Whitman, Schopenhauer, and Old Man Pictures

Walt WhitmanRachel Maddow did a short segment tonight on remembering 9/11. She quoted Walt Whitman. That’s all fine. I like Whitman, but I do have this general idea that people who quote Whitman don’t like poetry. But whatever. It was fine. What struck me was that almost all the pictures that they used for the segment were Whitman as an old man and the only exception was Whitman as a middle-aged man. I wish people wouldn’t do that. He was an attractive young man—half “hunka hunka burning love” and half dandy. You can see that in the sketch at the left.

That made me think of Arthur Schopenhauer, who is also always shown as an old man. Of course, he didn’t do most of his work as an old man. The World as Will and Representation was published when he was only 30 years old. Of course, photography only came about towards the end of his life. But even still, people mostly use the picture where he looks angry. In most of the pictures, he is smiling the way I always imagine the man would. People find him depressing, but I don’t. I think he just understood better than most what a cruel joke consciousness is. But people prefer to present him as an angry old man. I think this is because they resent having to have read him in college.

There are paintings of Schopenhauer as a younger man. I suspect people avoid them because: (1) they would rather have a photograph; and (2) he isn’t an attractive man and old photos do kind of flatter him. But in looking for images of him, I found this that I thought was quite amusing:

Schopenhauer Suicide Hotline

With Walt Whitman, I think there is a different thing going on. Whitman’s work is very sensual and I’m sure at the time scandalous. As a result, it is comforting to think of him as old and thus not sexually threatening. But that’s not who Whitman was. He was always threatening: sexually, emotionally, intellectually. He was a revolutionary to the core. And we should remember him that way!

The Surprising Ending of O. Henry

William Sydney Porter - O. HenryIt is, of course, the 12th anniversary of 9/11. And it is now “Patriot Day,” which is an especially stupid name because we already have “Patriots’ Day,” which celebrates the Battles of Lexington and Concord. But it is an offensive holiday even still. It became a holiday immediately after 9/11 during the time when George Bush Jr was saying things like, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The idea most clearly is that either you go along with whatever harebrained policies the government decides on or you are not a patriot. That, of course, goes entirely against the founding principles of this country. I remember in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I did not feel any sense of pride and patriotism. It was a horrible event. But almost immediately, it led us on a terrible journey that ended with rights infringed upon, widespread torture, and many tens of thousands of deaths—most of them entirely innocent. So to me, 9/11 is a symbol of a terrible attack on our country and how we then reacted to it in about the worst way possible. It does not honor our dead.

In 1522 the great naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi was born. He was the major force behind the Bologna botanical garden. Poet James Thomson was born in 1700. British composer William Boyce was born in 1711. Here is his Overture No. 4 in D Major:

The astronomer (and mystic) James Hopwood Jeans was born in 1877. Author D. H. Lawrence was born in 1885. I’ve never much liked him but I’m sure I would like him more if I could be scandalized by his work as readers where during his lifetime. Modern composer Harry Somers was born in 1925.

Songwriter Alan Bergman is 88 today. With his wife Marilyn, he wrote the song “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” And, I’m sorry, but I still rather like it. I like pop music that at least tries to be adult. And the Bergmans have been married for 55 years as of this year.

The film director Brian De Palma is 73. Playwright Gerome Ragni is 71. He co-wrote Hair. The great guitarist Leo Kottke is 68. Here he is on Austin City Limits about 20 years ago:

The fine screenwriter Tony Gilroy is 57. He also directs. I’ve only seen Michael Clayton, but as mainstream films go, it is about as good as it gets. Here is perhaps the best scene in the film with the great Tom Wilkinson:

Actor John Hawkes is 54. Dance music (I guess) creator Moby is 48. And singer Harry Connick Jr is 46.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry, who was born in 1862. He is mostly remembered today for the surprise endings of his stories. You know the kind of thing: the psychologist helps a boy who claims to see dead people only for it to be revealed that the psychologist himself is dead. No wait… How about this: a couple each sells their most valuable possession to buy the other something for that possession. It’s old hat now, but I’m sure at the time it was every bit as affecting as The Sixth Sense. What’s more, “The Gift of the Magi” still works as a Christmas story—a lot better than most Christmas stories.

