Thursday, May 29, 2008

Books Received

The Rational Imagination: How People Create Alternatives to Reality by Ruth Byrne.

This one looks interesting and relevant to my project. Byrne will discuss the role of imagination in rational thought generally and more specifically the role it plays in counterfactual thinking. For example, "How might my life have gone if I had started grad school immediately after college?"

The Work of Imagination by Paul Harris

This one came up in a lot of bibliographies, so I thought it might be important. Harris is a developmental psychologist and this book presents the research on the role of imagination in the cognitive and emotional development of children.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Birthday Books

For our anniversary (6 years!), Kristen and I spent the afternoon at B&N. We love walking through the stacks and checking out all the books. We had lunch at one of favorite spots and then spent the rest of the day at Starbucks chatting. Also, for my birthday last month, I got (my favorite gifts) gift certificates for Amazon and B&N. I only recently got around to using them. It can be hard to pick out new books. There are so many I want, so many I already own and haven't read yet. I focused this time on books I am likely to get to this summer.

From Amazon:

The Moon is Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

Yes, I know, it's hard to believe I haven't yet read this sci-fi classic. I thought it was about time.

Sunset Express by Robert Crais

The next book for me to read in the Elvis Cole series. One of the several detective-fiction series I read.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A highly recommended and courageous memoir of the author's life-long struggle against living under Islam.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

A groundbreaking book about baseball. Besides my intrinsic interest, I thought it might prove useful in preparation for the Sports Ethics course.

From B&N:

Wizard's First Rule
by Terry Goodkind

A recommended fantasy novel series. This is the first book in the series. I always look for it when I'm in a bookstore. This is the first time it was there, so I got it.

The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

Picked this on a whim. As I mentioned before I enjoy alternative history, and Turtledove is a well-known author in this genre. This one is about the South winning the Civil War.

Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything by Charles Pierce

An account of Tom Brady's rise to greatness in the NFL. Got this, obviously, because I'm a die-hard Patriots and Brady fan. Also, along with Moneyball, this is all part of the background reading for the Sports Ethics course.

Friday, May 16, 2008


The semester is done, it has been for a week now. That means it's time for a break, right? While I will take a vacation this summer, I have several summer projects that need attention.

1. Dissertation, Dissertation, Dissertation

Without a doubt, the most important project of the summer. My goal is to finish, if not defend, before the Fall semester. I'm currently grappling with the literature on imagination. Quite interesting material. Most of it is focused on psychological or neurological accounts of imagination. That's of less interest to me as I am not trying to provide an explanation of imagination. Still, it is important to get a sense of how those that have studied the workings of imagination explain it. I am interested in the different roles imagination plays in the ways we think; in particular, how imagination might interact with practical reasoning.

2. TAS Summer Seminar talks

As previously announced, I am giving two talks this summer at TAS's seminar in Portland. The abstract and outlines for those talks are due next week, so I am hard at work getting those done. These are going to be really fun.

3. Fall Class Prep

I am teaching Introduction to Philosophy again, plus two sections of a new course: Sports Ethics. I'm really excited about this. I've been reading up on the literature--for the Summer Seminar talk on Sports Ethics and for the class. And there are a lot of current controversies that we'll talk about: steroids, technological advances and their effect on sports, etc.

4. Graduate Seminar

In August, I'll be attending TAS's Graduate Seminar on Political Philosophy and Legal Theory. So there will be some prep for that as well.

So, I've got a pretty full docket for the summer, but it's all interesting and fun work.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel (Yom Ha'atzmaut). In many ways, it is the most successful state formed out of former European colonial possessions. The area that became Israel was a British possession and before that part of the Ottoman Empire.

It has a growing and stable economy, rich in high-tech and bio-tech. It is also one of the more successful countries to shift from a centralized, socialistic economy to a more decentralized, freer economy. This is, of course, one of the main reasons for its growing economy.

Israel has fought 4 major wars with its neighbors, not to mention decades of battling terrorists. Its air force is one of the best in the world. Many of the tank fighting strategies deployed in both the Gulf Wars were developed by the Israelis on their battlefields. The cooperation between the militaries of Israel and the US has been a boon to both countries.

