Monday, December 28, 2009

John Stuart Mill - On Liberty

Modern European Intellectual History - 8

In this essay Mill is focusing on civil or social liberty (not the issue of free will). He is concerned with the limits of the power that can be exercised by society and government over the individual. Before the spread of representational governments, the struggle between liberty and authority was primarily a struggle between subjects and governments, and people sought ways to limit the power of authoritarian rule. With the rise of representational governments and the notion of a government by the people and for the people a new threat arises, however, that of democratic tyranny or a tyranny of the masses. The problem arises because the power of the people often really means the power of the most numerous people, or because the people who are exercising the power are not the same people as those over whom the power is being exercised. Self-government is not government of each by themselves, but the government of each by all the rest.

Mill believed that the only reason for society to interfere with the liberty of an individual was for self-protection or to prevent harm to others. Protecting an individual from their own actions was not grounds for interference. The only part of an individual’s behavior that society should be concerned with is that which concerns others. Any action of an individual that concerns only themselves, or like-minded adults, is not the concern of society at large. Mill had noted the tendency of society to try to enforce its customs on all members through either social pressure or laws. This pressure to conform stigmatizes individuality and leads to mediocrity because individuality is connected, in Mill’s mind, with self-development. The only way for humanity to grow and develop is for its members to be free to grow and develop. By enforcing conformity society hindered the further development of its members and ultimately of itself.

But being free to think our own thoughts is not enough, we must also be free to express them. We are never justified in silencing the opinion of others. Mill gives several grounds for the necessity of this freedom of expression: 1) the opinion being expressed may be true, to silence it assumes our own infallibility; 2) even if the opinion may be in error, it may still contain some truth and it is only through free discussion that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied and 3) if the opinion is true, it must still be vigorously discussed and contested lest it become a prejudice that is not held on any rational grounds.

Being free to form and express opinions is an essential part of individuality and the development of the intellectual and moral character of man, but we must also be free to act on those opinions. We must be able to carry out our lives, without hindrance by society, so long as in doing so we do it at our own risk and peril. So long as we do not molest others, we should not be molested or interfered with. Some would claim that without societal pressure, mankind would behave in an immoral fashion, but Mill believed that the moral development of man is an important component of the intellectual development and was an advocate of personal responsibility. An individual’s behavior should be a balance between personal freedom and moral responsibility.

Education is essential to the development of humanity, but it should not be left in the hands of the government. It may enforce universal education through examinations, but should not necessarily provide it. Instead it should facilitate by helping to defray costs. The only time it is justified in establishing and controlling education is if the society is in such a backward state that there is no other way for the members of that society to be educated. Governments should concern themselves with those tasks that they can perform better than individuals rather than interfering in the lives of its peoples. It should aid and stimulate individual development, because the worth of a state is the worth of the individuals comprising it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Havelock Ellis

Modern European Intellectual History - 7
Studies in the Psychology of Sex
The Modernization of Sex, by Paul Robinson

In his essay on Havelock Ellis, Paul Robinson defines a sexual modernist as someone who: 1) held that sexual experience was neither a threat to moral character, nor a drain on vital energies; 2) wanted to broaden the range of legitimate sexual behavior (beyond adult, genital, heterosexual intercourse); 3) argued that women had a sexual existence on a par with that of men and 4) expressed doubts about the traditional institutional contexts of human sexuality (marriage and family) and promoted debate about the human sexual psychology and the paradoxical need for both companionship and variety in erotic life (Robinson, pp.2-3). By this definition, Havelock Ellis is definitely a sexual modernist.

The seven volumes of his monumental work Studies in the Psychology of Sex (which he began publishing in 1897) cover the following topics: 1) The evolution of modesty, The phenomena of sexual periodicity, Auto-eroticism; 2) Analysis of the sexual impulse, Love and pain, The sexual impulse in women; 3) Sexual selection in man; 4) Sexual inversion (homosexuality, this was actually the first volume published); 5) Erotic symbolism, The mechanism of detumescence, The psychic state in pregnancy; 6) Eonism (male transvestism) and other supplementary studies; 7) Sex in relation to society. From my, albeit partial, reading of his works his presentation of the material consists of cultural, historical and biological survey and analysis. Thus, when he considers marriage (in vol. 7) he presents an historical survey of the institution of marriage going back as far as the Romans, as well as considering how marriage is defined in other cultures in our own time. He also looks at the animal kingdom, bringing biology and nature into the picture that he is developing. He casts a wide net in an effort to gain as complete an understanding as possible of the origins and evolution of our sexual behavior.

Ellis considered the sexual impulse in women to be comparable with that of men, but that mere quantitative comparison did a disservice to the sexuality of women. He concluded that the sexual impulse in women was more passive, more complex, less apt to appear spontaneously, more often needing to be aroused and that the orgasm developed more slowly in women than in men and is less easily reached. He also believed that the sexual impulse became stronger after the establishment of a sexual relationship. He was one of the first people to identify erogenous zones, and recognized that women possess more than one. As he put it “the sexual sphere is larger and more diffuse.” He also noticed a marked tendency for periodicity in the spontaneous manifestations of sexual desire in women. He believed that society repressed the sexuality of women, and that the ignorance of both sexes was an impediment to a fulfilling sexual union between them.

With regards to sexual morality, Ellis wanted more personal responsibility on the part of both sexes. In the case of women, this personal responsibility also entailed greater equality under the law (it is difficult to be personally responsible for your behavior when the law regards you as little more than the property of another individual) as well as economic independence. He believed that prostitution and the patriarchal marriage system, which he considered to be linked, were both incompatible with personal responsibility. In his opinion, men had created a system whereby one group of women ministered exclusively to their sexual needs, and another group of women (brought up in asceticism) were candidates for the privilege of ministering to their household and family needs. By abolishing the latter, he hoped that we might abolish the former.

Ellis was not a fan of the institution of marriage as it was defined by the State and the Church (especially the Catholic Church). He believed that the sexual relations of adults were a private matter and not one that society should be involved with. Where society became involved was in the case of children, because these were new members of society. Once again he comes back to personal responsibility, because when a couple brings a child into the world they should be prepared to accept the responsibility of providing for that child. He was very concerned with legitimacy and illegitimacy, and thought that when a birth was registered it was important to identify the father. Having a child does not mean that the couple was compelled to marry, or even live together. He believed that one parent could be as effective as two, especially when the two were not compatible.

In examining alternatives to conventional marriage he rejected the idea of marriage as a contract, as the State might have it, because the parties entering into it don’t really have a good idea of what is in store for them and so could not knowingly enter into such a contract. To him, a marriage should be a free union, willingly entered into, easily dissolved and defined by the individuals involved in it, not the Church and not the State. The only involvement of the State should be to ensure the proper support of any children.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952)

Modern European Intellectual History - 6
Red Love - a novel
Selected Writings - Alix Holt, tr. & ed.

Alexandra Mikhailovna Domontovich was born in St. Petersburg on April 1, 1872. Her father was a tsarist general, her mother the daughter of a wealthy timber merchant. In 1893 she married Vladimir Kollontai, for love, and spent five years as an engineer’s wife, raising their son. In 1898 she went to Zurich to study political economy. In 1917 she met Pavel Dybenko, the Bolshevik leader of the sailors of the Baltic fleet. In 1918 they registered their marriage under the new marriage act. In 1922 the relationship ended. As she put it in her letter to him: “I am not the wife you need, I am a person before I am a woman” (Selected Writings, p. 19). She was a diplomat, an activist, and a crusader for women’s rights, but she was not a bourgeois feminist. She believed that women would become equal only in a socialist world in which communism thrived over capitalism, and she did not separate women’s rights from worker’s rights.

She saw marriage and the family, as practiced in the capitalist society, as outmoded. In earlier societies the family was a unit of production, but in the capitalist society it had become a unit of consumption. Where in the past, women had performed valuable, productive, tasks in their home, now they were reduced to unproductive drudge work. By entering the work force women were becoming productive members of society once more, but they still had all the housework and childcare to deal with. Kollontai believed that the communist society should lift that burden from women’s shoulders and play a greater role in raising the children. She advocated such things as maternity leave before and after the birth, on site child care so that the mother would not have to be separated from the child during its infancy, and the creation of kindergartens and creches to help raise and educate the child. Without such social institutions, children of working mothers grew up with inadequate supervision, perhaps roaming the streets and getting into trouble, and certainly did not grow up to be good communists.

As far as the relations between the sexes went, she advocated equality and the mutual recognition of the rights of the other. It has been said that she advocated “free love,” but this is true only in the sense that she was against the possessive idea of love and the jealousy that went along with it. With the rise of communism, the traditional family as defined in the capitalist system would naturally wither away (because it was a consuming unit, not a producing one) and with its demise a new morality would arise to replace it. This new morality would not be based on the idea of an exclusive, inwardly directed love that separated the couple from society, but would be a comradely love that included the society. Above all, women should not have to sell their bodies, either in the form of prostitution or in the form of marriages of convenience for material security. She saw both of these as instances of women not being productive members of society, which is what made them wrong in a communist society. She abhorred the double standard and the moral hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie.

