Monday, December 31, 2018

A Medieval Classroom

I've always liked this painting. To a 21st-century academic, it will seem quite authentic because it seems so startling familiar: the students who are paying close attention. The students who may or may not be paying attention. The student in the first row, with a somewhat sarcastic expression on his face, who looks as if either he is speaking or he urgently wants to speak -- a class clown? A young scholar with a mind of his own? Perhaps both at once?

The student in the third row, nearest to us, who appears to be hung over and possibly asleep. The student in the back row, farthest from us, in conversation with someone who doesn't appear to belong in the classroom at all -- why is the teacher putting up with this? Perhaps this student is from a powerful family and the teacher has been made to understand that this student can do as he pleases.

One rule in medieval universities which was violated extremely rarely was that women were not allowed to participate. I've heard of exactly one exception to this rule: a woman known as Nawojka disguised herself as a boy and studied at the university of Krakov for two years before being discovered to be a woman. She was put on trial, but no-one from the university could be found who would say a bad word about her. Her record as a student was excellent. The authorities didn't know what to do with her, until she asked to be sent to a convent; they agreed. She taught at the convent and eventually became its abbess.

Or perhaps not: there seems to be some disagreement about whether the story of Nawojka is an historical account or a legend.

Some people have said that there are women in the picture above, which was painted on a wall in a German university in the 14th century. (I'm sorry, I don't know which university it was in, or who painted it. It's in a museum in Berlin now. Sorry, I don't know which museum. Not much help. am I?) Maybe they got this impression because some men's and boys' clothing and hats and hairstyles of 14th-century central Europe may seem feminine to us today. Also, some of the boys studying at universities in the 14th century were very young, by today's standards. Perhaps even pre-pubescent in some cases.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

I'm Okay. Really

Yesterday, after writing a blog post about medicine balls, I ordered a 45-pound slam ball from Amazon. This particular brand of ball does not seem to have the best reputation for quality and endurance (nor the worst), but the 45-pound model was ridiculously cheap. So cheap, I have to wonder whether the price was a mistake. So cheap, I honestly wonder whether what I paid would even cover the cost of free 2-day shipping of an item that weighs 45 pounds.

I'm not on steroids. (I know: that's exactly what most steroid users say. But I'm not.) Just in case any of you were worried about that, or worried about me in general and my new enthusiasm for medicine balls. I'm aware that many or most or all of the people (besides me) who are genuinely interested in 300-lb medicine balls

are on steroids. I'm not interested in becoming even bigger than I already am. I'm not interested in competing in strongman competitions. What I want to do is become thinner. I want to use the medicine balls to burn off fat, more than I want to use them to pack on muscle. If some of my muscles get bigger in the process of burning off fat, that's okay with me, but it's not the main focus.

If I were seriously interesting in developing huge muscles, I would be starting an exercise program centered primarily around lifting barbells and dumbbells -- and around taking steroids and HGH and things like that. But I don't want the huge muscles. I want to get smaller. I want MORE of a neck, not less of one. I don't even know very much about steroids and HGH and other things used by -- well, apparently by top athletes in every single sport where it's not specifically banned and rigourously tested, as well as a lot of the top athletes in sports where it is specifically banned and rigourously tested. I don't know very much about the banned substances, but I get the distinct impression that they're dangerous in various ways. Some people insist they're not, but those people seem to me to be either using steroids (etc), and in denial -- or selling steroids (etc).

I hear that steroids (etc) are expensive, too, so even if I were convinced that they were safe as milk, even if I wanted to take them, I couldn't afford to. (I don't even drink milk, because of health concerns. I don't pour milk on my cereal or oatmeal. If I'm in the mood for a beverage which resembles milk, it's almond milk for me.)

I'm not planning a lot of barbell and dumbbell lifting. Just calisthenics and and cardio and medicine balls. And the medicine balls are mainly intended to intensify the effects of the calisthenics and cardio: burning fat, strengthening my heart and lungs, lowering my blood pressure and resting pulse rate.

HEALTHY stuff. Before my surgery back in August, I said to myself that if I survived, I would make a stronger commitment to my physical health. And that's exactly what I'm doing. And my blood pressure and pulse rate have been coming down -- not dramatically yet, but that's okay. I'm taking small steps in the right direction.

