Monday, February 27, 2006

When Sisyphus makes DVDs

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In Sony's Stumble, the Ghost of Betamax (NYT, by KEN BELSON, February 26, 2006)

Blu-ray discs will store 25 gigabytes of data, compared with the 15 gigabytes on comparable Toshiba discs and 4.7 gigabytes on today's DVD's.

Correction: Blue-ray discs will store 25 gigs of data, Toshiba discs, 15 gigs -- until you scratch them.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Up to no good

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That's all I can say about this: 11,000 dead turkeys in France, lethal bird flu. And this time by dead turkeys I don't mean French politicians.

So this is what Elliot does in his spare time. Infiltrate the EU with his nasty Chinese bugs!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Introducing MC Riley

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Hi, my name's Riley McPherson. Elliot (or "the Cogitator" haha) invited me to start guest blogging here at F C A. He knows I don't have much else going on right now. And hey, my interests are pretty different from his. He's all brain, dontchaknow. I'll see what I can dig up every now and then for F C A.

You can check my profile. I graduated from U of I in Carbondale. Marketing and econ major. Turns out I don't much like business though. Now I'm stuck ... don't shoot me ... telesoliciting.

I like long walks on the beach, quiet nights by the ... ah just jokin. I do love Scottish culture. I'm even still Presbyterian! Maybe I can give Elliot hard time, the slippery Papist that he is now!

Around here I go by All Riled Up. It's kinda weird though writing to people I don't even know and who probably don't even care.


America's first black president

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As spotted by none other than the Bi-Polar Vox Express

During his most recent State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush skied blissfully onto a very slippery slope when he huffed and puffed and snapped at his own kind—The Fossil Fuel Fiefdom.

Yes, as hard as it was to believe, W. spoke, for the first time in “subtext,” as he cowboy-chastised the Earls of Oil. He beamed with pride as he waited for the applause to die down. Then, standing tall in the saddle of the podium he abandoned any literary pretext or subtext and, in a compassion conservative Fred Rogers’ tone, he calmly pointed a friendly finger at America’s average citizens and told them they were a bunch of greedy, gas-guzzling grubs....

In my mind, what happened that night was a critical moment in American history. ... On that night, as W. peered out with his smirky gunslinger smile, I realized that he, Mr. Bush…W…was…yes…our first black president! I was so shaken that I could barely eat another cheese puff.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Something seems to be wrong with my hammer...

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... the wood just doesn't seem to cut evenly when I saw.

Why Doctors So Often Get It Wrong (NYT, 22 Feb 06, by DAVID LEONHARDT)

With all the tools available to modern medicine — the blood tests and M.R.I.'s and endoscopes — you might think that misdiagnosis has become a rare thing. But you would be wrong. Studies of autopsies have shown that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time. So millions of patients are being treated for the wrong disease. As shocking as that is, the more astonishing fact may be that the rate has not really changed since the 1930's.

Ann Coulter is a snivelling slave dog of Bush!

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Or not.

I'm no fan of Coulter's antics, but fair is fair.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Postscript to L'Escalier and Frey: Gospel Truth

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I know at least one FCA reader who, upon reading my comments about L'Escalier's reproach of Oprah Winfrey and James Frey's fabrications, may be inclined to say, "Exactly! And you Christians are just as guilty for believing the Bible's fabrications as God's truth."

Prima facie this has a strong edge to it. But the truth is, the Church does not believe any fables; she believes and proclaims those truths conveyed by means of any fabulous cultural accommodation on God's part in His revelation within and through genuine human cultures. The "gospel fictions" concerning Jesus, far from "disproving" his existence or identity, actually situate and authenticate him as a vital member of the culture into which He was incarnated. That He resembles this or that figure in antiquity is a function partially of the sheer commonalities to be seen between remarkable careers of life, but more importantly of the skilled efforts by the Gospel authors to highlight the truth of Jesus in the words and pictures of their day. As much mileage as various critics like to get out this or that theory of "mythic redundancy" – a convergence, by the way, that often rests on much more superficial length than serious depth –, such similarities only go to explain even better what the authors were trying to say. More than that, insofar as far Jesus, a proper man of his proper milieu, was aware of the religious themes and tropes of his milieu, we see his intentional actions as "retracing" and a comprehensive redemption of those religious half-truths into the full truth that is His own Person. To see a link between Jesus' behavior in X and Hercules' behavior in Z, is but to hear the Gospel authors saying, "What you understand from Hercules here, is what Jesus was too… only more so, and in our common flesh and blood."

