Tag Archives: Philosophy


25 Jun

Many years ago, the thought was that people in government should seek to help the people. 

Somewhere along the line, that changed. Now, there’s a theory that one helps the people only indirectly, by first helping the rich and powerful. The middle class and the poor must wait for the handouts and subsidies to the very rich and to corporations to “trickle down” to them. 

It’s a long wait, indeed, because 30 years of adherence to that faith, the wealth hasn’t trickled down. It’s been concentrated in a small elite whose wealth keeps growing .

Representative Chris Collins is part of that 1%, and his staff have been very vocal on Twitter lately. Collins is evidently trying to carve out a niche whereby he is the Congressguy who most hates Obamacare. Here, he highlights a Chicago Tribune editorial that wrings its hands over the Affordable Care Act’s coming implementation.  He employs the hashtag “trainwreck” to describe the federal implementation of what had been the conservative solution to universal health insurance coverage – a mandate to purchase insurance through private companies or a government-run exchange. The coming “trainwreck” is merely a nationwide application of Massachusetts’ Romneycare. 

Here, Collins bemoans Washington “dysfunction” over defeat of a Farm Bill. The dysfunction came about because the Republicans demanded a reduction in food stamp spending because government is no longer about helping people down on their luck, but about helping to subsidize private farming. If you’re depending on some Democratic votes to pass the bill, Republicans should keep their members from deliberately provoking Democrats by adding unacceptable last-minute amendments to that bill. 

Here. Collins addresses the right-wing echo chamber. 

Check this survey out:

Did you see this? I looked and looked, but I didn’t see the survey that’s intended for average citizens who also happen to make up Collins’ constituency. After all, we vote for this guy, too. Why is he so concerned about the problems facing businesses? When he goes and talks to Greta Susteren about the poor, beleaguered businesses who are forced to cut people’s hours because of the coming Obamacare “trainwreck”. 

But the translation of that is: people are being deliberately denied health insurance coverage because neither the businesses nor their representative in Congress thinks it’s important. 

What’s Collins’ solution to the health insurance crisis? What is “CollinsCare”? He and his Twitter minions consistently avoid that question, falling back on the argument that NY-27 elected him and not Hochul, and therefore it is his job to demagogue Obamacare in order to ensure his re-election. But given his incessant agitation against the notion that average people should have health insurance coverage, we know what CollinsCare would look like. 

Under CollinsCare, medical bankruptcy is the way to reach universal coverage. 

Under CollinsCare, a vagina should continue to be a pre-existing condition. 

Under CollinsCare, your pre-existing medical conditions should continue to disqualify you from obtaining health insurance coverage. 

Under CollinsCare,  the ER is good enough for you, and preventive care is socialism. 

Under CollinsCare, treatment consists of “Maybe you Shouldn’t Have Gotten Sick”. 

Under CollinsCare, “middle class” is a synonym for “vassal”. 

Under CollinsCare, the best way to treat leukemia and other acute disease is to set up tip jars in convenience stores. 

Under CollinsCare, health insurance is a “trainwreck”, so it’s better to have medical debt you can’t pay. 

Under CollinsCare, a $1 million lifetime cap on insurance payouts is plenty. 

Under CollinsCare, having the 37th best health insurance system in the world is good enough. 

Under CollinsCare, being a citizen means not caring about your fellow citizens. 

Under CollinsCare, 50 million uninsured Americans is too few. 

Under CollinsCare, chemotherapy is for the privileged few. 

Under CollinsCare, your college grad loses coverage. 

Under CollinsCare, medical treatment is a privilege for the well-to-do. 

Under CollinsCare, the slogan is “Fuck People”. 

But in the video shown above, Collins tells Greta Van Susteren that the Affordable Care Act was passed “in the middle of the night” in a “hurry”. 

The Affordable Care Act was debated and negotiated between the Summer of 2009 and its signing in March 2010. It was reported out of committee in July 2009. The Senate vote took place at 7:05 pm on December 24, 2009. The final House vote took place months – on March 21, 2010 at 10:49 pm

No hurry. No “middle of the night”. If Collins would so brazenly lie about silly, easily rebuttable facts, it calls everything else he says or writes into question. 

A Two Year Reflection

13 Jun

This past weekend marked my two year anniversary of writing for WNYMedia. Time flies when you are inundated with horse porn, special elections, and Canalside FAIL. It is a happy coincidence that by starting in June I provide for myself a convenient half-year point of reflection. I enjoy such self-indulgences, and since no one is forcing you to continue reading, I’m going to eat the whole box of chocolates.

