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Impossible Bridges

Finally back to being reasonably rested again after the NYC trip. Decided to check out a teahouse that's been on my to-do list for awhile: 「TownHall Coffee」 in Lower Merion. It's a bit out-of-the-way for someone used to taking the R5, but now that I know that my Trailpass is good for every single form of SEPTA transportation, I just hopped a bus. Overall: It shares the absurdly early bedtime of greater Philadelphia (19:00, which is just not civilised), but it's otherwise a cool place. Friendly waitstaff (insisted on a handshake and introduction when they say I was a new customer), attractive wood floors, some variety in chairs, free intarwebs, decent tea. Their equipment looks fancy, but I'm not qualified to judge their coffee. From the stairs, I'm guessing they have a sizable downstairs too. Ordered a veggie sandwich and declined the potato crisps, so they gave me a very pretty sliced apple instead. I had a pretty good idea it was going to be a cool place though, given the strongly positive reviews I saw of it online.

I woke up this morning (personal time) with a philosophical question in my head: Would it be possible to have a unified virtú/virtue? On the barest level, the answer is yes; there are many possible configurations of value systems, and one that reconciled the ethics of the national leader or time-traveller and that of personal ethics into a whole, directly-held and possibly proclaimed, would be possible. I suspect that the general answer to the question, as we move from bare possibility to likelihood/desirability/philosophical parsimony, is actually no. The logic of virtú incorporates ideas of risk and the greater good in ways that are fundamentally unlike the logic of virtue, and virtú does not also aim for coherency to the same extent that virtue does (even if the latter cannot entirely achieve it). Virtue can be taught to and applied by children, and is necessary to be considered an adult; virtú is best only respected by most adults, and does not need to be learned or applied except in unusual circumstances (usually by unusual people). Virtue is inherently social and part of the social fabric; virtú is the burden of the very few. Most importantly, even for those who understand virtú and have had occasion to use it, they will spend most of their time in the mental world of virtue, and would be wise to remain within the intuitions of the latter. (I realise this is just a sketch of an argument; I intend to write more about this on my website. I need to expand a lot on my metaframework of values anyhow)

Here's some news-with-a-bit-of-commentary for you all:

  • I am not surprised, given the role of the US President as head of the execitive branch and the responsibilities of implementing US sovereignty, to see that Obama has not been kind to whistleblowers. I am still disappointed; the whistleblowers mentioned have given the general public information that we really should know about:
    • Former CIA Officer John Kiriakou talked with journalists about our intelligence agencies torturing Al-Qaeda suspects. Torture is a crime against humanity like very few others; more serious than extrajudicial killing, I hold that anyone who has ordered or performed torture (or covered it up) should be without exception executed. Torture, more than violent conflict (which sometimes happens between civilised people), is directly against the refinement we make in ourselves when we try to be civilised. It is unforgivable, and it must not be ignored.
    • Thomas Drake whistleblew on a tremendous waste of taxpayer money for the Trailblazer programme
    • And of course, we know about Bradley Manning
  • A Saudi man tweeted some doubts about Mohammad, and first was forced to flee to Malaysia, then was deported back to Saudi Arabia. Nations that cannot bear criticism or outright mockery of religion should be considered barbaric.
  • Here's another analysis of Israel's warmongering towards Iran and its efforts, through AIPAC, to drag the United States into it. The Israeli lobby is worryingly strong in the United States. It's not surprising that the Israeli left is underrepresented in our politics (J Street being more centrist), although it's irritating that Israel's interests are represented at all here. We have our own national interests.
  • A lost story from James Joyce was recently published, angering a foundation that's been zealously guarding their own narrative of his legacy. I have no sympathy for that foundation.
  • Columbus, Ohio is trying to make the city "about" something. Having lived in the city (about 6 years?), I agree that this is a tough task. If Pittsburgh's culture is a mix of East-Coast, Appalachian, and a touch of Midwestern, Columbus's is just Midwestern-but-less-so. It's a kind of social experiment where land is practically free, the city's neither particularly far or near shipping, and there's nothing particularly remarkable about it. This isn't to say there isn't a lot going on there, but the city does not have a strong flavour.
  • More trouble for the Murdoch clan, as another of his media properties has seen executives arrested over bribing police. This might lead to liability in the United States as well.
  • Greece is still wrangling over externally-imposed austerity as conditions for a bailout. Political irresponsibility over the last few decades is going to cost it, one way or the other, in the near future.
  • There are concerns over whether Komen's other activities will suffer over the whole Planned-Parenthood thing.
  • Canadians have stupid politicians too. In this case, PM Stephen Harper.
  • Infuriating that Uganda is again talking about a death penalty for homosexual acts. WTF.
  • On the upside, we recently saw Suu Kyi given the green light to run for parliament in Burma. This is pretty amazing for a nation that until recently had her under very long-term house arrest. (Note that I do not want to comment particularly on her politics; I don't know her positions or writings enough to comment on that; I do consider reasonable pluralism to be a general mark of good governance though, and Burma's steps have been exceptional as of late)
  • Science! Scientists determined that Philippine Tarsiers are not actually bizarrely silent; they've been communicating using ultrasound
  • The continued slaughter in Syria, and the complete failure of the Arab League or the Western Powers to do anything at all about it, is really infuriating. There is exactly one man to remove (Assad) that would end this. Instead, thousands of the wrong people are dying.

Update: by the end of this post, I've gotten some Rwandan coffee, and it's really good.

If you want to stalk me on the internet, two maybe-more-interesting conversations:

  • On whether consensus is very important in worlds-of-terms. I argue that it is not. In general, I think it's healthy when there are plenty of differing definitional frameworks out there on most topics; the need to navigate these helps keep us linguistically humble and that's important in reminding us of the difference between reality and the words we use to describe it (it also serves as a reminder that philosophical diversity is more important than human comfort; a very important stance!)
  • On the relationship between racism and ignorance; I hold that it is not racist to not know a lot of the history of the civil rights movement, it's just ignorant and it's to a certain extent acceptable (interests will vary); the golden standard for not being racist is that one believes in racial equality, not how much history one knows.