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Showing posts from September 27, 2015

The roots of philosophy

Philosophers are all rather proud of Aristotle’s notion that philosophy begins in “wonder” – it seems such a superior birth, so disinterested, so aristocratically outside the tangle of pleb emotions. For these reasons, that origin story has, for the most part, been more interpreted than questioned. It is, of course, hard to get clear on these things, which depend on self-reporting. Stories that one tells about oneself are, prima facie, self-interested. Myself, my “philosophical” thinking has its roots more in worry than in wonder. Worry about the dark. Worry about abandonment. This morning I saw, very plainly, that is, as plainly as I have seen the clouds in the sky gather and obscure the sun and foreshadow ran –worry coming over Adam’s face, as we were headed to school. Adam, for a long time now, has accepted and, even more, enjoyed going to school. So I was a little nonplussed that, when we got there, he neither accepted nor enjoyed his destination, but instead stood at th

why the left doesn't care about the poor. Why that's a good thing.

In the TLS, Paul Collier has penned a review of some left leaning economics books that contains an exemplary rightwing view of what left wing economics is all about. The key sentence is here: “In thinking coherently about capitalism, a helpful starting place is to ask yourself: why are poor people poor?” Brandishing this question, Collier proceeds to find the left wing answer inadequate, and offers his own critique of financialized capitalism. However, for a left winger, this is certainly not a helpful starting place to plunge into an analysis of capitalism. It hasn’t been a helpful starting place since Karl Marx, in 1842, starting reading the French radicals and discovered the economic and sociological category of “class”. Such is the amnesia that has befallen contemporary liberal and lefty-leaning groups, who’ve inherited all the shit of the Third way movement of the 80s and 90s, that they have forgotten their own history, and might well fight Collier over the best way to ‘hel

the essential problem with american patisserie - a snobbish pov

In one of his most famous poems, Baudelaire writes of the albatros who is captured by sailors and held by a rope on board ship, unable to fly, and so mocked by the crew, now by a poke, now by some sailor imitating his limping walk. For Baudelaire, this is the very image of the poet: Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer; Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées, Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher. For me, this is the very image of a man stuck in Los Angeles, remembering French boulangeries. It isn’t that America has any reason to have suck pastries. If you read about the donut, the ur-American pastry, it evidently derives from the same family as the beignet, and all kinds of European fried flour goods. So what happened to it? Somehow, there was a split in the development of pastry, with the Europeans intent on inventing ever lighter, ever more complex pastries, and the Americans intent on creating ever denser, ever

in defense of the 10 dollar word

When I was thirteen, there was nothing I liked better than to peddle my bike to a library near us, look through a random volume of the Oxford English Dictionary, pluck an obscure word at random – something long and spidery – and try to use it at the dinner table, or in talking to friends, which often required seriously distorting the direction of the conversation in order to find occasion to slip it in.  I still like the OED, but I no longer go to it to find rare words at random. Still, I appreciate a stunner when I come across one. These words were often begotten by obscure old authors and only surfaced once, in their texts, and were fated to be buried without ceremony in some future dictionary and never know the loving clasp of a live tongue.  It is this history that makes me bristle a bit when I run into complaints about the arcabe vocabulary of some writer or another, where it is maintained that such vocabulary is stuck up, unnecessary, and show-offy. It seems to me that any writer

waves and the room - more Woolf

In Prigogine and Stenger’s book, the New Alliance, they claim that chemistry was tremendously boosted by Buffon. There was a period in the 1770s when certain French scientists, like D’Alembert, began to consider the Newtonian system to be faulty, due to various discrepencies they thought they had found, experimentally. Buffon, however, was having none of it, and in refuting the anti-Newtonians on the theoretical level, he suggested that the universality of gravity had not yet been taken up by chemists, who had clung tenaciously to an old fashioned system of “attractions”. The mathematical faults that D’Alembert felt he had found merely pointed to the need for further research under the grand Newtonian umbrella. “… and if, up to this day, we have regarded the laws of affinity as different from those of gravity, the fault lies in not having well conceived them, grasped them, embrassed this object in all its extension. The figure which, among celestial bodies, hardly does anything by t