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review 2017-01-25 00:22
I Want My Hat Back
I Want My Hat Back - Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back is a silly adventure of a bear searching for his missing hat. Receiving a 90L on the Lexile readability scale, it should be easy to read for students from kindergarten through third grade.

This would be a great book to teach inference, as the surprise twist is never explicitly stated. Students would have to use the dialogue and pictures to determine what had happened. This would also be a good book to teach morals as students watch the bear and his friends interact. 

I gave this book four stars as I thought it was a very silly and fun story. However, the surprise ending could be a little graphic, especially for younger students. 

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review 2017-01-21 00:00
On the Geneology of Morals
On the Geneology of Morals - Friedrich Nietzsche Three essays each coherent. This is Nietzsche's best work. Almost all of his major ideas lurk within this book. I would recommend the audio version. There's just something about Nietzsche that when he's read aloud you just feel the contempt and frustration you know he has for mankind and even the reader of his book.

He'll say the world needs artist and poets. He feels his truths and the reader feels them too. There's good and there's bad with Nietzsche. He has special dislike for women and feminism which even transcends the time period he's writing in. I could probably identify 10 statements through out the book that even a modern day misogynist would blush at. I hope that doesn't stop modern readers from reading this short masterpiece of a work.

Everything we know is tinted by our current context, its history and our expectations. Nietzsche does say in the book that most of philosophy is ahistorical, but in order to understand the proper context history must first be understood. (One of my favorite statements made by modern day homophobes often in the guise of religion is "marriage is between a man and a woman and it was Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden not Adam and Steve". They always forget to mention the talking snake, and they were right when they made it a tautology, but, unfortunately for them, the world has moved and now it's 'marriage is between consenting adults' and there is a new tautology in play).

The theme that really ties all three essays together is that 'man prefers the will to nihilism more than the will to nothing'. The Christian (and Nietzsche seems to focus mostly on the most popular religion in Western Europe at that time) is the most nihilistic person of all for they have outsourced their morality to somebody else. Who truly acts for the good? The person who is promised an eternal life for performing according to scripture or the person who does the good for its own sake. Nietzsche is not a nihilist. He has a system and he defends them within these three essays.

"There are no truths, there are only perspectives" leading to the 'free spirit' as he said in the third essay, and in the first essay (or maybe the second?) he says what free spirit would actually do wrong because he has no God keeping him from acting wrongly? Almost none! The more inclusive set of beliefs that include the other inferior systems (a recursive process of sorts) give his rank order of being leading to his 'perspectivism' of truth and keeping out of a nihilistic trap.

He's really clued into the 'pernicious teleological' way for thinking that permeates society today. He illustrates by saying "the hand was made to grasp" after all that's what we do with it. The world gives but it also takes. Idle chatter distracts. He does obliquely mention his solution of 'modified poverty' (my words) for the fulfillment of a philosopher (artist, poet, or even a regular human like me). The philosopher should only have the bare minimum necessary to survive and the rest is too much (this will be another spot where he makes a gratuitous misogynistic statement which adds nothing to the point) and ends up taking more than giving (except for the gratuitous statement against women I have hearitly endorsed this advice for my life).

He has hints of his 'eternal return' within the second essay. But he only takes it as far as the absolute determination of the world. He knows man is an animal but quotes Spencer ('survival of the fittest') more than Darwin (or Huxely, Darwin's bulldog). He's definitely got a book that Nazis could embraced if they ignore the parts they don't like. He is not anti-Semite (he goes out of his way to attack the anti-Semites), but he does state the last great man was Napoleon, and Germans after 1930 could put Hitler within Nietsche's context of greatness. This book surprised me by how much what the Nazis thought could fit into this book with a little bit of editing.

"Will to Power" is a term people love to throw out when discussing Nietzsche. Nobody gets it right. I suspect even Nietzsche doesn't always know what he means by it. But, in the context of some of the book, he will say "man's instinct to freedom or what I call 'will to power'". Nietzsche doesn't believe in 'free will' as originally defined by St. Augustine because St. Augustine uses it for man analogously to God creating the universe. The 'will' is more in line with that which contain all of our feelings, passions, and emotions, the Dionysian man, our rational intuitions of sorts. The power is our drive (or driving, because Nietzsche would say we are always becoming we never are). Our drive comes about because everything that is must maintain itself and strives to conquer what is beyond it. (That's why Nietzsche calls out Napoleon as he does. That's why the Nazis would have embraced this book because Hitler would be their ideal man. Their aesthetic priest).

