Offbeat Questions Archives

Star War and Religion

In the little book Star Wars on Trial, in the chapter “Charge #2″ (to whit: While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs”. The witness for the prosecution (John C. Wright) attacks this in part by pointing out that Star Wars borrows more from boy-fiction Flash Gordon &etc than anything pretending to be religion. Mr Wright suggests:

A real religion addresses metaphysics, spiritual powers, martyrdom, ethics, salvation, miracles, and life after death.

And no, all world religions necessarily evidence all of these. What he argues, point by point, is that Star Wars “Force” as religion is a calisthenic, it is

an atmosphere, a spooky hint of mystic powers and hidden forces meant to lend an air of exotic super-naturalism to the proceedings. The Force is there for the sword fights. The Force is meant to explain why a kendo fencer can perform amazing leaps, parry laser bolts or make a single one-in-a-million bull’s-eye shot into a ray-shielded thermal exhaust port with a proton torpedo and blow up a space station the size of a small moon.

The Force isn’t learned by credoa nd ethics, it’s something you learn by practice, “by doing one handed handstands while levitating crates on Swamp Planet.”

What, for example, are the doctrinal differences between Obi-Wan and Mr Vader?

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    About That Which I am Confused

    Protest movements as evidenced most recently by the Occupy movement basically amount to soft terrorism. That is to say soft in the sense that it is terrorism with muted, understated violence. Instead of blowing up bus stops, eateries, and commuter throughways, they clog them up, pollute them, and fill them with the smell of human effluence unwashed bodies and worse. An even milder yet more understated violence is approaching inexorably toward us in the US … that being the soft nuisance that pretends to be an election season, in which our information channels instead of our commuter ways and shops will be filled with the annoyance of politicians grabbing for our attention.

    What puzzles me in this matter is the mystery of why anybody thinks this works. It beggars my imagination how somebody thinks that annoying people will generate sympathy for their cause. This goes for all three of these types of terrorism, from the hard terror of bombs and the homicidal mania that constitutes the al-Qaeda and Palestinian flavors of terror to push polling, TV ads, and blind phone calls.

    Is it all just a gamble? Is the gamble that their actions have two parts … that they will innervate and garner support amongst those that are sympathetic more than they will annoy and turn away those that are either uncommitted or against their cause. Because, from where I sit all these movements certainly do the latter. For myself, I’ll admit I have no dog in the Middle East Israel/Palestine disagreements but the Palestinian violence certainly is a convincing argument against the justice and rationality of the Palestinian cause. Likewise, I’m would be sympathetic to the notion that jobs and employment and getting ahead is going to be harder for my children than it was for me. But the OWS movement has certainly soured any sympathy for supporting any of those knuckleheads in any material fashion. Is there any evidence that these methods work? That they don’t do the obvious, that is turn more people against you than not?

    There are a species of novels celebrating the anti-hero. Are people so used to this sort of thing that they figure we’ll root for, support, vote for, and otherwise follow you if you anti-advertise?

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      A Quick Question

      Recently jobs numbers came out … two data points are of interest and can be used, perhaps, to judge the bias of the sources. One set, points out that January job numbers are up and by one metric unemployment has dropped to 8.3%, getting firmly below 9. The other set, which is new as well, points out the divergence between two proxies which normally track but recently have diverged. Unemployment, as tracked by those applying for unemployment benefits and jobs, normally tracks well with the number of unemployed. Yet in the last 18 months this tracking has diverged. More and more people have (according to the second unemployment proxy) have given up seeking work. By that second metric, unemployment is above 10.5%.

      Honest reporting would, I offer, report both points. There are many, who for political reasons, decide on or the other figure is more significant. Are there good reasons besides the nominally “bad” political partisanship ones for not noting both?

      Oh, by the by, I’ve got to run early to get to a job site about an hours drive north. My links post will go out tonight.

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        A Bleg for Auto Advice

        So, my wife alas, had little fender bender with my dearly beloved high mileage Honda Insight (2000) and I’m in the market for a new car. I’d made the promise to myself to continue to upgrade mileage … but that isn’t going to be possible ’cause nobody makes a higher mileage US car than the manual transmission 2000-2006 Honda Insight (with or without MIMA). I’m thinking of going for a slightly elderly used gas sipper as a stop gap in the hopes that in 4-5 years I’ll be able to get the car I really want, i.e., that can get better than 150mpg (or 2/3 gallons per 100 miles if you prefer) on dry summer roads. Oh, don’t worry, no real damage was done, my wife is uninjured (and nobody else was involved).

        Looking around this morning, it seems a 5 speed manual Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio, VW TDI, or Ford Focus look like the best bet. What do y’all think? Any other suggestions? It’s replacing a two seater so it doesn’t have to be large and likely when I turn it over it will be handed down to one of my girls, who are fast (gasp) approaching collegiate age.

        Suggestions?

