Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Our Nation's Capitol

I spent the last few days in Washington DC. I spoke at a rather dull conference on a rather dull topic. Boring academic stuff. I got to see the national gallery. It is cool.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Review of Victor Cosculluela's The Ethics of Suicide

This book presents a rather comprehensive look at the ethical issues surrounding suicide. It starts normally enough with a refutation of all the standard arguments against suicide, like the "religious" argument and the "unnatural" arguments. Then there is a chapter on the standard philosophical arguments against suicide. Especially good is the few pages on Kant. Kant is notorious for his bad examples of great theories. Suicide is one of them. There is a good treatment of it there. Arguments from the value of human rights and other-regarding arguments are then dispensed with.

The book is unabashedly anti any argument that makes suicide immoral. Rightfully so, I believe. The discussion of permissible and obligatory suicide is somewhat lacking. I think that there could be a lot more force in these arguments. For example, I think that there is a lot more to say about the people-as-their-own-property argument. I believe there is a lot to be said for the fact that people have the right to do to themselves as they wish on the justification that they have ownership rights in themselves.

There is also a chapter in the role of others in suicide. May others prevent suicide? May others facilitate suicide a suicide? And a host of other questions. They are dealt with well. Nothing ends up being as simple as anyone would like.

There are two other notable features of the book. Schopenhauer and Camus have views on suicide, and it is good to see them so easily dismissed. They are pretty ridiculous, and are shown to be so quite easily.

Finally there is a straightforward but useful appendix on a definition of suicide. The final result is a small modification of an older definition.

All in all a good book. There is little brilliance in the book, as it is all very straight forward. I think I was hoping for more, but I suspect that it is not the fault of the author. The subject is just not that hard. There is still plenty to be said about the topic. Hume, as usual did not have the last word, and neither did Cosculluela. There are many new issues that involve suicide, and there is more philosophy to come.

Nittle Nacht

I hope you are all having a good Chanukah. It is now the fifth night by my reconing, and it is also Nittle Nacht. There are numerous customs associated with this holiday, and I expect to follow at least one of them. (One custom is to avoid learning, another is to learn extra, and yet another is to play cards.) I am looking forward to a few days R and R after this.

Monday, December 22, 2003

On Diplomacy

An Op-Ed piece by today's WSJ says something so obvious that it is amazing that some people refuse to get it.

Diplomacy only works when each of the negotiating countries has something to gain from a successful outcome. Then they can bargain and trade concessions. I'll give you lower tarrifs and you give me a better border security, or whatever. If one country simply wants the other country to do something and has nothing to offer, then the only thing it has is the credible threat of the use of force. You start respecting human rights or I'll invade your country.

Ghadhafi's capitulation was not a triumph of diplomacy. Behind the scenes was not something like: "You admit to blowing up airplanes, and starting a WMD program, and we'll let you hang out with us at the next UN shindig and spend millions trying to apologize for the past". It was more like "You do what we say, and let our inspectors wherever they feel like going, and only then will you not be the next person hiding in a hole, unshaven listening to your wife sell you out, while we kill the parts of your family that we missed last time and make your country a respectable humane place to be."

Moamar ain't dumb. He sees the decline of the hegemony of Arab values over Arab peoples. Pretty soon it will be Western values ruling Arab people, and he does not want to be there when it happens. It is only brute force that allowed us to capture Saadam and it was the threat of brute force combined with Ghadhafi's ego making him thinking he was important enough to be next, that scared him in to capitulating to the demands that he cool his WMD programs.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Person of the Year

Looks like I made Time magazine's person of the year.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Review of Ernst Cassirer's Language and Myth

Ernst Cassirer's Language and Myth has been around a long time, and actually makes for a bit of interesting reading. It is interesting to explore the relationship between man's myths, and the language he uses. The book traces myths and words, and understanding and the way it all relates.

It is a bit hard to figure out the real point to the book, and I am not sure there is much philosophical gain to be had from reading it, but Cassirer was extremely competent, and deserves a fair hearing.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Review of P. J. O'Rourke's Eat the Rich

Eat the Rich is classic O' Rourke. Like his earlier Parliment of Whores it is funny and informative at the same time. Actually there are a few really informative chapters where he explains a bunch of economic stuff. These are the funnier chapters. The other chapters are economic diaries of differnt countries he visited to see how things work, or don't work. Singapore does not work, neither does Cuba. Hong Kong works, just like wall street. Russia might work, Sweeden looks like it is going down, but it is good for now. . .

