Tuesday, August 29, 2006

World of Words II

In the last World of Words post, it was concluded that, subject to certain caveats, words, reflect the world of thoughts. This will be the starting point for this post.

The puzzle about the relationship between thoughts -- words -- and the world, is still somewhat occult, even if certain parts have been examined and, hopefully, clarified somewhat. Here I want to look at the role of words in creating worlds. One of the amazing things about language is that we can use it to create imaginary worlds. The many rich worlds of fiction come to mind here. The world of Harry Potter has been created entirely by the words of his author. Even though this world is not 'real', it functions every bit like the real world -- we can discuss and conjecture about these fictional people and entities, as we do about people and entities from our world. The limits of these fictional worlds are only imposed by the imagination of authors and the willingness of readers to engage.

One of the key mechanisms which makes this all possible, is the descriptive power of language. This is not the whole story though. Purely descriptive prose belongs in dry reports and would not do well in a novel. Another key to the possibility of creating imaginary worlds of words is the use of metaphor and metonymy. In fact, some theorists, like Nietzsche and more recently Lakoff have argued that metaphor lies at the root of the power of language. Needless to say, such views also have their critics. I think that this is a view with merit, so I will pursue it a little further here.

Nietzsche wrote an early paper with the title "Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense". In this paper, Nietzsche gives a deep insight into his views on language. I strongly recommend this paper. It is available, in translation, several easily found Nietzsche collections. In this paper, Nietzsche discusses the origin of the word 'being'. Apparently, it comes from the Greek word 'esse, which means 'breath'. The related root lies behind our terms 'essence' and 'essential'. If the notion of 'being' derives from the notion of 'breathing', then this would appear to be a clearly metaphoric relation. Humans, plants and animals quite literally draw breath, whilst rocks and stones do not. Yet, in an important sense humans, plants, animals and even rocks can be said to have being. In this case, a philosophical concept has been extracted by metaphor. This being the case, this appears to be a plausible mechanism from which the plethora of imaginary worlds may also spring from.

We can see the importance of metaphor also in poetry. In his famous poem "Vergissmeinnicht", war poet Keith Douglas describes the corpse of a soldier with the memorable lines "...the dust upon the paper eye and the burst stomach like a cave." Now, this is not the nicest of images. However, it is an extremely powerful one. Notice though how this description is replete with metaphor. The eyes of corpses are not made of paper. Burst stomachs are not caves. Yet, these words convey a great deal. Note that it is a real world situation that is purported to be being described. However, this helps to illustrate the extent to which this mechanism has the required power to create fictional worlds too.

So, by using metaphor, we can create. We also need to avail ourselves of description too. In looking at this issue, I hope that light has been thrown on the power that lies within language. Notice also, that we find ourselves in a position to support people like Lakoff who argue that metaphor is fundamental to our cognitive processes.

There appears to be an objection that comes up at this point: Isn't this argument, question begging? After all, did we not earlier choose to follow Nietzsche and endorse metaphor? I think that these objections actually miss the point. By exploring the power of metaphor, we have helped build a case for the plausibility of the thesis just noted. Had the explanation been untenable, we probably would have not found this to be the case. Thus, this objection actually lacks bite.

We may now link our two conclusions. Language is the mirror of thought, we concluded before. Now, we can add to this conclusion the further inference that metaphor is the 'engine' that drives thought.

The CP

Monday, August 28, 2006

Louisiana, One Year Later

Around 6am tomorrow morning will be the anniversary of the land fall of Hurricane Katrina. About an hour later, if the latest studies are correct, will be when the levees started to fail a year ago. The television news (and various other stations) are having a field day. We can expect the same on the 11th of next month. I doubt that we will hear too much about Rita, when her 1 year mark comes around.

Recently, I came across the following passage:

"In the state of Louisiana, venality is a given. The state's culture, mind-set, religious attitudes, and economics are no different from those of a Caribbean nation. The person who believes he [or she] can rise to a position of wealth and power in the state of Louisiana and not do business with the devil probably knows nothing about the devil and even less about Louisiana."

