I don't have a solution for street violence but I do feel that fear is not it- for me it begins with creating a society where violence in any form is simply not socially acceptable- this is not how our culture treats it.The whole thing is here, after some updates on her knitting
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I signed up for Hulu after reading this positive review by Farhad Manjoo on October 29. When I finally got my ticket on Dec 6, I rushed over to check it out, without thinking about the fact that I was *crossing a picket line*. In my defense, at least I didn't watch any programming.
The one time I surfed the site, I thought "damn, this is really cool. It is definitely the future of TV," which is exactly why you shouldn't go there. The writers don't get any money from that site. If the writers don't get a new contract, the day will come when almost all TV is watched on sites like Hulu, and the writers will have effectively taken a massive pay cut and been stripped of their intellectual property rights. A change in medium shouldn't be an opportunity to slash worker's pay.
Ok, I'm sorry I went to Hulu after the strike began. Consider this post a way to make it up.
Hat tip to Molly, who alerted me to this problem by sending me this link.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I was thinking about this lat night, and I guess my question is whether it is ethical to post quotations from student work online and anonymously. I see why it is done by yourself and others, but what of the legal implications? On the one hand, sharing student work with a name and with criticism could be considered harassment by some, but then again doing so without attribution could be considered copyright infringement (and not under fair use).I was worried about this, too, because when I posted the students comments, I was stretching an existing policy. I believe teachers need to be able to share student work with each other to improve teaching quality. For that reason, I include the following notice in all my syllabi:
That is, of course, if you didn't receive permission to reprint the quotation. If you did, then my question is moot.
My Rights Regarding Your Written WorkI'm not sure how many students read this note, or how many care. When I use examples of student work in class to teach students, I always use work from an entirely different institution, which avoids the main reason students would object to this sort of thing--that they would be embarrassed in front of their peers.
For the sake of improving my teaching and the teaching of others, I reserve the right to save copies of your written work to use as examples for other classes or examples in scholarly articles about teaching philosophy. When your work is used as an example of student work, it will be printed anonymously. If your work contributes to the substance of something I write, I will cite your work following the usual academic conventions. I’ll also probably spend time thanking you and saying you are brilliant. If you do not wish me to keep copies of your work, you must give me a written and signed statement to that effect.
Well, use in a classroom or scholarly article is not quite the same as a lamenting post on a blog, and although I do use this forum to talk about teaching issues, I can see why a student might object. If anyone objects, I will certainly take it down. I kinda got drawn into this without thinking about it. My first remark was just in a comment thread at another blog, then I moved it here because I thought others might be interested, then I posted a clarification No one actually asked for the clarification, but I felt an instinctive need to represent what had happened accurately.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Here is a quote from one of the two students who did say Iraq was behind 9/11.
[Redacted]The writing is not entirely clear. I don't know what is up with "[redacted]." But it is clear that she believes we are at war in retaliation for 9/11.
The remaining student was writing a dialogue on the problem of evil. I've returned that paper and don't have an electronic copy of it, so I'm not going to get her phrasing right. Basically, though, one character puts forward the Leibnizian argument that all is for the best. Another character then says "even the attacks on the twin towers" and the first character, in a peculiar mix of relativism and panglossianism says that the attacks were good from the perspective of "the Iraq's"
The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don't just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I'm afraid you'll probably have to wait another six days (when grades are due) to catch up on the antics of your favorite philosopher. In the meantime, go read this.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
My one complaint is that the software seems to underestimate the amount of time any application is in use. I got off of a 50 minute conference call with some of my on-line students to find that the software had logged 10 minutes of time using the skype application. The software can't be underestimating all applications by a factor of five, though, because it logged a total of 20 computers hours for me last week, and I only spend 40-50 hours a week at the office.
So how much time to I waste at the office? If Rescue time is correct, about one hour a week on blogs (Unfogged) and forty five minutes a week at news sites (NYT and Salon). That's not bad, really. I don't do any goofing around at work that isn't on line, so the 20 hours that the software didn't register could easily be all work.
Top Apps for the week of November 25, 2007
MS Word (5 hrs 59 mins)
MS Excel (2 hrs 54 mins)
MS Outlook (1 hr 13 mins)
angel.lorainccc.edu (1 hr 3 mins)
unfogged.com (1 hr 1 min)
Windows Explorer (52 mins 9 secs)
google.com (33 mins 43 secs)
nytimes.com (30 mins 56 secs)
rescuetime.com (19 mins 59 secs)
salon.com (16 mins 38 secs)
Update: The software is now far more accurate.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
The guy in the video talks this up as a knock down argument for acting to mitigate and prevent climate change. It is far from that, but it is one of the strongest arguments you can pack into five minutes (plus four minutes of hype). I'm interested in it because it is exactly the kind of simplified cost benefit analysis I teach when I teach scientific reasoning with the Giere textbook. So I need to note it for the future when I figure out how to create a course that uses the Giere textbook at LCCC.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Do you think they will have an Angel plug-in? I could use it, not as a simple insult to students, but a "teachable moment."
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
critical thinking rubric
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
A proposal was sent around for ways to evaluate students critical thinking across the college. It included items like evaluating student's ability to repeat information accurately.
This is my counter proposal, based on the analysis of critical thinking from Alec Fisher and Michael Scriven Critical Thinking: Its Definition and Assessment
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Added: Emerson has some nice looking publications on the Daodejing on-line. Hopefully I'll get a chance the check these out in the next week or so.
Friday, November 02, 2007
Grateful Dead (m) x3
ACDC (f) x2
ACDC (m) x3
Blue Oyster Cult(m)
Velvet Revolver (m)
Bob Marley (f)
Corruption of Blood (m)
Nine Inch Nails (m) x2
Iron Maiden (m)
Nirvana (f) x3
Nirvana (m) x4
Crime Scene (m)
stones (f) x3 (1 tote bag)
Flaming lips (m)
The Darkness (m)
Linkin Park (m)
Dave Matthews (m)
Jimmy Buffet (m)
Tooth and Nail (m) (A record label?)
Lamb of God (m)
Alice Cooper (f)
Miles Davis (f)
Under Oath (m) [With a gun for the r. Doesn't seem to be the Christian metal band)
Insane Clown Posse (f)
Saves the day (f)
System of a Down (m)
Blink 182 (f)
Ben Kweller (f)
Cradle of Filth (m)
John Lennon (m)
Monday, October 29, 2007
As near as I can tell, this timeline is a third order assessment: it is a method for assessing our progress in developing a method for assessing the methods of assessment used in classes.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Right now Joey is engrossed in a video of Hancock live in 1971. I wonder how long I can keep him interested in this fusion stuff.