You know, some day I will meet a beautiful woman who is into heavy slam balls and mechanical watches and the Latin language and languages in general and healthy, steroid-free living and quantum theory and Moleskine notebooks and almond milk and kitties, and sparks will fly.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

I'm Still Pure Mental About Medicine Balls

More specifically: about slam balls, because, as far as I can see, medicines balls over 20 pounds are all or almost all slam balls.

I'm getting very good results from working out at home with my 8 pound medicine ball and my 5 kilogram ball and my 20 pound ball. But I want to go heavier.

The guy behind the gun counter at the big sporting-goods store said they could get medicine balls as big as 12 or even 15 pounds. The fact that they sell guns and do not sell big medicine balls (big from my point of view) are only two of the things that make me uncomfortable about the place. Going there again after several years reminded me that I had already told myself I probably wouldn't need to go there again. Ever. In my life.

Of course, I can buy slam balls as big as 300 lbs from Amazon. I have actually been having wildly irresponsible thoughts about doing exactly that. Once a 300-lb ball was delivered, would I be able to get it as far as from the sidewalk up onto the front porch? Interesting question. Then again, I don't see what would be so bad about leaving it outside -- who would steal it? Very likely non-one who wasn't using a forklift. It might stay right there on the ground outside for a very long time, looking like a spherical yellow lawn ornament.

I have actually been more seriously thinking about buying a slam ball which weighs 45 lbs or more.

A more responsible thought is joining a gym which has huge heavy slam balls. Which gyms have what size balls? I don't know. After looking in at the above-mentioned sporting goods store today, I spotted a nearby gym. But it's still under construction.

The first gym I telephoned about this told me that their slam balls are usually locked up. They're only taken out for classes. No lone-wolf slam-balling at any old time for them! Which is disappointing, but I guess I can see their point, which -- I'm guessing -- is safety. And far be it from me to denigrate safety. Seriously.

Seems like a LOT of local gyms don't even answer their phones on Saturday afternoons. What, are they all CLOSED on weekends? Sigh. Most of them would probably be out of my budget range, too, unless I can arrange to get a free gym membership because I'm poor, which some people actually seem to think I can do.

It may be that I am kind of crazy to to build my fitness plans around slam balls to such an extent, but you know what? I don't particularly care if it is crazy, it could still work. I know somebody who lost an amazing amount of weight on a cabbage-soup diet, and who very enthusiastically preaches the Gospel of Health through Cabbage Soup. Which is crazy, but, much more importantly, it actually worked for him, so who's crazy now, huh? I think that a huge variety of approaches to diet and exercise would each work well for some people. Would, and do. It may very well be that focusing to such an extent on heavy slam balls would be crazy for most people but brilliant for me, because I'm just built that way. (And there's also the possibility that I've stumbled across fitness gold here and am far, far ahead of my time.)

There's an Australian company called Iron Edge which makes fitness equipment, including slam balls as heavy as 85 kilograms. That's over 187 pounds.

They have some YouTube videos featuring a young man who is very thin, but wiry, who actually picks up the 85kg balls and carries them around and throws them and such, and also makes comments about the balls which I find humorous. I don't know how much he's cracking up his Australian target audience, and how many of things which crack me are just things Australians say. Like when he describes some amazing feat which Derek Boyer, Fijian-Australian strongman legend and Iron Edge spokesman, has performed with the heavy slam balls in training, and then dryly adds something like "[...] which, in my opinion, is pure mental."

Besides being funny, the fact that this fellow is so thin and can still carry and toss an 85-kg slam ball makes me confident that I can carry a 300-pound ball. Eventually. If I work very, very hard. Probably not today.

And it may actually be very tricky to even find a slam ball as heavy as 85 kilograms, let alone 300 pounds. (And I've said in this blog, and I stand by it: they should make them even bigger than 300 lbs.) I don't know yet how common they are in gyms. Maybe they're all over the place, and it's just a matter of hooking up with a gym.

