Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy Faculty’

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

We humble men and women of the good ship RMU Eagle are justly noted for our very admirable commitment to teaching students in a wide range of subject areas and for our miraculous ability to successfully steer students through immense oceans of ignorance until they acquire the skills they need to master the area they’ve chosen to specialize in; however, I must report that I now find trying to understand current developments in my area of expertise an increasingly difficult challenge.

Let me attempt to explain what I mean. For some unknown reason, I’ve always been interested in politics. I can remember reading newspapers and magazines at a reasonably early age looking for info on politics be it about issues or individuals–presidents in particular. The names of every member of Congress were known to me as were all the Supreme Court Justices. Usually, I also knew the names of all the individuals who served as members of the President’s cabinet. In high school, I wrote articles about politics in the school newspaper and participated a bit in student government. I continued following politics in college, and majored in political science. When I went on to graduate school, my goal was again to get a degree in political science, though I varied my concentration a bit by specializing in political philosophy.

Now as I leap forward an immense amount of years and enter the sunset of my career, I believe I have a fairly solid grasp of my field, even as my interests broadened after leaving graduate school, but increasingly I realize that developing a firm grasp on current political developments seems more difficult than it was in the past. I’m not sure if this is because my brain is slowly and sometimes, to my immense dismay, quickly unraveling, or because, instead, political developments today have become more complicated than they were a few decades ago. Of course a third possibility is that both factors are at work.

Let me give you, you heavenly Turtle gourmets, a relatively simple example of the frustrations I run into analyzing the current political landscape. Let’s say my goal is to determine how our famous city of broad shouldered hog butchers is fairing at present. Well, candor compels me to confess that I’m having an absurdly difficult time answering this question. On the surface, things seem fine. The lakefront looks great; in fact it’s never looked better. North Michigan Avenue appears to be thriving, buses around town seem full, more people are going to movies; they’re also starting to buy more cars, and reports indicate that the housing market is finally opening up.

On the other hand, the city’s budget gives some cause for concern. Once again on the surface, our mayor, Rahmbo, the Extraordinarily Magnificent, submitted a budget for next year that didn’t cause budget experts to sound anxious alarms. Yet whether the alarms should have gone off is a question which lingers, given the enormity of the pension problems the city faces, and the public school system’s very substantial debt–by substantial I’m talking about a billion dollar debt with rating agencies recently downgrading Chicago issued bonds.


These issues sound relatively objective and adult, but I’ve not yet mentioned another factor, one quite bizarre and surely not brand new, which plays a mighty role in the governance of our so called toddling town. I’m referring to the disturbing fact that Chicago’s been governed (run) for over a 100 years by a one party machine organization making our city one of the most corrupt in the country. The machine knows no real outside control which helps explain why the city’s finances seem so shaky for the machine cuts deals which often benefit itself at the city’s expense.

A wacko example of such dealings hit the front page of the Sun-Times last weekend, though it had been already been in the papers several times over the past two years. The story involved a major league law suit that our mayor initiated against owners of the Park Grill Restaurant located on the edge of Millenium Park. Why did Rahmbo the Extraordinarily Magnificent sue the Park Grill owners two years ago in a case that’s already run up over 2 million dollars in legal fees, and has seen part of the suit go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court where a majority of the justices ruled against the city?

Park Grill at Millennium Park in Chicago.

Park Grill at Millennium Park in Chicago.

The altruistic reason the mayor gives for the suit is that the restaurant’s owners won a sweetheart deal from the city because they’re clout engorged cronies of Chicago’s ex steward–yes, I mean they’re close pals of our beloved, revered, and respected ex mayor, originally of Bridgeport, who now resides somewhere along the corridors of the trendy well healed precincts of North Michigan Avenue. Yes, he said Yes, and again yes, yes! Yes, the Right Honorable Richard M. Daley approved an absurdly favorable deal for the Grill Restaurant owners which included The Grill getting free utilities for between 20 and 30 years, and paying peanuts in taxes on the revenues the restaurant earned over this extended period of time. But why the over qualified, immensely talented, and hugely public spirited current Chicago mayor is going for blood here is a question I can’t answer since deals like the one given to the Park Grill owners represent a 100 year Chicago tradition. All anyone can say for sure is that Rahmbo, the Extraordinarily Magnificent, has made this suit a priority item.

These old fashioned realities combined with new political developments is what makes analyzing current politics increasingly difficult. I believe that most of the difficulty is rooted in the introduction of new strategies for dealing with government budgets which make it easier for politicians to evade or ignore budgetary constraints, at least in the short run. The odd thing is that a phenomenon which in the past seemed very objective and real–namely individuals and organizations knew whether or not they were solvent– no longer appear so clear cut.

