12/18/10

Festivus Impends! Get Thee Pole Out of Thy Coat Closet!



Just a friendly alert that Festivus impends. Get out the aluminum Festivus pole (no tinsel though; it's distracting). Do not forget that it is on December 23rd, and features the Feats of Strength and Airing of Grievances. (Be sure to recount, in detail, those who have really disappointed you over the last 12 months. You have a lot of problems with these people!)

11/30/10

Comcast, Net Neutrality, and Your Daily Paper



The issue of "Net Neutrality" has been covered, but poorly, by most mainstream news outlets. There's little doubt that Comcast can pose a serious challenge not only to small, non-profit or political web sites and blogs (left or right or whatever) but also to newspapers. Is it possible that the "neutrality" news organizations have used as a pretext to avoid running negative stories about corporations will come back to bite them in the bandwidth?

A democracy needs a vigorous press to challenge both governmental and corporate power. When a press only challenges government, it sows too much suspicion about elected officials and too little about unelected ones. We are well down the road to a press that rarely challenges business interests. Ironically, those very interests may destroy (are destroying?) the very press which gave them cover all these years.

An interesting article explaining why the net should be understood like a public utility (public good) is here: http://www.gmj.uottawa.ca/1001/v3i1_qua ... arabie.pdf

11/29/10

Technology in the classroom and OF the classroom

Re:  Inside Higher Education Should Profs Leave Unruly Classes?
November 29, 2010


COMMENT: I'd never walk out of class and have a strict policy about technology in my class. I don't allow anyone but those with special needs to use laptops. Philosophy lends itself easily to such a policy, and I realize that other disciplines might not be able to have such a rule.

About walking out, I understand the dilemma. On one hand, it is contractually obligated for profs to stick it out; on the other hand, they are at their wits end and are trying to mobilize social pressure to create a class atmosphere. That seems like a tactic unlikely to succeed because there are larger forces at work which cannot be changed with a single act of drama.

About technology, there is one issue which must be kept in mind--which I think gets left out. We all know about the issue of "technology in the classroom." But we must understand that universities are also guilty of sins related to technology. Anytime a student is placed in a class of 200, they are being made the object of the "technology of large classes." Is it any wonder that someone being treated like a number with the technocracies of education uses technology to re-establish their individual space? 

I'm old fashioned, and believe that education is a face-to-face interaction. Universities are creating larger classrooms, online classes, and "clicker" technologies to better "manage" large classes. This creates social distance between students and teachers and between students and their peers. We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves who is most responsible for the uses of technology most damaging to the central missions of education. Indeed, we need to make this self-reflection the subject of an ongoing debate amongst faculty. (Too bad faculty are increasingly losing control of things as basic to education as class size.)

11/28/10

Disappointment (again) at the movies


Well, we went to see Harry Potter 7a last night and it was exactly the sort of satisfying meal one gets on the highway: happy anticipation, tasty experience, then flashes of nausea and a bit of shame 10 miles down the road.

I am realizing that what's wrong with HP7 is what's wrong with about every "fun" movie I've gone to see in the last decade or more: too much of everything. Too much special effects, too much "action," too much sentiment in the "sub-plot," and, well, just too much--too long. One clue: I cannot remember much of the movie right after it's over. The thinking part of my brain never got a chance to engage with the movie, because it's all been visceral. Another clue: I have no idea who the characters are, what they're motivated by, why they act, their larger psychologies.

And I don't care what kind of movie or story it is: no psychology, no character; no character, no story; no story, no movie. Harry Potter is no movie.

There is no modulation, no gentle build, no sense of excitement in many scenes because it's all supposed to be exciting. But the constant stimulation, the hyper-speed, the unbelievable detail that rushes by before you can enjoy it all add up to that sick feeling I get from the sugar-salt-fat-sicle that one gets in fast food. My senses are engaged but my brain is left perplexed, reeling.

Why is this? I think it's because an experience needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. And then there needs to be some time to "glow" from the experience, to sense its aftermath. That aftermath (also an experience) enriches the just completed "main" experience and makes it what it always could be. Movies have the beginning, and then they're all middle. Then it happens again. And again.

What if Brian Eno directed these movies? Or what if they were directed by someone with restraint, poetic sensibility--someone who would impose *economy* on the way the story was being illustrated, rather than just amping things up to the level guaranteed to "get the audience off"? Wouldn't it be great to see Harry Potter done with actual artistry and taste? (Maybe that's not the best basis for artistry, but take my point if you can.) When it comes to action movies, we have nothing but movies made for the mass audience, but don't these audiences also want something besides action? I think the answer has to be "yes."

