Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy Faculty’

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
Rahm’s bombs fail to hit their intended target–the four challengers running to unseat him and become the next mayor of Chicago. Instead they hit Rahm himself causing considerable damage to his carefully crafted image while significantly enhancing the fortunes of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Rahm’s most formidable opponent.

Thus the obvious question is–why did he get beat so badly? Though the election proved more complicated than the media Duncan And Emmanuel Promote Education Dept's Summer Reading Initiativesuggested, a Garcia inspired consensus explanation quickly emerged. It claimed that Rahm was a narcissistic, ego manical, cold, abrasive, power crazed, ambition besotted hard head who loves doing favors for big shots and ignores the little guy–a high flyer who hob nobs in D.C., raises millions in L.A., touts Down Town, and thumbs his nose at the neighborhoods, oh, and doesn’t care for unions. Biggest piece of proof: he mindlessly closed 50 schools on the South Side! Yes, 50 schools! On the South Side!

But a translation is necessary. South Side isn’t simply a geographic designation to be contrasted with its geographical antipode– North Side. No! South Side means African American Chicago. It means black and thus not white. Or, since we’re talking politics, not geography, let’s get serious: shutting 50 schools on the South Side means racism. Period.
So Rahm is not simply an ego maniac, he’s a racist ego maniac. Well not exactly a racist because in fact he comes from an very liberal family (in the 60s, his mom participated in the big civil rights protests going to the South to work for voting rights legislation) and Rahm has always called himself a liberal. And as everyone knows, Rahm was President Obama’s first chief of staff, even getting the President to campaign for him during the last week of the election. Still while he’s not George Wallace, he did close those schools while never closing a single white school, and politically speaking, that equals racism.

Since we mentioned schools, let’s also note that at the beginning of his term, he came down a bit hard on teachers–but again, a translation is necessary for teachers don’t mean teachers, exactly; it means the Chicago Teachers Union. 476915_630x354Moreover, in this case, it means Ms. Karen Lewis, who is one very sharp, very clever, very funny, very media savvy person and the Head of the Teachers Union. In provoking Karen Lewis, Rahm met his match. Looking back in retrospect, from that point on, Rahm’s fortunes tumbled. Like a Russell Terrier, Lewis wouldn’t let go and Rahm knew not how to deal with her.

Now the media had an even better story to tell: Rahm was a hard headed, big shot elitist who ignored the neighborhoods, had racist policies, wasn’t exactly cordial to the unions, and regularly got bested by Ms. Lewis. To further improve this neighborhood, little guy theme, slighting the Hispanic community was added to the cauldron of complaints–and we’re off to the races, which helps explain why “Chuy” decides to put his hat in the ring.

So that’s the consensus view of why Rahm bombed. While this account obviously makes sense, I don’t buy it for the rather naive and obtuse reason that I tend to be color blind and feel that issues are more important than race and ethnicity though surely there’s some relation between one’s race and one’s views on issues. But it’s not one to one. Thus explaining Rahm’s bomb using the little guy big shot theme doesn’t completely work.

My take is different; it focuses on issues and, indeed, focuses on one issue alone. The issue which I believe explains why Rahm bombed is the fact that Chicago is in dire financial straits and will likely go bankrupt if it fails to put together a serious–meaning painful– plan to address this reality. For instance, the Public School System is 1 billion in debt. And folks is screaming at Rahm for closing 50 run down half empty schools. Yet rather than strongly defending his actions, Rahm starts stuttering and flies to L.A. or NYC for a campaign fund raiser whose loot will be used to pay for a 2015 30 second ad criticizing “Chuy” for favoring a tax increase in 1986. Looney Tunes, methinks.

The real point is that Rahm claimed to be the tough guy capable of making the tough calls but the record shows he dodges them never coming clean on how desperate is the City’s plight along nor does he offer a plausible proposal to address it. Instead, he tells stories how he fixed some CTA track lines (good for you, Rahm) and got the schools to lengthen the school day (again good for you)–both, certainly, worthwhile achievements. But compared to the financial crisis he never mentions, these successes pale in significance. Rahm proceeds as if it’s business as usual. But it’s not. So I think the real reason Rahm bombed is that lots of folks believe Rahm simply fiddles while Chicago burns.


By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

Don’t! Don’t rush into writing out your New Year’s Resolutions just yet–and it’s already January the 10th. That’s right: don’t rush into this annual very momentous occasion. For writing resolutions ain’t that easy. Not if you really take doing resolutions seriously. And if you don’t, why do it at all, I ask myself, in woe and wonder, and with charity and good wishes for all and sundry, both for you and your loved ones, and maybe, just maybe, for your putative enemies as well.

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890I mention enemies because with the new year beginning, shouldn’t we, even if only for a second or two, consider once again the wisdom of the famous admonitions contained in that most magnificent recording of resolutions, the Sermon on the Mount? Sure we should. So there we read about your enemies that if they take a whack at your left cheek, turn and offer them the one of your right; and if they take your shirt, offer them your down vest, heavy wool socks, and fleece lined overcoat. That’s right. I didn’t make this up. I couldn’t. Surely you’ll agree these would be challenging New Year’s Resolutions we all should make. Yet most likely most won’t and, in all candor, you can probably include me in this reprobate group.

So you can see already, can you not, that making resolutions isn’t for sissies, or to be taken lightly, as though you’re looking through a sparkling clean glass recently taken fresh from the dishwasher. No. Resolutions create an enormous conundrum, a mind numbing riddle, lodged inside an outsized enigma, forcing us to consider anew some of the most brain boggling metaphysical mysteries known to the human heart. For instance, consider this my very dear New Year’s Tingling Turtle: do or don’t you have free will? No, not free love; free will?