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          Medium and Message

          In a somewhat unlikely Star Trek NG episode the crew encounters a race which speaks, unfortunately, entirely through cipher that is coded references to historical events. Blog, well, neighbor Eli is in a huff because some philosopher of science (Signorelli) offers that the “language of maths” isn’t sufficient for human experience. He offers as counter example not a cipher but a number substitution code and suggests that if you encode ordinary language with numbers you’ve translated text into the domain of maths. Well, sorry. That doesn’t it, the medium is not the message. That you are viewing this short essay which is encoded in ASCII and transmitted via HTTP protocols over 802.1 specified media, i.e., numbers. The message is not maths. Read the rest of this entry

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            The Ordinary Hero

            Last weekend, at the CSO (Chicago Symphony) I was privileged to hear a rendition of Ein Heldenleben (which translates as “A Hero’s Life”), note in the remarks below I’m drawing on the excellent program notes provided for the concert. Richard Strauss (pronounced Rikard with a hard “k” for the ch) wrote this to reflect and remind the listener of Beethoven’s Eroica. The Beethoven “Hero” Symphony itself was initially pointing to the Heroic life of Napoleon (and after general disappointment with Napoleon and his decision to invade Russia. But the hero in Strauss’ work is not Napoleon or Alexandar (neither the Tsar or the Macedonian conqueror) but … himself.

            It’s an interesting thing, to witness a grand tone poem to the heroic image of … an urban mild mannered domestic fellow, who granted is a musical genius, but … the “heroic” scenes painted aren’t the normal visions of heroism. The foes vanquished in martial and magnificent phrases are … chattering art critics. The beautiful visions of love and romance, the young neighbor girl whom he was engaged to teach music, whom he subsequently married.

            This vision, this recasting of the ordinary is a reversal of the contemporary Arendt inspired “banality of evil” … replaced in this case with a recasting into a frame reminiscent of Odysseus or Achilles … our more ordinary life. So “banality of evil” becomes the heroic banal.

            St. Augustine as he begins his autobiography begins with … Creation. Augustine sees himself in cosmic context. Our countries founders saw themselves as a set apart from the common. In fact there was a notion that this sort of pride was a good thing. Perhaps what Ein Heldenleben is suggesting is that we take this notion into the ordinary. Or perhaps  put differently, our ordinary lives should not be seen as anything but extraordinary. That is, the ordinary per se is not heroic but needs to be recast in that mold, that is we all need to strive for excellence, not because “everyone is the best at something” (which is false) but because striving for excellence is required someone how sees himself as heroic.

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              Bleg Bleg: Otello/Othello

              This weekend my wife and I witnessed a performance by Muti and the CSO of Verdi’s Otello. Superlatives fail me (that is I can’t express in words adequately (with superlatives) how the performance was received by myself).

              However, I have not read (the Shakespeare) or heard or read much on the ethics of the Iago/Othello/Desdemona, uhm, kerfuffle. Any recommendations for good commentary by people of insight? One co-worker noted that the “Venetian” Shakespeare plays get short shift in the modern world, because they steer to close to unsafe waters (Shylock as Jew and Othello as Moor (Black)). 

              Anyhow your recommendations would be appreciated.

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                Nuclear Disasters of the Past

                So, Three-Mile Island was the worst nuclear accident on US soil. How many deaths are epidemologically attributed to the accident. Well, one study I was quoted in passing by a co-worker was that 50-100 deaths resulted from the accident. All these deaths alas, were due to the increased coal mining and pollutants from the increase in coal fired electrical production. 

                Who wants to guess that the aftermath of the recent earthquake and reactor incedents have similar “fallout?”

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                  Categories and a Virtue

                  I noticed a remark yesterday to the effect of “taxing the rich more still polls well” as an argument for the Democrats being for higher taxes “on the rich.”

                  Long ago I noted that “conservative/liberal” for many people tend to mean “more conservative/liberal” than I because most people view themselves as somewhat average. I’d offer that the tax the rich notion follows that same suit. That is to say, “the rich” means “people who make substantially more than I ever expect to earn.” In that sense, “tax the rich” is just another “tax somebody else” please and is to my view very suspect in that it really is just a way of trying to get free stuff/money by putting the hurt on some other fellow. 

                  The American virtue of self-reliance (as celebrated by Emerson) is fading fast. Why does the left hate it so? 

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                    In recent essays on race I’ve caught some flack. My definition of racism apparently suffers mainly from its symmetry. One man committing a crime against another on account of race is racism irrespective of whether the man committing the crime is of a oppressing or an oppressed race. To put it bluntly, Hitler and the Nazis were guilty of racism. This fact does not depend on the point that they were wrong about the Jews being in cahoots and in control of the capital and intellectual currents in Europe. If they were correct and Jews in the halls of power and the banks did in fact have plans and power would not justify Auschwitz and Dachau and so on. The hatred and racism of the white gang burning crosses and throwing stones through windows of a black family because they are black is no different than a black gang raping a white girl because she is white. Both are pure examples of racism. 

