Monthly Archives: June 2011

Plato or Aristotle?

There’s a pop-culture game you see now and then, the name of which I’m unsure, but which you could call “this or that”. You name a certain pop-cultural category in which there are (or are perceived to be) two different major choices, and the players pick which one. For example: “Coke or Pepsi”; “Chevy or Ford”; “PC or Mac”; “Marvel or DC”. You get the idea. If one played this game with ancient philosophy, one might say, “Plato or Aristotle”.

The two giants of Classical Greek philosophy are an appropriate “this or that” for various reasons. Theirs are the last two major schools of Classical Greek philosophy–after Aristotle comes the Hellenistic age. Hellenistic philosophy (some characteristic examples of which are Cynicism, Skepticism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism) is generally thought to be less ambitious, more inwardly directed, and more pessimistic than Classical philosophy. On the other hand, the towering genius of Plato has had the result that we have only fragments of the pre-Socratics. Many of them probably weren’t systematists; but even of those, such as Pythagoras, who probably were, we have little that remains. Thus, for Greek philosophy at its height, the choices are Plato and Aristotle.

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The Decline and Fall of Television, Part 3: Bandwidth

There was one particular thing I noted a few years back that set me to thinking and ultimately contributed to my writing this series on TV.  At that time, I was working part time, which means I had, as Styx put it so well, “too much time on my hands”.  I am not nearly so much of a TV watcher as I was twenty years, or even ten years ago; still, there had to be something to pass the time, so I often found myself scrolling through the channel listings (at that time we had satellite TV) during the day, seeing what (if anything) was on that was worthwhile.  The answer was, not very much.

What I found fascinating was this:  on many, many cable/satellite stations, the day’s fare consisted of back-to-back episodes of the same series all day long.  For example, on certain days, Sci-Fi (now Syfy—ugh!) might show episodes of Star Trek (any version) back-to-back from nine in the morning until six in the evening.  Other days it might be The X-Files, or The Incredible Hulk, or whatever.  The point is that it was the same thing (different episodes, admittedly, but the same thing for all that) for an entire daytime schedule.  Nor was Sci-Fi alone in this:  I noted that USA, FX, and several others essentially did the same thing. Read the rest of this entry

The Decline and Fall of Television, Part 2: Definitions

It occurred to me that if I’m going to write about the “Decline and Fall” of TV, I should be a little more precise about what I mean.  “TV”, after all, covers quite a bit of territory, and “decline” could refer to quality, creativity, or even technology.  What exactly is declining and falling?  And what is the evidence that this is happening?  And why?  I was originally going to have this post deal with the evidence, but as I began writing it, I decided I needed to back up a little bit to be clear. Read the rest of this entry

The Decline and Fall of Television, Part I: Prolegomena

This is the first in what I intend to be a series of sporadic, ongoing ruminations on the state of American TV today.  If you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t think it’s in the best state in the world.  Also, to save space, in future increments, instead of writing it out (“The Decline and Fall of TV), I’ll just put DAFOTV in the title.  So much for the ground rules–let’s get on with it!

In the established timeline for the Star Trek universe, television is said to have ended (as a cultural force or entertainment, anyway, if not technologically) around 2040, according the Star Trek:  The Next Generation episode “The Neutral Zone”.  Now, obviously, I’m not saying that Star Trek actually is an accurate prognosticator of the future, although I’ve known people who believe that!  However, from the vantage point of the second half of the first decade of said century, I think that life may indeed be imitating art.  Certainly, I think there is a good argument to be made that television, as a creative and influential force in our society, may have passed the midpoint of its lifespan, and may be in slow (or sometimes not so slow) decline. Read the rest of this entry

A Quote to Begin the Week

What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?

Attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This is widely quoted, and is one of my favorite quotations.  Unfortunately, it seems to be a paraphrase of the original, which derives from Coleridge’s unpublished notebooks.  Wikiquotes gives it thus:

If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke — Aye, what then?

This Coleridge-dedicated website give the quote with  slightly different punctuation and wording, as well as 18th Century spelling:

If a man could pass thro’ Paradise in a Dream, & have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his Soul had really been there, & found that flower in his hand when he awoke—Aye? and what then?

According to the same website, the quote has an antecedent from Geist by German Romantic writer Jean Paul, which it translates thus:

Oh, if a mortal man were to wander in a dream through Elysium, if vast unfamiliar flowers were to close above him; if one of the blessed were to offer him one of these flowers, saying: “Let this remind you when you awake that you have not been dreaming”—how he would yearn for that Elysian land, whenever he looked at the flower.

Until just now, I was actually unaware of Paul.  In any case, I like Coleridge’s version better.  Alas, I like the “wrong” version best of all!  I’m too much of a pedant not to want the actual, correct version; but as often happens, the original gets “improved” over time.  Oh, well–the concept is fascinating, and the “wrong” version of Coleridge’s quote still moves me.

I’d add that Coleridge is the only Romantic poet I consistently like.  Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan are favorites of mine.  I realize that he didn’t fulfill his potential because of his later drug addiction; and the tendency has been to view the younger Romantics (Shelley, Byron, et. al.) more favorably; but I have a soft spot for Samuel.  Except for “Ozymandias” by Shelley, and a few things by Byron, I never much cared for the younger Romantics, anyway.

