Reveries of a Solitary Walker [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Unofficial Dr. James R. Muir Bibliography [Jul. 15th, 2009|02:10 am]
[Tags|, , , , , , ]

Given the value that I and many others have derived from the teachings of Dr. James Muir as he presented in his engaging lectures at the University of Winnipeg, and lacking a central location for his various writings, I have taken it upon myself to collect his publications in one accessible repository. My desire in undertaking this is to help propagate and preserve his research as it reflects valuable knowledge that deserves the careful attention of a wider philosophic audience. Even if the information available is but a shred of what he has imparted to his students through his engaging lectures and personal interactions, the quality and depth of the written work remains undiminished.

This is the first and most comprehensive collection of all publicly available writings of Dr. Muir, some available for the fist time in electronic format (indicated with **). Each link below will take you to the full text to read or download in PDF format (recommended reader) without the impediment of payments or embargoes. Certain texts are not available to me in any form (indicated with *), if you can help to remedy this, or know of any works I have overlooked, please contact me.

This effort is completely of my own initiative and without the knowledge or consent of Dr. Muir or any other party. For inquiries about the contents linked here, please contact me at: Any inquiries about the topics or arguments in the body of the papers should be directed to Dr. Muir - he continues to teach at the University of Winnipeg. With a recent sojourn to Briercrest College in Sasketchewan.
The complete works of Dr. James Muir in ascending chronological order

Last updated: June 26, 2011 - most files are now redundantly hosted with the primary link pointing to the GoogleDocs version where possible.

I like miro and pay them $4/month [Jun. 17th, 2009|04:53 am]

A paper I wrote in March about a topic that remains in the news... [Jun. 13th, 2009|02:06 am]
[Current Music |Beethoven - Bagatelle, A minor, K.Woo59]

Will Inflation Force the Chinese Government to Abandon the Dollar Peg and Sink the United States?

Shuttles to go to Mars? [Jan. 8th, 2009|07:16 pm]
[Current Music |Anton Bruckner - Symphony No. 7 in E major: III. Scherzo. Sehr schnell]

Here's the comment I made about the following article:

A Cheap Solution for Getting to Mars?

But futurist and entrepreneur Eric Knight, (founder of UP Aerospace and Remarkable Technologies) has a somewhat novel idea of what to do with the shuttles after they are done with their current duties: Send them to Mars. He says his formula is simple and will allow humans to travel to Mars in years, not decades.

Knight's proposal, which he calls "Mars on a Shoestring," outlines two shuttles going into Earth orbit, hooking them together with a truss and strapping on a powerful enough propulsion system. And that's pretty much it. A pressurized inflatable conduit would connect the two orbiters so the astronauts could go back and forth between the two shuttles.

Then comes the really cool part; a way to provide artificial gravity during the trip to Mars..."

My response:

He doesn't seem to make it easy to contact him with ideas to build his proposal, so I will leave it here! Bear in mind I only a layman with no professed expertise in aeronautics, other than a lifetime of enthusiasm, but I believe I have developed a workable solution to address some of the problems listed.

My amendment would make the shuttle voyage described to Mars terminal (for the shuttles, not the crew). As I envision it, should the setup described above be implemented there could be two scenarios:

1) Prior to the launch of the manned mission, one or possibly two (for redundancy and/or different payloads) Arianne or Delta launches are sent to Mars. These would have the purpose of sending a lander and return vehicle into parking orbit around Mars. Thus you could have two return vehicles in Orbit (one acting as a fail safe) arrived, tested and verified, even before you launched the crew vehicles. The shuttle mission described would get underway, and also aim for a parking orbit around Mars creating a de facto space station of sorts. The station would then rendezvous with one or both of the existing modules increasing their living space, gathering supplies (potentially) and then having a lander, and return vehicle at their disposal without the cost of transporting these capabilities itself. I imagine the lander would be similar to the moon landing vehicles (a descent and ascent stage) with 2/3rd of the crew going to the surface and 1/3rd staying aboard the shuttle complex. Once the team is ready to return, they leave the shuttle complex parked in orbit (possibly for a future platform/emergency shelter) and use the return vehicle launched prior to get back to earth as quickly as possible.

2) The second scenario is largely similar, but assumes that the lander is stored in one of the shuttle bays for the flight out. So you have the one or two return vehicles in parking orbit (potentially with additional supplies) guaranteed operational and accessible, then rendezvous in orbit, then the traditional lander is unbirthed from a cargo bay and the mission proceeds as above.

I see the first scenario as more desirable (potentially more expensive than the initial sketch outlined by the author) but it leaves more room for cargo on each shuttle, creates an orbiting habitable platform, solves the near-impossible descent/ascent form Mars problem, and is likely done still with overall savings from current plans.

(It appears others have already proposed similar ideas, forgive me for being redundant but I wrote it in haste without reading the comments.)

Something newer than Fried [Oct. 26th, 2008|04:30 am]
[Current Music |Tim_Hecker-Mort_Aux_Vaches-2004]

LJ Readers: This probably wont make any sense, but I wrote it as an email to a list serve and it's 4:30am so I am posting it here.

