A Birthday Thank-You to My Mother

Today would have been my mother’s 96th birthday.  (She died at 91.)

The other day, while indulging in my usual frustration over how my college students are so often ignorant of so many things that I was familiar with well before high school, it occurred to me that a substantial portion of those things were material I learned not in school or even through my own reading, but from my mother – not in any didactic setting, but informally.  For example, I first learned about Versailles and Pompeii through my mother’s recollections of her own school projects on those topics; the mnemonic “SPA” (to recall the chronological order of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) she likewise recalled from her school days.

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Thank You For Your Swervice

I’m puzzled by a feature of much of the scholarly discussion of the Epicurean swerve.  So many of the discussants seem to be assuming that there must be a swerve corresponding to each human free action.  I don’t see why.  If indeterministic swerves occur, then every atomic motion – not just the times when the atom swerves, but also the times when it doesn’t – is going to be an instance of indeterministic motion.  And I take it that it’s the causally undetermined nature of the atomic motions underlying our actions that’s crucial to Epicurus’s account, not their specifically being swerves.  (And this seems to me to be true regardless of what stance one takes on the much-debated questions as to the precise nature of the relationship between human actions and underlying atomic motions and how the indeterminacy of the latter serves to guarantee the freedom of the former.)

Nor Custom Stale Her Infinite Variety

Every time (or nearly every) that a new artistic style or movement emerges (in literature, think e.g. of romanticism or naturalism or modernism; in painting, think of impressionism or cubism or abstraction), it’s accompanied by two narratives.

monet-impress-sun

One narrative comes from defenders of the Older Art. The burden of this narrative is that the Newer Art is not merely inferior, but pernicious – that it represents a betrayal of the very principles of art itself. Think of the hostile reviews of the first Impressionist Exhibition in Paris (such as “Wallpaper in its early stages is much more finished than that”); or the singers who refused to learn Wagner’s operas because they were “unsingable”; or the Vienna Musikverein’s initially rejecting Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht because it used “nonexistent” chords; or the literal violence that broke out in the theatre at the first production of Victor Hugo’s play Hernani for its violation of the rules of classicism.

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Groundwork Books!

Continuing the San Diego bookstores series, I chat with Jack Ran of the Groundwork Book Collective, a radical left-wing bookstore on the campus of UCSD. Topics include running a bookstore as an egalitarian collective; participating in wildcat strikes; surviving arson attacks; the dynamics of anarchist/Marxist cooperation; conflicts with the university administration; what campus leftists owe to Donald Trump; and the joys of reading Proudhon, Kevin Carson, and Shawn Wilbur.

If I seem a little sleepy during the video, it’s because I’d gotten very little sleep the night before. I blame capitalism.

The Long Arm of the Law Merchant

In my latest Agoric Café video, I chat with economist Bruce L. Benson about polycentric mercantile law in medieval Europe and among the Plains Indians; whether private law can work outside of small homogeneous communities; causation vs. correlation in the gun control debate; the perils of scissors-and-paste history; the abolition of criminal law; the incentival perversities of the reservation system; the inevitability of the state; and what intellectual debt he owes to the u.s. military.

Ragnarok Lobster

What do Good Morning America, the Australian Outback, Mary Poppins, David Friedman, Lawrence of Arabia, and a balloon voyage to a lost colony of Vikings at the North Pole have in common? Get the answers in this video, as I take you on a journey BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION!!!

Secrets of the Musketeers

Why is it called “The Three Musketeers” rather than “The Four Musketeers”? Was Alexandre Dumas really the author? Was Auguste Maquet the author? Was the novel based on real people and events? Was it based on a previous novel by somebody else? Were there any sequels or spinoffs? Do all the existing translations suck? Was Dumas racist against blacks? Was he black himself? Was d’Artagnan more of a villain than a hero? Did he fight Cyrano de Bergerac? Are the publishers of Dumas’s works guilty of literary fraud? And finally, and most importantly, is the “Three Musketeers” candy bar actually made out of musketeers? If these questions have got you tossing and turning all night – get fast, fast relief with this one weird video!

Tomfoolery in the Overhead Compartment

The Agoric Cafe is serving once again!

In my latest video, I chat with globetrotting, gunslinging, contraband-smuggling libertarian scholar Tom G. Palmer on the legitimacy of self-defense; the militarisation of police; prison abolitionism; the wars on drugs, guns, and gays; the economics and ethics of bounty hunting; the French liberal demystification of the state; lawlessness vs. anarchy; the perversities of the FDA and CDC; Afghan libertarianism; hatred as a treacherous muse; how to sneak a photocopy machine into the Soviet bloc; and the height of the sky.

Why They Wrote Such Good Books

I’ve just finished up my seminar (the teaching portion, not the grading portion – oh, not remotely the grading portion!) on Nietzsche and Modern Literature, where along with various readings from Nietzsche we also read works by Thomas Mann, André Gide, D. H. Lawrence, and Ayn Rand. I created an “audiovisual companion” website for the course to illustrate the various people, places, and works of art and music that are discussed by all five authors; and I’m posting the link to it here in case my broader readership is also interested.

As many of my readers are likely to have a particular interest in Rand, I’ll note that the pages where I discuss Rand are Weeks 9-14. See the four “horse tamer” statues that Rand describes at the beginning of Part II of We the Living! Hear the “John Gray” song (misidentified by Michael Berliner) that pervaded the streets of Kira’s Petrograd! See the theatres that Kira attended with Andrei, and the restaurant where they ate! Hear clips from the Kálmán operetta that inspired her, and the swingtime version of Wagner’s “Evening Star” that Gail Wynand suffered through during his late-night walk through the streets of New York! See the real-life models for Leo Kovalensky, Essie Twomey, Ellsworth Toohey, Lois Cook, Lancelot Clokey, Dominique Francon, Henry Cameron, Ralston Holcombe, and Austen Heller – as well as the real-life models for the buildings of Roark and Cameron, the coffee shop where Peter says goodbye to Katie, and much much more!

And check out similar sights and sounds for the works of Mann (Weeks 1-4), Gide (Weeks 4-5), Lawrence (Weeks 5-9), and of course Nietzsche (passim).