Monday, May 31, 2010

Dream of an Expectant Father

My wife and I are expecting our first baby, a girl, in July. Last night I dreamed she was born. I walked into a room and the nurses showed me my newborn--a young girl who looked about 10 years old. I picked her up and looked down at her feet, which were dangling about 2 inches off the floor.

Oh, there was some mistake. This wasn't my baby. They led me to another room and showed me an infant. "This is your baby." I bent down and looked at her face. Her eyes appeared to be Asian or, I worried, she had Down Syndrome. But the nurses came in and measured the distance between her eyes. "Oh, she's just fine," they said. "Her eyes aren't too close together." Phwew! I felt so relieved.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Urban Wildlife

This spring, I've seen deer, a fox, ducklings, and a bald eagle. All in Indianapolis.

View The Wild in Indianapolis, Spring 2010 in a larger map


Yesterday, at work, in one of the stalls in the public bathroom, I found pepper. Those little pepper packets from the condiment bar. In the stall. Some not opened, some opened with pepper spilling out, some completely empty. Pepper. By the toilet. In a public restroom.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chicken Curry

I made chicken curry for the first time last night. This is the recipe I used. As usual, it took me much longer than the estimated time. Well, it says 30 minutes cooking time, and I probably cooked it for 40 minutes. But it took me an hour and a half from start to first bite. I usually multiply the estimated time by 2 or 3. That's usually how long it takes for me, especially if I'm making it for the first time.

I've never made an Indian dish, but I've been craving it lately. It wasn't that difficult. I added some chili powder, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder, which wasn't in the recipe. The spice level was probably a 5 or 6 out of 10. And the cinnamon seemed a bit much for me. Probably cut that back next time, or leave it out entirely.

When I was chopping the onions and carrots, I kept thinking about a story in Interpreter of Maladies. I don't have it in front of me, but it takes place in the US. Some kid regularly visits the home of an Indian family. The husband is a professor or something, and the wife stays at home. I think they're childless, so maybe she's babysitting the kid. Anyway, the wife cooks their meals every day, and it's this long involved process. She spends hours (I think--at any rate, it takes a long time) sitting in the middle of their living room floor chopping tons of vegetables with this huge knife. I really liked those stories, and often, when I cut vegetables, I think about that Indian woman with the long knife sitting on the floor, chopping away.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What is a Philosopher?

That was Simon Critchley's question in his essay on the new NYT philosophy series called The Stone. He's the moderator of the series, and his essay was supposed to kick things off.

Kind of a weird piece. The internets rumbled with the groaning of analytic philosophers, and I can understand why.

[Quick primer on the two main denominations in the contemporary academic philosophy world: There are analytic philosophers and there are Continental philosophers. One way to understand the distinction is to consider why each is hard to read, for different reasons. Analytic philosophers are hard to read like computer programs are hard to read. They're full of precisely defined words, and sometimes just letters and symbols, and you have to have your philosophical dictionary out and plug and chug the definitions in there to understand what the hell they're saying. It may be a bitch to read, but like a computer program, you can be sure that it either makes sense or it won't work. Someone can point out your mistake and you have to admit you're wrong. Well, not everyone admits they're wrong, but by and large, that's the way it usually works.

Continental philosophy is hard to read because it doesn't use precisely defined words. I mean, they're using English...or German or French or whatever (Continental does refer to that Euro euphemism "the Continent"). The words have definitions. But the style is much squishier and lends itself to stretching words and concepts to fit a philosophical argument. And it's hard to read because the argument itself can be hard to follow, and sometimes gets lost in literary type flourishes, that usually aren't very good from a literary point of view anyway. So, the criticism is, it's much harder to pin someone down and say, aha!, look here see, what you wrote was wrong. Because there's plenty of wiggle room and opportunity for showmanship, which lends itself to confidence games rather than clearly understood questions and (attempted) answers.

The ideal analytic philosopher is just nails when it comes to logical argumentation. The ideal Continental philosopher is damn clever and cryptic.

These are just caricatures of the two styles of philosophy. It's not a necessarily useful way to categorize all philosophy out there, but it's one way to explain the context of the academic discipline today. Another helpful bit of information is that analytic philosophy currently tends to be very much an applied discipline. I mean, it does have abstract topics like metaphysics, but it also deals with the philosophy of science. More specifically, philosophy of psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy of physics, biology, et cetera. Continental philosophy tends to be about more abstract, metaphysical and existential stuff.]

Back to Critchley's essay. He doesn't mention any of the great philosophy being done on practical topics, like bioethics and philosophy of mind and philosophy of physics (I'm probably giving away my preference for analytic philosophy here). And there are some really great popular books out there that translate this stuff into non-specialist language for the rest of us. But the message he delivered in his essay was that the philosopher is basically out of touch, but gosh aren't you intrigued by how wonderfully out of touch he is (it's a "he", definitely--the only philosophers Critchley talks about are ancient Greek dudes). The philosopher is "the one who is silly", "the person who has time or who takes time", and, let's give a fair warning, "PHILOSOPHY KILLS".


Is it that hard to write an apology for philosophy? Philosophy helps us get our thinking straight. It's better to think straight than to think crooked. Try it out. Moving on.

I just came across this website today, which is a great example of philosophy being put to good use: Got a tough question that hurts your thinker? Post it on the website, and a professional philosopher will do his or her diggity darndest to answer it. Seems incredibly practical to me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I don't even know why I feel the need to justify why I haven't been posting here. But I did say I would post more often, so I feel like I need an excuse. Ok, excuses, excuses. Let's see. I moved. That's the big one, really. I moved a whole 4 blocks, and it unsettled my world for a while.

Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to try and write at least a few sentences about every book I read. Every time I update my Goodreads account, I feel like I should put something in the review section, and I think, "Aaaaah, I'll do that later." Never happens.

So, starting with the next book I finish, I'll do that. But I did want to make a confession, though. I was talking to a friend recently, who also has a Goodreads account. He was saying that he noticed (someone else might have pointed it out to him) that the books he reads are almost entirely written by men. And a quick survey of the last 100 books I've read, covering about 2 years, revealed the same pattern in my reading. Six books were written by women (intense mathematical analysis tells me that this amounts to 6%), and 3 of those titles were by the same woman (Marilynne Robinson). So, really I've only read 3 female authors in two years. I'm not sure what that says about me. Is this something I need to consciously correct?