Well, what’s your answer? Shouldn’t you have already –meaning many years ago–wrestled with this all important question and have at your finger tips or, if you prefer, at the very outer most tip of your tongue, some reasonably coherent answer to this age old puzzle? Of course you should. OK, then, what is it, exactly? Assuming you do remember your conclusion, now forced to think about it again, how confident are you that it’s coherent and compelling? You see the point here is that if you’re not sure you have free will, then most likely–no, for sure, you’re wasting your time even thinking about making New Year’s Resolutions.

Indeed the very idea of a resolution really makes no sense since the absence of free will leaves your actions determined, meaning you, as you, never can resolve anything. Your actions have already been plotted out for you, without you ever having been consulted, and without you ever knowing the plotting had already taken place.

free will

Now I hope you can see more clearly why I said you shouldn’t rush into making New Year’s Resolutions. You absolutely need to consider this free will issue more carefully before sitting down and scribbling four or five or ten or whatever number of New Year’s Resolutions you were figuring you’d like to make so you can be like everyone else.

And here’s another little mystery you might want to spend a few minutes reflecting on. What if–that is, just suppose for a moment–you’re thinking one of your resolutions involves helping a spouse, or significant other, or potential spouse, or possible significant other with a challenging task–say, like losing weight. Sounds great, does it not? What could be more loving, more helpful than lending a hand to a person you feel so much love for achieve the arduous and very laudable task of losing 15 pounds of ugly, cholesterol saturated fat? Answer: absolutely nothing. I mean it’s a life prolonging goal. Less fat, less weight, equals longer life. Q.E.D.

Well, my dear, high minded, utterly altruistic, Turtlelet, what if your spouse, or significant other, or your favorite offspring, or friend, or sibling, or parent, or even grandparent can’t make a resolution to lose weight because they no more have free will than do you? In other words, they can’t resolve to lose weight just as you can’t. And any effort indeed every effort on your part to assist them in losing pounds will only create loads—I mean—loads and loads of bad blood. So don’t make your New Year’s Resolution to try and help anyone lose weight, for you’ll only make that person hugely dislike you for your host of altruistic efforts. If you want to keep your loved ones close, don’t volunteer to help them lose weight. Please, trust me on this one.

Where does this leave me? I’m sorry to say—in the soup. I’ve got some hum dinger resolutions I’ve been hoping to share with you, but so far, I’m hesitant. One side of me tells me to make the resolutions, and the other—the thoughtful philosophic side—strongly argues I should take my time, as should you, big hearted, well meaning, hugely dedicated newly resolved 2014 Reader of our wonderfully friendly and provocative Turtle for Flaneurs.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

That’s right. Yes, you’ve read correctly, Turtle Doves–shop ’til you drop. Of course you didn’t hear it here first. True. But that’s not surprising for we–or at least some of the we–at The Flaneur’s Turtle don’t think of ourselves as cutting edge, think tank types. We know we’re not housed in one of the latest plush, rolling lawn cloistered meccas dedicated to the fine art of coming up with totally new ideas that will transform our world and our lives and our children’s lives for evermore.

Instead, we’re located at the corner of State and Congress in the deep centered vortex of a hum drum intersection surfeited with big city rush hour traffic jams where life couldn’t be more pedestrian and less creative. Indeed I dare say some at the Turtle eschew the cutting edge with almost the same focused energy ski bum addicts search out the perfect slope to best show off their dazzling pyrotechnics.

ImageThe small plaque by the front entrance of our 100 year old building tells our story. What it says is that our 12 story structure found itself on the cutting edge a century ago when it was the tallest building in the city of broad shouldered hog butchers known as Chicago. But that 12 story structure is no longer Chicago’s tallest building; Chicago’s tallest building today is called the Willis Tower and it’s a 102 stories in the air, or 90 stories taller than our old fashioned work life domicile.

So although we’re not at the forefront creating revolutionary new ideas, we Turtle Correspondents still feel we live worthwhile lives, and regularly have interesting thoughts to share with you, our readers, even when our thoughts aren’t brand new. After all, old ideas often contain nuggets of pure gold which time has tarnished and tawdry abuse rendered ridiculous. Brushed off, these old ideas can prove amazingly useful.

Now, with the above prolegomena safely behind us, let us turn our attention to the well known adage about buying which, in my view, is anchored in the very deepest layers of cultural wisdom. Yes, I really do believe the much maligned statement– shop ’til you drop–does contain good advice reasonable people would do well to follow, especially during the holiday season.

For what this well known statement is really telling us is simply this: to fulfill ourselves, we human beings should celebrate love and life. So if you’re genuinely committed to celebrating love and life, then my Dear Hard Carapaced Turtle Readers, my advice is to go out and shop, shop, shop.

Liven up your life by buying a new toaster oven, or pair of shoes, or box of chocolates, or stationary set, or magazine, or calendar, or Imagebook. Buy yourself a pint of your favorite ice cream or, better still, buy a quart. Just buy something and start the ball rolling. And with the holidays upon us, don’t simply shop for yourself, think of buying things for other people. Think about these other people–your spouse or significant other, or friend, or colleague, or sibling, or aunt and uncle and imagine a present they would like to receive; then go out and buy it. The more you buy the better you’ll feel, this I guarantee you or your money back.

