Monthly Archives: August 2012

Book Review: Invisible Man

Book Review: Invisible ManEllison’s Invisible Man, not H.G. Wells’ more enjoyable The Invisible Man, deals with race relations both in the south and north of 1940’s America. The treatment is abstract, though, as everything is filtered through the nameless protagonist’s first person perspective. The story follows him through a series of unfortunate circumstances, starting at college, to his transplantation to (where else?) New York City, through a few jobs, a lobotomy, and finally ending up with a political activist group with a generalized purpose to agitate the public.

The story itself wasn’t a turn off, but as I read I discovered what was so distasteful about it. It was the idea that the protagonist inhabits a universe in which every person and circumstance turns against him, coupled with the fact that the protagonist himself maintains his paranoia-free optimism through each soul-rending episode. I can’t conceive of a universe in which this is even existable (my word) hypothetically, where the physics of interpersonal relationships consistently follow certain patterns while the protagonist is exempt from those patterns (though, it could be argued he falls in line with those “laws” at the end of the book).

I realize that stories have to be unusual in order to be stories in the first place, but there are limits to that. There’s a problem when I’m consciously substituting “Candide” every time the protagonist references himself. Granted, the situation isn’t as bad as Collie’s from Apologize, Apologize!*, where he purposefully places himself (rather, remains) in negative, dysfunctional circumstances because he too stupid to engage his instinct of self-preservation. Invisible-Candide has that crucial instinct but the relentless dehumanization of his circumstances makes it irrelevant.

* From this incisive reader review of A, A! on amazon:

The phenomenon of reviewers who examine wildly dysfunctional, ghastly people in novels/movies/TV shows, and declare the miserable circumstances in which the miserable characters wallow in circumstances utterly without redeeming social value and then declare them to be funny, rollicking, humorous, or any other positive permutation of humorous strike me as being themselves deeply disturbed.

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A Blatant Use Of Words You Are Not Supposed To Publish On Your Blog

The government is disappoint.

I wonder how I had missed this article, on the Department of Homeland Security’s List of Naughty Words* that will flag their systems or whatnot. DailyMail covered their nethers well by posting an image of the words, not the words themselves.

Poking around to see if any other blogger-types actually published the words, Soveriegnman.com looks like he hit the jackpot over a month ago.

I found this guy that posed a challenge to use the words in a sentence. But why would I want to do that? The list does give me a lot of gas, and to target this sickness I plan to exercise, then drive to an airport and take an airplane through cloudy skies to a facility in Mexico, where I can help and aid the ice not leak and become snow. I cancelled the smart pork in China and Somalia!

*If you are an overpaid DHS drone (the bored human kind, not the flying metal ones) that landed here, please make yourself useful and click an ad or something.

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A Bad Argument For Gun Ownership Rights

My new commuting setup.

Because of this, and most recently this, there’s been a lot of discussion lately about gun ownership/rights, the 2nd amendment, etc.—as there always is when the media cycle restarts and a report of a shooting hasn’t been done in a while.

There exists one common argument that gun rights people* use to counteract proposals for more regulations on firearms. It’s in the form of a comparison of firearms to something innocuous that also kills people, like pools or kitchen knives. Then a reductio ad absurdum is used to demonstrate a logical consequence of the lawmaking (as if lawmaking really made logical sense), i.e., we should regulate the use of pools and kitchen knives because sometimes they kill people.

This is probably the worst argument gun rights supporters can make, for two simple reasons. The primary utility of firearms, if used for moral ends (self-defense) or immoral ends (mugging, other forms of coercion), is to stop or kill people through the force of a bullet. The primary utility of, say, pools are for swimming. A pool being the primary cause of death via drowning is not employing the pool’s primary utility, but a firearm used for an immoral purpose is still using its primary utility.

The other half is the purposeful vs. accidental death. When the threat of more regulations are invoked, it tends to be in response to immoral acts, not accidental deaths from guns. The physical harm from guns in these situations is from the purposeful use of its primary purpose. The death from drowning in a swimming pool is an accidental consequence of its existence.

So there’s two inconsistencies in the comparison that kill the argument for me: the primary utility problem and the accidental/purposeful problem. I could go deeper into this but I just wanted to air my bother with it.

Photo by Cyclelicious.

* I am pro-gun rights as an absolute but I don’t phrase it as such. Firearms are basically a piece of property so I couch the idea in basic private property rights terms rather than gun-specific ones. The gun-specific rhetoric is probably born out of the 2nd amendment and because of the encroachment of property rights by the state always seems to focus on firearms or other mechanisms of self-defense.

