Hmn...
Seinfeld

Josh showed us this great article about Seinfeld. It’s insightful but I think it misses the role the show plays in our lives.

A part of our brain argues for severing impractical friendships, being lazy, self-serving, and exploiting each-other as much as possible. In Seinfeld, characters voice and validate those arguments.

Humor is (often) about realizing how much we suck. This is healthy because we need to adjust our actions accordingly. If we have too much faith in ourselves we forget that there’s a little George Costanza in all of us.

More than that, the show hits on our awareness of our own evils, our tolerance for them, and often conscious decision not to change, even though we know better. The episode with the bizarro friend group is a great example.

I think it’s this depth (as well as how realistic and close-to-home the characters are) that bothers Klosterman, but I think he’s assuming that the show’s message is self-validating. I think the nature of the humor was self-undermining. When you name something accurately, you change it.

39 plays

Tax deductions for employer sponsored health insurance cost our government 250 billion dollars a year in lost revenue.

This is an interview on why the academic community nearly unanimously opposes them with David Dranove, a healthcare economist who so happens to be my daddy.

Iraq

Been reading Ali Allawi’s book on the occupation of Iraq. 

We had two conflicting ideals: a democratic Iraq and a secular Iraq. The Iraqi people wanted religious rule and we couldn’t accept that. All Iraqi institutions were associated with the Ba’ath party, with Islam, various tribes, or were formed in exile by Iraqis who hadn’t been in Iraq for decades. Since we didn’t have anyone to transfer power to, we wound up empowering many former Ba’athists (we didn’t have any records of who was Ba’athist and who wasn’t) as well as corrupt and incompetent brown-nosers. We also dragged on the occupation and refused to transfer authority. 

As far as basic standards of living are concerned, things went south in the war and especially in the early days of the occupation, there was a long period of inactivity, then we threw billions of dollars at private contractors who didn’t get anything done. It was many years before basic services returned to the quality they were at under Saddam.

What striking arrogance by the neo-conservatives to believe a successful occupation would arise without any detailed planning, solely on the strength of the ideals of liberty, democracy, and a free market, ideals we weren’t even prepared to adhere to.

cahblr:

Horrible fan Aaron proposed to his girlfriend with a haiku crafted from custom cards. Their first child will be born addicted to CAH.

Health care, inherent human right?

Just a brief thought about whether healthcare is an inherent human right. It occurs to me that there is a strong position that all children, up to a certain age, are entitled to a certain amount of health care, no matter the means of their parents. There’s the idea of equal opportunity, that they can’t be held responsible for supporting themselves, and all those instincts to care for children. Plus I think people hate marring a blank slate.

This position changes dramatically as people get older. There’s a strong belief in independence in ‘Murica. This goes hand in hand with supporting yourself and in freedom from any imposition by the government. A millionaire should be entitled to spend his money on his own care, and the government should only be willing to tax everyone to a certain extent to help out the others. If you don’t want to spend any money on health insurance, then you should be allowed to take your chances.

Obviously it’s a grey area at what stage kids stop being kids, entitled to equal opportunity, and start being adults, required to support themselves at least to some extent.

I also think that the belief in everyone supporting themselves is out of date in the modern economy, and has more to do with a farming economy than a service economy, particularly when the might of the US government secures so much of the wealth for those who have it.

I guess I believe that the entitlement children obviously have to receive healthcare does not disappear with age. That people of all ages are entitled to some level of care, though I think the extent of that care must be limited for practical reasons.

Hamlet cont.

Hamlet’s drive for self improvement is uniquely appealing. I think it lets the reader feel the path to enlightenment through purity of heart and mind, and makes you feel loss when Hamlet is reduced to dealing with the world around him. How Shakespeare develops all this is interesting. Why is it such a loss for Hamlet to, like everyone else, devote himself to the troubles of the world. Why did he come so close to transcendence.

He is both a believer and a man capable of action, an altruist and a strong man.  He has the potential in heart and power to set everything right. This is only so unique in Shakespeare though. One can create a character who is both good and strong, and yet not touch on what distinguishes Hamlet.

