Sunday, October 31, 2010

What I've Cribbed from Philosophers

Or: Lessons Learned With Consequence

The first philosopher who influences my current thinking is Socrates. Those before him are interesting to me only in an academic way: Empedocles, Democritus, Pythagoras and Epicurus amongst the rest. Socrates, for many, is the purest philosopher, a martyr for Truth. The shadow-figure of Socratic practice would be Diogenes, who took Socrates' distaste for the shallows of society to a logical conclusion, forswearing home, family, and decency.

Cribbed: An avoidance of cocktail banter, except serving as a means to get to richer stuff; The notion that honesty will be vindicated; Convinced me that applying my cooking talents may not be the best use of my life (from either Gorgias or Parmenides, I can't recall).

Plato was a bit of a rotter. I don't think I'd like his society from the Republic and Laws. Nor do I think it would actually work. Come to think, most of Plato's ideas don't jive with my own. His ideas-forms dichotomy is bunk. I like his gymnasium school, though, educating both the mind and body.

Cribbed: The importance of educating the whole person; Why it's important to avoid false dichotomies.

Of the Greeks the last to be influential for me is Aristotle. Plotinus and the rest don't do it for me. To some small extent I think Zeno the Stoic is sort of useful, but I can't claim to be a stoic. Aristotle, on the other hand, was the best for his passion in studying everything. Yet his desire for theory to overwrite fact was rather disastrous. His logic was a great foundation, even if it took a couple millenia to be built upon.

Cribbed: A partial fluency in Aristotelian logic; An ethics of potential and achievement; Regard for scientific fact and observation being more powerful than theory.

The Romans didn't produce much of note. Likewise the Middle Ages were relatively useless for me. From Boethius to Maimonides to Aquinas I've found little of relevance. The next philosophers for me would be Descartes and his rationalist buddy Leibniz. Descartes' 'Cogito' is rewarding for young philosophers looking for stability. As Russell points out Leibniz was a powerful thinker, who, unfortunately, applied his talent poorly in his writings, seeking expedient fame over philosophical greatness.

Cribbed: Increased appreciation of how theory can get you nowhere fast; Increased wariness of dichotomies, esp. of the mind and senses.

Having read Locke only politically, so too do I categorize Hobbes and Rousseau. Having skipped Berkley, I pass on to the arch-Empiricist, Hume. His ethics are dull. Humean existence, too, is a bit iffy. Since we can't trust inductive reasoning we end up not knowing "what will happen if...". Like the Rationalists causality is very peculiar. All the same his Dialogues are the finest I've read in English.

Cribbed: Many arguments for atheism; A healthy skepticism of the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning; A greater acceptance of Carl Sagan as my lord and saviour.

Kant's ideas initially made me bristle. Now that I'm a duller person I'm beginning to come around to his thoughts. The mind tries to reach beyond itself, and in failing to do so creates a dichotomy. Still, his noumenal and phenomenal transcendental answer to the Rationalist-Empiricist debate had me upset for a long time.

Cribbed: Further need for an ethics that applies to context; A few more good arguments for atheism; Elucidations about the nature of what philosophical inquiry can get you: a look behind the noumenal veil.

After Kant you have Hegel and Marx. These two clowns ruined everything. Hegel's view of history is atrocious. Marx's is not so horrible an image, but equally flawed in reasoning. Lots of structure with little support.

Cribbed: A serious distaste for Marxists and Hegelians.

Countering Hegel and Marx you have Kierkegaard. The poor sad sack was not popular, and verged, I think, on misanthropy. His views of personal religion I don't care much for, but his ideas on society and our role in it are fine. Along with Soren I'll lump in Nietzsche, whose ideas have been profoundly bastardized. These 19th century thinkers were the first to emphasize personal discovery of the truth in a fashion resembling Socrates. It was the beginning of a back to basic questions about existence movement.

Cribbed: Derision for people who misquote and use 'subjectivity' as a cover-up for sloppy arguments; A healthy dose of paranoia regarding the intentions of those around me; Increased moral relativity.

The American Transcendentalists I find to be philosophically not worthwhile. Likewise the Utilitarians had a good idea, but poor support. William James I consider fundamentally to be a psychologist rather than philosopher. Instead I turn to the 20th century existentialists Heidegger, Sartre, and Tillich. Heidegger finally resolved the Rationalist-Empiricist debate without recourse to transcendentalism or elaborate messes of needless structure. Sartre's 'upwelling's are wretched stuff, but his emphasis on projects is dead-on. Tillich's definitions of faith and belief dissolve much of the religious debate nonsense.

Cribbed: Peace of mind regarding the nature of my existence; Calm in the face of death; An understanding of Purpose that goes well with Aristotelian ethics; The weight of total responsibility for one's life and actions.

Out of the Analytical mush of such projects like the Principia there came one good voice: Ludwig Wittgenstein. Eccentric, to say the least, his early logical face lift is not as interesting, to me, as his later post-teaching work on language. Many of the earlier problems of philosophy, he argues, were not, as presupposed, epistemological, but instead were linguistic.

Cribbed: New insights into meaning placed in words and the lack of coherence in many philosophical arguments; Philosophical vindication for the depth I'd read into Alice in Wonderland.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I'm sure someone said elections are the great American pastime. And if it hasn't been said yet, it should've.

Elections are wonderful for bellyachin'. Conservatives bellyache about the liberals. Liberals bellyache about conservatives. Both camps bellyache about the non-participants, who in turn bellyache about the whole thing.

Firemen all of a sudden become very important. So do teachers. Every two years education is inflated to The Most Important Issue Facing Our Country. Then the rhetoric goes away again, and the schools stay very much the same.

Here in California the political climate has been tremendously heated. The ads are non-stop. Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown, Carly Fiorina, Lee Stone, Tom Torlekson (sp?). Some races are garnering international attention, like Whitman's spending, while others you'd only care about in San Mateo County, or Pacifica.

I wonder who'll be SF's mayor after Newsom. Also, if the World Championship Giants can have beards why can't politicians? Some of SF's former mayors, like Sutro, had incredible facial hair.

Hats and facial hair - two male fashion standbys - gone with WWII as far as I can tell. But I digress.