Finally, let me make a technical criticism and address the issue of "powers." What makes a movie exciting or a hero interesting are the well known limits that have to be obeyed. Spiderman is only *this* strong and no stronger; his webs do *these* things and no others; his spidey powers include a, b, and c, but no more. This is why Kill Bill was such an exciting movie: Kiddo, the heroine (if you can call her that), has a very limited range of powers, and we are constantly on edge that she will be surprised or outmatched. The result: tension, excitement, dramatic action.

11/3/10

The "Message" of the 2010 Election

In a phrase: wild frustration with the one party in America, the Property Party.

If it was a Republican congress under Bush that started creating unemployment and deficits before Obama took office, why is the explanation for Democrats losses being placed on them? In my view, the "message" of the election is not the culpability of the Democrats but rather (1) a frustration at what Nader calls a "one party country" in combination with (2) powerful GOP media machine (mischaracterizing and demonizing Democrats) which is funded and augmented by (3) corporate dollars. These factors represent, for me, the best explanation for the Democrats losses.

10/14/10

Capturing a Worry

One worry I have about my identity as a scholar: I am too captured and engaged with problematics and not enough with the problems themselves.

What's the difference? To be engaged with problematics is to be a puzzle-seeker-who-writes-papers. To be engaged with problems is to be alive and alert to opportunities to follow genuine questions wherever they may lead, whether they lead to papers or not.

Professional academia leads to conclusion-first reasoning: first the paper, then the conclusion, then the premises, then the problems. We might call this "pseudo-inquiry."

9/30/10

Home at Last

Yesterday was a long day of travel. Up at 530 am, bus to airport, then flights--2 hours from Helsinki to Frankfurt, 3 hour layover, then 10 hour flight from Frankfurt to Denver. Lufthansa was a great airline, though. Food, service, in flight entertainment--all superior to KLM, British Air, Air France, and SAS.When I arrived at the last stop for the airport bus, I looked out the bus window and saw my family, with the kids jumping up and down yelling "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" Are there any happier moments concocted by life? I can't imagine one.

9/28/10

Wrapping it up in Finland

It is hard to believe it has been a month already, but I am winding things down here in Helsinki. My original plan to post regularly was upset by a computer failure which knocked out my Mac for about 2 weeks, but in a way, that pushed me to absorb more and output less. It also helped me unplug from email, news, and all the usual noise we cannot seem to quit. This has been a great start to my sabbatical, full of travel and intellectual exchange. I have really started to know Helsinki and got an unexpected chance to see both an old friend, Beth G., and a city I would not have predicted I'd travel to--St. Petersburg. My head has started to clear a bit of all the day to day dross that prevents one from starting to think about what to do next, though I am now appreciating how long it takes to take stock. It's a good thing I am going to live to be 300 years old because my head clears very slowly, indeed.

Who knows what will come of this trip. It may have initiated things, affirmed things, planted seeds--or maybe it was a break, a caesura in the busy life of a rapidly-becoming-middled-aged guy. It certainly gave me a sense that I can travel, can figure out how to navigate a city by myself (which I have done many times, but not in a long time), and can be alone without being lonely. It has also convinced me that Finnish is probably a language just for Finns and that Russia is a country where you have to be careful. (My travel partner there was pickpocketed of passport and money less than 12 hours after we got there. Nice.)


9/23/10

Moonshot

23 September 2010 aboard Princess Maria, St. Peter's Line cruise
ship. A beautiful moon and evening planet over the Gulf of Finland,
heading toward St. Petersburg, Russia.

Venice of the North


Heading today to St. Petersburg, reportedly called the "Venice of the North." Over 300 bridges in SP, by the way.

9/20/10

Food in Helsinki

Sausage, potato, sauerkraut, meatballs, beets, mashed potatoes. Beer. Wine. Yum.

9/17/10

Helsinki Exchanges

Enjoying getting to know the pragmatists here in Helsinki. There's sizable interest in Peirce, Dewey, and James and of connections between pragmatism and communication and also sociological theory. I gave a talk to the Helsinki Metaphysical Club yesterday, "Dewey and Objectivity."





9/16/10

Walking Helsinki coast, Cafe Ursala

Kaivopuisto is a beautiful park and the walk there is lovely. Cafe Ursala was a yummy place!
From around September 8th or so.




9/12/10

Divided sidewalks


Helsinki divides sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists. It works well, and keeps people out of their cars.

9/10/10

On Uncertainty of a Personal-Professional Nature

On Uncertainty of a Personal-Professional Nature

Sabbatical Journal, Helsinki

I don't know what to work on next. I am finally resisting all the habits I have to write on more of the same thing. I'm faced with a non philosophical problem--how do I stop doing what has become automatic for me and reconstruct my philosophical interests? Can I find the courage to be an 'amateur' again? It is harder than I thought to fail to answer people when they ask what I am working on.


