Sunday, April 30, 2006

My talk on Buddhist Nature Aesthetics

I'm giving a talk on Buddhist nature aesthetics at the ISEE/IAEP conference at the end of May. We're all supposed to post the papers on the conference website a month in advance so everyone can read them before the conference. The papers aren't up yet, but until then you can read them here. This is my paper, and this is a handout of primary sources (all from the Theragāthā and Therigāthā.)

This is all quite drafty in terms of things like copy editing, as I literally just finished it. I don't think I need to expand the substance any more, though. Right now I am thinking about sending the final version to an aesthetics journal like the Journal for Aesthetics and Art Criticism or The British Journal of Aesthetics, although an environmental journal like Environmental Ethics or Environmental Values might be just as good.

Update: To view the diacritics on the Sanskrit fonts you need to install the Indic Times font.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Neil Young's New Song, "Let's Impeach the President"

Neil Young, the greatest Canadian writer of American protest music, is realeasing Living with War a whole album of anti-war music, with the feature track "Let's Impeach the President." Hot damn. But there's a problem.

Neil Young, the most pretentious artiste of the baby boom, is going all control freak over his audience. Neil, as he explains in this interview insists that you listen to the album as a whole, rather than just skipping to "Let's Impeach the President." To force this mode of appreciation on you, he has set up his web site to only stream the album from the beginning. If you click on the link above, you will start hearing the first track of the album, "After the Garden," but not be provided with links to any other part of the album. Clicking on the living with war link just gives you the lyrics. Worse, his servers are overloaded. My browser crashed after "After the Garden."

Well, the audience always subverts the artist's intentions. I'm determined to find a way to just listen to "Let's Impeach the President," if only because I don't have time to listen to the whole album. I'm behind on my grading, my writing, and my whole life. More importantly, its just absurd for Neil to demand complete audience passivity here. Art is a process of communication between artist and audience (and don't let any damn contemporary aesthetician tell you otherwise) and the communication requires both partners to be active.

But enough about art. Let's impeach the president.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Next year: using tax rebates to fight gravity!

It looks like the rest of this election cycle is going to be spent listening to politicians explain how they are going to lower gas prices. The Republicans want to show they care by sending everyone a $100 check and calling it a tax rebate. This is even stupider than the plans being emailed around to force companies to lower prices either by boycotting the one that charges the most, or by boycotting on a certain day etc. (The commentator on linked NPR story gives economic reasons why this won't lower prices. There is a more basic explanation available. Boycotts are all about people forgoing short term self interest to further a higher cause. But the desire to lower gas prices is all about not making sacrifices.) In any case, a hundred dollar check in the mail is certain to make everything all better and convince the nations that Republicans care. Meanwhile Democrats are going to increase the supply of gasoline by adding a windfall profit tax on gas.

When I lived in Alabama, there was a governor’s race where both candidates promised to (1) lower taxes (2) balance the budget and (3) increase spending on education. The Democrat, I think, promised to do this with a lottery, or something. The Republican wanted to do this by making 2 + 2 = 5, at least when you are calculating government revenues.

The current proposals are no more realistic than the Alabama budget proposals. Basically, congress wants to change prices without altering either supply or demand. No one dares suggest reducing demand, that would actually require people to drive less, and while there are some proposals to increase supply a little by opening up ANWR, no one seriously thinks these will go anywhere. The boycot proposal is just as stupid. The claim is the consumers could bring down prices without actually reducing demand, simply by moving their demand around. But as the NPR commentator points out, if you move your business from company A to company B without actually reducing consumption, you are making B raise their prices just as much as you are making A lower their prices. There is just no free lunch.

There really is nothing like an overwhelming sense of entitlement to bring out the moron in all of us.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meme responses for our times

Via Making Light comes this post, styled as a list of responses to meme questions. It begins
What color is most reflective of you?
I still am just stunned that by popular choice, my government is full of thieves and murderers.

How did you get the idea for your livejournal name?
But I'm starting to not feel it like sandpaper to the skin when someone says, "Buck up, lefties!"
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Moving your house by bicycle

One of the lamest excuses you hear for owning "sport" "utility" vehicles is that once a year or so you need to extra space to move stuff. Fie on all of you. These guys helped a woman move into a new house, furniture and all, using only bicycles. via pippy.