In a few days we'll all vote (if we haven't already) and some stories will gladden our hearts, while others anger us and probably a few surprise us. As the camps become increasingly disparate then the elections will become increasingly important - eight years of hard work to undue the mess of the last eight years, and then when the rival gets elected another eight years to mess it up again. It only depends on your point of view of which party makes the messes.

Many of the incessant ads are patently false, and ethics committees are quick to point out which candidates are fine with that so long as they get in office. Unfortunately the ethics committees don't run ads themselves, so people who don't do research are likely to just listen to the ads and vote on the rhetoric.

I suppose voting on rhetoric will be good in one way: no matter which candidate you vote for, at any level of office, they want to help fix education. Republicans, Democrats and Independents all agree. They may say that their opponent has a terrible past, or is lying, when they say they want to help. But if you listen to the opponent's ads they will assure you that education is actually their primary concern. Oh joy.

The other evening I was discussing with a friend how different our political process would be if voting was mandatory. Think of it! The fringe element, on either side, being a minority. Wouldn't that be nice? No highly-organized loonies adversely derailing the process of government. Tea Partiers would maybe get a single candidate. Maybe. And if you don't like anyone, but are forced to vote? Well, as someone else pointed out, you can always write-in Mickey Mouse.

Not that I'd ever want Mickey to run government. His track record is laughable.

So here's to democracy, American-style (hot and spicy, with gravy.) May the first days of November usher in candidates who are sound, and policies that are reasonable.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about human rights recently. Singapore had the highest death penalty sentencing of any country in the 90s. So let's take a look at the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which is binding for all UN members. Singapore is recognized as the 117th UN nation, and, to be fair, we'll compare the record against the 1st member, the United States.

The first article states that all humans should act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood. We're all entitled freedom and dignity.

Well, neither is exactly top scoring for brotherhood, but they aren't slavers (anymore) and maintain some dignity, each. I guess they'd be about even.

The second states that all the rights are to applied to all human beings without any distinction of any kind, regardless of the statehood of the person.

Until we look at the specific rights we're okay. If, however, either country treats anyone as a second-tier citizen, then they will fail this most basic injunction.

Third: life, liberty and security of person.

Liberty, security of person, okay. "Right to life" is a bit of a stickler. Does this mean that capital punishment isn't allowed? In that case both are guilty. But if it means arbitrary killing... well, it's still sticky.

The UN's fourth right allows no slavery.

In reality there is slavery in both countries. However it is not officially endorsed in either. So I guess they're okay.

Fifth, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Do we define the death penalty as a cruel punishment? If someone innocent is sent to the gallows, then definitely. It requires little empathy to put oneself in the horrific mind frame of an innocent man or woman headed to the hangman. Since we have plenty of examples of this I would condemn the death penalty as cruel: it is irrevocable and can be misapplied. The US is especially guilty here, since our fighting forces recently were torturing Iraqis.

Sixth article: Everyone has the right to be recognized before the law.

Again, the US with it's secret prisons...

Article the seventh states that all persons get equal protection under the law.

I think Singapore has some difficulty with this one. The judiciary is too buddy buddy with the executive branch - they defend the government against the people without hesitation.

Eight states: "Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law."

If the US violates in constitution then the US people have the right to a national tribunal, as does Singapore. Who knew?

The ninth article disallows arbitrary arrest, exile, or detention.

Both fail. The US has Bush-era detainees and Singapore has three acts by which detainees may be arrested without warrants.

The tenth article is right to a fair and impartial public trial with jury.

Singapore does not have a jury system. All decisions are made solely by those judges who are buddy buddy with the executive. So, no.

Eleventh: innocent until proven guilty.

I guess they both hold up to this. Some laws are presumptive, like Singapore assuming intent to deal if you have a certain amount of drugs on you (which leads to the death penalty).

Number twelve declares a legal protection of the right of privacy.

Again, Singapore has three laws that circumvent this. In the Bush years the US did, too, but this illegal aberration ended with Obama.

Article thirteen guarantees freedom to move around your country, as well as reentry upon leaving.

I think we're both good here. Unless it means you can't deport or exile people. In that case both have issues.

The fourteenth grants asylum in another country, so long as the person isn't be prosecuted for non-political criminal charges.

While not claiming to know too much about this, I think both are okay.

Fifteen ensures the right of nationality to all people.


Sixteen better be quoted: "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution." It goes on to require mutual consent in marriage and legal protection of families.

It doesn't say that men and women have the right to marry each other. It just says that all men and women have the right to marry. I take this, in conjunction with the second article stating no one is to be discriminated against, as legal entitlement to gay marriage along with heterosexual unions. If this is the case then the US has a mixed record, and Singapore, which outlaws male homosexuality, is worse.

The seventeenth requires that all have a right to security of property.

There are no problems with this in either state that I know of.

Next, the eighteenth allows freedom of thought, conscience and religion, with all the latter implies regarding practice.

Singapore fails here. Jehovah's Witnesses (who, really, seem like a nice-ish lot) are banned from practicing their religion, distributing materials, or worshipping in Singapore. Why, you may well ask? JW's refuse to serve an army, and in Singapore there is compulsory service for males, age 18.

Article nineteen: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Singapore fails again. The two media outlets are run by, and censored by, the government. They have a bureau of censorship which edits and bans materials. Historically they are one of the worst nations in the world (last year ranking in the 130s) for free speech.

The twentieth necessitates right to peaceful assembly and safety from compulsion to join assemblies.

Are we counting permits as a restriction, here? I doubt it, although in Singapore, in league with the above, you can't assemble if your intentions are deemed to be bad.

Twenty-one insists that all people have a right to participate in government, either through voting or office, and that "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."

I think the US does a decent job of this, although campaign finance may be seen as a prohibitive factor. Regardless Singapore fails. In the most recent election individuals were barred from running at the discretion of the government in power at the time. As such the will of the Singaporean people was not exercised.

The twenty-second article protects social security.

Who knew? Both have a decent record here. For now.

The twenty-third and twenty-fourth are worker's rights: choice of job, equal pay for equal work, choice to join trade unions. The latter ensures rest and leisure time, and reasonable working hours.