Added: I think it's safe to say that Rockit has not just been rehabilitated. It is now canon.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Paragraph 1: State the thesis that full moral status is present at conception, thus making all abortion wrong.
Paragraph 2: State some facts about early embryonic development, along with several things that aren't facts. Say that this shows that all abortion is wrong.
Paragraph 3: Emphasize that the heart starts beating very early on. As a matter of fact, blood circulation can be present as early as 4-5 weeks, however students will place the date even earlier. I just read a paper that asserted the heart was beating at 18 days. Whenever the heart is asserted to start beating, this fact is then used to claim that all abortion is wrong.
Paragraph 4: Finish up the developmental cycle. Repeat thesis.
Paragraph 5: Conclusion.
This argument simply doesn't work. You cannot both assert that every stage of fetal development is morally significant and that full moral significance is present at conception. If you really felt that the presence of a beating heart marked the onset of personhood, than you would allow abortion before that event.
Now perhaps what the people who write this paper are thinking is that the *potential* for a beating heart is what brings moral status. But if that is the case, why focus on the potential for these minor events in development, and just talk about being a potential sapient adult?
Monday, October 15, 2007
With my current teaching load, I really do need to creating this FAQ quickly, without getting caught up in academic journal-level research. With that it mind, I am moving some (anonymized) comments from a student's rough draft here so I can begin to create the file.
“There are many forms of contraceptives out there for women to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies like birth control, condoms, the shot, and absincence.”
If this is so important to the pro-life argument, why does every major pro-life group also oppose all forms of birth control? This is a major anomaly in the public debate, and if you are going to raise the contraception argument, you really need to explain it. For example, A Woman’s Concern, the pro-life pregnancy counseling group views all birth control as demeaning.
Christina Page, quoted here reports that "there is not one pro-life group in the United States that supports the use of birth control."
“Abortion is an easy way out for people who do not want to take the responsibility of taking care of a baby.”
To make this argument, do you need to assume the conclusion of the first argument, that is, assume that the fetus has moral status? Notice, you could say that birth control is a way of avoiding the responsibility of having a baby, but presumably you do not because you do not think sperm or eggs on their own have moral status.
“Overall, if women are going to have sexual relations than they should be ready to take on all the responsibilities that come along with sex.”
Is this just an argument against sex for purposes other than reproduction? You seem close to saying that a couple who wants to strengthen their relationship and have fun should not have sex unless they also want to have a baby.
Also, you misspelled “abstinence.”
“There are also a number of risks and dangers that could happen to the mother during the abortion procedure.”
Are these moral arguments? That is, do these dangers, if they are real, make abortion *immoral* or just risky.
“Statistics show that abortion is more dangerous than childbirth.”
What statistics? Who collected them? How where they collected?
First trimester abortions---88% of all abortions—are *much* safer than childbirth. You can sometimes make abortion look more dangerous by focusing on later term abortions, which often have complications because the pregnancy is already going badly—that is what motivated the abortion to begin with. See here
“Women who have an abortion are four times more likely to die the following year than women who carry their pregnancy to full term.”
Again, where did this statistic come from? How was it collected?
“Abortion is a risk factor for breast cancer.”
To be blunt, this is not true. The connection has been alleged for some time by pro-life groups. At first the idea had some scientific plausibility, but a study published in the 1997 New England Journal of Medicine discredited the link. Pro life groups have ignored this and subsequent studies. The Bush administration even had information about the nonlink between abortion and breast cancer removed from government web sites.
My information on the abortion breast cancer non link came from Chapter 13 of this book but I forgot to mention that to my student. I also should have noted that she didn't want to say "There are many forms of contraceptives out there like...birth control."
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Ignosticism is the refusal to decide on the existence of God until someone comes up with a coherent definition of what God is.
Henotheism is the belief that many gods exist, but that only one is deserving of your worship. As near as I can tell, most of the Hebrew bible was written by henotheists, not monotheists.
Meanwhile, my colleague Ben Cordry has coined the term "Deflationary Theism" to describe the viewpoint suggested in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, that the difference between theism and atheism is merely verbal.
Caroline asked me again why we don't say grace. I told her that grace was a part of a religion I don't believe in. She did not, thankfully, ask the follow up question "what is religion?" This is a question I ask my students regularly, and I ask it because I don't have a very good answer.
Friday, October 05, 2007
The value of these artifacts is personal and sentimental, but they can also have an aesthetic power that goes beyond parental pride. The untaught sense of color and composition that children seem naturally to possess sometimes yields extraordinary results, and the combination of instinct and accident that governs their creative activity can produce astonishing works of art.Surely being by products of play does not disqualify something from being art. In many cases, it is an asset.* If a work of art by an adult was a part of a story of their cognitive and sensory awakening, it would contribute to calling the work a masterpiece.
Except that these magical finger-paint daubings and crayon scribblings aren’t really works of art in any coherent sense of the term, but rather the vital byproducts of play, part of the cognitive and sensory awakening that is the grand, universal vocation of childhood. The urge to commodify and display them is, primarily, an adult expression of appreciation and nostalgia.
I have no doubt that Marla Olmstead's work is art in the highest sense of the term, if perhaps, a little overpriced. I would display her work prominently, if I owned any, and wasn't already quite busy displaying the work of artists known more personally to me.
* In general I buy the expression theory of art, rather than the currently popular institutional theory . However I will not try to relate my claims about children's art to any broader theory here.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
As you can see, the show follows the formula established by Pee Wee's Playhouse of appealing to kids with bright colors and standard kids themes and appealing to adults by featuring hip music and being skull-crushingly weird
Note: I originally linked to this version of the intro, which is obviously youtube user contributed extreme weirdness, but is also cool.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Eastern Philosophy Timeline
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
I am convinced that good visuals vastly improve the experience for some students. I am convinced that they take a lot of time and I am not very good at them.
This timeline provides a map for everything we will be covering in my eastern philosophy course. (3000 years of the history of two major civilizations in 10 weeks.)