For our purposes vis a vis Frey, the point is that if he had consciously and rather more clearly "borrowed from" the mythology of addiction/recovery literature, he would be seen as a true heir to such literature. But since he attempted to fabricate new myths in idiosyncratic terms, he cut himself off from explaining himself in those pre-existent literary terms. The Gospel authors, wherever they truly (and not merely superficially) appear, to "borrow from" Greco-Roman literature, this they do as a formal technique of situating Jesus in his culture and enlivening His Person in the culturalized minds of the early Church. To consider the Gospel authors "adapting" Greco-roman literature for narrative purposes is little more shocking to me than the fundamental Christian claim that Jesus and the Apostles "adapted" the pre-existent Jewish narrative in the revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven. Being an orthodox Christian does not entail denying Jesus' Jewish roots any more than it entails denying His Greco-Roman cultural associations. Saying Jesus is "disproved" on account of pagan similarities -- which, I must reiterate, too often get a facile green light from eager skeptics – is as silly as saying He is disproved on account of Jewish similarities in the Gospels. The Gospels, and the Church with them, say, "Yes, Jesus is many of those things... but so much more. Yes, we see 'pre-echoes' of the Gospel outside the Gospels... but we insist on heeding the Word made flesh in favor of those passing echoes of the Word."

The Incarnation claims that Christ the Logos, true God, became Jesus the Messiah, a true man; and being a true man means having a real culture. The Incarnation is therefore no less a biological "enfleshment" of God into a human than it is a cultural "enfleshment" of the Revelation into a human milieu, and vice versa. To deny that the Incarnation, so to speak, absorbed within itself distinct cultural aspects of the time is a sort of supra-Nestorianism, resting on the Nestorian heresy that the human aspect of Jesus was and is swallowed up in or erased by the true Christ, the divine Logos. The truly Christian understanding of the Incarnation is not so pallid; we believe in Jesus Christ, a man of His age, of His place, of His culture and of His surrounding literature.

From this radical, and not weakly Nestorian, enfleshment of God-as-man, we can and must embrace the full absorption of humanity into the Godhead. The Resurrection and Ascension of Christ are the signs that this radical and "singular" enfleshment is no longer singularly "trapped" within its primal biological and cultural conditions. Further, the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is the sign that the Incarnation is no longer confined to this or that, or even our favorite few, ages and places of Christianity. In much the same way the Holy Spirit enables Jesus to be appropriated by all peoples, yet without being eviscerated as the individual man He truly was, so too the Gospel authors could appropriate Jesus into His original milieu.

Free speech, or Frey speech?

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The BPDM ran an op-ed by their man in Paris, Comte St. Louis Esprit de L'Escalier, about James Frey and his sinoidal love affair with Oprah. Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, went from being a recovered drug addict and alcoholic to being a gleaming Oprah-Book-Club star, and guest on Winfrey's show, to being exposed for seriously fabrications in his work, and then, as I gather from this BPMD piece, chastised and disowned by Oprah. De L'Escalier is none too impressed with Oprah's reaction:

Who in the blue blazes do you, Oprah Winfrey, think you’re kidding? I mean you’re a “creation” your self--a fiction, if you will. You look nothing like you used to look, and what you do look like is made from organic chemicals and other cosmetic secrets, some known only to your doctor or surgeon, I’m sure. Your performance, sitting their like Salome waiting for the head of John the Baptist to be delivered to you, was a bit too orchestrated as you “castrated” and demeaned a grown man, Mr. James Frey. Mr Frey has done a much better job of getting his act together than some of the addiction freaks you’ve had on your show, who keep their dope and booze on the flow in Hollywood, but they act like perfect, sensitive angels when they sit next to the great and powerful Oprah.