Or maybe, to most fitness enthusiasts, the very though of slam balls as heavy as 85 kilograms, never mind 300 pounds, let alone even bigger, is still pure mental -- either because it really is pure mental, or because I am from the future.

Monday, December 24, 2018

How This Postmodern Thing is Going So Far

For over 57 years, I managed to avoid learning enough about postmodernism to have any idea what it was. (Would it have been possible for me to remain ignorant about it for so long if I had lived in Paris? That's a non-rhetorical question. I have no idea to what extent postmodernism precepts might be a "part of the air" in Paris. I don't know whether it would be as difficult to live in Paris and not know what postmodernism is as it is to live in the US and not know the rules of baseball.) I heard mostly negative remarks about it and mostly accepted those remarks. Then, just a few months ago, I heard about Jordan Peterson for the first time, because Peterson was annoying some of my friends. Some negative remarks he made about postmodernism caught my attention because they sounded so absurd. So, for the very first time ever, I looked for postmodernists and what they themselves said about what postmodernism was. Very soon, I had my hands on a copy of Derrida's Of Grammatology. I devoured that magnificent book, and exclaimed,

"I'm a postmodernist!"

Unfortunately, however, the remarks I heard about postmodernism, apart from those made by actual postmodernists, continued to be the sort of negative remarks I had heard all my life, and had little or nothing to do with what postmodernists actually said. Although I'd started to call myself a postmodernist, I am not against technology, or against reality, or against authorship. Neither are Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Baudrillard...

I am against patriarchy, colonialism, over-simplification, racism, sexism. Far from being opposed to technology or science or reality, since this cataclysm which has resulted in my identifying as postmodern, I have greatly intensified my study of advanced mathematics, electromagnetism, industrial manufacture, quantum theory and other STEM subjects.

As far as being "against authorship" -- what could that possibly mean, for an author, such as myself, to be "against authorship"? I suppose that this particular misunderstanding of postmodernism comes from the incomprehension of the very basic postmodern insight that the effect of any piece of writing depends just as much upon its readers as upon that which was actually written.

Perhaps this last insight can help me somewhat when I see people claiming all sports of nonsense about an entire group of people, the postmodernists: just as any author cannot control how his readers will understand or misunderstand what he or she writes, so postmodernists cannot control what people will say or write about us. All we can do is persevere in our own efforts. Perhaps if, now and then, we notice that someone actually understands something we've said, we can recognize that recognition. That might be better than trying to chase down the endless nonsensical things said about us, like a man trying to chase down a swarm of bees because one of them has bitten him.

Perhaps I should be hesitant to apply the label of postmodernist to myself so soon after having begun to study postmodernist literature.

Perhaps it would be good for me to keep in mind how seldom those who are considered the major figures of postmodernist literature actually referred to themselves as postmodernists. Perhaps it would be better for me to say that I've read some Derrida and found him to be profoundly delightful and not at all incomprehensible (perhaps because I share many of his interests). I haven't really had a comparable experience yet with any of the other postmodernists (as they are known by others, and much more rarely to themselves).

I think it makes sense to keep the postmodernist label for now, a couple of months after having so hastily adopted it. Although I have so far only read one postmodernist with great enthusiasm, I have a great deal in common with most of those in the group: a lack of recognition of anything I can call absolute truth; as I mentioned above, an opposition to patriarchy, colonialism, over-simplification, racism, sexism; the realization that relativity occurs not only in physics but also in ethics; a suspicion of claims of having found "the answer," whether those claims have been made in the name of Buddhism, Christianity, Marxism or what have you; a particular concern for the environment -- those sorts of things.

And if eventually the nonsensical definitions of postmodernism by people claiming to be its adherents, its opponents or its more or less sympathetic observers -- all three can be quite annoying -- prove to be to much, then I can reject the postmodernist label -- and I will have that, too, in common with many of the great postmodernists.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Fake Albert Einstein Quotes

Albert Einstein never said any of this shit:

"Success is a lousy teacher."

“Don't let yesterday take up too much of today.”

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

“In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish.”

"Hard work never brings fatigue. It brings satisfaction."

“Talent is what God gives us, Skill is what we give back to Him.”

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see further."