She explores some of her ideas concerning the relationship between the sexes in her novel Red Love, published in 1927. The main character is Vassilisssa (Vasya), a twenty-eight year old working girl (a knitter), who is a communist and a Bolshevik. She is not pretty, although she has beautiful, observant, thoughtful eyes. Thin, and with short hair, she is androgynous. Like Kollontai, she is an activist and an advocate of women’s rights, but again in the context of worker’s rights. She falls in love with Volodya, who is nicknamed “the American” because he spent time working in America. He is an anarchist. He doesn’t like to follow directions. He likes to do things his way. While they work together as comrades they have a happy relationship, but their work for the party keeps them apart. While he is managing a factory in another province he falls in love with another woman, Nina (the relationship has not been a monogamous one on his part from the beginning). Where Vasya is of the new world, Nina is of the old. As a manager, Volodya lives a more comfortable life, a bourgeois life. When Vasya comes to visit him he wants her to play the role of “manager’s wife,” a role that she is not at all suited for.

She discovers that he is maintaining two households and ends up leaving him to return to her work, and to freedom. Although the idea that he no longer loves her bothers her, the fact that Volodya is no longer her comrade bothers her more. She does not like the way he is living his life, or the sorts of friends that he has. After she leaves him she discovers that she is pregnant, but when a friend asks her how she will raise the child on her own, she replies that she will not be raising the child on her own, at her new job (in the textile industry) she will institute a nursery, the society will help her raise her child. She writes a letter to Nina, forgiving her and giving her permission to marry Volodya. Nina needs a husband, Vasya does not.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nikolai Chernyshevsky - “What is to be done?”

Modern European Intellectual History - 5

Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky was born in Saratov in 1828. Although he was the son of a village priest he became an atheist. In 1846 he left the seminary for St. Petersburg University, studying there until 1850. He taught for three years in Saratov, where he married. He then returned to St. Petersburg where he wrote for and eventually edited the journal The Contemporary. His other writings include: The Aesthetic Relationships of Art in Reality (1855, his M.A. Thesis), Sketches of the Gogol Period of Russian Literature (1855-56), and The Anthropological Principle in Philosophy (1860). In 1862 he was arrested (on trumped up charges) and he wrote this novel in 1863 while he was confined to the Peter-Paul Fortress.

The Basic Plot: What is to be done? or A Vital Question is a romance that examines, among other things, the institution of marriage and the place of women in society. The heroine is Vera Pavlovna. Her father is weak, her mother is a venal and mercenary woman who wants to marry Vera to a fairly well-off nobleman. She is rescued from this fate by Lopukhóv, a medical student who gives up his career to save her from her “cellar” existence. The marriage is a good intellectual match, but not a good emotional one. At a point in the marriage when one would perhaps expect the birth of a child, Vera announces that she is going to open a sewing union. This is a collective organization, with the girls sharing in the decisions of running the shop and also in the profits. The workers, for the most part, live in a collective apartment building.

Against her will, Vera falls in love with Kirsánov, a friend of Lopukhóv’s. They both fight their mutual attraction. When Lopukhóv figures out what is going on, he fakes his suicide to free Vera to marry Kirsánov. In this now emotionally as well as intellectually fulfilling marriage Vera announces her intention to study medicine, and does go on to become a doctor. Lopukhóv reappears later on as Charles Beaumont, marrying the daughter of a factory owner, Katerína. The Beaumonts and the Kirsánovs live happily ever after in adjoining apartments.

Some of the Themes

Marriage: In Russia at that time, a married woman had no legal rights, in the novel Chernyshevsky puts forth the idea of marriage as an equal partnership, respectful and courteous, which either person may terminate if they should fall in love with another. In a conversation with Julie (a prostitute with the proverbial heart-of-gold) Vera tells her “I do not want to be anybody’s slave!...I want to do only what I have it in my heart to do, and let others do the same; I do not want to ask anything of anybody; I do not want to curtail anybody’s freedom; I want to be free myself!” (p. 40). To be free means to be financially independent, therefore women must be able to earn a respectable living in society (p.121).

Children: Children are seen only on the periphery. Both Vera and Katerína have children but they are not really mentioned after their birth.

Women: Women are goddesses in this book. In Vera’s dreams we see the Empress of Love and her sister the Empress of Science and Love of Humanity, who have guided Vera on her path through life. We also see woman as the embodiment of the goddesses Astarte and Aphrodite and the ideal of chastity. Kirsánov believes that women are more intellectual then men, and that the organism of women is stronger than that of men (they mature earlier and live longer). Up to this point women have been restricted to a very narrow path, the sphere of domestic life. In Vera’s view women have been crowded into this narrow existence and until women are allowed to branch out they will not be able to live an independent life. But custom is hard to change, it is hard to find new paths, trail blazers are needed, and so she decides to become a doctor.

The Collective: The sewing union is a utopia. When Vera is setting it up she wants only girls of good character, no misfits. She educates them, first by reading to them while they work, then by bringing in tutors to give them lessons. Many of the girls live in the collective apartment house, with siblings and parents. As at the sewing shop, the domestic duties are shared out according to ability. Everyone has some purpose, some duty to perform.

Progressive People: Although Chernyshevsky at one point says that he is writing about ordinary people, not heroes, there is a sense of a progression in humanity. There are some people that, through their intellect and character are better or more evolved, and as time goes on, there will be more. Of course these progressive people are epitomized by the Kirsánovs and Beaumonts.

The overall theme of the novel is perhaps best summed up in a song that Vera sings in a ‘teaser’ that Chernyshevsky presents to us before he begins the novel proper: “Industry without knowledge is fruitless; our own happiness is impossible without the happiness of others. As soon as we become enlightened we shall become rich; we shall be happy; we shall form one brotherhood and sisterhood.... Let us learn and be industrious; let us sing and love; we shall have a heaven on earth!....” (p. 4)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A. Bogdanov - Essays in Tektology

Modern European Intellectual History - 4

Tektology, from the Greek word “tekton,” which means builder, is A. Bogdanov’s[1] dynamic science of complex wholes. It is organizational science. According to Bogdanov, in our struggle with the elements our aim is dominion (which he defines as a relationship of the organizer to the organized) over nature and to that end we organize the universe. To help us do this we have developed tools, which he calls the instruments of organization.

The first instrument of organization is the word, because every conscious collaboration of people is organized by means of words. The second instrument is the idea, which for Bogdanov always appears as an organizational scheme. The third instrument is social norms (custom, law, morals and decorum), which establish and regulate the relations among people in a collective and thus strengthen their connections. These instruments are the product of organized experience. Where Engels (according to Bogdanov) expressed the content of human life as production of people, production of things, and production of ideas, Bogdanov saw the concept of organization hidden in the term ‘production’ and expresses the content of human life as the organization of external forces of nature, organization of human forces, and organization of experience. In his view mankind has no other activity except organizational activity, since the only problems are organizational problems.

He saw the conflict between societies, classes and groups as a struggle of organizational forms. He also saw the unity of organizational methods everywhere, in living and dead nature, in the work of elemental forces and the work of people. His goal was to investigate this unity through the establishment of a general organizational science.

In primitive and religious societies the organization of thought was determined by the organization of labor, whose ends it served. If a man was not acting on the instructions of another, it was assumed that he was acting on internal instructions and that he was thus his own organizer. The organizational side of man Bogdanov equated with the soul, the passive side of man that carried out these instructions was equated with the body. The unity of the organizational point of view at this point is maintained by the authoritarian mode of life in which the laws of nature and the laws of man are prescriptions of divine power.

As mankind evolved this original unity was broken up by changing social relationships, the increased division of labor and specialization of skills and by the increase of knowledge that was secular. As this knowledge grew it was organized into separate sciences. The growing specialization of society and the accumulation of facts led to increasing specialization in the sciences and their continued fragmentation. An understanding and awareness of the underlying unity was lost so that the world of Bogdanov’s day appeared uncoordinated and anarchic both in thought and in practice. In his view this is the organizational experience of the bourgeois world.

What was needed to change this was a new mode of thought, but he felt that this would only come about through a new organization of society characterized by a new social class: the industrial proletariat. In his view the obstacles to a monistic and scientifically organized thinking were specialization and the splintered system of labor, which he considered anarchic. The industrial proletariat with machine production and a generally stable social life was to be the point of departure for overcoming this specialization and anarchy. The perfection of the machine and the resulting industrialization changed the character of the role of the worker. No longer did a worker have to specialize in a trade or craft. No matter what sort of machine a worker was controlling there was a commonality with all other workers controlling machines.

In Bogdanov’s vision the social anarchy, which arose out of the division of labor and the competition and struggle of man against man would lose its influence with the growth of the labor class. Common interests with respect to capital would continue to strengthen the influence of the labor class leading gradually but inevitably to a world union. The working class would combine the organization of things in its labor with the organization of its human forces in its social struggle in a special ideology: the organization of ideas. This organization of ideas is the science of tektology.