Since I am even less "in the know" about media and pop-stardom affairs than when I was in the USA, I had to do some research. Initially I assumed Winfrey had distanced from Frey because he turned out not to be so clean after all. But then I immediately came upon The Smoking Gun's (TSG's) expose-inquiry of Frey's narrative, "A Million Little Lies". The facts brought forth by TSG in contradiction to the claims made by Frey were not only numerous and explicit, but also damning for Frey's credibility. I am aware L'Escalier is not defending Frey's literal, factual credibility; rather he is defending Frey as an ethical hero, whose moral victories over drugs and alcohol outweigh his humanely inspiring, albeit technically fraudulent, memoir. He argues:

Mr. Frey’s work fattens the souls of many who need to read and hear what it means to come out of a fiction--the fiction of addiction. ... Take any memoir by any of your starlet or star friends and you’ll find that here and there the “truth be damned” for a better story, a more inspiring story that came from how someone’s heart felt rather than an exact, at that moment, recollection.

The comte buttresses this line of thought with a quote from Eugene O'Neill's play, The Iceman Cometh:

"To hell with truth! As the history of the world proves, truth has no bearing on anything. The lie of the pipe dream is what gives life to the whole mad misbegotten lot of us.” (Delivered by the character, Larry Slade.)

Since I greatly respect L'Escalier's perspective in general, I am pained to admit I find him quite off-base in this case. While Frey's "success" in shaking addiction should not be ignored or denied, he certainly deserves to be put in his place (which here amounts to being put out of the unblinking spotlight) as a basic fabricator. I understand quite well the therapeutic value of embellishing his struggle for the sake of creating hope; but I am even more gravely aware of the risks involved in whitewashing how difficult hardcore addiction is. I understand that for many drug users, alcoholics, and general stuck-in-a-ruts, Frey is a walking placebo of hope and optimism. "If he can do it, so can I!" they certainly say upon reading A Million Little Pieces. But did he really do it? From what I know, yes, he did overcome drug addiction and the like; but the more important question is, Did he really overcome the life he claims to have led? Because, if he did not, then all those white-knuckled fists full of hope -- "I can do it too!" -- are gripping an illusion, a lie. The truth is, as indicated by the measly 17% recovery rate of Hazelton rehab center, where Frey was treated, people in Frey's hardcore addiction straits actually don't end up so spiffy and dapper as frey now is. The shine on his rehabilitated face, a shine which spreads to others like a ray of hope, is based on the saga of illusory optimism into which Frey has written himself. Sadly, this lie of optimism becomes for them the very "drug" L'Escalier says Frey's book neutralizes.

Isn’t that the whole point of the book: getting one’s self out of the fake world of addiction, out from a pernicious, imaginary world?

For the true nature of the drug Frey peddles is the myth of self-fulfillment. Though I have not read the book, I feel entitled not only to ask the question, "What, ultimately, do we get from Frey's book?" but also to give the answer, "We get Frey the Self-Made Man." We get a gritty modern version of Horatio Alger, which amidst its fevered accounts of sex, drugs and, yes, rock and roll, whispers the fatal meme that your salvation ultimately depends on yourself. This may seem absurd to say, but consider the narrative "ultimacy" of the book. Chapter after chapter exposes us to people who either oppress and harm Frey, but whom he overcomes, or people who help him transiently, but then ultimately die or disappear. (Even his parents are barely sketched in the story, and consistently described as being "ignorant" of his nightmare of addiction.) In the end, Frey, and Frey alone, is the last man standing. And the final high of this drug of Self-Improvement is Frey's total Nietzschean ecstasy of recreating himself in his own image as a phoenix whose wings, it turns out, were never actually burned so bad. Far from aligning himself with the "weak" and the addicted (for indeed, Frey considers addiction a weakness, not a disease), Frey the fabricator, the peddler of celluloid hope, actually aligns himself with the strong, the survivors, the ones who "get ahead" by any means necessary -- even by lying your way onto the Oprah show.