The role of unions in both countries is a bit delicate, to put it nicely. As for equal pay for equal work the US fails since women are still payed .75 on the dollar for equivalent male work. I'm not sure if there's a discrepancy in Singapore.

Then again both countries probably have illegal labor, most countries do. But, again, both governments make a serious effort to crack down on sweatshop conditions.

Number twenty-five maintains an adequate state of living, including medical care, along with guaranteeing disability and other protections for those who are unable to provide for themselves. Kids born out of wedlock still are entitled to all basic rights.

Both Singapore and the US do a good job with these provisions.

Article twenty-six demands a free, elementary compulsory education, of the parent's choice. Interestingly this education must: "promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace."

I'm guessing both would have passed until you get to the latter part. I know there are schools in the US where conservative teachers badmouth the UN. I'm glad to know that they should be fired. As for Singapore I don't know what their relation to the UN is. I'd imagine it's a little strained, given their human rights abuses.

Number twenty-seven is a little odd to me. It guarantees cultural rights, such as the enjoyment of the arts. The second part, however, protects "right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author."

I'm not sure if any author on earth actually has the moral rights of their work. Material, sure. Moral? How do enforce that? At any rate both countries are fine, excepting, of course, Singapore's ban on free speech and self-censoring journalists.

Twenty-eighth, to me, is repetitive. It entitles all people to having a social order wherein these rights are observed.

However, now that we've seen what the rights are, I'd say the Singaporean people, and to a lesser extent the citizens of America, are being failed on these counts. So far the US is currently in breach of 5 points they've sworn to uphold, whereas Singapore has violated the international agreement in 9 places.

Penultimately, the twenty-ninth declares that in league with the ideals of the UN "In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society." In other words, 'your rights end where my rights begin' in a democratic society.

Both countries are democracies of limited functioning status(the US system allows only the wealthy the run and Singapore is setting up dangerous precedents of a future dictatorship by barring candidates). If we ignore this, then we must ask whether both uphold morality, public order, and general welfare. Here I'm again wary: whose morality do we uphold? But the UN has anticipated this: it clearly states that it must be in accordance to the principles of the UN. In this case both fail. Neither country insists upon a morality that is consistent with the UN's ideals. If they did there'd be no social conservatives in either state.

Lastly, article thirty wisely points out that no one at any level can interpret any of the above articles as allowing for the destruction of the rights and freedoms the declaration has set forth to advance.

The US and Singapore both are guilty and innocent of this. They are both guilty in that neither has upheld more than roughly 2/3 of the articles. Both are innocent of the specific charge, however, since they don't interpret the articles in the manner described.

Rather both openly and defiantly flaunt their choices to not uphold the most important and inspirational humanist document ever written. Singapore doesn't give a damn that it's people aren't free to speak their mind, while a cowardly un-democratic government hides behind 'security' as the vicious stand-by for ensuring compliance through a biased judiciary. The US is slightly better, now that Bush's human right's violations are the stuff of nightmares past. But still the democratic system is replete with corruption and gerrymandering, not to mention being too influenced by wealth. Neither country treats gays as less than second-hand citizens. Both have the death penalty.

So there you have it, with a final score of US with 7 atrocities and Singapore with 10 affronts to humanity. Almost makes you feel proud.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Old Idea

When I was a child I had an idea that, now that I'm an older child, I've realized was not so unique as I'd considered. How interesting would it have been if Benjamin Franklin could see the 1990s!

As a kid I pictured Ben sitting in the car next to me, flabbergasted by the speed we were demonstrating. Electric lights! The thing that reset the bowling pins and the aerosol sprayed into our bowling shoes would delight him. I was confident that Ben would enjoy our world.

Now I stop and think what his experience would really be like, after the first months of giddy excitement had worn off. So, too, I wonder what other the founders would think of this new 21st century. What employment would they find? What would they praise and deride, especially politically? Would their Enlightenment visions be closer to fulfillment, or gasping for breath?

So here are the four I think of when I hear 'founder': Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. You could make the case for Hamilton, but I don't think there's anything uniquely Hamiltonian that isn't covered by the actions and thoughts of the other four. My slight portraits are divined from public actions as well as private letters and diary entries. It's important to note the distinction, for all four men, of these two realms.


Ben Franklin - the non-presidential founder. In a way the most well-rounded founder, an Enlightenment man with Renaissance man distinctions. As the oldest of the pack he should get first billing, and, as a factoid, he's the only founder to have put his name on all four critical documents: Declaration of Independence, Treaty of Paris, Treaty of Alliance with France, and the Constitution.

Franklin was a public figure: always in the spotlight and very beloved by his fellow colonists and foreigners. He had a Puritan background, but a generic deist view of religion. He subscribed to no particular church. This alone may have disqualified his political career these days.

He subscribed, falteringly, to the 13 virtues he set down in his Autobiography. These are fairly straightforward, such as humility, temperance, and sincerity. Later in life he was an outspoken abolitionist. I can only assume he would be a strong advocate for civil rights and tolerance.

As an ambassador he was a rather worldly fellow - he helped secure the Treaty of Paris - with positions in both England and France. His reputation was well known as a scientist. I think he'd support global warming (he did a lot of work in meteorology) and be rather pleased with where electrical science had progressed to help people.

Fundamentally he was a thinker: I doubt he'd be pleased with 'liberal elitist' being used as a slander. As a satirist he supported and knew the power of the pen. He founded the American Philosophical Society and an academy in Philadelphia. Knowledge was power for Franklin. His scientific inquiries were the reason he was charmed in Parisian society, and without them he'd not have been as potent a force as he was.

The flip side to Franklin was his industry. He was a monopolizing business man who used gregariousness as an advantage for his printing empire. He retired very young, and was like the other founders fairly wealthy. Something should be said of his family values, too. His son sided with the English in the Revolution, and neither of them, despite efforts, ever healed that rift. As far as his fidelity is concerned his record is closer to John McCain than Barrack and Michelle.

Franklin might not have thrived in the 21st century, but of the founders he may be the best adapted to it. He'd undoubtedly enjoy the comforts of modern medicine with his gout, and probably enjoy most technological innovations. Unlike Jefferson or Washington, Franklin was a man who'd worked in an industrial capacity to gain his fortune: seeing America as a place of business would probably make him happy. Although as a dedicated philanthropist with his wealth I'm sure he'd have some choice, biting words for current corporate ethics.


