Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Balderdash from George Bernard Shaw

As a lagniappe following my most recent post, here is a miscellany of Shaw quotes that are obviously not true:

Defending his vegetarianism: "Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak! Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay." If this means anything, it means that there is more nutrition in an acorn than in an equal amount of sheep tissue. Of course, the reverse is true. The reason a buried sheep doesn't do anything is that it is not a seed. On the other hand if you bury a fertilized sheep ovum in a sheep uterus, it explodes into something far more good to eat, and good for you, than a tree.

"There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it." It is impossible to exaggerate how fatuously stupid this comment is. Under what conceivable interpretation are Islam and Buddhism the same? Yet this perfect piece of ignorance is endlessly repeated by Shaw's spiritual brethren.

"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." As a teacher, I resemble this remark. ... Seriously, if you can't do it, how could you teach how to do it? I think this obvious falsehood is repeated so often because it is a perfect model of sparse, severely economical wording, not because it is true.

"[Brahms' German Requiem] could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker.” Once again, this is very cute, but that doesn't make it just or true.

"I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capability to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age." Again, GBS has it bass-ackwards. As Nietzsche pointed out, the champion of chameleon religions is Christianity. During the Enlightenment Christians were rationalists, during the Romantic era they were soulful and idealistic. In the twentieth century they got into existential anst. What is the essence of Christianity? There's not much to it, really. On the other hand, Islam does not assimilate, it does not accommodate, and it does not negotiate. Like it or lump it, it is what it is. It's "appeal to every age" is its integrity, not the accommodationism for which he idiotically praises it.

"A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul." This would be right, except that he probably means it as a reason for robbing Peter.

"My specialty is being right when other people are wrong." This shows that truth, too, can stand on its head.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Contemptible George Bernard Shaw

I saw a performance of Shaw's Major Barbara(1905) in Spring Green Wisconsin Friday night. What a charming production it was! And what a colossal jerk and fool Shaw was!

The great H. L. Mencken, author of the first book on Shaw ever published (1901), later wrote a classic essay on Shaw called "The Ulster Polonius" (August 1916). In it, he wondered how Shaw's pamphlets and play "kicked up such a pother" despite the fact that that, like most plays, his works consisted mostly of platitudes (a thesis Mencken also applied to the plays of Ibsen). Why all the fuss, he asked? The answer, he said, was fairly simple. “[Shaw] practices with great zest and skill the fine art of exhibiting the obvious in unexpected and terrifying lights.” Nearly all of Shaw's premises, despite his horrific tone, were really "bulletproof."

Viewing the denouement of Major Barbara, I could only wonder what premises HLM was thinking of. Adolphus decides to take over Undershaft's munitions factory because he has decided that the only way to really improve the world is to kill off the privileged elites. His fiance, Barbara, gives up working to save the souls if the poor, on the grounds that poor people can't be sincerely interested in virtue and goodness. From now on, she will preach to the comfortable inmates of Undershaft's manicured company town.

Bulletproof? Bah! Both their ideas -- that of Barbara as well as that of Adolphus -- seemed to me obviously wrong. As the last act slowed down to make Shaw's didactic points, I made a mental list of other things that Shaw was either obviously or demonstrably wrong about:

We should all be comfortably prosperous, because that will free us to be good. This will surely happen if the government micromanages the entire economy. The Soviet experiment is a good example of this and will succeed. Meanwhile, the unfit and feeble-minded should be "humanely" put to death (see above video).* And nobody should be vaccinated. By the way, the Americans should abolish their constitution because it prevents the "good" FDR from doing more or less whatever he wants.

It can't be a coincidence that one man was so consistently, horribly wrong about so many important things. There must be some explanation -- maybe some killer premise that implies all the rest. I don't know enough about Shaw to say what the explanation is, but something tells me there has to be one.
* On the other hand, Shaw was a vegetarian because he did not want people to "murder" innocent pigs and chickens.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Who is Barack Obama?

Dinesh D'Souza has written an article that has a lot of people practically screaming with rage. It purports to explain the inner workings of Obama's mind. Here is a sensible account of some of the reaction. The basic idea is that BHO is channeling his father's "anti-colonial" conviction that the rich and prosperous of the world (including of course rich nations) got that way by talking it away from others, so that taking it away again is only justice.

The consensus among the screamers seems to be that the article is racist, or something like racist. I honestly don't quite get what the screaming is about. They keep using words like "loathesome" and "reprehensible," which aren't very informative.

However, I can see how BHO can drive people to concoct some tenuous theories about him. As others have pointed out, the man is a cypher. There are a number of things about him that just do not compute, at least if I am doing the computing.