There is a final reason I must part ways with L'Escalier on the Frey-Oprah affair, and it is the simple issue of truth. Regardless how inspiring Frey's work is, that virtue cannot be commingled with the sheer vice of deception, and continued knowing deception, in which Frey indulges. It's one thing for Frank McCourt, whom L'Escalier alludes to as a similarly culpable "embellisher" yet exculpably inspiring memoirist, to say he didn't eat a thing for three days, when it was actually only 36 hours; in either case, the truth is that McCourt had a poor and miserable childhood. It's quite something else, as we see in Frey's case, for an author to fabricate an entire criminal past as an integral part of his story. This is tantamount to discovering McCourt actually was the son of a wealthy Irish industrialist, and then simply embellished an unpleasant evening when he couldn't satisfy his appetite. It would be well within my sympathy is Frey had exaggerated this or that fact for the sake of conveying "just how bad it really was," but his use of numerous, blatant and pivotal lies -- even after publishing the book and being interviewed at some length about the truth -- is simply inexcusable. Had he admitted up front A Million Little Pieces is an addiction fable, he would not only have saved himself all this ignominy, but also given himself free reign to guide conscious readers into the mythic, superstructures of addiction, dignity and hope. As it stands, however, A Million Little Pieces is to memoir what The Da Vinci Code is to history. Then again, maybe Frey goes by the old media maxim: Any publicity is good publicity.

Frey's achievement -- and I can only call it that, since "the Frey incident" is so much larger than a simple book's career -- brings to light the fact that our culture has a deeply paradoxical stance towards truth. On the one hand, we are largely incapable of -- allergic to -- facing the deepest truths about our existence, such as the Trinitarian nature of reality, the inviolable dignity of each human person, the paltriness of money versus the enduring value of beauty and modesty, etc. On the other hand, we are "sick of all the lies", and hunger deeply for the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Frey, unfortunately, is savvy enough to feed on this two-mouthed hunger. By writing a memoir so gritty and disturbing that we instinctively feel it just has to be true, as well as by giving a "real life hero", Frey has fed us with truth... only to tell us grudgingly it is really just a wax apple. Adam and eve fell by eating (proverbial) apple of the knowledge of good and evil; we fall in our own day by willing to eat the apple of truth along with the worm of deceit within it.

Yet more proof...

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...that we attacked three letters two far up the alphabet in the War Against Islamism.

Iran Pledges Financial Aid to Hamas-Led Palestinians (NYT, 23 Feb 06, by STEVEN ERLANGER)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, hinted Monday after meeting Mr. Meshal that Iran would provide overt funding. "Since the divine treasures are infinite, you should not be concerned about economic issues," he told Mr. Meshal, the IRNA news agency reported.

Silly fingernails...

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...hinging open is for doors!

Last night at judo during randori I pulled my partner towards my, trying to pull off an osoti gari (large outer reap), which is one of the fundamental moves, and apparently very good for tall, lanky guys like me. I guess my fingers were curled too much around his judogi lapel, so when I yanked, I felt my nails bend backward. Sure enough, when I looked, my ring finger nail was glowing in a halo of blood. Excellent. Tape it up, back in we go.

Sometime shortly before or after that, I was with the same guy and ended up doing an ouchi gari from behind him. Bad move. Not only is it illegal in competition -- it could break a guy's ankle -- but it's also not so good for the one doing it, as you end up crashing on top of the opponent and your legs snap up. Ouch, back pain. Before all this, in my first round of randori, my opponent's judogi ground into my right eye, so for the next ten minutes I sparred with a watering, blinking eye, looking like a drug addict in withdrawal.

By the end of my retreat at Jing Shan I had decided resolutely and gleefully that the following week was "martial arts week, no questions asked." During that time, God helped me come to terms with being myself -- very happy in Taiwan, athletic and intellectual, content living a "daily" life etc. -- and I think until I had attained that kind of humble honesty, I was too anxious about my every turn. More than that, for the past several months, at least since World Youth Day, God has insisted I slow down and "set my house in order" (cf. St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, stanza 1) before flitting into yet more activities. Now, however, I feel lighter in myself and yet heavier in God, so that I sensed Him nod and give me the green light to return to martial arts. They key, as always, is to maintain a living daily connection with Him, eve as I engage my providential surroundings with joy, hope, prayer and love. For example, earlier this week I got home and had three things ahead of me: pray, cook some black beans, and taiji practice. I fretted for a moment or two about whether I should pray first, then go to taiji and just do the beans later. But then I sensed God's tap on the shoulder: "Elliot, if you don't cook these beans now, you will push yourself to do it much later tonight; then you will go to sleep much too late and be weak tomorrow for teaching. But if you put the beans on while you pray, your mind will constantly be fretting about the pot boiling over or the beans burning, so you will not really be with me in prayer. Also, you have committed to taiji as an act of living the joys I give you."

