Greenville / fishing boat Ehime Maru tragedy (Pearl Harbor, 09Feb01). My guess is that Commander
Waddle rushed his safety checks before executing the simulated
emergency surfacing procedure that caused the crash, because he was operating in
an "social climate" in which the people "above him" (his "superiors"...) somehow had conveyed the impression
that pleasing important visitors was very important.|
|It is not enough to
always say that safety is important. People need to understand that safety is
more important than pleasing important people: that you won't be
reprimanded for displeasing the people "above you" but only for not
doing your job right. This message needs to be
conveyed with especial emphasis when important people may be around. Children who
grow up being taught to please their parents and teachers and other people "above them"
are tragedies (i.e., avoidable disasters!) waiting to happen.
(Read about: Russian nuclear submarine Kursk disaster.
Also: July 2002 Ukraine air show disaster.
Also: A parable: How Oedipus's tragedy could have been avoided.)|
of the helping professions. A psychoanalyst once told me
a secret of the profession: "In order to do good therapy, you need to be
well-paid and well-laid." Only after a person has their own needs met can the
person optimally help others. Another way to state this is: The solution to the
selfishness-altruism dilemma is that a person ceases to be "selfish" when their
self is satisfied, for then they can help others without
having to sacrifice their own well-being to help others be well, i.e.,
without having to be "altruistic". This applies even
in trivial circumstances: If there is a difficult-to-find book which I want, and
I think I've found a copy, I am hesitant to tell others about it until I have
my copy in hand (since, until then, I am concerned that their efforts to get their copy
might prevent me from getting mine). Once I have my copy, however, it gives me
much satisfaction to recommend the book to others, and to tell them where
they might be able to get a copy for themselves. --The title of a book by Bubba Free-John
sums it all up: The Feeding Gorilla Comes in Peace.
(See also some quotes about: how conservatives and
the "free market" work to prevent this kind of felicitous social harmony from
being realized; and read my essay: Against ambivalence.)|
of the executive suite. Someone (ref. lost) once told
me "a secret of the [executive suite]: No person ever died regretting they
had not spent more time in the office."|
|The Annals of Cultural Relativism
(cultural difference, etc.). I know a person who once bought a very
expensive automobile, which he took great care for. Since he did not wish persons to
bang their car doors into it and scratch the paint, for instance, he would try to park in a far
corner of a parking lot to help other persons not to have to trouble themselves for the sake of his
concern for his car. One day, my friend's cousin parked next to my friend and opened his car door and
did hit the door of his car into the side of my friend's car. My friend pointed this
out to the cousin, who responded: "It's only a car." My friend punched the cousin in the
jaw and explained: "It's only a jaw." Today's lesson:|
|If my values are no big deal, then neither are you[rs].|
|(Notes: (1) This principle appears to be consistently universalizable, and therefore to
meet the criteria specified by Kant's "Categorical Imperative".
(2) George W Bush has deployed this kind of dismissive response to defuse the question whether
Saddam Hussein really had the weapons of mass destruction Bush claimed he had to
justify preemptive war against him -- See: Quote #169.)|
|George W Bush: "So what's the difference?"|
|Precision and Soul.
I know of an automobile mechanic who works only on
cars of persons who take good care of them. Which reminds me of a story about Dr. William
Halstead, one of the founders of The Johns Hopkins Hospital: One day he was walking through
a ward and found the antiseptic conditions not up to his standards. He walked out of the
ward, announcing that he could not assume responsibility for patients maintained under such
conditions. Dr. Halstead was known for his meticulousness in all areas of life. He sent his shirts across the ocean to
France to be laundered, and he was said to be able to inject anesthetic
into a nerve with an accuracy of "a thousandth of an inch" (once an anesthesiologist took
half an hour stabbing and injecting now here now there before he found a certain nerve in my arm).|
|What does it mean when my desk is a mess?
I am by nature a very neat person.
When my desk is a mess, it usually means that circumstances (often: "persons") beyond my capacity to deal with
are messing up my life. In other words: If my desk (or other living space...) is a mess, something is wrong.
[See another perspective on neatness in offices:
||The ancients were wrong about
the starry heavens and should have known it.