This passage appears in a book called Crusader's Cross by New Iberia native, James Lee Burke (p. 140). There is a very great deal of truth in this remark. It misses an important point though. That is that people in Louisiana care for one another, especially when trouble comes.

One of the stories that I have heard time and time again about the hurricanes of last year, is about the people who went to New Orleans immediately after Katrina, with their own boats and rescued people. I know one fellow who lost count after 75 in a single day. All these stories have the same end. After a while, they were not allowed to go into the water. Soldiers told them, overnight, it had suddenly become too dangerous. This was not true. Paranoia took over with the Federal government. The result was that people suffered for longer. It probably cost a few people thier lives.

These same people, a month later, towed their boats to the coastal Parishes for Rita. The tales of these people will never make the television. They are the everyday people of Louisiana. I know them. Theirs are accounts that will never be famous, but are as much an essential part of Louisiana as 'venality'. I am proud to live and work with these people. When watching the Katrina specials, please try and keep this, less well known side, in mind.

The CP

Sunday, August 27, 2006

I Bought An Axe Today.

I don't know if this post will ever see the light of day. My net connection has been flakey of late and is even worse today.

I really did go out and buy an axe today. So what? I am sure you are thinking. The reason I bought the axe was to put it in my attic. I am afraid to admit that I was feeling rattled by the hurricane/tropical storm Ernesto. Having an axe in the attic is a purely superstitious act, but somehow I feel a little bit safer. Should an utterly improbable sequence of events take place and a monster hurricane hit at just the wrong spot, then I will now be able to cut through my roof, if there is really bad flooding.

What is so odd is that I am not usually too worried by hurricanes. I have been through a few. Somehow this year, after last year, I'm more jumpy. This really surprises me. I'm not usually a nervous individual, yet as I was working today and as I went out for a walk, all the time I had this nagging thought '...what if...I wish I had an axe'. I tried to think about the next 'World of Words' post, but the thought kept on distracting me. So, eventually I just went out and bought an axe. I feel a lot more comfortable now, even though I know it does not make any sense.

Last year, we had some impact from the storms, but nothing too major. In fact, evacuees were more of an issue than the weather. I gave up my house to a displaced family. The circumstances through which I rode out Rita are no longer available. Rita caused me minor damage. Really, nothing should have changed. If there is a system in the Gulf of Mexico, one should just keep an eye and get on with life. This time though, I felt the need to go and buy an axe for my attic. I guess this shows that, despite all my bravado, last year changed me. Good knows how much it must have changed others, more directly effected by the storms.

The CP

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why The Terrorists Are Winning

N.B. More on The World of Words soon.

As exposure to any form of media these days makes abundantly clear, we are currently engaged in a 'war on terror'. This particular terror is of course terrorists. However, despite all the 'stay the course' bluster, it seems pretty clear to me that the terrorists are winning.

The definition of terrorism is apparently controversial. In such cases, the OED is at least a reasonably reputable and academic source. According to the OED, terrorism is,

"...a policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorising or condition of being terrorised."

It seems to me that in the US and certain parts of Europe, we are at least acting in a 'terrorised' manner. Air travel has always been a pain, due to the security. It has now gone insane. We cannot even carry toothpaste on a plane. When you have to ban toothpaste, I would say that this is a pretty good sign that, as a society, we are shit-scared. This is not the worst of it though.

In the last couple of days, there has been a number of accounts in the news of planes getting diverted, due to 'security concerns'. In Ireland, it took a single phone call. In another case, a plane diverted because someone had nail polish! To me this is beginning to sound like societal paranoia.