[This is primarily addressed to other members of the 'Theory and Practice of the State in a Historical Perspective' class - others are welcome to read and comment. This will be a bit long, but I hope you will read carefully. I wrote this because I will not be doing a presentation, and thus will not have the opportunity to present these points systematically in class.]

Reading through Fried's (now very dated) book 'The Evolution of Political Society', it struck me that a lot has occurred over the last 40 years of anthropology - are there any newer studies to confirm/deny his findings? (My first question was, in fact, why are we reading a science text that is decades out of date?) I am not one to shun a work for its age - I am quite fond of my antediluvian texts - but I tend to treat of philosophy, literature, or poetry in the original whereas science ought to be read with an eye to obsolescence. Scientists, for good reason, will only on (rare) occasions turn to past works for theory, however for data - and in turn for conclusions from said data - they will consult the most current sources. Why as political 'scientists' should we be any less scrupulous?

Thus I wish to present a few articles that will hopefully be of relevance, and if not, at least of interest.

The first is an article from about "Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?" which is simply a stunning find (it's twin site Nevali Çori was lost to flooding on the Euphrates river, a tragedy). Some interesting quotes from the article:

"Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery."
"This area was like a paradise,"...Gobekli Tepe sits at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent—an arc of mild climate and arable land from the Persian Gulf to present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant. And partly because Schmidt has found no evidence that people permanently resided on the summit of Gobekli Tepe itself, he believes this was a place of worship on an unprecedented scale—humanity's first "cathedral on a hill."

"The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site," Peters says. "It's been the same every year since." The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.

But, Peters and Schmidt say, Gobekli Tepe's builders were on the verge of a major change in how they lived, thanks to an environment that held the raw materials for farming. "They had wild sheep, wild grains that could be domesticated—and the people with the potential to do it," Schmidt says. In fact, research at other sites in the region has shown that within 1,000 years of Gobekli Tepe's construction, settlers had corralled sheep, cattle and pigs. And, at a prehistoric village just 20 miles away, geneticists found evidence of the world's oldest domesticated strains of wheat; radiocarbon dating indicates agriculture developed there around 10,500 years ago, or just five centuries after Gobekli Tepe's construction.

To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

From the Wikipedia entry: "It is also apparent that the animal and other images are peaceful in character and give no indications of organised violence."

Next, and perhaps more appropriately, is a 2007 article "A History of Violence" by psycho-linguist Steven Pinker. This paper, and the associated TED talk, is not original research, but a survey of current scholarship on the origins and evolution of violence in humans. He argues that violence is at its lowest ebb now, that nature has been 'red in tooth and claw' well back into human pre-history, that our ancestors were not as peacable as we may assume, and that the threat and reality of violence was ever-present over evolutionary time. Further, although Pinker claims violent death to be statistically more likely in the past than in the present, is but one facet of a difficult and traumatic life contra the image of the 'abundance of nature' articulated by Fried. I imagine that this postulated abundance and good fortune were the exception and not the rule for the vast majority of human history. For example, common forms of death for our pre-historic, pre-state ancestors included (provided you lived pat infancy, that is): broken bones, bacterial dental infections festering until they burst and then infected the rest of your body causing death, parasites, water borne diseases, ingesting undetectable fungal infection from grains causing death, famine, drought, predation, and any other manner of misfortune that is obviated (or eliminated) in post-state, post-scientific life.

But, to Pinker's points:

This change in sensibilities is...perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth. In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.

[T]he choice to focus on relative rather than absolute numbers brings up the moral imponderable of whether it is worse for 50 percent of a population of 100 to be killed or 1 percent in a population of one billion. Yet, despite these caveats, a picture is taking shape. The decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon, visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years. It applies over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals. And it appears to be a worldwide trend, though not a homogeneous one. The leading edge has been in Western societies, especially England and Holland, and there seems to have been a tipping point at the onset of the Age of Reason in the early seventeenth century.

At the widest-angle view, one can see a whopping difference across the millennia that separate us from our pre-state ancestors. Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body-counts—such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with axemarks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men—suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own. It is true that raids and battles killed a tiny percentage of the numbers that die in modern warfare. But, in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher. According to anthropologists like Lawrence Keeley, Stephen LeBlanc, Phillip Walker, and Bruce Knauft, these factors combine to yield population-wide rates of death in tribal warfare that dwarf those of modern times. If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.

And part of the explanation lies in the phenomenon itself. The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence, and often the attitudes are in the lead. Nor could it possibly be explained by evolution in the biologist's sense: Even if the meek could inherit the earth, natural selection could not favor the genes for meekness quickly enough. In any case, human nature has not changed so much as to have lost its taste for violence. Social psychologists find that at least 80 percent of people have fantasized about killing someone they don't like. And modern humans still take pleasure in viewing violence...What has changed, of course, is people's willingness to act on these fantasies. The sociologist Norbert Elias suggested that European modernity accelerated a "civilizing process" marked by increases in self-control, long-term planning, and sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of others. These are precisely the functions that today's cognitive neuroscientists attribute to the prefrontal cortex.

