Piano Envy

Piano Envy

A friend who can scarcely afford it is making the plunge to buy a 9-foot Baldwin concert grand for her 14-year-old son, who's delighting her by developing into a fine pianist. My friend is an excellent musician herself (flute) who homeschools her boy and has encouraged his musical talents. They live in an extraordinary collection of tiny buildings on a couple of acres in a town of about 300 souls halfway between Houston and Austin. Only one of the buildings, which normally houses many aspects of the architectural photography business that my friend runs with her husband, is even remotely capable of housing this gorgeous instrument. It's used, but in good condition; I think the picture here that I pulled from the Net probably is a good representation. (And it's a good thing it's used, because they retail new for $89K, decidedly not in the budget. I think she's going to get it for $20K, already a crazy number.)

I hope the piano thing works out well for my friend's son, because I think she just blew the college fund. Well, they can always sell it if his passion dissipates, and there are worse marketable skills to have than the ability to play the piano at a professional level. As for the non-monetary advantage: that's incalculable. Not many kids are lucky enough to have both musical talent and a parent who's fanatically devoted to excellence in instruments.

She called her mother with the news first, only to receive a disappointing response. She knew if she called me she'd get the drooling, panting, frantically approving attitude she was looking for.


Angel & The Badman

A favorite movie of mine is on Hulu:

If any of you have dodged my earlier attempts to get you to watch it, take a couple hours this weekend.



We started harvesting our mustard seed last year and making prepared mustard by grinding the seeds with vinegar and a bit of salt and sugar. I found an article that advised leaving it at room temperature until it reached the desired mildness, then refrigerating it. The article also warned that it would taste like toxic waste on the first day, which is true, but don't give up! -- after only a few days it tastes great.

Like many members of the Brassica family, mustard is ridiculously easy to grow. After it produces a very pretty set of small yellow flowers, the seeds form in a tiny pod that's like a miniature black-eyed pea pod, only about an inch long. I laboriously zipped open the fresh pods until it finally dawned on me that once they were thoroughly dry they could be crumbled open; the chaff is then easily blown away, leaving the tiny seeds.

I don't recommend a mortar and pestle for the blending process. My ordinary blender did a good job, though it took the better part of twenty minutes to convert a cup or so of seeds to a blender-full of prepared mustard. You just keep adding vinegar until the mixture blends properly, and add bits of salt and sugar to taste. This makes an absolutely killer mustard for spreading on the outside of a ham in cooking, along with brown sugar and crumbled ginger cookies, à la Alton Brown.

Last year's crop was brown mustard, the medium kind. Mild American mustards are made with white seed. Crazy-hot Indian food is made with black mustard, which is the kind of seeds that just came in the mail, and which will go into one of our newly prepared beds this weekend, mustard being a cool-weather crop.

The Peons Get Uppity

The Peons Get Uppity

Last night there was a debate between candidates for Congress from the Illinois 8th District. The moderator was asked if the event would start with the Pledge of Allegiance. "No," she answered briefly. The audience began to murmur, which prompted her to begin a lecture about the lack of precedent. The audience simply leapt to its feet and recited the pledge, probably in less time than she was going to spend arguing about it:

The moderator was displeased. “I hope that will be the last time I am disrespected,” she said.

Mmmmm, probably not.

Internalism and Externalism

Internalism and Externalism:

One of the interesting parts of our discussion below, on Hegel and love, is the question of whether you can in fact know your wife as anything more than an idea. Hegel's position is that you really can't; although that doesn't mean she isn't real. Hegel lets himself out of this trap by asserting that 'the real is rational, and the rational is real' -- and, therefore, that the more you improve the rationality of your ideas, the more it doesn't matter whether you have 'the rational idea' of your wife, or 'the real' wife. The two approach, and in the mind of God attain, identity.

The idea is that our minds (these days, internalists like to say, "our brains" or "our nervous systems") interpret reality, and therefore add a layer to it that it doesn't really have. For example, we interpret light waves in certain ranges as color.

Thus, we cannot know what the things are really like in themselves (as Kant says in his Critique of Pure Reason). We're sort of trapped in our minds.

