Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A new Mahler 2 for the listening list

Bruno Walter's 1958 version is now on YouTube. I'm pretty sure it's pretty recent. Oh, and this is the whole schmeer as one video, not a stream of 20 snippets.

Go give it a listen, then save it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What is it like to be a chicken ... owned by Tyson?

The header before the ellipsis points, for those not getting it, is riffing on Nagel's famous essay "What is it Like to Be a Bat?"

The riff, and even more the portion after the ellipsis, is based on living in an area of the United States where chicken farming is a major employer and even more, is chicken processing, namely, by Tyson.

Seeing a flatbed semi loaded with chicken coops, all carrying a fluffy white bird headed to his or her demise, and the highway-speed wind effects ruffling feathers (yes, literally) more than enough to expose naked chicken flesh prompted me to start writing.

First, re Nagel. Yes, bats fly by echolocation. But, it doesn't work over long areas, so, "blind as a (hypersonic) bat" is more true than not, perhaps. Per Dan Dennett, the idea that this makes their "whatness" harder to discuss or picture than other animals of similar intelligence probably isn't true. That's even if we accept at least a "soft" version of qualia. (And, it's also Dennett finding an acorn in the forest.)

That said, and Tyson ownership aside, it's surely likely that it's easier to picture what it's like to be a bat than to be a chicken. Wild chickens probably aren't as smart as bats, and domestic ones are dumb — though perhaps not as dumb as domestic turkeys.

Chickens are less social than bats, or humans, too. And ... animal rights issues aside for now, surely have a lesser emotional palette.

Plus, given that the expression of both intellect and emotions occurs in reaction to environmental stimuli, that domestic chicken living on a 40,000-bird Tyson farm, most all of his or her life spent in a cage about the size of a kitchen trash can.

That is, per existentialism, "existing" and not "living."

It's even worse.

Humans who have been close to chicken farms know what the ammonia-like smell of chickenshit is like. Most humans probably assume that birds in general, with beaks not noses, may not have much of a sense of smell.

Well, new research shows that's wrong for birds in general and chickens in particular.

I don't care how many vent fans there are in a modern breeding house (without which, in hot Southern summers, the birds would die in 15 minutes). That shit has to smell shitty to a chicken, I would think.

 It's like being incarcerated. No, scratch that.

It IS being incarcerated. And, while a chicken isn't a human, it's closer, evolutionarily and culturally both, to a human than it is to, stay, a sea star. So, to some degree, it might be easier for humans — at least those who have spent time in jail — to understand what it's like to be a Tyson chicken than a bat.

Don't tell me that a Tyson chicken doesn't have its fair share, or far more than its fair share, of anxiety and other mental health issues. Don't tell me that, at some base level of instinct, it's not yearning for freedom.

At the same time, don't overread and over-project. That chicken has never experienced freedom, and doesn't fully know what it's like. For that matter, neither does a free-range chicken know freedom. It's free — and still highly protected until slaughter — on a carefully selected range.

On the other hand, contra the Michael Pollans of the world, artisanal Smithfield hog hams and true (not fake PR) free-range chickens aren't the answer, unless we all (1 percent as well as 99 percent, Michael) simply eat a LOT less meat.

We need to do that anyway, for other reasons, of course.

And, if we want anything above just grams of meat per day, and we want to reduce agricultural stress on our planet, we need to start rooting for Dutch scientists to make test-tube meat a success — a commercial and ecological success — as soon as possible.

The answer until then is ameliorating animal conditions on factory farms, even more for hogs and cows, likely more intelligent than chickens.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The failures of MBTI/Jungian personality tests

Yeah, my sister, as a social worker, and other reasons, loves them.

So do other people.

Like a lot of bosses.

Like, I thought, my boss, but, as it turns out, the owner of my company. (In hindsight, I should have thought of that first.

