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January 21st, 2009

The Commemoration of Agnes

There are stranger things in heaven and earth, Horatio.

PUDUCHERRY: In a bizarre ritual, two minor girls, both seven, from the remote Pallipudupet village in Tamil Nadu's Villupuram district were married off to frogs on Friday night. The ceremony, an annual feature during the Pongal (harvest) festival, is conducted "to prevent the outbreak of mysterious diseases in the village''.

The girls, Vigneswari and Masiakanni, dressed up in traditional bridal finery -- gilded sarees and gold jewellery -- married the frog 'princes' in separate, elaborate ceremonies at two different temples in the presence of hundreds of villagers.

Amidst chanting of vedic hymns, the temple priests garlanded the brides and tied the magalsutras on behalf of the frogs pronouncing the two as wives of the amphibians before the sacred fire at the auspicious hour.
-- The Times of India
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Unclear on the Comment
From the New York Times:

The local food movement has been all about buying seasonal food from nearby farmers. Now, thanks to the Web, it is expanding to include far-away farmers too.
A new start-up, Foodzie, is an online farmers market where small, artisan food producers and growers can sell their products. Foodies in Florida, say, can order raw, handcrafted pepperjack cheese from Traver, Calif., or organic, fair-trade coffee truffles from Boulder, Colo.

To which the Wall Street Journal comments: What a great idea! And why not take it one step further? Farmers could band together and form large organizations--call them "corporations"--to grow and distribute mass quantities of food. Retail operations could be set up in every town; they would be sort of super farmers markets, or "supermarkets" for short. Soon everyone everywhere would be able to buy local food from all over the world!
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Randroids of the World, Unite!

Ran across these comments on the tendency of the followers of Ayn Rand to resemble Scientologists or Hare Krishnas. 

Beyond projecting their own confusion, I am also detecting a lack of recognition that arguments rather than declarations must be given in order to support a position.

They are not alone in this failing.

Like Nietzsche, Rand is untrained in philosophy, rants and raves, argues in an abominably slovenly fashion when she argues at all, is supremely confident  of her own towering significance, is muddled and  idiosyncratic -- Existence exists! -- , expresses contempt for her opponents, all the while psychologizing them and making little attempt to understand their actual positions.  And like Nietzsche, she is immensely attractive to adolescents of all ages.  Still, there are ideas there worth discussing, if only to show how one can go wrong.  Same with Nietzsche: he goes wrong in very interesting ways.  

Apparently, one of Rand's basic axioms is "Existence exists."  This seems either wrong or fatuous.  It can have two meanings:

Meaning 1. There is an entity called "Existence" and it exists.  This is the wrong part.  If "Existence" has objective reality, then show me an existence.  What is its length and width?  What is its weight?  Its shape?  Its number and location?  According to the Scientists of the Scientific Revolution, only such primary qualities have objective existence; that is, reside in the Object.  But "Existence" as such is a universal term and has no more material existence than does "cat" or "beauty."  That is, "existence" is a property of a thing, like whiteness or three-sidedness, and cannot exist in and of itself.  There is no white without a white thing. 

Meaning 2.  An entity which has the property of existence exists.  This is merely a tautology, like saying "Whiteness whitens."  From a tautology you can't really derive any useful conclusions. 

Apparently, like Nietzsche, Rand had a tendency of stringing together a series of Bold Assertions as if they comprised a logical argument.  (I say "apparently" because I was past adolescence before I heard of her.) 

It is also evident from sampling some Randroid postings elsewhere on the Web, that what they really mean by "Existence exists" is that they only believe in the evidence of their senses, equating "Existence" with "material Nature."  They don't seem to realize that this leaves out mathematics, whose objects are Platonic ideals like circles.  (Material nature includes many round things, but no mathematical circles.)  It also has ominous implications for supposedly material bodies, like quarks and Higgs bosons, that only exist (at least so far) as terms in mathematical formulas.  (Even the so-called "atom" is looking shaky, since in modern understanding it does not have a fixed "shape," one of the essential qualities of Objective existence.  Hoo-ah.)   

Now to say that "Sensible, material bodies are all there is to existence" can certainly be a starting point; but one ought not pretend that it is a =conclusion= derived Cartesian-like from some prior axiom when it is really the prior axiom itself. 

To the theistically-inclined, of course, "Existence exists" bears a striking resemblance to the answer Moses is said to have gotten when he asked, "Who dat?"  "I am 'I am'."


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