"The more I want to get something done the less I call it work."

“All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”

"Success only comes to those who dare to attempt."

“I hope the millions of people I’ve touched have the optimism and desire to share their goals and hard work and persevere with a positive attitude.”

“A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.”

“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.”

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”

In conclusion: read a book!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Looking For a Prehistory of the Presocratics.

I recently published a post on this blog in which I stated that I didn't believe that philosophy began with the Pre-Socratics -- not because I actually knew anything about cultures previous to the Pre-Socratics, but because the notion that the pre-Socratics could've invented philosophy on their own struck me as prima facie absurd. A century or two after the Pre-Socratics, the author of Ecclesiastes stated that there was nothing new under the sun, and this matched the impression I had that cultures borrowed things from other cultures which had borrowed them other cultures, with many modifications, to be sure, but rarely with anything completely new. There was certainly nothing new, or unique to the ancient Greeks, in a reluctance for one culture to acknowledge its debts to another.

The wrong way around, after publishing the blog post instead of before, I attempted to track down some confirmation of its thesis.

And I'm still looking. Martin L West, in his book The East Face of Helicon, Oxford, 2003 edition, says on p vii: "I am not concerned with Oriental contributions to science and philosophy," and I also could not deduce any from among the huge number of Mesopotamian literary, mythical and other cultural influences upon Greece demonstrated in West's book (which is superb and which I highly recommend).

Marc Van de Mieroop's book Philosophy Before the Greeks, Princeton, 2017 edition, did not show me that which its title describes, nor, apart from an assertion that Pythagorean triples were in use in Mesopotamia 1000 years before Pythagoras -- an assertion which did not come with a footnote which would aid someone hoping to confirm it -- did Walter Burkert's contribution, "Prehistory of Presocratic Philosophy in an Orientalizing Context," to The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Philosophy, Oxford, 2011, p 55. Perhaps I should read them again, more slowly.

Or perhaps I should show more respect to an academic consensus, even when it contradicts my sense of what is prima facie obvious. Perhaps, when there is widespread astonishment among the experts at some achievement, as there is in the case of the achievement of Pre-Socratic philosophy, I should be more open to the possibility that the astonishment is justified. Astonishment is what I'm feeling more and more as I search for philosophical predecessors of the Pre-Socratics and -- sorry, Dr Van de Mieroop, sorry, Dr Burkert -- keep finding none.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Jordan Peterson -- Matt Dillahunty Debate

Master charlatan and YouTube super-duperstar Jordan Peterson recently debated New Atheist and YouTube star Matt Dillahunty:

Dillahunty posted his reflections on the debate:

So, would I rather hang out with Peterson, or with Dillahunty? The answer is, no.

As you can see, Dillahunty got really hung up on one point during and after the debate, and since he's a New Atheist, it shouldn't be too hard to guess what that point was, because the New Atheists, all of them amongst themselves, only have one point: God doesn't exist.

I agree with the New Atheists on this point: I don't happen to believe that God exists, nor that gods exist. I don't agree with them about the importance of this point. For them, it's central to their existence: People believe in God, AND THEY ARE WRONG, AND THEY MUST SEE THAT THEY ARE WRONG! For me, the topic is exhausted after a few seconds' worth of discussion, and then there are ever so many other things to think about. But the New Atheists, they just can't let it go, they can't move on. Religious belief is the central fact in human life, the source of all trouble, and must be stamped out. Now.

Peterson, referring to myths and religion, points out that they are very important to people. I have to agree with him. It may actually be the one thing about which I agree with him. I can almost actually imagine Peterson and I having a pleasant conversation, if we stuck to this one topic: the importance of myths and religion in people's lives.

Dillahunty was not available for that conversation, because he immediately, and unendingly, hammered on that one single New Atheist point: "But it's not TRUE! God doesn't EXIST!" Geepers, thanks for mentioning that, Matt, because it may actually have been as long as five minutes since you last said it. Peterson points out that myth and religion are very important in people's lives. This is true. And it offers vast possible room for discussion. But first, Dillahunty has to establish that God doesn't exist.

It's a fact! he, along with every other New Atheist, insists. It's a fact that there is no God!