Hamlet is also a genius. His lines are inspiring and lay bare everything around him, like a playwright trapped in his own play. No other character is directly inspiring, though one may draw lessons from observing them. It’s Hamlet’s power to draw us with him to enlightenment through his speech that I think is what draws us in so entirely. If he were a real person I would gladly support him in a life of contemplation just that I might hear the words he would invent. It is therefore a tragedy to me to lose his words to silence as he becomes consumed by his world.

Still not at it yet, but getting tired. I write this late at nigt.

Hamlet

I’ve always mulled a lot on Hamlet, and feel like I understand it pretty well. Saw a play of it last night, which inspired me to start start going through it in writing.

Theme:Realizing potential.

Common theme to Hamlet and Lear. It’s mixed with the themes of being a good person and being a strong person, and the relationship between the two, but I’ll get to these later in order to talk about the very slightly different theme of potential now.

Two types of potential:

-‘personal’: an inward struggle with faults and self-improvement, realize potential in the sense of being self-actualized, altruism which is tied up with religion in Hamlet. 

-‘outward’: he also sees through much of the duplicity and games around him, and has seemingly limitless potential to influence and plot a way through the messy, ambitious world. Plotting is similar to being a playwright (Hamlet as a playwright). 

The more he realizes his personal potential, the stronger (more outward potential) he can eventually be. Moreover, being a better person should be the ultimate goal, not strength.

However, the need to take action requires strength, (in response to a trauma for example). This requires that he stop improving his character, because in Shakespeare one can do one or the other but not both. I’ll go into this more later, it gets into the whole action vs inaction thing that needs more room.

So the need to deal with immediate problems, such as one’s dad being murdered by one’s uncle, one’s throne being usurped, and one’s mom bedding her husband’s murderer, requires sacrificing working on inner improvement. He is therefore not as capable as he one day could be if he first worked through all his short-comings. He also risks cementing those flaws in his character he has not yet worked through.

I think the unique thing about Hamlet, as opposed to the other Shakespearean tragedies, is that Hamlet is keenly aware of and tortured by this dilemma. This is what makes it the most honest and direct look at Shakespeare himself, who must have reacted to his world through the lens of the same philosophy as his character. 

fighting for freedom: a modern day crusade

Title pretty much says it all. Crusades are now generally acknowledged to be a bad idea, even among Christians. Crusades = killing Arabs to bring Christianity to their lands. Now we’re killing Arabs to bring ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ to their lands. I put those in quotes because forcing people into a ‘free democracy’ doesn’t really make sense (you can’t force someone to be free, being free is, like, defined, as not being forced into something you don’t want). 

That being said, freedom and democracy are far worthier things to spread than Christianity in my books. There are two problems with forcibly spreading them though: 1) due to modern Arab history, evolution of a popular, effective government is wayyyy more likely and better off coming from within, rather than having it imposed on them by the West against their will. The West has been shaping Arab governments for far too long. The turmoil these days in Egypt et all is a great example. Egypt is evolving today, and if we hadn’t invaded Iraq, maybe a popular movement would have done the same there. Arab governments are all relatively new (colonial era/slave era weren’t that long ago, and slave era didn’t die out there till after it did here, cause the slave traders still had tons of power), and the modern governments there have been propped up/established by international powers. It took a long time for democracy to evolve in the West, so it was wrong to dismiss the chance that Iraq’s government was going to evolve on its own. Now we have a blood-stained, (unpopular?), foreign-imposed democracy in Iraq that may not last past our withdrawal, whereas in Egypt there is real hope (though there’s a good chance it won’t work out).

Reason 2) is that it’s wrong to think along the lines of: we have things good, we should be willing to use force to spread our ideals to places that have it bad, and that will share our goodness. One reason this is wrong is because we don’t necessarily have it good b/c of our ideals. The US rose economically to the top b/c WW1 and 2 wrecked Europe, which previously had been on top. Even today, it’s not necessarily freedom, democracy and capitalism that are responsible for having it good here: we exploit cheap foreign labor like it’s no one’s business, foreign powers make gigantic purchases from US companies as part of diplomacy with the most powerful nation in the world. I don’t really know how things work at that level, but if you don’t either then you should not be confident that we have things good b/c of our ideals, b/c there are so many other possible explanations.