"So...?" I wondered.

"So," I sensed Him say, "cook the beans and go to taiji. Be with me while you cook and while you train; for I am with you. I see your heart; I know you long to pray..."

"But I must cook these beans, Lord," I interjected.

"That's right! Now you are beginning to understand! You are a small man; you must eat; you shall eat these beans for days; all this is my will and my grace."

Praise God, I have the freedom to cook beans!

Walking in such spiritual freedom, I also decided to heed the counsel of one of my readers:

[I]t would also seem to make sense to learn a style which is particularly well-represented in the region where one lives. I'm surprised you haven't taken up something like Bachichuan or Baqua. I had heard that certain teachers in Taiwan still maintain these forms in their pure combative essence. I don't know whether it would be possible to study these elsewhere and it seems a bit, well, unfortunate (although highly focused) to ignore these while you have the unique chance to learn them. ... {He added elsewhere:} [H]ow is it that you could be in one of the heartlands of semi-fermented teas, where delicious gaozan 高山茶 is readily available, and yet you are apparently drinking green tea (unless of course, you have combined both categories--mistakenly). It boggles the mind almost as much as when one would ignore the hsing-yi, pakua, and bachichuan sifu to engage oneself in Judo.

The more research I did, the more excited I got about bagua. Not only do I love the concept of reversing the aggressor's energy against him, but I also enjoy bagua's fluid nature and its use of open palms versus hard" fist strikes. I originally planned going to bagua two nights a week at the Cheng Ming dojo here in Taichung, but then on Sunday I ran into an American professor at Dong Hai University who has studied taiji and bagua (i.a.) for 25 years. He quickly steered me away from Cheng Ming, though, saying their style was too hard on the joints, had little application in actual fighting situations and was too expensive, to boot. He goes to Taipei every weekend (or so) to train with a renowned bagua master. Then I gave him my card, and he not only invited me to join him for bagua, but also said he needed a training partner for white crane. "Interested?" he asked. I was simply flabbergasted. I had gone from literally zero knowledge of bagua and white crane to a chance to learn with two well experienced trainers. Unfortunately, the professor has not yet contacted me. (I suspect a mix of busyness, misplacing or forgetting my card, and then perhaps being alienated by my religious baggage, if he saw my blog, have all contributed to putting the ball in my court to further our contact.)

Another development I should mention has to do with taijiquan ("tai chi"). Because I heard taiji is good for breathing, and because I have chronic nasal/throat problems, with occasional breathing difficulties, I was interested in any help I could get. Further, my limited research into bagua had led me to believe studying any of the three "internal" forms of gong fu -- bagua, taiji or xing yi -- overlapped and thus reinforced common, key principles and "instincts". Plus, my reader was right: I live in a country famous for its living legends in these arts, so I really would be a fool to miss the opportunity to get my feet wet in such a living stream of martial arts tradition. So, as it stands, I have had three lessons of taiji. Classes are free; we meet in the science museum courtyard about 1930, warm up, do a full form, get coaching on one or two key forms, practice for a while, and then finish with one or two more cycles of the full form. (Keep in mind I am a total novice, so my use of terms is idiosyncratic and most likely wrong. By "full form" I mean a complete set of moves we do, as in one "dance", before isolating and practicing moves within that dance. I've ordered a few books on the internal forms, so I can get the theory and terms straight.) We're done by 2040 or so. I go Monday and Thursday nights. I'm committed to at least 12 lessons before giving up or changing locales.