Apparently the ancients thought the starry heavens were a realm of eternal perfection,
in radical constrast to our earthly (sublunary) realm of change and corruption.
But all one needs to do is look at the sky and it should be obvious that the
heavens are not perfect. To the naked eye, the moon has a motley color indicative
of at least cosmetic dermatological pigmentation problem. The stars are unevenly distributed in the
sky and they vary randomly in brightness, and the motions of the planets -- well, just the fact that the planets
move at all relative to the fixed stars --, are two more signs of celestial irregularity.
And "The Milky Way" -- well, isn't it "milky" (slightly opaque)? Therefore, the
ancients should and could have speculated that the starry heavens were a
realm of relatively higher beauty and perfection than the earth, but still
not perfect. Once again, nobody notices the emperor's new clothes -- or his old
clothes, which, one day in the past, were on that day his new clothes --, either).|
|The philosopher Hegel once said something that,
even back in the mid 1800s, was politically incorrect. Hegel disagreed with Kant's famous dictum about
the two majesties: (1) the starry heavens above and (2) the moral order within. Hegel said that the stars were
merely leprous spots on the bowl of the night sky, and that the only thing
majestic relevant to the stars was man's astronomical theories about them: "It's not
the stars, but what man puts into them -- that's the real thing." (ref.
Hans Blumenberg, The Genesis of the Copernican World, MIT Press, 1987, pp.69,70) [I agree with Hegel about the locus of
majesty being in our knowledge of objects and not in the objects themselves; but I do think the
stars, unlike skin lesions due to leprosy, are esthetically beautiful -- at least at the safe distance
from which we view them.]
||A requirement for any
genuinely modern architecture: Because all work produces not only its nominal
product but also the life form of the workers, users and others, any
truly modern architecture needs to design and construct good working conditions
for the architectural workers. The phenomenon that, as a [tellingly named:] "deadline" approaches, the
employees in an architectural office work incredible overtime and exhaust themselves, is called:
The Charette ().
A genuinely modern architecture must abolish the Charette,
irrespective of what the buildings are designed to look
|Postmodern architecture is
Beaux Arts neo-classical orthodoxy.
I thank Karsten Harries' book, The Ethical Function of Architecture, for
helping me see clearly that postmodern architecture
is really just 19th century Beaux Arts
orthodoxy architecture in new attire and/or with a face-lift,
because both postmodern architecture and the Beaux Arts believe[d]:|
|Architecture = Charette(shed + decoration)|
|New York's neo-classical main Post Office is just as much a decorated
shed (place with a fancy front, behind which persons do repetitive mind-dulling labor...), as
any postmodernist monumental building. The new buildings are also no less designed by
Charette, than the old.
|Icarus. Who? The "flip side" of a person
isolating themself from the world is for the world to take no notice of the person. Brueghel's painting
The Fall of Icarus
shows Icarus drowning at the end of his plunge from the sky, and
nobody caring enough to notice. Even famous persons do not matter except to the individuals in
whose lives their life plays a personal role, and even there, "life goes on", etc.
Icarus could have avoided falling.
Also: Learn the fate of Everyman.]
|Charles A. Lindbergh (Lucky Lindy).
20 May 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew across the
Atlantic Ocean. His solo flight was something of a "feat": an idiosyncratic display of virtuosity.
Even today, there are no uses for solo ocean crossings via any means of transportation.
Crossing the ocean in a large transport plane
was and still is less difficult and more useful than what Lindbergh did.
Lindbergh's feat, like many feats, was largely a diversion of resources. It was irrelevant except as PR.
In some old American Express ads,
a demi-celebrity [e.g., Pavarotti or Spiro Agnew...] expects to be recognized by some menial service
person. But the service person does not recognize
the demi-celebrity. Puzzled why this "nobody" seems to expect special treatment,
the service person asks: "Who?"
--The demi-celebrity finally gets "noticed" by showing their
American Express card.|
of my graduate school teachers
told me a story: Once he went, as part of a
small group, to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's home / studio:
The architect greeted the group at the entrance. Everyone had to bend over to
enter through the very low entry. Wright asked them why they
thought he had made the entrance so low that one had to stoop to enter.
My teacher said no one in the group knew the answer.
