Tuesday, May 29, 2007

the multi-tasking friend

Recently I read an article on the web entitled "Five Friends Every Woman Should Have." It wasn't well-written and it wasn't particularly insightful--as a matter of fact, it was on one of those sites dedicated to "women's lifestyle" that tend to be nauseatingly Oprahesque--but it did provide a very interesting list to consider. Here is the list of the "five friends" every woman should have:

1. The Uplifter
2. The Travel Buddy
3. The Truth Teller
4. The Girl Who Just Wants to Have Fun
5. The Unlikely Friend

Of couse, that got me thinking: do I have all of these? (Because, you know, if I don't, that must mean that I need some serious "lifestyle" readjustments!) My immediate thought was that I did have all of these women in my life.... but, interestingly, a couple of my friends served several of these functions. Then, a couple of weeks later, when I was having a rough time, a good friend of mine sent me one of those emails that we all need from time to time that basically says "Hey, I'm thinking of you. You're not crazy. I love you and I'm here for you." (Ahhhhhhh... thank god for such moments!) And I realized that I have at least one seriously multi-tasking friend, Adriel, who seems to fit all five categories and then some.
(Love you, girl!)
So, I would like to pose the following question: what do you think was left off of the list? (Boys, you can answer, too!) I'll get things started by adding a 6th category of my own. I think every woman needs The Reminder in her life as well. You know, that person who can say, "Wait, haven't we been through this before with you? Don't you remember how this turned out last time?" or "Don't forget that you can do this. You've done it before." And, fyi, Adriel does that, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

turn out the lights, the party's over...

Thanks to all my friends who helped celebrate my dissertation defense. (Especially those, pictured above, who decided to celebrate with a drunken arm-wrestling tournament!) I had a great time. And this rosey-blurry-mostly-indistinct photo is exactly how I remember it!

Monday, May 14, 2007

And I Think To Myself, What Are Multiple Worlds?

Part two of the "Just Ask" challenge finds this (from Daniel B.):
I immediately thought of a softball question, such as "Derrida: great philosophy, or greatest philosopher?" Instead, I will test your mettle: What are the moral implications of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?

First, let me take the softball: great philosophy and great philosopher. My evidence for this answer: Derrida's 2005 Rogues. Q.E.D.

Now for the harder stuff... I must confess that I had no clue what the "many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics" was. So, what does a person do? You guessed it... Wikipedia! The basic gist of it is this: all paradoxes of quantum theory can be resolved by allowing for the possibility of many worlds--with distinct and (presumably) equally-real "histories." Multimple world interpretations (MWI) allegedly reconcile how we can perceive non-deterministic events with the determinstic equations of quantum physics. Can't figure out the random decay of the radioactive atom? No worries! It's all about the decoherence, man.

So, Daniel's question is: what are the moral implications of MWI? Hmmmm... I suppose this is, at heart, just a variant on the general theme of questioning the moral implcations of relativism. That is, if we reject some form of epistemological, metaphysical or ethical objectivism, then how can we presume to make moral decisions or moral judgments in the absence of a universally applicable standard?

So, I will give the short-hand version of my "relativism-still-implies-responsibility" argument. The fact that there is no universal, ahistorical, or absolute standard by which we can judge does not necesarily imply that there are thus no standards by which we can judge. In fact, just the opposite. Without the crutch of something like a divine moral code or the Categorical Imperative, we are forced to be responsible for our own standards of judgment. And those standards can be measured against one another--even if not in any absolute way. If we want to generalize the MWI, we could say that one person might seriously contend that the Holocaust didn't happen (in his world, in his memory, in his history), while another might maintain that it did. Both will have "evidence" to support their claims, and those standards of judgment can be measured against one another. To risk overstating my position here, I'm not sure that what is at stake is some claim about what really happened--though this is usually how such arguments get played out--but rather what it means to say that the Holocaust is or is not a part of our history. Even if we can imagine a parallel world in which the Holocaust did not happen, one that is equally "real," that does not relieve one of the responsibility of justifying one's moral judgments and moral actions to a person in a world in which the Holocaust did happen.