                    So, if you think that racism depends on positions of power and authority and class lines drawn on racial grounds ask yourself this, Do you really think that Hitler is regarded a racist only because he was wrong? 

                    Consequential-ism is a meta-ethical theory that judges the rightness of decisions based on an evaluation of their consequences. This in turn it seems to me reduces ethics to economics. Consequence after all is at the end of the day is about costs. Ethics however is is also called the study of beauty and the good. Ethics is about choice. And we choose that which we perceive as good and which is beautiful. So, when you turn to ethics … which way of thinking do you prefer …  cash or Beethoven? 

                     

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                      Two Short Remarks

                      This weekend the WSJ had an odd headline which read something like (yah, I’m too lazy to look it up verbatim), “CIA to expand secret war in Pakistan.” What do they think “secret” means in this context?

                      The problem with the progressive/left using “right racism and bigotry” to fix perceived racism and bigotry in society is that it enforces bad behavior (HT: here). Bigotry as a method, once accepted becomes a pattern. Is that explanation correct? Or is there another?

                       

                       

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                        Offbeat Question Day: Kolyma and a Choice Made

                        Recently, a conversation led me to read this book Stalin’s Slave Ships: Kolyma, the Gulag Fleet, and the Role of the West which was an interesting and quick read. This led me to a question … before which I pose, I will offer some background.

                        The Kolyma basis is a river valley system in the arctic and sub-arctic regions of western Siberia. This region is rich in mineral resources, and in 1932 Stalin decided that retrieving the gold from the river valley was important, and that free-market was not the solution. Instead, perhaps typically, he decided to use slave labor. For the first few years, Kolyma was one of the “better” prison/slave camps in the gulag system, but that changed in the later 30s to being the very worst. About a million persons were shipped to Kolyma between 1932 and 1953. The first parts of the journey by rail and part by sea and it is on the sea portion of this voyage the book noted above concentrates. The vessels used in this part of the passage were mostly obtained from the US. Mr Bollinger points out that he can find no evidence that anyone in th West was aware of the purpose of those ships when they were sold to the Soviets. During the war, the management of the Kolyma fleet, as did virtually everything in the Soviet world, moved to the military. The Kolyma fleet split time during this period between transporting slaves and stuffs to the Kolyma camps and transporting war material as part of the US/Soviet Lend-Lease program. 

                        Military books that I have read on WWII point out that the victory over the Axis powers was a near thing. Many authors point to a small number of crucial decisions and events which if had been made or fallen out differently would have likely meant that Hitler may have won. The US Lend-Lease program has been pointed as a one of the important factors in giving the Soviets the breathing room to stave of defeat. The point to take away from this is Lend-Lease was critical to the Allied war effort. There were two routes for ships supplying the Soviets, an Atlantic route up past Norway to Murmansk and a Western/Pacific route. The Kolyma fleet was part of this latter group. Prior to the US directly entering the war and Japan/US hostilities being in the open, Soviet (non-US) ships were preferred for transport of material via the Pacific route.

                        The Kolyma vessels were in a rough trade. They were older steam powered ships that plied ice choked Arctic seas and were badly in need of repairs. Many times these ships put in they were repaired by US shipyards. 

                        Which leads us to the question at hand. 

                        Consider yourself in the role of the American President. Kolyma vessels have docked in your ports for Lend Lease operations. By 1944 to 1945 two things have become clear:

                        1. Germany’s fate is sealed and the Allied victory is assured.
                        2. Kolyma is a part of the gulag/slave camp system and these ships needing repair are part of that system.

                        Recall also, Stalin and the Soviets at this point are allies and Lend-Lease has been a vital part of the war effort. 

                        So. Do you authorize repair of the vessels? These vessels split time between slave transport and carrying Lend-Lease material. What do you do? What records might you leave regarding your decision?

                        Historically, the repairs were made. Was that the right decision?

                         

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                          Offbeat Question Day: Stimulus

                          This is a question, probably mainly for the right, but the those readers on the left might offer their two cents. 

                          The $800b stimulus package has now been acknowledged by the President and pretty much everyone with their heads not in the sand to have been a waste. This criticism is especially strongly held on the right. However, what if the stimulus package instead of being useless road projects and expansions of bridges to nowheres (for example expanding the Byrd airport) had only one single project/point to which it was aimed. That is to say, all $800 billion was allocated to one thing. That the stimulus only allocation was to build and install 40-50 new Gen-IV nuclear reactors (or best current technological practice) throughout the country accompanied by ‘emergency’ executive orders designed to steamroll any and all environmental and green-activist objections. Furthermore these plants might have been be small and quickly installable and all fast-tracked to be on-line by, say, late October 2010. 

                          Here’s the question(s).

                          1. Would that have changed your opinion of the stimulus package? 
                          2. Would that have changed today’s economy for the better? 
                          3. Would the election in three weeks from now be trending differently? 

                          I offer that the my answer might be yes (and with an “alas” on the last) to all three questions. What d’y'all think?

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