The Brits are especially puzzling. They went through the Blitz, by putting on a brave face and just carrying on. They survived the IRA bombing campaigns in the 70s and 80s and refused to change their ways, or their plans, just avoiding dangerous areas and proceeding about their business. I recently heard the tale of a man in his 70s who, after the bombings last year, went to an event in London he would not normally have done under the circumstances (he was moving house and his wife was ill), just to show that the terrorists had not won. Things seems to have changed now though.

This change I do not get. Where has the bloody minded refusal to show fear gone to? What suddenly happened? Is it the 'special relationship' with the US, or the closer ties to Europe that has brought about this change? Let us hope that this change is only temporary!

The problem is, by letting ourselves be terrorised, or at least, letting our political leaders force us to act as if we are, we are handing a victory to the terrorists. We do not have to just be tough and macho. We can still be cautious and sensible. However, it seems to me that, at least at the moment, we have gone too far into a paranoid world view. I for one refuse to be scared by terrorists. Now, that hurricane about to steam into the Gulf of Mexico, that is something to be scared of.

The CP

Friday, August 25, 2006

The World of Words I

As a scholar and an academic, I live in a world of words. I read texts, I write texts. When I teach, I speak. When I grade, I read words. This being said, words are still quite puzzling things. Somehow the triad of 'thoughts -- words -- and the world' hang together to shape my world, and indeed most peoples.

Philosophers have had quite a bit to say about the relationship between words and the world. Think about the work of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein (both early and late) on sense, reference and related matters. However, it has always seemed to me that the relationship between thoughts and words is more mysterious. For instance, can one have a thought for which there are no words? Some would argue that one must be able to have such thoughts. After all, they maintain, if the mental world did not extend beyond the world of words, then where would new words come from? One hears something similar occasionally from frustrated students when they say "...but you know what I mean!", when an incoherent sentence in a paper is pointed out. More evidence seems to come from cases where one cannot find the words to convey, or describe a thought or experience.

Not everyone agrees that there can be thoughts which cannot be expressed in words. Or at least, that there cannot be coherent thoughts that are ineffable. The folks point out that it is possible to coin new words by developing novel combinations of old words. In a discussion I saw recently, the notion of a 'meme' was considered. The idea first appeared in the book The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. Around thirty years ago, Dawkins was able to use words to introduce the world to this new idea. The case of the frustrated student with the incoherent sentence is easy to deal with too. After all, we can easily talk of 'square circles', or to adapt an example from Chomsky, we can talk of "Furry green ideas sleeping furiously". It is quite possible to believe that one is saying something sensible, when one is just confused.

The final case of the ineffable thought, or experience, seems more problematic. Perhaps these should be treated separately. An experience that goes beyond words is not really too uncommon. When one first sees the Rocky Mountains, many people have a desire to take pictures, which almost always are a disappointment. The breadth of the view can seldom be captured with a single photograph. Why should words be any different? Ineffable thoughts are a tougher case. However, in a trivial sense, by calling the thought an 'ineffable one', one has succeeded in naming it. So, it seems to me that, subject to the caveat that one is interested in the world of coherent thoughts, we should conclude that the world of thoughts and the world of words have some kind of close affinity. After all, even if one has the most brilliant, insightful and original thought ever, what use is it, if it cannot be shared?

The CP

Thursday, August 24, 2006


It is early afternoon. The sky begins to darken. The clouds begin to build. It is Summer in Louisiana and there is a storm on the way.

It begins slowly, with a few large raindrops that leave marks like quarters on the ground. Then the rain begins in earnest. It comes down in sheets, as strong as any household shower. The world in the distance disappears into a waterladen haze. The sky gets yet darker.

In only a few moments, the ground is awash with water. Even in places that previously seemed perfectly flat, an inch or more of water will accumulate. Lightening flashes from time to time and the associated thunder sounds like gun fire. A few unlucky people run for cover. Even those with umbrellas are soaked to the middle, as raindrops bounce as they hit the ground. The world is transformed by water.