My return to judo was tragicomic. My original plan of doing bagua was foiled, so I jus did taiji instead -- simple enough. The problem of returning to judo was more delicate. I was still embarrassed by my awkward "disappearance" from my first dojo; I was also genuinely not excited about going back to it, as I felt it was too small and the instruction offered was too aimless. The only other option I knew of was the Xin Min dojo -- but then I heard that was a private school club. What to do? Add to all this that I was genuinely afraid of returning to judo. I won't bluff: judo gives me chills. It is demanding and intimidating. My books and Dane (and cooking beans) are so much more inviting. I put off my decision until last Friday, shuffling my mind's feet nervously all day; even when I got home, I was panicky about whether to do bagua or judo. (Talking with my buddy and fellow teacher, Jeff, who had studied bagua five years in Australia, I decided to try bagua at Cheng Ming, regardless what the Dong Hai prof had said to the contrary; you have to start somewhere, and my aims as a novice are totally different from his as an expert.) I deliberated until the last minute but then sprang into action: to judo! Not only was scheduling all three forms implausible, but, more important, I owed it to myself to try a new dojo for the martial art I enjoy so much.

Classes are scheduled on the Internet to begin at 1900. I arrived at 1910 ... and waited until 1940 for warm up to begin. Unfazed, I eased my way back into judo and, even in only one lesson, I was pleasantly surprised by the differences between Xin Min and my old dojo (Cheng Gong). First, the warm up was comprehensive and not as hasty as at Cheng Gong. Second, Xin Min's tatami area was twice the size of Cheng Gong's, so there was room for ALL of us to practice at once. Third, unlike at Cheng Gong, there weren't too many coaches on the mats, so that I wasn't left confused by three or four differing, even conflicting, corrections from each passing coach. More important, the coaches instructed me personally, specifically and clearly. "This is what I want!" I said to myself. I want to be drilled and drilled and drilled again in the BASICS. Maybe it's just "the grass is greener" syndrome, but I feel good about Xin Min. That first night in fact, during randori, my partner, a hulking black belt with iron hard pecs, threw me with, I think, an osoti gari. I hit the mat and stunned myself by smiling: "I love this," I said within myself. It felt good to get thrown; it felt even better to get back and try again.

(Incidentally, it occurred to me last night that doing judo in Taiwan, while not as "pure" or "orthodox" as doing it in Japan, is actually a decent opportunity. Taiwan, after all, was under total Japanese occupation for half a century. Hence, the stream of judo tradition I have waded into here is arguably the most purely Japanese exposure to it I can get outside of Japan, or apart from studying directly under a Japanese master who might happen to be where I live next. In other words, refracted "colonial judo" is good enough for me.)

The future is unclear. Should I do my 12 taiji lessons and then switch to bagua, or should I emphasize bagua while maintaining taiji one night a week? Should I do both and wait for judo in a different locale? I'm much more fascinated by bagua and I really enjoy judo, so...? Ah, the beauty of it is that now that I feel this divine calm about my daily life, none of these choices is a crisis. I enjoy my aimless amateur zeal. I enjoy being able to call myself a judoka. Of course, bending fingernails half-off I can do without.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


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The children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade them each to buy a copy of the group picture.

"Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grown up and say, 'There is Jennifer; she is a lawyer,' or 'That is Michael. He is a doctor.'"

A small voice at the back of the room rang out, "And there is the teacher ... She is dead."

(From a great little site I stumbled upon, "Once Upon a Smile".)

Here's to Socrates!

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I read Christopher Phillips's Socrates Café today. I must admit, despite its cool title and very trendy populist texture, the book's prose was often rambling and painfully pedantic. I found my eyes drooping at least a few times, especially since most of the book consists of page after page after erratic page of brief and ultimately vague descriptions of innumerable people trying to say lots and lots of profound things. The plausibility, or authenticity, of the "conversations" was dubious at best. I got a good feel for how undergrad intro philosophy professors must feel. How many times can you see people get worked up so ignorantly about rabbit holes you know were tracked and closed millennia ago? ("Yeah, but how do we even know we're here, man! .. And, besides, what is 'here' anyway!"). The book quickly went from bordering on fatuity to basically wallowing in it. It reminded me of that surrealistic philosophy anime movie, Waking Life, which I found banal precisely because it tried to be oh so profound. (Of course, the story and, above all, the animation were tops.) As I read, I was thankful, truly thankful, for every single narrative interlude (about Phillips journey and some of his touching Socratic encounters), so I could get a breath from the heavy breathing in the chat sessions. It was like reading an undergrad's philosophy journal: intentionally, even cathartically, formless and aimless and groping. At least Phillips didn't indulge in any undue anti-religious boot stomping.