For me, Washington has always been rather enigmatic and unapproachable. He's my least favorite founder, although I'd be hard pressed to say why. As the first president he set many precedents for the office but I spend little time on him, and never have found him to be an interesting person. If I invited all four major founders to the future, I think I'd spend the least amount of time with him.

Brought to the 21st century Washington would be one of the most conservative, although he definitely wouldn't be a tea partier. He favored a strong, Federalist government. Not surprising, considering the novelty of the 13 states he was attempting to unify into a cohesive union. I'm not sure if he'd be a Democrat, either. Since Kennedy and Johnson the Democrats have been a very socially liberal bunch what with civil rights. Washington gave oodles of support to France to help quell the Haitian slave rebellion. At the same time he was a Mason and dedicated philanthropist.

But I doubt he'd be a republican, either: Washington strongly disapproved of party politics and spent much of his two terms attempting to ensure that the United States did no fall prey to parties. He would have undoubtedly been horrified and upset by our party system with its mutual attacks and ad campaigns. I think he'd be a strong advocate of campaign finance reform: he initially refused a salary until he realized what a dangerous precedent that would be. He didn't want only the rich to be able to run for office.

Like the other founders he was a deist, and he made a point of visiting and attending multiple churches. In office he had no trouble exercising power - The Whiskey Rebellion was put down by invoking the local militias.

All in all I think of him as a big government libertarian. He would be an outcast in our political world: he wouldn't support the Republican big business and wealthy party attitude, but he's too conservative socially for the liberal democrats. As a man who sincerely wished to have peace at his Mt. Vernon estate I doubt he'd be a fan of our hyper-connectivity. The 21st century would not suit him too well, I don't think.


What to say about Adams? The man wasn't very popular, quarrelsome, and fairly pompous. His single-term presidency was only somewhat noteworthy. He was not an inspired ambassador, but was a gifted lawyer. With all of this in mind I feel as though Adams would be best politically suited to modern times.

Most of our presidents have a legal background: and Adams was the first of this notorious set, comprising 22 out of 44 presidents. His legal abilities allowed him to see things from multiple perspectives, perhaps most notoriously when defending the British soldiers responsible for the Boston Massacre.

As President Adams had negotiate the tenuous balance that eroded between Washington's ideal of having no parties, and the opposing Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians. Adams was a Federalist, supporting a national bank and strong central government. Yet he personally got on very poorly with Hamilton, the Federalist leader who was very close to Washington. Jefferson and Adams also had a falling out over the relative strength of government, which Jefferson thought Adams abused.

Principally of these abuses were the Alien and Sedition acts, levelled at quelling dissent. Only 10 people were tried, and no one was deported, but it was a serious blemish on the record. So too did Adams engender no sympathy by the appointment of the Midnight Judges, a rather petty move to try and influence the courts after his term. Jefferson overturned both of these measures. He also created the first property taxes.

In terms of foreign policy Adams had more success, fighting the Quasi-War, and using all his powers to avoid an all-out war with France. Like Washington he felt it best not to meddle in foreign affairs. After his Presidency he again retired to Massachusetts, eventually rekindling his friendship with Jefferson, and watching the young republic grown and change. Religiously he was of course a deist which manifested as a Unitarian.

Adams was the only non-slave owner of the four (Franklin had two, whom he released). As a lawyer and orator I'm unsure if he'd be happy with the litigious element in today's America. As he was a victim of violent attacks in the newspapers of the time I'm sure he'd view today's 24 hour journalism with contempt. As for the role of America as world's police, again, I doubt he'd be entirely happy. On the one hand he genuinely believed in the spread of democracy and relished power and authority. On the other hand, he took an almost isolationist stance and was vehemently anti-war. I rather think Adams would be displeased with 21st century America. His ideals for politics are no longer present, nor would he stand for those worst elements of American culture: greed and duplicity, conspicuous consumption and anti-intellectualism. Yet, in terms of his character, I think he would be very involved in this political arena which he would find disgusting. Adams was a man who rolled up his sleeves to get things done and done right. I can't help but assume that he would wade into the mire with determination.


Lastly we have Jefferson. Darling of the American people, perhaps the founder most beloved after Franklin. This is sensible, considering the many qualities they shared.

Jefferson rose to notoriety as the main quill behind the Declaration of Independence. The ideas of this document are profound and inspiring, the bedrock of the later constitution and most American's view of their country.

As president he repealed taxes, and continued to strengthen the American military, as Adams had done, including the founding of West Point. Contrary to Adams and the federalists Jefferson oversaw the first foreign war, The Barbary War, which proved to be an American victory.

Domestically Jefferson is famed for the Louisiana Purchase, and infamously known for the first anti-Indian acts: hoping for conversion but willing to resort to extermination. He ended the importation of slaves, but was a slave owner. He considered putting abolitionist language in the Declaration of Independence, but kept his slaves until death. He was perhaps the most committed deist of the lot. His 'Bible' eradicates any element of the supernatural being attributed to Jesus.

Jefferson tested the boundaries of executive privilege - when subpoenaed he initially refused to appear. In the end he had to anyway, although his bristling against the Supreme Court extends to the celebrated Marbury v. Madison ruling. Jefferson considered the ruling to be unconstitutional, but figured vetoing it would do no good.

Against the Federalist he supported limited government and was vehemently opposed to the national bank. In his private life, and after the presidency, he founded the University of Virginia, constantly tinkered and invented nifty new devices, and was one of early America's better architects.

The Jeffersonian model is the foundation of small-government and state's rights, with all of the good and bad those concepts contain. His vision for American was agrarian, hence the Louisiana Purchase and desire for westward expansion. This expansion came at a price, though, for native peoples and the slaves who would work the land. Much has been made, for two hundred years, of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, the slave woman he likely had children by. I can only look at it from the view of a family and with some disdain that a father would keep his own children in captivity.