People huddle for shelter in doorways, or wherever they can find shelter. They watch the rain. Some smoke cigarettes. Everybody waits for the rain to ease up. As the storm continues, people grow inpatient. A brave few will run so as to reach cars, or where they need to go. Others are more resigned and calmly step into the torrent and walk away, ignoring the soaking. Yet others just continue to wait.

After all, this is typical on a Summer day in Louisiana, when the conditions are correct. Such storms provide a respite from the heat, although they also raise yet further the humidity. What everybody knows is that it could be a lot worse. This is just a passing storm. It is not a hurricane.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Letter From Louisiana

N.B. This posting appeared in the British News magazine Private Eye, in their "From Our Own Correspondent" column, issue No. 1165, 18th to 31st of August 2006, (p. 15). The column was authored by the CP.

After the chaos, renewal. That, at least, was the promise when scenes of Third World incompetence and disarray flooded across TV screens around the world in the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina a year ago.

But in this part of the US, we believe in continuity as much as innovation and cherish our commitment to old-fashioned values like corruption, betrayal and contempt for the little people.

Take the help we have received from the federal government, which has fallen over itself to provide programmes apparently designed to help reconstruction. The recently passed Gulf Opportunity Zone Act is a case in point. The act provides a 50 percent bonus depreciation fore new building projects in the designated hurricane-afflicted areas. What this means is that developers get a large tax credit to off-set the cost of their projects. But instead of stimulating genuine post-hurricane reconstruction to benefit devastated poorer neighborhoods, there is a boom in speculative top-end building projects around Louisiana.

In the small town of Lafayette, which lies between the areas directly impacted by the two hurricanes, an Alabama company intends to build an unneeded 600-plus bed student housing complex. This proposal was strongly resisted by residents, but it was controversially approved after a series of secret meetings between councilors and developers.

Despite the attention from the outside world, this is still Louisiana and politics remains a back room affair. Out is pretty much the only state where campaign contributions are not subject to ethical oversight on the basis that this would, er, hamper economic development.

Not that our elected representatives are in any way under-employed. Indeed, despite the mess that surrounds us, we can be proud that our state legislature found time to argue -- at some length -- the merits of crucial issues of the day, like cockfighting (still legal in Louisiana due to a legal oddity under which chickens are not technically regarded as animals). Ultimately, the proposed ban was defeated on the grounds that to do so would have too negative an impact on the rural economy. Such debates are so much more fun that trying to fix shattered economies, school systems and coastal defences.

The colourful nature of Louisiana politics reaches the heart of our great American democracy. Recently, William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson, Democratic congressmen for our state, became the subject of an investigation for allegedly taking bribes in connection with multimillion dollar contracts in West Africa. An FBI raid on Jefferson's New Orleans home netted $90,000 in cash, tucked away in his freezer. He is alleged to have received this money from an FBI informant.

"Dollar Bill" was also heard on a wiretap apparently improperly soliciting funds for his daughter, who is a state legislator. In New Orleans Jefferson is fondly remembered for his display of public service immediately after Katrina, when he had the National Guard help recover possessions from his house.

Jefferson supporters claim he is a victim of a Washington fix to distract attention from the many corruption scandals that envelop leading Republicans ahead of elections this autumn. Sadly, he has enemies closer to home. Our former four-term Democratic governor, Edwin Edwards currently serving a 10-stretch in a federal institution for racketeering, still has many supporters in the state. They are now arguing that if Jefferson avoids jail, Edwards should be released.

It's the kind of logic that might perplex even some of the congressman's more earthy Nigerian friends, but one that fits in a state where good ol' boys have always ruled and money changing hands has been an accepted part of our politics. How long that remains, with communities still destroyed and people still sleeping in tents, is another matter.

The CP

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Danger of '-isms'

According to the OED, Sexism is,

The assumption that one sex is superior to the other and the resultant discrimination practiced against members of the supposed inferior sex, esp. by men against women; also conformity with the traditional stereotyping of social roles on the basis of sex.