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Finish Your Summer Reading List: A Farewell to Arms Book Review

Like most male American highschoolers with little literary orientation, the first exposure to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was the loose reference in the first Golgo-13 Nintendo game. I had a chuckle when I thought of the stoic Duke Togo grunting in frustration from the inability to wave goodbye to his amputated arms.

But then I found out it was an actual book, and it was on the summer reading list, and that the book was longer than 100 pages and involved Italian loan words and edited-out curse words. Then I found myself in a War of the Worlds scenario in having to drudge through something I thought would be enjoyable (I didn’t like WotW because it used words like “curator” and my 7th grade vocabulary didn’t get to that point).

One thing made it worthwhile, though, and that was Hemingway’s airy, childish prose. It gulled some kids into thinking they could write like that with little effort. The dude just did not want to clause it up—commas were the Austro-Hungarians pelting him with bee-bees and periods were his Italian goombah war buddies. And the dialogue (when they weren’t using those smartypants loan words)…it just sounded so real, like he listened to how people actually talked and committed it to paper word-for-word instead of transcribing the essence into print. No need for too much thinking, just leave a tape recorder in a public park and write down what you hear for future use. Turnkey fiction writing.

The book is famous, yadda yadda, but most of that value comes from Hemingway’s first hand experience with war. That dialogue, affinity for drink at any time, the nonchalant mentions of events of shattering importance, and wartime convalescence feels real because it was real, to Hemingway’s mind, though the book isn’t entirely autobiographical.

The other side of value was the relationship between Henry and Barkley, which was the real meat of the plot. There was surfacey pleasure in determining whether or not Barkley was stupid or really just retarded. Besides that, it provided an opportunity for that one kid in class to declare that their relationship was “the real war Tenente fought!” with maddening self-assurance. I hate that kid. Don’t ever be that kid.

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Abortion and Property-Rights Theory: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Ben Pike tipped me off to this blog post, “Abortion Rights are Logically Required by Libertarianism“. Below is the email I wrote back to him. It was a rough email, not intended as post material, so it’s kind of jumpy. But the thoughts are there.

Basically, reading this and the original post over a few times, I think the questions are these: how does exiting the womb and being detached from the mother make it a self-property rights owner? Why does the fetus not own itself before birth? I don’t think concepts like “viability” really address it but I’m open to correction.

She rightly addresses the question of whether a fetus is an individual, which, if it is, then the rights of self-ownership (and the NAP) apply to it. But she calls the fetus a “potential” human without explaining why it’s just a potential and not an actual human. She just declares it, which is a pretty darn important presupposition since the fetus/baby’s status as rights-retainer rests on this. Maybe she has worked the fetus’ not-actual, potential humanity out somewhere else but this is an extremely important girder in her framework.

In the same paragraph she states “[a]t birth, the fetus is biologically autonomous and becomes a self-owner with full individual rights.” But there is no explanation as how it is fundamentally different other than being outside and not physically attached to the mother…and I can’t see how that difference transforms the fetus into a human. In a sense she is justifying the mother’s abandonment of the baby, because most of us would think she has moral imperative to provide care (or to seek care) once the baby is born. The mother still has to provide her own property to care for it, her resources: time, money, and sometimes her own body (arguably more resources than during pregnancy, but I don’t think amount is the issue). The only real difference is that the fetus is beyond the borders of her body-property.

In this case she has to establish that being inside that body makes it her property, which seems an extremely difficult situation to steer toward your side. That would mean any thing that lands in my yard is my property, even people. Though, a fetus doesn’t “land” inside a woman. It grows there. Could it be considered like a plant that spontaneously grows in my garden without my consent (it’s implicit that when I bought my house and land that things like that can happen). If a human sprouted up on my lawn ex nihilo, and that kind of generation was implicit when I bought the property, would I be morally responsible for its survival?

I’m just thinking through this here. Sorry for the disjoint. The conception/birth of a human doesn’t have a proper ethical analogy, it doesn’t seem. It’s its own special case and I don’t know the philo-ethical scholarship that has been applied to it. So, really, I don’t have an answer, except that I am pro-life (categorically) by logical means: if it’s indeterminate whether it’s just a clump of tissue or an actual human, it would be too morally risky to aggress upon it by default, “just in case” it’s a human…but sometimes I’m not so sure of the strength of that argument.

About the Ron Paul quote: did you have a link to that? I’d probably agree with it but I want to check the context.

Hey, speaking of tablets, which one would you recommend? I’m on Verizon and I know next to nothing.

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