Sunday, September 23, 2007
During the heydey of the post World War II great academic job market, these smokers were quite different. For one thing, people actually smoked. For another thing, the Baby Boomers actually smoked pot at the smoker. Unless you are a Generation X job candidate who has been stuck at a table with a drunk Baby Boomer during one of these things, and he (it's always a he!) is telling you how great it was "back in the day" when everybody had over ten interviews and there was a "dance circle" of pot smokers in the middle of the room. . . unless you've had this experience added to the penury and hopelessness of the average job candidate, you maybe don't even know the meaning of the word "rage." [To give you a basis of comparison, I found such experiences vastly more rage inducing than the time four drunk Ohio farm kids on a public street called me a "long haired faggot" and then used me as a punching bag. This may just be because I could understand most of what the farm kids were saying, unlike with the atrocious A.P.A.-smoker-room acoustics added to the slurred speech of Doctor Peace Bear and his equally drunk and self-satisfied Boomer colleague Professor Hippypants.]I didn't say this. Any ill consequences for bad mouthing the tenured generation should not be directed at me. I am merely further publicizing these remarks for educational purposes.
224007814_4def8bd557 I speculate that this is one of the main reasons Generation X academics are often so unrelentingly hostile (when talking with one another) about Baby Boomer academics. Note, I don't endorse this. But any fellow Gen Xer not suffering from the kind of Stockholm Syndrome induced by relentlessly acting like a "promising young man," (i.e. a Boomer's idea of a young person instead of an actual young person) knows what I'm talking about. Baby Boomer academics had a much easier time getting jobs and tenure. Somehow on their watch we not only got Reagan, the two Bushes, and abandonment of cool plans to colonize space, but also a university system where now less than half the positions are tenure or tenure-track. And Gen Xers should be forgiven for concluding that they don't care. You go to a faculty senate meeting and all the talk is about: (1) diversity (any comment by me on how this actually works in most universities would take us too far afield), (2) fighting the administration's efforts to make it easier to sack dead-wood Baby Boomers with tenure, or (3) instituting some awful management school thing like "strategic planning" that only results in academics (usually the junior ones) writing useless reports to justify some Baby Boomer vice provost's six figure salary.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Start by remembering what a free mind is. A mind is free if it is not bound by an inherited set of ideas, but is able to consider the widest range of possibilities. Most importantly, a free mind is not trapped by beliefs that justify existing unjust power structures, and can conceive of better alternatives. A free mind has imagination and skepticism.
Honestly, you can't just will yourself to have imagination and skepticism. The main source of imagination and skepticism isn't in you at all. It is in the way you were raised. And while it is possible to develop imagination and skepticism later in life, this too will be largely a product of your experience. The main internal cause for increased imagination and skepticism would be a kind of second order disposition. If imagination and skepticism are themselves dispositions to think a certain way, we can also talk about a disposition to cultivate those dispositions. But once you are in a position to have such a disposition, you pretty much have all you need to be imaginative and skeptical.
Once you have the will to free your mind, your mind is already free.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Just now we've been looking at videos of Redemption Song. I'm fond of this one, which seems to be by some random guy. I had been looking forward to hearing the Joe Strummer/Johnny Cash version for some time, but when I heard this user-made slideshow using it, I was let down. Cash seemed to me to have aged much better than Strummer. Hearing Joey S doing the song on his own made me revise my opinion. Really the voices were just mismatched. The Strummer video also features some first rate testifying at the beginning, and is just a nice video (is that Jim Jarmush?)
Then there is the man himself:
(He looks like he is doing all the strumming with his thumbnail, and just moving his thumb, barely flexing the wrist at all. And he can hit double time that way. Is that possible?)
And check out this version:
Well, the important thing is to have no fear for atomic energy. None of them can stop the times.
The monochrome librarian cries under the imbalance.
A danger patches a bread. A violate war advocates the local socket. Why does Caroline rage beside the enclosed risk? Caroline achieves Joey near an additional ribbon. Caroline rolls with Joey.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The Jeff Buckley version is one of the most popular. It has some fucking incredible guitar work, which makes for a better arrangement than the piano arpeggios that seem to be standards for covers Hallelujah. This is actually my first experience listening to Buckley, despite reading about him constantly.
Buckley has a verse not in Shrek: "Remember when I moved in you/and the holy ghost was moving too/ and with every breath we drew was hallelujah" I swear Cohen has a way of making his own horndogginess into something transcendent. I wish my horndogginess were so transcendent.
The standard arpeggio covers are here (Rufus Wainwright) and here (Alison Crowe, which I only clicked on because I thought it said Alison Krause)
Its a close contest between Buckley and Cale.
The article does not mention it, but I infer that a substantial number of the girls being born are chromosomally male. They have the manly Y chromosome, but its action in development has been completely undone by the estrogen mimickers. I wonder if this means there will be some cases of girls growing penises at puberty.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Time and again, the authors in Biotechnology Journal divide the world into a drama with just two actors: Science and The Public. (One even makes an even more derisory distinction, suggesting that the debate is between "modernists" who believe in progress, and postmodernists who don't even believe in truth.) But there's a third player: Capital.Of course, for every person who sees biotech policy (and technology policy in general) as a conflict between modernists and antimodernists, there is someone who views it as a conflict between evil capital and good nature. But the Salon piece does a good job with one reductionism.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Friday, September 07, 2007
President Hu Jintao's most ambitious attempt to change the culture of fast-growth collapsed this year. The project, known as ''Green G.D.P.,'' was an effort to create an environmental yardstick for evaluating the performance of every official in China. It recalculated gross domestic product, or G.D.P., to reflect the cost of pollution.
But the early results were so sobering -- in some provinces the pollution-adjusted growth rates were reduced almost to zero -- that the project was banished to China's ivory tower this spring and stripped of official influence.
This spring, a World Bank study done with SEPA, the national environmental agency, concluded that outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution.
Friday, August 31, 2007
These studies are driving a campaign by major animal rights groups to link meat eating with global warming, highlighted in this NYT article (from Molly, via email.) I hope the campaign takes off. Past efforts to highlight this link generally get bogged down in jokes about cow farts. People have this immediate sense that if you are worried about cow farts, you must be some sort of moral busybody who wants to regulate everything. Cows are going to fart, how can you stop that? It helps to remember that the number of cows on the planet is not some pre-ordained fact. It is something we are responsible for. And hence, we are responsible for their mess.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Update: A hypertext version of the TLP has been online since 1996 and I didn't know about it? It makes it easy to do what I've always thought you should do--read all the level 1 propositions first, then the level 2, etc.!
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
You: Hey, Person in My Line of Work, how do you deal with Classic Workplace Problem X?
Person in Your Line of Work: Why I just use Completely Unlikely Solution Y, and it solves everything for me, no problem.