Less respectably, on the same topic, Wikipedia tells us that,

Sexism is commonly considered to be discrimination and/or hatred against people based on their sex rather than their individual merits, but can also refer to any and all systemic differentiations based on the sex of the individuals.

Sexism is only one of a range of '-isms', covering but not limited to racism, ageism and even speciesism. For reasons that are probably reasonably obvious, sexism and racism are the most politically charged of the '-isms'. So, it on this kind of alleged problem that I wish to focus here.

In the case of sexism, men are traditionally cast in the role of the sexist. Does this imply that assuming that a man is a sexist is in itself an act of sexism? Well it clearly is the case that this is a '...traditional stereotyping of social roles on the basis of sex' and a '...systemic differentiations based on the sex of the individuals'. This should provide grounds to pause.

Consider a more complex case though where a woman accuses a man of sexism. To avoid 'stereotyping' and 'systematic differentiation', presumably the matter should be settled on the facts of the case. However, recent observations of the blog world shows that in this region at least, this does not happen. Indeed, I have seen a case where a man was accused of sexism by a women. The man denied the charge and was told that his denial was further proof of sexism!

Philosophically speaking, such a line of reasoning is problematic. To see this, let us invent a new '-ism', 'kallism' that has a similar conceptual structure to sexism.

Let us suppose that person A accuses person B of kallism. Suppose that person B responds by denying the charge. Suppose that person A then maintains that the very act of denial supports the initial claim of kallism. The question then arises, is person B a kallist? On the face of it, without knowing a little more about what kallism is, and why person A made the accusation of person B, it seems difficult to know. We can ask a different question though; Has person A provided any compelling grounds to support their contention about B? It would appear that the answer here is pretty clearly 'No'. After all, an argument based upon a person having some property X, which is based upon that person denying they have property X is profoundly silly.

Now, let us consider further what happens if we add 'stereotyping' and 'systematic differentiation' as components of kallism. Let use suppose further that person A is from a group that is traditionally subject to kallist problems, from a group that person B is a member of. Does this change the situation? It would seem on the face of it that it does. Here it is reasonable to assume that any member of a population may be kallist towards any other member -- that is to say, it is a potentially two-way relation. It would appear that person A may in fact be being kallist to person B (due to the stereotyping and systematic differentiation components).

Now, this is a very abstract discussion, but it does shed some light on the relevant conceptual structures here. Notice that there has been no appeal to problematic notions of belief attribution, or 'intent'. However, what this abstract discussion appears to show (this can be seen by inserting the term 'sexism' into the discussion of 'kallism' above), is that if it is the case, as it sometimes appears to be in the blog world, that if a woman can accuse a man of sexism and the man is then forever more denied the possibility of rebutting the charge, then it would appear that the woman would in fact be the one in the sexist role. This appears to be a further profound weakness of the blog world. Pure ideological engagement is an ugly thing and this is exactly what this appears to be.

This is not to say that all the '-isms', sexism, racism, ageism and even speciesism are not real social ills and cause vast amounts of unnecessary hurt and violence in the world. The point here is to gain a better understanding of these 'isms', so as to be in a better position to identify and combat them. In the process of these considerations, it has become apparent that women can be sexist, just as easily as men. The fact that this point often overlooked, during the very moments and in the very locations where the sexism is taking place is a sad fact. I submit that this has the effect of reinforcing gender and other '-ism' roles. Such oversight also helps prevent the kind of dialogue that might raise awareness in all the groups involved and thereby help reduce all the problems caused by the various '-isms'.

The CP

On Sexism

The topic of sexism has been bothering me of late. When I was about sixteen, I was probably a sexist. Fortunately, I had female friends who were pretty quick to call me out and I learned a lot better. Since that time, I believe that I have not been a sexist. When I have had doubts, I have checked in with those old friends for a 'read'. If the judgments of these women are correct, then I am doing pretty well. However, recently I have been accused of sexism again, by bloggers. I do not quite get it and I am sensing a latent paradox that needs resolution.