And I agree with Dillahunty that this is a fact. But there's another fact which Dillahunty, and Dawkins, and Harris, and Myers, and all the other New Atheists don't seem to grasp, or at least not in all of its dimensions and implications: the fact that there are billions of people who believe in God and who are just going to be -- at best -- annoyed by someone who won't shut up about their firm belief that He doesn't exist.

New Atheists: your refusal to just agree to disagree and talk about sumpin' else -- like, for example, the great meaning which religion holds in many people's lives, maybe in most people's lives -- or it could be another topic, like incredibly-heavy medicine balls, or cats, or food, or economics or anything else except your one point -- this refusal is not converting people en masse to atheism, have ya noticed that yet?

Time for Plan B.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Okay, Okay, I Admit It --

I'm COMPLETELY obsessed with 300-lb medicine balls!

Furthermore, it ANGERS me that so far I have only found one company, D-Ball, which makes medicines balls that big. This is a 300-pounder from D-Ball:

It's 15 inches, which is a lot bigger than, say, a basketball, but also a lot smaller than some other medicine balls which are much lighter.

(A d-ball, or dead ball, also known as a slam ball, is different from a traditional medicine ball in that it does not bounce, so that you can slam it straight down into the floor or ground or point-blank against a wall without having to worry about it bouncing all over the place and injuring people.)

And more recently it has begun to anger me that there are -- as far as I know -- no medicine balls which are larger than 300lbs. The next-biggest I've found so far are 85-kilogram slam balls from an Australian company called Iron Edge:

85 kilograms equals about 187 pounds.

There are people running around loose out there, purporting to be experts on such things, who say that slam balls only go up to 150 pounds.

The 300-pounders are used, among other uses, to train for strong-man competitions in which one has to pick up a stone or a keg which may weigh as much as 450 lbs, and then either set it down on a shelf around shoulder or eye-height, depending upon the strong man, or carry it for a distance before putting it down on such a shelf. How, I recently asked, are you going to train for that if there are no medicine balls bigger than 300 pounds?

Turns out they have an answer for that: they just train with stones or kegs, with the same objects which are used in the competitions. Here are some people training with the stones:

And I have an answer for THAT: they should use medicine balls in the competitions. The heavier ones may be sand or steel shot or other things on the inside, but they're rubber on the outside, and that's the way to go. No discussion, I'm right, everyone else is wrong. Rubber, AND SPHERICAL, is the way to go. Yes, the Atlas stones are spherical, but there are also kegs used in competitions, and sandbags used for training, which are not.

Spherical is the way to go because it's most difficult shape to lift and to keep steady. Barbells and dumbbells have handles specifically shaped to fit your hands, to make lifting easier, and to make it easier to keep them steady once they've been lifted. Nautilus-type machines make it even easier, because zero energy is required to stabilize the load: you just go straight up and come straight back down.

Well, what are you there to do: lift the maximum amount of weight off of the ground, or get the maximum effort into your workout? A sphere, a ball, requires the maximum effort to be lifted by a human, and the maximum effort to stabilize it, to keep from dropping it. And in return for that maximum effort, it returns the maximum reward in building strength. Right now, having used medicine balls which weigh much less than 300 pounds, I can feel muscles all over my body which have been woken up and stimulated. (In a good way.) Including some muscles which I can't recall ever having felt before at all.

There are some medicine balls which have indentations in them, sort of looking like the Death Star, and in those indentations are handles. Talk about completely missing the point of what you're making.

Okay, I admit, I don't know all of the biological science, and maybe there are plenty of good reasons to use barbells and dumbbells and Nautilus-type machines, and maybe I'm totally wrong to say that medicine balls are always the way to go. Maybe saying that only proved that I'm a total noob at the entire subject of lifting and throwing weighted objects. I suppose it's even possible that I'm completely wrong about the Death Star-medicine balls. But that's not my point right now. My point is that medicine balls are way cool and that I love them almost as much as kitties.

Rubber is the way to go because stone can scuff up your skin really badly and you don't need that. Also because you don't want to go around throwing either stone balls or barbells or dumbbells, generally speaking. Generally speaking, I think it's safe to say, throwing stone balls and dumbbells and barbells is a bad idea. And throwing Nautilus-type machines, of course, would just be much worse.