Economically and militarily, Israel is an unquestionable success story.

Yet, Israel still struggles with its identity. It is largely a secular society, but identifies itself as a Jewish state. It struggles with dealing with issues of democracy and equality regarding the Israel Arab minority as well as differences between Jews of European descent and those who emigrated from the Arab world. It wrestles daily with the weight of controlling disputed and violent territories. And even after 60 years, it contends with an international community that is, at best, unsure how to relate to with her.

Somehow, this is fitting for a Jewish state. Individual Jews have, in analogous ways, the same struggles. Many of Jews outside of Israel are also secular but do not shed their Jewish identity and connections. This balance between secularism and religion is always a challenge for Jews--even those who are expressly religious. This is why some retreat into the confines of Hasidic communities where they largely cut themselves off from the outside world. And why others reject their identity all together so as not to be connected with religion at all. Most Jews, however, find themselves somewhere along the spectrum of secular and religion; not wanting to jettison their Jewish identity, but not wanting to live by restrictive and arbitrary rules.

Individual Jews also contend with the differences between Jews. Since the Jewish Enlightenment, The Haskalah, in the 18th century when Jews began to integrate into European society and culture, Jews have struggled with the choices their fellow Jews have made. Some chose to completely assimilate into European society--going so far as converting to Christianity. Others chose the opposite path fighting against any integration and forming insular communities that avoid Christian Europe. Again, most were some where in between, balancing being Jewish and European.

In Europe and American, there was and is prejudice between Jews. The more highly cultured and assimilated Jews looking down upon and embarrassed by the Tevyas of the world. We see this in the late 19th century when German Jews, already established in the US, had to deal with these Yiddish speaking, peasant immigrants from Eastern Europe. And we see it today between Hasidic communities and other Jewish communities. A Reform Jewish family living in Manhattan has more in common with (and get along better with) its Presbyterian neighbors than with the Hasidic Jews living across the river in Crown Heights.

And Jews today are still uncomfortable and unsure of their relationship with the non-Jewish world around them. We are, largely, successful economically and socially. Anti-semitism is still an issue, but it is not respectable and usually hidden. Jews do not worry about not getting jobs or in to schools anymore. They don't worry about getting into social clubs or politics. Few fear being dragged from their work and beaten. And yet, most Jews, deep down, have some nondescript, undirected worry. "It could happen again. It happened in Germany and Jews were comfortable and successful there"

And this brings me back to Israel. One of the main reasons Jews are so supportive of Israel is because we need to know its there. We need to know its there as an escape valve--if things get bad enough, there is always Israel. We need to know its there as a source of pride--see what Jews can do. We need to know its there because it unites Jews--it's one of the few things most Jews can agree on.

I hope that the next 60 years will bring more prosperity to Israel, peace with its neighbors and its Arab population within, and wider acceptance within the world community. But Israel, like all Jews, will always struggle with its identity--that is, ironically, our identity.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Never Forget. Never Again.

Today is Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Nearly 6 million innocent lives extinguished for being Jews. Anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million of these lives were children.

These numbers are unfathomable. Each life a unique, unrepeatable point; an individual with hopes, fears, passions, and goals. These are gone forever. What was lost is unimaginable. The future achievements and accomplishments of each of these individuals lost to the gas chambers.

There are several memorials that represent this all too clearly. Two are at the US Holocaust Museum in DC. One is a sculpture of a huge pile of shoes. Lives discarded as a easily as one discards shoes. These personal items often all that was left of these lives.

The second is the memorial for a Jewish town wiped from the map. It's two stories of photographs of the town and its people. Pictures of weddings, parades, shops, friends, lovers. All gone, consumed by hate.

The last is the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. An underground structure, dark and cool. There are memorial candles and mirrors reflecting these candles. The effect is haunting. An infinity of tiny lights shining in this cold dark place. What brightness that could have come from these lives that we will never know?

An excellent resource: The Holocaust Wing of the Jewish Virtual Library

Never Forget. Never Again.