I'm so behind. Posting will probably be light until May 1. According to the counter below, I've slipped back down to a flippery fish in the TTLB ecosystem. For a while there I was a crawly amphibian. I guess I’m really some kind of lumbering lungfish, since I switch between flippery fish and crawly amphibian a lot. I’d like to get back to amphibian status with a really sexy post on like, the evolution of the human female boob or something, but I don’t see where I’ll get the time.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Frontiers of AI novelty toys

When my intro class reads Leiber's Can Animals and Machines Be Persons? I usually bring up many remarkable examples of machine intelligence. Today, I got a good one from a student. This little handheld novelty item plays 20 Questions, and is remarkably good at it, at least if you play fair. The first game I played, I was thinking of The Threepenny Opera, because I had just read a New York Times review of a production of it. The little ball guessed "A rock band." The second time I decided to go easier on the hunk of plastic, and thought of a computer. It guessed correctly.

I like this device for two reasons. First, it has to encode a lot of common sense in order to play 20 questions. The little ball has exactly the sort of knowledge people say is hard to capture.

More importantly, though, my father in law loves to play 20 questions and he always wants to be the guy who is thinking of something. I get tired of this game quickly--but now there is a machine to do it for me!

Update: I just played while thinking of "a father in law" and it guessed "a human being." Pretty good.

The machine must have some sort of explicitly designed ontology, a list of the sorts of things that exist and the properties they can have. I wonder if it makes any interesting metaphysical assumptions. Thomas might now something about this. He told me that what he did for a living (data modeling) was different than applied ontology, but it is still hard for me to see how.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Downloadable lectures

Via Berel Dov Lerner on the Philosop mailing list comes this nice set of links to "Intellectually oriented MP3's for download." All the text following the divide is Lerner's.


a good BBC show on intellectual history (you can only download the latest program - no mp3 archive)

good lectures on various topics (many may be downloaded as MP3):

Lectures on mind/body problem in various formats (some MP3, some English. some German)

history of public health course from Johns Hopkins:

intro psychology course at MIT

technology interviews and lectures (IT, technology & law, some history and philosophy, etc.)

good stuff from Australia

neuroscience symposium (a wee-bit technical!)

decent lectures and debates on various issues, somewhat neocon

course on the European medieval intellectual tradition

good short course on Maimonides' philosophy (I don't remember - it may require some background in Judaism)

mostly lectures on the history of US presidents & policies

Update: Lerner sent two more

J. M. Bernstein's (New School University) lectures and seminars

On Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

On Hegel's Phenomenology

Double update: from another Philosop'er

Philosophy lectures in a variety of languages

Triple update: More from Lerner. I'm just doing a link dump here, without even reformatting.

Lawrence M. Hinman's "Ethics Updates"? It is an invaluable resource for anyone who teaches or studies ethics and now includes a podcast/mp3 download page:

The page currently contains all of the presentations from a conference on the Terry Schiavo euthanasia case.

From NYU
AAAS Conference

Short Levinas course with a Talmudic orientation

"popular" physics lectures - take a look!

History of mathematics course

Anthropology of religion course

discrete mathematics course

macroeconomics course

introductory sociology course - also mp3

introduction to philosophy course

Update^4, again from Lerner

"Radio Apologia" offers audio files on religious topics, including lectures by Alvin Plantinga on various issues in the philosophy of religion, and a discussion between Plantinga and Hilary Putnam concerning the existence of God.

Uodate 5 from lerner

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion is an academic research enterprise based at St Edmund's College, Cambridge.

Its website offers a number of lectures on science and religion in various formats, including downloadable MP3 files:

Downloadable MP3 files of interviews, documentaries, fiction, etc. relating to Jewish literature, culture, and ideas are available at the Nextbook website. Of special philosophical interest: interviews with authors of recent books on Spinoza and Maimonides.