The issue starts with the pseudoscience of Jung's original. It is arguable that there is a delineation into introverts and extroverts among humans, using the everyday meaning, and everyday spelling, of the second term, not Jung's. But even that is often situationally based.

The thinking/feeling is definitely so, it would seem, on situational use. At a minimum, there's no proof it's globally dominant.

The sensation/intuition could better be called reductionistic vs holistic thinking. That would be more accurate than Jung's idea, but still not a globally dominant one.

The MBTI's layer on top of that, of judging/perceiving, has even less support, and the whole idea behind it is wrong, pseudoscientific and unresearched. And, the 16 Personality Factors extension of the MBTI is worse yet, claiming to measure not just a tendency toward each of these personality factors but also the strength of that.

But, it's on a par with much of America's search for black-and-white, single-minded answers to complex questions. In the workforce, it's of a piece with things like Taylorism. Since companies cannot use IQ tests to screen would-be employees, the MBTI/16PF is used next. Note: the MBTI is NOT the MMPI, a test with a greater degree of legitimacy.

Now, new personality ratings like the Big Five are the hot thing. They're more scientific than the MBTI, but still nowhere near perfect. And, the Big Five's developers, per Wiki's link on the MBTI above, undercut their own science credibility by saying the MBTI can be incorporated into their test.

That's called pandering for business testing dollars.

Beyond Wiki's criticism section of its MBTI article, Skeptic's Dictionary has a great overview of its problems and those with the Jungian background.

Per a book I'm currently reading, "Weapons of Math Destruction," the MBTI may also be illegal, if not necessarily unconstitutional, as IQ tests are for employment, at least in certain situations. Any such test that leads a would-be employer to make a mental health diagnosis of a would-be employee is likely a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It definitely is if such a diagnosis becomes part of the hiring decision.

Good luck proving that of course.

Part of the solution?

With the 16PF, it's simple. Answer questions middle of the road. Throw an occasional answer slightly to highly one side or the other, but do it opposite what your normal tendency is, especially if it's theoretically not a big issue.

It's like having a burner email address, or even a burner physical address from your past for polls and surveys. (What, you don't do that?)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Riffing on Robert Frost

I took the road less traveled
And later, in that New England chill
I met Robert Frost.
We talked, and conversed
About fences, and posts,
And autumn-time poignancy.
I soon recognized that,
Per the sages of the East,
The only good poet is a dead poet.
So, I shot Robert Frost,
And pushed him over the fence again.
Good fences good neighbors make.

It has been suggested that I misunderstand Frost in his original poem "Mending Wall." Rather, per that Wikipedia link, I see myself as picking up on just a couple of the themes of what is indeed a complex poem.

And, per what I said to an online friend on my Google Plus account, I partially agree, partially disagree. And, by "partially agreeing, partially disagreeing," arguably, I do pick up on the idea that Frost identifies explicitly with neither the narrator nor the neighbor.

Per this link, which would be rephrased as what my dad said, "Trust everybody but still cut the cards," Ben Franklin agreed with me.

And, per this roundup of professional literary critics, I may not be interpreting Frost so wrongly anyway. If, per the second critique, an unspoken punnery of playing on the word "Frost," as in the author's name, is not just "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," but that runs from there through the whole piece, then I've interpreted him on that one particular theme at least semi-correctly after all.

So, Frost remains shot, and pushed back over his fence.

Besides that, per a later critique which includes a quote from Frost, he arguably explicitly supported some sort of reader-response criticism.

George Montiero notes:

Asked once about his intended meaning, Frost recast the question: "In my Mending Wall was my intention fulfilled with the characters portrayed and the atmosphere of the place?" Characteristically, he went on to answer obliquely.
I should be sorry if a single one of my poems stopped with either of those things—stopped anywhere in fact. My poems—I should suppose everybody's poems—are all set to trip the reader head foremost into the boundless. Ever since infancy I have had the habit of leaving my blocks carts chairs and such like ordinaries where people would be pretty sure to fall forward over them in the dark. Forward, you understand, and in the dark. I may leave my toys in the wrong place and so in vain. It is my intention we are speaking of—my innate mischievousness.
No other poem in the Frost canon better illustrates his manner—as he described it—and his overall poetic intention.