Mr. Hines supports this idea in relation to his wife:

Even after 89 years of close marriage, we can never know the other person, we only will have learned a lot about that person. Since we cannot merge our selves, we can never completely know the other, and so we can never really know the other. And so we are left with "just" the idea of the other--our perception of who the other is.
There are some good reasons to doubt this picture, even though it comes with a pedigree as exalted as Kant and Hegel. Hillary Putnam raised some of them in some thought experiments that will seem a little odd when you first encounter them, but which make the serious point that the meanings of words don't relate to our mental -- or even our brain -- states. You can explore that at your leisure, if you wish: For example, see his paper "Meaning and Reference." There are now many rational, detailed, analytic arguments against the internalist model.

I don't propose to make another one here, though I'll be glad to discuss Putnam's (or another) with you if you like. The idea of being 'trapped in the head' and never being epistemically certain of what is around you strikes me as a kind of nonsense. So too the concept that we know things only as ideas. There's a way of knowing what a horse is as an idea: you can read about horses, study their makeup and their structure, learn about the diseases that afflict them, read about their gaits, and so forth. That's an intellectual knowledge, an improving of your rational understanding of the idea of a horse.

You can also go out on a misty morning, with a rope in your hand, walk up to a black horse and set your hand on its nostrils. I did that this morning when the neighbor's beasts broke down their fence again, and had migrated down the road toward my place.

Once you put a rope on a horse, you can do many things with it. You can train it to the saddle. You can sit in the saddle, and feel it move beneath you. You can learn how it thinks, and experience the mind of a prey animal firsthand by how it moves and starts underneath you. You will realize -- not think, but know -- that other kind of mind.

You can know when it trusts you, and then you can see as a new world opens for the horse as well as for you: the two of you can do things that neither of you could have done alone. Just as you know its mind, it comes to know yours, and loses some of the fear that lies in its own nature.

You can then ride together, wherever you wish.

That's not my idea of the horse interacting with the horse's idea of me. It's me, and the horse, together. We know each other. The experience does not suggest atomic intelligences that can only know each other as ideas. It suggests living beings that have a certain capacity to merge, at the level of soul.

Hegel II

Hegel, II:

Be sure to read Cassandra's response to our thread below.



How to Love a Woman

Hegel on How To Love a Woman:

This post arises out of reading Hegel's philosophy of mind, which makes a fairly extraordinary claim about the nature of passionate love. I'd like to explore it with you.

The claim begins in paragraph 448, on the mental faculty of attention. The issue of attention is that you are free to give it, or not; and therefore, if you are to have a passion, it is because you have chosen to give it your attention.

But what is the thing to which you are giving your attention? It is an idea: and, therefore, it is your idea. After all, it exists in your mind, and the thoughts you have are your own. He offers an example:

Thus we know, for example, that if anyone is able to form a clear picture to himself, say in a poem, of the feelings of joy or sorrow that are overwhelming him he rids himself of the thing that was oppressing his mind and thereby procures for himself relief or complete freedom. For although by contemplating the many aspects of his feelings he seems to increase their power over him, yet he does in fact dimnish this power by making his feelings into something confronting him, something that becomes external to him. Goethe, for instance, particularly in his Werther, brougth himself relief while subjecting the readers of this this romance to the power of feeling.
The book he mentions, The Sorrows of Young Werther, sparked a wave of suicides across Europe. The title character is a suicide, killing himself over losing his love.

Why was his love worth dying over, though? She was an idea -- that is to say, she was not just a girl, with all the problems any individual girl might have. She was an ideal girl: it was his mind which had made her an ideal that was worth dying over.

We remember here our discussion around Chaucer's A Knight's Tale, and the objection raised by female readers that the young knights didn't know -- and therefore could not love -- the lady at all. Hegel seems entirely subject to that line of attack.

But now consider his further remarks on passion.
[P]assion is neither good nor bad; the title only states that a subject has thrown his whole soul -- his interests of intellect, talent, character, enjoyment -- on one aim and object. Nothing great has been and nothing great can be accomplished without passion. It is only a dead, too often, indeed, a hypocritical moralizing which inveighs against the form of passion as such.
So to have thrown your whole soul into a vision of beauty, that is passion. To have passion for a woman is, then, not to have some physical longing alone; that belongs to mere appetites, which rank much lower on his scale of mind. Rather, what you have is a longing for an idea of what the woman would be if she were as perfect as you wish her to be.

