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"?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Why Not? to Huh?

I am a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Orioles. This is a fact that has been the source of pain and frustration for many years. Usually, a team's fortunes go in cycles. You have a playoff level team full of quality players to which the organization commits during their heyday and then they get old or seek bigger contracts elsewhere, leaving the team in a less competitive place.T he team enters a rebuilding phase where it nurtures the next generation and in a few seasons' time returns to playoff form.  But this is not how the Orioles have proceeded, languishing in last place year after year since the last set of glory days in the early 1980s.

In 1988, the Orioles started the year by losing 21 games in a row and ended up losing 107 of 162 games coming in last.  They were awful.  It would be a rebuilding process that would take the team a few years to remake itself, everyone figured.  And then in 1989, the unthinkable happened, they started winning and then kept winning occupying first place and leading the jubilant city to ask "Why not?"  It was a magical year and the crowds responded with great fervor.  Memorial Stadium rocked as the Birds won and won and won.

This year is similar in some respects.  The Orioles are coming off of over a dozen straight years in which they have lost more games than they've won.  The playoffs haven't even been a daydream.  "Maybe this will be the year they come in second to last," we thought hopefully.  But then, something strange happened...again, the Orioles started winning and today they are in a tie with Satan himself (also known as the New York Yankees) for first place in the American League's eastern division...and it is September.  We are just weeks away from the post season and it seems likely that the Orioles will be there.

After so many years of futility, you would think that there would be this incredible pent up energy that would be exploding in support of the team.  In the past few years, Red Sox and Yankee fans have outnumbered us in our own stadium when their team came to town.  But now, the pride should be back.  There should be huge numbers of hyped up fans, excited for something they haven't seen in so long that fans who can drive themselves to the stadium have only heard from older generations -- playoff baseball in Baltimore.  Camden Yards should be absolutely electric.

But it isn't.  We've gone to a number of games this season with the short people and the place is as dead as usual.  Lots of empty seats, no raucous cheering, a very sedate place despite the success.  I'll be honest, for most of the season, I, like many others, would not let myself get excited.  The minute I started believing, I knew the downturn would come and they would revert to their old losing ways and break my heart and crush my spirit yet again.  But it hasn't happened.  They just keep winning.

And yet, while I see lots of jubilant posts on Facebook from my fellow Baltimorons, it isn't there in the Park.  As we asked in 1989 -- why not?  Is the energy not pent up?  Has it been so long that we don't trust it?  Is it that the fan base has been lost with another team in the neighborhood -- the Nationals with their young stars -- and with a perennially competitive football team next door in the Ravens?  Is it that there isn't star power on the Orioles -- no Cal or Eddie or Frank or Brooks to idolize as the personification of the greatness of the team?  We love rags to riches stories in this culture and we have a real life example here.  Why is this not another why not? 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Outsiders and Double Vision

Today would be Richard Wright's 104th birthday. Here is a passage from The Outsider that ties in directly with the claim I make about Einstein.

Negroes, as they enter our culture, are going to inherit the problems we have, but with a difference. They are outsiders and they are going to know that they have these problems. They are going to be self-conscious; they are going to be gifted with a double vision, for, being Negroes, they are going to be both inside and outside of our culture at the same time. Every emotional and cultural convulsion that ever shook the heart and soul of Western man will shake them. Negroes will develop unique and specially defined psychological types. They will become psychological men, like the Jews . . . They will not only be Americans or Negroes; they will be centers of knowing, so to speak . . . The political, social, and psychological consequences of this will be enormous.
Is he correct? Do outsiders necessarily become psychological types?

Monday, September 03, 2012

Work and Thought

Today is Labor Day, so I'm thinking about work. But I am also thinking about Ed Johnson, a Gettysburg College alum who just passed away. Ed was a wonderful person for so many reasons, but one of the things I admired so much about him was his commitment to the value of ideas. He ran an insurance company and would occasionally have days where the firm took a break from business and gathered for discussions about great books. He would bring people out from the college to help facilitate conversation and in small groups, the employees would spend the day discussing the perennial questions of meaning, ethics, and being. It is sadly a peculiar view that work is a place for personal and only professional growth, that a better environment is created when room is made for thoughtfulness and the usual hierarchical arrangements are forsaken. It is wonderful to have gyms and yoga classes, on-site childcare and other conveniences as part of the workplace, but what Ed did was wholly other. He created a place where work was done by those who could engage each other at deeper levels. Ethics is not just a code that you better follow at risk of termination, but something living and humane, something that the company in each others company thought about honestly and openly. We live in a world that separates ideas from work, an assembly line mentality where efficiency demands people be made into cogs. Humanizing work has the effect of humanizing workers. Maybe that is why so many don't do it, but why it was so wonderful of Ed Johnson that he did.