Archive for September, 2008

The following reflection on the unknowable vastness of human knowledge was written 75 years ago:

Human knowledge had become unmanageably vast; every science had begotten a dozen more, each subtler than the rest; the telescope revealed stars and systems beyond the mind of man to number or to name; geology spoke in terms of millions of years, where men before had thought in terms of thousands; physics found a universe in the atom, and biology found a microcosm in the cell; physiology discovered inexhaustible mystery in every organ, and psychology in every dream; anthropology reconstructed the unsuspected antiquity of man, archeology unearthed buried cities and forgotten states, history proved all history false, and painted a canvas which only a Spengler or an Eduard Meyer could vision as a whole; theology crumbled, and political theory cracked; invention complicated life and war, and economic creeds overturned governments and inflamed the world; philosophy itself, which had once summoned all sciences to its aid in making a coherent image of the world and an alluring picture of the good, found its task of coordination too stupendous for its courage, ran away from all these battlefronts of truth, and hid itself in recondite and narrow lanes, timidly secure from the issues and responsibilities of life. Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.

So wrote Will Durant, looking back at the 1920s.

When we think of the unknowable—the almost unfathomable—depths of what human individuals in the aggregate know; and then think of what is beyond that, the infinity of things to be known that no person knows; when we think of how much there is to know that we do not and cannot know, what choice do we have when we speak but to either be superficial or be silent? We can be more informed or less informed, and more informed is better, but we can rarely be fully informed, and yet we speak.

(I believe that part of what I write above is just warmed-over Wittgenstein; but, appropriately enough for this post, my knowledge of his Tractatus is too superficial for me to say that with confidence.)

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What matters to the GOP

When was the last time the Republican Party chose a presidential candidate who had neither been a fighter pilot nor been wounded in wartime?

Ronald Reagan in 1984.

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Will the cycle be unbroken?

At The American Scene, Jim Manzi speculates that we are seeing a liberal realignment in the 2008 election. I agree that a realignment is happening, though I have no idea if it will turn out to be liberal or whether it will happen this year or in 2012. However, it will certainly be Democratic.

What drives the replacement of one political cycle by the next is a widespread visceral fear or disgust; a widely held sense that the party in power has failed beyond redemption. These deep feelings both lead older people to re-think the way they have been voting and permanently shape the generation then coming of age.

  • The Republican dominance of 1860-1896 was driven by the Civil War.
  • The Republican dominance of 1896-1932 was driven by the Panic of 1893 and the resultant anarchistic marches, riots, and bombings of 1893-94.
  • The Democratic dominance of 1932-1968 was driven by the Great Depression.
  • The Republican dominance of 1968-now is driven by the riots and social upheaval of the 1960s.

The upcoming Democratic dominance will be based on the utter failure of the Bush administration (if there is a McCain administration, it will only strengthen the eventual dominance). A generation of new voters associates the GOP with recklessness, stupidity and deadly incompetence, and will vote Democratic by a wide margin for the rest of their lives. As soon as that generation begins voting in large enough numbers to outweigh the dying generation shaped by the 1960s, the realignment will happen.

Heckuva job, Karl Rove.

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Seen in Portland

A man in his late 50s or early 60s, sitting with stocking feet on a rocking chair on the porch of a Craftsman house on Southeast Salmon Street on a cool late-summer evening.

A traditional American scene, like something out of Norman Rockwell.

Except for how intently he was texting on his cell phone.

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The east side of Portland is littered with ugly two-story apartment buildings of early ’60s vintage. If you live in Portland, you know what I’m talking about: The long, low bricks; the rusted metal stairs; the fading pale paint; the ratty parking lot; the juniper bushes.

So some developer bought the interchangeable ugly apartment block at Southeast 29th and Salmon, slapped some new siding on it, put in new doors, and is selling the apartments as condos for $185,000 a pop.

I wonder if anyone will buy?

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Ike’s toll

Thomas Gray posts pictures of the storm damage near his house in Houston.

I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood when I lived in Houston, and I remember those trees and houses. Staggering. Just staggering.

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Norman Whitfield, the leading songwriter and producer of Motown’s psychedelic years, died Tuesday of complications from diabetes.

He was the producer for The Temptations from 1966 to 1973. “Ball of Confusion”? That was his. “I Wish It Would Rain”? Him, too. “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”? “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”? Do you need to ask at this point?

His production of the Marvelettes’ “Too Many Fish in the Sea” is a little-known masterpiece that you should download from iTunes right now.

Plus, he did “Car Wash”. Which I like. But that’s certainly not mandatory.

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Ain’t got the Mojo

I love Mojo magazine, but I do not subscribe to it and I never read it.


Because I lack the time to listen to the music I already know to buy. Why pay $150/year to be frustrated?

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20 years ago

It was 20 years ago last night that I spent my first night in the dorms at Ohio State.

Last night, I dreamed that I was checking in to Morrill Tower all over again, but this time I was 38.

(The number of people who know me who would be surprised to see me moving into Morrill Tower at age 38? Smaller than you might think.)

My one enduring memory of that day had been caused the night prior, when my best friend and I celebrated my last night in California by spending five hours at the 24-hour bowling alley where we used to go. We bowled about 15 games, after which I didn’t sleep until I arrived in Columbus. So I woke up my first morning of college with absolutely no feeling in my right hand. (It did eventually come back.)

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A sub-blurb

A cover blurb from the paperback edition of Jonathan I. Israel’s Radical Enlightenment:

One of the truly great historical works of the decade.

The book and the blurb were published in 2001.

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Today’s amazing fact

The rivalry between shoemakers Adidas and Puma is based on a Nazi family feud.

Who knew?

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Tippecanoe and Tyler 2.0

Very old presidential candidate? Check.

Campaign presents wealthy presidential candidate as a simple man of the people? Check.

Campaign fetishizes presidential candidate’s military experience? Check.

Campaign focused on insults to the exclusion of issues? Check.

Little-known vice-presidential candidate with uncertain party loyalties, chosen purely for balance? Check.

William Henry Harrison and John Tyler did not work out well for the United States. John McCain and Sarah Palin would not be an improvement.

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A splash of determination

If there is a better motivator to clean a messy desk than spilling a half a glass of water across it, I do not know what it is.

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When is a lawn not a lawn?

Before moving into my current rental, my lifetime experience with yardwork was nearly nil, which means that I am learning as I go.

Earlier tonight I took my first close look at the front lawn (most of my work in the front yard so far has been pulling ivy, weeding stray mint, and cutting back bushes). The lawn looked like matted blond hair. I pulled the grass up, cut off the tops—literally making hay while the sun shone—and realized that most of my “lawn” is actually clover and moss. The clumps of grass had grown long and fallen, providing a horticultural combover.

Hoo boy, is next spring going to be fun…

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Weekday weeding window wanes

The days are quickly getting shorter and weeding the yard after work will soon become impractical, so I am getting out into the yard now every chance I get. The upside is that I will probably get the yard into the shape I want it to be before the rainy season starts in four weeks. The downside is that I don’t normally pull ivy in the sun in 85-degree heat. Oof…

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