I remind myself occasionally, though less and less often, that I started as the Republican writer for WNYMedia. If that label was ever totally accurate, it is no longer. Whether under other circumstances I would have continued to write as such is hard to know. What I can say is that I did not anticipate my party so fully flying from reason, retreating to a fearful place I could not follow. The basics of Ronald Reagan’s adage has proven true again in a small way, though I see it as a gift personally. Being partiless promotes no particular anxiety within me, and I’m content to wait and see if the GOP once again finds its serious, thoughtful foundation that drew me in the first place. In the meantime, I feel liberated from defending the indefensible, and guiltless in writing on a wider range of topics.

Which I’ve enjoyed, and I hope you have too. This past year I put myself on a schedule – first Tues/Thurs/Sun, and now Wed/Sun (is this working for you; comment if you think I should shift) – that allows me to plan and prepare longer pieces that demand more research and thoughtfulness. I’m proud to say I have never missed one of those (self-imposed) deadlines, and in fact only added articles when Big Events (Bin Laden, elections) occurred. I’ve tried to shift focus from partisan politics to public policy, and also sought to tackle some of the underlying philosophies that guide (or cloud) our thinking. Those Big Ideas take a little longer to percolate. And, of course, on the weekends I offer Escape the Urban, a bit lighter fare, focusing on the outdoors, nature, travel, and a love of exploration. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the latter that increasingly draws my interest.

And that has been the breakthrough for me this year – understanding why I write. Each member of our corral of bloggers have their own individual motivation, which speaks to our strength of providing honest and varied opinion and reporting. Some are promoting a cause, are looking for your vote, and are seeking to change your mind. Others are trying to weed out hypocrisy, expose Inside Baseball politics, play BuffaloWonk (why don’t we have one of those?), or introduce their own Big Ideas from a new perspective. Others are simply frustrated to the point of screaming, or cynical to the point of comedy, or just like to argue because its fun. At various times I’ve tried on each of those hats myself, and (self-admittedly) I still regularly fall in the last category, though less so than before.

But none of those hats fit consistently until I mustered this glimmer of self-realization: I learned this year that I’m here for the writing itself, the challenge of telling a story well. My agenda is the craft, the joy of constructing an organized and complete mental thread and putting it in the perfect 1200 word box. Choosing the right words, not the almost right words, and laying them out in such a way that they faithfully transport my abstract thoughts through space and time into your head. And how to pick which thoughts to transport so? The Big Idea still attracts, bit I also now see the value of the writer as witness, recorder of this unique place and time, teasing out the enduring and timeless Truth that may lie buried. I don’t always do it as well as I wish, but I learn something every time I try.

And I don’t do it as often as I wish, either. I backed off from three articles a week to two to give me more time to finish a book. And lo and behold, it worked. In the next month I’ll wrap up the final chapter of my memoir of war and the life that followed, and then dip my toe into the brave new world of agents, query letters, marketing and (potentially) the tsunami known as self-publishing. Taking time for the book has meant I haven’t had to time to write about how Obama should run from his own party in 2012, or how Republicans should turn Bull-Moose and reclaim the Progressive label they forged a century ago, or how conservatives should embrace cities, or how we should completely reform our tax system to a VAT, or how the story of whale oil portends our shift to renewable energy, or any of the book reviews I have piling up. I’ll get to them eventually, and I want to thank you for coming along this far. I have no idea how many readers I have, but it’s more than I imagined two short years ago.

Know Nothing America

23 Feb

None of us know much of anything.

Matt Ridley at Oxford finds this to be fascinating, a strength of our culture and humanity:


That TED talk (besides being another excellent example of why the standard of living of our mean is more important than the Gap between rich and poor) is inherently optimistic about the course of human events, the foundational democratic spread of knowledge, and the benefits that arise from it. A million years ago, one man could know how to make a stone axe, and he was the one that made it. Today, no one knows how to build a computer mouse, to use Ridley’s example, and yet they exist. This is the fundamental embodiment of our progress.

But there is a down side to our disconnect, our ignorance not only of various means of production, but our general misunderstanding of the larger world. Humility and curiosity have not spread as quickly as access to information in 2011. In an age of unprecedented databasing of knowledge of all varieties, we are more uninformed (per capita) than ever. Simultaneously, the ubiquity of information broadcast methods has given mighty bullhorns to anyone who wants one (your humble author being a case in point). The result is much shouting, much misinformation, and very little listening. No one knows how to make a mouse, and they don’t know much of what they’re talking about either.

In short, we are really screwing up a good chance to get some things right. More knowledge is available to more people than ever before, but instead of boasting the most informed electorate ever, we’re squandering it.

This is a dysfunction not endemic to Left or Right. Pensioners demand the government remove itself from Medicare. Conspiratorial buffoons have millions, not thousands, of adherents. Most young Americans get their news from one of a number of comedy outlets. We have “serious” debates about whether we should teach children to believe in science or religion, as if one must choose, and further, whether science is a matter of belief. We have the second coming of the Know Nothing Party, wrapped in the flag and a couple cherry-picked Thomas Jefferson quotes, battling faux intellectuals who confuse condescension and comprehension. Locally, our Coalition of Economic Justice ignores basic economic tenents of supply and demand, economic rationality, and individual choice, instead seeking desired results via fiat. Who can blame them – policy decisions are based on feelings, influence, and the volume (speech, not size) of constituencies, and rarely data.

