It’s been the weirdest couple of weeks in Europe that I can remember in quite a while. The odd natural phenomenon that grabbed everyone’s attention is a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland. It blanketed Europe and shut down all aviation traffic over the continent for an unprecedented six days (twice as long as the shutdown of American air space after “9/11″). Toward the end of the week, planes were mostly back in the air, and airline officials in London, Paris, and Frankfurt were scrambling...
Berlin — Springtime Berlin has been plastered with election posters for the last month. But what a strange electoral contest: religion versus ethics!
Under balmy skies, and amid blossoming chestnut trees and lilac bushes, the German capital has been embroiled in a bitter debate about education, theology, and civic values that was only settled in a citywide referendum Sunday, April 26.
It was strange to see every lamppost along every major thoroughfare festooned with competing signs urging such abstruse...
Reviewing a two-volume, 900-page-long history of analytic philosophy a couple of years ago in the London Review of Books (Jan. 20, 2005), Richard Rorty begins his reflections on the prodigious tome at hand with an anecdote about a conversation he had with a fellow philosopher. Here’s the opening of his review:
“‘I had hoped my department would hire somebody in the history of philosophy,’ my friend lamented, ‘but my colleagues decided that we needed somebody who was contributing...
One evening shortly before I went to Rostock for the G-8 demo on
Saturday, June 2, I had a friendly argument over dinner about political
protestors and violence. That week there had been a protest
demonstration in the northern German port city of Hamburg where Asian
and European foreign ministers were meeting, and the story about it in Der Spiegel,
Germany’s major newsweekly, was headed “Violence in Hamburg Streets.”
The story’s provocative “take out”...
Okay, I didn’t expect that there would be a blast of celestial trumpets when parliament a couple of weeks ago decisively voted 175-123 against re-visiting and challenging Canada’s 2005 law that legalised same-sex marriage. Nor was I anticipating that the parliamentary gallery would rise as one and belt out a chorus of “Hark, the herald angels sing.” So I wasn’t disappointed by the absence of triumphal horns or hearty chorals.
What I expected was pretty much what happened: a 48-hour minor political...
in memory of Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006
The guy from the city said that we had to trim the hedge.
The hedge he was referring to is a succession of large laurel bushes that border the whole length of the eastern side of the Kitsilano property on which the house where I lived in Vancouver, at 2504 York, is sited. It’s a corner two-storey house running about a half block up the hill along Larch to the lane, between York and 1st, part of the long initial...
VANCOUVER — When I’m in Berlin, I frequently post a “Letter from Berlin” to explain some of the ins and outs of German and European politics to my compatriots in North America. (I’m one of those people who “divides” his time between two cities — in my case, Vancouver and Berlin.) Given the oddities of the January 23, 2006 Canadian federal election, it might be a good idea to return the favour and post a “Letter to Berlin” in an attempt to explain some of the idiosyncracies of Canadian...
There are many ways to begin thinking about what exists, or about what we call “reality.” It is even possible to doubt that anything exists, except perhaps ourselves, but we can leave that possibility for later. For now, let’s assume that some things exist in addition to ourselves.
One way of thinking about reality is to start with familiar things like tables, chairs, the trees outside the window, and other people. But ordinary things don’t appear to pose much of a problem about reality, at least...
From Astrology to Zombies
While this is not the place to take up all extraordinary beliefs, it will be useful to offer a few brief comments on some of the more popular ones, that is, beliefs held by large numbers of people. First, though, in anticipation of our conclusions, we should address a question that may now be on readers’ minds: Have any extra-ordinary popular beliefs been substantiated by evidence? The disappointing answer in practically all cases is, Not so far. There may be some exceptions,...
When Thomas goes to the bathroom at the crowded New York Japanese restaurant on 9th St., where we’re about to have dinner on my first evening in town, the guy at the next table (the tables are tightly packed, cheek to jowl), in his late 20s, less than a foot to the left and opposite me, who is holding hands with a Japanese-American woman (do I detect something punkish about her? a streak of colour in her hair, unusual eye makeup?), immediately says to me, in French-accented English, “Eet’s...