Please remember shopping doesn’t require you to spend huge amounts of money. The magic phrase doesn’t demand you buy a diamond ring for your wife, or a pair of Bears season tickets for you and your offspring, or pluck down a bundle for a brand new husky, heavy weight, muscle bulging Dodge Durango. Au contraire. Small or if you prefer modest gifts fully satisfy the spirit of the slogan.

If you’re female rather than male, you needn’t feel compelled to buy a gazillion dollar fur coat, or a pair of $800, six inch Jimmy Choo satin red spiked heels. Going to Target or Walgreens to buy a couple pair of flip flops will work just fine. Shopping ’til you drop doesn’t mean you need to amass an Oprah sized net worth to enjoy the blessings buying confers. Don’t ask me how I know all this, just trust me that I do. Better still, buy those flip flops and see if they don’t make you feel bedda.

Actually one of the joys our slogan reminds us of is that you don’t have to be rich to get a kick out of shopping. You can be living from paycheck to paycheck and still enjoy the pleasure that buying affords those with tons of dough in the bank. And if you sit down and think about it, you’ll realize that most of the high toned folk who rail against the sleaziness of buying are people who are fairly well off and already have enjoyed buying lots of things they like. Indeed I can’t remember a single time I’ve run across poor people who preach heartfelt sermons about the immorality of buying “stuff,” especially at Christmas.

And don’t take this shop ’til you drop idea too literally. It doesn’t mean you must shop ’til you’re starving, worn out, and completely exhausted. Interpret it instead as a simple, well meaning, suggestion for you to avoid acting miserly, and/or resentful, particularly of those people who are out at the mall spurred by the holiday spirit. Let no one suggest for even a nanosecond that they see a resemblance between you and Mr. Dickens’ gorgon like ogre, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge.

I think you’ll find and be surprised finding that buying is one of the human conditions most liberating experiences. Buying frees you up. When you’re buying, you don’t have to agree to the disagreeable, or obey people who think that they’re your master. Assuming your shopper’s mindset, you become as free as a bird, with the sky your only limit. Shopping is an equal opportunity endeavor.

Sure it can be abused and done to excess. But the same can be said of eating, sleeping, working, studying, exercising, and even praying. To put shopping in a clearer perspective, remember that animals don’t shop; they simply hunt and gather. Why don’t they shop? Because they don’t produce–they can reproduce, but they can’t produce a new way to wash clothes, or do yoga, or watch a movie, or listen to birds chirping. Neither can they brain storm, go to the library or laboratory or think tank to discover new ways to live their lives. So they don’t shop.

Only humans shop. To better appreciate this extraordinary fact, let’s do a final thought experiment: think what life would be like if we couldn’t shop. How awful our lives then would be! It would be as if we were suddenly behind bars, condemned to live our life in a jail cell. In prison, the terrible thing is that nothing’s really new; inmates are condemned to a world where everything’s basically the same.

Thus don’t rail against shopping and shoppers even as you review in your journal shopping’s obvious shortcomings. Also, don’t stay up nights worrying inordinately about the horrors of living in a consumer’s society. Instead, remind yourself that shopping’s one of mankind’s deepest and most attractive hobbies which has its roots in the innermost Heideggerian core of our primordial existence. As we need to eat, sleep, breathe, reproduce, and laugh, and cry, so we human beings need to shop, and shop and shop–both for ourselves, and for others. So count your blessings. Rejoice and be grateful that you can shop even when your dog, or cat, or hamster can’t.


By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty. 

My life in sports! Where to begin? “Begin at the beginning,” you marvelously faithful Turtles intone to yourselves in unison, despite all manner of post and even pre modern distractions. OK, sure. But not so fast. Don’t you see: there’s a rub here. For where exactly is the beginning? Who can say with absolute 100 % Cartesian certainty where the beginning is? And who would be willing to settle for less than 100% certainty ?

Where’s the beginning? That’s the question. Out of the great flow of life that constitutes my early existence on this great green globe I’d have to arbitrarily pluck out a moment and magically announce with hale and brimstone, sound and fury, joy and sorrow: here’s the beginning, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s start.

You see a question like where did my life in sports begin isn’tlike well, gosh I’ve got to turn the light off before I can fall asleep, or turn on the ignition so the car will run, or get a glass of water before I can drink it. No, the question concerning the beginning of my sports life is far more difficult to answer requiring probably hundreds and hundreds of hours to examine a million trillion neurological events which preceded a decision I must have made to involve myself in sports–or more likely a single sport, back in time’s unfathomable mists. And these thoughts about neurology, and my sports beginnings aren’t some arcane, mad, hare brained assertion of a confused person gone off the deep end of an extraordinarily deep cliff–say like those steep ten story stone cliffsyou see in pictures of the southern portion of the Arizona Grand Canyon.

Au contraire. This my dearest of Turtles is cutting edge, cusp of the wave, up to the minute PhD science. Hard. Straight. True. And your expectations–well, in fact, they’re examples ofsubjective, naive, vague, helter skelter, fantasy, goo goo type thinking. Pure infantile wish fulfillment with no more reality than a unicorn or a wish to pick up the phone and say a few words to Ulysses S. Grant, or Charles Dickens, or Marcel Proust.

Where was I? Oh yes: so I assume you’ll agree with me that deciding where exactly my life in sports began is a very real challenge for me and for you, too, who have far less data than do I.Moreover, in all candoor, I must confess that my difficulty in identifying the beginning of my sports life is truly formidable because in fact I have absolutely no memory at all of a first momentplaying sports or even of my first exposure watching sports being played either live or on the tube. Nothing vivid leaps into consciousness of my sitting on a couch, maybe chatting with Dad, and seeing the outlines of Wrigley Field with the Cubs battling the Reds, or the Giants, or the Cardinals, etc. Zilch. Zip. Zero.