Man is an animal and thus has the instincts of an animal. Debt and Guilt (apparently practically the same word in German) are the onus society puts on us. Historically, cutting off someone's arm would compensate for my loss. As if, their suffering would make me better. That's how religion gets started. The ultimate Christian sacrifice is of course Jesus on the Cross as payment. Of course, Nietzsche calls all of this bunk. Everything up til know has been designed in such a way to take away our 'instinct of freedom' or our 'will to power'. The masters have been enslaved by the slaves (the Roman Nobels by the Jews according to Nietzsche). Our system of values have been turned upside down where the pitifiul, the needy, and the vulgar has been made the nobel, the good and the hoped for.

Nietzsche is clear. Man took a wrong turn after Homer. Truth (or the best perspective) is disclosed to man by appearance. It's not necessarily to have a Copernican Revolution of the Mind (he quotes Kant surprisingly often and actually in flattering ways) or to think that Plato's Cave with ideal forms is helpful. Truth is not correctness.

There are clear links to existentialism running throughout this book. Man is absolutely responsible for his own actions because of his freedom that he is given (according to him). Man first historically has created someone to blame (this is another one of the 10 times he'll single out women in a misogynistic way) thus leading to religion and probably psychiatrists. The hermeneutics of suspicion used by Nietzsche are clearly borrowed by the early 20th century psychoanalysts and this book shows why.

It's not what we see when we look at the great piece of art, but it's what the artist thinks. That forms the basis of his aesthetic ideal. They are going to lead us out of the wilderness.

I don't like most of what Nietzsche says, but I love his thought process. I'm glad that Republicans don't like him because they falsely see him as a Nihilist (but he surely is an Atheist), and they would be able to argue their viewpoints from a stronger perspective if they would take the time to read a masterpiece like this (Nietzsche knows how to 'feel' his way to the best perspective and in no uncertain terms he like the Republicans put the onus on the individual, and they would discount time and chance and say that government (or society) is the problem not the solution and most of all would never think "there but for the grace of the universe go I" since they both think the absolute freedom trumps equality almost always ). I suspect Nietzsche never wrote anything more coherent than this book of essays, but he's always worth reading and I would recommend this book because of the depth and cohesion within the book.
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review 2016-11-01 21:36
Green Wilma
Green Wilma - Tedd Arnold

This book is silly and absurd but absolutely unforgettable.  WIlma wakes up green and craving bugs and everything is weird the rest of her day.  This book would be fun to read with grades 2-4.

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review 2016-08-02 00:00
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals - Iris Murdoch I gave a lot of time to this book, both reading it and deferring my review while thinking about it. I normally write reviews within a day and just put down my first reactions and, despite the time taken, that is probably the only way I can review this book.

My fantasy about Murdoch is this - that she has taught philosophy at a leading university for many years, associating with many leading philosophers and many students of whom some at least were very bright, and that she has developed a weary resignation in the face of certain commonly held views. Her target in this book seems to me to be the proposition that philosophy, or metaphysics, is a waste of time, we do not need it any more, and it is time to turn to more successful, preferably more scientific ways to address the problems formerly assigned to philosophers. In this book she sets out to show that these smart-sounding assertions are mistaken and wrong.

She has a number of approaches to this theme. One is that people fail to understand their sources - they hear what they want to hear, not what was said. Another is that, in reality, people pronouncing the death of metaphysics either make a string of unexamined metaphysical claims which they are unable to justify when challenged, or at least require metaphysical foundations in order to stand on their chosen ground. A further approach is to simply demonstrate the continuing validity, value and necessity of metaphysics.

This is not a textbook. It assumes that the reader is familiar with the work of the philosophers and does not fill in the background which most of us would probably find helpful. The style is, in my personal opinion, self indulgent and uncompromising, with a very selective choice of material which I suspect is too narrow. She dismisses philosophers / writers who do not interest her, or do not fit her theme, with a very opinionated wave. And I wrote off entire chapters as tedious and badly written - notably her chapter about tragedy, which I hated.

By contrast, she has other chapters that spring to life, presumably because they touch on her particular interests in a way that exploits to the full her evident grasp of her subject and ability to teach it in a lively and absorbing manner. I think, for instance, that she does a terrific job explaining Wittgenstein and making him accessible and relevant. She also finds a congenial theme in discussing and exploring the Ontological Proof of Anselm and the way this has been interpreted later, notably by Kant, turning this seemingly mediaeval and highly technical topic into something filled with poetry and significance.

One source she clearly does love is Plato and she has many opportunities to use his ideas to great effect. She certainly does think he has been misunderstood and misrepresented and she is more than keen to restore him to his plinth. This is interesting, because so many other writers have cast Plato in a very unpleasant light indeed. Since you ask for examples, I think of Popper's Open Society and its Enemies as a loud warning to avoid Plato like poison. She does indeed make the idea of returning to Plato far more enticing.

