Twofish's Blog

August 26, 2007

Moved in

Filed under: academia, china, new york city, personal — twofish @ 1:32 am

I moved out of my summer sublet into a more permanent apartment in one of the outer boroughs of New York.  It’s a nice neighborhood, not too shabby but at the same time not gentrified.  The weird thing about walking around in the neighborhood is that it makes be realize how bizarre my life is, and by extension how bizarre I am.  This is the “real world” far away from the halls of academia, and just looking at the pizza place and the cheap restaurants and the people on the sidewalk talking. the physics department of a major university and the subtle academic hierarchies seems like a strange bubble.

I’ve been thinking about theories of warfare as I’ve been lugging stuff across New York City.  One important element of warfare is to establish a base area and to maintain lines of supply with that base area.  Without a base area, you are constantly on the move, and being without a place that you can sit down and think this becomes very exhausting, as does trying to move furniture from one place to another.  One reason I haven’t been blogging much is that my access to computers has been limited because I haven’t had a semi-permanent room of my own for the last several months.  I’ve also been thinking about Anthony Cordesman’s point in the CSIS that even if the US wanted to pull out of Iraq, this would take time because there is simply so much stuff there.

One other thing.  Books are heavy.  Also without an address, you  can’t have people send you books.

So now that I have a base area.  What do I want to think about…..  Let’s try with out to destablize the academic systems.  When I was in high school, I absolutely hated the cliques and the social ladders.  Little that I know that I was going to be part of a system of cliques and social ladders that was every bit as pernicious as the ones I saw in high school.  The thing that I find disturbing about academic cliques and social ladders is that I think something has been lost, which is the idea that social hierarchies are tools that should be used to help people reach their potential and improve society.  The problem with academic hierarchies is that I think they have become too closed and too engrained and too out of touch with the real world to have social usefulness.

The reason I find this particularly scary is that we are moving to a “knowledge society” where wealth and power are determined by access to education.  What I find frightening is that the rigid and disfunctional class system that one sees in academia will spead to the rest of society, and the scary thing is that I think I’m seeing a lot of this.

February 1, 2007

Password protecting some stuff

I just started going through my blog and password protecting a lot of stuff.  One of the things that I’m starting to realize is that there is a basic conflict between using a blog to present public information about my research, and using it to present some very personal thoughts, which I’d like to share…. Just not with everyone.

Password protecting things with some curious titles is a good way of going about it, because one important thing about secrets is to know that they are there.  I do lead a complex and at times rather difficult life, and somehow it is important to me to make people aware that the difficulty is there, even as I’d rather not let everyone know exactly the details.  It’s important for me, because I know that someday, I’ll end up in a relatively good place, and I don’t want people to think that it was easy to get where I ended up, and I don’t want to forget myself how hard it was to get there.

If you want to read the stuff, just ask.

One thing I found curious was how little I had to password protect things.  The very few articles that I had to censor seemed like they dominated my life at the time, but there really weren’t very many of them.

January 12, 2007

Nyah!!!! Nyah!!!! Nyah!!!!

Filed under: massachusetts institute of technology, personal — twofish @ 4:47 am

From Carly Simon:

You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you? Don’t you?

From Annie Get Your Gun:

Anything you can do,
I can do better.
I can do anything
Better than you.

No, you can’t.
Yes, I can. No, you can’t.
Yes, I can. No, you can’t.
Yes, I can,
Yes, I can!

Anything you can be
I can be greater.
Sooner or later,
I’m greater than you.

No, you’re not. Yes, I am.
No, you’re not. Yes, I am.
No, you’re NOT!. Yes, I am.
Yes, I am!

(…)

Any school where you went, I could be master.
I could be master much faster than you.
Can you spell.
No I can’t.
Can you add.
No I can’t.
Can you teach.
Yes I can, yes I can.

December 26, 2006

Moments of self-doubt

Filed under: academia, Career, personal — twofish @ 4:24 am

Everyone in academia has them from time to time.  Moments when you look out and think to yourself, oh my god i’m a complete idiot and totally doomed.

It’s a little worse for me since I’m trying to do something totally different.  There’s something called social validation which is useful.  You think to yourself “what the hell am I doing pretending that I’m a professor” and than you look at your office, your parking space, and the piles of papers on your desk, and you realize that someone is giving you a paycheck to be a professor.

