Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I'd just remembered that there was a link to some of David Foster Wallace's writings for Harper's, and I went over there and was reading Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Holy Krakatau, that second little interview, that is the funniest thing I think I've ever read in my entire life.


I'll be shouting that at inappropriate times, probably for the rest of my life now. Speaking of inappropriate, what the what is going on in this country? Yo, it's time to chill back with the rhetoric, Republicans. See, the way this process works is we have elections, and after those elections the elected officials do this thing we call governing. Maybe you remember that your version of that included ramming through two massive tax cuts via the reconciliation process (yes, both of the Bush tax cuts were passed using this process and were substantially more expensive than this bill as well as sold with numbers way flimsier than the CBO's on this) and starting a war with Iraq against the wishes of a whole shitload more in the streets protesters than the tea party movement even has members.

Now, you'll also remember a lot of overheated rhetoric about Bush being Hitler and stuff like that. But, and here's the difference, while there was some vandalism related to the protests, there were no shots fired at the offices of representatives, no death threats, no fake anthrax, no Christian militias planning to kill law enforcement officials. There were mostly orderly protests that numbered in the hundreds of thousands of people in any given place or time. And there were thoughtful articles about how apparently protesting had lost it's efficacy because it was no longer so novel. As it turns out, that's not entirely true. It's just progressive (wait, isn't that a code word for baby killing mother raping nazi zombie warlords from the 5th dimension?!!?) protesting that's no longer novel.

The tea party protests, although numerically not even in the realm of a 1/10th of the sheer numbers that went out to protest the Iraq war, because of the novelty of conservative protesters and the blunt force trauma that is Fox news's effect on television news more widely, were quite effective last year in taking a hugely popular issue such as health care reform and making it only marginally popular. Just so we're clear, the numbers, given the margin of error in national polling, were never any worse than about fifty/fifty.

So, this notion that health care reform was rammed through, all I can say is you get what you give. You want to work in a Bi-partisan manor, well, as the minority party, you need to come to the table first and make a few concessions. Otherwise get the fuck out the way cause we're coming through. The Obama express has left the station.


Okay, taking it down a notch here. It's been some biblical rain here in the northeast. We're about to set a record today for rainfall both for the day and for the month. Flooding everywhere. It's not good. Usually, I'm kind of a rainy day guy, but apparently even I can have too much rain. Good to know.

So, let's see. We're setting records for rain this spring. Last year we had an ice storm that killed like 200 hundred people (I pulled that number out of my arse, so...) and left about a million without power for up to three or four weeks, and the year before that we set the record for most snow in a single month for the month of december (and can I tell you how shitty it is trying to park in a city that has 8 hundred gazillion pounds of snow piled up everywhere).

Alright, no more harping on my progressive (nazi surf zombie) agenda. I'm working on some interesting things academically. I've developed a theory about dissonance reduction strategies and the efficacy of meditation or spiritual practices more widely and there facilitation of creativity, which is part of a more broad idea about how implicit philosophies (beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, etc.) effect the potentialites of peak spiritual experience, which, of course, fits also in a theory I have about how those philosophies can in fact affect an emotional experience that gets misinterpreted as a spiritual experience. So, I'll be running a pilot study on dissonance reduction strategies. And just assuming I'm right about all the rest.

I've also got this idea in my head which is gonna be kind of a driving force in my mathematical studies (which have been going backward for the most part for the past few months), which is this idea of somehow using statistical tools such as significance and meta- and regression analyses to develop a means to push beyond the simplistic cause/effect that is the heart of psychological study. I have three basic ideas in my head, causal clusters, causal chains, and multi-layered causality. The third is more about explaining causality at multiple levels of abstraction, which at some stage has to become the standard, neuro-psyiologically, psychologically, sociologically, etc. and has been my mantra for some many years now. The first two are about looking at causal activations inter-temporally as well as, potentially, how at any given temporal moment any number of causal factors come together to cause action, reaction, emotion, thought, what have you. It's not clear yet how this all works, but somehow, well, sometimes I have some ideas, other times I think I'm just tilting at windmills again. Always tilting.