Part of the issue is how to "live" in a space of uncertainty for a while. If you're like me, there is a tendency to indulge such a space--a nether world, a morass, a waiting room, whatever you want to call it--only for a brief while. And then one thinks of a way to escape! But if the choice of path is to be significant (e.g. a direction for one's work which might take years, or perhaps a commitment to learn another language, or get grounded in some factual subject matter) then one must choose carefully. This means, I think, that one must linger in the morass as long as possible; an uncomfortable prospect with uncertain results. Yesterday, I had the chance to sit and have a beer with Jakko Hintikka and I asked him if he had ever changed directions or reconsidered, in a fundamental way, what he was working on. (He is 80+ years old, so I thought perhaps he had.) He had not. Things grew out of and developed from his earliest ideas--with, of course, offshoots and side interests, many of them, along the way. But no major turnabouts. Then again, he is a logician, so perhaps that is relevant!

9/8/10

Finding the good stuff in Helsinki

 About 6 hours of walking from my housing on Hesperianinkatu south thru design district and down to water. Lots of nice discoveries today: Temppeliaukio church, chocloate shop (Fazer), coffee place (coffee roastery) and pastry places (Carusel and Cafe Ursala) near the water; a hip looking gourmet shop (Eat and Joy Maatilatori) too. Only ate at one, though! Now I need a suggestion for a good place to get a beer!

Travel update, Sweden, Helsinki, and Computer Woes

Here in Helsinki after 4 nice days in Stockholm and a cruise. Weather has been fabulous--mid 60s and sunny. Where's the depressing stuff? Where are all the dour faces? It has been great. I have not done too much touristy stuff yet, just trying to walk the city and get a lay of the land. It feels considerably smaller than Stockholm.  I visited the design district and am beginning to figure out where the major sites to see are, but I am still trying to gauge what trips out of town--farther than the Suolimenna fortress--should be on my short list. I don't know yet how many I will get to, so I am trying to figure out what the one or two best would be to see.
 
My computer screen went black after just a day in Stockholm so I have not been able to Skype with the family yet. Apparently it is a Nividia graphics card issue for MBP that everyone knows about. Great time to experience it. A store here in Helsinki is supposedly fixing it and maybe it will be ready this Friday.
 
The Finnish language is univerally admitted to be impossible and there are only about 6 million people in the world who speak it. Accordingly, there's not much pressure for foreigners to speak any, and no attitude of a condescending nature is ever directed at visitors. (Hear that, France?)

9/2/10

At Columbus Hotell in Stockholm


I made it safely to Stockholm and am in my hotel now. Easy trip if a bit long and uncomfortable seats. I slept maybe 90 minutes after waking up at about 4 the morning of my flight. I'm going to try to stay up and power through the day and walk around as much as possible.

Here's a photo in the *lobby* of the Columbus Hotell because the wifi in the room ISN'T WORKING. (And they call this a "developed" nation?).

Radio in lobby playing "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer. Oh boy.

9/1/10

Heading to Stockholm, Finland


First: DIA, Denver. Flying to Chicago to connect with SAS which will take me to Stockholm, Sweden.


6/25/10

Happy Sisyphuses of Philosophy

I thought these lines from T.S. Eliot's EAST COKER (No. 2 of 'Four
Quartets') speak well to the necessary but folly-like enterprise of
scholarship.

EAST COKER (No. 2 of 'Four Quartets')

...And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate-but there is no competition-
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business....

6/20/10

What to do about old translations swamping the free e-book world?

Recently I’ve integrated both a Linux based netbook and an iPod touch into my computing. This has prompted me to look for free e-books of classics in philosophy. There are many. Of course, many of these classics are old translations, such as Jowett’s Platonic Dialogues.

Which raises a question for researching philosophers: what should publishers of newer translations (e.g. the translations by Woodruff et al. in the Cooper Collected Dialogues of Plato) do in response?

Obviously, the short run economics of this points to *not* making their translations free. But if these works are being massively downloaded, read, and used, I think philosophers need to ask themselves if they really want the older translations (some of which are, by our lights, bad) swamping the newer ones? I mean, isn’t it more important to be read by thousands than to be paid (usually) in pennies? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be a meme in the culture than have $20 bucks in my pocket. Of course this question applies to all areas of scholarship, but I’m a philosopher.

Thoughts?

6/18/10

Reflections on mobile computing I: where does the urge to “walk with screen” come from?



I broke down and replaced my old iPod, a 20gb Classic which, while it works, cannot be disconnected from an AC power supply without failing. I got the smallest iPod Touch they make, 8gb, refurbished.

Some initial thoughts, then. It was several days before I tried listening to it with headphones because I was so busy trying out the apps on it. How the device has evolved away from a music player! There are so many free apps for it and the ones it comes with are quite useful. Or so it seems. What is interesting is that I find myself playing with the apps first and then looking for a use for them; then, I find myself looking for occasions to integrate that use into my daily flow.

