Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Ad Culum Fallacy

Several years ago, philosopher Keith Parsons announced he was retiring from the field of theology, dismissing the area as a "fraud." Edward Feser, a fellow philosopher and a theologian, understandably took offense. Time has passed, tempers have cooled, and Edward Feser, in response to a post from Parsons, politely asked four questions directly related to that post. Parsons response in the combox was:
On second thought, after looking at your "straightforward questions" my answer is: Nah. I was expecting an invitation to a civil academic discussion, but I find that you are still in personal attack mode. My only response will be to assure you that you have not hurt my feelings at all. I think you are a horse's ass, and the disdain of your ilk is of no concern to me at all. Indeed, I consider it a badge of honor. Please do write more nasty things about me for the amusement of your ignorant and boorish followers. It makes my day when I piss off people like you guys.
The back and forth became a bit more heated after that, nearly all the insults flying from Parson's side. I commented:
The argumentum ad culum equi, the so-called "horse's ass fallacy" or, simply, "the ad culum," is a fallacious attempt to prove one party is being unadmirably rude by being unadmirably rude. Typically the first party is not, in fact, being unadmirably rude, leading to the general puzzlement of many and often all spectators. E.g., a typical instance of the ad culum may proceed as follows:  
Party 1: I realize we've gotten off to a bad start, but can we put that aside and have an intelligent and hopefully constructive exchange? 
Party 2: Stop insulting me, you horse's ass.  
The traditional ad culum allows for several (in principle, infinite) iterations, as:  
Party 1: I don't see how I'm being insulting--could you perhaps point out where you think I've been less than polite? 
Party 2: I thought I told you to stop insulting me, you horse's ass.  
Party 1: Hmm. I guess... well. That is to say.. well, I, uh, I'm not sure I quite see your point.  
Party 2: (points at Party 1 and then points to picture of horse's ass) 
Party 1: ... ok.  
Following the equine-caudal nomenclature, each iteration of the ad culum is typically called a "swish."  
Also known as Parsons's Parry, after the philosopher Keith Parsons, who first deployed the fallacy in debate with fellow professor Edward Feser. Three swishes were attested to in that circumstance, but further study has found many instances in the history of philosophy with more. Particularly notable is Schopenhauer's dismissal of Hegel as: 1. a camel's hump; 2. an ox's anus; 3. a goose's gizzard; 4. an auroch's vas deferens; 5. a squid's inkbag; 6. a caribou's nethers; and, finally; 7. a ferret's taint. Equally famous is Russell's exchange with Bergson, the language of which is too crude to repeat here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Works Cited

And there we have it – the moment of supreme agony on the raft, taken up, transformed, justified by art, turned into a sprung and weighted image, then varnished, framed, glazed, hung in a famous art gallery to illuminate our human condition, fixed, final, always there. Is that what we have? Well, no. People die; rafts rot; and works of art are not exempt. The emotional structure of Géricault’s work, the oscillation between hope and despair, is reinforced by the pigment: the raft contains areas of bright illumination violently contrasted with patches of the deepest darkness. To make the shadow as black as possible, Géricault used quantities of bitumen to give him the shimmeringly gloomy black he sought. Bitumen, however, is chemically unstable, and from the moment Louis XVIII examined the work a slow, irreparable decay of the paint surface was inevitable ‘No sooner do we come into this world,’ said Flaubert, ‘than bits of us start to fall off.’ The masterpiece, once completed, does not stop: it continues in motion, downhill. Our leading expert on Géricault confirms that the painting is ‘now in part a ruin’. And no doubt if they examine the frame they will discover woodworm living there.

Barnes, Julian. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Works Cited

Back in the stateroom with the Swedes and the Japanese, Franklin remembered a TV series about psychology he’d once been asked to present. It had folded directly after the pilot, a loss nobody much regretted. One item in that show reported an experiment for measuring the point at which self-interest takes over from altruism. Put like this, it sounded almost respectable; but Franklin had been revolted by the actual test. The researchers had taken a female monkey who had recently given birth and put her in a special cage. The mother was still feeding and grooming her infant in a way presumably not too dissimilar from the maternal behaviour of the experimenters’ wives. Then they turned a switch and began heating up the metal floor of the monkey’s cage. At first she jumped around in discomfort, then squealed a lot, then took to standing on alternate legs, all the while holding her infant in her arms. The floor was made hotter, the monkey’s pain more evident. At a certain point the heat from the floor became unbearable, and she was faced with a choice, as the experimenters put it, between altruism and self-interest. She either had to suffer extreme pain and perhaps death in order to protect her offspring, or else place her infant on the floor and stand on it to keep herself from harm. In every case, sooner or later self-interest had triumphed over altruism.