Also, my other mantras:
Respect the principle of progressive overload
Soften, straighten, and run through the middle (my running mantra [yo, it works, I ran like seven or eight miles the other day and barely broke a sweat {but as per mantra #1, I was feelin' it the next day}])
The harried man works three times as hard, and remembers only about half of it.

I try and repeat these when I'm pushing to hard, getting impatient, or losing the good running form that takes a whole lot more concentration than you might think (or than you might need if you weren't, like, so slouch-a-daisical).

Okay, then.
Currently reading:
The Second Sex- Simone De Beauvoir
The sociology of Philosophies- Randall Collins
Cognitive Dissonance- Leon Festinger
Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the sinking of the World Economy -Joseph Stiglitz
The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood- Edward Jay Epstein
Mind Wide Open: The Neuroscience of Everyday Life- Steven Johnson
Parzival- Wolfram Von Essenbach
Spiritual Genius- Winifred Gallagher
1776- David McCoullough
Just finished- Merchant of Dreams by Charles Hingham, an autobio of Louis B. Mayer (fascinating character, really horribly written book [I don't know what the deal is, but pretty much all of the autobios on early movie studio execs have been both fascinating and really badly written])


Monday, March 29, 2010

Cognitive dissonance, post-modernism and the cultural zeitgeist

Chuck Closterman has a theory that the reason that he's been successful with women is because of Woody Allen. And it's not that the women he's dated necessarily like Woody Allen movies or find Woody attractive, which, let's face it, today most people think Woody's a little pervy for marrying his formerly adopted daughter. That's pretty effin' weird. For myself, I really like some of his more dramatic movies and think the rest of them are insufferably stupid.

Regardless, the point Chuck makes is that Woody became this kind of archetype of the smart, witty, goofy looking guy who can make you laugh and think (if you so choose), and because that became cool then smart, witty, goofy-looking guys like Chuck Closterman can now get laid.

I would argue the same is true for modern conservatism and post-modernism. Post-modernism came into it's own as a philosophy in the French intellectual movements of the 1950's and 1960's. The trends that we've identified as post-modern started long before that, and certainly questioning reality and the nature of subjectivity is not exactly a new phenomenon. But the French intellectuals of that time really started to question the structuralist project that suggested, a la Saussure, that the structure of the products of human consciousness were essentially related to the structure of the human brain (that's not actually how he conceptualized the process, but I'd say it's the best way of expressing of the structuralist idea).

While they called themselves or were called (I'm not sure if the moniker was self applied) post-structuralists, they were what I think of when I think of the philosophic component of post-modernism. Literary post-modernism was in effect since the turn of the 20th century, and apparently the term was coined in relation to the drabness of what was called modern architecture in around about the 1870's. And sociologists like Max Weber have been questioning what we mean when we talk about the rational since about that same turn as well.

Regardless, these post-structuralists or post-modernists were classic bullshit artists. The truth is there is no truth is only true in the mystical sense. In the sense that everything is illusion and nothingness. It's not true in any pragmatic way. It's not true that there is no underlying objective reality, of which our subjective consciousness only gleans some small part. And I would hasten that that objective reality is itself an illusion that must be transcended. But that does not negate the intermediate stage at which objective reality is indeed, for all intents and purposes, objective reality.

Now the modern conservative movement, call it neoliberalism if you wish (but the appellation is so clearly disingenuous) or neoconservatism (which has essential oxymoronic elements [if you're dedicated to conserving the status quo, how can you're movement be new, and if you're not then what are you conserving?]) or whatever, would almost certainly rather be collectively mauled by bears than admit to having intellectual roots in a French philosophic movement, but the truth is that this idea that there is no truth so whatever truth you can make sound plausible enough is as good as any other is quite clearly possible because of the intellectual post-modern movement. That Fox news, for example, can call themselves fair and balanced in a non-ironic manor is almost surely a result of this same cultural process that gets Klosterman laid.