Tektology unifies and controls the particular sciences. All the results they obtain form the basis of its work and all of their generalizations and conclusions are subject to its verification. For tektology the methods of the sciences are only modes for the organization of material supplied by existence. It is a universal natural science and the entire organizational experience of mankind belongs to it.


[1]A. Bogdanov was the pseudonym of A. A. Malinovskii, a medical doctor born in 1873. He was also a prominent Russian philosopher, economist, biologist, writer, revolutionary and political figure.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals

Modern European Intellectual History - 3

At the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, François-Noel (Gracchus [1]) Babeuf published the Cadastre perpétuel [2], which was ostensibly a guide to local authorities charged with the administration of taxes on land and personal revenues, but was actually Babeuf’s first attempt at a practical program to achieve “the common happiness of the peoples.” Among other things it proposed that money would be raised by imposing taxes upon those most able to bear them, and spent on those most in need. Since his proposed system involved confiscating the property of the rich and distributing it among the poor, Babeuf had to demonstrate that the right of property was conditional and subject to regulation. To do this he used four distinct arguments.

The first argument came from Rousseau’s exposition of the social contract. The second was based on the natural right of all to an equal share of the adequate but restricted bounty of nature. The third was an attack on the origins of feudal rights, claiming that feudal property derived originally from usurpation and fraud. The fourth was a pragmatic argument based on the number of Frenchmen without property (some 15 million in a population of 24 million). It was inconceivable to Babeuf that the majority would continue to respect the rights of the nine million property owners if that would mean their starvation. Little came of the Cadastre perpétuel, both as a commercial venture and as a political manifesto [3].

In 1794, Babeuf started publishing the Tribun du peuple, created from the Journal de la liberté de la presse and in 1796 he became a member of the “Insurrectional Directory.” It was Babeuf’s duty to give a lead to “the party which desires the reign of pure equality,” and to “outline to the people the plan, the mode of attack.”[4] It was at this point that Babeuf, along with Philippe-Michel Buonarroti, began to work seriously on the exposition of their common dream of a communist society without private property and with a collective administration of production and distribution.

On 10 May 1796, Babeuf was arrested and the Conspiracy of Equals was ended. He was indicted on 20 February 1797, and executed on 27 May. The trial at Vendôme lasted just over three months, but as the first trial in which a verbatim record was kept of the proceedings it made legal history. As his final address to the jury, The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf was both a political treatise and an attempt to justify his actions.

Babeuf felt that society was created in order to guarantee the natural rights of man, these rights being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If society fails to guarantee these rights, the social compact is dissolved and the people have the right, even the duty, to rise up against usurpation, oppression and tyranny [5]. He also believed that the three roots of public woe were heredity (inheritance of property), alienability (ability to lose property) and the differing values assigned to different types of social product. All of these stem from the institution of private property, which thus leads to all the evils of society. Private property isolates the people from each other and converts every family into a private commonwealth that is then pitted against society at large resulting in an ever growing emphasis on inequality. The only way to avoid this is to suppress private property, set each person to work on a skill or job that they understand, require each to deposit the fruits of their labor in kind into a common store, which then (via an agency) distributes the basic necessities to all. (Babeuf uses the army as an example of this kind of system. [6])

In 1828, Buonarotti published his account of the conspiracy, at which point the socialists, including Marx and Engels, began to recognize the significance of the communist objectives of the conspirators.

Scott, John Anthony, ed. & trans., “The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf before the High Court of Vendôme,” The University of Massachusetts Press, 1967.

Rose, R. B., “Gracchus Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist,” Stanford University Press, 1978.

[1] After the brothers Gracchi, Tiberius and Caius, members of the Roman nobility who placed themselves at the head of the peasant movement for land distribution. They were both assassinated by their political enemies.

[2] Literally a perpetual register of the land. Before the Revolution, Babeuf had been a feudiste (a notary specializing in the legal aspects of the administration of feudal estates).

[3] R. B. Rose, “Gracchus Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist,” pp. 49-54.

[4] Ibid., p. 229.

[5] Defense of Gracchus Babeuf, pp. 20-21.

[6] Ibid., pp. 54-57.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

John Locke - An essay concerning human understanding

Modern European Intellectual History - 2

John Locke (1632-1704) - born in Wrington, Somerset. 1646 - entered Westminster School, studied the classics, Hebrew, and Arabic. 1652 - elected to a studentship at Christ’s Church, Oxford. 1656 - B.A., remained in residence for the master’s degree. Lectured in Latin and Greek. 1664 - appointed censor of moral philosophy. Studied medicine. 1665 - diplomatic mission accompanying Sir Walter Vane to the elector of Brandenburg at Cleves. Rejected a secretaryship under the earl of Sandwich, ambassador to Spain. Returned to Oxford and began to seriously study philosophy. Descartes. 1662 - Met Lord Ashley, earl of Shaftesbury. 1667 - became his personal physician. Assisted Shaftesbury in the framing of a constitution for the colony of Carolina. Secretary for the presentation of benefices and then secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Became a fellow in the Royal Society. 1675 - visited France for his health. 1679 - returned to an England torn by intense political conflicts. 1683 - Fled to Holland. 1689 - returned to England, escorting the princess of the Orange, who later became Queen Mary. 1689 - published Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Purpose of the “Essay” - to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent. Our understanding and knowledge fall far short of all that exists, but we have a capacity for knowledge sufficient for our purposes and matters enough to inquire into.

Ideas - whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks; whatsoever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking.

No innate ideas - we get all our ideas from experience. The senses provide us with particular ideas, which the mind abstracts to general ideas. General ideas, general words, and the use of reason grow together, and assent to the truth of propositions depends on having clear and distinct ideas of the meaning of terms. We have natural faculties or capacities to think and to reason. No innate moral or practical principles, since there is no universal agreement on them. There are eternal principles of morality, which we come to know through the use of reason and experience - but they are not innate.

Source of ideas - sensation or reflection.

Ideas and the real world - physical realism - the ideas we have do represent real things outside of us and do constitute the links by which we know something of the external physical world.

Identity - existence itself constitutes the principle of individuation.

Origin of sensation - a man first begins to think when he has any sensation.

Simple and complex ideas - simple ideas are nothing but one uniform appearance or conception in the mind, and are not distinguishable into different ideas. Once it has them, the mind can combine simple ideas any way it likes, but it can never generate new ones on its own. With simple ideas the mind is passive, they are given by experience. Some ideas, such as pleasure, pain, power, existence, and unity, we have from both sensation and reflection.

Primary and secondary qualities - primary qualities are utterly inseparable from body (solidity, extension, figure, mobility). Secondary qualities are powers to produce various sensation. These ideas do not resemble the qualities of the body themselves (color, odor, sound, warmth, smell). They are signs of events in real bodies.

Ideas of reflection - perception is the first faculty of the mind and without it we know nothing else. The idea of perception is the first and simplest idea we have from reflection.

Memory and contemplation - the retention manifested in contemplation and memory is the second faculty of the mind. Contemplation consist in holding an idea before the mind for some time. Memory - the ability of the mind to revive perception which it has once had, with this additional perception attached, that it has had them before.

Other ideas of reflection - discerning and distinguishing one idea from another, comparing and compounding, naming and abstracting.

Complex ideas - the mind can join several simple ideas together to form one complex idea. Three categories: modes, substance, and relations. Modes are dependencies or affection of substances. Simple modes are variations or different combinations of one simple idea, whereas in mixed modes several distinct ideas are joined to make a complex idea. Ideas of substances represent distinct particular things subsisting in themselves. Complex ideas of relation consist in comparing one idea with another. The mind does not construct complex ideas arbitrarily - objective reality.

Relations - the mind can consider any ideas as it stands in relation to any other. Relations are external. They terminate in simple ideas.

Causation - cause is that which produces any simple or complex idea, and effect is that which is produced.

Identity and diversity - the relation of a thing to itself, particularly with respect to different times and places. Personal identity is consciousness of being the same thinking self at different times and places.

Language - the primary functions of language are to communicate with our fellow men, to make signs for ourselves of internal conceptions, and to stand as marks for ideas. Words, in their primary or immediate signification, stand for nothing but the ideas in the mind of him that uses them. We suppose they stand for the same ideas in the minds of others. Words stand for things only indirectly.

Definition - definition by genus and differentia is merely a convenience by which we avoid enumerating various simple ideas for which the genus stands.

Names - names of simple ideas are not definable. Complex ideas consisting of several simple ideas are definable and intelligible provided one has experience of the simple ideas that compose them. Simple ideas are perfectly taken from the existence of things and are not arbitrary at all. Ideas of substances refer to a pattern with some latitude, whereas ideas of mixed modes are absolutely arbitrary and refer to no real existence. They are not, however, made at random or without reason. It is the name that ties these ideas together, and each idea is its own prototype. Since names for substances stand for complex ideas perceived regularly to go together and supposed to belong to one thing, we necessarily come short of the real essences, if there are any. Essences are of our own making without being entirely arbitrary. The boundaries of the species of substances are drawn by men.

Connective words - signify an action of the mind.