What I especially like about Porter is that his past is unclear. Maybe he embezzled from a bank he worked at. Or maybe he was just incompetent. This same dynamic is true of Cervantes who may have stole tax receipts or maybe just screwed up. Regardless, they both spent time in jail and then went on to do their best work. And all of that work came relatively late in their lives. Of course, it didn’t come that late for Porter, who died as a result of his heavy drinking at the age of 47.

Happy birthday William Sydney Porter!

The God Argument

The God ArgumentRecently, I picked up a copy of A. C. Grayling’s The God Argument. Normally, I wouldn’t have. But for one thing, I think he is a good writer and thinker. And for another thing, I read a review that just savaged the book, so I thought it would be worth reading. It was okay, but nothing especially worth reading. It does bring up an interesting question: why do British people write books about atheism? Really, I don’t get it. England is a secular country. Few people are even nominally religious, and fewer still are fundamentalists.

From my perspective, I wouldn’t think much about the pathetic state of religious observance if it weren’t for the fact that I live in America. Here we have Christians coming out our noses and very very (very very very very…) loud fundamentalists who are not only stupid and ignorant, but also very politically powerful. I think this is why an American like Sam Harris has much stronger anti-Christian polemics (Letter to a Christian Nation) than someone like Grayling. So I didn’t even finish The God Argument.

But it was well written and made some interesting points. I marked two quotes that I thought worth noting from early on in the book:

Whereas the consolations of religion are mainly personal, the burdens are social and political as well as personal. This is one argument for greater secularism, a main form of which asks religion to keep itself in the private sphere, and not to obtrude into matters of general public concern. Committed followers of religion oppose this, on the grounds that because they possess the truth about things, and in particular about what their deity wants everyone in the world to think and do, they have a duty to lead everyone in that direction. For the zealous among them this is a matter of urgency, for in their chosen direction—so they believe—lies salvation, truth and eternal life. Those who disagree with them see this as just one more attempt by one group to impose its views and its authority on everyone else. As history shows, the competition that arises between different religious outlooks when any one of them tries to dominate, readily leads to trouble.

This gets to perhaps the single thing that ties together most modern religious movements: hubris. The Old Testament is filled with stories of the perils of thinking too highly of oneself. But among fundamentalists, hubris is the way and the light. The very idea that a book is the literal word of God is nonsense. I’ve never met a fundamentalist who wasn’t interpreting the Bible like crazy. It is just that they define anyone who doesn’t believe as they do to be a heretic. What they are really doing is just following the interpretations of those around them. And if that sounds a lot like fascism, it is because it is a lot like fascism.

But later in the book Grayling goes awry in a very typical atheistic misunderstanding:

Omnipotence is a problem for religious apologists for more reasons than this inconsistency with benevolence plus natural evil. Omnipotence strictly implies that anything is possible. But this cannot mean that it could do logically impossible things, like for example both existing and not existing at the same time, or being “greater” or “more perfect” than itself. It is not clear whether omnipotence implies that a possessor of it could do things that not so obviously logically impossible, such as eat itself for breakfast.

The essence of existence is paradoxical. How can it be that matter exists. Or perhaps better, the question that Lawrence Krauss can’t seem to understand: how can it be that nothingness with the property of being able to become something exists? It is a paradox. So why is what we think of as logically impossible really impossible? The universe is logically impossible and yet, here it is. These are the kinds of elementary thinking errors that atheists make in abundance, and it really harms the movement that I feel myself a part of.

Regardless, The God Argument is fairly interesting. But the original reviewer I read was right: we don’t need another such book. It is not provocative enough to thrill atheists and it doesn’t understand theology enough to impress intelligent believers.

Afterword

Interestingly, William Lane Craig made a similar argument for God, although his was much deeper and showed a lack of mathematical understanding that was embarrassing.

Obama Diversity Problem Goes Deep

Glass CeilingAbout two weeks ago at the New York Times, Annie Lowrey wrote what I think is a very important article, In Obama’s High-Level Appointments, the Scales Still Tip Toward Men. It is based on an important fact: women are no better represented in the Obama administration than they were in the Clinton administration. This is interesting given that the two administrations are separated by almost two decades. Now it is true that Obama is doing better than Bush, but that’s to be expected; Democratic presidents are not supposed to be sexist racist homophobic assholes. So we really should get better, especially considering that there are far more women who are what today passes for an acceptable political appointee.

