Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Social Justice Bullies

This is a response to an article by Aristotelis Orginos, published in  The original article is here:

I thought the article had an important warning about speaking from an ideological entrenched perspective.  Yet some of the absurdities raised in the article flow from differences in terminology.  For instance, take the definitions of “Racism” used by the Unitarian Universalism Association, my religious tradition and that of the pistol-packing preacher, Theodore Parker.

Racism - An institutionalized system of economic, political, social, and cultural relations that ensures that one racial group has and maintains power and privilege over all others in all aspects of life. As such, racism is measured by its economic, cultural, sociological, and political outcomes rather than its intentions (i.e., its effect on both racially and ethnically marginalized groups and racially and ethnically dominant groups).

Individual Racism - Individual behavior, the outcome of which reinforces a dominant/marginalized economic, cultural, sociological, and/or political paradigm, regardless of the individual's good intentions. An individual may act in a racist manner unintentionally.

Under these definitions “racism” is not the same as “bias,” “prejudice,” or “racial hatred.” “Racism,” as defined above, refers to cultural systems which maintain power and privilege imbalances.  Viewed in this way there is no “anti-white racism” in America because the culture perpetuates white privilege.  People may be prejudiced against white-skinned Americans, but that is not the same as “racism” under these systemic definitions.

I tend toward the pragmatic and try to look for solutions based upon the problem rather than ideology.  On the other hand, when entering a cultural conversation about something like racism, it is necessary to commit to a certain amount of ideological translation in order to find a common-ground understanding of the problem at hand.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Review of Sages Restaurant

The KMN dinner club, an assortment of six friends who go out to dinner once a month, dined at Sages Restaurant, in Redmond, Washington on Saturday night, 1/17/15. The restaurant makes reservations only for parties more numerous than five. We were glad to have reservations as it was crowded in the entry and we were seated promptly avoiding the wait.

The menu which is on-line offers a generous selection of different dishes. I saw several items of interest, but after imagining the available tastes, I decided not to order an entree but to start with a bowl of clam chowder followed by their ravioli dish. The restaurant was offering a lobster ravioli as a special, but I ordered off the menu and chose a pear and Gorgonzola ravioli topped with candied walnuts because: candied walnuts.

You would be right to question my judgment in ordering two dishes prepared in a cream sauce. And while I admit that it could have ended badly, luck was with me and it all ended well.

The chowder was prepared with a white broth which was only slightly thickened. Rather than the salty sauce as thick as pancake batter which is all too often confronts a diner, the chowder at Sages was on the light side with a slight flavor of clam juice and fresh herbs. The chowder was loaded with tender clams. The complimentary ciabatta bread was rustic with a hearty crust and went well with both the soup and the pasta.

The ravioli was perfect. The pasta was substantial but had lost its chewiness. It was tender without losing consistency. The flavor carried a touch of sweetness which was balanced by the bite of the Gorgonzola. The sauce, in contrast to the soup, was rich and creamy. Every bite was delicious. And did I mention the candied walnuts. My wife ordered the cioppino. I had a sip of her broth and it was rich without overpowering the seafood.

Chef Bart, the owner waited on our table. He is a charming host. One of our party needed clarification about the preparation of a menu item and he knew both ingredients and the way it was prepared. He also helped us select a bottle of Italian Pinot Gris for the table. Those who had a glass were pleased.

When we get together, we like to talk. We are older and a couple of us wear hearing aids. Noise levels and acoustics can be a problem. There are about twenty tables at Sages. The majority of tables are arranged in one large room. We may have been one of the louder tables, as most guests were seated as couples.  We had no problem hearing each other, in part because there was no background music. Music has a tendency to ratchet up the decibels and raise their voices to be heard.

We were not prepared to leave before a little sweet. Other's at our table ordered a walnut cake and a brownie a la mode and were very happy with their dessert. I went with a scoop of their coconut and chocolate swirl ice cream with a little decaf and found it a refreshing finish to a wonderful meal.

The price of the main dishes ranged between $15.00 and $25.00 which, given the meals, was reasonable. When the table check came there was an added gratuity of 18%.  I get stubborn about added gratuity and do not increase the stated amount.  On the other had, we have had checks where it was difficult to determine whether a gratuity was added.  Chef Bart took the time to make a personal note on each of three credit card invoices that the total included a gratuity.  I appreciate the fact that he took the extra effort to make the bill clear to us.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What is Art?