Please remember that most people who talk like this are full of shit. They haven't solved the problem effortlessly; they just want to make you think that they can solve this problem, and all sorts of problems like this, effortlessly. If they have actually implemented Completely Unlikely Solution Y, it has given them an incredible headache they are not telling you about. Under no circumstances, should you try to implement Completely Unlikely Solution Y.
Monday, August 27, 2007
The LCT is not very functional. Apparently they are caught in a cycle of declining funding and ridership. The bus we caught was a little shuttle bus with only one other person on it. Later a woman got on who addressed the bus driver by name and said "just drop me off at my house." On the ride, Mr. Filter-Mask complained that none of the voices on the dispatch radio made any sense to him. "People don't say anything anymore. They're just blah blah blah. Driver, do those people make any sense to you?" The driver's reply was patient and polite.
The bus let me off at Transfer Point, a broken-pavement parking lot abutting a pile of broken bricks and a field of weeds. All the buses in the LCT system gather there periodically for people to make their transfers. The bus I was looking for (the 70) wasn't there, and soon the convocation of little shuttle buses broke up and the only people left in the lot were me and a man pushing a shopping cart full of video tapes. I had seen him get off his bus: the driver had let him use the wheelchair lift to get his shopping cart off the bus. One LCT van idled at the far end of the lot. I waited for about fifteen minutes for my bus in the skull baking heat while the man with shopping cart got his videotapes in order and began examining a pile of abandoned shopping carts. (I had to remind myself that I am in no position to look down on people who hoard videotapes.) Eventually I went over to the idling van to reconfirm that it wasn't my bus, and in general see what was up. The driver kindly radioed the 70, who told her he had made his last stop and was going out of service. (That's not what the schedule said he was supposed to do!) The driver then volunteered her cell phone so I could call for a ride, and even gave directions to the transfer point from the highway.
It was all very nice, but I still was defeated in my effort to get home. This morning, on the other hand, I was victorious. I have now successfully traveled between home and office using the bus system and my bicycle! I rode my bike to the Westlake Park and Ride, where the 70 actually arrived when the schedule said it did, took my bike on the bus and went took it to the transfer point. I wanted to get on the 3, but the bus was full, and no one wanted me to take the bike on board. The driver of the 3 said the 51 will get me to LCCC, it will just take longer, plus it has a rack on the front for my bike. I went over to the 51, noting that the buses actually sit in numerical order for their little meet up, and stared at the bike rack at the front. How does this thing work? A man with a large unkempt beard and a plastic bag full of clothing saw my perplexity and showed me how to unfold the rack and lock my bike in.
The 51 gave me an extended tour of the strip malls, residential neighborhoods and one small downtown area of the city of Elyria in Lorain County, and eventually deposited me at my workplace. It took two hours, but victory was mine! I am now at work.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
People seem to prefer to decontextualize this image. Dropping the context makes sense: you know immediately what the picture means anyway.
Nevertheless, the decontexutalization bothers me. My difficulty isn't just that no one knows who this guy was or what happened to him. I know that the anonymity contributes to the symbolisism and can live with that. The thing that bothers me is that you rarely even see the end of the video. Some people hustle this man away. First there is a guy on a bike, then a man in a blue shirt, and then a man in a black shirt with his hands in the air. Finally two guys in white shirts come out, but they don't even need to run all the way to Tank Man because the others are pushing him off.
As far as I can tell, no one has posted this video unedited to the web. You can watch it on Frontline, interspersed with commentary. There are plenty of versions of it on Youtube with the end missing, generally overdubbed with protest music. The video should just be put out there to speak for itself, though.
Tank man did not fight against the people who dragged him off. Why?
In a better world, Chang'an avenue would be blocked off for keeps, and they'd put up a statue of a man with a couple shopping bags standing in front of a column of tanks.
In the Frontline video, a professor at Pepperdine comments that Tank Man did not bring down the CCP, but he did help down the Soviet Union. Before the Berlin wall fell, activists in eastern Europe said, "if that kid in China stood in front of those tanks, we can do what we're doing."
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The two examples I've heard about of times that were good for women, gays and porn, are the six dynasties period and the late Ming/early Qing. The latter, being more recent is better documented. It saw a flowering of writing by women and the novel The Golden Lotus, which is listed with Journey to the West and Dream of the Western Chamber as one of the great novels of late imperial China, and is also full of weird sex. Not all of it seems to be happy sex. Apparently towards the end [SPOILER]the main character is fucked to death by one of his concubines. I can't find a free version of the whole thing on line, but here's a sample of a scene where the lead character is trying to ingratiate himself with one of his wives, Yüeh-niang, whom he has been fighting with:
"Whether you go there or not is no concern of mine," said Yüeh-niang. "I wouldn't presume to tell such a simpleton what to do. But as long as you're shelling out the hard cash to maintain her as your mistress, if you don't even bother to visit her, you can be sure she'll manage to take on someone else. Where people in that profession are concerned:The subsequent sex scene seems consensual, but the emotional tension is serious. The whole thing seems like a nice combination of eroticism, humor and emotional tension.You can tie up their bodies, butDo you really think you can put your seal on her and make it stick?" "What you say is true enough," said Hsi-men Ch'ing.
You can't tie up their hearts.
Thereupon, he started to undress, sent the maids out of the room, and proposed to go to bed with Yüeh-niang and seek his pleasure with her."If I let you into the kitchen,said Yüeh-niang. "It's concession enough if I allow you into my bed tonight. If you've got anything else in mind, forget it."
You'll only make a pig of yourself,"
Hsi-men Ch'ing responded by exposing his organ to Yüeh-niang.
"It's all your doing," he joked. "You've made him so angry he's having a dumbstruck fit."
"What do you mean 'he's having a dumbstruck fit'?" demanded Yüeh-niang.
"If he's not having a dumbstruck fit," said Hsi-men Ch'ing, "how come his eye is bulging so wide, but he can't get a word out?"
"You must be delirious," responded Yüeh-niang. "What makes you think I've got even half an eye for the likes of you?" At this point Hsi-men Ch'ing:Without permitting any further explanation,lifted Yüeh-niang's two fresh white legs onto his shoulders, inserted his organ into her vagina,13 and gave free rein to:The oriole's abandon and the butterfly's pursuit.
Entranced by the clouds and intoxicated by the rain,
They are not yet willing to call a halt.14
Also reported to be good: The Prayer Mat of Flesh, which features a monk getting a tool transplant from some animal (I don't remember which). John Berthrong said the book begins with a warning to the reader "A real monk who reads this will not be aroused" and ends with a similar reminder "If you are a true monk, you will not have been aroused by this." I can't find any content from it online, though.
