Monday, October 31, 2005

Physical Humor

Here's something I find hilarious:

The setup: Go to the gym and really work on one muscle group. For example, I'll go to the gym for a short workout Monday night and do only bench presses and tricep-related exercises. Since all bench press exercises work out your triceps a bit too, it's usually a good idea to just do the two muscle groups (chest and triceps) together. On these muscle-group-specific days, I try to really wear myself out for maximum benefits and usually, I do. I know I've done a good day when quotidian activities start to become difficult.

What's harder to do when you have almost no tricep strength? Pulling a t-shirt off over your head (almost impossible without wiggling). Standing up from a chair by supporting your upper body with your arms first. Operating the manual transmission (if the shifter is a hefty one) of a sports car.

But here's the really funny one, at least to me. Try to do a push up.

Predictably, when I try, I get about 1/10 of the way down and then I just collapse onto the floor. For some reason, I'm always laughing out loud to myself throughout this entire process. It's just an odd sensation to have the muscles be there, to know that the muscles are working, but then not be able to get them to work beyond a very minimal level. No matter how much I make my brain send signals to the arms to use more strength, it doesn't happen. It's an weirdly funny sensation. I suggest everyone try it at least once!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Irrelevance of Irrelevance

The traditional analysis of knolwedge goes something like this:

Let S be a an agent, for example a person.
Let P be a an proposition, for example "Shaq is taller than I am".
S knows that P if and only if:
  1. P is true
  2. S believes that P
  3. S is justified in believing that P
The Gettier Problem challenges this formulation by disconnecting condition 1 with conditions 2 and 3. Knowledge = Justified True Belief works when the Justification and Belief is directly related to the Truth. But because of the vagueness of the formulation, K=JTB can be cleverly circumvented.

A Gettier belief is one which cirucmvents the traditional analysis of knowledge. The classic example: imagine you jutifiably believe A and B and make a deduction C. Little do you know, A is false. However, by pure coincidence, C turns out to be true anyway. So C is a justified true belief (which would imply knowledge) but most people wouldn't classify that as knowledge since one of the premises, A is false. It's correctness by luck.

Somebody in class today brought up the fact that A and B are not necessarily relevant. The example used was that in competing for a job, Shaq believes that Kobe will get the job and that Kobe has 10 coins in his pockets. A student brought up the fact that Kobe having 10 coins is irrelevant to Kob getting a job. It doesn't matter what belief Shaq has for Kobe, the end result (in a Gettier belief) is that the man who gets the job has ten coins in his pockets. This turns out to be correct because it turns out that Shaq gets the job after all (it's all a big hoax). So it doesn't matter what the second belief is: coins, potatos, the color blue. Irrelevance, in this case, is precisely irrelevant.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Truth About Cars

There's a sort of "auto blog" I visit frequently called The Truth About Cars. It is a compilation of reviews of new cars and editorials about the consumer-level automobile industry. The writing (mostly by founder Robert Farago) is fun and well constructed. In some ways, I prefer Robert's review style over Jeremy Clarkson's florid and highly British reviews which, entertaining and astute as they are, are sometimes too editorial. (Here's a sample: "...we [Europe] have Lotus, Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin. And they [America] have the Ford F-150 Lightning pick-up truck: 0-60mph in a millionth of a second. Enough space in the back for a dead bear. And on a challenging road about as much fun as a wasabi enema." This in a post about the new Ford Mustang GT, which isn't even mentioned until page 2.)

What I really love about The Truth About Cars is that Farago isn't afraid to dish out The Truth. If the Subaru B9 Tribeca looks like it's got a flying vagina on its front fascia, then Farago is one person who wouldn't be afraid to point that out. That very review, in fact, got Farago canceled from the SF Chronicle, which is a shame. For reviews to be worth something, they really have to be reviews, not advertisements. A threat from Subaru should have not affected the review in anyway, lest journalistic integrity be compromised. And who compromises journalistic integrity these days? Psssh, I mean come on, right?

Farago's editorials (of which there are many) are also insightful. His thoughts on the impending doom of GM has constituted an entire series of editorials (called, appropriately, GM Deathwatch) which are all worthy reading material, even if you don't know what's going on right now with cars in America. They're examples of well thought out and constructed viewpoints articulated in a clear and engaging manner. They are worth a read even if you don't care about cars.

But what am I thinking. Who doesn't like cars?

Monday, October 10, 2005


Too often in academia, students and aspiring scholars lose sight of the bigger picture. In music, a harmonic analysis of a Beethoven is great and all but what's the point? The ultimate goal of a harmonic analysis isn't itself but the support of some greater musical point. Seen as such, the study of analysis per se is not a particularly worthy endeavour unless you are doing studying meta-theory or the historiography of analysis. But then the subject isn't music but rather the analysis of music.

On the other hand, encouraging students to grapple with broader issues sometimes sacrifices technical precision. Let's say somebody threw a Stravinsky piece for you to look at. As is often with Stravinsky pieces, an aural sampling of the music yields, from the perspective of traditional (common-practice and romantic) harmonic and rhythmic practices, a level of discomfort. Much of Stravinsky's music pointedly sets up and then destroys expectations. One point a student might make as a first-level analysis is that despite the static nature of the surface (static because expectations are continually disrupted) belies meticulous planning or perhaps some sense of a goal.

That point could be a good one but it needs some kind of evidence to support it. One can not just opine that there's a feeling, out there somewhere in the ether, that underneath the disruptive rhythmic figures a deeper teleology exists. The buzzwords are there but the more precise analystical back up isn't. One can't sacrifice one for the other. A less musical parallel would be to opine that there's some relationship between the American intellectual atmosphere post World War II and immigration patterns during and after the War. Surely there is a correlation and a honors thesis in there somewhere but the opinion can't stop there. It's a matter of scope and ruthless academic consistency and it is a never ending struggle for the scholar.