Moreover, the higher the level of government, the less budget numbers assume an objective status. To me, this change goes a long way towards explaining why Congress had so much difficulty negotiating a reasonable budget agreement which would have avoided shutting down the federal government, even though the shut down lasted for a very short period of time. As far as our legislators are concerned, when push comes to shove, the government–especially the federal government– can always take on more debt particularly when the government can borrow at rates it keeps artificially low.

And this is also why relatively intelligent folks like myself now find keeping up with political developments much harder than they were in the past.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

As I find myself getting older with ever increasing grace, realizing more and more how selflessly I’ve dedicated myself to helping others in myriad ways small and large, and yet still feeling like I should work more to further improve myself, I can end my day on a happy note and look forward to waking up the next day on an upbeat note as well.

I say these things not out of conceit or to blow my own horn–not as something personal, but as business, meaning it’s impersonal and objective, no different from saying that two plus two is four. I’m simply giving an honest appraisal of myself, taking note not only of my successes but also my shortcomings. For like arms and legs, fingers and toes, we humans wherever we happen to live and work and however young or old we may be we all unfortunately have some shortcomings.

This doesn’t mean we’re bad people who are out to harm others and need to be carefully watched and monitored. Nor does it mean we’re bereft of virtues and our lives must, of necessity, turn out badly. Oh contraire. Despite our shortcomings, we’re perfectly capable to doing good things and being regarded, rightly, as good people. So when I describe my virtues and the way grace follows me about, I’m being perfectly objective without ignoring I also suffer some shortcomings, though, since I wish to highlight my honesty, I should mention that these shortcomings seem to be decreasing both in number and severity as I continue working on them.

Of course by publicly making these claims of virtue, I expose myself to the possibility some may dissent from what they believe is my far too rosy account of my person. So be it. For I’m sufficiently convinced my virtues speak for themselves and that enough of you very dear turtles reading this post will find no difficulty agreeing with me and hence rise to my defense should some misguided personage wish unfairly criticize me, for their own purposes, whatever those purposes may be.

I wish to emphasize my virtues here in the Turtle because I believe one of my best traits is the graciousness and good cheer with which I take criticism. I don’t get angry or resentful, nor do I mindlessly lash out at my critic or critics. My response is the precise opposite. I welcome criticism since I view it as an opportunity to grow and mature. Here’s the kind of person I am: If I’m doing something wrong, I want to correct the situation as fast as possible. Criticism isn’t about hurt feelings and defensiveness; it’s about correcting mistakes, growing in depth and breadth, and becoming more accomplished in whatever one’s doing.

Now that you, you ever patient, understanding, and insightful Flaneurite, fully realize where I’m coming from you can better appreciate my immense disappointment in reading the post of a Flaneur reader furiously attacking my previous post about the hopelessly hackneyed phrase “thinking out the box.” This ruthless effort to undermine my integrity and philosophical commitment to clear expression and deep thinking jarred my hard won equanimity. As far as I was concerned the reader willfully chose to misunderstood the point my post was making.

Peter Stern's reaction to Blake Whitmore's critical post.

Peter Stern’s reaction to Blake Whitmore’s critical post.

The critic implied I wanted folks to remain victims of our pedestrian, shallow, mindless , and power crazed country. In fact, my point was precisely the reverse. I wanted to encourage people to think and create for themselves unfettered by mindless cliches about creativity and liberation.

I believe it’s no longer possible to pick up a freshman textbook on writing, or thinking, or communicating, or interpreting without running across the term “thinking out of the box,” so ingrained in the brains of our generation has this unwonderful phrase become. In fact my point was that its cliched status renders it incapable of inspiring genuine creativity and the kind of liberation which encourages becoming a free spirit.

One of the ironies of that phrase is that it conjures up one of the key issues inherent in wanting to go outside today’s system, whatever term we happen to use to describe it. The problem is this: if everyone’s doing it, is what they’re doing really liberation? For instance, if 2/3 of Wall Street traders sport tattoos, are tattoos still tattoos? Or if Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales sell record numbers of grunge jeans, are grunge jeans still grungy? Or if you prefer let’s ask if almost all poets are writing in free verse is that verse any longer really free?

This is one way to characterize the problem of telling people to think outside the box. Exhorting them to think outside the box places them firmly inside it, with the additional drawback that they mistakenly think they’re really outside it and liberated. In many ways, after discussing Plato’s Cave Parable this week with RMU Humanities Professor Mr. Gerry Dedera,  I thought I could see parallels between the box cliche and the illusions the cave prisoners regarded as real.

Plato's Parable of the Cave illustrated.

Plato’s Parable of the Cave illustrated.