For example, I put the iPod next to my bed thinking I’d be able to check the weather first thing the next morning when I woke up. It’s been predictably warm and sunny here every single day, so this kind of new task is actually an alteration-without-justification in my daily routine. I’m doing it because I can, not because I need to or want to. Feelings of self-recrimination: I'm all yours!

I also noticed that while I’m out and about, I have found myself tempted to keep it in my pocket and then pull it out to…I don’t know…check for wifi access…look at pictures…play a podcast…send a tweet. While walking. Then I reflected on how I typically feel when I see people walking around looking at a phone or iPod (disgusted) and thought,
“Where does this temptation come from? Why is it not beaten back by the sensorium of sights, sounds, smells and interactions that the world provides?”

There is something odd about walking outside in Colorado (where the Front Range mountains are often in plain view) and choosing to look down at a tiny screen that, truth be told, doesn’t do any more than my computer can. Indeed, if I try to project my immediate experience of the world *as if* it was a computer-simulation it is actually the more incredible sensory experience. Hence, a puzzle.

So, my initial and tentative hypothesis explaining why I feel the urge to use an iPod (besides the newness of it) is that it cannot be about the prima facie sensory experience. So, then: what is it the source? Is it the desire to increase control? The desire for entertainment? What?

And I'm not getting into issues about social interaction or the public sphere, yet. I'm just trying to stay focused on the phenomenological question of where the desire in me originates...

5/20/10

Beware, selfish Free Market Types, Adam Smith Isn't the Ally You Really Want


Beware, Selfish Free Market Types, Adam Smith Isn't the Ally You Really Want

Amartya Sen corrects the Wall Street Interpretation.


Here's an excerpt:

The typical understanding of The Wealth of Nations has been
constrained, to the detriment of economics as a subject. The neglect
applies, among other issues, to the appreciation of the demands of
rationality, the need for re cognising the plurality of human
motivations, the connections between ethics and economics, and the
codependent rather than free-standing role of institutions in
general, and free markets in particular, in the functioning of the
economy.

... Smith argues that while "prudence" was "of all virtues that which
is most helpful to the individual", "humanity, justice, generosity,
and public spirit, are the qualities most useful to others".

The full piece is here:

http://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2010/04/smith-market-essay-sentiments

5/6/10

On Charity in Philosophy


On Charity in Philosophy

Prescript: On the Accuracy of Memory

I wrote a sentimental essay in college about riding joyfully on the back of my father's bicycle as a child.

My parents loved it. They did not correct me on the facts. Perhaps they could have. Perhaps they could have said, "We remember that day. You were miserable the whole ride. Your dad had to ply you with candy to stop you from crying. You were terrified."

Should they have corrected my memory? Why didn't they?

Perhaps because for my parents there is both a fact about "what happened on September 3, 1967" and a fact about "what David wrote about his bicycle ride with his father." And you might think, "Well, those facts don't square up. And they should be made to square up, no matter what it does to David's essay-or David's attitude about his father, his trust in his own memory, and whatever else the consequences might be."  Only now there is an additional fact at play, namely, "the fact that David remembers the bicycle ride in a sentimental way and feels positive enough about it to share it with his father." And correcting the facts in the story could alter this latter fact in some degree and then that, too, would be a fact.

Perhaps this fact about the way facts are used to revise one another-(and the way they can change the future course of events)-influenced how my parents chose to respond to my story. In deciding on how much "literalness" to apply to my reminiscence, they followed a norm not drawn from literalness, but from a pragmatic judgment about which possible future would be better-the one where my happy memory is corrected versus the one where my happy memory is taken up, discussed, added to, and celebrated.

But notice, in following the latter norm, they have chosen to respond to my story as more than just a "factual report" but as an act on my part to remember something, write and revise it, and then share and discuss it with someone else. So, you see, there is nothing so narrow as "the fact" of what I wrote. A piece of writing emerges from a living context with living results, and every reiteration of it happens , too, in another context, and plays a role in creating further, living results.

As readers and listeners, we are compelled to make such interpretative choices with everything we read. The facts in any written piece need to be interpreted in light of  the larger contexts we can imagine for the author, his time and place, as well as for our time, place, and future. His aspirations are part of what he writes, and ours are part of what we read. To read is to write-to advance a new narrative-of the meanings we chose to ignore or attend, emphasize or downplay, press hard upon or let alone. Our duty, it seems to me, is that we interpret in a way that demands that we invest in our texts the largest possible sense of the future and the past.

On Charity in Philosophy

How should we examine phenomena in our lives which are already part of what we do, aspire to, or hope for? We would like to know better the nature of friendship, but we already have a long list of friends--and of being a friend. We'd like to know justice and fairness--but we're deep into habits of giving and receiving, of hearing and ignoring the pleas of others. We would like to reevaluate food and eating, playing and working, perceiving and dreaming, and yet these activities have both made us and been made by us all along. Finally, we would like to appreciate the meaning of the signs and the tools we use--our media and technologies--and yet here, too, we have established patterns of behavior that have sustained us, comforted us, amused us, and informed us.