The first is that Hobbes got it right. Life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short, not because of a primal thirst for blood but because of the inescapable logic of anarchy...This danger can be defused by a policy of deterrence—don't strike first, retaliate if struck—but, to guarantee its credibility, parties must avenge all insults and settle all scores, leading to cycles of bloody vendetta. These tragedies can be averted by a state with a monopoly on violence, because it can inflict disinterested penalties that eliminate the incentives for aggression, thereby defusing anxieties about preemptive attack and obviating the need to maintain a hair-trigger propensity for retaliation.

Then there is the scenario sketched by philosopher Peter Singer. Evolution, he suggests, bequeathed people a small kernel of empathy, which by default they apply only within a narrow circle of friends and relations. Over the millennia, people's moral circles have expanded to encompass larger and larger polities...

See also this entry at on the same article that links to a now-offline New Republic bibliographic companion that features this text:

• Lawrence Keeley, War Before Civilization (1997). An archeologist looks at skeletons, weapons, and ethnographic accounts of tribal warfare. Forget the noble savage: Hobbes was right. War has always been hell.

So what can we conclude from Gobekli Tepe and Pinker's arguments:

  1. Non-material social concepts such as primitive religion and worship affected organization and social relations as much, if not more, than material relations such as the so-called 'relations of production'. Veneration brought people together and fostered cultivation and not the reverse.
  2. Humans have always had, and will always have, the capacity for large scale violence regardless of the types of social arrangement. Even if violence is not always manifest in war or assault, the threat and capacity remains.
  3. Ever refined normative stipulations have curbed violence from the past into the present. Thus non-material ideas have helped curb violence more than the theories of relations of production, or historical materialism could account for.
  4. If we are to study anthropological texts at all, we should study more current research of which there is an abundance.

I am not anthropologist, so this is distinctly non-specialist literature, so if you know any other documentation on the topics introduced by Fried, it would be valuable to contribute.

Truth in advertising, I've only read about 100 pages into Fried. He takes a long time to actually get into his argument (well after he finishes surveying pre-WWII anthro literature), so I hope I am not misrepresenting the main thrust of his argument. Corrections or rejoinders are welcome.


Complaining to the CBC pt II [Aug. 1st, 2008|03:09 am]
[Here's the text of an email I just sent to the CBC ombudsman and a other contacts to complain about a terrible portion of a segment on tonight's broadcast. I guess I am the bitter old man who spends his days writing angry letters to the editor... but it was totally unacceptable what happened.]

To Whom it may concern,

I would like to express my disgust and revulsion at the behavior and judgment shown by Duncan McCue, the Vancouver producers, and The National producers. All three displayed a complete lack of empathy, caring, and a gross lapse in editorial and journalistic judgment on the July 31st edition of The National. Myself, and my two friend watching the broadcast, were all immediately appalled by Mr. McCue's behaviour.

Mr. McCue provided an otherwise satisfactory report on the state of bike thefts in Vancouver, including setting up a 'gotcha' segment with a bait-bike to attract and confront a crook. Upon confronting this unfortunate person who was stealing bikes, it became clear (if not to the reporter, at least to the audience) that this person was in dire straits not of his choosing (but perhaps of his making) who was sincerely regretful, ashamed at being caught, and desirous of assistance (he stated he had just emerged from a fruitless attempt to seek counseling services). In response to this tragic circumstance, Mr. McCue choose to pose the final question to the bike-thief (Kevin) - not of how he felt about being homeless and without assistance, not about the plight of destitute people in Canada, not how he could be helped to find other means of income and thus not steal bikes - but instead he focused on a truly grave matter: the inconvenience of bike theft to comfortable middle class people.

I wrote recently to The National to decry its total lack of intellectual merit, and now, following this shameful performance, I must write to complain about the National's total lack of compassion and moral capacity. If a vital news broadcaster cannot see past the nose on its face (i.e. their target audience of wealthy white people) to address the real problems we face (the travesty of homelessness, drug abuse and criminality in Canada) then what purpose does the National play in providing a public service to Canadians?

To make amends for this abject moral and personal failure, I believe that Mr. McCue should find Kevin the would-be bike thief in Vancouver and ask him some questions important to him as an addict seeking to reform. Mr. McCue should follow Kevin as he attempts to seek help, and show the nation how we can confront the problems that cause bike theft and not the relatively trivial matter of property loss. That Mr. McCue chose to focus on the inconsequential stolen bike when the reporter, and the entire audience, are staring a collapsing life in the face is truly a low point for The National and the entire CBC. If our public broadcaster's only response to a person undergoing a serious personal crisis is to rub salt in the wounds by asking 'how can we make our own comfortable lives easier at your expense?' then we as a country have lost the soul of a once valued national asset.

The National, and CBC News in general, needs to make a concerted effort to reform its diminishing image and reputation. This can be done by addressing issues in an intellectually rigorous and honest manner, thus treating its audience with some respect. Further, and perhaps more importantly, it needs to reorient its moral and ethical compass to ensure its broadcasts are serving all Canadians, particularly those who can least serve themselves. The CBC has a rich, proud, tradition of being the flagship of Canadian broadcasting for doing just these things; it is a shame we must bear witness to its staggering decline with examples such as this story by Mr. McCue.

