A Philosopher's Blog

The White Sea, Politics & Truth

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on January 7, 2010
Yagodnik lies on an island in the Northern Dvi...
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Back in Stalin’s day, the White Sea Canal was constructed. This canal was created ahead of schedule and lauded as a great achievement for the Soviet Union.

On the downside, the canal was built by forced labor and was a true engineering disaster. Among the problems was the fact that the canal was too shallow for the ships that were supposed to travel it.

While the canal is presented as an engineering disaster, it also serves as a monument for the political mind and its ability to ignore reality (or at least pretend to do so). As noted above, the failed canal was presented as a great triumph and treated as such, even in the face of clear and obvious empirical evidence to the contrary.

While the White Sea canal is an extreme example, the same sort of phenomenon can be observed on a smaller scale across the ideological spectrum. When the success of a project is tied into the ideology, it is often simply seen as a success whether it is or not. The same sort of effect can also happen in reverse. That is, something that is a success can be regarded as failing (or being a worse failure than it is) based on ideology. While what counts as success can be relative to ideology, there also are some objective standards. For example, a canal that cannot handle the ships that are supposed to travel it is a failure.

This phenomenon is a matter of significant concern. After all, if people tend to judge success or failure based on ideology, then they will not be capable of making objective assessments of plans and projects. This will, obviously enough, lead to poor decision making.

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Puerto Rico: Understanding

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on January 1, 2010

A person can be alone in a crowd. A person can even be quite alone in a room awash in conversation. I had the opportunity to experience this sort of loneliness in Puerto Rico. Being a Yankee from New England, it is hardly a shock that I do not speak Spanish. While I have been diligently studying the language for months, my command of it is extremely limited. I can speak a few basic sentences and recognize many words, but my conversational skills come to an end after basic inquiries about name, occupation and views on Plato’s theory of forms.

Since I visited Puerto Rico so as to meet my girlfriend’s family I spent a considerable amount of time visiting relative after relative. While Puerto Rico is often presented a bi-lingual country, this is not the case with her family. As such, I would go to a house and be introduced. After that, everyone would have a great time catching up and relating stories. Everyone that is, except me.

What would happen was very much like what happens when a group of top runners allows a beginning jogger to try to tag along with them on a training run. At first, there is a good natured attempt to help the slowpoke keep up, but then it becomes obvious that dealing with the slowpoke simply ruins the run. The slowpoke falls behind, wheezing and puffing as the runners continue onward, perhaps with a final wave, smile and encouraging word.

In the conversations, I would quickly lose the details and, at best, have a vague idea of the topic. My girlfriend would initially try to let me know what was going on, especially when the subject was me. However, that would prove awkward in a matter of minutes and she would simply stop trying. I would then sit there while the conversations went on and on around me, picking up a word or phrase here and there. But, it was like trying to watch a movie by opening my eyes a second or two every ten minutes-it just didn’t work.

Conversation is, of course, a bond that ties people together and helps make people feel that they belong. When you cannot speak with someone in a meaningful way, it is hard not to feel alone-even in a crowded room.

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Puerto Rico: Differences

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on December 31, 2009

One point in going someplace new is experiencing new things and seeing differences. Before I went to Puerto Rico, I thought it would be different from the States, but also similar in many ways. What I found confirmed this.

Being what my Puerto Rican girlfriend calls an Americano colony, it is only natural that Puerto Rico would have many similarities to the States. Of course, American cultural influence via our products and culture is huge all across the world. On the plus side, it can be useful and even re-assuring to have familiar stores and brands on hand. On the downside, such glomogenitzation (global homogenization) means that when you go someplace new it is less new and different than you might hope. Fortunately, the corporate cultures have yet to assimilate and destroy all the differences. When that day comes then there will be little reason left to travel-after all, all McDonalds are basically the same.

One of the main differences I noticed is that Spanish style architecture and color schemes are predominant. Naturally, chain stores and businesses follow the standard plans and colors. So, for example, a Walgreens in Puerto Rico looks just like a Walgreens in Tallahassee. Of course, Florida (which was once Spanish territory) also has similar architecture and color schemes in many places.

Another difference I noticed is that the ACLU and PETA would have two fits and a half here. When we went to see the Christmas (and here they are Christmas lights-not “winter holiday” lights) and New Year lights at a town square I also noticed a manger scene. While I have seen manger scenes in the States, this was right in the town hall. While I am all for the separation of church and state when it comes to keeping religious dominance at bay (and protecting faith from the corrupting touch of politics) I actually enjoyed seeing the manger scene there. Of course, it might have been the fact that was the way things were when I was a kid. It might also be the fact that I’m not a big fan of the way political correctness and “sensitivity” is handled and imposed.

While rooster fighting is generally illegal in the States, it is legal in Puerto Rico and is, in fact, openly advertised. Naturally, I am a bit appalled at the idea of making animals fight for the amusement and profit of people. Then again, I have met a few roosters that seemed to be in need of taking a spur or two to the face. Now, if they had geese fighting each other, then I would be for that. I am not a big fan of those feathered bastards other than having them served alongside some mashed potatoes.

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Puerto Rico: Running

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on December 30, 2009

Being an obsessive-compulsive runner, I have to run even when on vacation. While visiting Puerto Rico I ran everyday. For the most part, running in Puerto Rico was just like running in the States. Just like in the states, I had a few drivers honk and flip me off as they drove by. That made me feel right at home-after all, senseless hostility towards runners is all part of the American running experience.

There are two main differences between running in the States and running in Puerto Rico. The first is that it is always hot here. I would get up between 5:30 and 6:30 each day to run and it was typically in the mid 70s already. During the day the temperature would soar up into the high 90s. This is, I should remind you, in December. December is winter here, although winter seems to mean that it is marginally less hot that the summer. By “marginally less” I really mean “not at all.” By way of comparison, December here is like August in Tallahassee, Florida. So, if you plan on running in Puerto Rico, be prepared for the heat.

The second difference is that many community tracks have a shirt rule for men. I found this out when I was stopped by the track guard (tracks there also seem to have official enforcers of the track rules) and told, in Spanish, that I needed to wear a t-shirt while running on the track. At first I thought I was just being messed with, but the track rules had the shirt requirement posted. After I got the t-shirt and returned, I saw that there was a uniformed guard at the track and she watched me the whole time. Two of the tracks I went to did not have the t-shirt rule. Naturally, I did not bring any running shirts with me since 1) I knew Puerto Rico would be incredibly hot and 2) I had never heard of any track or city having a rule that required men to wear shirts while running. I had heard of some isolated communities that did have such ordinances-typically put through by mean old ladies who are apparently driven into righteous frenzies of anger by the sight of a man’s bare chest.

So, if you visit Puerto Rico and plan to run on the tracks, be sure to bring a suitable running shirt. I only had normal t-shirts and they made running around the track in the sweltering heat rather unpleasant.

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