I think I do have a vague memory–and I might well be making this up–of playing soccer in a school play ground when I was about 6 or Image7 years old. But it’s all very vague. What I remember more vividly is joining the South Chicago YMCA and deciding soon thereafter I should learn how to swim. By the way, that Y still stands on the same corner in did years ago in my youth, well before cell phones, smart phones, and computers could take pictures so they could instantly be yours without having to go to Walgreens or send them to the folks at Kodak.

Fairly quickly I did learn to swim and even joined the swimming team, but never became much of a swimmer. Water would get in my eyes, ears, nose, and throat, an experience I never could convince myself was of little consequence and that I should simply choose to ignore. Eventually–meaning I was about 10 or 11, I think–I tried out for little league and made the team, deciding I should become a catcher since not many kids wanted to play that position. For a while that worked out but, like with swimming, I became increasingly disenchanted with the unpleasantries that went along with playing catcher and decided playing little league ballwasn’t for me.

ImageOh!–and I also quit because for some reason I was lousy at the plate. Great arm but just couldn’t hit a baseball. Later I played 16 inch softball, especially during the summers at an overnight camp in Wisconsin, and discovered I couldn’t hit that huge thing either. I mean I could hit it, but very far it seldom traveled. Is I said, I did have a good arm, and did a creditable job playing third base and right field, yet my baseball career never took hold.

But at that same camp, Camp Interlocken, the great piece of sporting news for me consisted in discovering tennis and, truly with not the smallest, tiniest ounce of exaggeration, I must report it was love at first sight and, moreover, that love remains undiminished up to this very day. Exactly why this love should form and take flight I can’t explain. I’m simply glad that it did. I played fairly good tennis, but never got really good at it partly because of a few athletic deficiencies I was born with, and partly because I didn’t take the next step which was to involve myself in a reasonably serious program of tennis instruction. Tennis is a tough sport and to get to a really solid level of play taking lots of lessons is essential.

So, dear Turtles, I’ve provided here a very brief account of my life in sports–and actually I just realized I failed to tell you about my days and nights playing basketball, a topic I’ll have to take up on another occasion. Instead of talking about basketball, I’ll conclude on an entirely different note and state very simply that my life in sports didn’t end when, save for tennis, I stopped playing sports. For what I discovered about sports is that the main reason to take up sports isn’t to play it, but to talk about it. Like the famous tree in the forest which makes no sound when it falls if no one is there to notice it, so the existence of sports depends entirely on having anaudience which chooses to watch whatever game is being played and, when the game is over, get to the really serious business of discussing it endlessly, whether on line, or in a sports bar, or in your TV room, or your kitchen, or car, or at work by the proverbial water cooler.

Indeed I’m certain–absolutely certain with 100% Cartesian certitude—that without an audience to watch and discuss our sporting life, sports would lose its sponsors, and see itself slowly stop attracting people to play its games, and little by little atrophy, and finally die. For as Aristotle told us 2,500 years ago by the wine dark sea, we human beings are endowed with reason and like nothing better talking and discussing and debating and learningabout all the things they do as well as the workings of the wider world of which they’re a part.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

Hark on Dudes and dudettes, you pavement pounding Flaneurs accompanied by all manner of Turtles, small, medium, large, and extra large–Hark on and let no buts, or howevers, or althoughs temper your wish to celebrate the holiday season or let a drowsy emperor fall asleep and skip a holiday TV special. Hark once again letting me remind you, you O So Busy Beavered Turtles, to make your lists and check them twice or thrice as shopping deadlines quickly close in on us Christmas celebrants, all wanting so much to so please our loved ones, colleagues, friends, baby sitters, hair stylists, door men and door women, and dog walkers, who make our quotidian days, born in woe and wonder, a little more lovely, a little more relaxed, a little sweeter, and a little funnier than the hurtling treadmill’s punishing pace otherwise makes mandatory.

For like Turtles and their Flaneurs, treadmills come in all manner of shapes and sizes with their own internally programmed demands on we treadmilled crazed sapiens each year getting older, perhaps a little slower, but also, should the gods deem it just, a bit wiser as well. What this wisdom consists of challenges our mind and at times may confuse our spirits for the wisdom we seek often seems to come in a strange blend of especially banal cliches we’ve heard many times before: Penny wise pound foolish. Better late than never. Honesty’s the best policy. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and also of course the early bird catches the worm. Nice guys finish last. Oh yes, and beware the Ides of March.

OK, but why call this wisdom? These lines seem, instead, boring and commonplace, certainly not the stuff dreams are made of or that will soon bring us dancing cheek to cheek.

And by the way, if the early bird catches the worm, is arriving late really better than simply skipping the event altogether? Something doesn’t quite compute here. Why not simply start fresh the next day? I think this makes more sense to me. But what about you, you ever sweet Turtle, dear dear wrestler of age old conundrums, carrying your heavy carapace day after day after day? What’s your take on all this?

Also please ponder for a moment comparing these wise sayings: nice guys finish last and honesty’s the best policy. Don’t we see a conflict here staring us in the face? If nice guys finish last and nice guys are noted for their honesty, it would seem to follow that honesty isn’t the best policy or in any event honesty shows every indication of guaranteeing you’ll fail.