But you can throw the medicine balls and slam balls. They're designed to be thrown. You can throw them in more ways than the shot from the shot put. The shot is also way cool, but that's for another post.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Yes, We Can Impeach Trump Any Time We Like Now

Yes, we can impeach Trump anytime we like after January 3, because impeachment only requires a majority in the House, and we'll have that. But to CONVICT him and remove him from office requires 2/3 of the Senate.

I think a large portion of the general public doesn't realize that to impeach means only to charge someone with a crime. That it's only the first step in removing a President from office.

In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached by the majority-Republican House, but the Senate, with a larger Republican majority in the Senate than they have now or will have after January 3, failed to convict him. In fact, what they mainly succeeded in doing was making themselves look silly. In the mid-term elections, held a few months after the impeachment debacle was over, the Republicans lost a few seats in the House and gained none in the Senate.

We don't even have a simple majority in the Senate, and we won't after January 3, and which 20 or so Republican Senators do you see crossing the aisle to join us? I see possibly 1 or 2. Possibly.

There's no point in impeachment if the trial in the Senate is just going to be a Republican farce. And things would have to change in HUGE ways before it would be anything else.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but it looks like we won't solve this little problem until November 2020.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Inevitable Victory of the Proletariat

"Die wesentliche Bedingung für die Existenz und für die Herrschaft der Bourgeoisklasse ist die Anhäufung des Reichtums in den Händen von Privaten, die Bildung und Vermehrung des Kapitals; die Bedingung des Kapitals ist die Lohnarbeit. Die Lohnarbeit beruht ausschließlich auf der Konkurrenz der Arbeiter unter sich. Der Fortschritt der Industrie, dessen willenloser und widerstandsloser Träger die Bourgeoisie ist, setzt an die Stelle der Isolierung der Arbeiter durch die Konkurrenz ihre revolutionäre Vereinigung durch die Assoziation. Mit der Entwicklung der großen Industrie wird also unter den Füßen der Bourgeoisie die Grundlage selbst hinweggezogen, worauf sie produziert und die Produkte sich aneignet. Sie produziert vor allem ihren eigenen Totengräber. Ihr Untergang und der Sieg des Proletariats sind gleich unvermeidlich."

("The essential condition for the existence and for the dominance of the capitalist class is the accumulation of wealth in private hands, the creation of ever-more captial, and capital relies upon wage-labor. Wage-labor rests exclusively on the competition of workers with each other. The progress of industry, whose involuntary and unresisting promoters the capitalists are, puts, in place of the isolation of the workers through their competition, their revolutionary unification through association. With the development of large-scale industry, therefore, the ground upon which the capitalists produce and take the profits of production will pulled out from beneath their feet. What they are producing, above all, are their own gravediggers. Their fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.")

That's the last paragraph of the first chapter, "Bourgeois und Proletarier" ("Capitalists and Proletariats") of the Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels. That is some stirring prose, no doubt. And if you're wondering who wrote that excellent English translation -- it was me. You're welcome.

Marx was one of the followers of Hegel known as the Young Hegelians. Hegel stated that the development of the mind toward its ever-greater fulfillment was inevitable. The Young Hegelian Marx modified Hegel's prophecy inasmuch as he declared that what was inevitable was the victory of the working class.

I like much of what Marx says, but I would modify this remark of his inasmuch as I believe that what is inevitable is: -- cue Michael Corleone staring down the phony Senator from Nevada -- nothing. The Communist Manifesto was first published 170 years ago. Perhaps it's time to become more critical of Marxist predictions and less confident that any sort of economic justice is inevitable, without our working hard, first to achieve it, and then to hold on to it. The Marxist glass can be seen as half-empty or half-full in its startling relevancy to today' economic conditions. Is it half-full because Marxist works are still so relevant? Or are they still so relevant because this stirring but half-empty prose has changed the world so little in such a long time?

Marxists, don't get angry with me, I don't want to throw away the works of the Prophet. I want to improve upon them. There is much to work with here.