Friday, September 14, 2012

The Playground Is Closed

This is my 2,000th and final post at the Philosophers' Playground.  It's been six and a half years of almost daily entertainment posing questions and provocative theses for you folks to bat around. 

It was during a sabbatical when my former colleague who went by the blog name Aspazia convinced me to give the whole blog thing a go.  It was still a new hot edgy thing in those pre-Facebook years. The sense was still there that blogs could be a place where voices could make themselves heard without corporate support.  It was the heart of the post-9/11 George W. Bush years and politics were intense.  I was working on a popular book on ethical reasoning to be called Was It Morally Good For You, Too: A How-To Guide to Ethics in Sex, Politics, and Other Dirty Words and thought that this might be a good way to test-drive some sections of the manuscript, a good way to find some clever language, and maybe gain a sense of what was interesting and engaging for non-academic readers.  That work never found a publisher, but more than a half decade later, the blog persisted.

I have loved the way it took people from every facet and period of my life and brought them together in one continuous dinner party where I never had to wash a single dish.  I also love that I met so many new folks who happened across the Playground from another blog and came to make it a regular hangout.  Over the years we have had many, many friends stop through, most constructive in their time with us, some not so much.  But no matter how passionate this community got over issues, the discourse was almost always respectful.  Ad hominem attacks were shut down without my having to be a police officer for the place.  It had a playful spirit, but a mature sensibility.

It has been a challenge to keep it fresh and lively, but it was really a joy for me to be a part of this open group.  Thank you all for your energy, your presence, and your time whether you were a regular in the comments, wrote guest posts, or just lurked.  It has been a lot of fun, good times filled with camaraderie -- everything you want a playground to be.

Thanks again everyone.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Famous Last Words

What are the greatest last words in history?  My favorites are Hegel who just before dying said, "Only one person ever understood me...and he got it wrong." and Pope Alexander VI who, just before dying said, "Wait a minute..." 

Other great parting words?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Greatest Movie Endings

What is the greatest last line/scene of a film?  For my money, the best ever will always be Casablanca.The runner-up, Life of Brian.  Monty Python was notorious for not being able to end sketches, but this ending is nothing short of classic.Other great endings?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bullshit or Not: Beatles Edition

There's an old sketch film called "Amazon Women on the Moon" which contained a spoof of Leonard Nemoy's old program "In Search Of" that had the tagline, "Bullshit or not, you decide." We use it as a basis for an occasional series of posts where we consider a passage or quotation from someone notable.  Today, let's consider the final lyrics of the last song recorded together by the Beatles, "The End":

"And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make." 
Romanticized poppycock or legitimately true?  Bullshit or not?  You decide.  As usual, responses may range from a single word to a dissertation.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ending Strasburg

The Washington Nationals have a good shot at playing some serious post-season baseball.  A team that has spent several years rebuilding itself, now has a chance to make a run at the World Series.  And just as this happens, they shut down one of, if not their absolutely best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg.  Strasburg had surgery last year and before the season began -- when no one thought the Nats would be in such a strong position -- the management announced it would have their fireballer on a strict inning count for the year.  He has reached it and they have removed him from the mound.  But in doing so, they have harmed their chances to take the championship.

It makes sense why they did it.  It is long-term thinking.  If we push his arm too hard this close to surgery, it could take years off of his career and they want him to be strong, healthy, and productive as long as possible.  But is it sporting?  If there is a requirement that one always try one's best to win, is there a problem with this move (admittedly one that may be trumped by the larger moral concern, but is it even there)?

On the one hand, the argument can be made that it is a move designed with competitiveness in mind.  Just as starting catchers are given regular days off and less capable back-ups given games to save the catchers for the length of the season, we are seeing the same sort of calculation over several seasons and not just one.

But, on the other hand, isn't competitiveness limited to only the season at hand?  You only play one season at a time and the injunction to be maximally competitive is limited to a single year's play.  If a football team has been doing poorly in the first half of the year and starts intentionally losing games in order to secure a better draft pick to get a superior player to improve next year's team, there is a big problem.  You have to play to win, even if winning would be a disadvantage later on -- think Olympic badminton.  Couldn't the move to shut down Strasburg seen as an example of this?

If we take trying your best to win to be a duty of professional athletic organizations, is the shutting down of Stephen Strasburg a violation of the ethos of sport?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Modern Mencken

Tomorrow is Mencken day at the Enoch Pratt Library, honoring one of the great intellects of Baltimore.  Who would be the modern day version of H.L. Mencken?  Is there a writer who is smart, ascerbic, conservative, and wry?  P.J. O'Rourke?  Too flat.  Jonah Goldberg?  Not smart or clever enough.  Ann Coulter?  Too...well, Ann Coulter.  Who would be the contemporary version of Mencken?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Party of Hard Work and Personal Responsibility: An Athropologist from Mars Looks at the Election

Sometimes it's good to step back and take a broad look at things and see if they make sense. O.k, so let me see if I understand what is happening here with the Presidential campaign.

Take the two presidential candidates and the last two Presidents. The Republicans gave us Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, both of whom were born into families of immense wealth and political power -- one having a father who was a Congressman and then President and the other a Governor and then candidate for President. Both were launched into business with the contacts and money from their "it's who you know" families and went on to parlay these insider connections into large fortunes.

The Democrats gave us Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the children of divorced mothers of moderate means who worked their butts off to get scholarships through hard work and merit -- in Clinton's case a Rhodes and in Obama's case to the Ivy League Columbia University.

The Republicans, after making lots of money in the private sector, entered public service with an eye towards giving large tax cuts to the very wealthy, thereby giving themselves and other rich people more money despite doing no more work for it. Take those who already got a head start they in no way earned and give them even more of an advantage. The Democrats entered public life with the mission to give those who have been left behind an opportunity they otherwise wouldn't have to work their way up the social ladder in the same way they did -- through grit and determination -- a chance they would not have with the leveling of the playing field that is stacked against them through no error of their own.

With all of this being the case, the privileged Republican candidates tell us that they are representatives of the party of hard work and personal responsibility where the Democrats represent the party of laziness and entitlement.

Why do I expect to see George Orwell pop out from around a corner with a smug look on his face saying "I told you so"?