January 26th, 2011

(no subject)

 Today was a reasonably productive day given it started with too little sleep. I decided late last night that I didn't want to haul the textbook I teach over to campus, so I read the reading and did a preliminary Powerpoint for that class. It's a reading I've never taught before so it took me about three hours to feel like I had mastered it. (Or mastered it well enough to teach, in any event.) So it was after 3 AM before I got to bed. Which normally wouldn't be a huge deal - I teach afternoons so can sleep in needed. But I forgot to reset my alarm clock, which mean I ended up waking up just four hours later. Still, I've had less productive days on more sleep.

I taught today on arguments, how to analyze them and basic vocabulary and logical allacies, that kind of thing. It's always an odd meeting. Logic fascinates me, but I have a mathematician's mind and a mathematician's training so I think I see idiosyncracies that even undergrad philosophy students might miss. Teaching it as a means to an end becomes almost a necessary evil, and the only way I know around that is to devote more time to the subject than I want to (and give the students more details than they need). Still, we had some good discussions about the limits of different forms, specifically problems going along with induction. It's really the best I could have hoped for. Tomorrow I do the Cave Allegory, which I'm really looking forward to.

I also had a long talk with Dave this afternoon on Nietzsche of all things. I am a medievalist myself, with an increasingly interest in the ancients, so I know next to nothing about Nietzsche - really, just the "God is dead" quote and maybe 3-4 different theories on what that means. But I always wanted to learn more of Nietzsche because he seems to be talking about the tragedy of God's death. Or rather, of the death of a naive, ritualistic faith in the face of profound evil. I mentioned Elie Wiesel's quote:

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Which has always touched me profoundly. What do we say to the people who have lost (temporarily or permanently) their ability to see God? Whose faith has in a sense been blocked out by their pain? I know people like that; at times I am one of those people, and certainly used to be more than I am today. Nietzsche seems to have something to say about that. But he's also part of a tradition I know very little about, and have next to no time for yet more research topics. So for the moment he is stuck on the "someday" list.

I also had a brief (<10 mins) conversation with a professor about a research topic I've been interested in lately: basically, whether Augustine's idea that evil is the absence of something is compatible with Aristotle's doctrine of the mean. He was encouraging, which I find encouraging. And of course did the other normal stuff - graded my class's groupwork, sat in on a lecture on Augustine and inordinate desires, read half an article for my reading list, picked up the laundry.

Guss I should finish that article. What I really want to do is veg out for a bit with Narnia (half way through The Magician's Nephew, having read LWW over Christmas) but I shall be a good little scholar for a while longer.

abortion funding + school vouchers

That's an unlikely pair of issues, I know, but my mind put them together. I'm weird that way.

I was reading Newsweek over a late lunch and I happened across an article about how several states are trying school vouchers again. Here's the connection in my mind: one of the states mentioned in the article is Florida, and a friend mentioned another law being considered in Florida. Basically, insurance companies offering their plans under the insurance exchange that comes into effect in 2014 cannot cover abortions.

The biggest reason I am against school vouchers is separation of church and state issues. I went to a parochial school in grades 6-8 and benefited from that experience. I would want poor kids to have that same privilege, and for their parents to be able to make the choice. I don't personally think vouchers will cover it (because state funding does not come close to covering parochial school tuition, let alone prep school), so I would still probably be anti-vouchers for that reason.

But the connection in my mind to abortions has clarified some things. I believe in choice. I'm not a libertarian I believe that "levelling the playing field" should try to give the most choices to the most people. Personally I don't believe that abortion is murder but I do believe there are moral considerations, especially at the later stages, and so I think it's not something to be done lightly. But I definitely don't think my belief on this view gives me the right to control someone else's view. Once we've decided the government should provide health care for even some people (which predates Obama - think VA hospitals, military medical care, and Medicare/Medicaid) - individuals cannot decide what care other individuals should have access to. My belief that a certain abortion may be immoral, does not equal my right to keep you from making that decision.

Given that, I really have no right to be against vouchers on church/state grounds. I have paid my taxes in part because I believe universal education is important. If those schools aren't educating properly, I have a complaint there. But if my only concern is they're tied to some religion or other, well, I can't fairly hold to that claim.

But this cuts both ways. If someone thinks vouchers are a good idea even if they go to religious schools, you are requiring that I the taxpayer give my money over to a school where I don't agree with some of their actions (chapel, religious education, etc.) but where they are getting the job done I think needs to be done - if you believe all that, you have to believe the same thing when it comes to abortion funding. That means you're free to think abortion is wrong. You're not free to say your taxes shouldn't go toward paying that. Because, again, it is the would-be parent's choice.

Even if you think it's the wrong one.

done dids for 26-Jan

I'm done being productive for the day, I think. I got through my reading list item for today, a chapter from the Cambridge Companion to Anselm that looks at what different philosophers meant by modality (essentially, possibility, but how to interpret that?). I don't feel like I really understood most of it. Only I did; I took notes and understood what I read, and got the distinction between the different views. But it doesn't seem "real" somehow. The significance or something hasn't quite sunk in. But I nave done what I can with it for now. Maybe if I sleep on it...

In other news, I taught Plato's epistemology today. The Divided Line, the Sun analogy, and I was set to talk about the Cave. We got sidetracked by a really interesting and useful discussion of why the Forms didn't come from experience. (They thought, like most people, that we get our ideas about the world from viewing one thing, and then another, and so on.) So we're a little behind, but that's okay. I'll trade timeline for genuine discussion any day of the week.

Did some practical stuff, too. My radiator was leaking steam and damaging the paint on my bedroom ceiling/wall. Which isn't too big a deal. It's always too warm anyway, and the rest of the apartment is still heated fine. But with all the wind I wanted to get a mini-electric heater in case I needed it, and found a dual cool/heated fan for $20 at the drug store. Also picked up frozen dinners and fresh fruit at the big grocery store while I was down at Fordham Plaza, and went to Applebee's for lunch. Had a chowder and half a grilled sandwich, and finished it off with a desert "shooter" (cheese cake + graham cracker crumbs. Dinner was not nearly as exciting: an egg sandwich, carrot sticks, and a tangerine.

Also: I got boots! I had apparently grown calf muscles over the summer because my old snow boots wouldn't zip up on one side. So I have been looking for new ones. But I wear *at least* an eleven in normal shoes and boots need to be bigger if I want to tuck my pants in. Combine that with the fact that I am a perpetual pedestrian and live on a fifth floor walk-up, so heels of any kind are really unrealistic. These don't have great traction, but other than that they look okay, and they're actually the most feminine-looking shoes I own. You can't tell from the pic so much, but the sole really is like a flat dress shoe, right down to the pointed toes. I was about to break down and buy guys' boots, when I found these in a thirteen. Score!

I've had two things in my mind most of the afternoon (which may explain my trouble following the Anselm article!). First, I got my elements for the February writing challenge over at GFIC, and am imagining a nice cousin story about Frodo and Merry. Perhaps Frodo remembering how a very young Merry comforted him after his parents' death. Doesn't seem like Valentine's Day faire, but I think it might be nice if I can get the timeline worked out in my head.

On less light notes (I know, my standards), I've also been thinking about abortion. When I think it is wrong, when it's okay, whether it's ever morally required. When I mentioned it in my earlier post it was a passing thought, and I was talking more about my frustration with the politics that go along with it than the moral status of abortions per se. But some comments people made have me thinking along those lines, and I may have to write another post on all that, if just to work it out of my system. Plus laying stuff like that down on paper is never a bad idea.

And that's it for me! I think I'll watch the Daily Show and go to bed.