Course the supreme irony is that post-modernism's progressive element is so jaded about 'truth' and reality that they take nothing seriously, while the result of post-modernism for the conservative movement is that they take a mostly fabricated reality very, very seriously. As a result, conservatives are generally more organized. (Also better funded cause the whole world view is a means toward the concentration and intergenerational maintenance of power and money [I would suggest this is more a kind of processural memeticism {even, somewhat ironically, structuralist in nature} than necessarily the result of some vast conspiracy {although Paully Krug isn't necessarily wrong when he calls out the really well funded right wing think tanks as a kind of vast right wing conspiracy (If I wanted to make a living just thinking [which of course I do], I'd do much better if I'd take on a post-modernist stance and say fuck truth)}]).

I often think the reason prominent proponents of the conservative ideology are so angry is because of how fragile their world is. I mean, Rush Limbuagh is full of shit. He really is. His entire world view is the result of the selective use of information coupled with outright fabrication. He really is a kind of poster boy for post-modernism. Because ultimately, much like Rush himself, the movement is intellectually bankrupt.

Now none of this is to say that I myself have transcended subjectivity. None of us can. That's the point. Anyone who claims to know completely truth is a liar and probably a con artist as well. But post-modernism is incredibly unsettling. Knowing that you can't know, if it doesn't lead you to a spiritual place or result in the kind of ironic or blase attitude, will probably just make you feel afraid of the unknown.

Which explains the rise of evangelical Christianity and the success of Fox news. These movements ultimately have to be anti-intellectual because this is where philosophy has gotten. We haven't transcended post-modernism, nor is it even really possible. That's the cheap gimmick of the movement. It's in the finite structure of the human mind, which is not capable of attaining perfect or true knowledge. Not really.

And, essentially, that's been the thrust of the neoconservative movement from it's earliest days back in the 1960's. If you read Friedman (or a modern variant would be Amity Schleas or the Wall St. Journal op-ed or, again, Fox news), you find a selective process. As if you can just take the successes of your ideas without ever acknowledging any flaws or failures as a way to minimize cognitive dissonance without actually aligning yourself closer to reality. We saw how bankrupt that process was with the initial stages of the Iraq war. (and just as a quick addendum, this idea that Obama is somehow a dictator because he hasn't bent to the will of some small collective of very active protestors who get substantial media coverage when George Bush ignored literally millions who took to the streets in protest of the prospect of an invasion of Iraq is quite frankly a bit offensive and just plainly ignorant. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you want to work by consensus then that principle has to be applied consistently.)

For myself, I could never be sure of any of my knowledge. That's why I always continue to search, and I don't limit myself at all. In fact, I actively seek out information that contradicts what I think I know, and then try to figure out how to work out those contradictions. It's not easy, and it creates a lot of dissonance, which is not fun. Cognitive dissonances sucks, but relieving it by lying to yourself and others is not really a long term solution to the problem.

Okay, so that turned into a complete rant, and there's much more to say. Always more to say, but I'll leave off for the time being. I've got journal articles on cognitive dissonance to read. Let me just say this quick. It's not a mistake that every single mystic movement of every religious tradition, who almost without fail all acknowledge the problem of illusion of reality, all of them have very strong moral per and proscriptions. The only way to transcend the illusion is through goodness and, as the Buddhists say, mindfulness and right action. I guess that leave's me out, but still...the point remains salient.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Obama's first year in office (pt. 1)

So, we're on the precipice of the vote that will surely come to define the Obama administration one way or the other, the potential enactment of a bill for something that might approach the general vicinity of being close to the edge of the realm where universal healthcare could be the gleam in the eye of some young and newly inspired individual who might then rise to the office of the president and enact such a thing. And, yes, there are a great number of reasons to feel like this bill is dog shit. Dennis Kucinich is not wrong. Nor do I think he is wrong for having changed his vote. To take the metaphor a little too far and too smaltzy, shit, whether dog or otherwise, can be the nutrients for the seeds of a brighter tomorrow. A tomorrow where the young boy suffering from non-hodgkins lymphoma might just get the treatment he needs even if his parents work at Wal-mart. Or a tomorrow where the idea of equality has substantive weight. Or a tomorrow where the tired, poor, and huddled masses can look to this country again and see a vast land of opportunity, a land where rainbows shine across the cloudless blue skies and puppies run free and ice cream is plentiful and flat screen televisions grace the living rooms of every home and, and, and...okay, maybe I'm getting a little carried away here. We'll probably be okay without the rainbows and puppies. I wouldn't suggest getting between an American and their ice cream or their flat screen though. Like getting between a hippopotamus and a river that is.

