Saturday, October 29, 2011

Keynesianism For Me, But Not For Thee
Keynes For The Military; F*ck You For Everybody Else


The contemporary GOP more-or-less just lives a big, fat contradiction. It used to be kind of a perverse thrill to find something so close to an outright contradiction in a political opponents' positions. Now it's just par for the course across the aisle.

Oh, Eisenhower's GOP, please, please come back to us...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gitcher Biscuits
Heels Win Exhibition Against UNC-Pembroke 100-58

Congratulations to the mighty Braves of UNC-Pembroke on a good game--they were up by 2 with only about three minutes left in the game, and looking good.

The Heels looked pretty rusty, as is to be expected, but there was a lot to be excited about, too. Most importantly: the 2 spot is looking good. Everybody's been fretting about it all through the off-season, but Dex and Hairston were both BEASTS. Dex was looking a little like Lawson motoring past everybody else on the court--but he's got way, WAY bigger hops. And P.J. is a flat-out amazing shooter.

This team is going to be very, very, very cool to watch.
Did the Oakland Police Deliberately Shoot Scott Olsen in the Head with Teargas?

 Hard to tell...but it kinda looks that way.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Every Generalization is the Root of All Racism"

That's a quote I heard on the BBC World Service this morning. From some South African politician. It's not nice to pick on people for little linguistic/conceptual feck-ups...but philosophers always find this sort of thing funny, and I can't help it.
Cultural Moral Relativism and the Chinese Hit-and-Run Story

Sullivan links to this at

So here's the deal--more or less:
It is rare for someone to unequivocally espouse cultural moral relativism. In fact, there probably isn't even a clearly-defined view to espouse. Shamelessly shoving all the interesting details to the side, however, cultural moral relativism is--if it is anything at all--roughly the view that acts become morally right in virtue of being traditional (that is, roughly: having been performed repeatedly), or in virtue of being widely or traditionally accepted. It is the view that specifically and narrowly cultural facts like tradition and acceptance constitute or subvene moral rightness.This view is insane, and no one who reflects on it can think it is plausible.

So...does GetReligion advocate such a view? No...  Again, almost no one does. But relativism survives on unclarity and equivocal support. geoconger at GetReligion marshals facts about China's Confucian heritage in response to shock at the hit-and-run case. The relevant dialog would go something like this:

A: Holy crap, I can't believe people just killed that girl/let her die!

B: Well, you've got to understand that Confucianism doesn't endorse Good Samaritanism.


No one in this dialog is advocating CMR...but B is not exactly not endorsing it, either. That is to say, B's response is consistent with CMR, but does not entail it. One might make a B-ish response if one were a cultural moral relativist and thought that the fact that x is traditional magically makes it right. Or one might make a B-ish response if one had a non-crazy moral view, but was offering a kind of excuse for the reprehensible actions of the people in question. The fact that x is traditional cannot make x right...but it can act as an (at least partial) excuse for people who do x. Culture is a powerful thing. Contrary to much current thinking, it is not magic. It can't, for example, make acts morally right. But it can blind people to even very obvious facts. Like the fact that one ought to render aid to the innocent when feasible. This part of our Christian heritage is not specifically Christian. Christian's didn't make it up, they just directed our attention to it. And--unless we're missing something here--if you don't recognize such a duty, you're making an error.

In fact, there's a much better defense of the actions of the bystanders (if not the killers) based on perfectly objective appeals. According to these folks, helping someone in China opens you up to the threat of prosecution. I've been seeing several appeals to a story about a guy who found an elderly woman lying in the street and helped her up. She sued him, falsely claiming that he had pushed her down, and the court sided with her, allegedly asking "why would he help her up if he had not pushed her down?" Now, arguments that one should render aid anyway to the side...this explanation makes perfect sense and has no hint of relativism. The duty to render aid is of a merely prima facie type--given a sufficiently high probability of me drowning, I can be relieved of my obligation to try to save you from drowning. As you raise the cost to the potential Good Samaritan, you weaken his responsibility to render aid.

At any rate, what interests me most about this is that it's such a representative case with respect to CMR. Nobody comes right out and says that it's wrong to render aid in China, and wrong because their culture (allegedly) accepts that it is. Everything that is said can be cashed out in much more sensible terms; culture can excuse, in the same way that ignorance can excuse. But I have little doubt that many will read the post as another instance of knee-jerk CMR.

Again, the single most important fact about CMR is that it is a view that survives on unclarity.

(Note also that an actual Chinese person here does not try to make any even vaguely CMR-ish appeal, but, rather, just looks for explanations of what she clearly sees and identifies as widespread moral error in China.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Veterans Prohibited From Living at Huge LA Campus Donated To House Them

This is flat-out unbelievable.
The Illegal Immigration / "Anti-Immigrant" Sophistry

I don't have an opinion about Alabama's new illegal immigration law. But I do have an opinion about the blatant dishonesty of describing any measures to control illegal immigration as "anti-immigrant" or "anti-immigration," as the NYT does here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kevin Drum on Illegal Immigration

He gets it exactly right.