I think the problem is not that Obama is sexist, because he clearly isn’t. But he very much has the “old boys club” mentality. I’ve written about this in the past. Obama is very insular—equally as much as Bush Jr was. I never would have guessed that before he was elected, and in fact, that was what I considered the best argument for him. But now, he seems to value comity above getting the best solutions. I think we have seen this throughout his administration, from the economic stimulus to same sex marriage.

But the best example comes with the Federal Reserve and who is going to replace Ben Bernanke. The obvious choice is Janet Yellen. Not only is she extremely well qualified for the job and second in line for it anyway, she would be the first woman to ever have the job. I don’t mean to suggest that Obama is unaware of these facts. But all of it seems to be trumped by the fact that one of his “boys,” Larry Summers, wants the job. So it doesn’t matter that Summers has been catastrophically wrong about really important things for the last 20 years; he’s one of the insiders and Obama wants to give the job to him.

I had major problems with the Clinton administration—especially on economic policy. But it is at least true that he tried to get many and varied opinions on issues. And that was reflected in the excellent job he did in terms of filling his administration with women. I think Obama is doing a worse job because he isn’t like that. And there’s even a bit more. My limited experience in corporate America shows that women are at least as good if not better than men in terms of work and skills and brilliance. But women are almost never self-promoting bullshitters. And that’s why, even after most people are not explicitly sexist, men are still far more likely to head companies and important institutions like the Federal Reserve: because people buy all the bullshit.

Matt Yglesias noted something really telling about how Obama fills vacancies in his administration. In Lowrey’s article, she quotes Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco defending Obama’s hiring practices. But she’s been a big victim of those practices:

Mastromonaco was made deputy chief of staff on Jan. 27, 2011, serving under William Daley. When Daley stepped down about a year later, he was replaced by Jack Lew, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. When Lew stepped down after a year of service, he was replaced by Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser. Both Lew and McDonough seem to me to have done quite well at their jobs and improved White House management from where it was in the Rahm and Daley eras. But both times the job went vacant, the chance existed to give the job to a woman for the first time ever. And the chance wasn’t taken, even though “promote the deputy chief of staff to chief of staff” seems a lot more logical than “promote the deputy national security adviser to chief of staff.”

I think the problem is that Mastromonaco is “merely” competent. She wasn’t “exciting.” And if this sounds kind of like how teenagers manage their love lives, it isn’t a coincidence. Obama seems to be a little hung up on the idea that some people just have a magic spark that makes them great at their jobs. My experience in the world is that intelligence and hard work are the only things that matter. Obama’s magic thinking has led to sub-optimal policy, but also to a less diverse administration.

Obama Tries to Claim Moral High Ground

Obama in East RoomThis morning, Jonathan Chait wrote what I thought was a pointless article about President Obama’s speech last night. But he offered up a great subtitle, “The East Room wouldn’t give him his deposit back.” That about sums it up. While watching it I wondered what the hell he was doing on prime time. He was making the case for war. But he was also talking about a negotiated settlement. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance going on. For example, he wanted us to know that Syria was only negotiating on chemical weapons because the United States was planning an attack. He said that we needed to keep up the pressure. And in order to do that he was… calling off the Congressional vote?

The administration would have us believe that Syria is negotiating only because the United States will use its military to uphold truth, justice, and the American way. But that isn’t what’s going on in the minds of Putin and Assad. Just like everyone else in the world, they can see that Congress is not going to give Obama the authorization to go to war with Syria. So they must assume that Obama will just go it alone. God knows there is precedent for this. What they may not realize is just how committed our not really loyal opposition is. The House Republicans are itching for a reason to impeach the president and if he went to war without getting their approval, they would impeach him faster than you can say “Monica Lewinsky.”

Given all this, I wonder if Assad isn’t interested in this chemical weapons deal as a way to jump start a broader deal to end the civil war. Probably not. It is more likely that he is looking back at Gaddafi and Hussein and thinking, “It doesn’t matter what the law says, this country will not stop until I am dead.” After all, despite the totally illegal and unjustified war in Iraq, Hussein is still dead. But regardless of what Assad is thinking, I hope that this chemical weapons deal will lead to a broader agreement on the civil war.

