Tuesday, April 26, 2011

OMG Epiphany

So, after watching the second episode of the Game of Thrones Miniseries (can it really possibly be just a miniseries...where the hell are they going to end it when there's no end in sight for the actual book series?), I'm mostly just happy to be reassured that most of the actors they've cast are capable of a full range of motion with their facial features. Jon Snow is still a little stuck on "brooding," and for that matter Sean Bean isn't exactly tearing it up...but still, I have hope. I'm especially happy that Jaime & Cersei both seem to have some promise as interesting actors, since it's gonna be their scenes with Tyrion that either make the thing worth while or not.

But that's not the epiphany. There seemed to be a lot of hints in this last episode that we're supposed to care who Jon Snow's mother is....something I don't really remember being so prominent in the books. And if we're supposed to care who she is, she can't be "random farm girl #3" or something similarly insignificant. And the problem with long lost mothers as opposed to long lost fathers as surprise story twists is that in general, pregnancy is hard to hide. It'd be pretty implausible for say, Cersei to be Jon's mother (and kind of pointless to the plot, unless the plot is going to go in a really weird direction.) So I think, in order for Jon's parentage to be in any way significant we have to consider the possibility that Ned Stark isn't actually his father...not just because an important woman would have a hell of a time hiding a pregnancy, but because it simplifies the timeline considerably if Ned doesn't have to be around for both the conception & then also show up after the birth to bring the baby back to Winterfell with him. Once you decide that Ned may not actually be the father, then it just makes sense to guess that Jon has the most significant parentage that he could possibly have...he must be a Targaryen. Either, Ned rescued a known baby from the carnage (Didn't Daenerys have a baby sibling that was supposedly killed? What if he wasn't), or there's an unknown baby. Which takes this theory full circle...Ned clearly states in the last episode that Jon "has Stark blood in him," and Ned's sister was held captive and tortured by the Targaryens....presumably enough out of sight that she maybe could have been pregnant without it being generally known. Ned rescues the baby, which everyone else would have tried to kill, and raises it as his own bastard. Eventually Jon finds out his true destiny and then probably marries Daenerys because if George R.R. Martin has taught us nothing, it's that incest is completely normal. They rule the kingdom together, there's peace throughout the land, and there...I've finished the book since the author was taking way too long. Go me! Now he just needs to write in lots of cool scenes with Tyrion and/or Arya to flesh it out. None with Catelyn though, I kind of hate her.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Struggling with Zarathustra

I'm trying to slog my way through the only one of Nietzche's works that I could get at the library on short notice...and turns out its pretty challenging (or possibly just completely nonsensical). I'm not sure I'm getting much from it. Based on the prologue, it seems like I might be better off coming back to it after reading more of his other stuff, or not at all. My one small victory so far is that I've finally come across a section that at least seems to bear thinking about, a portion of his "On Love of the Neighbor" section:
Do I recommend love of the neighbor to you? Sooner I should even recommend flight from the neighbor and love of the farthest. Higher than love of the neighbor is love of the farthest and the future; higher yet than the love of human beings I esteem the love of things and ghosts. This ghost that runs after you, my brother, is more beautiful than you; why do you not give him your flesh and your bones? But you are afraid and run to your neighbor.
You cannot endure yourselves and do not love yourselves enough: now you want to seduce your neighbor to love, and then gild yourselves with his error. Would that you could not endure all sorts of neighbors and their neighbors; then you would have to create your friend and his overflowing heart out of yourselves.
You invite a witness when you want to speak well of yourselves; and when you have seduced him to think well of you, then you think well of yourselves.
I'm boiling this down to kind of no shit version that says that it can be better to be inwardly focused than outwardly focused...too much "caring" about every little tragedy that happens to other people can be a distraction from self discipline. Of course, the trouble with a book that at least on its surface is pretty nonsensical is that it would be pretty easy to read meaning into it that you just want to find. I admit I might be doing that here...but you go and try to read a page or two of this, and tell me you wouldn't be excited the first time you felt like you maybe kind of understood something.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Feature!

Because this blog is written for an imaginary audience of people who are interested in hearing everything that I want to tell them about, I've added a little widget in the sidebar that will be updated with wildlife sightings of all shapes and sizes...but probably mostly birds. Part of the fun of moving to a new area is getting to see new animals in your day to day life, and I'm trying to make an effort to familiarize myself with what's here. The widget will include a link to a picture of each animal I feel like making note of...it'll be a photo if I actually managed to take a picture, and an illustration if I didn't (that way you won't have to guess which pictures are my own just by their vastly inferior quality). And um, that's it. I don't know if anyone will find this interesting at all, but if I limited myself on that front, I wouldn't have a blog at all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Detroit & Paul Simon

I may need to rename this blog "Kerry stumbles upon the obvious" or something like that, because I'm about to explain to you about how I started reading this book about the history of Detroit and was somewhat surprised to find out that it's largely about the auto industry and unionization. I know. I'm not actually that oblivious, I'd just been thinking about Detroit from a slightly different direction when I picked the book up, and I generally try to make a habit of reading books without too much premeditation in general, cause it tends to work out for me.

