Vidal/Buckley Debate, 1968

A lot of wit, wisdom and political theater.  As for Vidal, I find him a fascinating character, first-rate essayist, second-rate writer (A Thirsty Evil?), but I don’t follow his thinking to his grimmer vision of America, the empire.  He has been condemning it for well over 40 years now, and he’s still around (here’s the Nation’s bio of him, which in the best sense, I wonder if he didn’t write himself).

Maybe being a hero to some is better than a leader to all.

Addition: The debate gets heated.  Really heated.

Another Addition: Buckley will be missed.  One deeper dispute between the two men stems from Vidal’s adherence to certain principles (I will call them aesthetic and politically left), which allow him to illuminate the plight of the poor and the racial divide, as well as observing (too cynically for me) the nature of politics.  What I admire in Buckley is that he, perhaps through compassion though more through honor and nationalistic pride, stands for the troops in Vietnam and the political realities this created.

Father John Neuhaus on Martha Nussbaum in the NY Sun: “The Liberty Of Conscience”

Father Richard John Neuhaus is skeptical of Nussbaum’s interpretation of the Religion clause in her book “The Liberty of Conscience.”   In this article, he suggests that:

“What Ms. Nussbaum does not see, or refuses to acknowledge, is that, both in theory and in lived experience, religious freedom in America was secured — and is today sustained — by religious conviction.”

and as a result:

“…she claims and clearly hopes, although in the absence of supporting evidence, that the growth of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other traditions is making America less Christian and more religiously diverse.”

Neuhaus seems to respect the depth of her thinking, but suspects her of partisanship.  He also seems upset that she does not include him, nor Christianity, into the rational-egalitarian project she’s promoting here in this interpretation of the Religion Clause, and also around the globe (we have free will enough to make moral choices, and we have worth just by being human).

Nussbaum draws on Aristotle and John Rawls for her ideas, and she’s listed ten rights in Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge, 2000), which could perhaps back Neuhaus’s claims of partisanship to some degree.

Her list includes the rights to emotion and to play (full list here).  While insightful, they seem like an American legal scholar and feminist’s attempt to extend egalitarianism, however usefully, as far as it will go, and there seem to be limits and problems that arise from this.

To respond to both Neuhaus and just this one part of Nussbaum’s wide-ranging work, I find Daniel Deudney’s advice for libertarians compelling because I certainly have doubts about Christianity, as well as Nussbaum’s list of rights:  the basic right of freedom from violence.

In fact, I’m not sure that the right to freedom from violence is an idea that feminists have always advocated.  Christians, too, preach it, but given its grim history, it’s not always practiced.

Perhaps Nussbaum will respond to Neuhaus.

Also On This Site:  From The Nation Via A & L Daily-’Back Talk: Martha Nussbaum’ From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Addition: Perhaps she doesn’t need to.

See Also: Scott McLemee’s: What Makes Martha Nussbaum Run? available here.  Also for a full list of Nussbaum’s basic Human Capabilities, see Dr. Jan Garrett’s Martha Nussbaum On Capabilities and Human Rights found here.


Lunar Eclipse Video

This was taken from a time lapse video in Hawaii, on August 28th, 2007, not the recent one, I know, but the quality is high.

Apparently, the color of the eclipse is measured on the Danjon scale, and the February 20, 2008 eclipse was considered brick red, or L=3.  The light that does reach the moon is refracted through our atmosphere, the shorter wavelengths more likely to be deflected by small particles, the longer ones getting through, thus the moon appears red as the light bounces back to your eyes from its surface.

Or so I’ve found out. 

Addition:  February 20th eclipse here.

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Lunar Eclipse And A Wednesday Poem: Matthew Arnold

Tonight, the lunar eclipse happened between 7:01 PST and 7:51 PST here in Seattle, and fortunately for us, it was a clear night.  In the penumbra of the earth’s shadow, there was just some darkening, but then the moon appeared inky black in direct shadow, and an overall reddish color for a few hours.

Here’s a NASA page, which includes some great photos.

For some reason I was reminded of a Matthew Arnold poem (which barely mentions the moon, and now that I look it, mentions a love, which is creepy in this context) as I stood in wonder and talked with a Muslim friend, who kept suggesting that such events were foreseen in the Koran.  Honestly, I was thinking of gravity, and the simplicity and depth of those laws.   It’s a strange life, sometimes.

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night

Matthew Arnold

Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And Thinkers

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is perhaps Germany’s greatest poet and writer, best known for Faust.  Not so well known is Goethe’s theory of color (which claimed insights that could refute Newton).  Like many artists, Goethe isolated the effect color has in terms of experience, making profound observations on refraction…for example…but for which he didn’t have a workable theoretical framework.  To this, a certain type of philosopher might say:  he ignored the fact that his thoughts and his senses combine to form experience.