I think I've been a little too fast and loose with this answer, but I'm going to blame it on Daniel for asking me a freaking physics question.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

the grass is always greener... so let's mow it down!

Here's my first response in the "Just Ask" challenge. (By the way, I still need more questions!)

Elena put forth the following query: How much does grass grow overnight? What is the deal with the American desire to mow grass daily?

First, Elena, I love this question... it hits close to my Memphis heart. Memphians are especially fanatic abou their lawns--possibly because the hot, humid summers in Memphis produce especially beautiful lawns--and I definitely grew up in one of those households where the growth of the lawn was tended more obsessively than the growth of the children. Unfortuntely, I can't answer the first part of your question ("how much does grass grow overnight?"). I suspect that there are several variables that must be considered--climate, type of grass, shade, rain, make and model of lawnmower, etc. But the second part of your question I can certainly speculate about...

FYI, you are not the only one who has been befuddled by the American lawn obsession. (See, for example, V.S. Jenkins' The Lawn: A History of the American Obsession or T. Steinberg's American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn.) My instinct is to say that a "perfect lawn" is one of many markers of suburban success, much in the same way that an expensive barbecue grill, an SUV, and an in-ground pool are. It's something that the neighbors can see, and presumably admire, as evidence of one's having "arrived." Look at me. I have property. After all, your average proletarian doesn't have the time or the resources to produce such a magnificently superfluous work of art. I know firsthand that the meticulous care of one's lawn serves as a kind of neighborhood pissing-contest, and mowing it everyday not only testifies to the owner's attention to bourgeois detail but also to the robust fecundity of the lawn itself.

But here's a less-Marxist explanation. Mowing the lawn is fun. It smells great. You get to be outside, so its status as a "chore" is diminished. And we have lawnmowers, so it's not all that laborious anyway.

And if the added benefit is that your neighbors think you're Ward Cleaver reincarnate, all the better.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

just ask

Inspired by my friend Petya, I've decided to copy her experiment on my blog. So, here's the deal... how about you ask me a question and I write an entry-long answer to it? I will take the first five questions I receive from readers and write a post a day in the next five days.

In the words of Petya: "What makes me think I am qualified to answer these questions? Sheeesh! Expertise is overrated!"

For those of you lurkers who I know are reading my blog, but who don't post because you don't have blogger/Google ID's, I'm not accepting that as an excuse this time. You can still pose a question to me by choosing "anonymous" in the comments section (just remember to sign your name at the bottom of your post).

Let the games begin...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Your Place On The Bookshelf

Recently, I've been editing my dissertation bibliography, which included an article that I wrote a few years ago and that I referenced in my dissertation. (I figure that noone else is citing me right now, so I might as well get the ball rolling.) I noticed that in my bibliography, I am situated between Fredric Jameson and Immanuel Kant. Very good company.

In my occasional delusions-of-grandeur moments, I have had a tendency to lament the "commonness" of my last name. I can never really expect an adjectival form of my name to be attached to my work (like "Kantian," "Hegelian," "Derridean" or "Cartesian") because... well, the adjectival form of my last name would not in any way distinguish me from large percentage of the English-speaking population. So, this little treaure of my bibliography was a nice surprise and gave me something else to ponder. Where would I fall on someone's bookshelf? On my own bookshelf (unlike my bibliography), I would be placed between Luce Irigaray and Immanual Kant, which is only slightly better than my position in the bibliography. (I should also note that I have a separate set of bookshelves for "philosophy" texts. "Non-philosophy nonfiction" and "fiction" have their own shelves.) Of course, this provided me with a full-blown opportunity to waste time by trying to figure out where my friends and enemies would fall on my bookshelf... and, subsequently, to read a deeper meaning into those placements than any sane person would deduce from them.

So, here's the question-- who are your neighbors on the bookshelf?