Ian McMurtrie

Political Philosophy Reading List [Jul. 17th, 2008|11:55 pm]
[Current Music |Wighnomy_Brothers_-_Spring_Eight_Festival_Graz-Austria-23-may-2008]

Here is the University of Texas at Austin Department of Government graduate program in political theory suggested reading list. I applied to this department to attend as an MA student for this coming year; I was rejected. But I discovered this great reading list that is one that I need to complete sooner rather than later. Any other philosophers or thoughtful persons would be well served to become acquainted with these titles (although not all the titles are how they are most often cited, Thucydides for examples is often rendered as "History of the Pelopennesian War"). The chair of the department is Thomas Pangle, a student and editor of Strauss' works (and apparently a very snappy dresser).

The list! (Italics are those that I have read)
1. Thucydides, Peloponnesian War
2. Plato, Apology of Socrates; Republic; Gorgias
3. Aristotle, Politics; Nicomachean Ethics [Portions of each, NE is horribly boring]
4. Xenophon: Education of Cyrus
5. Augustine, City of God, selections (Book II, Chapters 2, 21; V, 12-21; XII, 1-8; XIV,
1-9, 28; XIX, 1-7, 12-17, 21, 24-28)
6. Thomas Aquinas, selections from Summa Theologiae etc. (all of volume edited by Dino Bigongiari, Hafner publ.)
7. Machiavelli, Prince; Discourses
8. Hobbes, Leviathan
9. Locke, Second Treatise of Government; Letter on Toleration
10. Rousseau, First Discourse, Second Discourse; Social Contract
11. Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Parts 1 & 2; Political Writings (in H. Reiss, ed., Cambridge U. P.)
12. Hegel, Philosophy of Right
13. J. S. Mill, On Liberty
14. Marx (and Engels), ed. R. Tucker, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844; “Theses on Feuerbach”; The German Ideology, Part I; Capital, Volume One: all of Part I (Commodities and Money); Part II, Chapter VI only (The Buying and Selling of Labor Power)
15. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil
16. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Part One; Part Two, Ch. 4; Political Liberalism (portions of each - they're LONG), Introduction; Lectures 1, 3, and 4.

A good to-do list for a philosophic life, these are all necessary but not nearly sufficient to even begin to approach the real history of political philosophy, let alone philosohpy itself!

When I quit my job in about three weeks, I hope I spend the rest of my life doing nothing else but reading books like this, writing about books like this, and working to continue the thousands-year old tradition of the philosophic search for truth in matters related to the contingent realm of human political interaction.

Political Oratory Unseen in a Generation [Jun. 13th, 2008|01:06 am]
Democracy Now! Special: Robert F. Kennedy’s Life and Legacy 40 Years After His Assassination - June 5, 2008

I am not sure of the exact chronology, but in 1968 shortly after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN Robert F Kennedy gave a seemingly impromptu speech to inform his supporters of the tragedy. It seems as though he quotes Aeschylus off the top of his head (but I may be wrong about that). It's worth hitting up the audio at the link to get the full force of his words and hear the trembling in his voice.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Kennedy’s death came just two months after Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis. Kennedy had broken the news to supporters of King’s assassination while campaigning in Indianapolis and delivered what was to become a famous speech.

    ROBERT F. KENNEDY: For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust, of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

    My favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

    What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.



(no subject) [Jun. 3rd, 2008|12:43 pm]
When the Space Shuttle is on orbit, and cool stuff is going on on the ISS (currently manned with 10 crew) my productivity drops to near zero (not that it had far to fall these days)! I'm currently skipping breakfast to watch NASA TV - it's so fascinatingly boring! It's like listening to air traffic control communication mixed with high cost / high risk construction work in SPACE! Love it.

Right now I'm watching two astronauts working on the exterior of the ISS in conjunction with two astronauts in the interiors of both the space shuttle and ISS who are controlling the two large Canadian robotic arms. They working with the OBSS (Orbital Boom Sensor System) to get ready to remove the giant Kibo laboratory from the payload bay of the space shuttle, fun times!

The direct link for the feed is: or you can visit

King Lear - Act II Scene IV [Jun. 1st, 2008|02:00 am]

O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is cheap as beast's: thou art a lady;
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st
Which scarcely keeps thee warm.—But, for true need,—
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age; wretched in both!
If it be you that stirs these daughters' hearts
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger,
And let not women's weapons, water-drops,
Stain my man's cheeks!—No, you unnatural hags,
I will have such revenges on you both
That all the world shall,—I will do such things,—
What they are yet, I know not; but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.
You think I'll weep;
No, I'll not weep:—
I have full cause of weeping; but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws
Or ere I'll weep.—O fool, I shall go mad!

So glad I discovered the torrent for the entire Shakespearean corpus produced by the BBC. The cast is sublime, and the play is so well directed for film. I really like King Lear. Poor, poor Lear.