Knowledge - the perception of the connection and agreement or disagreement and repugnancy, of any of our ideas. This agreement or disagreement is in respect to four types: identity and diversity, relation, coexistence or necessary connection, and real existence.

2 sources of knowledge: sensation and reflection. In reflection the mind observes its own action.

Propositions - where there is knowledge, there is judgment, since there can be no knowledge without a proposition, mental or verbal. Truth is the joining or separation of sings as the things signified by them do agree or disagree one with another. There are two sorts of propositions: mental, wherein the ideas in our understandings are, without the use of words, put together or separated by the mind perceiving or judging of their agreement or disagreement; and verbal, which stand for mental propositions.

Judgments - ideas are the materials of knowledge, the terms of mental propositions. They are, insofar as they are given in sensation and reflection, the subject matter of reflection. If perception of agreement or disagreement in identity and diversity is the first act of the mind, than that act is a judgment.

Degrees of knowledge - 2 degrees of knowledge: intuition and demonstration. Intuition is the more fundamental and certain - the mind perceives the agreement or disagreement of two ideas immediately by themselves, without the intervention of any other. Irresistible knowledge, no room for doubt or hesitation. The mind perceives not a third idea, but its own act. In demonstration the mind perceives agreement or disagreement, not immediately, but through other mediating ideas. Each step in demonstration rests upon an intuition. A third degree of knowledge is employed about the particular existence of finite beings without us, which going beyond bare probability and not yet reaching perfectly to either of the foregoing degrees of certainty, passes under the name of knowledge (sensitive knowledge).

Limits of knowledge - knowledge extends no farther than our ideas and, specifically, no further than the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas. We cannot have knowledge of all the relations of our ideas or rational knowledge of the necessary relation between many of our ideas. Sensitive knowledge goes only as far as the existence of things, not to their real essence, or reality.

Knowledge of existents - even though are knowledge terminates in ideas, it is real. Simple ideas are not fictions of our fancies, but the natural and regular production of things without us, really operating upon us; and so carry with them all the conformity which is intended; or which our state requires. All our complex ideas, except those of substances, being archetypes of the mind’s own making, not intended to be copies of anything, not referred to the existence of anything, as to their original, cannot want any conformity necessary to real knowledge. Universal propositions, the truth of which may be known with certainty, are not concerned directly with existence. We have intuitive knowledge of our own existence. We have a demonstrable knowledge of God’s existence. We have sensitive knowledge of the existence of other things.

Probability - faith was the acceptance of revelation. It must be sharply distinguished from reason, which is the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas which it has got by the use of its natural faculties, viz. by sensation or reflection. Though reason is not able to discover the truth of revelation, nevertheless, something claimed to be revelation cannot be accepted against the clear evidence of the understanding. Enthusiasm sets reason aside and substitutes for it bare fancies born of conceit and blind impulse.

Error - error cannot lie in intuition. 4 sources of error: the want of proofs, inability to use them, unwillingness to use them, and wrong measures of probability.

Science or human knowledge is divided into 3 classes - natural philosophy, practical action and ethics, and the doctrine of signs.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Adam Smith - The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Back in my grad school days at Notre Dame I took a course called Modern European Intellectual History. It was a small class, only 5 of us, and met on Friday afternoons. Each week our professor would assign each of us a reading centered around a theme. The next week we would have to present our reading and hand out a short precis of it to the other members of the class. The professor would tie them all together. It was one of the best classes I have ever taken. It started at 2pm and sometimes we didn't get out of there until 6pm, but I always felt jazzed afterwards. This is the first precis that I did.

Adam Smith - (1723-1790). Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Entered the University of Glasgow in 1737 (attended Francis Hutcheson’s lectures). Entered Balliol College, Oxford in 1740 as a Snell exhibitioner, stayed for 7 years. In 1748 moved to Edinburgh and became the friend of Hume and Lord Kames. Elected professor of logic at the University of Glasgow in 1751, exchanged logic for the professorship in moral philosophy the next year, an appointment he held for 10 years. Published Moral Sentiments (from his course of lectures) in 1759.

Sympathy - arises from our capacity to imagine ourselves in the situation of our fellows and form an idea of what they are going through by examining our own reactions to their situation, with the understanding that our emotions will not (in general) be as strong, since we are not actually in their situation. Smith believes that this fellow-feeling is something that we all desire, and that the fact that the spectator does not feel the emotions to the same degree as the participant or principal leads the principal to tone down their own emotional reaction, to be more in line with that of the spectator. This ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, as well as the need of mankind for the society of man, forms the basis of Smith’s moral philosophy.

Impartial Spectator - viewing ourselves not as we may appear to ourselves, but as we appear to others. Analogous to conscience. The standard of our conduct is held up against what is acceptable to society, with the understanding that society is composed of humans who have sympathy for each other. In evaluating the appropriateness of our own behavior, we should examine it in the light of the impartial spectator.

Virtue - born of the combination of the impartial spectator and the ability to feel sympathy for our fellows. The ability of the spectator to enter into the sentiments of the principal leads to the virtues of “candid condescension and indulgent humanity;” the ability of the principal to bring their emotions down to what the spectator can identify with leads to the virtues of self-denial, self-government, and the command of our passions.

Smith examines at some length three virtues:

Propriety - we judge the propriety or impropriety of the affections of other men by their concord or dissonance with our own. If we approve of the passions of another, we entirely sympathize with them, and if we don’t approve of them, we don’t entirely sympathize with them.

Prudence - concerned with the care of the health, fortune, rank, reputation of the individual, those objects upon which the comfort and happiness of this life are supposed to depend. This involves a certain amount of care and foresight - hence prudence.

Benevolence - the willingness to sacrifice personal interest for the greater good or public interest. Associated with the wisdom of the Deity.

These virtues, which arise out of sympathy and through the notion of the impartial spectator should, if practiced, lead to a just society, and Smith’s concept of justice.

Justice - the concept of the impartial spectator and the desire for the approval of our fellows leads us to behave in a just manner. Though we are, by nature, inclined to think of our own needs first and foremost, if we desire to live in the society of man, we must not act upon that inclination, where such actions would cause harm to others.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

H. G. Wells - The World Set Free

(Back when I was studying the history of science at Notre Dame I took a class called The Technology of War and Peace. In that class we had to give a presentation on a related book, this is a transcript of my presentation.)

The World Set Free
H. G. Wells

It is impossible to discuss the writings of H. G. Wells without also discussing the man, for his writings reflect both his deepest fears and his greatest hopes. He was born in 1866, a member of the lower-middle-class. His mother was a domestic, his father an unsuccessful business man. Although he was apprenticed to trades several times, his escape from this existence came in the form of a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in South Kensington in 1884. One of his teachers in his first year there was T. H. Huxley, the staunch defender of Darwin. Despite early success, Wells did not take a degree. He wound up in London, teaching, and writing essays and popularizations of science. In 1895 he published The Time Machine. In it he presented a theme that was to dominate all his works. The narrator says of the Time Traveler that he “thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end.” But, the narrator continues, “If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so.” (The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells by McConnell, p. 11)

By the turn of the century he was the darling of the British literary world. In 1903 he joined the Fabian Society, a group that strongly supported socialism but believed that the change would only come gradually through reasoned argument rather than class warfare. By 1905 he had written some 24 books, including almost all of his science fiction (McConnell, p. 17), and this level of productivity continued for most of his life. But by 1911, the tenor of his works changed and they became little more than vehicles for his ideas of social reform and his prophecies of the doom that awaited mankind unless they woke up and listened to him. In 1914, on the eve of the first World War, he published The World Set Free. This is the novel that gave the world the ‘atomic bomb’ and depicted an atomic war. For the most part, in telling the story of this novel I shall let Wells speak for himself, quoting liberally and often, and only adding explanatory and connective details as needed.

It opens, as Wells was wont to do, with a sweeping panorama of human history in which he begins with the statement that “the history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power” (p. 7) the greatest expression of this is mankind’s desire to find “the snare that will some day catch the sun” (p. 13). Inspired by Soddy’s writings, Wells concludes this prelude in 1910, with a professor of physics named Rufus giving a lecture on Radium and radioactivity in Edinburgh.

The first chapter opens in 1933, when the scientist Holsten manages to set up atomic disintegration in a minute particle of bismuth; it explodes with great violence into a heavy gas of extreme radio-activity, which disintegrates in turn over a period of seven days. Coincidentally, it was in 1933 that the Joliot-Curies first produced radioactive phosphorous by bombarding aluminum with electrons (H. G. Wells: Discoverer of the Future by Haynes, p. 41). It takes Holsten another year to show that the final result is gold. The Alchemist’s Dream. In this first experiment, however, “Holsten knew that he had opened a way for mankind, however narrow and dark it might still be, to worlds of limitless power” (p. 26). He is stunned by his discovery and the ramifications for the future of mankind and spends the next day wandering around Hampstead Heath in a daze. He “felt like an imbecile who has presented a box full of loaded revolvers to a Creche” (p. 28). In the evening he stands outside the doors of Saint Paul’s Cathedral listening to the service. He feels oppressed and scared “by his sense of the immense consequences of his discovery. He had a vague idea that night that he ought not to publish his results, that they were premature, that some secret association of wise men should take care of his work and hand it on from generation to generation until the world was riper for its practical applications” (p. 30).