As I've said here and elsewhere, the only sensible option is the humane enforcement of just immigration laws. And, as Drum notes, many liberals who deny this are committed to positions that seem to entail an open borders policy--which is as close to a reductio as you can get in a policy debate.

I'm not sure what's up with so many liberals on this issue. Open borders are not an option. We need immigration laws. If we have such laws we need to enforce them. None of this comes anywhere near suggesting that the laws or the enforcement thereof should be draconian--in fact, it explicitly asserts that they must not be. IMHO, we need to do whatever we can to make sure, for example, that kids don't suffer unreasonably for decisions their parents made; passing the Dream act, for a more specific example, seems like a complete no-brainer to me.

Unfortunately, this seems to have become one of those symbolic, emotional issues that almost can't be discussed rationally. For making almost exactly the points that Drum makes on the other end of the link, I've basically been accused of being a racist. There are many people out there whose rational faculties just shut down when this issue comes up.
Geithner Is A Grown-Up; Rubio Is An Ass

Wow. Sullivan claims that righties think that Rubio "won" this exchange. And Sullivan is right about this: Geithner is approaching this like a grown up, an inquirer, a person seriously interested in making policy. Rubio is trying--and failing--to score niggling little debater's points. This is a common tale: all people like Rubio have to do is say something vaguely plausible, since the relevant group of people wants to believe him. As long as he says some words--anything other than "you've got a point there"--those who want to believe that he's "won" can do so.

It's an old pattern; the person trying to accomplish something positive has to deal with critics who are simply making skeptical points. Of course if such points were decisive, any positive program would fall to them. In the case at hand, every policy will have some down-side, and if you pretend that "policy P has a downside" is a reason for rejecting P, then you can pretend to have won the argument. But of course policy P' has its downsides too, as does policy P''. Serious people compare the upsides and downsides of P' and P''; unserious people make arguments like Rubio's.

This is the strategy of the creationist, for example. What???  Evolutionary theory can't explain everything? There are some unexplained phenomena? Some anomalies? Subduction zones? Puzzles about specific mechanisms? Well then, so much for that theory. That it is a good theory--and by far the best game in town-carries no weight against someone who's willing to reason like so:

Your theory is not perfect in every way; thus it is proven false.
AJE: Gaddafi Killed in Gun Battle


Congrats to the people of Libya. Good job by the Obama admin. And good riddance to bad rubbish.

Let's hope it's true, and that Libya can now move in a peaceful, democratic, and not-overly-religious direction.
It's a Sign

The best one I've seen from OWS. Now this is how you do it...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Sam Harris Thinks Deeply"

Any post that begins with those words is going to be a riot. Sully's doesn't disappoint.

Maybe next week Mr. Harris will discuss whether or not the pious is that which is loved by all the gods.
We Have No Obligation to Vote; We Have An Obligation to be Well-Informed

Running to campus, haven't read this.

But this is a line I've often spouted:  the common claim that we all need to vote, that it is our civic duty, is deeply flawed. It strongly suggests that it is voting per se that we are obligated to do. However, what we're really obligated to do is vote responsibly. And that means: be informed and vote. Much better to say that our primary civic duty in this vicinity is to be informed. If you're well-informed about policy and politics, then you will vote--few people are well-informed and apathetic about voting. But to simply enjoin people to vote is a huge error. Uninformed voting is no better than not voting at all.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Most Complete Dinosaur Fossil Discovery Ever?

Some kind of little theropod.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

George Will's Elizabeth Warren Sophistry

No, I don't read this guy anymore. Not for years. He used to be a sane, conservative voice that one ought to check one's liberalism against. Now, like the majority of his fellows, he's gone nuts.

Here's his latest nonsense:
Elizabeth Warren Harvard law professor and former Obama administration regulator (for consumer protection), is modern liberalism incarnate. As she seeks the Senate seat Democrats held for 57 years before 2010, when Republican Scott Brown impertinently won it, she clarifies the liberal project and the stakes of contemporary politics.