Entering the 21st century Jefferson would be, I think, rather saddened. The role of corporate America's power and the banking industry would definitely being repugnant. The inter-marriage of money and politics would be frowned upon as well, I think. I would hope he would support civil rights, but his record is so mixed it's difficult to say. As for the agrarian model it has failed: the breadbasket Midwestern states which he secured for the country are now owned by the corporations as well. Small, independent farms are a rarity. The country has followed what may be called his lead in the foreign sector, with the world's strongest military and a presence overseas. As one of the original beneficiaries of political parties I doubt he'd side with our current incarnations, though. The Republicans, although they say they are limited government, have a track record that proves otherwise. I doubt he'd be so naive to pay no attention to the history of the party he decided to join. On the other hand, the Democrats, while liberal like Jefferson, may be seen as too similar to the conservatives regarding spending and power. I can't picture him getting on well with Obama or Clinton, even if he preferred them to Reagan and the Bushes.

Jefferson would probably enjoy the perks of the subsequent technological developments, but, like the others, bemoan any anti-intellectual spirit. The plantation owner in him, like Washington, would prefer the rarefied air of Monticello than the hubbub of New York City. As a dedicated francophile I think he'd have been put out by this country's recent francophobic tendencies. Unlike Adams I doubt Jefferson would get too involved in the 21st century. He'd want to learn about it, but from the ease of a salon armchair. I picture a man reading the newspaper with some regret, tempered with an arch-humanist's hope.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Time Isn't On Anyone's Side

Initially I considered starting this with the old stand-by: "I think there may be something wrong with me."

I don't do a lot of internet research. I generally profit from the research of others. I love Wikipedia, but don't scroll through a daily checklist of forums, news and blogs. Three people posted three different things, which, being read in the same hour, were profoundly interesting.

The first was an article posted by my former history prof on Facebook. From the NY Times it discusses cutting back the humanities courses at SUNY Albany (where Bennington occasionally borrowed professors). The arguments weren't particularly new: the relevancy of humanities courses in the global economy, trade schools, historic context of everyone getting a degree, utility of Emily Dickinson. Lots of talk about democratic society. Read it here:

The second thing I read was, without trying to be, very optimistic. A Cracked article from their foremost intellectual writer, David Wong, it discusses the long-term implications of the internet and free access. There are some interesting assumptions underlying his premises on the indesctrutability and inevitability of the net, as well as the irreplicable fusion of capitalism and society. And, you know, funny pictures and stuff.

Finally, from a far more capable blog, John Wiswell wrote a nice little story. It happens to be about academia and human folly:

We seem to be going back to Hegel, which is unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable. Hegel was the philosophic 'cause celebre' from the time of Napoleon to roughly the inter-war years. A few outspoken philosophers disagreed, like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Husserl, and we now tend to read them more frequently. In their own age, however, they were far from popular.

Hegel, in the simplified husk of a nutshell, basically said it's going to keep getting better. The notion was that human conditions will keep improving and perfecting as new ideas come along to better modify the lousy old ones. When explaining it to students I suggest the concept of a tournament: first you have 16 teams, then 8, then 4...

For Hegel this process had an end-point, and that was as near to perfection and God-like status as humans could achieve. It was a fine, rational concept that embraced Darwinian evolution and Industrial progress. (And Marxists, just in reverse.) But the fallacy at it's heart was an old one.

If there are 16 people alive today who came from 8 parents, that means there must've been an original 2 parents, right?

This Adam and Eve confusion is fundamentally wrong, and also part of why I found those three articles oddly bewildering. I expect a young child to be puzzled by the chicken and egg riddle, but not an adult. The egg came first. It just happened to be hatched by a proto-chicken. Just as there weren't two first humans, but some larger number of proto-humans.

For Hegel to be right would mean that there are a finite number of ideas modes of living. This may be true, but only if the earth is static. So long as the earth keeps changing, our modes of life will keep having to change along with it. As new climactic shifts occur, and new species and pathogens are made known, humanity will change course, again and again. People do not live the same way know as they do when the Plague hit Asia and Europe. But they might again, in the future.

Even if we eradicate every disease known to man new ones will occur. If we found a means to harness the weather (even though we can't even predict it currently) there would be a means of losing that power. Add in culture and politics and you have a veritable stew of unpredictability.

Technotopias erase these elements. Disease isn't an issue. Weather is fine. People are happy. Politics are a thing of the past. Culture is respectfully diverse while simultaneously uniform. It can't be otherwise: traditions are too conflicting and beliefs are the stuff wars are fuelled by.

Although an economist may disagree with that one. For the economists everything comes down to money: resources, services, ideas, land. Everything has a price tag and dollar sign affixed to it. It's no coincidence that modern capitalism was being born around the time Hegel began writing. Capitalism is based on the very same notions of Hegel's dialectic: that a competition of stuff (ideas, investors, whatever) will lead to a final end-product that is superior. The free-market argument depends on this concept. If this type of competition didn't lead to improvements then capitalism would be very, very flawed at its core.

And typing that made me shiver, because it confirms a suspicion I've been developing for years: capitalism has outgrown its usefulness. There are many telling signs: The dependency on an entrenched poverty sector. The 'dynamic' cycle of boom and bust that, when translated to people's lives, is catastrophic. The fact that some of our most important and essential societal needs we don't trust to the free market - health care, education - without devastating consequences. As David Wong points out we can't rely on charity, because for humans charity is given only when we're in a certain mood.

So, too, from the cauldron of the late 1700s European Enlightenment came another fundamental idea, this one taking the form, most successfully, as a state. Or rather, 13 states. For functioning democracy is as much a rationalist product as capitalism or Hegelianism.

Now, as many are quick to point out, we don't have a functioning democracy. The biggest flaw, that is, what I find to be the most basic and corrupting influence, isn't human nature but the role capitalism plays in politics. Vested interests, lobbyists, campaign finance and all of that bullshit are, quite literally, ruining politics. I plan to vote in a few weeks, but I know that there will be no real change. The Tea Partiers are naive to think their candidates won't be destroyed by party interests or business interests.

Corporations have the power. They have for oh these many decades. Corporations of such size can only exist with bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is one of the most powerful forces in the world, and one we take surprisingly for granted given its youth. Bureaucrats are a relatively modern invention. They are fundamentally modern, originating in the early days of the modern era, say it with me, the late 1700s.