Well, maybe the point here is for each and every one of us to try and put the pieces of this puzzle together as best we can giving pride of place to this seemingly innocuous sounding word– best. If it’s genuinely the best we can do, then that will have to be good enough.

But perhaps we should drown out our possible confusion and think, instead, how the meaning of the holiday season is tied to the everyday sound of bells made special, however, by the fact our familiar bells are tolling to celebrate the end of the year holidays. We can hear church bells, sleigh bells, a carol singing choir’s hand held bells swinging back and forth, and door bells will which will ring more than usual as our guests arrive and we arrive as guests pushing our families, and friends, and neighbors door bell to wish them a merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

bellsAnd whichever of these bells comes to mind first matters not at all for their message remains spot on: Have a very good holiday season. What makes this season so special–more special I believe than other holidays we celebrate, including Thanksgiving–is that the Christmas season asks us gently and sometimes, perhaps, not so gently to suspend our normal routines and transform ourselves and everything around us for a day, or week, or an entire month.

So start playing your favorite Christmas carols now that December is rolling in and hum them to yourself as you’re waiting in line to pay the nice, harried check out person at Target, or Best Buy, or Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s. Hum a few favorites when you’re at Speedway or BP filling up the tank. And hum a bit when you’re cooking dinner.

For the duration of the holidays, celebrate everything you think worth celebrating. Maybe even a few things you don’t quite think are worth celebrating. Remember that this is the time to give celebrating the benefit of the doubt. Celebrate that you’re alive and well, that your family’s alive and well, that you’re checking off your gift list, maybe buying your kids, or spouse, or significant other, or other family members and friends an extra special gift. Let no opportunity for celebrating get overlooked. The point is that celebrating at Christmas shines a light on our lives, on the many things we do and the significance of those things which in the rush and crush of daily living seldom receive the full recognition they deserve. This experience underscores something I find very odd namely, that celebrating small things and even large major league items often proves amazingly difficult to do.

Why this should be is hard to explain. It’s usually chalked up to the insanely frantic pace of today’s high octane existence but perhaps a better explanation lies in a natural discomfort human beings experience when they’re asked to appreciate– really appreciate– the things they do and the people they do them with. Taking them more or less for granted often seems easier whether the occasion is your kid’s birthday or your own birthday or wedding anniversary.

So remember as the wise song says there’s a time for everything– a time to be happy and a time to be sad, a time for giving and a time for receiving, and a time for celebrating things small and large, with a surge of enthusiasm, a sense of fun, a love for life and a joy born in recognizing the many miracles we create and the many we survey which surround us and miraculously appear created for us.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

That’s right, my dear Turtle groupies! Kant can’t rant because, well, he was a very very intelligent, epoch making genius, while being extraordinarily profound as well and, well, at least back in the mid 1700s, extraordinarily profound German philosophers simply didn’t rant. It simply wasn’t their style. Of course styles change and by the 1820s German philosophers were starting to rant and the rants picked up a considerable head of steam until by the end of the 19th century a very gifted perhaps even profound German philosopher, Mr. Friedrich Nietzsche, became probably the greatest ranter in philosophy’s long strange history, not to mention also becoming, by definition, the greatest German philosopher of rant.

Yes, but what does any of the above have to do with you potential Black Friday shopper of gazillions of gifts for loved ones and others as Christmas 2013 fast approaches. Or as Gordon Gekko famously put it, in the mildly dated but still rather interesting finance movie called, that’s right, “Wall Street,” named after that famous street sporting the exact same name, “Why should I care?”

And my all too honest answer is probably, “I don’t know. You just should. Period.” Or maybe a better answer is this stuff is good to know because it puts things in perspective and adds some texture and, like stickums, helps things stick.

Also, I suppose, you should keep these somewhat pedantic, dry, arcane mumblings in mind to prepare you for some further background trivia l wish to share with you as you shop from web site to web site or actually leave your warm lovely roast turkey smelling abode to walk through actual stores prowling for Yule tide presents.

Indeed failing to share a few thoughts on recent political developments which is the trivia I was referring to in the previous paragraph could easily be viewed as a dereliction of duty, like a cop deciding not to chase a car going 90 down the Outer Drive where the speed limit is set at 40. For being a student of politics shouldn’t I provide a report from time to time on recent and not so recent political developments of note? Of course I should.
And so, by far the most important political happening over the past few weeks concerns Obamacare. On this topic I have much to report but I will limit myself to pointing out what is obvious and has already been mentioned a lot by friend and foe alike namely, that President Obama bombed big time with the thoroughly mangled Obamacare rollout. For not only was the rollout a bust from a variety of standpoints, both technical and political, but–and here I’m adding an original thought–the fiasco was totally unnecessary, meaning it never had to happen. And by this I mean something very simple. All Mr. Obama had to do was go on the air and say that the work on the websites hadn’t been completed. Instead he announced along with Ms. Sibelius that work on the sites were finished and Obamacare was ready to roll! OMG! (Oh My God i.e.)

072413_al_obamacare2_640Now a commentator far more insightful than my poor self might point out that the President’s failure to make such an announcement was rooted in at least one earlier decision which on a moral or metaphysical level was far more complex than the most complicated aspect of the computer screw up. I’m referring to the fact that the President was completely dishonest about another key aspect of Obamacare. This concerns his repeated pledge that if people wanted they could keep their existing policies. He knew and his policy advisors knew his pledge wasn’t true. Obamacare would require insurance companies cancel policies because the administration wants to beef up the rolls as quickly as possible. Once their plans were cancelled, people would have no alternative but to sign up for Obamacare or pay a penalty.