The project is to dilute the concept of individualism, thereby refuting respect for the individual’s zone of sovereignty. The regulatory state, liberalism’s instrument, constantly tries to contract that zone — for the individual’s own good, it says
First, a tu quoque (which is to the point given the two-party system), and, to my mind, the most important point in the vicinity: conservatism is worse. Liberals are more willing to sacrifice economic autonomy for the public good (and on the grounds of fairness). Conservatives are more willing to undermine other, more personal and important types of autonomy for alleged public good. It doesn’t help matters any that most of these alleged goods are either not goods, or not furthered by undermining individual autonomy. Conservatives are far more willing to undermine freedom of expression, to tell us who we can have sex with, what we can ingest, and what our religious views ought to be like, and to do so for no very good reason other than that they prefer that we not say certain things, sleep with certain people, smoke certain plants, or think certain things.
“There is nobody in this country that got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith), a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.
False. Warren is in no way attacking straw men. She attacks propositions that are, in fact, current conservative dogma: that rich people typically get rich solely on the basis of talent and the sweat of their brows. Her claims are directly to the point: that the rich get rich in part because the rest of us have provided infrastructure and other systems that allow them to make and maintain their wealth. It is Will, of course, who attacks a straw man—Warren is in no way advocating anything that can reasonably be called a “collectivist political agenda.” Unless, of course, virtually everything counts as “collectivist” here.
Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual.
This is not the premise of a liberal view of economics, and it is, in fact, a rather conservative view of civil rights and liberties. We should not have the freedom to marry folks of the same sex because this would undermine the institution of marriage, a social good we are all apparently obligated to prop up. Ignore the falsehood of the premise here—the important point is that conservatives are willing to sacrifice personal autonomy in order to advance (chimerical) collective goods. Similar things can be said of our right to burn the flag, and so on.
Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.
What utter hogwash. Approximately 0% of American liberals believe this. Will is thinking of Communists. Liberals are currently asking for the uber-rich to pay 2.5% higher taxes, what they paid during the Clinton administration, and less than under Eisenhower. They are asking that the uber-rich do this because it is fair, not because there is no such thing as private ownership of wealth. Will is an idiot. Oh, and apparently Eisenhower was a commie...
The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.
This is not a debate about the purpose of roads, schools, etc. This is a debate about how those things should be paid for. To think that those more able to pay should pay more than those less able to pay is not to question the purpose of the thing being paid for, and not to take any position at all about individualist commitments of America.
Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds.
 Again, not so. Just to repeat the comparative point: liberalism stands more squarely for individual rights than does conservatism—which holds that millionaires paying 2% higher taxes is a bigger sin against our principles than is the fact that same-sex couples cannot marry. It is contemporary conservatism that is inclined to disparage individualism. All liberals are currently doing is trying to get us out of the financial mess conservatives got us into, by asking people with more money than they know what to do with to pay a little more for the recovery than others. Once you’ve admitted that the government can take some of your money—as we all have and must—now we’re just quibbling over details…and not even biggish details. No one thinks that the government deserves all of your money. No one thinks that you don't own it. Any more than anyone thinks that you don't have a right to life simply because the government can sometimes force you to risk it. And no one with even half a brain and half an ounce of intellectual honesty could honestly claim otherwise.
Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.
Ah, communism, again. The conservatives' go-to boogeyman. That's not liberalism, and not close to it. You have to go pretty deep into far-left academic feminism and suchlike before you find views like this. And this is a very, very odd point to make when 80% of Americans think we should raise taxes on the wealthy. Who’s the bloody vanguard of the proletariat now, Comrade Will?
Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”
Again, if this were true, then conservatism would actually get out of the way of social evolution such as the recognition of gay marriage. However it does not. It is liberals who have traditionally believed in a large and inviolable private sphere--a sphere which conservatives have been quite happy to violate. Conservatives trust in society only insofar as society remains in a 1950-ish state. Conservatives tell government to get out of the way when it threatens to do something they don’t like; otherwise, it’s the government’s job to act as Big Parent, telling us how we need to be living our lives. Don’t get me wrong, liberals aren’t pure here—they’re just a lot better than conservatives. The governmental interference that they’re willing to countenance is of a less intrusive kind, and liberals seem to be comfortable with a lesser degree of it. They’re also a little less dishonest about their actual motives, and a little less likely to invoke sophistical arguments like this drivel we get from Will. Oh, there are liberals who will try to do stupid crap like ban soda from schools, or tax fat...and we may have to worry more about such nanny-statism in the future...but currently that sort of thing remains exception and not rule.

It's this kind of shit, George...this is why nobody takes American conservatism--nor you--seriously anymore.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Can The Earth Survive the Longevity Revolution?

At The Volokh Conspiracy.

Uh, yes. But by far the best way to do so is to start building down the population immediately. To continue to rely on highly speculative technologies is madness. We do not need 7 billion people on the planet, and we sure as hell don't need 9 billion. Solutions that urge us to all live like paupers so that there can be more of us are, quite frankly, insane. Americans could, of course, stand to consume quite a bit less, but that alone is not a solution. No austerity measures alone will do the trick. Furthermore, better to have fewer people living better than more people living less well. No matter how you look at it, population has to come down--and adding the prospect of a longevity revolution to the picture just makes building down the population even more important.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Ricks: Who Won The Iraq War
Or: Not Us

Could Occupy Wall Street be Legit?

