

I enjoyed the book’s message, about re-connecting with the world around you, but I think my enjoyment can be explained by two factors: my current status in life and the fact that the book only cost me $1.00. One of my roommates had just left for the rest of the semester, so I was busy reacting to that, closing myself off. The feeling of getting a good bargain for the book made me appreciate the book more. So this book may not be as fun or meaningful if you’re not somewhat depressed and disconnected, and you paid too much for the book.

I’m still confused about the book’s title. Was it meant ironically or unironically? Is there a wink there at the end of the title? If it’s meant seriously, I said I enjoyed the book’s message, but it wasn’t as profound as Aristotle. If it’s meant not so seriously, I have failed to find the bite that makes it funny. In fact, while I found the absurd events in the book funny, I found them funny because they were absurd. I did not find them funny because of any satirical edge.

I marked two passages in the book. They were both passages where things didn’t go as planned, and it wasn’t so easy making a new connection. I found them more… poignant, I guess is the word, although I use that with less of a degree than it deserves.

In the first passage, Richard has just paid for a homeless man’s meal:

“Have a nice day,” Richard calls after him, annoyed that the guy didn’t say thank you.

The man turns around. “Have a nice day. I’m homeless. What does that mean, ‘Have a nice day’? Go fuck yourself.”

“You can’t change the rules overnight,” Anhil says.

It’s a hilarious passage, but that’s the end of Richard’s interactions with the homeless.

The second passage is about his neighbor. She lives below him, and he sees her swimming every morning. Richard goes to her party uninvited and finally meets her.

… Finally he spots a familiar gesture, the turn of her head, the flicking of her hair.

He goes to her. “I just wanted to say hello.”

The minute she turns toward him he wishes he hadn’t come; she’s different in person — her eyes are brown when he was expecting blue, and there’s a harshness that leaves him with a sinking sensation. She’s not who he thought she would be. He feels out of place, and he’s got a cashew stuck in his throat. He coughs. “I’m your neighbor, up the hill.”

“Are we being too loud?” she asks.

“No, no. I heard the party and I just wanted to say hello. I see you swimming every morning. I’m up early.”

“Which house?”

He points up the hill — from here his house looks good. “The one with the sinkhole. Last week a horse fell in and Tad Ford [the actor] came and got him with a helicopter — that was a big adventure. Maybe you saw it on TV?” She shakes her head no. “Well, hopefully, the house won’t slide down the hill; then we’d really be neighbors.” He laughs. She doesn’t. “Anyway, I just wanted to say hello, to introduce myslef.” He’s talking as he’s backing towards the door. “I’m Richard. I see you every morning, I stand at the glass, I watch you doing your laps.” He meant it as a compliment: she was his inspiration, his muse, his mermaid. He goes home wishing he’d left it as it was — in his mind’s eye.

I guess this passage illustrates what bugs me about the book. This is an isolated event; otherwise, it’s easy for him to go around making new friends. Shouldn’t there be more disconnected people just like he used to be? Shouldn’t they not give a shit about him? Shouldn’t they be harder to reach out to?

So I didn’t really save my life for $1.00. Despite my criticisms, it’s a really fun book to read. It’s underlying message about reaching out to people around you is good, but the book’s just not one you’ll re-read for insight about life.

I am a junkie

How can you tell if you’re a political junkie? If you’re not completely tired of this election, and in fact, you’re really excited about the next primary, then you might be addicted to politics. As I am.

By the way, I predict a split. Obama takes North Carolina; Clinton takes Indiana. Barely. Advantage: Obama, in delegates.

Examining the Problem of Evil

If you asked me why I don’t believe in God, I could give you a myriad of answers. Among the more convincing answers (in my mind) would be the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil asks why there can be evil in the world if God is all-powerful and all-good. Would he not eradicate evil? When I think of all the pain and suffering, I truly do find the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being to be absurd.

I recently read Alvin Plantinga’s book God, Freedom, and Evil. My edition was published in 1977 and reprinted in 1983. I was referred to the book by my professor for my class Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Our topic for the class was religion. We’d read Plantinga’s “Theism, Atheism, and Rationality” for class. I read God, Freedom, and Evil because I needed it to write my final paper.

The book’s divided into two parts: 1) Natural Atheology, and 2) Natural Theology. The bulk of the book is devoted to the Problem of Evil. It also addresses the compatibility between freedom and omniscience. The second part quickly touches on the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and then spends most of its time on the ontological argument. The Problem of Evil was most relevant to my paper topic and, coincidentally, the part I found most interesting.

Plantinga uses what he calls the Free Will Defense to escape the Problem of Evil. This must be distinguished from a project of theodicy. Theodicy tries to explain why God created evil. For example, Milton’s Paradise Lost could be said to give an account of evil in the world. The Free Will Defense does not purport to know the mind of God. Plantinga’s goal is just to show that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good and Evil exists are logically consistent.