Bureaucrats are good at keeping their job safe. They are efficient only when very small. They are best at entrenching themselves. Dissolving bureaucracies is no easy task. Being tied to both the legal world and money-making they are very secure pill boxes, whose destruction requires extraordinary strength.

Four concepts: bureaucracy, capitalism, democracy, and Hegel's utopian 'Progress'. Let's play the Hegel game. If you had to pick one of these four concepts to survive what would you pick? Let's rationalize the answers.

If you pick bureaucracy then you're going to see a world where the red tape never disappears. Bureaucrats are the masters of the 'it's my job' rationale. "I'm just doing my job." It takes a certain element of human coldness to give that answer to someone who is in need, or pain, or suffering. More importantly, we've all met such people: at airports ("I'm sorry your bag...") or at government agencies ("I'm sorry but you must first...") or in a dozen other places ("I'm sorry..."). These people are often useless or inept. Consider the many, many cultural critiques and scathing remarks we have for them from the funny pages, to Kafka, to Kurosawa. We hate these people, and with good reason. Zygmunt Bauman goes so far as to detail their necessity in carrying out the Holocaust. A handful of idealists couldn't have done it: and anyone whose seen the masses of forms and paperwork that details pounds of hair and concentration camp populations, not to mention the fanatical arm tattooing and gas chamber logs knows just how horrific a bureaucracy can become.

If you picked capitalism then you are a big fan of lotteries. Careful money management is a joke. You can be as careful and prudent as you like and lose it all: your house, your job, your finances. Or you can be as reckless as they come and have a fortune at your feet. The odds are less likely in both cases, but those are just odds, and, as someone who like lotteries, odds aren't your thing. During the current recession it's easy to point fingers at Wall Street and the rest of the bastards, from banks to mortgage to insurance. To assume that they'll stop having people who are greedy at the helm, or that the board of trustees will ever be less intimidating and powerful is stupid. Very stupid. Stupid in the 'trick me once, shame on you, trick me for a century and a half... next time will be different, right?' kind of way. No amount of regulation is without loopholes, and no laws protecting us can't be overturned if money and politics commingle (see: Reagan deregulating the Wall St. reforms that had been in place since, and because of, the Great Depression).

If you pick democracy then you may have picked the right answer. It depends on whether our country's version of democracy can be fixed. Currently, no big surprise, its broken. A few problems have lead to this:
1. Curtailing free speech. Now that the Bush years are over sedition seems less likely to be an offense. But take a look at the journalistic integrity in the U.S. and weep. I have only slightly more respect for CNN or NBC than I do for Fox. This 24-hour news cycle and punditry is devastatingly ruinous to free speech.
2. Education improvement. We suck at education. Like, a lot, you know? There are many reasons for this. First, there is a gap between diplomas and dollars. To start one's life in debt and be unable to get a job with an expensive degree is beyond disheartening, it's jading. Second, there is a palpable lack of good teaching and good teachers. We need a lot of very good teachers, due to our enormous size as a country. We can either a) fill up classes to bursting and hire as many people, regardless of quality, as are willing to work for charitable wages or b) make teaching a lucrative and respected profession, so more high-qualified teachers are vying for jobs and class sizes can be smaller due to increased numbers of educators. So far we've been doing choice 'a' because it's more cost effective. But an uneducated democracy is a dangerous thing indeed.
3. Poverty. Poverty and poor education go hand in hand: they call it the poverty cycle. It is, like most cycles, very hard to break, and there is no cure-all. You need money for a good education, and a good education may get you a good job and more money. But without that initial shot of money then you get a bad education, lacking skills you get a job that requires no skill and is therefore paid poorly. Without this $ you can't send your kids to a good school. Only in rare and inspirational astral alignments due children break free of this. And, as everyone whose been on the border lands of middle class and poor knows, it is much easier to become poor than rich. There are plenty of safeguards in place to ensure that the poor stay poor.
If we are able to fix these things, at the cost of capitalism and bureaucracy, then democracy may be the right choice.

Finally, if you picked Hegel, then you are a profound optimist. Hegel's Progress is very optimistic, seductively so. Who wouldn't want a world where tomorrow is always going to be better than today?

But there is a reason why Hegel fell out of favor after WWI. WWI was about as bloody, and irrational a war as they come. Millions slaughtered, over what? And what was achieved? The whole war was tragic - not just for those who lost but for those who won. This was new. War hadn't, usually, been seen in a tragic light from the victor's viewpoint before WWI. In the Great War, the plain pointlessness of it all precluded such a reaction.

There is no guarantee that tomorrow is going to be better. Tomorrow the sun may not come out. It may rain. Or you might get Ebola. Or the president might be assassinated. You don't know, can't prepare, and will have to do your damnedest to cope. Some will thrive with change, and others will merely survive. Many, many others won't even survive. Count yourself fortunate if you do.

So if you opt for Hegel, and as I said at the start it seems he is on the popularity rise, then get ready for change - change you may or may not be able to live with. Because Progress, like capitalism and bureaucracy, lives only to serve itself.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ten People Who Should Have Gotten the Mark Twain Award for American Humor

...Before Tina Fey.

I like Tina Fey. She is very talented, and very funny. At 40, she'll be the youngest recipient of the Mark Twain Award ever. This award is for the best comedians in the country, the Immortals. George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart.

Someday Fey should be inducted. But not now. Not while there are people who haven't been honored with stunning legacies. Like all awards, the Twain awards are time-sensitive: they are not posthumously awarded. Here, then, are ten people who should get the award sooner than Tina Fey. With luck they'll be the next ten winners.

1. Mel Brooks, 84

Mel Brooks was one of the foremost comedic directors and writers of the 20th century. After Hollywood he had immense success on Broadway. See: Blazing Saddles, The Producers, The 2,000 Year Old Man.

2. Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, 84 + 73

Really, they were part of the fantastic inner circle, and wandered show to show. Two of the best of the era. See: The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore Show.

3. Mort Sahl, 83

Can there be a more fitting winner from the Kennedy Center? Sahl was close to John, and wrote jokes for him, besides helping invent modern stand-up comedy. See: modern stand-up comedy.

4. Carol Burnett, 77

Six Emmys and five Golden Globes testify to the Brilliance of The Carol Burnett Show and its host's comedic talents. The intro Q+A was more influential than anyone initially realized. See: The Carol Burnett Show.