Holsten continues his soul searching: “His intelligence struggled against this mood and struggled for a time in vain. He reassured himself against the invasion of this disconcerting idea that he was something strange and inhuman, a loose wanderer from the flock returning with evil gifts from his sustained unnatural excursions amidst the darknesses and phosphorescences beneath the fair surfaces of life” (p. 31). Finally, he concludes that “It has begun. It is not for me to reach out to consequences I cannot foresee. I am a part, not a whole; I am a little instrument in the armory of Change. If I were to burn all these papers, before a score of years had passed some other man would be doing this...” (P. 32).

And so Holsten relieves himself of responsibility, yet one of the things that Wells believed was that we should think about where our science is leading us. We should think about what the future may hold. We should not let ourselves merely drift along.

It takes another twenty years before Holsten’s discovery bears fruit, with the first Holsten-Roberts engine replacing the steam engine in electrical generating stations. Other engines quickly followed, the Dass-Tata engine, used chiefly in vehicles and the American Kemp and Krupp-Erlanger engines. By autumn 1954 a gigantic replacement of industrial methods and machinery was taking place. Within 3 years the old polluting automobiles were replaced with “light and clean and shimmering shapes of silvered steel” (p. 34). The light weight of the engines revolutionizes aircraft design, creating a new age in personal transport: “The Leap into the Air” (p. 34). Technological innovation flourished. The prosperity of the patent holding companies was enhanced by the fact that the recoverable waste product in both the Dass-Tata and the Holsten-Roberts engines was gold. But beneath this brightness of wealth and productivity “there was a gathering darkness, a deepening dismay. If there was a vast development of production, there was also a huge destruction of values.”... “Millions of coal miners, steel workers upon the old lines, vast swarms of unskilled or under-skilled laborers in innumerable occupations were being flung out of employment by the superior efficiency of the new machinery, the rapid fall in the cost of transit was destroying high land values at every center of population, the value of existing house property became problematical, gold was undergoing headlong depreciation, all the securities upon which the credit of the world rested were slipping and sliding, banks were tottering, the stock exchanges were scenes of feverish panic” (p. 35).

In 1955 the suicide rate in the United States quadrupled. Violent crime increased. “The thing had come upon an unprepared humanity; it seemed as though human society was to be smashed by its own magnificent gains” (p. 36).

The story then shifts to the experiences of Frederick Barnet, told through the pages of an autobiographical novel that he published in 1970. It is through Barnet’s eyes that we see the collapse of the old world and the outbreak of war. Barnet was of the upper class, until his father was ruined by the atomic revolution and took his own life. In an instant, Barnet’s world was turned upside down. He finds himself on the streets with the millions of other displaced workers. As he wanders the city of London, now recreated with elevated side walks that raise the haves above the ground, to which the have nots have been relegated, he sees a society literally stratified by class. Above him the rich flit about in their personal aircraft, below him are the beggars and dispossessed. And he thinks to himself: “I saw an immense selfishness, a monstrous disregard for anything but pleasure and possession in all those people above us, but I saw how inevitable that was, how certainly if the richest had changed places with the poorest, that things would have been the same. What else can happen when men use science and every new thing that science gives and all available intelligence and energy to manufacture wealth and appliances, and leave government and education to the rustling traditions of hundreds of years ago?” (P. 54).

This catalog of the decline of human society brought on by the sudden changes of atomic power is cut off by the outbreak of what Wells calls “The Last War.” He does not give us details about how it started although prior to its outbreak there was talk of war looming on the horizon. Talk of the “Central European powers suddenly striking the Slav Confederacy, with France and England going to the help of the Slavs” (p. 55). We don’t even get many details on the waging of the war itself. We know that it was primarily a ground war, but Wells does not have machine guns, just infantry and rifles. At the beginning, airplanes are used primarily for reconnaissance, and only later do they get used in aerial combat, and of course, for dropping the bombs. The center of command of the allies fighting the Central European powers is in Paris, and is destroyed by bombs. With the allied military effectively decapitated, the scientists and airmen decide to carry out their own plan, a plan that they would have carried out with or without approval from the military commanders. As one of the airmen puts it “now, there’s nothing on earth to stop us going to Berlin and giving them tit-for-tat” (p. 67).

The bombs that they drop on Berlin use a substance known as Carolinium, which is analogous to plutonium in many of its properties. It is a continuing explosive, meaning that once its atomic decay process has been started, it continues with a furious radiation of energy that cannot be stopped. The bombs used by the allies are black spheres with handles for lifting them. They are composed of pure Carolinium, coated with a substance that induces the radioactive decay of the Carolinium when exposed to air, the whole thing being covered over with a nonreactive substance. A small celluloid stud between the handles is bitten off to admit air to the device, activating the radioactive decay. Thus resulting in a chain reaction. The picture is this: Two airmen in a plane, the pilot and the bombardier. The bombardier sits with these spherical bombs between his legs. He lifts one up by its handles, bites off the celluloid stud, and drops the bomb over the side of the airplane. “What happened when the celluloid stud was opened was that the inducive oxydized and became active. Then the surface of the Carolinium sphere began to degenerate. This degeneration passed only slowly into the substance of the bomb. A moment or so after its explosion began it was still mainly an inert sphere exploding superficially, a big inanimate nucleus wrapped in flames and thunder. Those that were thrown from aeroplanes fell in this state, they reached the ground still mainly solid and, melting soil and rock in their progress, bored into the earth. There, as more and more of the Carolinium became active, the bomb spread itself into a monstrous cavern of fiery energy at the base of what became very speedily a miniature active volcano. The Carolinium, unable to disperse, freely drove into and mixed up with a boiling confusion of molten soil and superheated steam and so remained spinning furiously and maintaining an eruption that lasted for years or months or weeks according to the size of the bomb employed and the chances for dispersal. Once launched the bomb was absolutely unapproachable and uncontrollable until its forces were nearly exhausted, and from the crater that burst open above it, puffs of heavy incandescent vapor and fragments of viciously punitive rock and mud, saturated with Carolinium, and each a center of scorching and blistering energy, were flung high and far” (p. 73).

On a mountain-side above the town of Brissago in Switzerland, the surviving rulers of the world meet. They are called together by the French ambassador to the US, a man named Leblanc, “to arrest if possible, before it was too late the debacle of civilization” (p. 93). “For the whole world was flaring then into a monstrous phase of destruction. Power after power about the armed globe sought to anticipate attack by aggression. They went to war in a delirium of panic, in order to use their bombs first. China and Japan had assailed Russia and destroyed Moscow, the United States had attacked Japan, India was in anarchistic revolt with Delhi a pit of fire spouting death and flame; the redoubtable King of the Balkans was mobilizing. It must have seemed plain at last to everyone in those days that the world was slipping headlong to anarchy. By the spring of 1959 from nearly two hundred centres, and every week added to their number, roared the unquenchable crimson conflagrations of the atomic bombs, the flimsy fabric of the world’s credit had vanished, industry was completely disorganized and every city, every thickly populated area was starving or trembled on the verge of starvation. Most of the capital cities of the world were burning; millions of people had already perished, and over great areas government was at an end. Humanity has been compared by one contemporary writer to a sleeper who handles matches in his sleep and wakes to find himself in flames” (p. 95).

Against this backdrop of destruction, Leblanc manages to gather the remnants of the world leaders in Brissago. A place chosen for its remoteness, for its distance from old associations. The natural leader of this conference is one King Egbert of England, who is going to show the rest of the leaders how to create a world government by being the first to give up his sovereignty. The only no-show is the King of the Balkans (also known as the ‘Slavic Fox’), who attempts to turn back the clock and make himself king of the world by sending airmen to bomb the conference. The plane is shot down, without dropping its bombs, and although there is no identification on the airmen, it’s pretty obvious to everyone who is responsible. Egbert travels to visit the Slavic Fox, ostensibly on an inspection mission, to verify that the Balkans do not possess atomic bombs. The Fox tries to smuggle the bombs out of the capital city, is caught, and killed. Now nothing stands in the way of the world government.

And so, out of the ashes of destruction of the old world, rises the new. There is not much to say about this utopia, it is like most utopias, long on dreams, short on practicality. It does not include capitalism, democracy (as we know it), or nations, states, or flags. English is its language. Education is universal. An index of human knowledge is being created, a world encyclopedia, in a sense, a world brain, long a dream of Wells.

Shortly after the publication of this novel, World War I broke out. Wells felt, in some way responsible. He began a shrill and vociferous journalistic campaign leading off with an essay titled: The war that will end war. It became a national slogan. Interestingly enough I have not yet found any evidence that the novel itself had much of an impact on the political tenor of the time. Perhaps it was simply that then, as now, science fiction is read more by scientists than by politicians. We do know that it did influence scientists. Leo Szilard read it and was impressed by the vision that Wells presented.