I am a subscriber to Philosophy Now magazine. They have invited readers to submit letters of up to 400 words answering the question, "What is Art?"  They may or may not publish my letter, but I am publishing it herewith.

Music, dance, literature, film and the visual arts are each capable of provoking the full range of human responses.  Specific works of art may elicit a sense of wonder or cynicism, hope or despair, adoration or spite.  Other axes provide qualitative polarities.  The work of art may be direct or complex, subtle or explicit, intelligible or obscure.  The subjects and approaches to the creation of art are bounded only by the imagination of the artist.  Consequently, I believe that defining art based upon its representational content is a doomed enterprise.

            A frequent theme in aesthetics is the claim that there is a detachment or distance between works of art and the flow of patterns in everyday life.   Works of art rise like islands from current of more pragmatic concerns.  Kant talked about a detached or special attitude when making judgments about beauty. 

            I prefer a functional account of art.  There is little time to argue in 400 words, so let me lay it out.  When you step out of a river and onto an island, you come to a stop.  Similarly, the special or aesthetic attitude requires one to treat some experience as an end-in-itself.  Art asks us to arrive empty and simply attend to the way in which we experience the work of art.  This aesthetic experience answers the question, “What do I experience in my encounter with this artifact?”  The benefit of reflection should be beyond question in a group of philosophers!

            While a person can have an aesthetic experience of a natural scene, flavor or texture, art is produced.  Art is the intentional communication of an experience as an end-in-itself.  The content of that experience may determine whether the artwork is popular or ridiculed, significant or trivial, but it is art either way. 

            One of the initial reactions to this approach is that it seems overly broad.  An older brother who sneaks up behind his younger sibling and shouts, “Booo!” can be said to be creating art.  But isn’t the difference between this example and a Freddy Krueger movie just one of degree?  On the other hand my approach would exclude visual graphics used in advertising or political propaganda as they are created as a means to an end.

            Furthermore, “Communication” is not the best word for what I have in mind because it implies an unwarranted intentionality about the content represented.  Aesthetic responses are often underdetermined.


Mike Mallory

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Unfinished a review of "Unbroken," the film

Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini under the direction of Angelina Jolie has brought the Unbroken story to the big screen. The film is a compelling portrayal of Zamperini testing the world and the world testing Zamperini. (SPOILER ALERT) Louis is bullied in school, coached to run at the edge of human capacity, shot at, lost at sea on a life raft for weeks on end and then ends up as a prisoner of war under the control of a sadistic camp commander.

As we follow the story, our empathy is quickened and our understanding of the limits of human endurance is broadened. The film is two-hours and seventeen minutes of the same scene: life deals Louis a bad hand, Louis spits in the face of Fate and Fate comes back at him again, and again.

As far as it goes, the film is strong and evocative, but  the problem is that the film doesn't take us far enough into his story. We never see Louis grow as a person. He triumphs over the sea and survives the Bird. We are witness to his tenacity and the power of his will as he is confronted time and time again with challenges he must overcome. No one should have to suffer the horrors which confronted Louis and we share his gratitude when he kisses the tarmac.

The film is a representation of a life in the flesh and if that life lost interest when the lips left the pavement, then the decision to end the film at that point makes sense. However, the narrative in the book presses on, I am told, describing Louis' alcoholism and the loss of his marriage both resulting from PTSD and the aftermath of his horrific wartime experiences.

The struggle to reach a place where he was comfortable with his own history is certainly the most complex challenge Louis faced and may be the most interesting. Few of us will ever be lost at sea or captured as prisoners of war, but the difficulty of facing our own past with honesty, compassion and integrity is a common, if not universal, conundrum. The climax of Louis' story apparently comes at a Billy Graham crusade where accepts his own life, lets go of his hatred and his need for revenge and learns to forgive those at whose hands he suffered.

Between the tarmac kiss and the credits, Jolie throws up some epilogue notes telling us a bit of what happened next in Louis' life, but that next part is too important to summarize in a bit of rolling text. The film fails to deliver enough of the Zamperini story. We see him survive, but we are denied access to the personal growth that finally brought him happiness.

The film was over two hours and I do not claim that there was much that could be cut without losing an essential part of the story. Maybe the Louis Zamperini story is more than can be reduced to a film. Now I am reading the book so I can finish the story.