I would like to have seen Switzerland discussed though. Overall if you are a fan of libertarian humor, this was an OK read. O'Rourke can usually be counted on for a laugh, a good turn of phrase, and some insight too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Viagra thoughts

For no reason whatsoever, I was thinking about Viagra today. I had two
thoughts: 1) What would Plato have thought of Viagra? He seemed to look at
old age and freedom from sexual needs, desires, and abilities as a blessing.
It was something that let him free to pursue other more important affairs.
(He expresses these views in the very beginning of the Republic.) 2)
Has the Viagra industry been good for the environment? Has demand for all
these bizarre aphrodisiac gone down now that we have a pharmaceutical that
works? Are rhinoceros tusks and whale ambergris less desired, and thus
leaving poachers out of a job? That would be a nice side benefit. Has PETA
thanked pfizer?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Frum Gossip

I was in Flatbush this weekend and I got to catch up on the latest frum-world gossip. Apparently last shabbos there was a bus (or perhaps three or four) which left Boro Park, Brooklyn on a two hour drive to Lakewood, NJ. However it did not arrive in Lakewood till 7:00 PM, which was about two and a half hours in to shabbos. As you would expect there were countless cell phone calls to rabbonim, and dozens of halachic issues to contend with. Could they leave the bus when it stops? Could they leave the 4 Amos (8 feet or so) of the bus? It is unclear to me what happened, at the end, but many rabbis in many shuls started calling for soul-searching because of this. I heard there was also an ad taken out in some religious paper (I think the Yated Ne'eman) by four rabbis claiming that they did NOT offer any ruling that would have allowed this to happen.

The incident also inspired many jokes. The best one I heard is "well, they don't believe in _sheshet yomim taaseh melacha_, why should they believe the sequel _U'va'yom HaShivii shabbos La'hashem_?"

Lakewood is a good target for jokes in general. The kollel lifestyle is not the most popular, even among Brooklyn's very Orthodox Jews

Sunday, December 14, 2003

The Capture of Saddam

Today is a good day. Today is truly the dawn of a new era for Arabs and the world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Taiwan, China and the US: What is going on?

A few days ago, the NY Times had an Op-Ed piece advocating that Taiwan not push China on the independence issue. Today, they report that Bush, while meeting with the Chinese, seems to be going along with this. We are now encouraging them not to pursue independence.

While the US has always been a staunch protector of Taiwan, something is different now. China, as this analysis explains, has ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan. It has always been the US that has protected them.

Why are we suddenly stopping our support for small democracies? Why are we suddenly kissing up to China, and leaving Taiwan in the lurch? I suspect that money has a lot to do with it, though I cannot figure it out.

I am not surprised that the Times favored a large communist state over a large democracy. On the other hand, I would not be surprised to find out that someone higher-up told the Times to put the Op-Ed there. It was the most poorly thought out piece I ever read there. Their big argument was that China benefits, so Taiwan should cave.

Something smells rotten here. I want answers. Generally, when a people who are really independent want their democracy, like Taiwan, we have supported them. Why stop now?

Friday, December 05, 2003

Review of Aristotle in Outline

I just read Timothy A. Robinson's Aristotle in Outline. It is really good. It is a pretty short book, and it is not a simple read, but it is very clear and lucid. If you want a general idea of the main points of the important parts of Aristotle's thought, you would be hard pressed to find a better book. Basically it deals with Aristotle's views on science, eg, explanation, causes, wisdom,etc. Also it has a good discussion of the soul and Aristotle on God.

There is then a good chapter on Ethics, and finally the third chapter is on politics. The book ends with a decent bibliographic essay.

I have nothign but praise for this book. If you are taking a class on ancient philosophy, or even teaching one it would be worth your while just to see it layed out so well. If you are interested in Aristotle this is a pretty good place to start.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Le Pen

France's le Pen, in a single statement managed to make a remark that was bith anti-Semetic and anti-Muslim. THAT is a real skill. The NY Times writes in a story about the recent school torching in France that "Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front, who has been accused by opponents of being anti-Semitic as well as racist against the influx of Muslim immigrants to France, said in a statement that the government had overreacted to the school fire. He called the new measures against anti-Semitism "laughable," adding: "There is no rise in anti-Semitism in France. There are the inevitable effects of an untamed immigration"."