William Tecumseh Sherman [May. 22nd, 2008|11:48 pm]
From the Wikipedia entry on William Tecumseh Sherman, a general for the Union Army (the North) in the American Civil War:

On hearing of South Carolina's secession from the United States, Sherman observed to a close friend, Professor David F. Boyd of Virginia, an enthusiastic secessionist, almost perfectly describing the four years of war to come:

You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it… Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth—right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.

After the fall of Atlanta in 1864, Sherman ordered the city's evacuation. When the city council appealed to him to rescind that order, on the grounds that it would cause great hardship to women, children, the elderly, and others who bore no responsibility for the conduct of the war, Sherman sent a response in which he sought to articulate his conviction that a lasting peace would be possible only if the Union were restored, and that he was therefore prepared to do all he could do to quash the rebellion:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.[...] I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success. But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

In May 1865, after the major Confederate armies had surrendered, Sherman wrote in a personal letter:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

Happy Birthday Pam [Dec. 31st, 2007|03:04 am]
Where and why humans made skates out of animal bones

"Archaeological evidence shows that bone skates (skates made of animal bones) are the oldest human powered means of transport, dating back to 3000 BC. Why people started skating on ice and where is not as clear, since ancient remains were found in several locations spread across Central and North Europe.

In a recent paper, published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Dr Formenti and Professor Minetti show substantial evidence supporting the hypothesis that the birth of ice skating took place in Southern Finland, where the number of lakes within 100 square kilometres is the highest in the world.

“In Central and Northern Europe, five thousand years ago people struggled to survive the severe winter conditions and it seems unlikely that ice skating developed as a hobby” says Dr Formenti. “As happened later for skis and bicycles, I am convinced that we first made ice skates in order to limit the energy required for our daily journeys”.

Formenti and Minetti did their experiments on an ice rink by the Alps, where they measured the energy consumption of people skating on bones. Through mathematical models and computer simulations of 240 ten-kilometre journeys, their research study shows that in winter the use of bone skates would have limited the energy requirements of Finnish people by 10%. On the other hand, the advantage given by the use of skates in other North European countries would be only about 1%.

Subsequent studies performed by Formenti and Minetti have shown how fast and how far people could skate in past epochs, from 3000BC to date."

Cheap Books! [Nov. 9th, 2007|01:00 am]
[Current Music |J.Boogie's Dubtronic Science Live! - 09 Right Here (Featuring Dwele)]

I was at McNally Robinson Portage Place today and got over 2000 pages for under $20!

"On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy" Edited by Stephen Hawking - over 1000 pages for only $9! I saw this book in the U of W Library a few years ago as a hardcover and was in awe, now I own it to read at my leisure!

"Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)" by Neal Stephenson - I've heard good things about this series. Several years ago I read Neal Stephenson's first book, Snow Crash, and I understand this 'Baroque Cycle' goes well beyond his earlier works. Look forward to reading this too - all 960 pgs of it.

Both these books together weighed nearly as much as Maria (who, incidentally paid for them, thank you).

damn you facebook, we need more content over style! [Nov. 3rd, 2007|02:32 am]
I love posting links in my facebook, but it cuts off after ~200 characters! a shameful tragedy. not like good old LiveJournal. Here is the comments i managed to save before facebook mangled them, not that this would make anyone here care anymore than it would those on facebook:

Space Exploration 3.0 about to begin | Science Blog

The other cool thing is that this conference "brought space scientists face to face with historians, lawyers, political analysts, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, writers and others...Until recently the humanities had little input into European space policy which has been dominated by political and industrial as well as scientific considerations." So hooray for that.

"The number of space agencies in the world has been steadily rising since the 1990s and reached 36 in 2005.[!] Bilateral and multilateral agreements between agencies are also growing. The advent of the International Space Station has it made it possible for many countries to take part in long-term, structured programmes of space research." A lot of people are saying the ISS is a floating junk pile, some are ready to abandon it as soon as they can next decade. I doubt that, it seems an orbiting habit, now established, is almost impossible to ignore.

"This adventure will be driven primarily by a quest for knowledge, involving not only the hard sciences but arts and humanities as well." hahaha! not bloodly likely. too many english majors at this conference perhaps? Profit, Prestige, Military Potential will be the primary drivers, discovery and exploration will hitch a ride on the coat-tails of those three.

For Ryan and Chelsea ... [Sep. 17th, 2007|11:43 pm]
[Current Location |in my room drinking cream soda + vodka]
[Current Music |Flight of the Conchords]


Leo Strauss [Jul. 20th, 2007|01:41 am]
[Current Music |Tosca - Chocolate Elvis]

"Political philosophy is the attempt to replace our opinions about political fundamentals by knowledge about them. Its first task consists therefore in making fully explicit our political ideas, so that they can be subjected to critical analysis. "Our ideas" are only partly our ideas. Most of our ideas are abbreviations or residues of the thought of other people, of our teachers (in the broadest sense of the term) and of our teachers' teachers; they are abbreviations and resides of the thought of the past...By being transmitted to later generations they have possibly been transformed, and there is no certainty that the transformation was effected conscious and with full clarity. At any rate, what were once certainly explicit ideas passionately discussed, although not necessarily lucid ideas have now degenerated into mere implication and tacit presuppositions. Therefore, if we want to clarify the political ideas we have inherited, we must actualize their implications, which were explicit in the past, and this can be done only by means of the history of political ideas. This means that the clarification of our political ideas insensibly changes into and becomes indistinguishable from the history of political ideas. To this extent the philosophic effort and the historical effort have become completely fused."

