Monday, March 27, 2006

March 27, 2006 § Leave a comment

The immigration demonstartions hint at the emergent grass roots. Each time we add a person to the country, it forces redistribution of propety. Our lack of flexibiity – or worse, advances kleptocracy – is producing a srong reaction.

Reading Richard Rorty's essay, worlds apart in his book with the essayTake Care of Freedom. He is one of the many trying to break through fundamentalism among the standard aademic paradigms.

The linguistic turn, construed in those terms, seems to me to be a big deal because it suggests a kind of polytheism. It suggests that there are lots of  ways for describing things: and that we choose among languages on the basis of utility, not on the basis of correspondence to the true nature of experience. So if the notion of multiple descriptions chosen on the basis of utility took hold it would change the tone of cultural life.  Pg 142.

Crisis and collapse

March 25, 2006 § Leave a comment

Watching the emerging crisis literature, either oil, climate disase or economic (or war, amazingly left out much of the time) points to sophistication, in part diven by contracts. I find this imprtant as proponents do not add the cost to the cost of toehr things that need to be done.

Remember that a major influence on me is Joseph Taintor’s Collapse of Complex Societies, which argues that increased GDP is matched by exponentially rising infrasructure costs. Till the system breaks.



March 25, 2006 § Leave a comment

Whoever he is, Bill Montgomery? One could do well to review his last year’s worth of posts. There is an intelligence informed by history and literature, and courage, that are an education for the political intellect. While his posts now are infrequent, they are always timely and important, like a jab in the ribs, as most of us attend to succumb to easy lying prose.

Today he reflects on the Washington post and the organized right.

I certainly don’t know the answer, but if Howie Kurtz media column today was any indication, the motivation (and/or motivator) must have been pretty damned powerful. Clearly, right up to the moment Baby Ben resigned, the Post was circling the editorial wagons and trying to fend off the critics — as seen in Kurtz’s lead, which tried to pretend it was a story about how those vicious left-wing bloggers picking on Baby Ben, instead of Jayson Blair in white face. It’s been more than hilarious watching Howie hustle on a Friday afternoon to catch up with events — and the new party line.


Read the whole article


Re reading Snow Two cultures

March 25, 2006 § Leave a comment

I was rereading this, after I found I had a first edition of the Two Culturespamphlet.


 “I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups. When I say the  intellectual life I mean to include also a large part of our practical life…”*

“Two polar groups: at one pole we have the literary intellectuals, who incidentally while no one was looking took to referring to themselves as ‘intellectuals’ as though there were no others. Literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other  scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists.”

He makes the following comparison.. Note that the literary types are discussing a fairly arcane piece of knowledge. Rutherford however is not matched with a piece of science, but a statement more historical and literary. Throughout  the essay the pressure is on the humanists to learn to be reasonably literate about the second law, but there is not so much pressure the other way.

“They hear Mr T. S. Eliot, who just for these illustrations we can take as an archetypal figure, saying about his attempts to revive verse-drama, that we can hope for very little, but that he would feel content if he and his co-workers could prepare the ground for a new Kyd or a new Greene. That is the tone, restricted and constrained, with which literary intellectuals are at home: it is the subdued voice of their culture. Then they hear a much louder voice, that of another archetypal figure, Rutherford, trumpeting: ‘This is the heroic age of science! This is the Elizabethan age!’ Many of us heard that, and a good many other statements beside which that was mild; and we weren’t left in any doubt whom Rutherford was casting for the role of Shakespeare. What is hard for the literary intellectuals to understand, imaginatively or intellectually, is that he was absolutely right.”

Here are a few more quotes

“It is bizarre how very little of twentieth-century science has been assimilated into twentieth-century art. ” What strikes me is the degree to which Picasso, Joyce, and the rest of the modernists were in synch or anticipated… The art has also not been digested by the general culture either.

“Talk to schoolmasters, and they say that our intense specialization, like nothing else on earth, is dictated by the Oxford and Cambridge scholarship examinations. If that is so, one would have thought it not utterly impracticable to change the Oxford and Cambridge scholarship examinations. Yet one would underestimate the national capacity for the intricate defensive. ”

It seems to me that the education we have is more attuned to the sorting process than to the educational needs. The idea of a broader cross disciplinary education is a real threat to the instrumentalities of college and graduate school admissions. Real depth and breadth would screw the system’s technical ability to sort.

“Since the gap between the rich countries and the poor can be removed, it will be. If we are short- sighted, inept, incapable either of good-will or enlightened self-interest, then it may be removed to the accompaniment of war and starvation: but removed it will be. The questions are, how, and by whom.”

“Closing the gap between our cultures is a necessity in the most abstract intelactical sense. As well as he most practical. When have grown apart, then no society is going to be able to think with wisdom. “

Richard Gabriel on Alexander

March 25, 2006 § Leave a comment

Following up on Gabriel on sofware, he also writes passionately about Chris Alexander. I’ve followed Chris’s work in The Nature of Order. Here are

Gabriel’s notes

The Nature of Order

Our idea of matter is essentially governed by our idea of order. What matter is is governed by our idea of how space can be arranged; and that in turn is governed by our idea of how orderly arrangement in space creates matter. So it is the nature of order which lies at the root of the whole thing

What is Order?

What is order? We know that everything in the world around us is governed by an immense orderliness. We experience order every time we take a walk. The grass, the sky, the leaves on the trees, the flowing water in the river, the windows in the houses along the street—all of it is immensely orderly. It is this order which makes us gasp when we take our walk. It is the changing arrangement of the sky, the clouds, the flowers, leaves, the faces round about us, the order, the dazzling geometrical coherence, together with its meaning in our minds. But this geometry which means so much, which makes us feel the presence of order so clearly—we do not have a language for it.

Mechanistic Idea of Order

The mechanistic idea of order can be traced to Descartes, about 1640. His idea was: If you want to know how something works, you can find out by pretending that it is a machine. You completely isolate the thing you are interested in from everything else, and you just say, suppose that thing, whatever it happens to be—the rolling of a ball, the falling of an apple, anything you want, in isolation—can you invent a mechanical model, a little toy, a mental toy, which does this and this and this, and which has certain rules, which will then replicate the behavior of that thing? It was because of this kind of Cartesian thought that one was able to find out how things work in the modern sense.

Two Devastating Results « Read the rest of this entry »


March 24, 2006 § Leave a comment

Note the simlarity of theme (open system) in the last two posts, despite the difference in content. Getting out of the software rut of fragile sysems and getting out of bad politics both require courage, new vision, and hard work. Creaivity.

historians and decent – now Iraq

March 24, 2006 § Leave a comment

Some very suggestive reading

the French philosopher Julien Benda once remarked , “is made from shreds of justice that the intellectual has torn from the politician.”

This contention may overestimate the power of the former and underestimate the power of the latter.

But it does point to a tension between intellectuals and government officials that has existed at crucial historical junctures

the term “intellectual was first coined in connection with the Dreyfus affair)

and in the late twentieth century Soviet Union (where intellectuals provided the major source of dissent).

Schalk defines intellectuals by what he calls “their more abstract and distantiated social role which sharply contrasts with almost all others in a modern society.

Their function involves a certain kind of creativity, usually through the written word and dealing with ideas in some fashion, often applying ideas in an ethical way that may question the legitimacy of the established authorities.” « Read the rest of this entry »

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