Barnes, Julian. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Monday, November 19, 2012

A few days ago my mom told me to call my grandmother. She's in a nursing home now, temporarily, while they run some tests. Actually, as of today the tests were finished. She has Parkinson's and, more serious, a type of frontal lobe dementia. The latter is apparently characterized by rapid decline, paranoia, aggressiveness. It was diagnosed based on her current symptoms.

I should have called earlier, I realize, but I didn't. Partly because I was busy, and mostly because I was afraid of what state she would be in when I did call.

But she was fine, perfectly lucid when we spoke. She said she's ready to die, but her body keeps living. She throws this off in a casual manner, and all I can say is--and this is being honest, actually--"Well, we're happy to have you for however long you're here." I figure she's lived long enough, she has the right to say whatever she wants. She talks about meeting my grandfather for the first time. She says the food's good. I remind of her when she and my grandfather drove me to Disney World, when I was five. How my grandfather used to throw me in the pool. She asks if I'm dating anyone, and I say no, and she says you'll find her when you stop looking. I say she's probably right. She's glad I called, she says. I am too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I passed a graffito today that read "per fabor." I don't know if this is a misspelling on a par with "plaese," which is embarrassing, or "pleez," which is hip.

Anyway, on the same subject, at lunch, Francisco was talking to me about the Balkans. It took me five minutes to figure out he was referring to a Star Trek race and not to chunks of former-Yugoslavia.

Monday, November 05, 2012


I found this in an old email the other day--I wrote it for a friend a few years ago. It's not good, of course, but I'm still fond of it. And ***, too, for the record.

Étude, for ***
after T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Da questo passo vinto mi concedo
più che già mai da punto di suo tema
soprato fosse comico o tragedo:

ché, come sole in viso che più trema,
così lo rimembrar del dolce riso
la mente mia da me medesmo scema.*

I wonder at the star
You swallowed:
Blue as a bleached shell,
Potent as a strawberry,
Maybe lost in a hepatic well
Or fabled jugular gulley,
But probably placed centrally,
Embedded, I’ve supposed, in cardiac pith.
No myth,
This cellular sidereal coincidence,
For what else explains the wake of hope,
Obsequious, swirled,
The future tense
Frosting a world
That only knew how to be?

Such a legacy,
And you pass.

These days, the urge comes with guilt –
So despicably male and crass –
To mold you into a ball,
To clamp it close (and safe), light and all.
Then who’s to say
With one ear pressed
I shouldn’t hear within your breast
The religious thrum,
The rippling orbit, the secret hum –
Even triste et beau
The shred of a something
That wetly washed over the snow
When He made the first spring day?
(When two lovers shameless laughed and ran
And buttressed each other;
And time began.)

I wonder at the soft of your skin,
Waxy as molten glass,
Tender as a moth’s abdomen:
How a touch might blow you
Into a suspension of sand,
Or prod you into a sun,
Where the nebular dust pounds itself to become one.

(It is a wonder that a mere spherical form
Has afterthoughts so powerful
It keeps worlds warm.)

So I’ve thought at this – I’ve guessed at more:
I’ve watched the light seep up the floor.
(There is a lozenge-shaped hole in the door.)
Things appear in light, and light takes time.
The fact lingers behind.

Only in sleep can a mind meet a mind.

How fine the turf!  Translucent, semiotic.
How cordial comes the wind, abaft.
How forever the landscapes in dreams…
Remember our running?
Starlight poured from your seams.

* Dante Alighieri, Paradiso.