"Good friends good neighbors make."

There, I've deliberately modified Frost's order. Frankly, I think my meter and cadence are better than his.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Word to the Disabled


I wasn't disabled myself
But I was, briefly,
A blur of gray,
An attempt to turn and spin and brake
And a crash.
A compact car loses
To a full-size truck.

I stare at my arm
And my displaced hand.
With numbness,
Then shock.
The doctor said;
"Not your typical break."

Lids don't turn;
Tops don't pop;
Tab don't pull.
Not for months, not easily.
Not with that left arm.
I learn that life is more difficult
When I can't open the diced tomatoes
With my hand can opener.
Having to learn new ways
Of putting on shirts
And not even wearing some,
Because it was too hard,
Is part of a process, too.

I've gotten better.
Fortunately, if not young,
Despite my PT's words,
I'm not old.
I'm healing
And looking at full recovery.

But, I've learned, 
At least briefly,
What it's like to be semi-disabled,
And gained
A bit of empathy
For the fully disabled.

It's not just physical challenges, 
Or so it seems.
Fear. Anxiety. Frustration.
Many other emotions.

And, to the disabled —
I hope I remember
At least a bit of what I have learned.

You don’t want patronization
Any more than pity.
You’d like respect, and understanding,
Along with sympathy.
Even better — empathy, if possible.

Above all, you’d simply
Like to be seen as human.
And not a mascot,
Not an “always on” inspiration,
Or otherwise on a pedestal.

Simply human.
With the full gamut
Of human emotions

And human drives.

I hope I remember.
If I don’t,
Especially if I know you personally —

Please remind me.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Man’s Mindset vs. God Grandeur

A riff on, but no apologies to, Gerard Manley Hopkins


The world is charged with the mindset of man
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do we then now not think our plan?
Generations have gone, have gone, have gone;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wear’s man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is hard now, as foot can feel, worn to bone.

And in all this, nature is badly spent;
            There lies the dearest drearness deep down things;
And as the last lights of the black West went
            No morning at the brown brink eastward springs —
Spiritus Mundi flees from the rent

            World, pale with dead mist; no comfort it brings.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Existentialism explained, and unexplained

I just got done reading "At the Existentialist Cafe," mentioned, if not recommended, by a friend on either Google Plus, Facebook or Twitter.

Well, I can tell you now, you probably don't need to read it.

At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and apricot cocktails with: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and othersAt The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and apricot cocktails with: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others by Sarah Bakewell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is overrated and mistitled and I'm going to explain why.

I wasn't sure exactly how to rate that book. This is another book that deserves a half-star rating, as in 3.5. Since so many others are overrating it, it thus gets the bump down to 3 stars. And, by the time I got done writing this, I wondered if even that were generous.

First, there's a typo/proofreading error on 11, that's tres funny, especially given that the book is primarily about Sartre. Instead of talking about him "exhorting" his readers, it actually mentions him "extorting his readers."

No radical freedom there!

There are one or two more serious errors of fact in the book, plus the fact that "glib" or whatever sometimes becomes disjointed.

A good example of this is when, in discussing Sartre's HUGE overwriting about Genet, she doesn't mention his amphetamine addiction. She only mentions it about 50 pages later, and then, it's never really called an addiction. But, that's part of a larger part — the book is a love affair with Sartre, papered over with the "Existentialist Cafe." It's a love affair with Sartre's cafe, then with Sartre and Beauvoir's. Camus (though I take his statement at face value that he was an absurdist, not an existentialist — something Bakewell never really explores), Levinas and Merleau-Ponty get short shrift. So, too, even in a popularizing account, do structuralists and deconstructionalist children or stepchildren of existentialism.