As a practice, philosophy has no intrinsic subject matter. While some philosophers might claim that "truth" and "being" and "goodness" are philosophy's subject matter, this claim betrays too much hubris. There always needs to be a further connection established: the "truth" of what? the "being" of what? Philosophy has "topics" to raise and discuss because it is a practice which we philosophers do, which we engage in with others, about the issues and concepts and habits which we human-beings-who-have-learnt-to-do-philosophy have ventured to analyze, synthesize, and converse over. Only by discussing the ethics of abortion do we come to understand more carefully and deeply the meaning of abortion and the meaning of "right" and "wrong," "privacy" and "state's interest," "person" and "thing." Only by arguing about the habits of media consumption do we come to reveal the complicated effects that television, for example, has for the meanings of "debate" and "argument" and "recreation," to name just a few. And only by examining, through discussion and study, the meaning of "technology" can we bring out the manifold meanings that guide, motivate, and surround our "tools," "devices," "programs," and "practices."

How should such discussions proceed? If you wished to get someone to consider--and since we're already adults, "reconsider"--the meanings of abortion, media, and technology or love, fairness, and art what would you do? If you wanted to induce someone to not only recount the meanings they knew but imagine other possibilities and perspectives for what these terms might mean, what would you have them do? What would you say to them or show to them? What would you put them through?

These questions can be summed up in one philosophical question: How should one educate? And philosophers have trodden black a number of beaten paths. One, of course, is dialogue aiming toward definition. To name a thing--and then define it--is the key, some have thought, to inducing in the conscious mind of others the fullest and richest set of meanings which encircle, concentrically, a concept embedded in the webs of action and belief that make up our daily lives. Others have embraced the geometric forms of demonstrative proof, laying out the rules and premises and then pointing--don't you see! don't you see!-to the conclusions which must follow. Still others have used narrational methods to tell a compelling story--of a concept's history, its genesis, the way it manifests itself to the author. Such stories rely on rich description and even poetic devices to draw in the listener so that they find themselves following along (i.e., "caring") and opening up, therefore, to what the author thinks the important meanings are. Some philosophers, such as Descartes, have combined story and demonstration with explicit autobiography into the "meditation," which hopes to bring readers in touch with the deepest convictions of its author. Finally, for my purposes today, I'd mention a technique I'll provocatively call "enchantment," which uses words, sounds, rhetorical performance (in some cases) to create for readers or listeners a trance-like state which, once experienced, provides a standpoint (a promontory with a new vista) never before available to the hearer. Medieval authors and, I think, some of Derrida, use this gambit. One who sticks it out with the text or speech comes out of their enchanted state with something new: an altered sense of what reality is and can be.

So, there are a lot of tricks available to an author to convince, entreat, inspire, and  inveigle readers to journey along similar paths towards similar conclusions. But no author ever succeeded without a properly equipped listener. An author has to count upon a reader who is adequately prepared--one who possesses the patience, intelligence, and charity that is equal to the enterprise of that author. There must be a rough parallel between author and listener (or reader). The more complex the message of the author, the more patience, intelligence, and charity are required of the listener. The more universal and deep the subject matter, the greater the risk posed to communication by the reader's lapses into distraction, fragmentation, or irreverent quibbling. Again, the reader must have patience, intelligence, and charity; and of these three virtues, the greatest is charity.

Charity is most important because every good philosophical story (or "argument" if you like) lies somehow beyond us. It brings to bear facts which are new to us, a history we've not heard before, a perspective different than our own. It may reinforce or challenge beliefs we cherish, but it does so from a standpoint of difference. To understand an author, we are called to try to stand outside ourselves, to be more than who we are at the moment. This can be difficult, especially when the issue is personal to us. I'm reminded of how Euthyphro runs away from Socrates at the end of their dialogue, or how Alcibiades admits how philosophical discussion so frequently led him to feelings of shame. And yet Alcibiades keeps coming back to Socrates.

Why does Alcibiades keep coming back to Socrates? What motivates someone to return to a situation which has produced such feelings? A love of wisdom, a desire for knowledge, a need to grow. What enables us to return is more than charity for the author or speaker. Charity, by itself, is not enough; courage is also required.

Why is courage important to reading and listening charitably to philosophical argument? It is important because it takes courage to suspend judgment and hear the whole story--to suspend ourselves and see what it would like to be the person who believes the words we have just heard. It takes courage, then, to take a genuine risk: the risk we might have to change our minds and our habits if we're given good reasons to do so.

Courage is obstructed, of course, by cowardice. This is nearly an analytic truth. But surprisingly, courage is also obstructed by rationality. For rationality is not so much a faculty but a set of habits; an identity and a source of pride. I say (to myself)

"Because I am a rational person, I am always wary of all claims--especially philosophical ones. My rationality protects me from ambitious philosophers, especially those who make grand claims about reality."

