Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Polls and Questions

Philosophy Weekend: A Rulebook for Drones?

by Levi Asher on Saturday, December 1, 2012 03:39 pm


Philosophy Weekend has always been about moral, social and political philosophy (I originally thought of calling the series "Ethics Weekend", but that title just does not have any zing to it). In the past couple of years, I've allowed two major developments to dominate my choice of weekly topics. First, I became alarmed by Ayn Rand's increasing popularity and began devoting many blog posts to a critique of Objectivism and its underlying assumption of psychological Egoism. Second, I got caught up in the excitement and crazy drama of the 2012 USA presidential election, and devoted many weekend posts to that whole thing. (Interestingly, the common demoninator between these two themes was embodied in a single person, Congressman Paul Ryan, who I expect to be writing a lot about again in three years when he begins running like a maniac for President.)

I never mind a good diversion, but a recent New York Times headline about an attempt by the Obama administration to create a rulebook for the use of military drones reminded me that I originally had a different underlying inquiry in mind for all of these philosophical inquiries, which has gotten buried amidst all the Ayn Rand inquiries and Mitt Romney bobblehead dolls of the past two years. My big question is this: what is pacifism, and why has it become so quiet? Is the philosophy of pacifism viable at all today? How can pacifism be returned to relevance in an era that seems to have completely disdained it, and how can it possibly be that so few people seem to care whether it is returned to relevance or not?






Vision of the Ducks: Holden Caulfield's Journey in Central Park

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 09:15 pm


The image in this week's Litkicks Mystery Spot #7 is from a 1951 aerial map of New York City. It shows the southeast corner of Central Park, a location immortalized in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. This is where Holden Caulfield stared at ducks in a pond and wondered where they would go in the winter when the pond froze. And it's where he watched his younger sister Phoebe ride on a carousel at the touching end of the book.






A Walk in the Park: Litkicks Mystery Spot #7

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 08:54 pm


The last few were kind of difficult, so I'm taking it easy on all of you with this week's Litkicks mystery spot. In fact, it's a goddam walk in the park. Just tell me what this is a picture of, and name the novel that this image represents.

Every single one of you has read this book. And I bet every single one of you loves the scenes (though you may not want to admit it) that take place among the structures towards the upper right of the image above, and around the body of water in the bottom part of the image.






Linguists Gone Mad: Paul Auster's Upper West Side

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, July 20, 2010 05:14 pm


In Paul Auster's City of Glass, a mad linguist named Peter Stillman pounds through the streets of Manhattan's Upper West Side, observed by a writer named Daniel Quinn who is impersonating a private detective named Paul Auster. Quinn tracks Stillman's movements in a red notebook and eventually realizes that his daily walks are spelling out the words "TOWER OF BABEL".

I'm impressed that many of you correctly identified the location of the Litkicks Mystery Spot #6. The book was published 25 years ago (!) to little immediate acclaim, and has gradually emerged as one of our era's modern classics. I'm sure I'm not the only person who can't walk through New York City's Upper West Side to this day without thinking of City of Glass.






A Walking Spell: Litkicks Mystery Spot #6

by Levi Asher on Monday, July 19, 2010 04:34 pm


These city blocks may not appear exceptional to you, but they had a very specific and urgent meaning to a character in a famous modern novel. This character walked these streets every day, secretly observed by another character. Gradually, the meaning of these walks crystallized. Where are these streets, and what is the name of the novel?

As always, a few clues to the mystery:






La Mancha, Espana: Where Cervantes' Knight Roamed

by Levi Asher on Thursday, June 17, 2010 02:27 pm


You folks did great this time -- not a single wrong guess! Indeed, the answer to yesterday's quiz question is the La Mancha region in Central Spain, north of Toledo and south of Madrid, where Miguel de Cervantes set his great comic novel Don Quixote.

Cervantes did not live in the La Mancha region himself, but he was born nearby in Central Spain and was certainly familiar with the area. A town called Cervantes can also be found in this vicinity, though I have not been able to figure out whether he was named for this town or it was named for him (if anybody knows, please fill us in). Some literary experts believe that he chose the La Mancha region as the home for his hero just so he could name him "Don Quixote de la Mancha" (this was apparently funny, as "mancha" meant "stain").






Romance in a Dry Land: Litkicks Mystery Spot #5

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, June 16, 2010 09:23 am


A great fictional hero roamed the dry and windy plains shown in the image above. His mind was on adventure and romance, and he found his fill of both. Can you identify the novel and the place?

Here are a few clues:

• He loved a woman who was known for her sweet disposition. It is not clear, however, that she ever appreciated his affection.

• He managed to hire an assistant by promising this assistant an island. It is not clear, however, where they thought an island could be found in this landlocked region.

• This novel is a celebrated work of metafiction, though unlike most works of metafiction it cannot possibly be called postmodern.






Joyce's Dublin: Bloom on Eccles Street

by Levi Asher on Thursday, May 13, 2010 09:36 am


The answer to yesterday's mystery spot question is: Dublin, Ireland, and Ulysses by James Joyce (a big Litkicks favorite, though not necessarily a favorite of everyone at Litkicks).

North of the Liffey River in the center of the city, across the street from a large hospital, you can still find 7 Eccles Street, where the novel's optimistic everyman hero Leopold Bloom lived with his wife Molly, his enigmatic cat and (presumably) an icebox full of kidneys, giblets and other strange foods which he ate with relish. Here's the house in a 1950 photo, and here's the the Google map itself.






An Epic City: Litkicks Mystery Spot #4

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 12:45 pm


Yes, it's time for another literary quiz inspired by Google Maps. The hero of a novel lived at a spot visible in the image above, north of the river that streams through the city. What is the name of this epic city, and what is the name of the novel? Here are the only clues you're going to get:

• The name of the street where this character lives is a religious pun.

• A cat lived there too, and was known to say "Mkgnao".

• This character is only slightly well known, but the novel is more famous than any of its characters.






Steventon, Hampshire, England: Where Jane Austen Grew

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 08:22 pm


The Litkicks Mystery Spot #3 is: Steventon, Hampshire, England, the town that gave Jane Austen to the world.

This brilliant comic novelist was very much a product of her village, and of her large, loving family. Her father was a pastor and a popular figure in town, and he along with several of her older siblings, cousins and neighbors had literary connections in nearby Oxford and London that helped to make her unlikely career possible. When Jane was 21 years old, her father sent an early version of Pride and Prejudice to a London publisher on her behalf (it was rejected, but his belief in her must have given her confidence).






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