None of this is new, only amplified, enhanced, sped up, and engorged. One need not go back as far stone axes to see a different world. Four hundred years ago, of course, in a long life someone could absorb a majority of the world’s accumulated learning, as mathematics and science and philosophy were all seen as extensions of each other. Only one hundred years ago, during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, the average sailor with Amundsen or Scott knew how to sail and repair a masted sailboat, navigate and use charts, fix boilers and hunt penguins, mountaineer, run dogs and use skis, and conduct geology and meteorology experiments. When Shackleton was stuck in the ice for a year, the crew amused themselves by playing football and reading the encyclopedia. Cover to cover.

Now our brains are full of other knowledge: how to send a text message, operate kitchen appliances and decipher Microsoft products, drive a car (but not fix it) and saute mixed vegetables (but not grow them). Would you knowingly trade Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Feynman for the number of children Brangelina have adopted and a plethora of sarcastic hashtags? If the human brain is no more capable of retaining knowledge (and maybe rewired via iPhone and Google to be dumber), it is filled with less and less fundamental Truth and more and more Gawker. A deep, clear lake of information is available, but we content ourselves with the knee deep bog. 

That there have always been more breeders than readers is not new. That the breeders have the intent and ability to change the course of events, due to the surety of their own mistaken beliefs and delusions of grandeur, may be.

Radical Pragmatism

4 Jan

The turn of the New Year spurs a certain amount of self-reflection, a review of fundamental assumptions and beliefs, perhaps a re-examination of perspectives and intellectual bedrock. Left unanalyzed (or re-analyzed), one may be surprised to accidentally discover that the label they cling to (Democrat, libertarian) and the honest expression of their beliefs have diverged. Additionally, the bloggy nature of new journalism eliminates a fourth wall between writer and reader. I am allowed (or expected) to share, and you often seek, that bedrock as the subtext by which you will judge the rest of my writings. 

That’s a long way of saying I write some articles for you and some for me, like this one, so I steady my own sea legs before undertaking another expedition of writer’s observation in 2011, and because my medium is electrons and not paper, you are welcome to come along on the ride looking over my shoulder. 

Image by Paul Klee at BBQChickenRobot.com


While discussing the impact and motivations of Wikileak founder Julian Assange, Chris Smith made the following comment about my detached perspective that the leaks are not ground breaking, the Information Revolution has not begun, diplomacy is not over, and Wikileak/Assange boosters are merely being duped by a self-promoting charlatan: 

I guess that’s why it’s fun to be a raging centrist, you don’t have to take a stand on anything, you just get to argue that everyone else is a radical. 

This evoked greater soul searching than perhaps Chris intended with a social media comment throw-away line. 

A great strength of our country, and a major stabilizer to its government, is the presence of only two political parties. But a natural assumption and lie that this arrangement produces is that on each policy topic of import there are but two perspectives. Further exasperating the divide, on the national stage, and in the national conversation, the elimination of north-eastern Republicans and southern Democrats fully aligned ideology and political party in a less than historical way. Not only are there only two legitimate and plausible policy positions, but they have grown further apart. Failure to chose between them and align makes you uneducated, uninformed, or part of the spineless, unprincipled mushy center. If you cared about Progress, you’d pick a side: its the only way to get anything done in this country. 

A realistic response that is increasingly less true. Not only do independents and unaffiliated voters now outnumber registered Republicans or Democrats, but the liberalization of information and organizing power of the internet has made non-party movements, such as the Tea Party, more influential, for good or for ill. I find the overall trend encouraging, as perhaps it will finally allow for non-party solutions, mirroring my own philosophical movement. 

In the year and a half that I have been writing for WNYMedia as the Reasonable Republican, I find myself having less and less in common with “my” party. It is harder and harder to defend tactically, politically, or ideologically. However, Democrats have made themselves no more endearing in that time either – quite the opposite.  A little voice has until now always whispered to choose a side in the name of Pragmatism. Now Pragmatism’s council is shifting as well. 

Serendipitously enter the story of William James on NPR’s On Point Radio yesterday morning. That I have not prominently used him as a touchstone before, in my policy and political writings, says more about my shortcomings than his eloquence and historic influence. In the nineteenth century, James advocated for (at that time) poorly connoted Pragmatism, a philosophy that he saw as epitomizing plucky, practical America. Free of class and caste and history and religious dominance, the American experiment was uniquely positioned to take advantage of unbiased scientific, measured, empirical solutions. James eschewed Idealism because it was divorced from reality – it made the intention of an action more important than the actual effect. Pragmatism, on the other hand, provided the holistic assessment of the fruits of one’s labor, no matter the source or feeling behind it. Its extreme practicality and novelty gave it an American flair – it could promise a better human future more than any other philosophy because its search for Truth would produce real implemented benefits. In other words, Progress. 