As readers and speakers who wax philosophical, we all pride ourselves on requiring from others more than just "persuasion." Indeed, we take as our right an analysis and assessment of what we're hearing. It must be "logical" and "well-founded" and "based in empirical fact." Yes, yes, and yes.

But just as no  one who requires a complete understanding of the path ahead ever ventured very into the wilderness, we too need to temper our skepticism with a sense of adventure and a sense of reverence.

Adventure requires that we let go of the fear of being made uncomfortable, of being steered around a cherished habit. Adventure means setting out to place oneself in new surroundings, amidst strange and possibly dangerous flora and fauna.

Reverence is an attitude of humility and respect, of deference, of veneration. It is not blind submission, nor is it genuflection, groveling, toadying, or boot-licking. To pay reverence to an author, a professor, or a colleague requires that one strike a balance between deeply held needs. On the one hand, there is the need to champion one's self-reliance. To stick to one's stalwart commitment to carving a unique way forward and deciding, for oneself, what is true or false, real or merely apparent, good or bad. "No one can choose for me," we say.

On the other hand, there is the need for help. A purely self-made world is a fiction; a world which has walled out new influences is petty, trivial, mean, and cheap. The economy of our imagination flourishes through the ideas and interactions with others. What regulates our economy--what staves off depression--is reverence, an attitude of deferential respect to those who have come before us and enlarged the universe. It is reverence not to the authority of these persons, exactly, but to their careful methods, their wide scholarship, their earnestly detailed descriptions, and to their vigor (of often a monkish sort) in extensively criticizing what other authors have said. Such persons are due our reverence not because they made the universe itself but because they have made it meaningful. Their labor has constructed the resplendent vistas and fecund opportunities that entice us to offer our two cents. And so, reverence places before us both a duty and an opportunity.
     
We do have a duty to be skeptical, though not hyper-skeptical, so that we improve what can be improved and don't mistake wheat for chaff among the things we hear and pass along.

We have the opportunity to receive what we've been given and create new things with it; to strengthen it, adapt it, even reject it as we assume the awesome responsibility of projecting into the future-with all the imagination we can muster-those vistas we find meaningful.

We act with the hope that those who come after us treat our expressions with sincere reverence.
David L Hildebrand
University of Colorado Denver
Copyright 2010          
Posted 5/6/10

4/25/10

Sell e-books at independent bookstores

Keep community and low prices: How about a bricks and mortar independent bookstore, with real books and a knowledgeable staff--which sells you an e-book when you're done browsing and ready to buy?

Steve Jobs: Angry, Fake, Buddhist?

From the New Yorker: "There's a lot of heat between Apple and Amazon and Google," an adviser to Jobs said. "Steve expresses contempt for everyone-unless he's controlling them." http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_auletta?printable=true#ixzz0m7UPCZhN Steve Jobs is supposed to be a buddhist. Is this how buddhists think?

4/1/10

New Prize in American Philosophy Announced

Nobel Prize Committee Announces New Prize in American Philosophy

AP - 1 April, 2010 Stockholm, Sweden.   The Nobel Prize committee announced today that for the first time since 1968 it would be adding an additional prize category in American Philosophy. This award, made possible by the Board of Directors' reversal of an earlier decision to permit no new additions means that American Philosophy will join those in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.

"We have long believed that there needed to be a prize in Philosophy," said Marcus Storch, MD, who is Chairman of Nobel's Board of Directors, "and we have spent several decades trying to determine when and how to create one. Years spent studying the works of Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Spinoza, Leibniz, Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Hegel left us with no concrete or practical directions to go. A period spent studying Russell, Frege, Quine, and Sellars offered brief clarity, but ultimately it was too bleak for our Nordic temperaments. Our inquiry breathed new life the day our Deputy Chairman Gunnar Oquist discovered a copy of *The Poems of John Dewey* at a yard sale in Bagghusviken; that day, we knew that the prize had to be in American Philosophy." Storch went on to comment that no other areas of philosophy will ever be considered by the Nobel organization as long as it exists. "There simply cannot be a better or more worthy area to study. Period," Storch said.

Like the other prizes, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in American Philosophy will be awarded a gold medal, a diploma bearing a citation and a sum of money. The prize will be open to nominations for the year starting 2011.


END

3/25/10

Idea for A Department Seminar Series

As I grade UPPER division papers for my philosophy course, I propose
that my department hold a number of pedagogical seminars for our
students.

Here's my short list of seminars:

What is a sentence?

What are commas for?

Why be grammatical?

When should quotation "marks" be put around "words" and why should you "care"?

If these go well, I suggest this major seminar undertaking:

What is the principle of charity and when should you follow your
professor's advice to be charitable and when should you just be
content to go off half-cocked with big words and the strong
conviction that you're smarter than any of the authors mentioned in
your paper?