Goethe from Steiner, from wikipedia:

The colours therefore, to begin with, make their appearance purely and simply as phenomena at the border between light and dark…”

Colours arise at the borders, where light and dark flow together.”

Click here for a visual representation.

Goethe seems to have thought of light and dark in terms of a metaphysical dualism, from whose interaction color is born.

Newton held that white light passing through a prism is diffused into its various wavelengths.  He also may have steered the discussion into wave-particle duality.

See Also: Wikipedia’s article, Physics Today article on his experiments, Goethe’s color triangle.

Some Differences Between Newton And Goethe: Theories Of Light


Don’t Drink The Water: Pond Water Under A Microscope

Here are some quotes from Six Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman:

If we look at it very closely, we see nothing but water-smooth continuous water.”

At 2000x:

“…the water drop will be roughly forty feet across, about as big as a large room, and if we looked rather closely, we would still see relatively smooth water-but here and there small football-shaped things swimming back and forth.  Very interesting.”

At 2000x times more:

Now the drop of water extends fifteen miles across, and if we look very closely we see a kind of teeming something which no longer has a smooth appearance-it looks something like a crowd at a football game seen from a very great distance.”

Biology gives way to physics. 

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A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant

Ezra Levant is still fighting what he sees as an infringement upon his freedom of speech by the Human Rights Commission of Alberta.  As editor of the Western Standard, Levant published those Danish cartoons of Mohammed, and currently finds himself investigated by, in his words, “a kangaroo court.”

Originally, a letter was written by Syed Soharwardy, an imam living in Alberta, to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.  Soharwardy claimed that the cartoons were morally offensive to the religion of Islam.  Levant believes his decision to publish the cartoons is protected by Canadian law, and that Soharwardy found a path to legal action (at the expense of Canadian taxpayers) through the Human Rights Commission because no one else would take Soharwardy’s claims seriously.

During his defense, Levant has made as much noise as possible, grandstanded a bit, and also stood up to the Human Rights Commission, swaying public opinion along the way.  One of Levant’s main concerns seems to be the the way in which someone like Soharwardy, (with unchallenged religious beliefs, and illiberal ideas of social freedom), has taken advantage of Canadian law and perhaps even lack of intellectual rigor behind an institution like the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

An idealogue himself?  Genuinely aggrieved citizen performing a valuable service?

The Economist has more here about how Western democracies are handling the influx of immigration.

Here are Levant’s opening statements during his investigation:

Addition:  It’s not looking so good presently for one of the Danish cartoonists.

Another AdditionHere’s more mention of that Danish cartoonist’s suggested fate (go to 5:40).

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A Brief Defense Of Agnosticism

The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

Charles Darwin

I want to point out to many atheists that while I support a critique of the metaphysical doctrines of religion (transcendant God, afterlife, original sin), I don’t find that I can be certain of the non-existence, or existence, of that which is beyond our knowledge and understanding.

Much of atheism has the difficult work of clearing space for thought from religious doctrines.  A healthy skepticism here is worth much more to me than the terrifying certainty of true believers.  I do not have faith in a God where my reason fails me, but rather, I am not certain reason itself can prove God’s existence or non-existence successfully.

I don’t think I’m seeking comfort here, nor a way out of the moral obligations of Godlessness, but rather I’ve found the reasoning is deeper than I suspected.

Here’s a quote from Betrand Russell:

As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.

On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”

See Also:  Wikipedia’s article on Agnosticism, from which the Russell quote is taken, and where you can find more information about Robert Ingersoll and Thomas Huxley.

The Weather Channel’s Green Blog: A Little Too Green

Apart from the many things the Weather Channel does well, there are a few recent developments you may have noticed there.  The first is that they are trying to compete in the television market with flashier, more provocative writing and an emphasis on “personality.” 

The second, and perhaps more important is that they have embraced “green” thinking. Here’s their green blog.  The correspondents write from a strongly idealogical viewpoint on everything from technology to politics to fashion.   

Of course, this will likely incite skeptics and those of different political stripes and political philosophies (yes, I find the blog’s goals to often be more political and cultural than scientific) to more strongly resist the good arguments, data sets and research that suggest global warming may actually be happening. 

Ah well…..

See also:  the Heidi Cullen Junk Controversy Not Junk Science discussion to get you started.  Be sure and read the comments.

Climate Debate Daily is a page where a less politicized, deeper discussion seems to be taking place.

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