My trouble is that I don’t even have that.  I’m basically forging ahead being a freelance junior faculty member without the normal support structure of a university.  I have to invent things as I’m going along, and no one is telling me whether I’m winning or losing.  So when I have those moments of “what the hell am I doing” I don’t have an organization to fall back on.   The closest thing that I have is the forum at the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is proving very useful, because it tells me that the difficulties that I’m having doing something original, aren’t unique to doing something original.

I miss my mother.  She passed away a while ago, and one of the things that she had was absolute faith in my abilities.  I could talk to her when I had moments of doubt, and just hearing someone that believed that you would pull through was useful.  At MIT, I had a network of people that I could also rely on.  Listening to someone complain about their situation was useful, because it told you that you weren’t unique.  Seeing people  that you regarded as being on the same level as you pull through was also useful, because you could say to yourself, if they could do it, so could I.

What makes my life difficult right now, is that I don’t have anyone like that anymore.  A lot of people have passed away.  I’ve lost track of most of the people I knew at MIT.  I can simulate what some of them would say in my mind, and that helps, until I look at the room and realize that I’m the only one there.

But I pull through.  I’ve done it before.  There’s no reason to suspect that this time will be different.  And ultimately I have history and philosophy on my side, I hope……

What I’m doing is unique for the early 21st century, but there are examples of it happening before.   The sheng yuan scholars of the mid-19th century, and Ludwig Von Mises, who famously was not a paid faculty member or for that matter Confucius. And then there is philosophy, one has to believe that if one is on the side of history, that this will give you power.  The current university structure has only existed since the end of  World War II, but scholarship and learning has existed for a lot longer than that.  One has to believe that there is something fundamental in virtue and scholarship that one can gain strength and power from.

Maybe.  Maybe not.

But I have come to the conclusion that to have a life worth living, you must at some point risk everything for your beliefs, if only to see if they are worth anything or not.

But it is still lonely.  It is still painful.  It is still scary to risk public humilation.

But if you are living with pain.  If you’ve been humilated before.  Then you can act with some boldness that would be impossible for normal people.

So accept the fear and the doubt, consume and digest it.  Acknowledge it.

I am terrified, I am afraid, and I severely doubt my ability to do what I want to do.

But I’ve never let that stop me before……

And it’s not going to stop me this time……

Esoteric and exoteric

Filed under: leo strauss, personal, philosophy, plato — twofish @ 1:16 am

I’ve been reading a lot of Leo Strauss recently. I got his book the “City and Man” and I’ve also got “Persecution and the Art of Writing” on order. Strauss is notorious for insisting that political speech has an esoteric reading for the initiate and an exoteric reading for the masses.  The idea is that the exoteric reading is a red herring, but the esoteric reading is the important one.

From doing the same thing in blogs, I have this suspicion that the opposite may be true, and that it is the exoteric reading which reveals grand truth whereas the esoteric reading is something that is somewhat trivial.  In hiding messages in this blog what I’ve finding is that the esoteric message is important for me and maybe a few other people in the world, but it’s unlikely to encode any universal truth, but it is the exoteric reading that would be of interest to people living in radically different times and places.

December 25, 2006

Protected: I still hate Christmas

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Protected: I hate Christmas

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December 23, 2006

Past and present

Filed under: long war, personal — twofish @ 6:53 am

The past and present have a very odd relationship.  You would think that once something happens that it is finished and unchanging, yet while you cannot change the events of the past, as time moves on, things happen which change your views of the past, and you sometimes learn something about the past that puts things in a different light.  Meanwhile the past changes the present.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my high school Latin teacher.  One thing that he reinforced in me was a respect for both law and history, and a deep appreciation for classical Roman learning.  Something that I wish I could do at some point would be to regain my fluency in Latin, but I still find the oratory of Cicero against the Catiline conspiracy to be stirring, and I still think deeply about the implications of the period between the Republic and the Empire to current events, and I also think much about the historical processes which led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  The thing that you get when you read classical texts is that people 2000 years ago were still people, with motivations and ambitions that are still recognizable today.  It’s important when living in a period of time in which everything is changing to realize that a lot of the important things, in fact probably most of the important things, haven’t changed in all of that time.

In thinking about Roman history, my sense is that the history and philosophy of classical Rome and that of classical China aren’t very far apart, and one of the things that civilization has lost is a sense of connection with its roots.

December 20, 2006

Protected: To whom it may concern…. Please kindly go to hell….

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December 18, 2006

Protected: Human lightning rod

Filed under: academia, Career, personal — twofish @ 5:40 am

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