When you add the computer breakdown to the President’s false pledge that Obamacare would allow people to keep their current insurance I think it’s fair to conclude that the Obama and his administration has failed to provide the electorate with an honest account of what Obamacare entails.

I have much more to tell you, if you’re still with me, about aspects of Obamacare I find troubling, but instead I’ll quickly touch on another issue which seems totally unrelated to Obamacare, but to me smacks to the same kind of politics. In this morning’s Sun Times, you’ll find a ringing eloquent plea for the passage of a new pension reform bill which was put together under the leadership of Mr. Michael Madigan. Among the many questions I could raise about this editorial, I’ll only mention one strange fact: it never mentions how this Reform Bill will be financed. The editorial does state the new bill will save taxpayers 160 billion dollars over a 30 year period, but not a word on who and how this legislation will be paid for? Of course not. Why in the world would that be of any importance?

Citizens of Illinois don’t need to know how they’ll be paying for this magnificent brain child of Mr. Madigan any more than they should be told that Obamacare will cancel millions of people’s current insurance so they can buy a more expensive policy through the good offices of Obamacare once the websites are up and running . End of rant.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

With Armistice Day but a few weeks past, and the commemoration of President Kennedy’s life and short tenure as president only several days away, I nevertheless can’t help noticing how completely the immediate concerns of the present grab our attention whether it’s keeping us absorbed in preparations for a big Thanksgiving Day meal, or watching the drama of a malicious tornado swooping down on an innocent small Illinois town, or shaken by yet another story about a suicide bomber in Iraq killing fourteen people while walking on their way home. This absorption in the present is certainly understandable, yet it also entails a drawback for it inexorably leads us to forget our debts to past generations whose heroics made possible our comings and goings of the day.

Perhaps William Faulkner’s famous statement about the past–the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past– helps a little in nudging us from the pressures of the present so we can better appreciate important past events. When Faulkner thought about the past, he was probably thinking mostly about the tortured events which played such a destructive role in the history of the south both before and after the civil war. Maybe Faulkner hung on to this past longer than he should have if he wanted to lead a happy life.

I believe our problem today is the exact opposite of Faulkner’s; it’s not that we hold on to the past too long, but that we don’t hold on to it long enough with the result that we lose the benefits that a tie to tradition brings anyone who wishes to cultivate it. What are some of these benefits? A sense of security from being part of a larger world rooted in a worthwhile past and a sense of hope that connects us to a future which will preserve the things we do today that we find so important.

One of my favorite ways of keeping alive a connection to the past is by recalling the remarkable life of Mr. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century and a man who represents the unique tradition that comprises what he called the history of the English speaking peoples. At first blush, trying to establish a connection to Winston Churchill seems absurd for he was born and lived in circumstances very different from my own, and led a life which couldn’t be more different than the one I lead, or think I lead.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Churchill was born into an aristocratic family which enjoyed an extraordinary reputation for patriotism and public service. Moreover, Churchill was a renaissance man interested in adventure, military exploits and innovations, and spending lots of time painting his beloved landscapes. He also cultivated a distinguished career writing for English newspapers while also becoming an extraordinarily successful political figure. Already in his early 20s, he fought for England in the Boer War at the same time he negotiated a contract to write newspaper columns back home as a war correspondent.

Finally connecting with Churchill seems like a formidable undertaking given that he’s such a complex difficult man who, while invariably successful at most tasks he undertook, also managed to attract lots of critics who enjoyed attacking him for a variety of shortcomings which most charitably could be lumped under a heading called impulsiveness.

Churchill enjoyed upsetting the apple cart. Of one distinguished member of parliament he remarked that the gentleman had no idea what he was going to say before giving a speech, no idea what he was saying while he gave the speech, and no idea what he had said after he ended his speech.

Still despite his shortcomings and some major disappointments which resulted from them, he also possessed remarkable abilities including a terrific sense of humor and a magisterial writing style inspired in part by Edward Gibbon, author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. More importantly he was a courageous and extraordinary leader who spoke his mind, wasn’t afraid to voice unpopular positions, and to the toughest jobs, assuming full responsibility for their outcomes without blaming others for his own mistakes.

Churchill’s greatest legacy probably stems from the leadership he provided Great Britain and the United States especially during the darkest days of WWII following Hitler’s lightening fast military victories in 1940 conquering both Western and Eastern Europe in less than two years time. Immediately following these victories, Hitler wanted to launch a full scale invasion of England and England’s defeat seemed only a few weeks away. Hitler’s invasion plan was to start with a devastating series of attacks by the German Air Force whose planes outnumbered those of the Royal Air Force 3-1. Miraculously, the RAF successfully withstood the German air attack; as a result, Hitler decided to scuttle his invasion plan and instead turn his attention again to the East where he would soon begin an attack on Russia.

"In 1940, children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, wait outside the wreckage of what was their home."

“In 1940, children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, wait outside the wreckage of what was their home.”

After Hitler ended his efforts to conquer Britain, Churchill broadcast his famous praise of the RAF and its pilots. “Never in the course of history have so many owed so much to so few.” If one person were to be singled out for their role in saving England and defeating Hitler in 1940, surely Churchill would be that individual. And to give Churchill’s line a little extra “mo” possibly we could include ourselves in Churchill’s reference to “the many” owing so much to the brave RAF pilots whose sacrifices helped create a society which in the history of the world has never been more prosperous, more egalitarian, or more free.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

As a human being and a person in the knowledge business both as student and teacher, and as a worshipper of books, and libraries, and book stores, and finally as a great fan of good old Socrates, the creator of the Socratic Method, and founder of western philosophy, I often enough find myself worrying about how the learning process works for I want to continue learning new things as well as hang on to what I’ve already learned.