[I'm not keeping track any more of how often I update this file]

Hubert Dreyfus and Ken Goldberg gave a course this spring at Berkeley called "Questioning Efficiency: Human Factors and Existential Phenomenology." Follow the "audio lectures" link on the course homepage to reach down-loadable MP3 files of lectures from the course:

The "Academic feeds" site broadcasts academic talks about technology, culture and media in MP3 format. Of special philosophical interest: Luciano Floridi's lecture: "Where are we in the philosophy of information?"

I have been receiving very enthusiastic responses to my postings about MP3 files, so please have patience with me while I take the liberty of sending this one as well.

The Librivox site offers free access to audio files of human voice readings of public domain texts, including many classics.
Of special philosophical interest: Aristotle's *Poetics* Plato's *Euthyphro* and Descartes' *Discourse on Method* (click on the "completed books" link of the catalogue page to find them listed):

The site also contains links to many other similar projects, including one that offers MP3s of original broadcasts from Orson Welles's legendary Mercury Theatre!

The New England Journal of Medicine offers MP3s and podcasts of interviews with the authors of its "perspective" articles. I found all of them interesting, and many of them of direct relevance to questions of medical ethics. (I am not sure whether access to these files is limited to those who have completed the free registration to the NEJM site):

Point of Inquiry is the Center for Inquiry’s radio show and podcast. It deals with: pseudoscience and the paranormal; alternative medicine; and religion and secularism. Featured philosophers include Daniel Dennet and Paul Kurtz:
The New York Academy of Sciences website offers free MP3 downloads and podcasts of many lectures and symposiums it has sponsored. Of particular philosophical interest: two sessions featuring Michael Gazzaniga on neuroscience and ethics, a session on "The Origin, Evolution, and Future of Life on Earth" (featuring Collin McGinn), and a session on "Mind versus Soul."

The Law School at the Univ. of Chicago offers free podcasts and MP3 downloads of lectures on topics in law and philosophy of law. Of special philosophical interest: Richard Rorty - "Dewey and Posner on Pragmatism and Moral Progress"

Various lectures in a variety of formats (MP3, podcasts, Real video...) from Princeton:

Ditto for Georgetown University:

Univ. of California Berkley has made a good deal of audio materials (including a whole course by Hubert Dreyfus on Existentialism) freely available as podcasts through some kind of arrangement with Apple Computers. (Thanks to James Taggart for bringing this to my attention). The downside is that it seems that the podcasts have to be downloaded and played using Apple iTunes software or devices. While the iTunes software can be downloaded for free for use on personal computers, it is my impression that inexpensive portable MP3 players cannot play the podcasted files - pressure is being applied on Hubert Dreyfus fans to buy expensive Apple iPod devices!! (If I am wrong about this and someone knows how to hear the files via a generic MP3 player, please tell me off-list!!!!).

Ditto for Stanford:

My recent remarks about iTunes at Berkeley and Stanford were off the mark. Checking again, the Berkeley downloads were standard MP3 files, while the Stanford files I just checked were in RealAudio format. However, it does seem that in both cases downloading can only be done using freely available iTunes software.

The Simpson Center for the Humanities at the Univ. of Washington offers lectures from the Solomon Katz Distinguished Lectures in the Humanities Series as MP3 downloads. Speakers include Alexander Nehamas, Alain Badiou, and Jonathan Lear

The Centre for Time at U. of Sydney held a workshop with Bob Brandom last October. The lectures from that workshop, plus a lecture by Sir Anthony Legget on quantum mechanics are available as MP3 downloads:

See more generally, Univ. of Sydney's podcast page:

Another update, this time from David Vessey:

Here are some online, mostly Real Audio broadcasts of radio programs either on the meaning of life or how to think about death. I've found it helpful to give listening assignments like these in addition to reading assignments (often the shows suggest appropriate accompanying readings).