Well, and she is not; so is this not a lie? And are you not betraying her, if you will not take her as she is rather than demanding some perfection no one can possess?

Here I am reminded of Cassandra's wise words, directed towards men: that biology is not an adequate excuse for bad behavior. It is not what you are that makes you worthy of love, but what you could be; and the fact of trying to be that better thing.

Or we may turn to the Christian admonition to love the sinner, and hate the sin: this is nothing more than to love the idealized vision of the person, separated from their (actual) sin. You are asked to love them not as they are, but as they should be.

Now I wonder if Hegel isn't on to something. I hate to ascribe anything good to German Idealism: but let's talk it over, and see if there isn't something here.

Can't wait till this shows up on netflix. Heh.

Getting the Civil War right

Getting the Civil War Right:

There are doubtless many who would say that we shouldn't spend a lot of time on the American Civil War at all, it being ancient history and all that. Nevertheless, it was one of the most crucial moments in the American story, and we need to know how to think about it.

This story about the Virginia textbook shows one wrong way of handling the matter.

The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian but has written several books, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers primarily through Internet research....
Excuse me.

[Bangs head on wall for a few minutes.]

WHY do we have people who are not trained historians writing history textbooks? Is there some shortage of people with degrees in history? The last I heard there was such a glut of Ph.D.'s in history that few could find jobs.

OK. So, one bad approach: quoting Wikipedia and the Sons of Confederate Veterans' website, uncited, in a textbook.

The inclusion of alternative claims is not bad, if they are properly sourced and the controversy around them is explained. The Civil War remains highly controversial in terms of our understanding of it, even among professional historians -- a fact the article plays down to an unhappy degree. There is not general agreement about any of the basic questions of the war. There are probably more books written about it than any other topic in American history.

We went down to Stone Mountain for the Highland Games this weekend, as recently mentioned. I had occasion to point out the relief sculpture on the mountain to a child. I told him the three riders were important men from the war's history, Confederate generals. Could he guess which ones?

"Fredrick Douglass?" he guessed. On examination, this proved to be the only name he knew to be associated with the war.

There are two further errors in that approach: not teaching the controversies, yes, but apparently not even teaching the allegedly 'settled' history. All that the schools appear to convey is the politically correct narrative.

That's not to say that children shouldn't learn about Frederick Douglass, who was a wise and interesting man -- Eric was citing him in an email he sent me just the other day. Absolutely they should know who he was, and what he had to say. I just want them to know a little more, too.


An Illustration:

'You know who's dumb? That Sarah Palin. What an air head she is. Did you hear she said Tea Partiers were going to party like it was 1773? What a moron! We all know... ummmm....'


Pizza Pizza

Scuze me while I interject women's work.

I highly recommend a pizza stone. Makes a much better homemade pizza than a regular pan. This particular recipe (above) called for feta cheese, goat cheese and yellow peppers (doesn't sound like much but the two cheeses work well together). I added some thinly sliced red onion and halved cherry tomatos, but not the section belonging to a certain fifteen year-old.

Below is the whole wheat version, which met its end on a regular pan.  Even though the pan was floured, it came out like a cookie that wasn't worth scraping off.

A Related Problem

A Related Problem:

So, we've all been thinking about the problem of female politicians, right? To whit, sexist remarks appear to be highly effective against them.

Especially among women. Look at any poll you like, and you'll find that the Sarah Palins and Christine O'Donnells poll far worse among women than men. Men are willing to give them a chance, along partisan lines -- in other words, as ready to vote for them as for any other person who came along in their preferred party. Women are much less willing.

Is this related to why women prefer a male boss? (Not just in the UK.)

Now, as far as men pushing sexist attacks -- think of Candidate Obama talking about how Sen. Cliton 'periodically' -- we could resolve the problem by restoring the old codes of honor and violence. The best restraint on men's bad behavior is other men; and as gentlemen are more disciplined than other men, they will tend to win out given time and the liberty to employ their arms.

Failing that, you get boors. Since apparently boorishness is highly effective against female candidates... well, do the math.

What to do about women who won't give women an even break, though? I don't have an answer to that, being opposed to violence against women; I think you ladies may have to sort that one out on your own.