It’s a complicated and long argument. The summary in my essay was already inadequate and a blog entry will surely compress it more. The main things to understand are the limits on omnipotence and transworld depravity. God does not have the power to make 2+2=5 (according to Plantinga); God can do only what is logically possible. So God’s ability to eliminate evil is subject to logical constraints. If by removing one evil he were to create more evil, then he could not remove that evil.

Transworld depravity. Goodness, I had to read that passage a bajillion times in order to understand it. I’m not sure I can summarize it in a way that makes sense to anyone without some background in philosophy. I’ll do my best. Someone suffers from transworld depravity if there’s some moral action where he’ll always make the morally wrong decision. If God created a world where the person has to make a choice, the person will do something morally wrong. If God makes the person make the right choice, then he has removed free will. So if we assume that all people would suffer from transworld depravity then there’s no way God could have made a universe where people are free but there’s no evil.

Still with me? Well, what about volcanoes and tsunamis one may ask. Surely there’s no free will involved there. Plantinga says perhaps there are nonhuman persons who cause these natural disasters. It’s a preposterous claim, but he’s not purporting the truth of it. He’s just showing that God and the existence of evil aren’t logically inconsistent.

Has this shaken my belief in the Problem of Evil? To be honest, it has shown me that the Problem of Evil is not as ironclad as I thought. I have heard versions of a free will defense from theists before, but never from anyone well-versed in philosophy. Their versions made no sense, and this one does.

The Problem of Evil still appeals to me on a visceral, non-rational level. I’m still perplexed when I see death on a massive scale (from afar) and people insist that a perfect God exists. (If you believe in an imperfect God, I will be less perplexed at your belief.) There are other versions of the Problem of Evil, and it would be interesting to study those.

If I were to embark on a critique of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, I would be tempted to go in many directions. When I think about it, though, I would have to concentrate on one thing. I think free will is a nonsensical concept because of the way I think our minds work (which is strongly influenced by Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop). Typically, free will is envisioned as some last minute mechanism in our brain. We get all the inputs, and then this mysterious “free will” thing takes over right before the decision is made. There’s some sort of gap. I don’t think there is. That’s not to say that we’re all mindless automata. Far from it. Decision-making is so much more complex and wonderful than this magical free will concept.

Can Plantinga’s defense not theodicy strategy work here? No, because if free will is not a logical phrase, then God could not have created it. Ergo, a free will defense cannot be used.

Of course, this kind of criticism is beyond the scope of this weblog entry. I am, furthermore, ill-equipped to embark on such a project at this time.

After reading this book, if someone were to ask me to articulate the Problem of Evil, I would recognize that I couldn’t do it in a way that I could not refute myself. I’ve learned that something I thought was a sure thing isn’t such a sure thing. After this book, I have less certainty, but more knowledge. That’s enough to make the book worth the read.

New Links

Pharyngula — PZ Myers writes about atheism and science. This is mainly how I keep up with the Evil Atheists Conspiracy.

Power, Seduction and War — This is Robert Greene’s blog. He’s the author of The 48 Laws of Power, which I have, and The Art of Seduction and The 33 Strategies of War, which I plan on getting. If you admire Machiavelli’s works, then you’ll admire Greene’s writing. Honestly, I admire this guy’s writing a lot. — Ryan Holiday works for Robert Greene. I enjoy this blog because Holiday constantly reads and puts up the insights he gleans from these readings (and insights from other experiences). These insights seem like they’ll be useful in my life’s journey.

Turning Pro — Found this via Ryan Holiday’s blog. He struggles with the problem of life in a way which I can relate to.

Featured Poems — Saul Nadata was my Intro to Fiction and Poetry I and Intro to Fiction and Poetry II instructor. Also, he was one of my favorite and most helpful instructors at JHU. This blog is his attempt at 365 poems in 365 days. I know Saul will have a marvelous career as a writer.

Drinking For Two — Fucking hilarious.

I am also currently reading these:, Smashing Magazine, Web Worker Daily. However, I’m unsure if they’ll stay daily reads over the next few weeks.

I removed Daryl’s blog from my blogroll because it’s defunct.

Book Reports and Updating the Blog Roll

I’ve decided that I’m not reading right. So, I’ve made it a rule that after I finish reading a book, I have to do a book report of sorts. I’ll post it on the blog. It may be a summary, writing what I’ve learned, connecting it to something, listing my favorite quotes, or some combination of the above.

I also need to update the blogroll. I’m going to list all the new links and why I read them.

My One Accomplishment

As I reflect on the academic year, I realize that I only have one accomplishment of worth: Winning the Guess the TV Theme Show competition with my roommate Keith. That will be the story I tell to my grandkids. I just think it’s sad that by that time, the robots will have killed all the humans.