A woman calls a man a sexist. For any man in the modern age, that is a pretty nasty thing to be called. To try and understand the circumstance, I use the basic tools of ethical theory. As anyone with any philosophical training knows, there are two main positions in ethics: the deontological (think Kant's Categorical imperative), or utilitarian (although I hear the new word is 'consequentialist'). So, by these two standards, am I sexist? Well, from the deontological perspective, I think not. My intentions are pretty blameless. From a utilitarian perspective, it is a bit harder to compute. After all, if a women 'feels' that one is a sexist, then that would appear to reduce maximal utility and be bad. On the face of this, it would appear to be a conflict between basic ethical theories.

The problem arises in the details though. Let us take the 'intent' component as a given. As a non-sexist guy, I subscribe that all peoples, including women, should be allowed to be their own autonomous agents, have natural rights, have views that are important, have perceptions that are valid, and all that stuff. As a corollary to this set of beliefs, guys should attempt to be non-patriachichal, let others make their choices, be non-assertive etc. However, I now hear that the reason I am allegedly a sexist is for doing just these things! Apparently, by being flexible and waiting for (female) others to express their choices I am also being sexist. By adopting this stance I am making others 'responsible', which is a sexist thing. Huh? Is it just me, or is there something very odd going on here.

At this point in any debate, the next move tends to be what is known in Cognitive Science as the 'false consciousness gambit'. The story here is something like that you believe that you think one thing, however by some special and secret method, it has been revealed that you really think another. This is a problematic move. The privacy of mental states has been a problem in both the philosophy of mind and cognitive science for years. Can another person really have 'special access' to the mental states of another? I tend to think not. There are exceptions, of course. Denial is an obvious counter-example. However, at root the issue becomes, is sexism something to be judged by intent, or by outcomes (this is why the ethical theories mention above matter)?

On the intent front, if we accept the classical position from the philosophy of mind, then attributing beliefs should be seen as a deeply dubious methodology. That suggests that on the deontological view, if the intent is non-problematic then, to quote the I-Ching 'no blame'. This leaves the utilitarian position. For the record, as a general rule, I think that this is the more plausible of the two theories. In this case though, it seems problematic. It is easy for a women to claim of a man that they are sexist. It is a hurtful circumstance to both. The question though, for the utilitarian should be what maximizes happiness (or 'utils', or whatever). It seems to me that this should be a case where the details and the facts should be examined. After all, some men clearly have the sexual politics of an ape. Others have more enlightened views. This seems to be a case where the evidence should be the basis upon which judgments are made.

This is exactly where I am having a difficulty. In a blog I have been reading for a while I attempted to stand up for an anonymous poster who clearly believed that they were being attacked with a claim of sexism. The commentators were clearly not responsive, and continued to attack the anonymous poster. The anonymous person was upset that they had earlier posts deleted by the blog owner. It did not seem to me an unreasonable objection. I myself had been attacked for pointing out a factual error. Even though I apparently 'do not understand', I have learned one thing: A guy should never object to being called a sexist and win. I do not know about you, but philosophically speaking, this seems to me totally bogus.

Should there be a problem, then it seems to me that the facts should be the basis upon which the problem should be resolved. If it is impossible for a person to raise objections from another to claims of sexism, then it seems to me that the claim is without sufficient justification and should be rejected for lack of merit. Am I alone in this? I am sure that I will be told that this is because I am just an unreconstructed sexist, who does not 'understand'. However, my 'bullshit' detector is in hyperdrive on this one. It seems to me that hurtful accusations should be backed up by evidence. Is this belief a consequence of me being a 'sexist pig'? I submit, on philosophical and evidential grounds that it is not.