I understand that some of you may think that these female candidates aren't exactly your very best foot being put forward. Well, let me just say that I can't think of a single male politician who represents what is best about manhood. Or mankind. I'm thrilled when we can find one who represents something that is even pretty good. Most of the time we make do with one who is corrupt in a way that doesn't cause serious problems.

Far too much of the time, we can't get even that.

Give them an even break. I don't like my politicians either, men every one of them. So far, they're the best I can do.

Half a Hooah

Half a Hooah, Lady:

MKH posts a video, and a retraction. I kind of liked the video.

The lady writes:

As a matter of policy, I don’t comment on my personal life in public, but I will clarify that his tirade thoroughly mischaracterizes my political views. For instance, I do not believe that laws against assault should be repealed — nor do I think there should be an exception in cases when one’s ex-boyfriend behaves unacceptably on national television, though I admit that’s a tougher question.
Now that's just too bad. As longtime readers know, I've often favored just such a repeal -- at least for consensual fistfights between gentlemen, and perhaps for more serious (but equally consensual) affairs.

And maybe even when it's not entirely consensual, in cases where it's genuinely deserved.


The Stone Mountain Scottish Highland Games:

A good time was had by all.

Top that, Vegas girl.

(Of course the baby wasn't really drinking the whisky. I was there when they put the bottle in the chair with her, for humorous effect. She's a sweet kid, though; and she was just sacked out come Sunday afternoon.)


A book review:

Socrates's problems were our own. He lived in a city-state that was for the first time working out what role true democracy should play in human society. His hometown – successful, cash-rich – was in danger of being swamped by its own vigorous quest for beautiful objects, new experiences, foreign coins....

Rather than a brainiac grey-beard, we should think of him as his contemporaries knew him: a bustling, energetic, wine-swilling, man-loving, vigorous, pug-nosed, sword-bearing war-veteran: a citizen of the world, a man of the streets.

2 AL D

Treason, or Renaissance?

On Germany:

Watson derives the German genius from deep springs. Germanness as a notion long predated an all-German state. German protestantism, high literacy, well organised universities and a Jewish citizenry devoted to German high culture all played their role. How all that ended in Hitler is one of the questions of historiography. Watson devotes many pages to German soul-searching over the Third Reich, and the "treason" of a cultured middle class in voting him in and turning against the Jews and the west.

Germany’s attempt to create a multi-cultural society has failed completely, Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the weekend, calling on the country’s immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values.

Merkel weighed in for the first time in a blistering debate sparked by a central bank board member saying the country was being made “more stupid” by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim migrants. …

This approach has failed, totally,” she said, adding that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany’s culture and values.

“We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here,” said the chancellor.
I expect to see the same thing happen in America, as we've discussed; so let's go ahead and hash it out. Is this a new sort of the "treason" of the Third Reich, where the mainstream culture is turning hard against internal elements that are non-Christian, non-"German"? Or is this is the start of a rebirth, a rekindling of the German nation that gave us Beethoven?

I expect we largely agree about the answer, but I'm interested in proofs. So: Why? Can you prove it?

The Orcs of Zork

The Orcs of Zork:

So, about thirty years ago video games were still in their early stages. There was a kind of video game that as far as I know has faded almost entirely from modern efforts: and of them all, the greatest was Zork I: The Great Underground Empire. It starts outside a house, with a mailbox; inside the house there is an elvish sword, a lantern, and a trapdoor hidden beneath a rug. You can play it here.

Obviously Iowahawk was a fan.




H/t: Dad29.

Life Among the Volcanoes

Life Among the Volcanoes

I like to use Bing's search engine as my default page, so every morning I'm greeted with a new interesting image. This morning's is a beautiful patchwork of crops planted over a dormant volcano field in or near the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, just west of Lake Victoria. Near my home in the Coastal Bend of Texas, you mostly see cotton and sorghum in flat fields that reach to the horizon. Rwanda's fields are more interesting. I don't know what these crops are, but typical crops for the region might be coffee, tea, beans, sorghum, bananas, and pyrethrum-producing daisies. Rwanda is slowly recovering from the paroxysm of murderous hatred that engulfed it in the mid-90s and nearly destroyed the export agriculture and tourism business on which nearly its entire economy depends.

The little icons in the bottom right of each day's Bing picture give you background information and the option to scroll back through the last week's images. There are also little pop-up squares here and there in each image with links to related information.