3/21/10

Are behemoth universities caused by corporate pressures?

I've engaged Rob Koons on his notion that "charter colleges" are a
solution to the decline of the liberal arts. A link to his original
piece, my letter, and his response are here:
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1191

Of note in his response to my letter are the following claims: "I
find it hard to see a direct causal link between the rise of
corporations and the fall of the liberal arts in the university....
The humanities are not dying because the business schools are
flourishing: the demise of the humanities is self-inflicted.

He goes on to say, "The pursuit of profits is in itself an innocent
and even wholesome activity, one as old as civilization itself."

I'm thinking about a response. Got one? Send it to the Witherspoon Institute.

3/20/10

BAD is Still GOOD

"About a century ago, Americans set out to experience the higher
learning, but after a brief trial, they found they didn't like it. It
was too hard and too serious: Latin and Greek took years to learn,
and the noble, magnanimous heroes of ancient, medieval, and
Renaissance history seemed useless and 'irrelevant' as 'role models'
for the main American activity, making money. An acquaintance with
the principles of logic and evidence was found an actual impediment
to enthusiasm and good fellowship, and skeptical studies in the
history of popular error and the domination of societies by
superstition and mobs seemed undemocratic, indeed 'elitist.' A few
genuinely educated people found that precise reasoning and analysis
and the disinterested scrutiny of phenomena others uncritically took
for granted constituted no formula for gaining 'popularity.' In
short, it was soon discovered that real education was of little value
in the American life of action, ambition, acquisitivenesses, and
getting-on. In fact, just the opposite: the devolopment of intellect
led only to an un-American life of study and contemplation."

Paul Fussell, BAD: The Dumbing of America
http://www.amazon.com/Bad-Dumbing-America-Paul-Fussell/dp/0671792288

2/14/10

Marking up a text for comprehension

Reading mark-up diagram.
Because students occasionally ask me how I mark up my text for reading comprehension, I have created a page with a brief diagram with the marks that work for me. It is here. LINK TO READING MARKUPam.html

NPR Obituary of Zinn Enacts Double Standard

Letter to NPR Ombudsperson. Contact her here: http://help.npr.org/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=5670&task=ticket

It was unbalanced of NPR to "rebut" Howard ZInn's legacy without doing the same for other controversial figures on the right.

Horowitz's statements don't reflect the balanced conscience of a conservative or the measured estimate of a historian. He is a media showman and NPR bought his snake oil.

You ruined your segment with his commentary, and you further confirmed the sense that some of us have that you are interested only in "fake balance" and not news or commentary based on merit.

Read the FAIR account, here: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4009

2/8/10

Beware University Technologists who are "Here to Help"


At a recent seminar on teaching, one guest from CU Online actually said, and I'm paraphrasing (but accurately): "let students bring laptops to the classroom; let them surf the web; let them twitter about your lecture while it's happening!" I think his point was to have teachers begin to accept laptops in the classroom, but he went way beyond that.

Some of us teachers looked around in disbelief. But these CU Online people are the priests of technology, and this is their business--but their business is set directly in opposition to what we believe it means to develop a mind and a socially conscious intelligence.

In short, professors: watch out for the technologist on your very own payroll. They know not what they're saying, and they're saying it in training to your faculty.

2/5/10

Writing a Memo of Understanding for a Nanny

Writing a Memo of Understanding for a Nanny

Here is the MOU I created to create clear communication between us and our nanny. Hope it's helpful to some people.

Memorandum of Understanding
Between: ____________ and PARENTS
This document specifies the terms of the  care arrangement between _________________ and the parents, NAMES of their two children.

Children
o   To be cared for: NAMES
o Other children who visit will do so only with advance notice of and approval of nanny. Compensation will be adjusted for additional children (see below).

Duties
o        Typical care: feeding, clothing, changing, entertaining, etc.
o  Occasional housework related to day with children-e.g., tidying up a play area, bedroom, or kitchen-preferably involving children in cleanup if possible.
o      Fall 2008 NAME Preschool:
o      Occasional driving/escorting as needed
o Taking NAME to Paddington every ____ at _____ am/pm
o    Laundry-occasional, related to children's care.
o        Medications when necessary

House rules
Naptimes/Bedtimes- we prefer the kids both nap during the day and that activities be scheduled with these times in mind:
   NAME goes down for 1 nap a day, typically around _____.
NAME goes  down for 1 nap a day, when possible, around 1  p.m.
Obviously, there will be exceptions to these guides, but this is our ideal.

Discipline: we want our kids to avoid settling conflicts with violence-physical or verbal. They need to find ways to settle differences by working out solutions, if possible.  Discipline of our kids should never be corporal-no spanking or swatting, for instance. Time-outs are acceptable, but they should be administered sparingly. We wish to discuss discipline incidents and methods as they happen with the nanny.