5. Woody Allen, 74

Allen is indisputably a great comedian. As an author and director he helped invent the romantic comedy, as well as being a gifted actor. See: Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo.

6. The Smothers Brothers, 73 + 70

Tommy and Dicky were wonderfully sly subversives, as well as silly. Besides their Comedy Hour the never-quite folk singing duo recorded numerous classic records. See: Mom Always Liked You Best, My Old Man, I Talk to the Trees.

7. Garrison Keillor, 68

The mind behind the Prairie Home Companion and the folks of Lake Woebegone. So quintessentially American I'm stunned he's not yet been honored. See: The Prairie Home Companion.

8. Christopher Guest, 62

As an actor he has plenty of great roles, but he's also been the writing (and directing) force behind many classic comedies. His style and humor have helped defined three decades. See: This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Best in Show.

9. Robin Williams, 59

Williams started as Mork from Ork, and played his manic lunacy into a very successful stand-up career, winning oodles of awards. "There's no one faster." See: Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin, Good Morning, Vietnam

10. Jon Stewart, 47

If you are going to award someone in their forties, why not Stewart? The Daily Show is probably going to have a longer legacy than Thirty Rock anyway. See: The Daily Show, Colbert and Carrell's careers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time Enough At Last

"I hate Pilgrim's Progress. It's the only book I've ever put down without finishing."


"It's dull and poorly written. It's supposed to be a classic, but instead it's a poor allegory."

"Isn't that true of most classics?"

"I couldn't get past the 'Slough of Despond'. I don't even keep it on my reading list."

"Why would you?"

"I keep a list of books I've read, and a list of books I want to read. In between those lists I've wedged a 'partially read but not completed' list."

"Why don't you just put it way down on the bottom of that list? That way you can keep reading other books, but it'd still be on there."

"I'd be more prone to read every other book in existence first."

God pricked up his ears. Actually, it was his omniscience, but no one understood how that worked anyway.

"This ought to be fun."

Lou looked up from his paper. "What?"

"Dylan Ross just said he'd read all other books in existence before Pilgrim's Progress."

"Yeah, I know."

"Don't lie. So I'm going to hold him to it. Should be fun."

After a few decades of not aging Ross decided he had to 'go vampire' and retreat from the world. Watching Groundhog Day a couple of times he felt familiar enough to work through the steps. He was very happy with her, until the day she died.

But he was still around. He couldn't perform miracles, couldn't die, could love, could commit crimes and kill (he stayed clear of Nevada for a long time after that). He tried various religions: sat and meditated for a few hundred years as the world whistled by. His mind was fine and sharp, and his health didn't waver. Under various guises he did a lot of good: righting wrongs and earning karmic brownie points in case this was some sort of purgatory-thing.

He dwelt on all of his regrets and did everything possible to right them, in case one of them had been the tip in the balance. He kept busy reading new books and old books, and reserved the spot for Progress at the bottom. Eventually he began to notice that he was looking a little unevolved. One day, finally, cold fusion actually wasn't 'fifty years away'. The resulting cold fusion weapons threatened to destroy - oh, wait, there they went.

By now Ross had given up trying to figure out his purpose. Once everything on the planet, including the planet, was destroyed except him and millions of books floating in space, he got it.

"I see."

So he gathered them up as best he could, and read. Floating and reading, noticing the subtle galactic spin and shift. When he'd finish a volume it'd disappear. If he didn't read it thoroughly, or skimmed bits, it stuck around.

No longer interested in time, and with no means of measuring it anyway, eventually there was just one book left. He picked it up.

It was The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

"Wait, what? Did I read it without knowing? No - I'd have remembered. What the hell?"

He looked around very thoroughly, and eventually just read the Gladwell. When that was over nothing happened.

"Well... shit."

God chuckled. Lou shook his head.

Over the Waves

Things you have to thinka-bout before going overseas for extended periods:

* What's the voltage, Hz, and amps over there?
* What sunscreen gives me the best value per oz?
* Who do I have to give a change of address to besides the post office, everything that has my credit card, and everyone I email?
* Where is the US embassy located in [whatever country]?
* What all do I have to cancel: subscriptions, Netflix, other services?
* What records might I need besides copies of my transcripts, licenses, diplomas, medical and immunization records?
* What do I need besides my credit cards, passport, ID, extra passport photos, and duty-free cigarettes to barter my way out of a civil war or coup?
* What are the laws regarding [anything you own] in [whatever country]? Do I have contraband? How can I smuggle it in without them knowing? What happens to me once they've caught me?
* How do you get a library card/ set up internet/ get a phone?
* How do you set up a will and power of attorney in case something happens overseas?
* Do they drive on the right or the left? Is it bicycle friendly? Pedestrian friendly?
* What's the food like, and do I have a prayer in trying to prepare it myself?
* How much is [everything]?
* Really? I can't believe milk is so cheap while potato chips are that expensive. Huh.
* What is there to do to stay occupied? What's the low-down on the various neighbourhoods? Which parts of town are crime-ridden, touristy, or bargain shopping meccas?
* How do you say [anything] in the local language?
* Which newspapers are popular? Radio stations? TV channels? Blogs?
* Just whose in charge, there, anyway? Are they popular? Is it an election year? What's the voting age? How does their government function? How is it dysfunctional?
* What are the social norms? Who do you tip? Which hand do you use to eat with? What hand gestures do you avoid? How do you greet someone in [any scenario]? What are the religious beliefs and all of their customs and procedures?
* What's standard boilerplate for a renter's contract? An employer's contract?
* Are they on metric?
* How do you convert to metric?
* What don't you need to bring? Should you bring your social security card, voter's registration, birth certificate, parole officer's card?
* How do they dress? Should I dress that way? Where can I get those [garments]?
* What is the weather like?
* That bad, huh?
* What lives there, grows there, and passes through? How big will the spiders in my tub be?
* Where is it cheaper to buy [anything]: over here and pay shipping, or over there?
* What's the cheapest way I can call [whoever]?
* Which entertainment items/tchotchkes/clothing items/supplies will I need? What will be unnecessary?
* When was the last time they had an epidemic/flood/fires/nuclear meltdown? How did the government handle it? Which areas are safest?
* What's the public transportation like?
* Why am I doing this?