The benefits accorded to women, homos, and porn during periods like these all come from a loosening of traditional sex roles. It is not clear, though, that a general loosening actually counts as being good for women. By the late Qing, footbinding became a serious problem. The woman who has written the most about the flowering of women's writing in the early Qing is also, weirdly, an apologist for late Qing footbinding. As far as gays go, I have nothing but the assurance of the institute leaders to go on that this was a better time. This is something I'd like to read more on.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
In any case, this ripped my face off.
Monday, July 09, 2007
I swear I know just enough about computers to get myself in trouble. Molly never has these problems. [Update: Molly says she is not shielded by some special ignorance, but merely the fact that she is willing to ask for help.]
Fuckity fuckity fuck fuck fuck.
Update: Fixed. Sorta, I think. After three hours. I downloaded a bunch of updates from Lenovo, which made the "display mode" menu behave differently. There still was no function that said "switch to landscape mode." But when I switched to projector mode, instead of saying "this function is incompatible with portrait mode." It just gave me a new screen that faces the right way. I think it is also now thinks there is a projector attached to the computer. Ok, whatever.
Now if only I can fix this crick in my neck.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Here is the day my brother was born.
Peyton James Loftis, 6 LB, 13 oz. It looks like he never got to "9 Ck 7/11 final plans" that day.
I took that day planner with me, and I'm sure I still have it. I think it is in the clutter of my office somewhere. I asked mom not to throw out any of the day planners, but I'm pretty sure all the receipts have gone away.
By the way, this is what Sam Pepys was up to this day in 1664
(Lord’s day). Up and ready, and all the morning in my chamber looking over and settling some Brampton businesses. At noon to dinner, where the remains of yesterday’s venison and a couple of brave green geese, which we are fain to eat alone, because they will not keepe, which troubled us. After dinner I close to my business, and before the evening did end it with great content, and my mind eased by it. Then up and spent the evening walking with my wife talking, and it thundering and lightning all the evening, and this yeare have had the most of thunder and lightning they say of any in man’s memory, and so it is, it seems, in France and everywhere else. So to prayers and to bed.
Monday, July 02, 2007
In the [Constitutional] convention George Mason argued that the President might use his pardoning power to "pardon crimes which were advised by himself" or, before indictment or conviction, "to stop inquiry and prevent detection." James Madison responded:via, via, via,
[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty...
Saturday, June 30, 2007
The law, enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress over the objections of foreign investors, requires employers to provide written contracts to their workers, restricts the use of temporary laborers and helps give more employees long-term job security.Notice who is fighting against workers rights in china? Is it the evil gerontocracy, the old party bureaucrats behind the Tiananmen massacre? Nope, its the big multinationals, including no doubt, the people who make all your cheap plastic crap. Their motivation is the same as it always is, and the threat they lorded over the CCP is the same.
The law, which is to take effect in 2008, also enhances the role of the Communist Party’s monopoly union and allows collective bargaining for wages and benefits.
Companies argued that the rules would substantially increase labor costs and reduce flexibility, and some foreign businesses warned that they would have little choice but to move their operations out of China if the provisions were enacted.I really hate the term "flexible labor force." Fortunately, the NYT gives us a sense of what this term really means.
Passage of the measure came shortly after officials and the state news media unearthed the widespread use of slave labor in as many as 8,000 brick kilns and small coal mines in Shanxi and Henan Provinces. It was one of the most glaring labor scandals since China began adopting market-style economic policies a quarter century ago.As the article points out, the new law won't do any good unless it is enforced. China has lots of good laws on the books about the environment and labor, but no one pays any attention to them. Also, none of this is a substitute for the ability to form independent unions. Right now the only union allowed in China is run by the communist party, and it refuses to engage in any collective bargaining, doesn't allow strikes, and doesn't help individual workers with grievances.
The police have freed nearly 600 workers, many of them teenagers, held against their will in factories owned or operated by well-connected businesspeople and local officials.
Friday, June 29, 2007
I was thinking about the Clash song "Something about England" as I walked to the grocery store today. The short version of the song: Mick asks about the persistent xenophobia of the English. Joe, in the persona of an old homeless man, responds by giving a history of the 20th century from the point of view of class, ending like this.
But how could we know when I was youngThe thing that strikes me the most about the song was that if you lived in England in those times, history happened to you. The US is at war, but history is not happening to a lot of us. History is not happening to me. But it is happening to a lot of other people.
All the changes that were to come?
All the photos in the wallets on the battlefield
And now the terror of the scientific sun
There was masters an' servants an' servants an' dogs
They taught you how to touch your cap
But through strikes an' famine an' war an' peace
England never closed this gap
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The middle school at Ruffing has two levels, one for sixth graders and one for seventh and eighth graders. (The latter I guess follows Montessori's philosophy of multi-age classrooms.) Wikipedia says Montessori schools generally don't assign homework, but this school clearly does. Heck, Caroline has even been given some homework. They also have separate teachers for Spanish, band and gym, which is a good sign. The school has been around since 1957 and teaching middle school since 1977, which is also a good sign. Looking for a certain amount of longevity in your alternative educational institution rules out the freakier places. Ruffing doesn't have much else on line, and this is not so good. "Montessori" isn't governed by
As I understand it, the centerpiece of Montessori education is giving children a large block of time to explore at their own direction a prepared environment filled with activities that allow the children to learn concepts or skills. This explains the conversations I had with Caroline picking her up from school. Generally, when I asked her what she did at school that day, she would say "activities."
"Well what activities"
"Oh, just activities."
Later I was able to figure out that "activities" included something called "nuts and bolts" and something called "braiding." At the end of this year, Caroline came back with a "name tracing" book, in which she had traced her name a couple dozen times. We were told this is quite an accomplishment. This page emphasizes that the materials for the activities are self correcting. The child can perceive the problem without being corrected by the teacher, and thus is drawn into solving it on her own.
So will this work with a 12 year old learning algebra? Well, there was this fascinating study in Science which took advantage of a nice experiment in nature. A school district in Milwaukee servicing mostly poor and minority students had some Montessori schools and some regular schools. Since more people wanted to go to the Montessori schools than they could handle, students were admitted by lottery. So we have effectively a randomized trail. Students who applied to the Montessori schools but didn't get in are the control group; the students who did get in are the experimental group. Notice that both groups have already been selected to have parents that take an active interest in the kids education.