Vanquished do I confess me by this passage 

More than by problem of his theme was ever 

O'ercome the comic or the tragic poet;

For as the sun the sight that trembles most, 

Even so the memory of that sweet smile 
My mind depriveth of its very self.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I sometimes think my conception of prayer is more philosophically rigorous than the genuine Christian. 

I find my faith in God is, like so many things we learn as children, not a belief I can shake. Like my, I should admit, incurable hopeless romance. Something I doubt I'll ever be able to banish. In fact, it's rather like those optical illusions where two lines are the same length, but because o
f context they appear radically different. Now I can sit and stare at those lines, measure them, and rationally appreciate they are, in fact, the exact same length. As I stare at them, I realize, yes, this is true, and the mirage vanishes, and they really are identical. For a moment. But I look away a second, and when I come back, they're just as different as the beginning.

That's my belief in God. If I think on epistemology, if I weigh the evidence cooly, I realize there probably is no God. Certainly none I could hope to know. But I think of something else, my mind gets distracted, life happens, and the belief resurfaces behind everything. Background radiation.

So my point is, at moments, I pray. I could say this is just a way of covering my bases, and it couldn't hurt, but it's nothing so calculated. It's that residual childhood imbibing, the sense that someone is looking on, caring, vigilant, loving. Maybe He is.

I clasp my hands, and my thoughts always go like this. I think of something I want. A relative, a friend, to be happy and well. A situation to turn out how I want it to. A love to be kindled and reflected.

But then I think what do I know? Who knows that this should turn out the way I want it, in the greater scheme? Perhaps, this momentary hurt is for the greater good. Perhaps if the Titanic never sank, maritime precautions would never have been enhanced, and the world would be that much poorer. Perhaps the Holocaust was the only fertile ground to breed the Aliyah Bet. Who knows the answers to these things? Certainly I can't begin to comprehend all the moving pieces. But God can. God must.

So it would be foolish to ask for a particular thing--He knows what should happen, what should be granted and what must be withheld. In surrender, I think, well then I'll simply ask God to do what He thinks is best.

And that prayer is on my lips, too.

But surely a good God would not withhold the right outcome simply because I failed to ask for it. If a loner lies in a hospital, comatose, will God really only grant him salvation, wellness, if he has someone to pray for him? Is God partial to the gregarious? I think not: that's not the God I believed in, and certainly no God I doubt now. A good God does good without being asked. He can't do anything else.

So the prayer dies on my lips. I'm bemused. I don't know what to ask for. The orison could only be redundant, and thus, pointless.

I don't know how to pray in the end. The only, only thing that suggests itself, is gratitude. Wanting nothing, only emoting. I think of the goods things in my life, the wonder. I think of when we got my childhood pair of golden retrievers. The first night we took them home, so small, so energetic, so unrestrained in their love for us. We named them Taffy and Butterscotch. When we picked them out, the favorite was Butterscotch because he had a white mark on his forehead. But Taffy followed me around, and I wanted him. Chaos in the family, until my parents announced we'd get them both.

Taffy died of cancer, and Butterscotch died of a broken heart. The last night he was alive I picked him up, so riddled with disease he couldn't walk, and brought him down to my bedroom. I held him, talked to him in words he couldn't understand, and in the morning said a goodbye that wasn't enough and couldn't have been enough and never saw him again.

When we brought them home the first night, after they'd exhausted themselves in licking our faces, Butterscotch fell asleep. His feet trembled, as he dreamed of chasing giant rabbits. I think of that.

I think of how a pretty girl's hand feels in mine, so frightfully fragile, like sapling greenwood. Like a secret never to be betrayed.

I think of laughing with friends.

I think of my mother's voice.

My hands are still clasped. "Thank you," is the only thing I say to God. "Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of it."

It's not a terrible outcome, to begin in a state of wanting something more, and to end up reflective, wanting nothing, grateful for all--all--that is.

So I fall asleep with a smile, vaguely knowing that if this is the last night, if some flair erupts from a sun that quite selflessly granted us so much, if some stray gamma rays sterilize this world and all its precarious civilization, then it was enough. Such is the legacy of a decade of Protestant worship.

It's enough.


ROOMMATE: So, you watch any terrible Nick Cage movies lately?