In conclusion, let me say that my critical reader helped me see that I should have stated more explicitly that I thought the box metaphor was the kiss of death, yet that for some people it could indeed inspire them to live a liberated life. On the other hand, implying that most people will be transformed by the notion of going outside a box leaves me cold and worried it’s the box, like Plato’s cave, that they’ll never leave.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

Somewhere in my distant past, now lost in time’s shifting mists, its haze suggesting the delicate beauty of impressionist landscapes and panels containing mauve Japanese flower drawings, a fast fading thought flies by leaving my brain before I can be sure what it was trying to tell me. But later in the day, as if by magic, the thought returns or what I think must have been the thought quietly comes back reminding me of memory’s quirky hold on the past.

What I wanted to remember but couldn’t regardless of how hard I tried is the day or week or month or even the year when a new term was coined which, almost overnight, gained currency nationwide, sweeping through the halls of higher learning we call academia, and the plethora of learned professions linked to higher learning’s hallowed halls with bonds of silken thread as strong and tough as a Caterpillar Tractor plowing through rich, hard packed, Midwest soil in early March.

To me, when the new term first surfaced, it seemed hum drum, even boring, but perhaps that was part of its charm. Bells and whistles—glitz in all its tawdry splendor–were no longer in favor; for higher learning’s fashion wheel had turned: glitz was out, bare bones was in.

The new term I’m referring to is now old hat, at least that’s how it seems to me. The term is tattered, worn out, but unwilling, so far, to say goodbye. So with us it remains, still used often enough, even if the alacrity and aplomb which initially gave it its first push long ago left it for another shore and a new generation. And you, dear reader, wise, open minded, and forgiving with, like us all, a certain penchant for nostalgia may not have noticed, at least not consciously, how shop worn this term has become. Yet I’m convinced it’s definitely overstayed its welcome.

Oh! And before I forget, let me mention the term I’ve become increasingly unhappy with—and, in all candooor, assure you I’m convinced that deep down, you share my displeasure with the term’s continued use. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if unbeknownst to yourself, you’ve already figured out the term I’m thinking of, but let me mention it anyway, so we can be sure we’re all together on the same page. Yes, the tattered term I’ve been ranting about is, of course, “thinking outside the box.”

What could be more banal, more humdrum than a box? Nothing at all special about a box, wouldn’t you agree? No special color scheme, nor size, nor hotshot brand name necessary. Oh, it’s 070128_008_NewYorkerCollection P175a gotta be a box from Whole Food, or Starbucks, or Trader Joe’s, or Target, or Neiman Marcus, or Tiffany’s! Wrong. The box can be any box; the important thing is simply to have one, and then think outside of it.

And as soon as you’ve done this, you’re home free. You hit the jackpot. The target. The target’s bulls eye. Sound too simple. Not really. For this common place object—a box, any box—actually possesses a magical power that can lift you out of your everyday world unto creativity’s sacred shores. Follow that famous mantra and you’re all set: you too can be creative, original and, hopefully, become rich as well. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want this? I don’t know about you but honesty compels me to admit that I certainly would.

That’s the term’s claim in any event, and it’s certainly enjoyed a remarkable career. But I believe it’s ready for retirement—indeed, it’s retirement is long overdue. For strangely enough, at least to me, intellectual terms or products are subject to fancies and fashion cycles in ways that closely resemble fashion cycles for cars, hem lines, lipsticks, and eye shadow. When everyone wants to drive an SUV, you don’t want to be caught driving a clunky 4 door sedan, wouldn’t you agree? Ditto phrases like “thinking outside of the box.” Besides, thinking out of the box no longer works. It’s like a gold vein which has been drained dry.

So starting next month, promise me you’ll at least try to go an entire morning without thinking you need to think outside the box. If you find at first you can’t make it, don’t beat yourself up. Forgetaboutit and get a good night’s sleep. But on the next day, try it again. Give it another shot. And I’ll bet you’ll be successful. Then shoot for a morning and whole afternoon. After that, aim to get through an entire day without thinking you need to think outside the box. Then celebrate. And as your final act of liberation, switch gears entirely and think about thinking inside the box.


By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

O Flaneur’s Turtle how do I love thee, let me count the ways–or rather, let me try, only try, unfortunately, to count the ways–so fecund are the ways and so paltry are my number crunching abilities, regardless of how assiduously I work to transform, like Cinderella, this wretched paltriness into a blessed abundance.

Turtle LoveConfined to exactitude’s absence, I must turn to Plan B and be satisfied with a mere approximation of the number of ways I love “The Turtle,” settling on the word “myriad” to give some hint of their plenitude. Myriad. Okay. So the ways are myriad, yet that still leaves unclear their quality, does it not?