The trouble is, though, that Murdoch's eventual positive opinions, things she is willling to set out as her contribution to the debate about morals, strike me as insipid and insufficient. She appears to represent metaphysics as the accumulation of weak arguments, as though in some way the mutual support of individually weak arguments can produce something that is strong. And she appears to exemplify that Church of England attitude by which religion must be preserved in the absence of rational support for the sake of convention.

In the end my personal response is to see her book as a useful but negative way to challenge public thinkers who claim that their proposals are rational, scientific, or otherwise beyond the reach of mere word merchants. It is her negations rather than her positive assertions that I enjoyed most. And she defends very ably the Whitehead proposition that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato.

The ‘demythologisation’ of religion is something absolutely necessary in this age. However … it may be in danger of losing too much while asserting too little. The loss of the Book of Common Prayer (Cranmer’s great prayer book) and of the Authorised Version of the Bible (which are now regarded as oddities or treats) is symptomatic of this failure of nerve. To say that people now cannot understand that ‘old language’ is not only an insult, but an invitation to more lax and cursory modes of expression. The religious life and the imperfect institutions thereof should continue to represent the all-importance of goodness.” [p460]

The idea of repentance and leading a better cleansed and renewed life is a generally understood moral idea; and the, however presented, granting of absolution, God’s forgiveness, keeps many people inside religion, or invites them to enter. Guilt, especially deep apparently incurable guilt, can be one of the worst of human pains. To cure such an ill, because of human sin, God must exist. … Salvation as spiritual change often goes with the conception of a place of purification and healing. (We light candles, we bring flowers, we go somewhere and kneel down.) This sense of a safe place is characteristic of religious imagery. … There is a literal place, the place of pilgrimage, the place of worship, the shrine, the sacred grove, there is also a psychological or spiritual place, a part of the soul. … Religion provides a well known well-tried procedure of rescue. [p486]

I have been wanting to use Plato’s images as a sort of Ontological Proof of the necessity of Good, or rather, since Plato has already done this, to put his arguments into a modern context as a background to moral philosophy, as a bridge between morals and religion, and as relevant to our new disturbed understanding of religious truth. [p511]

...I attach … great importance to the concept of a transcendent good as an idea (properly interpreted) essential to both morality and religion. How do you mean essential? Do you mean it is empirically found to be so or are you recommending it? This is the beginning to which such enquiries are frequently returned, except that it is not the beginning. The beginning is hard to find. Perhaps here the beginning is the circular nature of metaphysical argument itself, whereby arguer combines an appeal to ordinary observation with an appeal to moral attitude. The process involves connecting together different considerations and pictures so that they give each other mutual support. Thus for instance there appears to be an internal relation between truth and goodness and knowledge. I have argued in this sense from cases of art and skill and ordinary work and ordinary moral discernment, where we establish truth and reality by an insight which is an exercise of virtue. Perhaps that is the beginning, which is also our deepest closest ordinary experience. [p511]
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review 2015-04-21 00:00
On the Genealogy of Morals
On the Genealogy of Morals - Friedrich Nietzsche,Douglas Smith I found this the most accessible of Nietzsche's books because it comes closest - especially in the second essay - to a straight exposition of his theories. The trouble is I liked it too much to paraphrase anything. I will only give one quote, which you will notice is excessively lengthy:

Section 13: To give at least an idea of how uncertain, how supplemental, how accidental the “meaning” of punishment is, and how one and the same procedure can be employed, interpreted, adapted to ends that differ fundamentally, I set down here the pattern that has emerged from consideration of relatively few chance instances I have noted. Punishment as a means of rendering harmless, of preventing further harm. Punishment as recompense to the injured party for the harm done, rendered in any form (even in that of a compensating affect). Punishment as the isolation of a disturbance of equilibrium, so as to guard against any further spread of the disturbance. Punishment as a means of inspiring fear of those who determine and execute the punishment. Punishment as a kind of repayment for the advantages the criminal has enjoyed hitherto (for example when he is employed as a slave in the mines). Punishment as the expulsion of a degenerate element (in some cases of an entire branch, as in Chinese law: thus as a means of preserving the purity of a race or maintaining a social type.) Punishment as a festival, namely as the rape and mockery of a finally defeated enemy. Punishment as the making of a memory, whether for him who suffers the punishment = so called “improvement” - or for those who witness its execution. Punishment as payment of a fee stipulated by the power that protects the wrongdoer from the excesses of revenge. Punishment as a compromise with revenge in its natural state when the latter is still maintained and claimed as a privilege by powerful clans. Punishment as a declaration of war and a war measure against an enemy of peace, of the law, of order, of the authorities, whom, as a danger to the community, as one who has broken the contract that defines the conditions under which it exists, as a rebel, a traitor, and breaker of the peace, one opposes with the means of war.
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