Anywho, let me just say this, and this is something that's been in my head for a while, this notion of political capital is a load of horse shit (we'll get to the bull excrement eventually). It's a completely fictional idea. The only reason it has any power is because we give it power. Could we have started over on healthcare as the Repubs claim they want to do and get it right? Only if we recognize that the idea that big B shot his wad with this one go round is only true because we have made it so. And the Republicans know this, and so they know that by calling to start over they are in actuality calling for the end of any attempt at health care reform. It's what I call the bullshit highroad (told you we'd get there). This does not have to be the way our political process works. I don't want to get hung up on that problem just now cause it's a doozy and really the center of much of the rest and would take more than a blog post to outline even if I had the answer. I'm gonna hew a little closer to the pragmatic though for just this moment.

Just one more quick point about political capital: much of the reason this idea exists in the first place, beyond the perceptions and internal states of the legislators and their staffs that create the energy necessary to push forward against opposition, is the way politics tends to get covered in the news, especially on television but also in newspapers and on-line. It tends to be the case that the focus centers on the so-called horse race elements of a political debate or election and not so much on the substantive issues. And as a result much of the substance gets lost. (If you want substantive debate on television there's only one place to go-Charlie Rose. I officially retract my negative statements about the irreplaceable Mr. Rose. He is still and forever will remain the greatest roundtable moderator of political issues that the invention of television has ever known. [Although Gwen Ifill {sic?} is no slouch herself] His health care roundtable this week was massively informative both on the questions of process and substance, and Petraeus for the hour was masterful as well.)

The polling bears this out. While the general numbers have been improving as the 'momentum has shifted', even at the nadir during the whole death panel tea party uprising, the polling numbers dealing with the substance of the bill have always been good. People want the underwriting process (the denial of care for pre-existing conditions) ended, among other of the provisions.

The problem with the bill is that it does not 'bend the cost curve'. Single payer was one of the best ways to do that, reducing your administrative overhead potentially 10% and also strengthening yr bargaining position by being a larger entity. Now let me say this as well, the notion that government is inherently inept or ineffective is also substantially nonsense. Government bureacracy is no more inherently inept than business is inherently corrupt. It's all about structure. Properly structured these institutional constructs can and are of great value to our society. Also, the best way to bend the cost curve. Get rid of ice cream and flat screens. (Seriously, poor diet and a lack of excercise are a serious component of the U.S. health care problem [Also stress and income inequality {which is a major stressor the research has shown}].)

Okay, so I've been rambling around here, and I've about reached the limits of what I know about the current bill, as I've only been casually following the details. I still want to know more about the exchanges. Why does Minnesota work? Why did so many others fail? What's the structure of the national exchange? I don't know. And I'm curious about medicare advantage. I've heard from a few places that it's actually works pretty well and costs one third of what it was supposed to cost. How does that work? When I get a few moments, maybe I'll poke around and see what I can find with regards to this.

So, I had wanted to talk about process and big B's first year in office and the general political situation and my general thoughts about how Obama's done. Maybe I'll try again later in the week, as I'm now in possession of computational ability once again and can work form the comforts of my own confines. I do have to give the man his propers. He's committed to the fight and is seeing it through to the end one way or the other, even as they fumbled badly out of the gate by letting congress take the lead. We'll just have to wait and see which way it goes today.

Also, I'm not really sure I can forgive Terry Gross for soft pedaling the Karl Rove interview. I know Fresh Air isn't meant to be a hardball news program, but she practically handed the ball off to him and let him sprint down the sidelines.

Also again, Karl Rove is still a dick.