Perhaps: so let me answer the quality question by stating categorically that, in my view, the quality of my love for the Flaneur knows no surcease. That’s because those myriad ways always connect to a deeply felt trust that the quality of the Flaneur and all its postings (which is what Mr. Michael Stelzer Jocks likes to call Flaneur submissions) reaches towards the heavens. And should they fall short of heaven and its perfection or a writer’s understanding or wish for perfection, they come sufficiently close that readers never need fear after reading a post, they’ll lack nourishment and arrive home hungry.

Nonetheless should you find shortcomings even contradictions in my writing or the writings of others, please consider, dear Flaneurite, you divine turtle dove, that those contradictions are the result, according to Mr. Walt Whitman, of the multitude of stuff we’ve somehow managed to create and the multitude of stuff we’ve become. Which has led me to conclude, finally, that if Walt Whitman wasn’t worried about contradictions, neither should we.

Moreover, by now out of grade school for years, it’s time to put away some of the admonitions of our childhood and realize that contradictions can be our friends. They needn’t spell disaster for both sides of the contradiction can prove to be correct. That’s part of the great lesson fecundity teaches us.

After all, can’t an evening breeze be both serene and disturbing? The chocolate be bittersweet? And a heavy Hollandaise enjoy a certain piquant and paradoxical lightness? Moreover, doesn’t our effort to describe the particulars of a specific situation often require us to conjure up from the deep numerous numbers of metaphors and similes rather than simply stringing together a list of single syllable qualities–hot, cold, blue, green, tall, short?

And, Flaneur’s Turtle, in addition to the above reasons for my love, I want to give you a few more. For instance, let me tell you how I love thee for persuading Paul Gaszak to eloquently defend group work against the slings and arrows of callow students complaining about a pedagogy which they don’t realize will enhance their lives and polish their future; and Michael to explain what books need to do to gain his affection, and how war most often erupts out of passions deeper and more complex than the love of lucre; and me to wax foolishly about Mr. Marc Trestman’s shortcomings before he’s directed so much as a single practice session with the Bears; and Jenny Jocks Stelzer to give us a taste and feel for her hip hop happiness; and Tricia Lunt to describe the mystical enjoyment of a single class or a single moment in that class where a lone student suddenly gets “it”; and Blake Whitmore to brilliantly explain why Breaking Bad ain’t bad–rather the reverse! It’s great, greater even than the Sopranos trumpeting their bric a brac brand of joy to the delight of millions of people over millions and millions of fast paced minutes.

True, this ain’t the New Yorker, or the Atlantic Monthly, or the Paris Review, but it ain’t beanbag, either. Through the Flaneur, we who have provided it bunches of posts have engaged full force that mysterious medium somewhere out there called cyber space and made it a home for our energies and hopes, our observations and insights, and our always admirable wish to enlighten, entertain, and share with fellow scribes and readers the ineffable delight we find in jointly producing the printed word.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

“Years and years and years ago when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp shaped hills and it was snowing, always snowing, but it’s hard to remember if it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” These passages with some regularity course through my brain, as I wait in line at the Jewel, or Walgreens, or am walking the doggies in a muggy late July evening.

This guy....

This guy….

Not this guy....

Not this guy….

And sometimes I wonder about the rosy fingered dawn, as the sun rises over the Hogbutcher’sbroadshoulderedlake, again walking the doggies, perhaps, and similarly–in my mind anyway–conjure up Caesar–Great Caesar–dividing Gaul into three parts, and then crossing the Rubicon, so he can take to Rome and set up in a huge penthouse apartment at the Hyatt, his new lady love, the superstar famous Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, fluent in nine different languages, it was said, who then would hook up with Mark Antony (no, I don’t mean the singer) with memorably horrific results.

And I also was wondering about four score and seven years ago, what a nice ring that has vs. the more pedestrian, but no less accurate, 87 years ago, when our nation was founded establishing thereby a government of the people by the people and for the people which then issued in a great civil war testing whether this nation or any nation so dedicated and so conceived can long endure.

All of which now comes briefly to mind as I consider yet again teaching–the art of teaching– and how to do it and how to do it better and better and better. And this leads me to thinking again about the role of testing in teaching and of course in learning for ain’t that what teaching is all about? Obviously the answer is: Yes it is. Teaching’s goal is for students to learn.

And I again come to the conclusion that the current take on testing is dead wrong. The problem–or one of the problems in schools today–isn’t that they demand students take too many tests. I conclude this in part because I recall that I took tests and I never got the idea that I was taking too many of them. I just took them,

Peter Stern's grade school teacher.

Peter Stern’s grade school teacher.

and didn’t give much thought to how many I was taking. Obviously this proves nothing in and of itself. But I don’t remember fellow students complaining either. Maybe this doesn’t prove we weren’t taking too many tests. Indeed perhaps the opposite was the case: we simply were brain washed (our brains were scrubbed and scrubbed with Tide or All or Arm and Hammer until they were nice and shiny) and thus we were too dumb to know better.