I can't stand hippies with puppets...and demonstrations in general are not my thing...and muddled messages will not receive my my initial reaction to OWS was that it was anti-World-Bank-esque bullshit.

Buuuuut....I dunno. They've had more stick-to-it-iveness than I'd have predicted. I'm still not sure that they are sure exactly what they want...but popularity polls seem to suggest that my fears of a backlash were unfounded.

It'd be pretty awesome if I was wrong about this.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sullivan, Palin, and Trig


I came out facepalming pretty early on the whole Sullivan/Trig thing...but not because the evidence was conclusively against the Trig Weirdness theory, rather just because it seemed so unlikely, prima facie, to be true, and was likely to be bad for liberals in the crucial 2008 election.

I don't follow this story very closely, but it's been clear to me for a long time that Sullivan is right--on the basis of what we know, there is a non-trivial chance that something very weird and as-yet undisclosed went on. Personally, I'm not interested enough to focus on it, and Palin is largely a has-been, so I'm more than willing to let it fade away and let the facts remain unknown. But it is not obligatory to do so, and Sullivan is not crazy for maintaining his position. Most everyone else is all like "Oh, come on, the Trig Weirdness theory is just too prima facie unlikely, and it's too unseemly for serious folks to get involved with; just let it die." Sound advice, perhaps...but it's not obligatory for Sullivan to do so. He's being reasonable about this, even if I myself would probably be too embarrassed to keep pursuing the whole crazy mess.

So, though there are plenty of other issues that show Palin to be a weirdo, and although there is probably no good reason to keep criticizing her--anyone who does not realize by now that she's a mean-spirited, superficial, ignorant idiot is probably immune to evidence--it's neither morally nor epistemically impermissible to note that the case is not close on the Trig Weirdness theory.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

New Variations on the Patent Scam

At Balloon Juice, this.

Turns out some grifters and their grifter lawyers have decided to try to use the courts to steal some money by claiming to have patented wi-fi. Their tactic? Sue companies like Caribou Coffee for such small amounts of money (around $5,000) that they hope the companies will pay the money to avoid the annoyance.

These people--and their crooked lawyers--should all be thrown in jail.
Word Cop
'Calculus' (and 'Calculation') Edition

O.k., I know that pointing out stuff like this is annoying, but the misuses themselves are also uh...that's all I've got by way of defense.

But ever since the generic term 'calculus' gained popularity outside of fields like math and logic, people have been misusing it.

They misuse it roughly in the way--and, I hypothesize--roughly for the same reason--that they misuse terms like 'ideology' and methodology'--that is, because 'calculus' sounds cooler and smarter than 'calculation(s').

Here's a NYT story about Obama's electoral vote strategy for '12. It's a fairly interesting story, so it is, admittedly, kind of irritating to pull out one sentence--the use of one word, in fact--and gripe about it. But it's just the most recent example of the phenomenon, the example I happen to have run across this morning. Be that as it may, the sentence appears below:
But, Mr. Nelson acknowledged: “The country is changing. In every election cycle, every year, every day, this country becomes more ethnically diverse. And that has an impact on the kind of coalition that you need to put together to win.” He added, “The truth is, Obama needs fewer white voters in 2012 than he did in 2008.”

Mr. Obama’s recent travel reflects his calculus. On Tuesday, he was in Colorado, at a high school in a heavily Hispanic Denver neighborhood, to promote his jobs plan.
 (And incidentally: I start getting really unhappy when I hear about candidates targeting voters on account of their race. I get every bit as uncomfortable if I hear that Senator Smith is targeting e.g. Hispanics as I would get if I heard that he were targeting whites. (Well, o.k...honestly, probably not just as uncomfortable. But uncomfortable...and I sort of feel as if I ought to be equally uncomfortable...).)

Here's the thing. What the authors mean here is:

Mr. Obama's recent travel reflects his calculations.

A calculus--like the calculus--is a method of calculating (including, prominently, the relevant notation). So in logic, the propositional calculus is the conceptual an notational apparatus with which we evaluate inferences for validity--the axioms and/or rules of inference (and, perhaps, truth-tables?), the 'p's, the 'q's, the arrows and tildes. Mr. Obama's recent travel reflects his calculations, not his "calculus." It reflects his calculations in that he doesn't think that he can win with the same voters he won with last time, and that he can/should rely less heavily on white voters. There is no "calculus" here, really, unless it is something like the method of counting electoral votes, and that's not what the author is trying to say. We could probably twist the sentence around in such a way as to make it vaguely plausible...but that's just a pointless semantic game. They meant 'calculation.' In fact, almost every time 'calculus' gets used in news stories, management speak, and the like, the speaker/writer means 'calculation.'

The allure of smart-sounding locutions is hard to resist. That's part of what gives us the current trend of misusing 'begs the question' to mean 'raises the question.'

Um. That's all I've got.

No snappy ending.