The worst part of Obama’s speech last night was when he hammered on the intelligence. As it is, I don’t much care if chemical weapons were used and by whom. It is terrible, of course, but there are all kinds of terrible things happening in the world that we don’t seem to care about. There are two problems with the focus on intelligence. First, it implies that the issue is the intelligence, as if everyone would be in favor of an attack if only we knew. Second, I know that the intelligence is less solid as he says. Yet he was claiming that we “know.” Sorry, but I don’t buy that. There have got to be uncertainties and the fact that he doesn’t admit that makes me think they are large.

He said that we are not the world’s police force. But then he went on to admit that yes, we are the world’s police force. Because we are “exceptional” (Oh, how I hate that word!) we are the only ones to do it. Well, he’s completely wrong when he claims that we have the moral authority to do it. We are at best in murky waters. And I still don’t understand why 110,000 deaths were just fine with us, but these 1,400 deaths (a number I continue to be skeptical about) do matter. The whole idea that chemical weapons are wrong because they are indiscriminate strikes me as absurd. Modern warfare doesn’t exactly have a “front.” Civilians are everywhere and bombs are indiscriminate.

I’m not that fond of Lawrence O’Donnell, but I thought he nailed the issue last night on The Last Word:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It seems to me that Obama’s speech last night was for face saving. He could have just canceled it. But he seems to want to continue to make the argument that regarding Syria, he is a righteous one. It doesn’t much matter to me. As long as we get a negotiated settlement, he can brag all he likes.

Gateway SX2802-07 DVD Eject Button

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What we’ve got here (is failure to communicate! sorry) …
is the uncooperative DVD (optical drive) button on a Gateway SX2802-07, which can be easily fixed.

This unit does not want to eject a DVD and it has nothing to do with the functionality of the drive itself, it has to do with the way the button Eject button on the chassis is made. This is what the inside of the front panel looks like, on the portion which is of concern to us:

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What I did was take the button out (carefully), take similar plastic from a VHS tape housing and glue a small flat piece to the angled end of the button. Then used nail clippers to trim it down to size and a jewelers file to shape and smooth it, to wind up with an 8th inch extension of the button end, so it looks like this:

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If you try this repair, be very careful not to snap off any tabs inside the panel and not to lose the springs that make the button stay up.

Short Entry of Tech Thoughts

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If your OS loads from CD only part way (yes, some of us still use discs), then hitting several errors about loading drivers or files…… very often it is a mismatch of Master-Slave relationship on the optical drive(s). CS (Cable Select) option is an easy way to set these up, sometimes…. but some cables and drives just don’t work right together, in this mode.

No video at startup……machine you just worked on not sending display? Often we find this to be a ram issue. While most boards will send error beeps, several models -including HP DX2400 series PC’s- just don’t……. they take a more passive approach, not starting all the way. Check the ram for proper seating and type.

No video after changing video card. Many possible answers here….This is far from a complete checklist, but some of the things to check:
-Used/bad video card? Try a known/spare card.
-Bios setting, making sure the slot you are using is set as an active or preferred video output (which can be done, of course, only if you have video during bios)
-Ram/board not syncing with new card…. try full reset of bios to default. This does NOT only mean taking the CR2032 out. Google ‘bios reset.’ This is more common than you might think.
-Wrong card specs for board/slot. This was a big issue with 4x/8x etc AGP boards and slots.
IF the system has on-board video, please back track, simplify and make sure that feature works.
I’ve seen this problem go from days to weeks. You have your work cut out for you.

Copyright: Forever Less One Day

CopyrightI write a lot about copyright around here because the system is out of control. As a writer, I like to get paid for my work. But as Dean Baker has pointed out, there are various ways that society can encourage creative work. And now, copyright does not work to do that; instead, copyright is used by big business as a cudgel to beat off competition and maintain monopolies.

In the days of Cervantes, writers sold their works outright to publishers who then owned the copyright. The situation is very similar to that today. Except for a lucky few, writers get paid advances and that’s where things end. But even the cases where books become best sellers, publisher profits continue to rise as writers end up with a slightly larger percentage of the gross sales, but less of the net profits. So writers who defend the copyright system are deluded.

Of course, I don’t think that Congress would give a flying fuck about what writers think of copyright. They can be as deluded as they like. We have these ridiculous copyright laws because Disney and Dreamworks have lobbied hard for them. It’s all about corporate profits as it always is. This is, for example, why extensions to copyright are always made retroactive, even though that makes no sense: current law can’t encourage people in the past to produce more content.

Here is an excellent video on copyright by CGP Grey that actually lays out the basics of the issue: