Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why baseball is the greatest game...

Baseball season is just around the corner, and it's going to be terribly exciting this year. The Brewers have their best team in a decade on paper, and on the field the Crew should be interesting to watch--some vetaran power hitters, a very solid pitching staff, and a bunch of young kids...given the Cardinals' losses here-and-there, the NL Central should be very close at the top, and the Brewers have every reason to think that they will be competitive this year...

But, I've recently got to thinking...

Apart from my love of the Brewers, what makes baseball such a great game?

There are many other great games: especially basketball and football. Excellent sports to watch, and the nuances of the game are intense and manifold. Yet, baseball edges them out....why is that?

Baseball has perfect games. This has to be the big difference between baseball and other sports like basketball and football. No matter how good a basketball game is, or a football game, there can never, by definition, be a perfect basketabll game, or a perfect football game.

Baseball's perfection is built into its system: one pitcher pitches nine innings, whereby all 27 batters are retired in order and not one batter reaches base.

This cannot occur in other games; there is no mathematical system built into other games. In other sports, one can get a perfect score (gymnastics, figure skating, etc.), but that's not entirely the same as a perfect game...

The other aspect of the game, the aspect that in turn makes the perfect game more compelling, is the relationship between the pitcher and the remainder of the fielders, and the batters, as well.

Unlike other games, there is no game clock in baseball. The pitcher is the vital player of a baseball game because he controls the pace of the game. There are fast pitchers (Buehrle of the White Sox and Sheets of the Brewers), and there are slow pitchers (see Tomo Ohka of the Brewers and Victor Santos, now of the Pirates).

Basketball is marked by a coordination of individual movement of players on offense, and either team or man-to-man defenses. Football is marked by an unmatched amount of teamwork...the quarterback depends upon the blocking assignments and movement of the linemen; defense in football works much the same way, with intricate blitzing and coverage schemes...

Baseball is entirely different. The pitcher is the key to the game because the pitcher holds the ball to start the game. Rather than a drive (football) or a possession (basketball), baseball is dominated by the start-and-stop of purely individual moments and isolated instances (at bats).

The pitcher begins every play in baseball--to the catcher in the form of a pitch or a throw-out, to any number of the infielders for a pick-off play, etc. Because of this disjoint between at bats and other moments in the game (pick-offs, caught stealings, etc.), baseball can be an incredibly rough sport to watch sometimes. But, the flipside is, when baseball moves out of its herky-jerky tendencies and gains some momentum, some rhythm, there is nothing more poetic than a baseball game...

The offense creates rhythm as much as the defense; but, its objective is much more difficult: the offense, in attempting to score runs, must take the rhythm from the pitcher. Just as the defense has its disjointed moments, so too does the offense (e.g., one hit). But, a rhythm comes about when multiple hits occur....this is the rally....

Taken as a whole, baseball is poetry because of its nuances. There are trends and key outcomes when one particular game is taken as a whole; but there is almost an endless amount of nuances and individual instances that can be taken and analyzed within a baseball game. Now, the same can be done for other games, such as basketball and fooball. But, the difference with baseball is that these instances all originate from the same point (the pitcher), and thus every instance in baseball is marked by the attempt of the offense to steal the rhythm from the pitcher, to take control of the game and score a run.

The pitcher's objective is rarely ever to throw a perfect game every time out. But the beauty of a baseball game truly is that every baseball game one goes to, one very well may get to see a perfect game...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Does democracy have a sense?

Until this semester, the entirety of my studies about politics and philosophy have originated in normative and essentialist sources---from Aristotle and Plato to Locke and Rousseau, to Hegel and Marx, to Taylor and Macmurray; since I have started reading Wittgenstein, I have found that there is a meaningful challenge that can be raised when one combines philosophy of language with communitarian quests.

In the normative tradition, especially for non-liberals or critics of liberalism (see Rousseau, Hegel, Marx), community has a strong sense; thus, democracy, derived from the demands of community, is something entirely different than what liberals tend towards when defining democracy.

How do we solve the problem of contorted, twisted meanings, between the two traditions (liberal and non-liberal)? Is it merely an issue of language? Or more an issue of circumstance?

The word democracy carried a negative connotation for two thousand years. At the influence of Aristotle, democracy was viewed as the rule of the poor and the rule of the many; this strain of thought, even through the epistemological changes brought upon the world by Descartes, was carried forward. In the modern period, it seems safe to summarize the period by pointing out that aversions to democracy were softened by references to limited governments built around both the preservation of private property, the protection of individual endeavors (e.g., speech, life, etc.), and in some cases, the welfare of marginalized groups or institutions (cf. esp. Kant, through Rawls).

This modern tradition of liberalism, though with many representatives (Locke, Mill, Hobbes, Kant, and to a certain extent Rawls, Taylor, and Nozick) carried political thought forward, through a gigantic shift in political practice: democracy became a code word for good government by the time the careers of both Rawls and Nozick were completed...it is now acceptible to support democratic institutions, and promote its well-being...

That is, unless democracy is the rule of the poor and the many. It seems that the idea of a "many" has survived the history of political thought concerning democracy, but, not that of a "poor." It would appear as though the advent (and purported death) of communism (or strains of communistic thought) turned liberal governments away from conceiving of democracy in a sense whereby the government was seen to be in the hands of the poor.

But, what does that even mean? Why is it significant to note that democracy has lost any communitarian sharpness, any possible radical elements, in favor of the relatively calm and plain everyday use "democracy," which signifies, roughly, "representative government," "civil liberties," "individual rights," "capitalism," and "liberalism"? Why have these concepts taken on such a clear meaning of "goodness"?

Clearly the poor and the many remain "bad." But, those concepts are no longer signifiers of "democracy." Neither is it the case that any strong sense of communitarian association could take on the meaning of the word, 'democracy'--although, if the liberals successfully hijacked the word "democracy," perhaps the communitarians can eventually do the same?

There is an important conclusion here: political words are difficult because they are rallying cries at bottom; references, preferably with very vague meaning. If I, as a communitarian, employ the term "democracy," and equate it with a system of associations, how is that any different than a liberal employing the term "democracy," and equating it with a system of institutions?

Here's where the turn back into essentialism comes (hold on to your hats, Wittgensteinians): perhaps the meaning of political words is in the use-value, the utility, of the actual persons that compose such corresponding political associations or institutions: perhaps, for instance, "democracy" only clearly means "democracy" whereby there is clearly a democratic practice occurring--this is a confusing outcome, for we have yet to figure out what democracy actually means. But, this is also a valuable outcome, for it allows for the possibility of criticism of the prevalent political order: if persons use the word 'democracy,' and yet there is no 'democratic' association apparent, the word is meaningless; there is no manifestation of its term.

What is the outcome for "community," like "democracy." Is it the case that "community" is that which we do not have? Is "community" a manner in which we do not act? When we use the word community, is it meaningless? Where do we find community? What is its meaning?

Is there any difference between "community" and "slab" for Wittgenstein?

***

Stuff to read if you'd like to trace some of the thoughts here:

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, secs. 1-184
Alain Badiou, Metapolitics
Ellen Meiksins Wood, "Demos versus 'we the people'," from Democracy Against Capitalism
Neal Wood, Tyranny in America
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, I.6
Charles Taylor, Hegel and Modern Society and Modern Social Imaginaries

Monday, February 13, 2006

The history of a sentence...

I had my first experience with TurnItIn.com last night. It went well...I was turning in a paper on Aristotle's epistemology in On the Soul for PHIL 142. My paper is officially 93% original.

What surprised me about the originality count is this: TurnItIn appears to work on tracking sentences in a student's paper and how those sentences correspond with other sentences written in the history of the database...I initially expected TurnItIn to work citation-by-citation as well (for instance, the database tracked direct citations that I used from Aristotle's text and connected them to papers that other persons in my class wrote--they presumably used the same quote).

I was amazed to find, however, a segment of one of my sentences in the analysis section of my paper match up with a completely random article published in 2004 about residents in Florida preparing for Hurrican Charley. My point about Aristotelian knowledge was that when I know something, the expression of that knowledge is the same as the expression of the knowledge of when a "tree" becomes "wood." This point is significant for Aristotle because when I know something, I can change the "project" of things in the world, as they fit my own project (e.g., I know a tree on its own terms, but I can also know a tree on my terms--for instance, if I am a shipbuilder and I need material, I can use the wood of a tree to build my ship. Thus I know both "tree" and "wood," and I know the difference between the two).

To illustrate this point, I had a sentence that read as follows:

I know this: I know that when I cut down "tree" to accumulate "wood" to build a ship, I am changing the tree.

This sentence matched up with the following sentence from "Florida Prepares for Hurricane Charley; "American Quest".", The America's Intelligence Wire, August 1, 2004:

MALE: This is birch. This is also a birch. This is alder. It doesn't cause me any pain to cut down a tree, because I know that when I cut down that tree, I am going to plant a number of trees to take its place.

This similarity got me thinking: how is it that every sentence in my paper didn't get tracked to a particular, random article. I can understand how TurnItIn uses this sentence tracking technique to find significant blocks of text that have been stolen and not cited properly.