* Why would I not be doing this?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Trip to the Doctor

I got up at 7 am and drank a cup of juice, which made me feel sick. After an extra-thorough shower ("Extra-thorough?" "Don't ask.") I got in the car in hopes to make it across town in the next hour.

I arrived early. So early that I was the only one there. Eventually the secretary arrived. I filled out the paperwork, guessing where convenient, and skimmed the magazines.

At 9:45, the time of my appointment, some other fellow showed up, talked briefly to the desk, and was shown back to the doctor.

About nine days later I was shown back, was measured and weighed. I put on a robe. And sat on the tissue-papered padded bench-table. And waited.

My doctor showed up. I told her my appointment was for an ultrasound to determine the baby's sex, but by now I'm looking for a delivery.

She simply puts on her gloves and looks at my paperwork. Her response to the forms is to say "blah blah blah" to no one in the room. We began the physical. I was surprised how fast it was.

Later this upcoming Spring I was allowed to put my clothes back on and go take an eye exam in the hallway. Even though I couldn't read the 'E' on the top line the nurse patiently ran me through the chart. Then I got to go downstairs to get lab work done.

It's interesting that there's no word for riding an elevator. Since the office was on the top floor the wait for the elevator was inspiringly lengthy. I took out a pen and began transcribing Moby Dick from memory.

When I got down to the lab it was near closing. I was put on the restaurant-style waiting list and was told it would be about twenty minutes, is that okay? Only if the special of the evening is prime rib. She gave me a confused Cocker Spaniel look.

My name was eventually called and I went to booth number 4.

"Welcome to CCR Medical. Thank you for choosing CCR. We are now going to begin your registration process. What is your name and date of birth?"

Once I'd been officially registered I had the privilege of waiting for lab work. When my name was called I went back with a young tech who recited that the curtain was for my privacy. There were probably twenty booths in a row, with bright stripey curtains for privacy. It reminded me of a war zone brothel.

We chatted pleasantly as she rubbed up my arm, not helping me ease my metaphor. I looked away as she stuck it in me. She then told me to go to the bathroom, plastic cup in hand.

After this I got to wait for radiology. I'd never had x-rays taken before, so this was going to be a treat. I didn't do anything right. I faced the camera, stood the wrong distance, and probably shouldn't have asked for her number. Anyway, when I was walking out I told her that I needed the radiologist's signature on my forms. What forms? The ones upstairs in the doctor's office.

It took a few hours to elevator up and back, but I succeeded. I had assumed the woman who had taken my x-rays was the radiologist, but this was not so. I also felt slightly jealous when she took other patients into the backroom while I waited for the real radiologist to sign my papers. The real radiologist was in an adjacent building, across the street.

I didn't have TB (whew!) and my abdomen was classified as "grossly unremarkable". That hurt a bit, and I dwelt on it as I skipped the elevator and climbed 74 flights of stairs to return the paperwork to my doctor. The secretary was stunned I had achieved so much in such a short space of time.

Once I got out of the building I noticed I finally could make a phone call. If I ever start a cell phone company, and am trying to break into a new market, I would prioritize hospitals and doctor's offices. You know, for emergencies. Just a thought.

But I made it out alive. Now I just have to wait for a few days until I get to go back there and pick up my lab and paper work. I'm sure everything will go fine.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Movies for Your Kids

There are some movies that had a profound impact on my life as a child. Some, obviously, were negative (Last of the Mohicans at age 6, Rocky Horror in 2nd grade). But here are the best of the positive:

10. The Nightmare Before Christmas

This one's pretty straightforward. At the time I wasn't even too moved by it. I appreciated it more as an adult, I guess. But, as an adult, I still only watch sparingly. For some reason it sticks out. I guess it's a good transitional film for kids growing up.

9. Raggedy Anne and Andy: A Musical Adventure

When I was very young this movie was probably my favorite. It's really, really, weird. The taffy monster is legitimately frightening for little kids. Think Brave Little Toaster with a softer edge, and pirates.

8. Dr. Doolittle

Oh Rex. Honestly, this movie probably is very responsible for a chunk of my ethics. I read all of the Doolittle books (and there are many). I would watch it back to back, delighting in the songs and gentle sentiment of the good doctor.

7. Bedknobs and Broomsticks

This one's pretty hokey. It's by far the best live action thing Disney did. I still know the magic incantations and songs. It was my introduction to blending live action and animation (sucks to Mary and Roger). Only after a couple years did I figure out the plot.

6. Disney's Robin Hood

I wouldn't be surprised if I'd seen this fifty times. It's not too inventive, although it does have a sweet little story, good humor, and nice songs. I had to put it on here for sheer volume of watching. In a very serious way, though, it helped inform my ideas of the middle ages.

5. The NeverEnding Story

On the flip side of things I did not watch this very much – only a couple of times. Its visuals stick with me to this day. The sphinx gate, the turtle mountain, and many others were incredibly hard to shake. As fantasy goes it's great, and sort of touching.

4. Fantasia

This was for me, and probably many people, my first experimental film. A light year away from standard stories like Robin Hood this showed me what animation was capable of, and further what movies were able to do. Bach's Toccata and Fugue sequence will always be seared in my mind.

3. The Dark Crystal

Step off. The Dark Crystal provided my introduction to high fantasy. In a way, obviously, all of these have been high fantasy. But Crystal cleared the way for self-contained worlds like Tolkien and Lewis that I would meet later on.

2. Totoro

Oh man. Not only did this get high status on the 'watch until the VHS dies' list, but it also earns top points for visuals and message. There is nothing conceivably base about Totoro – it is all loving. That said it tackles very adult stuff, through children's eyes. This is often attempted, but nowhere else done so well. Plus, you know, the environment.

1. The Mind's Eye series

Back in the early 90's I was enjoying computer animation y'all didn't get for a decade. The Mind's Eye series was incredibly ahead of its time. They were doing stuff in '92 that wasn't mainstream until, say, Moulin Rouge and The Matrix. The short animated pieces were sometimes strung together for a story, and were always put to music, like Fantasia. They were so diverse, visually stunning. Surreal without the uncomfortable connotations that word usually holds.