Anyway, may this week be a good one, and may we visit Paradise in our dreams!

The Mysterious World of Infrastructure

One of my persistent hobbyhorses over the years has been infrastructure.  I’m convinced that it is both one of the most vitally important and completely overlooked issues in America today.  I’ve pondered this for a long time, but first got to thinking about it systematically in the wake  of the horrendous results of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.  It never ceases to amaze me how much we Americans take for granted the infrastructure upon which our lifestyle, and often our very lives, depend.  Occasionally a spectacular breakdown occurs (one thinks of–well, Katrina–also the blackout in the Northeast a few years ago) that makes national news, but after a day or two it sinks back into cognitive oblivion.  The level of breakdown we saw in New Orleans and elsewhere should by rights force us to take an honest look at the state of our nation’s infrastructure.

I don’t mean to trivialize by using a pop-culture reference, but this does put me in mind of something I used to ponder in my (excessive!) free time years ago.  Back in the 80’s one of my favorite TV series was Beauty and the Beast–the show with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.  For those too young to have seen it or those who didn’t watch it at the time, its premise was that there is an entire culture beneath the subways and sewers of New York.  Those discontent with the impersonality, venality, and general nastiness of modern urban life have dropped out–or better, dropped down–and have carved out a near-Utopian civilization.

There they live under the leadership of a wise old man, formerly a physician, referred to as Father (everyone there takes a new name, apparently).  They live in peace and harmony, dressed in clothing that seems a combination of the Renaissance, Bowery street-person, and Road Warrior.  Their chambers, hollowed out of the stone, look like Renaissance studies, all earth-toned, full of candles, and beautiful soft-focus shots.  The protagonist is a tough New York lawyer who is shot and left for dead by the mob; she is found by Vincent (a mutant who looks much like a were-lion who lives in the underground civilization, adopted by Father), heals underground, learns the ways of the people there, falls in love with Vincent, but then returns to the above-ground world, where she (assisted by Vincent, whom she frequently visits) fights crime.

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Some Goofiness from the 80’s for the Weekend

Some good old-fashioned silliness.  Oddly, my eight-year-old daughter just loves thus.  Go figure–Elvis is truly everywhere.  Uhn-hunh!

Religion and Religions

As a kind of follow-up to the last post, I’m posting a more detailed discussion of some of my views on religion, generally speaking.  As I’ve said before, I studied most religions on the way to becoming Catholic.  In the course of all this investigation over all these years, I have come to some conclusions about those things that are common to all religions (or at least the vast majority.  I don’t doubt that there are a few here and there that might serve as exceptions to some of the things I’m about to write, but I think these will be good generalizations).  Anyway:

1.  All religions have essentially the same moral teachings

That is, don’t murder, steal, lie, &c.  Of course, the devil’s in the details.  What constitutes murder, or lying, or whatever may vary.  Killing a member of a different religion or ethnic group, or making a human sacrifice, may not be considered murder, for example.  Adultery may be prohibited, but the number of wives you are allowed may vary–and so on.  It is true that issues like these can be thorny.  Nevertheless, the similarities, I think, generally outweigh the differences.

2.   All religions are equal, but some are more equal than others. Read the rest of this entry


I won’t be putting a whole lot of personal information here.  In a typical post you won’t see me talking about how wonderful my wife, daughter, and cats are (though they are wonderful), or about how my day was, or what color shoes I wear.  Having had some negative experiences in my early years on the Net, I am leery about having too much personal stuff out where it’s accessible to third parties besides myself and my family and friends.

However, I will be discussing various things on this blog, and I think it’s always fair to let people know where you’re coming from intellectually and ideologically (I use “ideologically” not in the sense of an ideologue–I despise those and try to avoid “ideology” in the bad sense–but in more neutral terms of worldview).  My views will become obvious over time anyway, but it never hurts to start with some basic disclosure.

My main training is science in general and math in particular.  My degree is in math, with substantial physics as well, and a little bit of chemistry and biology.  I don’t claim to be a brilliant mathematician by any means; but it does inform my thinking on science and other areas.  I have no patience for bad or bogus science, and have a mildly skeptical temperament.  However, I’d describe myself, following Marcello Truzzi, as more a “zetetic”.  That is, while I’m inclined to seek proof and not willing to buy into any wacko thing that comes down the road, I do try to keep an open mind, and I think there may be more to some so-called “paranormal” phenomena than is admitted by some in conventional science.

In short, I try to be neither a starry-eyed, fluffy-bunny believer nor a hard-headed, out-to-debunk-everything super-skeptic.  Read the rest of this entry

A Prayer

One of my favorite Medieval chants, Kyria Christifera Eleison  (“O Lady Christbearer, Have Mercy”), from my favorite album (An English Ladymass), by one of my favorite historical music singing groups, Anonymous 4.  Let it be  a prayer as I begin this new project, and for all the other things in my life, and in the lives of my readers, in need of prayer.