But, the element of humor in my example comes from the total unrelatedness of the actual words at the level of sentence (I do find it ironic, however, that the article that my sentence matched is actually proving an Aristotelian point, namely that a person can know a tree on its own terms, and also on terms that are helpful to their own personal project).

Was it a particular order of words? Or a particular percentage of words that matched between the two sentences? Oddly enough, only these words matched:

-I
-know
-when
-cut
-down
-tree
-to

In total, that's eight words in my original sentence ("I" matched twice).

How is it that no other sentence, merely on a word-by-word basis, matched up with other articles or sources? Surely in the history of the database, every word I used culd be matched in a different article. Is it word order? I just happened to match the words "I know when I cut down tree"...I am amazed that no other sentences in my paper matched another sentence written within the database at some point...

This is an excellent lesson in language: sentences can correspond to a large percentage of exactitude while having no common meaning, and no significant correlation for the purpose of an argument...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is it possible that my mind is weaker than my idea of my mind?

Descartes offers an impressive proof for the existence of God that allows him an immense epistemological groundwork on which he can work; the argument follows perfectly from his system, and adds to the empowering, radical assertion that ideas in my mind need not resemble the objects outside my mind. The mind is officially free from external reality in the Cartesian system, in ways that the Aristotelian system cannot match.

But, at step (2) in his argument, I find a severe problem:

If something is the complete cause of something else, it must have at least as much formal reality as its effect.

That is to say, something that is merely a mode (e.g., an idea, color, shape, hardness, etc.) cannot bring a finite substance (e.g., my mind, your mind, a desk, a stone) into existence; something that is merely a mode does not have enough ontological status to cause a finite substance.

My problem, which could be completely inconsistent, is this:

is it the case that an idea is always merely a mode; that is, that an idea is always of a lesser ontological status than a finite substance?

I have variable premises, that I have not yet placed in any particular order, to work with this problem:

(1) It is not the case that ideas are always of lesser ontological status than finite substances. Rather, it is possible than an idea is ontologically stronger, or more real, than a finite substance in some cases.

(2) There are ideas that can become more than accidental to a given substance. E.g., it is not merely accidental that my idea of God corresponds to the formal reality of God.

(3) My knowledge of the existence of God depends upon my having an idea of God.

(4) I can have an idea of finite substance that is actually stronger via objective reality (Descartes' scale for ideas, corresponding to formal reality--which is mode, finite substance, infinite substance, in order or status from weakest to strongest, or most independent) than that corresponding finite substance in formal reality.

(5) I can have an idea of my mind that is objectively stronger than my actual mind in formal reality, as finite substance.

But, remember P2 in Descartes' argument: If something is the complete cause of something else, it must have at least as much formal reality as its effect.

Here I am crossing signals with Descarts; his system does not allow for a mode (idea) to cause a finite substance (mind). But yet, I can envision that I have an idea of my mind (a mode) that is stronger than my actual mind (finite substance). Does this necessarily suggest a causal relationship is inverted?

The best conclusion I have is this: perhaps I cannot prove that a finite substance can be caused by a mode (e.g., my idea of mind cannot cause my mind). But, perhaps the causal relationship between levels of reality is not as sound as Descartes asserts; the mere thought that I can think of my mind in a manner that is stronger than my actual mind suggests that a corkscrew can be placed in Descartes' system...

I have another, maybe interesting, example: is it possible that an idea of community is stronger than the actual community that corresponds in formal reality? Is it the case that an idea of community can cause a community to come into existence? Am I merely using "idea" in a different sense than above?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Anyone else tired of bad historical analogies...

Anyone else growing tired of bad historical analogies? Today, in stories by AP writers, both Venezuelan and American governmental officials are calling the respective leaders of both countries "Hitler." Rumsfield, for instance, equated Chavez's legal electoral victories, consolidation of power to Hitler, and association with both Fidel Castro (Cuba) and Evo Morales (Bolivia); the Venezuelan government fired back by calling Bush the North American version of Hitler...

This of course, is nothing new. The Democrats have employed similar historical analogies to the Iraq War, calling upon our memory of Vietnam, and President Bush often employs imagery from World War II to justify his vision in the Middle East...

Of course, some of these events have parallels, but at the same time, many very important particulars are left aside. Using history, or the philosophy of history, to justify political or moral outcomes is nothing new; many Marxist thinkers in the early Twentieth Century (e.g., Georg Lukacs) used the jump from historical materialism to speculative philosophy of history (e.g., Revolution of the Proletariat) to justify their political tactics. This is merely one such example...

The difference, of course, is the rigor of such uses. These new uses, by both democrats and republicans, and other governments' officials, just seem over the top...