Monday, August 21, 2006

On the Problem of Blogs

As anybody reading this knows, currently blogs are everywhere. They have become one of the 'new media' of our time. People use blogs to express themselves and find others with similar proclivities. Is a democratisation of voices a good thing? Naturally, one is inclined to say 'yes'. The question I wish to ask though is about potential downsides.

In the blogosphere, there is no quality control or qualifications required. This is part of their liberating potential. However, what if a person posses as one thing, but is in fact another, even if they do it honestly? Then it seems highly likely that problems could arise. Imagine a high school student who claims to be a qualified medically trained person handing out advice to people with serious illnesses. One can imagine that the results would be bad. Similarly, a person posing as a psychology professional could mislead their readers in a serious and harmful way, with bad advice.

The reason for raising these questions though concerns a less extreme case. There is a blog I have followed for a while that gives out advice on academic matters. For instance, one recurring theme concerns the nature of scholarship. The person presents themselves as a professor, which indeed they are. There is a big 'however' here though. This is not a good professor. As this is someone I know in real life, what I say here will be guarded. The facts are all accurate though. This is a person who teaches at a third rate State school. Their last real publication was in 1999 (they claim a later one, but it never appeared in print). They got sacked from one job, were denied tenure at another and when eventually tenured at their current location, were denied promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. To me at least, this seems like a weak record. Real academics publish. This one does not.

I am not certain that the advice that this blogger gives out is necessarily bad. However, if you were a young professor, would you take advice from such a person? I would think not. Fortunately, it appear that this blogger is read by few real academics. However, it makes one think. Do you, dear reader, know whether I am qualified to talk about philosophical matters? As it happens, I am. I have a pretty successful career. The point here is that it seems like the whole blogosphere should have a 'pinch of salt required' warning label on it, that it lacks. I think that this is a problem. So, remember when exploring the blog domain, be critical and be skeptical. As Shakespeare said "...all that glistereth is not gold."

The CP

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A 'Combat' Summer

This has been one hell of a rough Summer. This blog has been 'collateral damage' due to this.

The Summer started with a nasty surprise. Out of State developers, in an attempt to get their hands on hurricane relief funds voted by Congress, decided to parachute a huge, highly inappropriate development into my quiet neighborhood. Quite naturally, people were up in arms about this, as I was too. Although the people of the neighborhood won a couple of battles, we ultimately lost. It turns out that the developers were having secret meetings with local politicians. When it came time for the vote, big money and political influence mattered more than the voices of the people. It looks like we will have an ugly 'carbuncle' (as Prince Charles might say) and that is the end of it. As we like to say in Louisiana, 'we have the best politicians money can buy'. Boy, it that the truth!

The early Summer was also quite lonely, as my girlfriend was out of town on business. She would call me every few days to vent spleen, whilst I looked after her cat. So, with fighting developers, looking after cats and providing long distance phone support, my regular blog habits fell by the way side. What I did not realize then, was that this was going to be the good part of the Summer.

In July, I began traveling. Initially, I had to go to Europe to take care of some business. Now, some might say that going to Europe sounds like a vacation, let me assure you it was not. In addition, for various reasons, I kept finding myself in places where internet access was almost unknown. When I could find any access, it was expensive and slow. This too was bad for blogging.

Things really got bad though when I came back. First off, no less than five light bulbs had burned out in my house. When getting home in the middle of the night, this is pretty inconvenient, to put it mildly. Of greater concern was the fact that the air conditioning system had stopped working. To top it all, my workshop in the yard had been broken into, all my mowers, weedeaters had been taken, along with several power tools and hand tools. My girlfriend, who was feeding the cat, did not notice the large bit of wood stuck in the door, nor the bit of broken off door, nor the smashed out window frame. When I had called from Europe, she was fixated on the fact that the cat had pissed in the house (like that was my fault!) and with the freaks of the blogosphere. In the meantime, she had also taken it upon herself to reorganize all my papers, such that I still cannot find my house insurance policy! This was not a good way to return from a trip.

