March 1, 2005

Working for the Dark Side

I'm working most of the week on a consulting gig for the Dark Side of the Force. (Full disclosure: I am married to an employee of the Imperial Forces, which means that the Empire will soon be the sole source of household revenue for us. So, I'm already pretty thoroughly corrupted.)

At any rate, this means I have been less quick in responding to e-mail and comments. Sorry about that. I'm hoping to get to the backlog this evening, and maybe even get a post up somewhere. I'm thinking about a post on the Dark Side's catering services for AFOE, since I've recently become familiar with them.

Speaking of working for the Dark Side, I just saw the last Angel on DVD. Kanaal Twee is still running season 5, but we got ahead by ordering the DVD. It merits a post too, especially since the end is... not the happy ending the show's premise would have led one to expect. I've been contempating whether or not to see a lesson for Iraq in it, following in Abu Aardvark's footsteps.

Also, I'd be grateful for any ideas on how to write a computer science and math PhD proposal in such a way that a linguistics department will buy into it. I'm having some difficulties on that front. Also, advice on the part-time English teacher's market in Belgium would be welcome, since I'm thinking more and more that a PhD with an independent income has to beat one without. And, anyone with an opinion about Russian immersion schools could give me ahnd by speaking up. I'm thinking of doing a short stint in Petrozavodsk over the summer. In most ways, I'd rather study Chinese. But, needs must as the devil drives.


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March 7, 2005

Towards a Marxist Hermeneutics of Total Bullshit

Der Hauptmangel alles bisherigen Materialismus (den Feuerbachschen mit eingerechnet) ist, daß der Gegenstand, die Wirklichkeit, Sinnlichkeit nur unter der Form des Objekts oder der Anschauung gefaßt wird; nicht aber als sinnlich menschliche Tätigkeit, Praxis; nicht subjektiv.

The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism - that of Feuerbach included - is that the Object, actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object, or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively.

        -- Karl Marx, Thesen über Feuerbach

It does seem fitting to construe carelessly made, shoddy goods as in some way analogues of bullshit. But in what way? Is the resemblance that bullshit itself is invariably produced in a careless or self-indulgent manner, that it is never finely crafted, that in the making of it there is never the meticulously attentive concern with detail to which Longfellow alludes? Is the bullshitter by his very nature a mindless slob? Is his product necessarily messy or unrefined? The word shit does, to be sure, suggest this. Excrement is not designed or crafted at all; it is merely emitted, or dumped. It may have a more or less coherent shape, or it may not, but it is in any case certainly not wrought.

The notion of carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain. Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity. It entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim. It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all. [...]

What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.

          -- Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit

So, I did my gig over at the Dark Side and now I have to write something up about it to fulfil my contract. The problem I'm facing is how to tell a large tax-supported international treaty organisation, one which is soon to be my sole source of household income that:

  1. Their plans are shit.
  2. Their practices are shit.
  3. Their decisions to date have been complete shit.
  4. The things they propose to do about them are for shit.
  5. They are, in effect, full of shit.

I intend to start by sharing what I really think here, then proceding to shed some light on this situation through the application of bovinocoprotics. (From the Latin bovinae - cow, and the Greek κοπρος - feces.) Then, I need to actually start writing.


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March 9, 2005

Think of it as bullshit in action

From Partnership for a drug-free Maine, via Electrolite, an object lesson in the ubiquity of bullshit.


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March 10, 2005

Who knew?

After trying for so long, and actually doing IVF once, who knew that all I had to do was get laid off from my job for my wife to get pregnant the old fashioned way?

We went to Hôpital St-Luc to have the blood test done this morning. It's kind of ironic really, we had an appointment this afternoon to see the IVF guy about starting another round of fertility treatment that we no longer will need. It's been quite a month, what with getting laid off and applying for a PhD. Now I've got nine more to look forward before becoming a father.

Lots to do. First up: Gotta get a Belgian driver's license. I've been told in no uncertain terms "I am not driving myself to the maternity ward." Second, this is the last summer that I can spend running off to study languages. I need to make some decisions about that. If I can find a three month Chinese program, I think I'm just going to do it.

I'm trying not to focus on all that can still go wrong. After trying so hard for so long to get pregnant - and thinking a medically unassisted pregnancy was out of the question - it's hard not to worry, not to fear that it may all still go catastrophically south. But there's little to gain from worrying, so I'm trying not to.


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March 21, 2005

Bailing for a bit

I'm going offline for a week. I've been behaving weirdly even by my own rather liberal standards and I need to wrap up my PhD application. I'm answering e-mail, but otherwise, I think I need to denetwork until I have a research plan.


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March 30, 2005

Taipei Language Center Shanghai - help!

Okay, I need a little help. The place I wanted to go in China for the summer is full, and I'm looking elsewhere. I'm thinking hard about this place, the branch of the Taipei Language Center in Shanghai. The problem is that it's not entirely clear to me what they are offering. I sent and e-mail asking, and here's what I got back.

thanks for your mail! This is Hongqiao branch. Except for group courses plan for students from abroad , which you see on (http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/PresentRecruit.htm), we also offer fixed group courses lasting for 3-4 months. see http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_course.htm . as to those classes, we will open new ones as soon as 3 students regist the same level. but for individual course, you could regist any time while we could arrange for you in 2 days. you may first send registration fee to our bank account, while send us your registration form as well as your schedule for Chinese course. ( We opens 7:00am-9:00pm, whole days of the month) As to the apartment, all of our 3 branch schools could help you to find suitalble apartments as to your requirments. we Hongqiao could recommend an apartment, named the Couch Hotel, offer daily service, 2 km from the school, the price is RMB 4000/month. (RMB 150/day) you may see http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_contact_hq.htm. you may also visit the page of Pudong http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_contact_pd.htm, and Xuhui http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_contact_xh.htm to see the prices and surroundings. As to the visa, we only offer student' visa for full time students( 700hours/year). If you apply for visitor's visa to China, we could extend visa for 3-6month for you.(the charge is about RMB 500-600).

Now, I think this means that they want me to sign up for the classes on this page rather than the slightly cheaper ones here, which are only scheduled for two weeks in June. Furthermore, I guess this means that as long as there are at least three students who want to take the classes I want, there's no problem staying all summer, since I can just keep getting my vistor's visa adjusted. But, if there aren't enough students, then I have to do indivudual classes at 124RMB per hour, which is more than I can really afford.

Any insight? Anybody with suggestions? I looked at BLCU - the best known school for what I have in mind - but it seems that I can only get in about 8 weeks of scheduled classes given the schedule they've posted, at 20hrs of classes a week. If I'm going to do this, I want to do it full bore. I'm not a tourist, I want to spend as many hours in effective Chinese classses as I can, but I'm only available from June 1 to early September.

This is my last chance. Nibblet's birth in November is going to make this a lot harder to do in the future. But, I don't want to just go and run the risk of being stuck with unexpectedly larger bills.


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