Here is a guy who has written two books about himself but, on the other hand, will not allow all sorts of primary documents about himself to be revealed. The "long form" birth certificate -- the one that brings out the crazies -- is just one example, and not in my opinion the most interesting one. His grades at Occidental, Columbia, or Harvard Law have never been released either. Neither have his SAT, LSAT, and other test scores. We don't know what unsigned articles and notes he wrote when he was on the Law Review. There is no record of any scholarly publications from his time as a U. of Chicago adjunct lecturer, though admittedly this must be because no such publications exist. He was unique among presidential candidates in that he never did release his medical records. With the cooperation of Princeton University, his wife's senior thesis was kept out of public view until he was safely elected president, while his own on the other hand has not been released to this day. We know what it was about (the Soviet Union, as I recall) but that's about all we know.

For reasons known only to himself and his closest advisers, he has always refused to give the American people the sort of information that you and I have released over and over again, when we applied to college, applied to law school, applied for a job, or changed doctors, etc., etc.

Obama is a mystery, and the fact that he is partly a mystery of his own making only compounds, squares, cubes the mystery.

They say in the famous last shot of Queen Christina, the director told Garbo to clear her mind of all thoughts. As the camera moves in for a tight close-up, the audience reads its own confused feelings into that blank, receptive face. Maybe BHO is like that: people's reactions often tell you more about themselves than about him. As to what he really is, maybe it's like what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland California: "There's no there there."
As to D'Souza's thesis: for a sensible, non-screamy refutation, see this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Taiwanese View of Latest Tea Party Upset

Carl Rove slinging mud (literally) at Christine O'Donnell, O'Donnell and Palin running over him with the Tea Party express train, O'Donnell's views on masturbation illustrated via CGI -- and more!

You can find a version with English subtitles here, but I prefer the one with words I don't understand. The pictures speak for themselves.

It always amazes me how closely people in other countries follow US elections. The reason is obvious, and it's not that they appreciate that American democracy is the greatest show on Earth, an endless source of mirth and merriment. It's that our elections affect them almost as much as theirs do -- sometimes more! Which is sad, if you think about it, and also unfair. After all, they don't get to vote in our elections, while we do.

Oh well, on with the show. And I have a ringside seat!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My New Fotolog Page

I've started a page at the Fotolog site. I've been uploading nature photos I took this summer. I have the el cheapo type of account that only allows one photo upload a day, so that's about how fast I am doing it.

Be sure the check out the spectacular site of my old college buddy, Marc Kummel (aka Treebeard), which is linked in my "Friends/Favorites" bar. I learn something every time I go there!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Paleo Diet Diary

I've been on the paleo diet (though with many interruptions for trips, meals in impossible restaurants, etc.) for about a month. That's the one that allows no grains, legumes, or dairy, but reasonable amounts of lean meat, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts. It's also known as the primal diet and the hunter-gatherer diet. It's the original diet of genus homo.

I thought I'd write down a few things I've learned about it, in case someone out there is thinking of doing it.

So far, it works. I've lost about twelve pounds. I admit that's not spectacular, but as I said before, it is painless. Anyway, diets that do work fast are bad for you.

Oddly enough, you don't get hungry that often. There are days when I just forget to eat lunch. In my old high-carb regime, that would have been unthinkable.

Though you don't get hungry, you do get thirsty. I find that I drink a lot of water now. I have no idea why.

Though it is painless, this diet is not trouble-free. I have to prepare every meal I eat from scratch. Canned or frozen foods (as distinguished from canned or frozen ingredients, like tuna or strawberries) never seem to fit the diet. Hormel chili is off the menu. All the lazy, college-student-type foods: ramen noodles, pork and beans, canned hash. Gone. You have to start thinking and get to work.

For that reason this diet will probably be a tough one for people who hate to cook (and don't have domestic servants).

It is also expensive. As I said in my earlier post, the reason humanity went on the other diet, beginning about 10,000 years ago, is that it is based on cheap starchy staples. If you go back to the original diet of the human race, you are eating in a way that most of the people on the planet simply cannot afford. The most expensive, exotic legume at Whole Foods is cheaper per pound than the cheapest cut of beef at Bill's Food Center. On the other hand, though the ingredients I use are more expensive, I find that I eat more at home, spending less on restaurant food, so do I save some money there.

However, though it's a bad diet for people who hate to cook, it is a very good one for those who like to cook, and fortunately that includes me. It's challenging to have to re-think traditional foods and menus. Also, I find that I use a lot of new ingredients: kohlrabi, avocado oil, New York strip bison steak, many varieties of squash. If this keeps up, if it's not just a consequence of the switch from one regime to another, it'll be fun!

Finally, I can express my parting observation with just two words: less flatulence. Enough said?