Replacing the air conditioning unit took a couple of days. I can provide first hand testimony that no air conditioning and jet lag is a very poor combination. The actual process of replacing the unit was a bit tricky too. It seems that the old unit had been installed using some highly unconventional engineering techniques. Also, working with equipment that weighs in the order of a couple of hundred pounds, when the heat index is over one hundred and five is pretty tough too. In fact, even putting in the new unit was tricky as the new unit was designed for a modern house, which mine is not. Eventually though, I got everything working, which was a great relief. Then just when I thought that my troubles were at an end, my girlfriend sent me an e-mail saying that she thought that we had 'incompatible lifestyles' (whatever that is supposed to mean) and that we were an item no more. It is curious that these 'incompatible lifestyles' had not been an issue in the last two and a half years. Oh well.

This final change in circumstance presented me with some very immediate practical issues. I had booked a trip, to visit family. I had booked the ticket through a far distant airport I would not have normally used, given flight times, etc., as my girlfriend had promised to drop me off and pick me up. The day before I was due to leave the radiator on my truck blew, so I had to get really creative.

I hired a car to get to the airport. That part was easy. The problem was getting back. My flight was not due to land until late at night. Almost all the car hire places were shut by the time my flight arrived. Eventually, I found a company that was open twenty-four hours, but getting this figured out was pretty tense as, until I found this solution, I was going to have to leave a hire car in an airport lot, at great expense.

I thought that once I got to the airport, life would get simpler. Boy, was I wrong. First I was selected for the third degree by the screeners, then when I got to the gate, I discovered my flight was delayed an hour. This was a bit of a problem, as I had quite a tight connection. After much talking on the cell phone, I took my late plane to Chicago, where I was promised a hotel room and meals, by the airline. Once in Chicago, I spent a good deal of time standing in long lines until, as promised, I got a hotel voucher, a voucher for seven dollars for dinner and three dollars for breakfast. So much for airline promises. I thought though that my troubles were over. By this point, I should have known better than to think this.

Shuttle buses are not things many people think about. You wait. They arrive. You get where you are going. Not in this case. After quite a bit of looking around I found the correct location. The hotel promised it would be there almost immediately. Apparently, in Chicago, that means a couple of hours. It was nearly midnight by the time I got to the hotel to be greeted by a check in line over one hundred people long. I just ran and got food, as I was famished. It was one in the morning before I got to my room, after an over priced sandwich.

I eventually reached my destination and had a nice trip, but again one in which the internet never seemed to be available. When I eventually got home (in the very wee hours of the morning), I was greeted by a new horror, my house had been burgled! Clearly the robbers knew what they were doing and they got quite a lot of the good stuff, including a University owned computer. The paperwork on this is, naturally, nightmarish. The neighbor who had been looking after the cat had managed to notice though and filed a police report. Most galling was the fact that the rest of my power tools had gone.

The following week should have been better, even if it did involve insurance companies and other horrors. The main item of business was to get my doctoral student through his dissertation proposal defense. Unfortunately, everything was complicated by my getting massively sick. Initially, I thought I had food poisoning. The illness lasted over a week, during which I was unable to eat very much. At points, I could barely keep water down. To add to the 'fun' my ex-girlfriend started saying some very nasty (and untrue) things about me on her blog. I got my student through his proposal defense, but it has been a week from hell.

These then are the reasons why I have not kept up this blog. Any day now, the semester is going to start. However, I will try and be more diligent, as there are many things that need saying. In the meantime, I am already aware that I have a class schedule conflict to resolve and the wrong textbook for another course. It is going to be one of those semesters. At least I'll have this blog to keep life on the straight and narrow.

The CP

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Combat Philosopher Returns!

Well, I am back to blogging, after a very brutal, nasty, Summer. Things got a bit away and this blog suffered. If you have been a reader previously, check back in a couple of days to find out all the horrors of the 'combat' Summer.

The CP
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