In applying Pragmatism to politics and policy, the rediscovery of a Third Way is hardly new philosophical ground, but it is rhetorical ground rarely tread, and has few modern champions of (popular) note. Most commentators and pundits (and Nobel prize winners?) applaud themselves for their hard ideological lean. In searching for writers who vocally seek a vigorous pragmatic way, one is left with Tom Friedman, who while loud and less than humble is hardly held in the highest esteem. Charismatic intellects of note (or those seeking employment as a columnist) rightly forsake the solitary wilderness and non-categorization of a new way. The best discussion about Wikileaks we could be having now would concern intelligence reform, and examining how much we classify, and where it is shared, rather than simply worshiping and condemning the messenger (a self-reinforcing process). Little of such talk rises to the media surface. 


I have written several times in the past that Pragmatism and Conservatism are fine bedfellows due to the latter’s keen eye for reality as it is, not as Liberals or Libertarians wish it was. Liberalism overly drifts into the aspirational (inspirational?), and Libertarianism has become a haven for misanthropes. Unfortunately, political Conservatism lately is more in the business of provoking and then salving fears, rather than applying practical solutions. To admit my own bias, I have been suspicious of government based action, but for pragmatic reasons: the government is historically bad conducting many of its charges. While it uniquely succeeds in tasks involving things (raising armies, massive infrastructure construction, promoting and conducting scientific research) it often fails at tasks involving people (schools, social services, jails). If only executive power could wax and wane based upon performance, and greater responsibility was earned through the effectiveness of actions. Sigh.

Pragmatic good government has two foes: Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are too beholden to public sector unions to institute meaningful reform, and Republicans are too ideologically blind to consider the government the solution to anything. Democrats rightly ask how Republicans should be allowed to reform government (or even be in charge of it) when they hate it so much. Republicans can rightly respond that Democrats love government because it fills their campaign coffers and patronage pits, and they are not any less intellectually bankrupt as to how to make it more effective and efficient.

What new way, then? What passes for pragmatism now is middling bi-partisanship, the centrism of Chris Smith’s comment above, the antithesis of the soul of James’ work. Instead of applying tested and researched solutions, in Washington each side simply gets half of what they want, with no overall plan or method. This year’s tax cut debate in the lame duck session of Congress is the perfect example. The Democrats revel in their intentions of helping the poor, the Republicans in there success of getting their way. That the rich should pay more taxes is a feeling in search of confirmation, not a policy plan based on the merits. That no one’s taxes should be raised is an ideological bias with think-tanks bankrolled to prove it. No coherent policy has been implemented. The country is worse off than before. What should be done?  

I give you Radical Pragmatism. 

Cold hearted and secular Pragmatism, ironically, is left as the only morally justifiable philosophy for solving civic problems. If you wish to reduce the scourge of childhood poverty, for example, and that alone is your aim, you should care little whether government or religious or private organizations do the heavy lifting. Yet Republicans and Democrats, and Liberals and Conservatives, will because of chosen bias sort through only one set of solutions (the best government program, for Liberals), placing the ideological over the practical. The best, most effective solution for reducing child poverty may lie at the far, safe and well populated end of a political spectrum, but I doubt it. It hasn’t been found there yet. But I will wait for the evidence to instruct so. 

Pragmatism, therefore, is Progress, and the term Progressive should be taken back from Liberals, who would only seek one government created version of it. Radical Pragmatism is the creation of a voice to advocate for such Progress, competing in a political-party-produced clamor.

A Primer on Original Thought

7 Dec

I was lucky enough to spend a semester of college in Oxford, concentrating on Philosophy and Architecture and English in a traditional center of all three disciplines. I was immediately swept up and taken in the Tutororial style of learning, where professors are paired with students to direct their studies personally, one on one. The first week my Philosophy tutor, for example, would ask me what I wanted to know more about. Based upon my answer, he would assign reading. Lots of reading. A typical one hour session would end something like this: “Read these five books, and come back when you’re interesting.”

Consider these five videos your assigned reading for the week. If you are not yet familiar with the RSA Animate series of lectures, another British phenomenon . . . well, you’re welcome.

Why the desire for independence is a greater motivator than money:


How our schools do more than just resemble factories:


How our culture has decided consumerism can inherently fix poverty:


Identifying Empathy as the core evolutionary trait, not survival of the fittest:


And the lecture that got me hooked on the series, our varied perceptions of time:


Once you are interesting, please discuss below.