Anyways, unions. I think unionization is one of those issues that Americans in general are a little fuzzy on, although since I've already made such a point of my obliviousness in the last paragraph, the fact that I am my own best example for this point isn't going to get me very far. Even so, I know when I think about unions, I start from the obvious point that of course people should be able to withhold their labor if they object to the terms of employment or the level of compensation, and of course people should be able to band together so that withholding their labor has more impact...and then I kind of wave my hands around and pretend that's the basis for the modern labor movement. I know that once you go past those basic premises, there's also some uncomfortable conflict with free market principles and private property rights...things that I also technically believe in...but mostly I just assume that it all makes sense, and if I ever bothered to listen to the full philosophical arguments in favor of labor unions I'm sure I'd agree. And my guess is that I'm pretty typical in this regard.

One book about the history of Detroit later, I feel like I know significantly more about the reasons I'm in favor of labor unions. The book kind of has a gloomy tone generally, and sometimes I suspect it of a little bit of bias in that direction, but it's hard to ignore how intolerable the status quo for labor was at the beginning of the 20th century. The example that really stood out for me was the copper miners. The industry increased productivity by moving from teams of men with picks to two man pneumatic drills, and finally in 1911 to lightweight drills that a single man could operate alone. Except men didn't want to work alone, thousands of feet underground, without seeing a single other person for 10 hours at a time (p. 158). The conditions on factory assembly lines might not quite match the obvious drama of a copper mine, but as owners upped the pace of production and employed more and more technology, those jobs became just as isolating and inhuman. At the same time, really reading about the history of the early labor movement...seizing plants (p. 342), organizing sit downs (p. 343)...makes it hard not to confront that uncomfortable conflict with free market principles and private property rights. I'm less sure now that there's a philosophical argument that will make it perfectly clear that stealing is illegal, but taking control of somebody else's factory until they give you what you want isn't.

That doesn't really bother me though. The people who were being given no way to support themselves outside of the inhuman working conditions of pre-union industrial society had a right to change things. If they didn't have that right by law or laid out for them in the constitution, they had it by right of revolution. I think it's interesting that we've managed to make it from there to here and still feel like we're a society that lives by free market principles and protects private property rights. It seems like kind of a brilliant compromise between the people who wrote the original set of rules for their own benefit and the people who may not have wanted to pay the full costs of a revolution. The results are kind of fuzzy ideologically, at least in my opinion, but I'm ok with that. As Nietzsche* pointed out, the human brain is limited...if we know two things to be true, but can't figure out how they could possibly be consistent with one another, that doesn't mean that one is false.

*Quick point about Nietzsche...I don't know nearly enough about Nietzsche's actual writings as I should. I have some half remembered things I learned in college that I've probably twisted to mean what I want them to mean that I refer to now and then, because I think they're cool. On the bright side, if what I remember is even half right, Nietzsche himself would be pretty ok with this.

Friday, April 8, 2011

More on Libya

The Atlantic may or may not know this, but they have a pretty useful series of articles up right now which, taken together, I think put together a pretty coherent tour of the situation in Libya.

What's been going on so far seems to be in keeping with an extremely limited, low risk intervention to reduce the amount of damage Qaddafi can do to his own people while trying to maintain power. Of course, low risk is never no risk. There are no troops on the ground, but a plane did crash already...luckily the pilots are safe, but it could have very easily turned out differently with hostages and higher risk rescue missions and who knows what else. Plus, bombing means killing civilians, or anti-Qaddafi rebels on accident, or even just guys who work for Qaddafi who after all are human beings too...and we may be confident that we're saving more lives than we're taking, but there's no guarantee that the public opinion in the Middle East will see it that way, and on some level public opinion in the Middle East translates into how many young men are traveling to Iraq & Afghanistan to fight as insurgents.  I think the less-than-rock-solid support coming from the Arab League is at least one sign of how tenuous this is.

And then, there's the what happens next problem. We know that Qaddafi is bad, but we don't really know what the viable alternatives are...and seeing as how we're now apparently negotiating with the Taliban as a part of getting out of Afghanistan it's something you have to consider. There's a temptation to start thinking of the rebels as "our guys," and of helping them win the conflict as our goal. I see that temptation in this article, where it seems pretty clear that these guys could benefit from our help and that it would be very easy for us to give it to them. This article though is a valuable counterpoint.

Apparently as of right now, our involvement is preventing Qaddafi from using his planes and his tanks against civilians, but we haven't done anything yet to try to change the weaponry imbalance on the other side by arming the rebels.* I think Obama just may be cold blooded enough to keep it that way, even if it means watching "our guys" fight battles under-armed when he could easily tip the balance. And honestly, I'm pretty sure that's the kind of leader we need to be able to avoid all of the worst case scenarios that I would give as reasons we should have never intervened in the first place. So, I am at least somewhat reassured for now. If next week there's an announcement that we're shipping weapons to the rebels though, I'll be back to being very very concerned. (Because you know, that does a whole lot of good).

*There's some talk that we may in the future, but this article makes a pretty good argument that the administration may mostly just be using that as a threat.