Ezekiel Emanuel

Ezekiel Emanuel

That was then. But now–and I mean NOW!–I’ve got proof that I wasn’t taking too many tests nor were my confreres. For just yesterday Ezekiel J. Emanuel, holder of several very advanced degrees, extraordinarily gifted brother of our mayor, Rahm Emanuel, published an article in the New Republic–a top drawer, well regarded, highly literate magazine for intelligent people worldwide–with the title: “Tests make Kids Smarter: Let’s Give Them More.”

In his article, he cites a neuroscientist named Andrew Butler who showed conclusively and beyond a shadow of Cartesian doubt that tests make kids smarter and even more creative and even better critical thinkers. Better still: Professor Butler proved that the more tests test takers take the better they do on them and the smarter they become. This is because the brain’s neural powers “bulk up” or as Zeke puts it, they operate under the “use it or lose it” principle.

Well I’m most certainly not much of a number cruncher, nor can I claim expertise in neuroscience, but in all candor, and with no dearth of alacrity, I can say with absolute 100% Cartesian certitude that through different, more “intuitive” methods, I came to the exact same conclusion as Zeke and Professor Butler. Tests are good things; tests are our friends. Tests help rather than harm. And one of the data sets that give me confidence I’m on the right track here is that even today, many many years after first reading Chapman’s Homer and encountering Julius Caesar and Dylan Thomas I still remember a surprising amount of what they wrote. And I’m convinced this is due in part–not entirely of course– but nonetheless due in part to taking tests which, according to Zeke and Professor Butler–build up my neural powers just as carrying the groceries builds my biceps.

  By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

 I feel I must report what at the time felt like and what now, looking back in retrospect, in all candor, still feels like a very memorable experience.  The memorable part started when I heard someone say “this isn’t hooky.”   Though I remember the phrase, I’m troubled that I’m not sure who said it.  It might have been Michael, it may have been Gerry, then again I might have been the one to say it.  I simply can’t be sure though it wasn’t very long ago that this incident took place–in fact, I believe it may have been yesterday or, at the latest, the day before yesterday which would have been Tuesday .   

The full context for the “this isn’t hooky” statement was not uninteresting.   Michael Stelzer Jocks and I were discussing the Imagepossibility of going to some Hyde Park bookstores on Friday.  Then the question arose whether Gerry Dedera might also wish to prowl about the myriad dusty shelves of Powells  Whereupon Ms. Paula Diaz, our intrepid Dean, inspired leader, and savant of most things worth knowing, just happened to be walking by as our Powells’ discussion was getting into full gear and, overhearing our conversation, reminded Michael that he was supposed to be at school on Friday, and hence the sense that implementing such a plan would clearly constitute an act of hooky.  Q.E.D.—meaning, hooky proved.  Case closed.

Oh contraire.  Not so fast.  Amateur sleuths beware.  First of all, what if we were planning to go to Powell’s after fulfilling school responsibilities Friday?  Then no hooky, wouldn’t you agree?  Thus the hooky charge is rendered moot, nay less than moot.  Second, and here’s where my own signature fruit cake spin starts to play a vital role in this story, and why the occasion remains memorable for me.  An altogether different consideration almost immediately arose in my brain which was this:  Is it really possible in the year 2013, in the month of September a full week after the anniversary of 9/11, for any individual or group of individuals to engage in an act of hooky at any time anywhere at all on this great green globe we call home?


Peter Stern?

The reason I ask this question is that I’m more or less convinced that hooky is an old fashioned, hugely archaic word so tied to an earlier time and place that it no longer has any genuine relevance or meaning to life lived today.  I would say the same thing about a buggy whip or about using a mimeograph machine to duplicate piles of papers for a high or low level meeting even if the low level meeting was peopled by higher ups.  Ditto taking a covered wagon with friends to go through the Cumberland Gap, or to head out from let’s say Akron Ohio with the wife and kids to settle down in Colorado or Idaho or Wyoming.  Instead of the covered wagon, I’d recommend you fly or get a U Haul or take a bus.  And don’t worry about getting caught playing hooky for hooky don’t exist.  Not anymore.

Such is the nature of historical time.  It doesn’t simply pass;  it does much more than this.  It renders old ways of doing things meaningless.  The unique feel, smell, touch, taste, and special meaning of an experience or way of life not only of individuals but of whole communities even of countries simply vanishes.  Artifacts remain.   Historians and anthropologists and archeologists find buried buildings, furniture,  jewelry of all kinds, even diaries and records of business transactions but the feel–the inner spirit of the time–and how exactly people experienced the world is lost forever.