In 1939 war loomed once again upon the horizon. Wells was seventy-three, ill and tired. Sir Ernest Barker saw him sitting alone at a reception and asked how he was. “Poorly, Barker, Poorly,” he said. Barker asked him what he was doing. “Writing my epitaph.” He asked him what it was. “Quite short,” Wells said, “just this–God damn you all: I told you so.” (McConnell, p. 9). And what was Wells telling us? As Frank McConnell put it, in his book The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells it was this: “That the major disease of modern man is that his scientific and technological expertise has outstripped his moral and emotional development; that the human race, thanks to its inherited prejudices and superstitions and its innate pigheadedness, is an endangered species; and that mankind must learn–soon–to establish a state of worldwide cooperation by burying its old hatreds and its ancient selfishness, or face extinction.” (McConnell, p. 11).

H. G. Wells died on August 13, 1946, a year after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What is Insurance for?

The health care debate has stirred up a lot of emotion and generated a lot of rhetoric, but the debate still doesn’t seem to be getting at the fundamental issue: what is insurance for? Insurance is to protect you against catastrophic circumstances. You don’t use your auto insurance to pay for routine auto maintenance do you? You don’t use your home owner’s insurance to pay for routine home maintenance do you? So why is it that we expect our health insurance to pay for our routine visits to the doctor?

I think that there are actually a few simple changes that could reap a large benefit to both individuals and society at large. First, you have to reform Tort law. This is necessary so that the malpractice insurance rates can be decreased, which will help bring down the cost of health care. Second, we should institute Health Savings Accounts for everyone who wants one. This would be pre-tax income. I’m not sure how the amount that could be contributed would be calculated (percentage of income, perhaps, or maybe no limit), but the money should not disappear at the end of the year if it hasn’t all been spent. Once the accounts are established, link a debit card to them and use them to pay the doctor directly at the time of service (no paperwork to file). Third, there needs to be transparency in health care cost. And last, but not least, health insurance should only be used for catastrophic illness or accident, not for routine visits to the doctor, and it should not be linked to your job.

If you do this, you will probably cover the majority of people, and then you just need to have a government program to catch the folks that fall between the cracks, because there will always be those people.

One thing that we should not do is require that everyone buy health insurance. This simply burdens the young and poor. We have the same problem with requiring everyone to have auto insurance. If we went to true no-fault auto-insurance we wouldn’t need to do this either and young people just trying to get started and poor people trying to improve their lot would not get hit by these unfunded government mandates.

We keep hammering at the existing mess and making things more complex (and increasing Government in the process), when we should be taking a step back and asking ourselves if our underlying assumptions are correct. That is the way to true reform.

Friday, May 15, 2009

At Last! Comfortable Shoes!

For the past few years I have been wearing LL Bean Comfort Mocs. These are inexpensive, but quite comfortable, slip on shoes. Unfortunately this past year not only did LL Bean redesign their Comfort Mocs, but they also got rid of my favorite color - Purple Night. I held out for as long as I could, but my pair was wearing out so I finally broke down and bought a pair of the redesigned Mocs, in Coffee. I bought size 7.5, which is the size that I wore in the original Comfort Mocs. They fit okay in the heel, but were too tight in the toe box. Sigh. So I bought a pair in size 8. They were too loose in the heel, but still did not have enough room in the toe box - I don't like the feel of the shoe pressing down on my toe nail. Sigh. Two returns to LL Bean. The search continued. The search was complicated by the fact that I really wanted purple shoes.

In my quest I found a cute pair of purple suede Mary Janes at Lands End. They were in the girls section but I bought them anyway. They are cute, and pretty comfy, but not much arch support, and they definitely look like girl shoes. I also picked up several pairs of boiled wool Mary Janes at LL Bean (which they don't seem to be carrying anymore). Although not great for wearing all day long, they are pretty comfy and I figure I can wear them with my dresses and skirts. I tried a pair of purple Klogs that I found at Amazon but decided that they must have been designed for aliens because the contours of the shoes did not resemble the contours of my feet. I tried a pair of purple Hush Puppies that fit, but just didn't feel right on my feet. More returns.

The search continued and I finally abandoned the idea of finding purple shoes and just concentrated on finding comfy shoes. I don't know if it is my practical nature winning out over my vanity but I am of an age now where I prefer comfort to fashion and where I now find practical, well-made things more attractive than things that just look cool.

At last, it seems, the search is over. Last week I found The Walking Company. I discovered this place through the Concurring Opinions blog (a great blog on legal issues). It was just a throw away line in a blog written by a woman who seemed to have reached the same place that I had, at least with regard to shoes. I clicked on the link and started browsing their site. The first thing I liked was that you could browse not only by shoe type and brand, but by comfort level. I went for the ultimate comfort. The prices gave me a bit of a start but I told myself that if the quality and comfort match the price tag it is worth it. I finally settled on a pair of Dansko Calista shoes in Chestnut. They came this week. The only modification they required was a piece of moleskin in each heel. I have narrow and boney heels and unless there is enough padding in the heel of the shoe I will rub my foot raw.

Today is the first day that I have worn them to work and I am happy to say that they are living up to expectations. I like them so much that I ordered a pair of Dansko Suri in Cordovan.

Ah, happy feet!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In the Bag

Before I bought all this cool technology my typical load out for work consisted of my Baggallini bag (in purple), my lunch cooler and my knitting bag (a small custom color boat and tote from LL Bean.

When I got the Kindle I tucked it into my knitting bag. No big deal. The Kindle is small and light and didn’t take up much room. When I got the Dell Mini I tucked that (and the charging cord) in the knitting bag as well. That made it a wee bit heavier, and combined with the Kindle was starting to eat into the knitting project space. What to do.

Well, once again, my techie friend Terry came to my rescue. He pointed me to the Waterfield Designs web site where all manner of bags can be had for your cool techie toys.

First I bought a sleeve case and Vertigo bag for the Fujitsu Sytlistic. I haven’t used it much, yet, mostly because I haven’t had the occasion to. The Sytlistic lives under my coffee table or in my lap.

When I got the Dell Mini I purchased a sleeve case for that as well. At the same time I picked up a slip case and bag for the Kindle. I haven’t used the Kindle bag yet either, other than to store accessories in, but I am keeping the Kindle in the slip case rather than the cover that came with it. I like the Kindle cover that comes with it, but when I’m reading the Kindle I found that the cover got in the way, so I got the slip case instead.

Unfortunately, while these bags were great for toting the technology, none of these fine bags could replace my purse and knitting bag. The search continued. First I looked at knitting bags. They all featured lots of pockets, but none of them seemed to have a mesh pocket for my water bottle, an absolute must. I tried a Baggallini messenger bag. It had lots of pockets and it even had a mesh pocket, inside the main compartment, that I could just fit my water bottle into. It required a bit of surgery before I used it – they had magnetic clasps and I didn’t want those near my credit cards. I used it for a week or so and it worked…okay. But I really wanted something that was just a wee bit deeper front to back and not quite so long side to side (between the shoulder strap ends).

I was feeling pretty frustrated and discouraged. I dug through the closet stash of old bags from my college days, but nothing would work. Then I came across an old LL Bean bag from my grad school days. It was called the Traveler. It had some distinct possibilities but was somewhat the worse for wear. So I went back to the LL Bean site and found the Travel Touring Bag. It has sturdy construction, an ample mesh pocket on the outside for my water bottle; a front pocket with flap that can hold the stuff from my purse; an inside zipper pocket that holds the Dell Mini with its charging cord; adequate room in the main compartment for my knitting; and a pocket on the back that holds my Kindle and iPod.

It still is not a perfect solution. Now I have the problem of what to do when I just need a purse. Sometimes I pull out the old Baggallini purse and stuff what I need in it, sometimes I just grab my wallet and cell phone and stuff it into one of my LL Bean custom boat and totes that I use as knitting bags. But really, some kind of modular system would be ideal, where I could detach the purse portion, or the technology portion or the knitting portion but I have yet to see that kind of design approach being applied to bags. We tend to approach bags from the single use perspective. Hmm, I know a woman who used to design bags for a living, and she usually comes to Bead and Button, maybe I’ll have a little chat with her this year…

Another Computer ?!?

The last bit of technology that I've acquired recently is a Dell Mini. Yes, I know, in a previous post I said I didn't really like it, and I didn't like it as a design computer. The Fujitsu Stylistic is far superior for that use. But the Dell Mini does have a place - in my bag.

The main reason I bought it was to have a small portable computer that would be easier to lug around than your typical laptop, especially when I go to the Bead and Button show in Milwaukee. You see, for the last couple of years I have been lugging an older Dell laptop to Bead and Button so my sister Virginia would have a way of staying on top of the email to the bead store. But after seeing the Dell Mini and then looking at the old laptop, well, who can blame me for wanting the smaller package that could still do everything, and in fact do a whole lot more.

I went to my techie friend Terry for help picking one out. We went to the Outlet page at Dell and started looking through the list of available models. He convinced me that I should get one that had the expansion slot for the air card so I could use a cellular network if there was no WiFi or Ethernet connection available (it didn't really take much convincing on his part). It didn't take us long to find what we were looking for. A Dell Mini 9 (Terry said that the screen on the 9 is superior to the one on the 10) with Windows XP, the air card expansion slot (he had a card he could sell me) and BlueTooth. No built-in camera, but I don't care. A 16 gig hard drive. Only 1 gig of RAM, but he advised me to upgrade that to 2, which was easy enough.