I learned of my friend, Louis Forsdale's death, on the
very morning (late Sep 99) when I was planning to ask him to
reconfirm for me the details of this story.]|
||In Abel Gance's (1889-1981) great silent film:
Napoleon and Josephine, among others, are saved from "The Terror",
by a certain clerk in the government department which selects who shall be
guillotined: a self-appointed eater of documents,
who masticates and digests their dossiers. [Following in this noble tradition,
our Maine Coon cat, Misu, has recently (Jan 2000), taken to eating invoices,
doctor's prescriptions and other "papers"....]|
|Apocryphal 2004 Fortune magazine
"Turn incriminating business documents into tasty dinners, in seconds!"|
|Chariots of Fire.
I used to think this movie was terribly saccharine kitsch -- with its leitmotif
of "Now let us praise famous men, and our fathers who were before us."
But I always wondered why there was one short scene, near the beginning -- perhaps
a minute or two long at most --, in which a veteran of The Great War (WWI), who was
so terribly wounded that his face is still visibly held together with a wire contraption,
and who works as a taxi driver, unloads the baggage for one of the privileged young men
going off to Cambridge (Oxford?). "Why is this incongruous scene there?", I kept asking myself.
And I always answered: It's probably a "sop" thrown to the Cerebrus of "social responsibility in
the arts". But now I have changed my mind: I think maybe that little(no pun intended...)
scene is the heart of the movie, and that all the rest of the ca. 2 hours of
it spent sentimentally celebrating the best and the brightest of the immediate
post-World War I generation is actually one long mockery of "famous
men, and our fathers who were before us". I can't prove it, but I hope
my new opinion is more right than my previous one.|
made "mobiles" and "stabiles" (the mobiles move; the stabiles stay solidly "put" on the
ground). I have started making meta-stabiles from a set of small child's
blocks. These are block constructions with a greater propensity for moving -- esp. for
falling down, than for staying put
(Show me one!).
Note: I never had blocks to play with as a child; I did have an "Erector set" and "Lincoln
logs", but no blocks.|
||Early December 2003, I came across a
wood blocks marble run construction
toy that looks "really neat": CUBORO|
New Yorker magazine once had a long article about the terrible working conditions of symphony
musicians. Symphony musicians never hear the
music until they retire, and especially the ones who are so unfortunate as to
have their chairs near the percussion section may suffer permanent hearing loss. (Note:
We are here talking about classical symphony music, not "hard rock"!)
The article described how the musicians try to protect themselves against the noise by
shielding themselves with pieces of large cardboard boxes such are refrigerators come packed in. Etc.|
|Since art, unlike (e.g.) growing food, is a free production of the
human spirit, unconstrained by physical necessity, it seems to me that if art does
not express high human[e] values, not just in its object (e.g., the symphonic performance the audience hears)
but also in its process (e.g., the experience of the musicians performing the symphony),
then it mocks the human spirit it supposedly celebrates.|
|Masse und Macht
(Crowds and Power).
A symphony orchestra, by its very nature, consists of a Leader who commands and followers who obey.
The conductor is a little dictator, and the members of the orchestra are the leader's
followers, who must obey their leader. Heil conductor! The individualities of the individual musicians are
dissolved in "the group", like the individuality of the individual
soldier is submerged in the group in infantry warfare. (I have also noticed that, in symphonic and especially
in choral symphonic music, one piece often sounds a lot like another, because so much noise all
together tends to cancel out individual differences. This strikes me whenever I listen to
a supposedly very good recording I bought of Brahms' Requiem...).|
|I urge, therefore, on principle, that orchestral and choral music, as "genres", are
destructive of human[e] values, even if what the particular symphonic or choral work is
"about" is human freedom and dignity (e.g., Beethoven's 9th Symphony). A truly human[e] social
order, in which there arte neither leaders nor followers, neither ordering nor obeying,
but in which the only force is "the unforced force of the better argument" (--Habermas) and
individuals' free, reflectively considered responses thereto -- In a truly human[e] society,
neither symphonic or choral music can be performed. Neither can the large audiences which the
performance of such works "command" be assembled. These savage rites can "live on",
along other anthropological documentation
of mankind's equivocally human prehistory, only archivally. Persons need to learn about these things in books so that
they can guard against repeating them in life.|
|In a truly human[e] society, all music
will be solos and chamber music, performed in "intimate" settings. This art will not just celebrate by
ambivalent assertion but nurture by harmonious example, Leisure, the basis of culture,
and, particularly, that self-selected
study in the company of good friends which is the proper activity of persons.