From another Lerner email:

It has been a while since I posted the URLs of websites offering intellectually satisfying MP3 downloads. Here are the best sites I have come across in the past few months:

The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs offers scholarly lectures and interviews on current events. I especially recommend Vali Nasr and Phillip Jenkins:

Johns Hopkins University has entered the MP3/podcast arena, offering lectures and panel discussions on a variety of subjects, including the stemcell debate:

Technological futurists should enjoy the Stanford "Singularity Summit" conference on Ray Kurzweil's work:

The Oxford Center for Hindu Studies offers a very large selection of MP3 downloads, including an introductory course on the Hindu tradition, comparisons of Hinduism with various other religious traditions, consciousness studies, Hinduism and women, and even comparisons of western and Hindu philosophies of biology:

I happened to come across freely available MP3s of Robert Stalnaker's Locke Lectures, delivered this year at Oxford: University of Minnesota offers free MP3 downloads of lectures from a number of courses in the humanities: Anselm College offers various lectures on philosophy that can be heard online or downloaded via podcast: Happy listening,Berel Dov Lerner

Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds offer interviews of well-known academic philosophers on their "Philosophy Bites" website.

Gresham College offers a large selection of fine lectures on a variety of subjects - medical, scientific, history of mathematics, history of music, social issues, etc. in a variety of formats. If you are only interested in lectures that are available in downloadable MP3 files, use the "search by media" function and set it on "audio" and "downloadable" to generate an appropriate list.

Lectures by faculty members of Swarthmore College (be sure to select the "view all" option). I found Philip Weinstein's lecture on Modernist literature especially interesting.

A number of lectures, mostly on current affairs, are available from Sussex University:

Various notable speakers have lectured at Colorado College, mostly on current affairs. I enjoyed Camille Paglia's talk on "Religion and the Arts in America."

Lectures from a course on Heidegger given this fall by Hubert Dreyfus will be made freely available via podcast from the University of California, Berkeley. Begin the subscription process at:

If you looked at today's New York Times, you might have seen an article which mentioned that Yale University has begun offering free public access to QuickTime video and MP3 audio files of lectures from selected courses (on astronomy, English, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, religious studies).

Shelly Kagan's course on death (i.e., existence & immortality of the soul, personal identity, badness of death, ethics of suicide, etc.) should be of special interest to listmembers:

Happy downloading,

Berel Dov Lerner

[this one from david webster:]

Plato and love podcast

You may wish to listen to this podcast: - found this via - interesting stuff

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Thriller Idea

I want to write a Dan Brown-type conspiracy thriller featuring the three scariest organizations I can think of: the Church of Scientology, Opus Dei, and the international cabal of Leo Strauss followers. The big secret they are vying to variously hide or uncover is that Xenu wrote the Book of Mormon. Also featured will be a secret team of ninja assisins operated by the Committee on Social Thought at the Univeristy of Chicago.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Bush: All we are saying is give peace a chance

This is one of the best uses of beatles samples and news footage I have ever seen. (via Pharyngula.)

Also, my current bet is that the bombing campaign against Iran will begin in September, with some symbolic attempt to seize and hold territory in time for the November elections.

Update: An short article on Tom Compagnoni, the mash up artist and activitst who made this file, is here

Friday, April 14, 2006

Teaching with your mouth shut

I managed to go for 20 minutes in my ethics class without saying a word.* Admittedly, the discussion topic was moral relativism, so it was easy for people to get involved, but still, the whole thing was really cool.