That points to a bigger problem. A David Edmonds of "Wittgenstein's Poker" or "Rousseau's Dog" fame would have focused on one or two fun issues (I've asked him to write a book about Koestler punching Camus), and written about 200 pages that we never expect to be a more serious history of Wittgenstein, Hume/Rousseau, etc.

However, Bakewell appears to fall between two stools in wanting to write something light, yet something serious, at the same time. And, to some degree, BOTH stools fall out from beneath her. If she wanted to be more serious, yet without giving a full analysis of existentialism, she could have analyzed why Sartre became an addict, or what was behind his existential dread (it was) of squishy, gooey things.

On to a few other issues.

On page 74, no, Germany's Social Democrats did NOT take power in Novemeber 1918 in "a kind of a coup." Instead, on Nov. 9, Prince Max of Baden, the Chancellor, announced that Wilhelm was abdicating as both German Kaiser and Prussian King. Max was forced to resign later the same day, when it became clear that only the Social Dems (to be precise, the majority Social Dems, not including the soon-to-be Communists) could hold the reigns of government and prevent an actual revolution. It's true that Friedrich Ebert demanded the chancellorship, but Max was likely recognizing already there was no alternative.

And, on page 75, in 1933, Hindenberg was head of state, not head of government, and therefore was not head of any coalition that gave power to Hitler. As president, he simply approved the coalition government that Hitler offered.

These are errors, especially the second, that shouldn't have been made. And, arguably, they may color how harsh Bakewell is, or is not, for Heidegger's early Nazism. I think they do.

Later, comes an error in biblical interpretation. On page 150, she says of Genesis 22, that Yahweh was "surprised" that Abraham went through with the offer of Isaac for sacrifice.

No, it doesn't, and in my read, it doesn't even hint that that is the mood of Yahweh. Ergo, she can't have a good grasp on either Kierkegaard's or Camus' writing about this episode. This probably ties with her giving short shrift to Camus.

On 152, she notes that Sartre attacked Camus for being too influenced by Hume. First, is this actually true, that Camus was more influenced by Hume? (The "too much," of course, is not true!) Second, why would Sartre feel that way? Bakewell never asks.

On 213, shockingly, she seems to misinterpret the end of "No Exit." She talks about the trio being "trapped" in hell — passive voice.

Not at all. The whole theme of the conclusion is that the trio have TRAPPED THEMSELVES! Yes, a demon placed them there, but they have the freedom to not only open the door, as they do, but leave — as they do not. Other parts of her interpretation of "Huis Clos" also seem incorrect.

Finally, on 257, and to no surprise to me, she misinterprets the Camus-Sartre split in a way most favorable to Sartre and in a way untrue to Camus and "The Rebel," in my opinion.

So, per some reviewers, this is an OK to good introduction **to Sartre and Beavoir.** To the whole of existentialism? No.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 07, 2016

Wittgenstein, linguistic games-playing, and analogies

The later Ludwig Wittgenstein is known for his philosophy of linguistics, summed up in the “Philosophical Investigations.” A common metaphor for what he did was that he worked to treat language, or at least sub-uses of it, like a game. More here on Wittgenstein, language games, and rules.

That leads to analogies galore, and regular readers of my philosophical posts should know that I love analogies.

These analogies fork into two large classes, as I see them.

The first?

Often, we talk past each other. That’s basically a lack of realization that we’re not quite playing the same game.

To use common board and card games, we can be far apart, or pretty close.

I may think we’re playing chess, and you think we’re playing Monopoly. A bit closer, but not too much, would be chess vs. checkers.

Or maybe you think we’re playing pinochle and I think we’re playing euchre. Or, closer yet, I think we’re playing contract bridge and you think we’re playing auction bridge.

Or, closer yet. We’re playing Monopoly, at your linguistic house, as you initiated the conversation. I think we’re playing Monopoly straight-up as written in the rule book, and you’re playing with added house rules. (Technically, this is not a private language, especially if you make clear that you have some added house rules, but, even if you initially don't, if I deduce that and you admit it.)