Results: the Montessori schools did better. They did better on academic skills, and a lot better on interpersonal skills. At age 5, children were told stories about kids behaving badly and were far more likely (43% versus 18%) to discuss these using concepts of justice and fairness. More fundamentally, the Montessori kids did better at tests of their concept of other minds. Eighty percent of the kids passed a test where they had to recognize that another person had a false belief. The kids from the other schools performed at chance level (50%).
But what about the older kids? Well for the 12 year olds studied, the academic advantage disappears. Kids in both groups performed similarly on basic skills. The Montessori kids, though still performed better on community and social skills, and also, interestingly, used more sophisticated sentence structures and creative stories.
The charts for the science article are below. Note, though the strong and somewhat misleading graphic rhetoric of the charts. They converted all the test scores to a single measure (z) where 0 is the statistical mean for each test, and then represented the scores using thick bars to represent deviation from the mean. Thus even if the Montessori kids are only scoring slightly better than the regular kids, they are still represented by a bright line going up rather than down.
Also note that the chart for the 12 year olds simply omits the data where the two groups were comparable.
The first graph has 16 data points, and the second has 8. Tufte would claim that you shouldn't even use a graph here, just a chart.
I'm going to have to return to this later. Here is a collection of links to empirical research.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The second article I linked, from Danwi, to is kind to Yu Dan. The Economist, that bastion of Western liberalism, is more careful to bring up the drawbacks to Confucianism, especially for the CCP, which has been attempting to use Confucian loyalty to shore up power.
But Stephen Angle, a Fulbright scholar at Peking University and a philosophy professor at Wesleyan University in America, argues that Confucianism may not be as useful to the party as it thinks. For a start it has little to say about one of the party's biggest worries, the tension in urban-rural relations. More important, a gap in Confucian political theory should alarm a government seeking to hold on to power in a fast-changing environment. “One big problem with Confucianism”, says Mr Angle, “is that it offers no good model for political transition, except revolution.”Confucianism offers essentially three checks on the power of rulers. First there is the moral suasion of the texts themselves. Second, if the ru, the scholar-officials, sense that the Emperor is taking the wrong path they are obligated to remonstrate with him. After that there is not much you can do until the Emperor gets so bad, so heinous, that he no longer counts as the emperor, and a "rectification of names" can take place, where the title of emperor is violently removed from an impostor and put on a worthy. One of my co-participants in the seminar, a Chinese immigrant, summarized the problem with the propagandists for the kinder, gentler Confucius quite nicely: "The thing is, in the end, we know this system simply didn't work."
Monday, June 25, 2007
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
So this is a map of the area we are moving to. The milk jug and apple is a Trader Joe's that has a regular farmer's market out front. The purple thumbtack is a Montessori school. The dollar sign is my workplace, and the houses are places for sale we are considering.
Molly, do I have all the locations right? When you said there was a bus every hour, did you mean a bus along Detroit Rd?
[This post is really just aimed at my immediate family.]
Sunday, June 24, 2007
“Are You Alive?”: The Half-life of the Unjust as Seen in Boethius and BSG
The first line spoken in the reenvisioned BSG is “Are you alive?” The question is unsettling: it is asked by a robot (a Six) to a human being (a Colonial officer sent to meet with the Cylons at the remote Armistice Station.) Clearly if anyone is not alive here, it is the robot, right? Yet the Six is asking this question of a human, and when he, tremblingly, says, “Yes,” she says “Prove it,” and gives him a long open-mouth kiss, as two centurions look on stoically, their eyes going “wrrrrom wrrrrom,” before the whole station is annihilated in a Cylon attack. This opening scene is mirrored in the episode “You Can’t Go Home Again,” when Starbuck, marooned on a planet without oxygen, finds a Cylon raider that has crashed. Opening a hatch, she finds living tissue underneath. Realizing that the spacecraft has no pilot, but is itself a robot, Starbuck whispers with wonder, “Are you alive?”
The Cylons and the humans have difficulty recognizing each other as alive. They don’t fail to recognize each other as organisms of some kind. They each see that the other can bleed. But they don’t recognize the other as a living person. This brings out another important theme in Western philosophy, the question of what it means to be a person. This issue touches both on ethics, which as we’ve seen is the study of right and wrong, and metaphysics. Metaphysics is the study of existence, what existence is, and what sort of things can be properly said to exist. When humans and Cylons fail to recognize each other as persons, they are making an ethical decision, because they are saying they don’t have ethical duties to the other side. It is also a metaphysical decision, because they are putting limits around a category of reality. Reality contains persons, but it also contains some other things like look like persons but aren’t really, because they’re robots. (Or, if you are a Cylon, because they are not robots.)
One philosopher who took seriously the connection between ethics and metaphysics in understanding the idea of a person was the Roman philosopher and theologian Boethius. Boethius was a senator, and proud of his Greco-Roman heritage. But he was also a Christian, a monotheist who believed the world was a product of an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God. A major project for him was reconciling the wisdom of Greek philosophers like Plato with Christian teachings. Boethius also was in a position to think seriously about the nature of a tyrant. The Roman Empire had essentially collapsed and broken in half. The western half, where he lived, was ruled by a barbarian, the Ostrogoth Theodoric. Theodoric persecuted Boethius, believing him to be a traitor. At the time Boethius wrote his greatest book, The Consolations of Philosophy(3), he was under house arrest, waiting to be executed. The opening problem for that work is “how could a just God allow this to happen? Why do I suffer while a tyrant like Theodoric prospers?” Boethius’s answer looks to his Greek heritage, to Plato and his treatment of the tyrant. Boethius accepts Plato’s psychological vision, and raises it to a metaphysical level. The evil person, for Boethius, is not only enslaved, he isn’t even really human. In fact, he hardly exists at all. Thus an explanation of God’s ways to man: the tyrant does not really prosper. In fact, at the moment that Theodoric’s thugs break into Boethius’s house and club him to death, Boethius is better off than Theodoric.
Boethius begins this remarkable argument by agreeing with Plato that a villain like Baltar or Theodoric has no real power, even with they hold an office like President of the Twelve Colonies or King of the Goths and Italy. Boethius’s focus is on happiness. He argues, like Aristotle (384–322 BCE) that the goal of life for all people is to be happy. Why does Baltar sleep with every woman he can? Because he thinks it will make him happy. But happiness is also identical with goodness. Things that seem to bring you happiness, like wealth, power, fame, or pleasure, will only hurt you in the end without goodness, for all of the reasons we saw with Plato’s tyrant. Baltar’s lusts only bring him misery, because he pursues them so dishonestly. True pleasure, and thus true happiness, can only be obtained in honest relationships, the sort of friendships Plato shows the tyrant can never have. But now wait, power is the ability to get what you want. People want to be happy, and men like Baltar are simply not happy. Therefore they have no real power. Thus Boethius writes, “They fail in their quest for the supreme crown of reality, for the wretched creatures do not succeed in attaining the outcome for which alone they struggle day and night” (75).