- Leo Strauss
"Political Philosophy and History" 1949
My emphasis.

Freeman Dyson - The Future of Biotechnology ... and Physics [Jul. 2nd, 2007|04:59 pm]
[Current Location |@work]

[This is a brief commentary on an article found in the New York Review Of Books - "Our Biotech Future" by Freeman Dyson. I'd highly recommend reading the whole piece as this discussion will only touch on a very small number of points Dyson raises.]

Freeman Dyson, a renowned physicist, just published an article on the future of biotechnology. Not all of his conclusions are the same as I would draw - that biotech will naturally relieve urban poverty, and that biotech will restore the environmental destruction wrought by industrialization - but he wisely accounts for the myopia of thinkers from the previous century:
"I see a close analogy between John von Neumann's blinkered vision of computers as large centralized facilities and the public perception of genetic engineering today as an activity of large pharmaceutical and agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto."

Dyson heralds the *shudder* paradigm shift that is underway in bio-science. Pointing out the
"obsolescence of reductionist biology as it has been practiced for the last hundred years, with its assumption that biological processes can be understood by studying genes and molecules. What is needed instead is a new synthetic biology based on emergent patterns of organization...[there is] evidence that Darwinian evolution does not go back to the beginning of life. When we compare genomes of ancient lineages of living creatures, we find evidence of numerous transfers of genetic information from one lineage to another. In early times, horizontal gene transfer, the sharing of genes between unrelated species, was prevalent."

This shift, he claims, is no mere change in nomenclature, but a recognition of the limits of the strictly Darwinian account of biological life.
"Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer. The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere."

However, I would disagree in some finer points here. Given that culture emerges from Darwinian evolution, despite the cross-pollination (horizontal) nature of culture’s transfer process, culture and its genes (memes?) remain subject to pressures that test the 'cultural fitness' of each meme.
"Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance."

For most of the piece, Dyson engages in the the always-risky endeavor of future-casting. However, his rethinking of the nature of science, and biology's place therein, is by far the more important. The most provocative, and profound, statement of the article is as follows:
"This picture of living creatures, as patterns of organization rather than collections of molecules, applies not only to bees and bacteria, butterflies and rain forests, but also to sand dunes and snowflakes, thunderstorms and hurricanes. The nonliving universe is as diverse and as dynamic as the living universe, and is also dominated by patterns of organization that are not yet understood...The big problems, the evolution of the universe as a whole, the origin of life, the nature of human consciousness, and the evolution of the earth's climate, cannot be understood by reducing them to elementary particles and molecules."

But this conclusion only brings us back to physics. It is important to recognize that coherent organization exists from the largest galactic structures to the smallest Planck scale, and thus to make progress understanding biology requires understanding physics. The nature of information, the properties of particles and how they interact, necessarily dictate how biological life functions - biology is emergent from physics. To recognize that structures like sand dunes and galaxies are dynamic, as are frogs and persons, is to understand that all is physics; some portions of which display unique properties we have come to know as biology. To reject reductionism is one thing, to embrace the future of science as Dyson exhorts, requires abandoning reductionism without jettisoning the relationship between physics and biology which demands the recognition that it is particles (or their fundamental constituents) and their properties that give rise to biology and consciousness.

full cirlce [Apr. 3rd, 2007|01:35 am]
[Current Music |Josh Wink - Live at the Mission Bucharest]

Today (April 2) was my last official day of classes as a University of Winnipeg undergraduate. I may take a couple of courses next year - Muir's political philosophy seminar certainly - but they will not contribute to my degree. although i applied to York this year, I don't see grad school in my immediate future.* I will apply to many more places now that i know what is required.

but, to my point. my academic 'career' has come full circle in interesting ways. When i graduate in June, it will have been 10 years to the month i graduated high school. My last class of my last day (today) was with Dr Keenan. My first class of my first day ten years (September 2007) ago was with Dr Keenan. Three and one half years ago when i returned to university after a five year hiatus, i attended dr muir's history of educational ideas class. It captivated me and i was reborn into philosophy. This term i TAed for his history of educational ideas class, and had the pleasure of delivering two lectures on Locke and Rousseau (the Locke one was embarrassing, but i redeemed myself with the Rousseau presentation).

I love historical curiosities such as these. These odd coincidental bookends warm my heart and make my proud of my long-delayed graduation. if only i were moving onto something post my graduation (or even a job!)...

graduation! ha, premature celebration. i have 2 papers (one already overdue), 2 exams, marking, and a huge chunk of my thesis yet to do! i've been working so hard for weeks (years?) straight, i just hope i make it this last month. there but for the grace of my faculty graduate I. (ha)

...anon, i must return to Schiller's Aesthetic Education. also, i have a great girlfriend of nearly five months. thank you maria.