SCOTT: No. But I did the find out the reason he makes so many bad movies. It's because he spends money nonstop. Has 17 houses or something, and a castle in Germany.

ROOMMATE: He's kind of like MC Hammer. Only, you know, he's still employed.

SCOTT: I know. I'm not sure what the latest MC Hammer single is.

ROOMMATE: The last time he made a single, it came with cheese.

SCOTT: It was titled: "You CAN touch this... for a price."

My Job

SCOTT: [after a general round of bitching] I actually quite like this job.

Practical Latin

VOCAL COACH: So that's Italianate Latin. And you speak...?

SCOTT: Classical Latin.

COACH: And you use that to speak to...?

SCOTT: Priests mainly. Like I know how to say "Please stop touching me" and "Help, I need an adult."

COACH: Very funny.

SCOTT: I know, right? And topical too.


Attached to the second volume of Alan Moore's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" there's a traveler's almanac, which documents the world surrounding the Victorian setting of the book, and includes mention of every mystical realm ever dreamed up by an author. Of course it includes Utopia, Ruritania, Treasure Island, etc., but buried within are also these marvelously modern references, such as:

"Elsewhere in Washington we discover Chisholm Prison, thought to be escape-proof until the ingenious professor Van Dusen did just that during the first years of the twentieth century, while travelling further south, just past the logging town of Twin Peaks, with its many interesting Indian legends…"

And then even better, there's:

"…save to mention that a crewman who had sailed with Robert Owe-Mulch from the isle of Scoti Moria… eventually to settle near Los Angeles. The crewman, a fellow named Lebowsky, had been formerly a member of the Naiad race of Scoti Moria, but is it not known if he continued the traditional Naiad habits of smoking and nine-pins once established in America, or indeed if he produced any subsequent offspring of note."

The Nobel Prize is a Curse upon the World

Martinez Francisco:

I heard this morning for the first time the term "Pax Europea"
the EU received the Nobel Prize for peace

Scheule Scott D:

That's right. Germany has claimed it deserves 40% of the prize, but Poland says that's way too much. France has threatened to invade Belgium to get its 5%, whereas Greece has already sold its 3% to Italy in order to pay off government debt. Angela Merkel has demanded the handover of the Czech Republic's 2%, and London is trying to convince the Czechs to go along with it, lest the prize be revoked. For no particular reason, three Balkan countries meanwhile have joined, split up, rejoined each other, and once again split up.


DENISE: Oh, it's an "I Gave Blood" sticker. I thought it was one of those "I'm Special" buttons.

SCOTT: I don't need a button for people to know I'm special--that's what the tattoo's for.

Works Cited

‘Clevinger, what do you want from people?’ Dunbar had replied wearily above the noises of the officers’ club.

‘I’m not joking,’ Clevinger persisted.

‘They’re trying to kill me,’ Yossarian told him calmly.

‘No one’s trying to kill you,’ Clevinger cried.

‘Then why are they shooting at me?’ Yossarian asked.

‘They’re shooting at everyone,’ Clevinger answered. ‘They’re trying to kill everyone.’

‘And what difference does that make?’ Clevinger was already on the way, half out of his chair with emotion, his eyes moist and his lips quivering and pale. As always occurred when he quarreled over principles in which he believed passionately, he would end up gasping furiously for air and blinking back bitter tears of conviction. There were many principles in which Clevinger believed passionately. He was crazy.

‘Who’s they?’ he wanted to know. ‘Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?’

‘Every one of them,’ Yossarian told him.

‘Every one of whom?’

‘Every one of whom do you think?’

‘I haven’t any idea.’

‘Then how do you know they aren’t?’

‘Because…’ Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.

Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all. And if that wasn’t funny, there were lots of things that weren’t even funnier.

Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Tourists on metro just referred to stop as Elephant Plaza. Priceless.
BLIND DATE: So do you not shave on the weekend?

ME: Honestly, I would have, but I didn't expect you to be this pretty.

DATE: So I was watching this movie, about the history of the, um…

ME: What?

DATE: The dildo. This doctor invented it actually.

ME: I think I know this story. You know how Isaac Newton was under the apple tree and it fell on his head and he got the idea for gravity? Well, this guy was under a banana tree.