This much is in Plato, but Boethius goes farther. The evil person isn’t even really human. The Colonial officer Armistice Station may be right to say he is alive. The Cylon raider may be alive in the way a smart horse or dog is alive. But Baltar isn’t really alive, not in the sense of being a living person and not as long as he continues his path of deception. How could this be? Human nature, according to Boethius, is to be good. We were all meant to be reunited with God. But evil men fail to realize this nature. “What follows from this,” Boethius says “is that you cannot regard as a man one who is disfigured by vices” (78).
Now here’s the weird part. Evil people in fact cease to exist altogether. Something ceases to exist if it looses its nature. Think about a Viper that gets blown apart by a Cylon missile. After the explosion, something still exists. Wreckage is flying everywhere. But the Viper doesn’t exist anymore, because no one can use it to do what a Viper does, fly around and shoot things. The Viper, in being blown apart, has lost its nature. But a person who has fallen into injustice has also lost her nature. She is no longer achieving the ends of a person, just as the wreckage of the Viper no longer serves the purpose of the viper. Thus evil people cease to exist. As Boethius says, “You could say a corpse is a dead man, but you would not call it a man pure and simple; in the same way, I grant that corrupt men are wicked, but I refuse to admit that they exist in an absolute sense” (76). And thus we have a lovely justification of God’s ways to man. In fact, God did not create a world where the unjust tyrants rule while good men suffer. Quite the opposite. He created a world where the unjust fade away while the just achieve their true nature.
I think it is pretty clear that Plato’s conception of the tyrant is present in the characterization of Baltar on BSG, but can we go farther, and say that Boethius’s radical claims are also present in the show? Well, I doubt that any of the writers have read Boethius (although they may have read Plato) or were thinking at this level of abstraction. But whatever the writers’ intent, the show winds up displaying Boethian themes. Evil in the world of BSG is not a simple dark force opposed to the noble warriors of goodness. Evil men like Baltar are clearly weak and pitiable and the nature of humanity itself is questioned. Who is alive, the humans or the Cylons? A lot of questions remain unanswered in the series, but I think we will find in the fourth and final season that humans and Cylons prove they are alive by acting justly. Remember how Six asked the Colonial officer to prove he was alive: she kissed him. If Boethius is right, it is though love that we show that we are alive. The gods lift up those who lift each other up.
(3) In this essay I will use the Oxford World Classics edition of this text. P.G. Walsh, trans. 1999. Boethius: The Consolations of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Numbers in parentheses after quotations refer to page numbers in this edition.
Update: advice and edits are no longer needed. I've gone through it all with the editors.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
“I Don't Have to Listen. I'm the President”: The Weakness of the Tyrant as seen in Plato and Baltar
Plato’s most famous description of the life of the tyrant comes in his book The Republic,(1) a sprawling masterpiece that is meant to answer the question “why be just?” but on the way develops sophisticated theories about the nature of knowledge, art, and existence itself. The crux of Plato’s answer to the question “Why be just” is that the soul of the unjust person is out of balance. His soul is ruled by its crudest desires, and stifles any part of itself that is capable of perceiving what is best in the world. The culmination of this argument is Plato’s description of the tyrannical man, a person whose soul is like a city governed by mad dictator. The picture he paints winds up looking a lot like Gaius Baltar. The interesting thing is that right now Plato is only talking about a man whose soul, internally, is like a tyrannized city. Plato further imagines the disaster that would ensue if a person with a tyrannized soul actually became the tyrant of a city, externalizing the injustice in his breast. The resulting picture approaches Baltar’s presidency.
If you asked an average fan why Baltar is the bad guy, they would probably say because he betrayed his people to genocidal robots (a practice most ethicists frown on.) Plato would have you look at his soul. He begins by asking us to think of the part of ourselves that comes out when we sleep, the part that makes you have dreams of doing things that appall you when you wake up and remember them. This part of us, Plato says, “doesn’t shrink from trying to have sex with a mother, as it supposes, or with anyone else at all, whether man, god or beast. It will commit any foul murder, and there is no food it refuses to eat. In short it omits no act of folly or shamelessness” (571d). When you are asleep, this part of your mind gets its way, with horrifying results. Now imagine someone who lets this part of their mind rule their waking life. (Perhaps you don’t have to imagine too hard.) When you first meet this person, you might think they are a free spirit, because they do what they want when they want, but really they are enslaved, because every other aspect of their self has been subordinated to the task of satisfying whatever desire has bubbled to the surface currently.
When Plato needs to give a name to the part of the soul that rules in the tyrannical man, he calls it lust. This is a strange move. The soul is full of desires that can get us in trouble, desires for money, fame, power, drugs, even food. Like lust, these are not bad in themselves, but are ruinous if you let them run your life. Plato probably picks on lust merely because he is not a fan of the body and its biological functions, and lust is very much a bodily sin, unlike the desire for fame, and makes a better candidate for the ruin of tyrants than the other cardinal sin of the body, gluttony.
Odd though it is, Plato’s choice of lust to be the tyrant of the soul of the tyrannical man fits Baltar to a T. Baltar’s sexual exploits are the root of most of his problems, beginning with selling out the human race to the sultry Cylon Caprica Six. For the rest of the series, he is played like a fiddle by a mysterious image of Six which only he can see. She wears preposterously revealing outfits, leans on his shoulder, whispers in his ear, and gets him to advance the Cylon agenda, chiefly though his candidacy for president. But it is not just the Sixes who keep Baltar under their spell. We know he was sleeping with at least one other woman during his first affair with Caprica Six, because in the opening miniseries we see Caprica catch them together. (Baltar does a spectacularly poor job of talking his way out of it.)
According to Plato, once the soul of the tyrannical man comes to be dominated by lust, all sorts of other vices follow, and low and behold we see these in Baltar as well. Lust is not alone in his soul: it rules over a swarm of other desires, all of which must be sated, at great cost. Thus, the man with the tyrannized soul becomes a liar and a thief to satisfy all these wants. Baltar, to appease his inner Six, lies and says that he needs a nuclear weapon to make a Cylon detection device. Later after he falls under the spell of another Six he has rescued from torture, he has the nuclear weapon smuggled to her, which she promptly uses to destroy a colonial ship, the Cloud Nine, signaling the human’s location to the Cylons. But again, it is not only lust for Six that drives Baltar to lie. He also refuses to reveal that Boomer is a Cylon, out of simple fear of what she will do if he does.