*I want to extend my congratulations to Ryan for his extremely well-deserved placement into Guelph to study with Mitcherling. I am sure you will have nothing but success. I meat to comment to your post directly, but i am a bit busy. best of luck!

Presentation - Wednesday, November 1 - 12:30pm [Nov. 1st, 2006|01:39 am]
[Current Music |Air - Premiers Symptomes - 01 - Modular Mix]


My Friday in pictures [Jul. 8th, 2006|10:20 pm]
[Current Music |Talvin Singh - Calcutta Cyber Cafe]

First, congratulations to Ryan and Chelsea Krahn on their extremely elegant and joyful wedding.

+15 under the cut...Collapse )

The comming year... [Jun. 22nd, 2006|03:34 pm]
I registered on Tuesday, frantically picking my courses after weeks of procrastinating my decision. I only need my thesis to graduate, but there is so much good brain learnin' to be had. So here's what i ended up with:

  • Thesis Project - Dr Muir - Fall and Winter Term (including oral defense)
  • Topics in Moral Phil - Dr Forsey - Fall Term (4th year honours phil)
  • Philosophy and Social Reality - Dr Keenan - Fall and Winter Term (3rd year phil)
  • Existentialism - Dr Morin - Fall Term (2nd year phil)
  • US Politics - Dr Gibbons - Fall and Winter Term (a demanding 3rd year politics class)
As it stands, I have 5 hard classes in Fall, 3 hard classes in Winter, two (maybe three) jobs to work around as well as find and apply for grad schools and no doubt other fun stuff (like presenting papers, cleaning my house .... sleeping). Something will have to get dropped, most likely existentialism, hopefully I can continue to attend the lectures as its in a great time slot and very interesting. I am really looking forward to the US politics class, it is my specialty you might say.

oh, anyone have any idea what I should do for my thesis or where I should go to grad school? that would really help. kthnxbye.

Appeal for Donations [Jun. 14th, 2006|10:51 pm]
My friend Kevin Freedman volunteered with the Peace Brigades International to go to Indonesia for the summer. He had the (mis)fortune of being in Jojakarta on May 27 when the massive earthquake struck. Unfortunate for them to be witness to all the destruction, despair and suffering (although, he was not injured) but the people of Jojakarta have had the good fortune of his presence.

They have formed an ad hoc relief group known as the Mediocre Crisis Response Team. Through their webpage You can learn all about their efforts, their impressions of the disaster, donate to help them supply clinics and provide food to the community. Their hard work has been almost exclusively supported by donations from the people in Winnipeg. A lot of people have received food, medicine, or even toys that they would never had had the ability to afford without all the people who have supported the MCRT to date.

With all the other major events that have occurred since May 27 this tragedy has slipped off the front page, at least in North America, but for Kevin and Kristy this is a daily struggle. Since may 27 they have worked non-stop - conducting interviews for the BBC, Global TV and more. Their organization is currently featured on the main website for the University of Winnipeg. I would strongly encourage you to read their running accounts of the activities they undertake each day at the "What Have We Been Doing" section of the website. I will be donating to his Paypal account and I would encourage everyone who can to do the same. They fully document all their activities on their website and are managing to make a big difference in the community by filling the gaps that the government, NGOs and aid agencies leave.

Here are some excerpts from personal emails he sent to me, the rest of the story continues on the website:

May 13, 2006
"So if you are following world news at all, you should know about Mount Merapi, the large vocano set to erupt near our city. Its a rel big deal here as there are many people living close to it (or on it!) but i want to assure all of you, because i have received some letters of worry, there is no threat to us at all!"
May 27, 2006
"I want to relieve everyones fears. If you have been watching the news i am sure you have heard, there was a large earthquake in Yogyakarta, the city in which i live. I want everyone to know that i am okay as well as kristy and all of my friends here that i have been able to get ahold of. It is an extremely sad situation though. I spent most of the day at the hospital, doing whatever i could without being a doctor or nurse. The scene there was absolutely horrific. the only thing i could compare it to was a war zone. There were people literally being trucked in by the dozens and people were dying there. I was the worst thing i have ever seen. I took a ride around town later and saw the most complete destruction i have ever seen. So many houses collapsed and i did not even make it to the worst affected regions. I was horrible. But i am okay, a little shaken up, as it was my first earthquake and all. The entire city (atleast those who were still sleeping) woke up to at at exactly 6am. It was short but punishing. Maybe 30 seconds but hard to judge. At even a 6.2 on the richter scale, it was quite crazy, i could only imagine what a 7 or higher could be. There are still after shocks (in fact i just felt one as i finished the last sentence) but i think the worst is over. Please take care all of you. I am a little shaken still as well is kristy...I love all of you and hope you may never experience this."
Sorry for the long entry, thanks for reading. My best wishes to Kevin and Kristy and everyone in Jojakarta, stay safe!

Kant's Critique of Teleological Judgment [Apr. 24th, 2006|02:00 am]
[Current Music |Air - Moon Safari 08 - Ce matin la]

What is the Purpose of Villi?