* Ok, i did periodically remind people to let others into the conversation.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Our campus closed circuit radio station, KSLU, decided to sell a bunch of CDs at a dollar a pop. Big scores for me! Outdated taste in music + continued reliance on outdated media formats = free stuff!
Tara Jane O'Neil: You Sound, Reflect.
O'Neil is a close friend of one of my favorite bands, Ida. Her sound is so close to theirs its like finding another Ida album.
Ralph Stanley: Ralph Stanley
Geriatric bluegrass star tries to cash in on the Oh, Brother fad, and is thus led by fashion to make a really good album.
That Dog: Retreat from the Sun
I liked Petra Hayden as a sideman with The Rentals, and it turns out that here own work is good too.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Machine
I still haven't heard the new YYY album, but if reports are true, the best place to find good unheard YYY material is on these early EPs.
Air Miami: Me Me Me
Teenbeat 2003 Sampler
Unrest: Imperial ffrr (delux edition)
I guess Teenbeat sends KSLU promos, and the kids have no idea what they are, so they get rid of them. Some of these were even unopened. My gain. I already own the regular edition of Imperial, but will gladly purchase nine bonus tracks for a dollar.
Pere Ubu: Warning Bells are Ringing,
Pere Ubu: St. Arkansas
You can always find Pere Ubu cast offs, because they are too abrasive and weird for the mainstream, but not pierced enough for the cool kids. Plus, for some reason, no one likes the sound of Dave Thomas's voice. My gain.
Motörhead: We Are Motörhead
Guitar Wolf: Golden Black
Metal I wouldn't buy at full price, but for a dollar?
The Cramps: Flame Job
Foetus: Null
Eighties skeevy music lives on! Do you remember Foetus? They gave us albums like "You've got Foetus on your breath" and managed to sound like Nine Inch Nails before the technology really existed to sound like Nine Inch Nails.
The Muffs: Really, Really Happy
Los Straightjackets: !Viva!
Shonen Knife: Lets Knife
Fun with formula rock!
Marc Ribot: Saits.
Marc Ribot's work as a side man for Tom Waits and John Zorn is enough to prove his cool. I saw him lead his own band once at Lounge Ax and it was a great show. I'll buy that for a dollar.
Sebedoh: Flame Rado Pro.
Sebedoh played the most disasterous show I ever attended (and I was at Nothing Painted Blue's last show). The highlight of the sebedoh show: during the set, the band's van was stolen.

And rounding out the set we have:
The Kills: Black Rooster EP
Mudhoney: A bunch of live tracks released to promote a tour several years back

Wonderful Wizard of Spam

Now I'm getting spam with passages from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz

"And one of the most curious things about them is that they can carry you to any place in the world in three steps, and each step will be made in the wink of an eye. All you have to do is to knock the heels together three times and command the shoes to carry you wherever you wish to go."

"Whoever owned it could call three times upon the Winged Monkeys, who would obey any order they were given. But no person could command these strange creatures more than three times."

I also got something interesting from a pair of Russian sci-fi writers I had never heard of, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Of course, all of this literature is followed by come-ons like: "I`m bored :(
wanting a friend for L0VE, kiss, touch, lick and f*ck me! click on my homepage!"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


New on the blog roll: |_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|, a blog of electronic music and abstract graphics. The author describes it as "anonymous and anti-authorial by design" but I'll have none of that. Post structuralist literary criticism is always undermining the notion of authorship in texts. (Perhaps I should say that post structuralist literary criticism is always already showing how texts undermine their own authorship.) As a form of payback, I'd like to undermine the anti-authorial intent of |_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|. The music and graphics are by Thomas, an expectant father who works in IT in the Chicagoland area.* But I can do better. The music and graphics always already undermine their own anti-authorial intent by their noticeable stylistic and thematic continuity with Thomas's old band, Lichen.

In any case, give it a listen.


*Like you couldn't tell that the author worked in IT from the name "|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|"

A pointless and gross story

A few years back, I got this thing on my neck. The skin felt tight, like a zit was forming, and I could feel a bump about the size of a dime. I could never find the right arrangement of mirrors to see it, but Molly assured me that, yes indeed, I had a red bump about the size of a dime on the back of my neck. Thinking it was a zit of some kind, I tried to pop it, but to no avail. I spent a few days telling myself I shouldn't fuss with it, and fussing with it anyway. Pinching it could make it more distended, but it would always return to its original dime shape. Eventually I forgot about it.

But it didn't go away. A few months later, I found myself fussing with something on the back of my neck while lecturing. I realized I was fussing with the same damn dime thing, and that it must look weird to the students, so I thrust my hands in my pockets. For the next week, whenever I got really absorbed in what I was doing, I found that I was unconsciously pinching the weird thing on the back of my neck.

After a while, the weird thing started to hurt. I had decided long ago that it couldn't be a zit. It was too tenacious and too large. Besides, I am finally at an age where one has relatively clear skin. I was beginning to worry that some strange space larva was going to erupt from my neck at any moment. And it hurt. Finally, I decide to call a dermatologist. I’m flipping through the phone book, trying to figure out if dermatologists are under D for “dermatologist” or P for “Physicians—dermatologists,” and I’m pinching the thing on my neck. Then there is an audible “SPLUT” as the thing finally pops. It was a zit after all.