But you might be asking yourself, my dear, exceptionally sweet, always forthcoming Turtlett, “What’s there to worry about? By your own admission, you’ve got it. You learned what you’ve learned and you’ve then gone ahead and stored your learning where you can summon it up whenever you need it.” “That’s possible,” I might reply, though a more likely response would be that learning’s not quite so easy. Firstly, let me mention that I’m perfectly capable of forgetting things I think I’ve learned; and secondly, if I do forget things, maybe that’s because I didn’t really learn them or learn them as well as I thought I’d learned them. This explanation surely makes a great deal of sense to me, even if my imaginary interlocutor remains entirely unconvinced.


Can you find Peter Stern?

But I also reminded myself that another major cause of my concern stemmed from remembering the example of Socrates and his confession of ignorance. For I can never entirely forget his famous declaimer that he knows he knows nothing. Let’s think about this for a minute. I mean if Socrates says he knows nothing, how can I claim to know so much, indeed, how can I claim to know anything at all? Surely a conundrum of sorts, at least for me, and very possibly somewhere down the road, for you too, my ever thoughtful readers doubling as intrepid explorers and exemplars of critical thinking’s joys.

So, wandering lonely as a cloud over a wine dark sea as more dilemmas leaped out at me like hungry lions waiting for their favorite midday meal, a new thought suddenly flashed in my brain bringing me some small comfort from my concerns. As this new thought increasingly occupied my mind, my worries about learning and knowledge seemed to lessen.

Can you find the dalmatian?

Can you find the dalmatian?

And here’s why. The idea that hit me so suddenly was amazingly simple and yet extraordinarily helpful in sorting out what learning and knowledge are all about, and hopefully you’ll find this idea helpful to you too. Again, the idea is extremely simple or at least simple to state. Here it is. Learning involves seeing patterns in the information or data or material we’re thinking about.

In other words, facts are facts and in theory we can approach each fact as an entirely separate sort of thing and commit it to memory. But that’s not learning; it’s memorizing. By contrast, learning entails seeing the connections or patterns between facts or between different things which in turn tells us what they mean. Reading or listening to stories provides a gazillion examples of this sort of experience.

In a story, we’re introduced to a series of main characters who find themselves in a particular setting with a singular goal they’re trying to achieve or an issue they wish to resolve. They create and initiate plans to realize their objective. And at the end of the story we find out whether or not they were successful. In many ways this sounds like Aristotle’s famous statement about stories having a beginning, middle, and end.

Reflecting on a story reveals to the reader or listener how the beginning is linked to the end and how other elements of the story form a variety of patterns. We can notice how two characters operate either in similar or in very different ways. We might even realize that they do both: they act in similar ways but also in contrasting ways. We can discern patterns with respect to the characters and the setting and how the things the characters say foreshadow the story’s end.

I had just such an experience in class the other day watching a film called “A League of Their Own.” Although I had already seen the movie a bunch of times, it was only this week that I noticed early on how the main character, who was the team’s star, was going to get into an increasingly ugly argument with her sister who felt her star studded sib was hogging the stage—or rather, the diamond. This time around I also understood the ending much better as I saw far more clearly the pattern that linked the sisters and thus could appreciate in a deeper way the twist the ending provided.

The same sort of people patterns we see in a movie or novel or short story can also be found in real life whether in the news, in politics, at work, and/or at play. You might also find them in a painting, in a song, or in an amazing cloud formation as you look over Lake Michigan very early in the morning and see the rosy fingered dawn first breaking through the still largely dark night sky.


By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

A perhaps well known line–my dear dear Turtlettes–and more importantly, a favorite (of mine) Beatles song line about getting famous. Baby you can drive my car, yes you’re goin’ be a star, baby you can drive my car–and baby I love you. Well forget the last phrase about the love thing. It’s really all about fame, or what used to be called fame, or being famous, and thus in case you don’t quite make it, almost being famous.



But I mention fame and even the Beatles because the question I’d like to explore and briefly digress upon (after all brevity is the soul of wit) is whether our society today is significantly different from past societies with respect to the way it accords respect, or recognition or old fashioned fame. Thus I propose we meditate for a few moments on the term most frequently used in today’s world for well know people who gain recognition namely, star, super star, or celebrity.

To my way of thinking, we live in a celebrity besotted society. Our public life or our concerns about what gets most public attention centers around celebritydom or the weather. I’m going to push the weather to the back burner and simply concentrate on celebritydomitis.

Let’s start by defining our terms and the first term to define is celebrity. How should we define it? Well let’s say a celebrity is a very well known person who has achieved notoriety by doing something unusual. Usually the special achievement is related to the world of sports or entertainment but it can also come about by creating a breakthrough achievement in the fields of business or technology or even politics. Thus names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are reasonably well known even in worlds outside their own area of expertise. Politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton are also easily identified and probably known by more people than Mr. Gates or Mr. Jobs. Obviously this holds for President Obama as well.

Celebrityhood however isn’t simply a function of achievement though achievement of a distinctive kind is often a key element in achieving celebrity status. Along with achievement, the term implies a mysterious element of glamour that fascinates the mind and leads people into the world of fantasy where they can wonder and indeed fantasize about their favorite celebrity’s life. Celebritydom requires the full investment of a person’s id, ego, and superego and celebrity status almost implies a kind of obsessional interest. Not that one must constantly obsess about the celebrity, but rather that the celebrity is capable of eliciting this kind of response.