Kant’s Organic Teleology:

A failure of imagination or a necessity for biological investigation?

"In simplified tissues are made of cells constantly signaling to one another and often moving around within a three-dimensional community of sorts. Each cell seems to know its place and role in the larger collective that forms and maintains a functional tissue."

- Scientific American, August 2005

To pose the question: “what is the purpose of villi?” is to presuppose a particular telos for that biological structure. The answer to the question is easily forthcoming - villi are structures in the intestine that increase surface area and aid absorption of nutrients. Both question and answer require a judgment that employs the principle of natural purposiveness; such that an “organized product of nature is one in which every part is reciprocally purpose [end] and means.”[1]But to speak of organisms with a notion of purpose is to say, as Andreas Weber and Francisco Varela do, “that there is a certain paradoxality concerning the role of teleology in biological matters – a paradoxality, whose solution is central to the understanding of biological sciences.”[2] Even if post-Darwin biological investigation treats purposiveness only as an analogy, it remains problematically present. It persists because teleology is a feature of our faculty of judgment necessary for proper investigation of organisms, despite the apparent success of the Darwinian mechanical account.

Given that Darwinian methodology is now applied to achieve complex structures that are not designed, but nonetheless have a telos[3]; does this transcend the Kantian legacy? Or, is it simply a failure of the Kantian imagination[4] to understand the very definition of purposiveness and self-organizing structure? Kant understands organisms to be those unique features of nature that propagate and repair themselves; that definition is now beginning to be eclipsed by technology that can replicate these feats. But the empirical examples mentioned do not overrule our faculty of judgment which, presumably, remains the same. We have advanced methodologically in resolving biological problems, but their philosophical implications remain to be addressed.



Science Loves Veganism - Vegan diets healthier for planet, people than meat diets [Apr. 20th, 2006|01:36 am]
Nature does not abhor a vacuum, and apparently it loves veganism too. This is part three in my continuing series on the logic of animal-free diets. This time the research comes via the University of Chicago and picked up, once again, on Science Blog.

Vegan diets healthier for planet, people than meat diets

"The food that people eat is just as important as what kind of cars they drive when it comes to creating the greenhouse-gas emissions that many scientists have linked to global warming."

"The average American diet requires the production of an extra ton and a half of carbon dioxide-equivalent, in the form of actual carbon dioxide as well as methane and other greenhouse gases compared to a strictly vegetarian diet."

"In 2002, energy used for food production accounted for 17 percent of all fossil fuel use in the United States. And the burning of these fossil fuels emitted three-quarters of a ton of carbon dioxide per person."

"The vegetarian diet turned out to be the most energy-efficient, followed by poultry and the average American diet. Fish and red meat virtually tied as the least efficient."

"Martin and Eshel’s research indicated that plant-based diets are healthier for people as well as for the planet."

The End of History [Apr. 20th, 2006|01:29 am]
I just finished reading Francis Fukuyama's highly contentious and influential "The End of History?" that appeared in 1989. It presents a Hegelian account of contemporary post-ideological geopolitics heavily influenced by Alexandre Kojève's reading of Hegel.

Fukuyama's thesis contains logical difficulties and historical predictions that are flawed, or as yet inconclusive, but "The End of History" is certainly worth reading for reasons beyond its notoriety. Fukuyama relies upon the notion that the ideal and the material worlds are directly linked and that ideological frameworks create the material world (rather than the inverted Marxist assertion of production creating social conditions). It is stated that "while man's very perception of the material world is shaped by his historical consciousness of it, the material world can clearly affect in return the viability of a particular state of consciousness." Thus, he recognizes the reciprocal relation, but that created ideology is the deciding factor in an overall worldview. I will soon be reading the follow up to this article written by Fukuyama, EO Wilson and others who will likely have issue with the notion a priori ideas shaping material reality, rather than an evolutionary materialist account. I am, unfortunately, ignorant of Hegel, but I would certainly agree that the ideal and the material are one and the same in the end, but that biological human nature has a larger role to play that Fukuyama contends.

"But at the end of history it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society."

He attempts to escape the self-referential dilemma begged in this statement by hedging that there is no monolithic liberalism. Its implementation will differ by region and will be affected by whether those who enact it remain mired in history or not. But, its almost impossible to assume that Fukuyama himself does not hold "ideological pretension," his broadly stated liberalism, that are not simply a "higher form of human society." To assert that we are steadily approaching the liberal pinnacle, our human telos, in a global patchwork seems hubristic in the extreme. It is myopic towards future social, technological, or scientific development that may relegate contemporary liberalism to the 'scrap heap of history' as quickly, as he claims, fascism and communism were in the 20th century.

I think one ought to approach any theory claiming the end of anything with much skepticism. It is a risky business, and is easily trumped by one of my favourite maxim's of Karl Popper, that "we cannot anticipate today what we shall know only tomorrow." Predicting the end of art, history, physics (as was prophesized in the late 19th century, shortly before Planck and Einstein), poverty, or disease is inviting historical oblivion as circumstances outpace prediction.
Click for more...Collapse )

[ viewing | most recent entries ]
[ go | earlier ]