About a thimble full of pus is on my hand. Now in most contexts, a thimbleful is not very much. If you have a thimble full of whiskey, no one will take your car keys away. You can add a thimbleful of garlic to a dish and no one will think it too strong. But a thimble full of pus, that’s quite a lot. I washed my hands, cleaned the blood off my neck, and put away the phone book.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Phenomenological Observation

Phenomenologists and pragmatists tend to emphasize that when we perceive an object, we do not just perceive its immediate sensory qualities. We have an intuitive sense of what we can do with the object. Most of the world, on this account, is perceived the way a carpenter perceives a hammer. You don't just know it is long and heavy. You immediately perceive which end to hold it by, how to swing it, and what it is for. The world is a network of affordances or opportunities or ready-to-handedness or something.

My perception does not work like that. Most objects I perceive seem to come with obligations. I don’t just perceive their gross sensible qualities. I perceive a deadline, generally one that is fast approaching or that I have already missed. The paradigm object is not a hammer, but an email that I was supposed to reply to, but didn’t, because I don’t have all the right information and don’t feel like getting it.

You might think, given this lifeworld, that I have a lot of responsibilities. But I really don’t have more than the next person. In fact, I’ve spent much of my life ducking responsibility. The problem is that responsibilities are foregrounded in my perception in an oppressive way that makes me want to avoid getting more responsibilities. Responsibility foregrounding doesn’t even help me get things done, because the weight of obligation is just depressing, so I go to bed.

There have been plenty of phenomenological theories that emphasize negative aspects of experience. Dread. Nausea at the sheer materiality of things. But no phenomenologist that I know of has really captured my personal brand of neurotic experience. And this is the true failing of continental philosophy.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Some of this weekend's conversations

Conversation 1

Caroline is at my office, and has started fussing with a stack of ungraded papers.

Me: Caroline, don't play with those. They aren't toys.

Caroline: Then why did you put them where I can reach them? If they aren't toys, then you shouldn't put them where I can reach them.

Me: umm...

Caroline: Here, I will put them where I can't reach them.

Me: What? That's not possible. Let me take those.

Caroline [trying to carry a stack of papers accross the room, dropping several]: No it's ok. I'm just going to put them where I can't reach them.

Me: No, that doesn't work. If you can reach there to put them there, you can also reach them to take them down. [takes papers]

Conversation 2

Caroline: Daddy, is a cat an animal?

Me: Yes.

Caroline: Can we get one?

Another voice for the "spambots are becoming sapient" theory

John Holbo agrees: soon comment spam will be indistinguishable from comments.

Labor Shortage in China

Now there's a headline I didn't expect to see in my lifetime: "Labor Shortage in China May Lead to Trade Shift", says a newly redecorated New York Times online. (I like the new design. Fewer ads. Less crowded.)

Looks like China is seeing another of the benefits of a free-market development policy. This is a significant one, too, as it addresses some of the major concerns of market skeptics like myself. When markets open up, we expect to see a exploding middle class and a lot of rumbling construction equipment, and these have been around China for a while. Now we are actually seeing upward wage pressure on unskilled workers. The article doesn't present much data, but it does quote a number of market analysts saying that wages are going up for unskilled labor, particularly in the industrial south east, and that many positions are going unfilled. There is also anecdotal evidence that the needs of some of the worst off are being addressed: manufacturers are improving dormitory conditions for migrant laborers, for instance.

I'm not quite ready to chalk one up to the free marketers, though. For starters, although they quote a lot of Goldman Sachs types saying a labor shortage is driving wages upward, the only actual wage data is for three metropolitan areas where the government has legislated higher wages. Also, one of the more prominent causes of the labor shortage is the government’s rural development policy. The government has been using targeted tax breaks to address rural/urban economic inequality, which apparently is managing to keep people back on the farm.

Still. Who’d have thought China would have a labor shortage.

(Also, what is the best way to write the contraction of "who would have"? In speaking, all three words are merged into something like "who'd'uv." Google doesn't register "who'd'uv" though. It likes "who'd have" and "who'd of," but neither of those are quite right. "Who'd have" doesn't recognize the second contraction at all, and "who'd of" substitutes a homophone, rather than writing the contraction.)