I hate to come across so negatively about the book, since I really appreciate what it's trying to say. Despite the unpleasant presentation was inspiring, and in several ways, informative. Bring philosophy -- understood as a hearty Socratic love for honesty, humility, learning and cooperative excellence in the pursuit of truth -- back to the people, shouts Phillips, founder of the Society for Philosophical Inquiry.

The fabled "Socratic method" gets a lot of press as being very subtle and nuanced, and, for many a non-philosopher, it holds a kind of mythical mysterious allure. But let me make things easy for you and tell you the discovery I and my dormmate made my freshmen year of college. After weeks -- whole weeks, I tell you! -- of discussing and pondering this "elenctic method", this means to "aporia", in and out of class, we discovered the true Socratic method. When your "interlocutor" makes a claim, just select a word or short phrase, at random really, and repeat it in a rising, deliberate, interrogative, quizzical tone.

For example, if you say, "Today is a nice day," I just reply, "Today?" Or maybe I'll say, "Nice?" And so forth. Regardless what word I repeat, you'll be thrown back on your heels, suddenly unsure how to proceed. Chit chat has just become possible grist for the gadfly's mill. (Ah, Socratic bliss!) "Yes," you continue, a little hesitantly, perhaps frowning ever so faintly at me as I stare you down with a waiting grin, "yes, the weather is nice today." "Is?" I reply coyly. "What's your problem, man? It's just a nice day," you snap. "Problem?" And so forth. Great fun and true ancient Greek wisdom. (Once we made this breakthrough, though, my dormmate and I had no more wonder about why Athens offed Socrates.)

Anyway, over lunch today I had a flash of genius to combine populist philosophy with popular consumerism: Hemlock Beer. Or, just "Hemlock". Good possible slogans:

"Hemlock. To beer or not to beer?"

"Thinking of drinking? Drinking for thinking. Hemlock."

"Hemlock. It puts the head back in beer."

"Ours wouldn't have killed Socrates."

(Reader submissions?)

Hemlock is basically just beer -- but with profiles and quotes from famous philosophers on the side of the can. To ensure the beer weren't too highbrow, these can-side profiles would have whimsical and wry, sort of like The Onion covering Plato. Think about it: What better way to spend a night out (or in) than haggling and yelling with drunk people about the deep questions of life! ("I drink therefore I am?" "Why beer and not nothing?" "Does beer have a soul? Do I have a soul? If so, is it made of beer?" "Does Miller Lite really taste great ... or is it really just less filling?" "Got milk?" Etc.) I imagine it would be immensely popular in college dorms as well as posh seashore condos.

In the excitement of creativity, I thought of a product extension: Philosopher Brews. Find out what brews various philosophers enjoyed best and run a series of special brews in their honor.

You could even have drinker essay contests. "What did you learn while drinking Hemlock?"

I unabashedly admit this beer rests on almost pure gimmick, but I would insist it were finely brewed, affordable beer. Of course, I realize it might be little naughty of me to fuse education with heavy drinking... but well, I can only hope things go down smoothly.

FCA Patron Saint Day

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Today is the feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe and great witnesses of faternal unity in the faith, faithful union between East and West in the Church, and great Christian zeal. (And, hey, they were Greek!)

Ut unum sint, ora proa nobis!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Wheeze, wheeze, wheeze

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I hate sounding like such a wheezer, but these days I just >wheeze< cannot >wheeze< generate >wheeze< any blogging steam. Not that that's a very bad thing. I still have the final series-essays "on [perpetual] deck", but lately, being all over Taiwan during the break, trying to "keep in step with the Spirit" after my retreat all last week (which was almost certainly the most totally, holistically edifying retreat of my life), catching up on so many bagging loose ends as soon as I got back in Taichung, prepping for a new semester, etc. The usual slog.

Haha, but I'm doing well. Thanks for your various comments, too. Wish I could say more, really, but, that's all I've got. For now, life offline won't stop screaming my name. All in due time...

PS. Some of you who chimed in about my taste in tea and martial arts may be pleasantly surprised by some changes on the horizon for this wee sinful blogger.