Now as a human being, but more importantly, as a political observer and student of politics, what I find most remarkable about the development of celebrityhood is that it emerges in probably the most egalitarian society the world has ever seen. And also the most upwardly mobile. I’m reminded of the famous distinction first coined by Ferdinand Tonnies, a well known German sociologist writing at the beginning of the 20th century. He claimed history showed the development of two kinds of societies: the first he called gemeinschaft meaning that a person’s status was primarily determined by family or birth and society was organized hierarchically; he called the second gesellschaft which defined people on the basis of their individual achievement which created a far more egalitarian structured society. In the first type of society, upward mobility was relatively infrequent, while in the second type, upward mobility was built into the system and occurred routinely.

Our egalitarian, and we should add, very democratically based society clearly falls under the heading of a gesellschaft type of social system. Here, everyone is assumed to be created equal though since people’s levels of achievement could differ they could enjoy unequal degrees of social status. But again, the key point is that the justification for difference was tied to individual achievement. Thus in a radically egalitarian society difference can gain recognition, but the principle upon which it’s based on is equality. You earn it or you don’t deserve it. The theoretical default position remains egalitarian. Society’s bedrock principle is the acknowledgement that we’re all created equal whether we’re president of the United States or living in a homeless shelter.

To me, the phenomenon of the celebrity takes on a special status today because in a radically egalitarian society like the one we now live in it suggests that the principle of equality isn’t sufficiently strong to hold society together. Equality may be politically correct, but from psychological standpoint, it can’t work. Why not? Because it’s too boring. It hath no relish of salvation in it. A standard uniformity leaves the average individual exhausted and flat and dispirited. The soul needs some excitement, and adventure. Even feeding it some mindless entertainment such as we see on reality TV beats a state of simple equality. Or to borrow a thought from Mr. Dostoevsky, an old fashioned Russian traditional modernist who wrote among a great many other works, Notes from the Underground, for people to be happy, they need magic, miracles, and authority.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

My very dear Flanuering Turtles, have you ever felt behooved? If you haven’t, do you ever wish you had? This question burns in my sweet breast for I’m looking for soul mates, in this case people who have felt at one time or another quite or even very behooved because I believe I’ve been smitten with a feeling of behoovement. Never having experienced being behooved, I’m feeling both elated and a bit uncomfortable unsure if it’s really behoovement I’m feeling.

Amidst this uncertainty, I’m going to proceed on the assumption I am, indeed, feeling behooved and what I’m feeling behooved about is my wish to provide some expert thoughts on politics, and political activity given the increased acrimony our political system seems to be generating and the area of my academic expertise which is supposed to be in political science.

The simple point I wish to make which hopefully will help clarify the muddy debates currently raging abroad the land is that the principles upon which our country is based are exceedingly complex and so we shouldn’t be surprised if at various times in our history we find our politics rife with controversy.

On this my maiden voyage out, I’ll briefly take up only one such principle namely, the core idea our political system depends on which is equality, the principle first expressed in the Declaration of Independence, one of our country’s most important founding documents. And there it says that it’s a self evident truth that all men are created equal. Before proceeding further, let’s rid ourselves, at least for now, of one possible controversy and agree that the word “men” means human beings, or all men and women.

Now let’s examine this statement more closely, naively asking ourselves if we think this statement is really, really, true. For instance, let’s look at the author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson. Does this man appear today or way back in his time to be every other person’s equal? Well, what about IQ? Probably Jefferson’s IQ was higher than most folks living in Virginia in the year 1776, especially in July of 1776, and it’s a good guess it’s higher than most people’s IQ even today. I mean honesty compels me to admit it’s a lot higher than my IQ, seems to me.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

But also Jefferson was much taller than I am; he was a far better writer, thinker and, overall, a much more creative person than I can claim for my poor person. So trying to understand how I’m Jefferson’s equal presents a challenge to me, and to you too, my dear Turtle Dove, for you’re going to have at least as difficult a time as I’ve had showing how we (Jefferson and myself) were created equal. And for all I know he was also created a better athlete than I am, not to mention being better looking while enjoying a better sense of humor than I have.

Indeed if we look around the room–any room– we’re likely to find people who are more creative, more intelligent, more athletic, and better looking than we are and maybe a fair number also enjoy better health than we do. Yet we might also notice that we’re ahead of the pack in a number of these areas. So a not surprising conclusion we might come to when we think about equality in terms of the gifts we’re created with is that their distribution isn’t equal, the Declaration of Independence notwithstanding.

declaration-of-independence-1776But to fully appreciate the complex nature of equality we also need to survey our world in terms of the conditions in which we live our lives. And we’ll quickly find these conditions, like the gifts we’re born with, don’t seem equal. In fact, they display a remarkable degree of inequality. For instance, we see, hear, and read about large inequalities of wealth, health, status, power, recognition, and achievement.

If all the above is true, cold hard logic would probably force us to conclude that basing a political system on the concept of equality would prove a very difficult undertaking, which I believe it is. And it wouldn’t be surprising to find lots of issues people would be concerned about become very controversial because in many important ways people aren’t created equal. Consequently treating people equally isn’t always such an easy thing to do. Moreover, determining exactly how equal people’s living conditions should be is also difficult, even for people who are created with far more intelligence and creativity than the majority of folks, which includes me, seem to enjoy and make use of.