Sunday, November 23, 2014

SNL on Executive Orders

(In case the embed fails:

I have not settled my mind on how to properly deal with immigration. I think we have some really screwed up policies, so something needs to be done. Many libertarians support completely open borders. I am not ready to go that far, but I do think it should be more liberal.

But the current scuffle between the President and Congress is not really about immigration - it is about maintaining the system of checks and balances designed into our legislative process. What the President is intending to do with immigration could be argued to be morally right, but it is a short-run moral win if he carries out his plan. In the larger picture, the longer run, if he acts unilaterally he will weaken our system and it is likely that the weakened system will yield greater moral wrongs as powerful political leaders force through policies to their (and their supporters') liking. It only stands to increase the crisis of legitimacy

from Epictetus

In church this morning our pastor made a passing comment about witnessing, and how her belief was that Christian witnessing begins with good works. It's a perspective I happen to strongly concur with.

This afternoon I came across this passage in Epictetus' Enchiridion:
On no occasion call yourself a philosopher, and do not speak much among the uninstructed about philosophical rules: but do that which follows from them. For example, at a banquet do not say how a man ought to eat, but eat as you ought to eat... Accordingly if any conversation should arise among uninstructed persons about any theorem, generally be silent; for there is great danger that you will immediately vomit up what you have not digested. And when a man shall say to you, that you know nothing, and you are not vexed, then be sure that you have begun the work of philosophy. For even sheep do not vomit up their grass and show to the shepherds how much they have eaten; but when they have internally digested the pasture, they produce externally wool and milk.
Wool is so much nicer than vomit.

Live your values; let your life speak for itself.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

more from Seneca

I am continuing to read a collection of letters from Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), Letters from a Stoic. Forget about Dave Ramsey and Anthony Robbins - this is the book you need to read.

The letter format makes it easy to digest the book as a sort of daily devotional. I am aiming to read one letter each morning - I'm almost half way through the book now. Nearly every letter I have read so far has some excellent nugget worth reflecting on, so there is no rush to get through the book.

In today's letter Seneca talked about how one should treat one's slaves. His focus, as a Stoic, was to recognize that social status was largely an accident of luck, and that to behave in any other way was to set oneself up to fall victim to the illusion.

Three passages from today's letter (letter XLVII) are worth sharing:
You're quite mistaken, though, if you imagine that I'd bar from the table certain slaves on the grounds of the relatively menial or dirty nature of their work - that muleteer, for example, or that cowhand. I propose to value them according to their character, not their jobs. Each man has a character of his own choosing; it is chance or fate that decides his choice of job.
This is a nice blending together of agency and environment. One's life choices are shaped by one's environment, but there are always choices.
A man who examines the saddle and bridle and not the animial itself when he is out to buy a horse is a fool; similarly, only an absolute fool values a man according to his clothes, or according to his social position, which after all is only something that we wear like clothing.
I like the above passage not just because he makes nice use metaphor, but because it highlights the idea we discussed in Violence and Social Orders about the social and personal identity. We all have a social role that we fill, and we have our individual character. Seeing beyond the social role is never easy.
'He's a slave.' But is that really to count against him? Show me a man who isn't a slave; one is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear... And there's no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed.
I think this last passage sums up the essence of Stoicism as I understand it. The philosophy's goal is to free us from self-imposed slavery.

For a 2,000 year old book it reads like it could have been written yesterday. Just substitute out some of the specific ancient references (like slavery, thankfully) with more contemporary ones (like the People of Walmart for slaves, or the Kardashians for piggish excess) and you have a perfectly contemporary commentary on human nature.

Friday, November 21, 2014

a crisis of legitimacy

The Constitution is only some words on some pieces of paper. It has force because we accept it as the Law.

Government has legitimacy only so far as the people accept it as legitimate.

Today we have the House of Representatives filing a law suit against the President, and the President essentially announcing that he will make new immigration law.

We have a crisis of legitimacy boiling in the United States.

Too much power has aggregated at the federal level, and the food fight that has been the last 10 years of federal politics shows what happens when there is too much power at play. Massive political donations flow in on either side because the stakes have gotten too high, and neither side can afford to lose.

I say we have a crisis of legitimacy because the government has extended its powers in ways that too large a share of the populace don't agree with. Bush started a couple of wars to accomplish goals the Neo-Cons had been chomping at the bit to go for - and of course those wars drag on, and the goals have not been accomplished. Obama created some Frankenstein health reform that is causing the cost of health care to go up, the diversity of health care delivery to shrivel, and the gains nominal. Both sides used the government to pursue ends that the other side found unacceptable, despite the fact that neither side had a mandate (as measured by popular support). Neither side cared.

Adam Smith described people who behaved like this, with disregard to the will of the governed as a "man of system"

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.
What we have, because of the arrogance of both parties, is a government facing a crisis legitimacy, with the game going on miserably.

Monday, November 17, 2014

the transformative transistor

Short article from Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs.

"The transistor brought us to a unique point, shifting our technological progress from hardware to software."

I hadn't thought about it that way before - I'm sure this is common speak in computer science programs, but it's a valuable insight for me. True innovation is transformative.


16/30 day creativity challenge - "awake"

Playing some more with sketching - yesterday was day 16 of the 30 day creativity challenge, and the theme was "awake".

I've written about this before (here and wayyyy back here), so it should come as no surprise that what I default back to when I think of the word awake is the passage from Thoreau's Walden where he says,  "To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"

I first read Walden during the summer following my senior year of high school. I was working as the laundry boy of the YMCA. Between loads of towels and walking around the building to make sure everything was secure and nothing was wrong, I would sit in a windowless basement room and read about how nature should inspire the soul.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sketching, Mental, and Physical Health

Yesterday's 30 Creativity Challenge theme was "shine". I tried to get a low-key shot of Kandie with her birthday cake, with the intent of amp'ing up the light from the candle to make it shine, but the image just wasn't cooperating. So at the last minute I did this quick drawing with a sharpie and a highlighter.

After I posted that version, I was unhappy with it, so I went back an re-did it using a pen and the high lighter. Happier with this version, but not thrilled.

 10/30 day creativity challenge

But you know, I am happy I did a sketch. I haven't done a sketch in a while. I enjoy sketching. Which is not to say that I think I'm especially good at it - I am well aware that any committed high school art student could do a better rendering than I can. That's not really the point of these efforts.

To the degree that there is a point, the point is to create because creating has an intrinsic value. Creating makes us better people.

And makes us healthier, too. Exercising that creative side of our minds triggers all sorts of activity in our brains.

Engaging in creative activities is a workout for our brain. There's evidence that people who engage in creative activities have lower incidence of Alzheimer's, and creative activities such as music and art are being used as therapies to reduce the effects of Alzheimer's.

It's common to think a lot about physical health, but mental and spiritual health appear to be intimately connected to physical health. And it's not just chronic stress, which we've known for a long time can have negative effects on health (cancer, heart disease). A lack of positive stress, such as engaging in active learning and practice, seems to be connected to brain disease like Alzheimer's and dementia.

So I'm glad I ate my mental broccoli last night. I need to do more of it.