I've had the Dell Mini for a little over a month now, and I've been pretty happy with it. I use the air card a lot, every day at work, in fact. I even used it in the car one time when we were going into town to make sure that the local Lowes would have what we needed. I like the size and the fact that the drive is solid state. The screen size doesn't bother me and the resolution and color are great, but the key board does take some getting used to, especially the location of the single quote/double quote key. On a normal size keyboard that key is just to the left of the Enter key. Yeah, I keep hitting enter when I use contractions. I guess I could stop using contractions...

The sim card that I use to connect to the cellular network pops out from its little slot easily and I can put it in the USB connecter that it came with and use it on my Fujitsu as well. We'll see how my sister likes it in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

To Boldly Go...


Yesterday Bruce and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. It's been a long time since we've been to the movies but we're both Trek fans and the review in the NY Times was favorable, so we went. I'm happy to say that we enjoyed the film.

First, the casting was superb. Chris Pine captures the brashness of Kirk while Zachary Quinto captures Spock's conflicted nature. Their initial confrontations form a nice foundation for their future deep friendship. Karl Urban does a splendid job as a young McCoy - I've liked him ever since I saw him on Hercules and Xena. Zoe Saldana as a super-sexy super-smart Uhuru and Simon Pegg as the irreverent Scotty round out the main crew. John Cho does a nice job as Sulu and Anton Yelchin is fine as Chechov, although he seemed awfully young and why was he so smart?

I wasn't too crazy about the Romulans, but they were renegades so I could overlook the tattoos. I still don't know what to make of their ship.Yeah, it was big and scary and kind of cool but it really didn't make sense to me as a functioning spaceship. It was a mining ship, which I guess would account for the drill. But Red Matter? Seriously? Couldn't they have come up with something better?

I liked Leonard Nimoy showing up as Spock from the future and his ship was very cool. It reminded me of the Vulcan ship from Enterprise. The time travel angle creating an alternate future was a clever idea. It allowed the writers to pay homage to the original series without becoming locked in by the existing canon. I am not, however, a big fan of this technique as a plot device.

Ben Cross does a nice turn as Spock's father Sarek. I especially liked the scene between Sarek and the young Spock when Sarek explains that Vulcans are actually deeply emotional, but that they cultivate logic so that they are not ruled by their emotions. This was something I had twigged to when I was watching the original show, leading me to use Spock as one of my early role models.

Unfortunately Winona Ryder was not very memorable as Spock's mother Amanda. And what was the deal on the costumes for the female Vulcans?

But these criticisms are really just quibbles. Overall, a very good movie, and a worthy addition to the franchise. It might even give it a new lease on life. I especially liked the way the movie ended - with on updated version of the opening of the original show complete with a big E beauty pass and soaring original sound track, but with Leonard Nimoy doing the voice-over narration.

Sharp-eyed viewers will spot Paul McGillion (Dr. Carson Beckett of Stargate: Atlantis) in the scene where everyone is getting ship assignments.

My only other WTF moments: building a starship on Earth? Spock and Uhuru? A green Orion girl in Star Fleet?

And what about Nurse Chapel? Of course Majel was the computer voice. What will they do now that she is gone?

Oh, yeah, and where was Yoeman Rand?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Live Performances, Over Amplification, and Hearing Loss

This past St. Patrick's Day, Bruce and I went to see Celtic Woman up in Baltimore. Other live performances that we have seen lately are Cats, in Charlottesville, and Cirque du Soleil, also in Charlottesville. Before that, we had been going to the Opera in Philadelphia.

In our minds, one of the reasons to go to a live performance is to hear the artists without the mediation of electronics. As any audiophile can tell you, there is a loss in sound quality when you convert between analog and digital. Unfortunately, except for the Opera, too many performers are relying upon electronics in their performances. The primary form of this electronic assistance is amplification. This amplification generally leads to two basic problems - the performance is too loud, and the different instruments (including voice) are not well-balanced. So at Cats, for example, the accompaniment tended to overpower the singing. At Celtic Woman they had both problems. The performance was too loud for the space (the Hippodrome) and the different instruments were not always well-balanced.

This is a very disappointing situation to encounter. Why don't they have competent sound engineers help them set up the sound system for the space? And why do they think that cranking up the volume is going to give us a better experience? Don't they realize that too much amplification just results in distortion? Here you have performers with lovely voices, but we can't appreciate them because they are over-amplified. This is a disservice to both the performers and the audience. It makes me not want to go to live performances, which is a shame.

I just wish that the people responsible for setting up the sound systems would actually go sit in the theater and listen and tailor the sound to the space. I'm not even sure how much amplification you need in these theaters. They were designed, after all, to amplify the acoustic energy naturally.

Sound systems cranked up too loud are also why I don't like going to movie theaters anymore (well, that and the sticky floors). I've also noticed a tendency for the soundtrack to overwhelm the dialogue, another balance issue. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, when you were watching a movie on DVD, you could control the sound track separately from the dialogue?

And while we are on the topic of noise, why do some restaurants play their sound systems so loud? Before the show we had dinner at Oliver's up in Baltimore, a recently opened Brew Pub. It was a nice place, good food, reasonable prices, and great beer, but it was too noisy. They had the stereo cranked up so loud that you couldn't hear each other talk unless you shouted. How does that make your dinner an enjoyable occasion? It's also hard on the wait-staff, because they have a hard time hearing us and we have a hard time hearing them. So, not only is the pub making their jobs harder, but it is also probably causing permanent hearing damage.

It just doesn't make sense to me.

A Computer You Can Curl Up With

The next bit of new technology that I have acquired is a Fujitsu Stylistic Tablet PC. This acquisition was paid for by my Federal Tax Refund - hey just doing my part to stimulate the global economy. What I was looking for was a design computer that I could load my sewing, knitting and weaving design software on that was portable and that I could curl up on the daybed with. I tried a Dell Mini, compliments of Terry, but didn't like the keyboard, or the small size. I just couldn't curl up with it. So then Terry loaned me his old Fujitsu Stylistic and I was hooked.

It's like a heavy clipboard. It's about an inch thick, weighs about 4 pounds, and the display is not quite the size of a sheet of paper. You can use it in portrait or landscape mode and it has a special pen for input. It has a little keyboard screen that slides off side when you're not using it. There are three modes of entry. You can hunt and peck on a miniature keyboard - tedious and slow; you can write in little boxes a letter at a time - perfect for the Times crossword; or you can write on a line as if you were writing on a piece of paper. As you fill up the line, more magically appear. This latter method proved to be a lot faster than I expected, and the hand-writing recognition rocks.

It comes with every connection device you can imagine: BlueTooth, WiFi, Ethernet, even a lowly phone modem and two USB ports. It doesn't have an internal CD/DVD drive, but you can plug one in easily enough to load software, which is what I did. I also transferred over all of the pdf files that I have collected of knitting and beading patterns, and the weaving articles that I have found.

Now when I come home, I curl up with my Fujitsu on the daybed. It has become the computer that I use the most when I'm at home. I leave it on all the time and it sits under the coffee table on a magazine box, always close at hand. I find that I spend a lot more time on the computer now reading my email, the blogs that I've subscribed to, and cruising Facebook and Ravelry. I haven't spent much time with my design software, but I am getting myself more organized. This past weekend I started cataloging my bead stash - so much easier to do now that I can take the computer to the beads rather than bringing the beads to the computer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

iPod Touches Me

Many years ago I bought an Apple Newton. This was another technology turn-on from my techie friend Terry. I even had a Newton holster. I wore it low-slung on my hip. I took notes on it and kept a calendar on it. At some point I abandoned it.

Last fall my techie friend Terry introduced me to the iPod Touch. It fit my hand so well, it was so intuitive to use, the touch screen was wonderful, there were all those cool apps, and it had built in WiFi. Oh, be still my techie heart! I thought about it for a while, and then bought one for myself for Christmas. It goes with me everywhere.

When I first got it I resisted the urge to over-indulge in apps. I picked up a few essentials, the Amazon app (free), the Wikiamo app (free), GroceryIQ, Spore (just couldn't resist), Solitaire. Mostly I used it to check my email without having to turn on my big computer and to look up things on imdb when we were watching movies and wanted to know who that actor was.

Well, since then, my app count has risen considerably. I have a number of apps for learning Japanese - we get Japanese customers in the booth at Bead & Button. I have apps for learning French. I have a few more games. I have an HP 42C app. I have knitting apps. I have a table of elements app, a conversions app, an app that will calculate how many grams/mole of a substance, a map of the moon app that shows all the Apollo landings. I have an app that keeps track of all the books that I might like to read one day (Next Read). I have the Facebook app and now I have the Kindle app.

