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Not everything that counts can be counted

Monday, July 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not Einstein but a fellow Cameron gave me my title ]
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I’ll admit I was uneasy when I read about the “effective altruism” movement in Peter Singer‘s Boston Review piece, The Logic of Effective Altruism, but I didn’t quite see how to phrase my unease. Here’s Singer’s explanation of the concept:

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.

That’s the gist, but there’s a lot of what I can only term “moral cost-effectiveness” in there, as though goodness were a problem in engineering.

Today I read Michael J. Lewis‘s Commentary piece, How Art Became Irrelevant, and think I found the “why” of my unease, in the writer’s description of the German idea (“ideal”) of an architectural Existenzminimum:

This was the notion that in the design of housing, one must first precisely calculate the absolute minimum of necessary space (the acceptable clearance between sink and stove, between bed and dresser, etc.), derive a floor plan from those calculations, and then build as many units as possible. One could not add a single inch of grace room, for once that inch was multiplied through a thousand apartments, a family would be deprived of a decent dwelling. So went the moral logic.

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  • Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
  • The heart has reasons Reason knows not of.
  • Ups and downs of the Catholic Order of Preachers (Dominicans)

    Friday, July 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — bearing in mind that ups and downs are transitory, and the eternal remains eternal ]
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    In what was effectively a DoubleQuote in my terminology (see note below), Gregory DiPippo at the New Liturgical Movement blog today juxtaposed two articles about the Dominican Order of Friars. One had to do with a downswing in vocations to the Order, the other with an upswing.

    **

    Fra Angelico

    **

    First, the downswing: “the shortage of vocations in the order of Saint Dominic has reached dramatic levels.” Sandro Magister writes in San Marco Must Not Die:

    The fathers of the province of St. Catherine of Siena met again in chapter at the end of last May and reiterated to the superior general the request to suppress the convent of San Marco.

    If that were to happen, in the cloisters and in the cells wondrously frescoed by Fra Angelico (see above the Annunciation, from 1442) there would no longer be any friar to pray. From the library designed by Michelozzo, the first library of the modern era open to the public, the robes of the learned would disappear. What has been for centuries a cenacle of men of letters, artists, bishops, saints, would give way to a trivial guest house.

    The Masses in the church attached to the defunct convent would be officiated by someone from outside: from the not-distant convent of Santa Maria Novella, the only Dominican convent that would remain open in Florence.

    Second, the reverse: “The man who sets aside his personal dreams to more perfectly subject himself to God is not primarily saying ‘no’ to the world, but saying ‘yes’ to a renewed life with God.” The Dominican Dominic Bouck writes in First Things:

    After the ordination of eight of our brothers, there are over fifty of us studying for the priesthood or preparing to live life as a consecrated brother, about to be joined by fifteen more on July 25.

    Among those roughly 75 men are lawyers, a medical doctor, a congressional staffer, professional musicians, a radio host, several PhDs and professors, a particle physicist from Stanford, a former Google employee, a dean of admissions at a medical school, Ivy Leaguers, Golden Domers, and more who were successful in the world, but sought a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, and desired to serve his people.

    **

    It would be a tragedy for the Dominicans to close down their convent at San Marco, “as if the Franciscan friars were to decide to close the convent of Assisi” as Magister says — and in counterpoint, I’m heartened to receive news of an increased interest in the contemplative life here in the US.

    A note for Fr Augustine Thompson, OP, who writes for the NLM bog and is the author of the standard work on St Dominic’s brother friar, brother founder and friend, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography: my DoubleQuotes format is a format for the juxtaposition of ideas, based on Hermann Hesse’s concept of the Glass Bead Game, and philosophical kin, to my mind at least, with Peter Abelard‘s Sic et Non.

    Terrorism, a ‘Pataphysical “definition”

    Thursday, June 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Escher, Mallarmé, Jarry, Macdonald, and Alex Schmid ]
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    SPEC DQ terrorism the 'pataphysical proof

    Sources:

  • Stuart Macdonald, entry in “Defining terrorism: an impossible puzzle” contest
  • Stéphane Mallarmé, Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard

  • The DoubleQuote format is mine own
  • Further refs:

  • Alex Schmid, The Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism
  • Alfred Jarry, Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll Pataphysician
  • Avaunt garde, vanguard, advance guard..

    Monday, June 22nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a delectable DoubleQuote featuring art movements and troop movements in parallel, wedge-wise ]
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    Here’s a terrific DoubleQuote:

    It’s so neat because it lies at the intersection of the military and the artistic, a diagrammatic / graphic use of metaphor.

    **

    The DoubleQuote in question was followed in mmy Twitter stream with this exchange:

    **

    The two images in the DoubleQuote are, to the best of my knowledge, the works respectively of:

  • Marinetti, Sintesi futurista della guerra:
  • Marinetti

    and

  • Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge:>/li>

    Lissitzky

  • From the mouth of Wiki:

     
    Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge is a 1919 lithographic Soviet propaganda poster by artist Lazar Markovich Lissitzky better known as El Lissitzky, “the man through whose exertions the new Russian ideas became generally understood in Western Europe”. In the poster, the intrusive red wedge symbolises the bolsheviks, who are penetrating and defeating their opponents, the White movement, during the Russian Civil War. It is an example of Constructivism.

  • Woohoo, Form strikes again!

    Saturday, June 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a wager on the impact of form in media ]
    .

    It’s a moment in the unfurling of an event: the moment when our war correspondents, photographers, whoever, manage to bring style to their reporting, not simply fact.

    Take a look at the symmetries here — the photographer wasn’t just able to get a shot, but to get what we might call a shot with form — an artist’s shot:

    Atlantic boy Named Jihad image 602

  • Photo credit: Hosam Katan / Reuters
  • From The Atlantic, The Boy Named Jihad: From the Ashes of the Arab Spring to the Battlefields of Syria
  • **

    Great artists, how can I say this, bring this quality with them. It’s in their eyes for vision, their ears for language. Gregory Johnsen is one of those..

    My wager would be that images and or texts infused with this quality go deeper, communicate more memorably, than texts or images that lack it. FWIW.


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