Another reason for 2) is that what works in one nation/economy may not work in another. The wealth of Arab countries is oil. That is radically different from countries whose wealth is based on business (of course, Arab wealth is based on more than just oil, but comparatively speaking). The work of drilling/refining oil is important, but the wealth of that oil belongs more to the country than to the drillers, b/c the oil is a resource of that country, and drilling for it is something anyone with a right mind would do given the chance (like if you had a pile of rubies buried in your backyard, and your brother staked out that area so no one else in the family could dig, then dug them up and said he was entitled to them all b/c he did the work of digging for it). So basically, if the wealth belongs to the state, then more socialist policies should probably be in place.

And actually this last is applicable to Hawaii. So much of the money here is from tourism. What percentage of the profits does a hotel deserve, if the reason people come here is because the island is paradise? It isn’t the hotel that makes it paradise, it’s the island: the weather, the nature, and the people. So shouldn’t the government of the island, and the people who help make it paradise, deserve a larger percentage than, say, for a hotel in New Jersey? (hot girls shld get tax money)

cousin showed me
a-musing or two.

So Pins has been gearing our conversations towards evolution and consciousness, and a few things popped up in my head I thought I’d share.

So first of all, it seems a pattern for Pins to propose that evolutionary theory can be applied to this or that other field as well (as though expecting disagreement). I thought I’d articulate what I think some authors I’ve read have taken for granted, but not articulated: why evolutionary theory can be applied to just ‘bout everything.

Evolution is, to my mind, a branch or subdivision of a deeper field. That deeper field can perhaps be said as ‘the study of what exists’ (and covers what will continue existing, and why, and how existence has changed, and how various factors lead to changes, and probably lots of other questions as well). Evolution can be defined as the application of that field to biology. Many of the rules that are true to evolution (the importance of self-propagation, advantages leading to survival of some lifeforms and the extinction of others) can be applied to other subdivisions of ‘the study of what exists’, because the subdivisions of this field are likely by their nature to share patterns of success and failure.

For example, you could draw a parallel between propagation of the species and the spreading of an idea. When you have babies, you are increasing the size of your species. Similarly, if you define ‘species population’ as ‘the population of people convinced of a specific idea’, then when you convince someone of an idea, you are increasing the size of the host population, and in a sense propagating the species. You could speculate that the success of evangelical movements is based on the strength with which their ‘species’ (Evangelicals) propagate (i.e. convert people). In this way you are taking a principle from evolution - the species that is best at multiplying has an advantage, and applying it to an idea, a religion, etc… 

What occurred to me that was particularly interesting, and that is the reason I write on this subject, is that my moods and habits can be said to follow this science too. My moods are, or can, constantly change, and those that stick with me are not necessarily those that I most prefer, but are those that are most successful in ensuring their continued existence.  (similarly, the ideas that are prevalent in society aren’t there because they are right- they are there b/c they are the most successful at their own brand of evolution (i.e. ideological or cultural, or possibly many others).

Of course this is obvious in terms of addicting behavior, but it can also be true of place. Mood both depends upon and determines where one chooses to be, and what one chooses to do. Any daily habit can draw one into a year-long pattern, but be far from what is best for oneself. 

In this sense, settling into habit is an abandonment of childhood dreams of paradise: the acceptance of a way of living that will work its way into your mind with increasing importance and resistance to change requires acceptance of imperfection. This is, perhaps, emotionally equivalent to middle age. In old age some people once again challenge these modes, taking the energy to lift themselves out and look for another (often for physical reasons one’s previous habits are no longer so appealing, and often for reasons of gained maturity). Thus the old adage that old age is a second childhood.

On the other subject, consciousness, I had a thought train to follow. It occurred to me that as we would define human consciousness, it would perhaps be unarguable that our consciousness can only focus on one subject at a time. I can walk across a field while listening to music and reliving a recent conversation in my head, but my consciousness can only be on one task at a time: I can focus on walking, the music, or on memory. The ‘consciousness’ could even be said to be that focus, which may imply awareness.

The implications of this are interesting vis-a-vis the conversation as to whether the interaction between humans and the internet constitutes a form of consciousness, because the feature I define above is not true of humans and the internet: there is no singular focus. This isn’t to say that humans and the internet are not an alternate form of consciousness, but then it’s really just a question of how one defines consciousness, which I consider an abstraction of physical reality to begin with.