 Thus for hooky to be possible the world would have to take absolutely seriously–as if no other possible mode of behavior made any sense–that attending school and showing up at work every day was mandated by God himself such that not doing those things was a terrible violation of an ancient and sacred order.   Of course this doesn’t mean that every living soul viewed the world this way.  But it does mean that that was the default position for the society overall.  And then playing hooky really meant something.  Hooky was freedom.  Hooky meant escape.  Hooky was a thrilling adventure and you were living dangerously indeed.  And woe to you if you got caught. 

 And today?  Today you simply call in sick or tell your supervisor that your kids are sick.  Better still:  You turn on the tube and hear on the 7:00 a.m. news that the schools are closed due to exceptionally heavy rains and I-94 is flooded so you’re better off staying home and keeping off the highways.  Don’t you think most people would agree it’s awful hard playing hooky in this sort of world?

Still, in closing, to avoid sounding too shrill or foolish or just plain stupid, I should admit to some hyperbole when I state so emphatically that time renders the past utterly meaningless to future generations, for the historians and archeologists I mentioned earlier, especially the extraordinarily gifted members of those professions, do bring to life or try to bring to life the authentic spirit of the age they’re exploring.  Moreover, the law of averages suggests that they must actually succeed from time to time.  And so thanks to generations of historians we do get some sense of what it must have been like riding across the plains of Iowa and Nebraska in an un–air conditioned covered wagon during weeks on end of a dry summer 100 degree heat wave.  And, going back in time, Caesar crossing the Rubicon must have been an extraordinary sight and a mind boggling experience. 

 Yet some small voice keeps telling me that something of these events must get lost in translation.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

An old adage has it–old? adage? isn’t this an oxymoron or redundant? or just simply unnecessarily wordy, I ask myself anxiously. No, it’s fine! Keep writing. OK, thanks, methinks!–old adage has it that politics makes strange bedfellows. Strange bedfellows! Politics. Wow. Very interesting. Very exciting. Then studying and following politics must be great fun, must it not? I’ll bet no one ever said physics or sociology or history makes strange bed fellows.

And the phrase is relatively easy to remember. Nonetheless, though well known and easy to remember and though I’m now a seasoned watcher of politics with hard earned academic credentials to match, I usually have difficulty coming up with good examples of strange politicians getting in bed together. For in my laterally structured mundane mind, people who oppose each other head off in opposite directions and stay out of each other’s beds. For example, think of Hamilton and Burr, or Adams and Jackson, or Truman and Dewey, or Nixon and Kennedy, or Gingrich and Clinton, or Obama and Bonheur and tea party republicans.

C-T-SYet candor does compel me to confess I do eventually end up remembering one super famous example of strange bed fellows; it’s the alliance forged between Churchill and Roosevelt and their polar opposite, Joseph Stalin. Difficult would it be to find two more opposed individuals than Churchill and Stalin. Yet we must all thank our lucky stars for these two (or three) politicos getting together for defeating Hitler may well have failed if they hadn’t. So strange political bed fellows do indeed exist.

And, dear reader, early this morning in my steaming pre dawn bath, roaring into my dulled, tired and beleaguered brain is the extraordinary realization that another example of strange bedfellows is taking place during my bath as I try removing my peach shampoo’s nasty sting from my now (i.e. then) burning eyeballs: to wit, President Obama’s new Syrian policy is based on the same principle and uses the same lingo President Bush (i.e. 43) utilized when he announced his Iraq Plan. Lest this similarity be missed, soon after Obama explained why we had to bomb Syria , he welcomed to his bed two of his most despised Republican rivals, John Boehner and Eric Cantor.

This development significantly ratchets up the increasingly quoted Apppple Goooogle amazement/incredulity factor or, if you prefer, the more familiar strange bed fellow factor, when we realize that Obama has been busy relentlessly attacking Bush’s foreign policy principles since he began his run for the presidency back in 2008. I mean, dear reader, these guys do indeed represent a gaggle of exceptionally strange bed fellows! No political savant–whether sane or insane–could have possibly predicted such a development which is why methinks President Obama’s Syrian strategy will long remain a hugely bewildering event.

obama-putinBut wait! Go not into that good night too quickly for, as of mid week, one further strange bedfellow event has exploded unto the Syrian Scene: The President’s most hated international antagonist, Russia’s Mr. Vladimir Putin, signaled his willingness to lean on the Syrians to surrender their chemical weapons. And as Mr. Putin hits the Moscow mall looking for an extra large king size mattress to share with the President, the President announced he’d be happy to join Mr. Putin in bed, the sooner the better.

Once again, no pundit in this here Milky Way could ever have predicted Putin and Obama would soon be in bed together. Putin was (is) notorious for going out of his way to mock the President. Then, all of a sudden, he’s pulling Obama’s well roasted chestnuts out of the fire and unto dry land (if you can send mixed messages why not mixed metaphors, is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot of late).