I resisted getting any kind of e-reader for the iPod because I already had the Kindle, and the screen is just so small, but when the Kindle app came out I had to give it a try. It is very cool. The other night we were going out to dinner, so I downloaded one of my Kindle books to the iPod and tucked the iPod into my coat pocket. While we were waiting for our table I pulled out the iPod and started reading. Of course the screen is great. Color! And the page turn is an intuitive finger swipe. When I picked the Kindle up the next day and opened up the same book it synced to the spot I was reading on the iPod. Very nice.

Recently, one of my nieces posted a note on Facebook telling her friends to shuffle the songs on their iPods and then write out the first line from each of the next 20 or 30 songs. I had to chuckle at that note, you can put music on these? Wow, what a concept, and here I was thinking it was just a really cool little computer. I have actually bought a couple of albums for my iPod, but I'm still warming up to that aspect of the technology. Partly it is because I really don't like listening to music with headphones or ear buds, and partly it is because you don't get the liner notes if you don't buy the CD. I have recently invested in a high end small speaker for my iPod (a Soundwave), although it hasn't gotten much use yet.

I am going to be taking a trip in a couple of weeks that involves four days of driving. In the past I've taken a box of CDs, but maybe this time I'll just load some stuff on my iPod.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kindle to the rescue.

So, the other day at work I was talking to my program boss about a cool camera that I had read about in the latest Technology Review that I thought might be useful for our project. I told him I would send him a link. Back at my desk I dug the email out of my sent folder and prepared to forward it to him. But first I checked the link. It didn't work. I tried searching the Technology Review web site. No luck. But wait! I have the issue in question on my Kindle. I pulled out my Kindle, opened up the magazine, and went right to the section in question using the section list. Voila! The short article had a link to the producer of the camera, which I sent to my boss (after checking it first). Success.

Now, I know that in my previous post I had said I didn't like reading magazines on the Kindle, but after further experimentation I find that I prefer the Kindle despite the limitations. For one thing, I like the e-ink, it's easy to read. But I also like the size of the Kindle. I like not holding the magazine open. I like the fact that you don't get uneven lighting on the page or reflected glare from the paper. And I love the fact that I can carry a veritable library in my hand.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kindle Girl

Lately I’ve been investing in some new technology. It all started back in October of 2008 with a Kindle (version 1). I was talking to my techie friend Terry one day and mentioned that I was thinking about getting one as a birthday present to myself. Well, says he, I happen to have one that I am not using if you would like to borrow it. Of course I said yes.

It took me a little while to warm up to the Kindle. I wasn’t put off by the form factor, unlike a lot of people who have been writing and speaking about the Kindle. No, I had to figure out how it fit into my life because I am a bibliophile. I have a house full of books.

I immediately took to the idea of being able to browse and buy books right from the device. So, Bruce and I would be watching The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart would have some author on, and before the interview was over I would be browsing the book in question on my Kindle and reading the reviews.

The first book that I read on the Kindle was “The Hogfather” by Terry Pratchet. This was a book a friend had recommended to me. I haven’t read any Prachet before and tend to stay away from never-ending series, but her descriptions of a couple of scenes piqued my curiosity enough that I bought it and read it. I didn’t feel bad buying it on the Kindle because it wasn’t a book that I would have bought ordinarily. It was, for me, a throw-away book, an experiment to see if I would enjoy the reading process on the Kindle. Well, I did. I like the grey-scale screen, and the page turn delay doesn’t bother me at all. Mostly, I like the fact that I can read it with no hands, which means that I can read while knitting.

The next thing that really got me excited about the Kindle was all the classics that are available. It didn’t take me long to get the complete works of Shakespeare, Jules Verne and most of H. G. Wells. Also, Jane Austin, E. M. Forster, Alexander Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. I now have something like 100 different items on my Kindle, including a lot of samples. That is the other very cool thing about the Kindle, you can try a sample of a book for free. The free sample satisfies the instant gratification bug without costing you anything. And believe me, the instant gratification of the Kindle is a big temptation to spending too much money on books. It is just so easy. Other than the credit card statement there is no evidence of your indulgence. You don’t even have to find more bookshelf space.

I have tried reading magazines on the Kindle, but that hasn’t worked as well. Books tend to be read in a more linear fashion, although I still miss being able to easily flip back to a previous passage. But the magazine experience is different. There is the whole layout of a magazine page, which is not reproduced on the Kindle. And you really can’t flip through or browse the way you would with a print magazine. There is no art work to catch your eye, just text. Having the latest issue appear magically on your Kindle is pretty cool, though. You also don’t want to read books that have a lot of graphics or photographs in them. The grey scale does pretty well, but it is not color. But for reading novels it is great.

I have looked at the NY Times on the Kindle, but just couldn’t really figure out how to read it effectively. It just seemed to be too big for the Kindle, you know? I also tried out some of the blogs. They’re okay, but I really didn’t like the fairly steady stream of updates being downloaded and sucking my battery life. In the end I settled on just reading books on the Kindle, mostly fiction, but some non-fiction as well. Anything in paperback is definitely a Kindle read because I can’t read a paperback and knit at the same time.

Once I got hooked on the Kindle I took it with me everywhere. Bruce even started calling me Kindle Girl. Since I got the Kindle I have been reading more. I still buy real physical books but only if I really want the hardcopy, or if it is something that the Kindle just won’t handle well, or if it is something that Bruce will want to read – he doesn’t like reading on the Kindle, he needs more contrast.

The Kindle is not the end of the e-readers, it is the beginning. The reason it has done better than the others is because it has the weight of Amazon behind it providing a lot of titles (Oprah’s endorsement didn’t hurt). Yeah, it is spendy, and the price discount on the books is not that substantial, except on the classics, and there are the issues of digital rights management (thank goodness iTunes has gone DRM-free!) but the Whispernet is great. I don’t think that Kindle 2 is that much of an improvement over 1. More contrast, slimmer, but you can’t change the battery yourself, and they did away with the memory expansion slot. They did up the on-board memory, but I’ve probably exceeded that on my Kindle 1 (I have a 15 gig SD card).

The Kindle is a sign of things to come and I, for one, am looking forward to the future.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When security takes over

The other day at work I was taking my annual Information Assurance Awareness Training. This training is supposed to teach me how to protect our information systems, also known as our computers. One of the first statements that I was presented with, after I got past their paranoid scenario whereby hackers have brought down our economic system by taking over the federal pay system and writing themselves paychecks, is the fact that, I, as an insider, am the greatest threat to our information systems. Now, I realize that inside threats are the most difficult to protect against. We have, after all, deliberately been given access to those systems. But I really think they could have worded it better. They could have told me that I was a key element in information system security, thereby trying to enlist me as an ally rather than immediately branding me as an enemy. This sort of thing does, however, shed some insight into the mindset of the security people. In their universe, it seems, everything and everyone is a potential threat.

Now, in my day job I am a system safety engineer on military systems and I understand the necessity of evaluating risk. In fact, evaluating risk is something that we all do, whether or not we realize it, everyday. But if I adopted the mindset of the security culture, I wouldn’t let anyone do anything because I wouldn’t trust them to do the right thing. This is a road that our information security folks seem to be heading down. For several years now, I have not had any administrative privileges on my computer, I can’t even open up the system clock to look at the calendar because I might change the time. Recently they have restricted our emails to plain text only, ostensibly to reduce the bandwidth of our email traffic to make room for the digital signatures that have now become mandatory. Yeah, I don’t really buy their reason, either, but at least they gave us a reason, which is more than they did a couple of months ago when they suddenly banned us from using thumb drives.

Banning the thumb drives actually created a lot of problems. It isn’t easy for us to share our files on our computer networks because we are limited to 10Mb for our email attachments. Fine, you say, why not just post the file to a server. Well, that works, if you’re in my immediate organization, and if I’ve been given write permission to that folder, but access is restricted, and we have limited server space. We have been cleared to use USB hard drives, but not everyone has those, and it is not so easy for us to order supplies, so a lot of CDs are getting burned. Of course, they never told us why we couldn’t use the thumb sticks, and they probably won’t ever let us use them again. Maybe they think that sharing their reasons with us will somehow weaken their security posture. Or maybe, somewhere, deep inside, they know how utterly absurd what they are doing is. Nah, I don’t buy that either.

All of this shows what happens when one factor outweighs all other considerations. In this case that factor is security. Someone, somewhere, doesn’t want to balance security with our ability to perform our jobs. It is just easier to ban things than it is to put an intelligent security policy in place. It is also apparently easier to turn us all into enemies, rather than to enlist us as allies. If I used this approach in my system safety work I would end up killing our soldiers because I would have made the system so safe they wouldn’t be able to use it effectively when they needed to.

The end result of this securitizing (ugly word, isn’t it, well it’s an ugly concept) is the empowerment of the security elements and the disempowerment of the productive elements of our society. Look at what the Federal Government has been doing with airport security? How many hours are being wasted every day by business travelers? How many millions of dollars of tax payer money is being wasted every year on this Security Theater? With security, as with system safety, a little bit of effort will get you a lot of return, but you can never achieve absolute security, just as you can never achieve absolute safety. It is wasteful, and an abuse of power, to even try.