But most importantly, Plato says the man with the tyrannized soul will become a traitor. If he is an ordinary man with no one else to betray, he will betray his parents. “he’d sacrifice his long loved and irreplaceable mother for a recently acquired girlfriend he can do without…for the sake of a replaceable boyfriend in the bloom of youth, he’d strike his aged and irreplaceable father, his oldest friend” (574b). If the man with the tyrannized soul has more power, he will betray his city: “he’ll now chastise his fatherland, if he can, by bringing in new friends and making the fatherland, and his dear old motherland (as the Cretans call it) their slaves” (575d). And, we can add, if he is a scientist in charge of the interplanetary defense mainframe, he will let space robots annihilate his species.
The man with a tyrannized soul is also a coward: “what about fear? Aren’t the tyrannical city and man full of it?” (178a). Baltar lies to Boomer about the results of her Cylon test because he simply can’t face her. More importantly, every lie Baltar tells gives him a new reason for fear. He has a standing fear that Roslin will discover that he has betrayed the human race. As soon as he is president, he has to order Adama to stop the investigation into the destruction of Cloud Nine, because he knows it will lead back to him. Strikingly, Baltar’s cowardice is very much driven by his self centeredness. In the miniseries, when he realizes he has let the Cylons infiltrate the Colonial defense mainframe, his first response is to be afraid for himself: what if people find out I was involved with this? Once it is clear that the whole planet is under attack, his only thought is a trembling “How can I get out of this? How can I save my own personal hide?”
One of the saddest facts about a person with a tyrannized soul is that he never has any friends, only allies or enemies. “If he happens to need anything from other people, isn’t he willing to fawn on them and make every gesture of friendship, as if he were dealing with his own family? But once he gets what he wants, don’t they become strangers again?...someone with a tyrannical nature lives his whole life without being friends with anyone, always master to one man or a slave to another.” Baltar certainly lives this way. The only person he has a relationship with is his internal image of Six, and even she is using him, his master, really. Once president, he takes with a pair of statuesque women, but they never even speak on camera, appearing to the viewer more as concubines than partners. Felix Gaeta works as his assistant, but only because he has to. Baltar clearly has a lonely existence.
Simply put, Baltar is not empowered by his perfidy. We think that life would be easier if we could just lie to people, rather than tell them the ugly truth that they are a murderous robot, but really each lie makes our own lives worse. (Baltar should have followed the wisdom attributed to Mark Twain: “Always tell the truth, that way you don't have to remember anything.”) Baltar isn’t made happy for pursuing his desires, either. He simply spends his energy and is left wanting more. Thus Plato says “The tyrant soul also must of necessity always be poor and unsatisfiable” (578a).
But there are worse things that can happen to a man than for him simply to act badly. He can act badly and get away with it. “I do not think we have reached the extreme of wretchedness,” Plato says after describing the man with the tyrannized soul. More wretched still is “the one who is tyrannical, but doesn’t live a private life, because some misfortune provides him with the opportunity to become an actual tyrant” (578c). If the man with the tyrannized soul succeeds in remaking the world after his own inner darkness, there is nothing to hold back his misery. If there is no social order, the tyrant will be so afraid of being killed by his own slaves that he will pander to them constantly. He lives “like a woman, confined to his own house” (759c). The tyrant may have thought he was acquiring power by ascending to the top of the social heap, but once there, he finds his only option in life is to work to stay there.
Similarly, Baltar thinks he gets power when he becomes president. In “Lay Down Your Burdens, part II,” when Adama tells him he isn’t listening to the evidence of an internal threat that led to the destruction of Cloud 9, he replies “I don't have to listen. I'm the President.” And as I already mentioned, as soon as he gets into office, he surrounds himself with beautiful female advisors who don’t seem to be chosen for their political acumen. But by the next season, we find that Baltar has to listen to everyone. He must pander constantly to the Cylons and if he didn’t fear an assassination attempt from his assistant Gaeta, he should have, because Gaeta tried. And like Plato’s tyrant, Baltar can’t go out in public like a normal person, for instance to the graduation ceremonies for the New Caprica Police, for fear of being attacked. Baltar’s success is entirely illusory. Thus, as Plato says, “the real tyrant is really a slave, compelled to engage in the worst kind of fawning, slavery and pandering to the worst kind of people” (579e).
There is one aspect of Baltar that does not fit Plato’s image of the tyrant, and that his is durability, a trait noted on a couple occasions by the people in a position to know him best. The first thing Baltar’s inner Six says to him, when she initially appears to him in the Miniseries is, “You know what I love about you Gaius? You’re a survivor.” The fact that they are on a raptor shuttle fleeing the genocide is testament to the truth of her statement. In the season three episode “Torn,” Gaeta explained his take-home lesson from working as an underling for the most hated surviving human: “If there was o¬ne thing I learned about Baltar, it was his extraordinary capacity for self-preservation.” Again, events in the show back the evaluation of Baltar: Gaeta was predicting that Baltar had been plotting a path to Earth to save his own hide, and low and behold, he was.
Plato doesn’t mention the idea of the tyrant as survivor, but I think this is a point where the BSG characterization is richer than Plato’s. The philosopher Julia Annas complained in her book An Introduction to Plato’s Republic(2) that the tyrant Plato portrays in The Republic is not particularly realistic, because there is no way such a madman could stay in power very long. The fact is, though, that such people do manage to seize and hold power, Baltar’s namesake Gaius “Calligula” Caesar is a classic example. Some reports out of North Korea make Kim Jung Il fit this model. The portrayal of Baltar in BSG at least gives us some hints about how this is possible. Baltar’s fearful and self-obsessed nature means he always has an escape plan.
1 Plato. c350 BCE/1997. The Republic. In Plato: The Complete Works, edited by J. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson. Indianappolis: Hackett. Following academic convention, I will refer to all passages from The Republic by their “Stephanus number”, an odd looking combination of numbers and letters which actually refers to the original position of the passage in a complete edition of Plato published way back in 1578 by the Renaissance humanist Henri “Stephanus” Estienne.
2 Julia Annas. 1981. An Introduction to Plato’s Republic Oxford: Oxford University Press