So if you read in the paper or hear on the tube that the old adage about politics and strange bed fellows no longer enjoys much currency, please dear reader, don’t plead ignorance and don’t play dumb. Instead, get on your smart phone, check Facebook, or pound out the Flaneur’s Turtle on the web, and re-read this post. For I hope I’ve shown even the most ardent strange political bed fellow skeptic that politics really does make for strange bed fellows with results that remain awfully hard to predict.


By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty. 

     Once again I find myself indebted to our intrepid and resourceful leader, Mr. Michael Stelzer Jocks, this time for coming up with the idea of a Beach Book List, and also for weighing in on the type of book he favors for such a List.  Indeed I’m emboldened to confess I’m in perfect agreement with his idea that beach books should be DEEP and challenge the mind, or body, or spirit, or gestalt, or personhood, self-image, mindset, or paradigm.  Of course this doesn’t mean I mean you can’t read trash or trivia; it’s simply to say work on supplementing trivia with a challenging tome or two—like Michael and me. 

       So here’s my list.  I must point out, however, that all the books have in common that I’ve read them before, yet now feel strongly I should read them again, mainly because, sad to say, I don’t remember very much of what’s in them. 

       “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara is the first book.  It’s about the battle of Gettysburg Imagerelying heavily on letters written by several of the generals who participated in the war.

        Image“The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin is the second book on my list.  It’s not for biologists, but historians who wonder whether historical events are primarily matters of fate or free will.    

          “The Birth of Tragedy” is by Friedrich ImageNietzsche is my third book.  The title gives a good indication of what it’s about, though I’m fairly sure there’s a lot more in it as well.

         Image  “The Art of the Novel” by Henry James is my fourth and last entry.  Here too the title tells what the book’s about though James’ use of the word “art” seems a bit misleading for in that short three letter word most important issues pertaining to literature eventually get raised.

              My last entry should probably include a prayer rather than another read for I’m fairly certain I’m going to need some outside help to make sure I do indeed read the above list of books.  I say this feeling compelled to acknowledge that to date I can’t remember a single summer when I’ve managed to read all the tomes I placed on my halcyon summer’s Book List for the Beach.       

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

Why do I find myself watching a movie or reading a book for a second time?  And a third time.  And a fourth time.   And… get the idea.


How many times The Godfather?

Watching a movie over and over again-ditto a book-strikes me as odd, particularly in our day and age when fast, terse, concise, and straightforward serve as lodestar and watch words for writing, and communicating in general.  Once again the adage—less is more—proves applicable.  Whether talking, or writing, or dining, or even shopping, unlike buying—less is more.   Just do it, be done with it, and move on rings in my ears.

Watching a movie several times seems to violate today’s life style and/or world view.  For a) you should have taken in the message the first time;  b) you shouldn’t be reading things where you can’t do this; c) no one should be writing material which takes several reads; and d) you’re wasting your time watching or reading the same thing several times because you prevent yourself from engaging in new combinations and permutations which are more current and thus more interesting.

Nonetheless I find myself reading the same thing again and again.  Can there a reasonable or actually several reasonable explanations for such behavior, I anxiously ask myself, late at night, after waking up in fear and trembling from a particularly bad dream?

The theory of cognitive dissonance forces me to offer a few justifications even if initially I can’t think of any.  Well, my first rationale is that whether right or wrong, I notice I’m still finding new things in the movie (or book) that I had missed during an earlier viewing.  Since I’m still able to learn from the movie, I conclude watching it makes sense.  Also I’ll see again a scene I know by heart yet continue to enjoy its special attractions nonetheless.

Another justification for watching a movie again is very simple, however unfortunate:  increasingly I realize how easily and often I forget all kinds of things, including scenes from a movie or book.  Remembering how frequently I forget even favorite parts of a movie I assume watching it once more may still hold plenty of charms.

A final reason for watching a movie yet again lies in the notion practice makes perfect.  This idea makes great sense to me because I’ve noticed enough instances where doing something over and over allows me to get better at doing it.  Computers provide many examples of this.  When I was first learning how to email, I’d forget what I learned at my last learning session, and realized I had to start over, almost from scratch.  However, after emailing for a month or more, I realized I had become a person who could email with aplomb and even a tad of alacrity.  Amazing, methinks.

Many other examples of practice making perfect come to mind.  Indeed virtually any activity or effort I need to engage in from washing dishes to jogging on a treadmill proceeds more smoothly the more I do it.  This certainly holds true for watching and interpreting and enjoying movies.

Thus I’ve come to the conclusion that doing things more than once—much more than once—makes good sense.  It’s even led me to think repetition could be the real mother of invention.

 By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.  