The early examples are usually no problem. The differences are recognized and hashed out. But, when most differences are eliminated, especially if the conversation is serious, the differences may get heated.

There’s four ways of responding.

One is to double down on talking past each other while continuing to play — or trying to — the same language game. The second is to double down on negotiating the differences as part of playing. The third is to stop playing, while starting a sidebar conversation to negotiate the differences. The fourth is to recognize an impasse and simply stop playing.

The fifth is something that one really can’t do in most actual board or card games. And, that is to pull a Husserl-like move and “bracket” the areas of the language game which are in disagreement.

As I mentioned, there are two main analogy forks.

The second?

Rather than talking past each other, it’s to quickly recognize that you’re saying the current game is, and needs to be, Monopoly, while I say it is, and needs to be, chess. We both double down on our starting positions, and soon accept that we’re not going to be playing together.

That often is a better move than to try to keep playing a game, or going through the motions. To take the first set of analogies, let’s say we’re pretty close on our language game — it’s straight Monopoly vs house-rules Monopoly. But, I refuse to play by your house rules from the start. Maybe it’s a matter of metanarratives, or something a bit like that; I’m generally predisposed against “house rules” versions of languages. Maybe you’ve earned distrust from me in the past for a linguistic version of an Overton Window with previous house games.

The neo-Cynic part of me says that a false agreement, or even a false partial agreement with bracketing, has unspoken signification for the future, too.

That said, when the differences are bigger, the simple answer is to state up front that I believe you’re either mistaken about your game, or, if it’s come to that, that I know you know you’re wanting to play the wrong game, and there’s reasons behind that.


Beyond that, I disagree with part of Wittgenstein's take. I don't believe that linguistic rules are purely abstract. He, of course, wrote before Chomsky and many others. However, I think some hard-core Wittgensteinians will still defend his version of linguistic games. 

I don't. Even with some of Chomsky's claims overstated, as those of some early follow-ups on him, he is wrong, and on philosophical grounds, not just science of mind ones. His abstract, idealized rules and family resemblances bear more than the smallest of whiffs of Platonism about them. And, in that sense, the Wittgenstein of the Investigations is the same as the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus, at least in mindset.

And hence I don't think he would have written differently had he lived 30 years later, and seen Chomsky's work, or even had Chomsky written first. The style of the two books is, of course, different indeed. The psyche behind the Tractatus and the Investigations seems quite continuous, though, or even almost unchanged in many respects.

I also think the idea that the rules of a linguistic game, or the rules (Platonic capitalization intended) of Language as Game, with their abstraction beyond individual games, conflict with the idea of meaning as use.

I agree with the idea that the use of language is in general gamelike, and with different games in different situations. Most of the rest of Wittgenstein's thought, the older I get, the more I distance myself from it in particulars.


I've not yet talked much about Wittgenstein's theory of meaning as use, also expressed in the PI. It was, as readers of that book know, expressed in seeming opposition to Augustine's definition of meaning.

But, that's not quite right. I see Wittgenstein as attempt to reconstruct a better version of some of Augustine's ideas, rather than deconstructing them, and this reconstruction as being driven in part by Platonic thought.

Why do I say this?

I think an unspoken idea behind meaning as use parallels that of games. Sometimes we disagree. And, with the use of words, and the meaning behind them, I think Wittgenstein is hinting at Platonic ideals as the ultimate dictionary. Because grammar, sociological conventions and other such things aren't covered by Platonic theory, Wittgenstein, in talking about rules as abstract, or abstracts perhaps even more, can't hat-tip to Plato in the same way.

I think Wittgenstein related to Augustine more broadly as one tortured soul to another, including, per Wiki, via the influence of Otto Weininger. Certainly, the fact he thought Weininger wrong in an "interesting way" reflects issues with sexuality and more.