Television:
o     Days/Times:
o    none on Tuesday (no TV day)
o    we would like to add a second day during the M-F week with no tv
o       no more than hour per day
o      We dislike TV because it creates a reliance on external stimulation
o    TV content:
o    specific programs only; preferably shows without violence
o      Thomas the Tank, Caillou, Little Einsteins, Baby Einstein, and other videos and dvds around the house are ok.
o  absolutely no commercials and no channel surfing

Meals: much of the time we will have meals almost ready to go in the fridge; often, we'll have the makings for simple meals (like grilled cheese, etc.). Occasionally, eating out is ok.
o       Noodles and Co., Qdoba, the Perk Hill coffee shop are good options
o     We strongly prefer NOT to go to fast food such as McDonalds, Taco Bell, etc.
o   the emphasis is on healthy food options and a simple restaurant atmosphere

Hygiene: hand washing after playing outside if
o       they're about to eat
o   really dirty
o   after bathroom
o if sick

Safety
o  Areas not allowed: utility closet in basement
o  cabinets where there are  breakables (such as in living room) or valuables (jewelry box).
o      there are no guns or weapons in the house.

Emergencies-Dr. NAME (pediatrics NAME) is our kids' doctor. More information will be provided.

Contact Information
Full contact information (phone numbers, email, etc.) will be exchanged so that all parties can contact one another as quickly as needed. Contact info for backup people (pediatrician, neighbor, relative) etc. will be provided as well.
 
Hours
On average, care for at least ____ hours per week and no more than _____ hours per week will be needed. A daily schedule will be discussed and agreed on at the start of employment and revised as needed.
Particular weeks may vary due to vacations, illness, etc. and these changes will be discussed with as much advance notice as possible. In the case of vacations/days off, notice of at least one week will be expected.

Transportation: still to be revised

Use of car to transport child: this will vary from day to day. Most trips will not be more than 2 miles. Depending on the day, we'll alternate whose car (the nanny's or parent's) will be used. We will provide car seats at all times. We will reimburse for gas etc. for longer trips taken in nanny's car.

Compensation
Rate. There will be two rates of compensation. During training/familiarization, when assisting either another caregiver or a parent, pay will be $ 10 per hour; when standard, autonomous care begins the starting rate will be $14 per hour. Partial hours will be pro-rated. This rate will be subject to increase at the discretion of the employers.

Vacation/Sick leave We cannot afford to pay for vacations or sick leave. If something unusual or long-term occurs, we will want to discuss it and try to work something out.

Additional children. If additional children join NAMES for the day, and no additional caregivers come with them, an increase to the hourly rate that is mutually acceptable to all (including nanny, additional parents/guardians) will be provided.

Additional expenses. Parents will provide funds for any food/drink, entrance fees, and other costs associated with any outings taken by nanny/children. If long distance driving is involved (e.g., over 20 miles), compensation for gas will be provided.

Pay period. Payment for care will be given every _____ weeks on the ______ of that week. Payment may be made in cash or check.

Taxes-for social security and other taxes relevant to domestic employment will be deducted. We use software called Nannypay and nanny will provide information needed by that software so we can generate an accurate paycheck.

Period of Employment
Start/End Dates: Employment will begin on  August 18, 2008 and end on TBD. It is understood that some variation about the exact end date may occur, and parties will communicate about exact end date as it approaches. Termination: Either party may dissolve the arrangement if things are not working out. A minimum of two weeks advance notice of termination seems reasonable.

Contingencies and Communication
Changes to schedule, sickness, number of children, and other unexpected events are likely to occur. As much advance communication about these changes will be helpful and is expected.

Signature of Involved Parties
I attest that I understand the above description and that the terms are fair and accurate. I will abide by the agreement as stated and if necessary will seek to modify elements of the agreement through discussion and with a reasonable amount of advance notice.

Signed:

_____  Date  ______________________________ ______________________ (nanny)
_____  Date ______________________________ NAME (employer/parent)
_____  Date ______________________________ NAME (employer/parent)

1/26/10

Hildebrands mentioned in Slate.com article on computers

"Why are computers so hard to use? Readers ask me some version of
this question all the time. Not long ago, I got a letter from a
reader named David Hildebrand that nicely summed up the problem.
Hildebrand managed to teach his 82-year-old mother how to use a few
easy programs, but that wasn't enough: "While one or another program
may be simple enough to use," he wrote, "it is still very difficult
to manage folders, force-quit applications, adjust screen displays,
tweak volume, and do all the other fairly arcane things one must
learn about an OS in order to get the simpler applications to be
simple." The reader wondered whether that would ever change. "In
short, when will the computer become an appliance?"

I wrote this and Manjoo posted it as part of his piece at
http://www.slate.com/id/2242556/