 If you’re any kind of sports fan, and especially if you’re a Chicago sports fan, and most especially if you’re a Bulls fan, you’ve probably spent a minimum of 30 minutes reading a few sports columns, and/or listening to the tube, and wondering what could be going on with Mr. Derrick Rose–meaning, why isn’t he playing basketball?  After all, that’s his job;  that’s what he’s paid to do; that’s what he’s good at–more than good, that’s what he does better than anyone else in the greater Chicago area, does better than almost any other human being living anywhere on this great green globe.  Indeed if, as Aristotle maintained, human beings should do what they do best, surely D. Rose should be playing basketball.  What explains why he isn’t?

250px-Derrick_Rose_2 Of course one answer might be that he’s still recovering from last year’s knee injury.  This makes some sense save for the following:  he’s been working out religiously for several months; his doctors have officially stated he’s ready to play; and finally, he regularly reminds reporters of the enormous progress he’s made since his surgery subtly suggesting he might return any day.  But, almost in the same breath, he suddenly backtracks and insists he’s not quite ready to rejoin his team mates.

Rose’s fans have clearly become frustrated with him, twittering how they feel he’s gone soft, become rich and lost his love of the game.   Rose denies the charges, yet reiterates how he won’t be swayed by fans pressing  him to return before he feels ready.  Oddly enough, Iman Shumpert, who plays for the Knicks, suffered the same injury on the same day Rose did; however, unlike Rose, Shumpert returned to the Knicks several weeks ago, and says his play hasn’t been hampered in any way by the injury.

 Frankly, for the last month or so, I confess media’s coverage of Rose baffled me.  Were they hyping the return issue simply to sell a few extra papers?  Obviously, Rose would be back in time for the playoffs.  Clearly I was wrong.  My view now is that Rose will no more lead the Bulls’ playoff efforts than I’ll go bungee jumping off the Cubs new electronic scoreboard on Christmas eve.

 When I realized my mistake, I went back to the drawing board, looking for a new explanation of Rose’s behavior.   Happily, after much brain storming, and lots of discussions with my sports savvy brain trust, the real reason Rose hadn’t been playing hit me as I was emptying the dishwasher.  The answer was simple, straightforward, convincing, and had the added advantage it could be stated in a single fairly well known word which enjoyed a storied history, harkening  all the way back to the pristine beginnings of Western Civilization itself.

That one word, dear reader, is hybris (hubris)!  As most of you know, hybris is usually defined as overweening or excessive pride.  Hybris explains how heroes commit horrible blunders because they dangerously overestimate their powers while understating reality’s recalcitrance.  Hybris is behind Achilles’ sulking, and Oedipus’ decision to kill his father and marry his mother.  It’s also why Icarus forgets his father’s warning, and flies too close to the sun, perishing after the sun melts his wings which were made of wax.

 How does all this hybris stuff relate to D. Rose?  Simple:  like Icarus, and Achilles, Rose is suffering from a bad case of hybrisicarus This may sound farfetched since we’re so used to thinking of Mr. Rose as a down to earth, modest, quiet, considerate, well mannered, laid back guy–an everyman, like you and me.  When it rains, he stands under the open ended plexi glass bus shelter waiting for the Jeffrey Express, just like we do.  A blue collar guy for a blue collar town.

 A week ago, I believed this; I don’t any more.  Now I think it’s pure mumbo jumbo–nay, double mumbo jumbo!  How in the world could I have been gulled by such nonsense?  Well,  Mr. Rose seemed nice enough on the tube;  a host of Bulls players and coaches and coaches from other teams confirmed this account; and local and national media reports out did themselves endlessly repeating the Derrick Rose modesty story.  Clearly, this guy isn’t like Kobe or Michael.

 But I no longer believe the hype.  And the reason is that, in the cold light of day, it makes no sense.  Rose is a super star and plays like one, by which I mean, he often plays as if he thinks he can almost beat the opposing team single handed.  He’s so fast, and so strong, and soars so high, he can easily blow by two or three guys and still score.  But trying this over and over again in the playoffs–well, that’s hybris.  Ironically, in last year’s fatal playoff game, he did make it to the basket unscathed, but afterward, when he landed, he twisted his ankle and blew out his knee and hasn’t played since.

Here’s a second example of hybris: after his surgery, Rose wanted to devise a rehab plan where he could have it both ways meaning, he wouldn’t disappoint his fans, yet he wouldn’t commit to playing if he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with his recovery.

But he never went public with this admission which is what he should have done.  Instead, he thought if he showed everyone how hard he was working, his fans wouldn’t be upset if he skipped the season.  But he was wrong; again, hybris had led him astray.  His fans were furious.

Hybris led him astray one more time.  Where before his injury he played as if he was invincible, afterward he became a head case exaggerating his fragility.  His judgment had gotten out of whack, which is precisely what hybris will do to a star who flies too close to the sun.