(Click here to read about the meaning of monumentality.)|
you mean to deprive us of the pleasures of choral and symphonic music?"
"You certainly can listen to existing recordings, just like I listen to the recorded music of
Dr. Allesandro Moreschi, the last castrato." "But we can't perform this music any more?"
"There are certain pleasures which are not appropriate to civilized persons,
because they undermine the conditions for civilization. Castrati and orchestras and choruses are among these."|
||Proof that a diamond is forever.
Diamonds are De Beers.
De Beers is forever.
Therefore: A diamond is forever. Q.E.D.|
|See some of the world's most
VuLGAR wristwatches (they are not inexpensive!): Click here!
Also: the pocket watch from hell!
||Example of "media ecology" (McLuhan, etc.): The 03Dec99
NPR morning news told that football television broadcasting
"instant replay" was now 36 years old. At the first
game in which instant replay was used, the announcer felt he had to
explain to the viewers that they what were seeing
was not live play in the game, but replay
of action they had just seen. The story
said that the person who invented instant replay
did not only do it so that viewers could get a second view
of a play to better be able to see what happened. The inventor
also intended instant replays as a way to fill in
time between plays in the ongoing game. The story noted that
after instant replay came into use, however, the time between
plays in the game increased in order to allow more time for
story of TV football instant replays offers a lucid (parable-like...)
illustration of how innovations in communication media (our
means of perception) have "feedback" effects on content (aka "reality"):
Instant replays were intended to fill in
"dead" time between plays in the football game; the instant
replays themselves then reacted back on the
game to increase the time between plays. The story
also shows how new media change [our sense of] "reality": At first,
the announcer felt he had to explain what the instant replays
were not: they were not new plays in the game!
Instant replays did not fit into the existing
reality simply as new instances of some familiar "kind of thing":
they were a new kind of thing -- indeed: a new kind of thing which might even be mistaken for
a previously known kind of thing (i.e., a real play in the game)!|
|Thus we see how new communication media
do not just add new things to the world ("more of the same"...); they also change
what the world is like. Even further: New media not only add new kinds of
things to the world: they even make old [kinds of] things that previously
were there and which they do not alter in any "material" (i.e., content) way, "different".
In 1990 (or 2004), it simply is not possible for a doctor to
race to a medical emergency -- in his horse and buggy. The
doctor may have a horse and a buggy, but a horse and buggy is no
longer a rapid transportation vehicle. Whereas a doctor in 1900 who
raced to a medical emergency in his horse and buggy would have been
deemed to be doing the right thing, a doctor who did the same thing in 2001 would
be sued for malpractice (and might be defended with an insanity plea...).|
|A more realistic example (ref. lost): A reason
homocide rates have declined during recent years has been due, not to persons having fewer murderous intentions (the "message"/content),
but rather to advances in emergency medical treatment (the "medium"/context), which have transformed
crimes that would in past have resulted in death, into assaults the victim survives.|
|Cat, dog and mouse stories (Nova Scotia, Sep99):
One day, while on vacation, mid-September, 1999, in Nova Scotia, I watched a kitten and a dog playing
happily together for a long time. The dog would sniff the cat and push the cat around gently with
its snout. The cat would lie on its back and gently paw at the dog's face.
It was very sweet....|
|A couple days (nights, actually...) later, I watched a
[different] cat chasing a small white field mouse. Apparently the cat was not entirely determined to
catch the mouse, since the mouse kept escaping the cat's grasp. This interaction took place
near a poorly lighted residential side-street. Sometimes the mouse would go into the brush beside the
road, and the cat would chase it there. Other times, however, the
mouse would run into the road, where, of course, the cat would chase it
also. I wondered if the mouse was on a kamikaze
to entice the cat into the road where, focusing on the mouse, the cat would not see a car coming
and would be run over and killed. (See also: Pictures of a folk art
wooden cat I purchased on this same vacation.)|
Nova Scotia house in symmetrical repose|