Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Wee Point About Theistic Ethics
(And Relativism (and Epistemology))

I've been half-heartedly intending to say something about this reader e-mail at Sullivan's digs, but another one of his readers got around to making the important point.

When discussing matters like the grounds of morality with either relativists or those who advocate theistic ethics, keep the following in mind: they tend to employ illegitimate negative formulations of their central claims that trick their opponents into taking up unnecessarily difficult dialectical positions.

E.g., they'll tend to assert things like:

Atheists can't explain the grounds of morality


No non-theistic moral theory can account for the grounds of morality

or, in the case of cultural moral relativists:

There is no culture-transcendent ground of morality.

These claims are likely to be false, but that's beside the current point. The small but very important dialectical point to keep in mind is that each of these claims suggests but does not entail that the theory being defended--theistic ethics or CMR--can give a successful account of the grounds of morality. (Similar points apply in logic and epistemology, in fact.)

Such folks say no theory of a type other than mine can solve the problem, and sucker you into trying to defend your theory instead of criticizing theirs. But no theory of a type other than mine can solve the problem does not entail my theory can solve the problem. Even if it turns out to be true that no non-theistic or non-relativistic theory can solve the grounding problem for morality (or epistemology), that doesn't mean that theism or relativism can help.

In fact, they never help. All they do is make the problem worse.

So don't fall for this trick.
New Deal Deniers

Starring Amity Shlaes.
Wingnuts of China

Ever wonder what Hindrocket, K-Lo or the LGF crowd would be writing about if they had been born in China?

Well here ya go...
Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots

Immoral and ineffective!

[H/T: Statisticasaurus rex]

Good one.

[H/T: Canis Major]
The Baseline Scenario

Seems interesting...but I am clueless about econ.
The Inevitable (Snail) Zombie Apocalypse
3/31/09 Edition

Aaaaahhhh!!! Snail Zombies!!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Academic Earth
(a) Cool
(b) The End of the University as We Know it?

via the Explainist: Academic Earth.

I've been telling my colleagues for years that we may be the last generation of actual professors/lecturers. When you think about it, why should you want to hear a live lecture by, say, me instead of watch a videotape by, say, Tom Hill or Paul Boghossian? Or, for that matter, why would you want to take your chances on one of my live lectures...a fair percentage of which are duds...instead of, say, watching a videotape of the best version of that lecture I ever gave?

My guess: it won't be long before things in academia go in the videotape direction. Heck, my students tell me that many of their classes already involve watching videos. Makes me wonder why I'm up there busting my butt every class instead of watching tv...

Now, all this is probably sub-optimal in many ways; however, given that classes are, in general, way too big, it may not be that bad. Or at least it may not be much worse than it already is. At my school, our average lower-division class size is 40 students. That's too big to really get to know most of the students, and big enough for many of them to take refuge in anonymity. And it's too big to make really good discussions the norm. So, given all that, why not go to the tape?

My prediction for many years has been that, not too far in the future, there'll be a few star professors who make video tapes, and everyone else will be a kind of glorified teaching assistant running discussion sections. Sounds like a potential step toward the end of Western civilization to me...but that doesn't mean I think it's a lot worse than the current system, if you get my drift.

Anyway, for this reason and despite increasingly lucrative inducements from my university, I've thus far refused to teach online courses. If Western civilization is going to collapse any faseter, I'd rather not have a hand in it.
Cool Blog?

The Explainist.

The focus seems to be, roughly, explanation and explanations, good and bad. Not sure this is a fruitful way to carve things up...but, hey, empirical question.

Looks interesting to me, FWIW.
Bamboozled By Irrelevant Neuroscience
Attn: "Experimental Philosophy"...

Non-experts prefer explanations that include irrelevant neuroscientific information.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Carolina 72, Oklahoma 60

On to the Final Four for the fifth time in eight years.

Go Tar Heels!
Go Tar Heels
Beat Oklahoma

That is all.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Does Anyone Think That "The Best And The Brightest" Go To Work On Wall Street?

I mean, to be honest, that thought has never entered my mind. I figure that if there's anywhere "the best and the brightest" cluster, it's math and physics departments. I expect you can find smart folk just about anywhere...but Wall Street certainly wouldn't be where I'd bet there'd be notable clusters of 'em. The glitziest and greediest, perhaps, or maybe even the folk most likely to think themselves to be among the B and B...but not, ya know, the genuine article.

Here's Judith Warner being surprised by the suggestion at issue. (Hey, she's a cutie pie according to that picture, eh? Not that I'm noticing that of course...)
Carolina 98, Gonzaga 77

Congrats to Gonzaga on a good game--they just ran into a buzz saw tonight. And congrats to the mighty Tar Heels, of course.

Three more games, boys.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What Makes Annoying Terms Annoying?

Another really, really annoying phrase is "going forward." Why is that like fingernails on a chalkboard?

No idea.

But how about "narrative"? (Discussed in the previous post and comments.) Why does that drive me up the wall? Well, with terms like this it is, I guess, the conceptual background of the thing. It apparently first came into vogue among LitCritters and suchlike, who find it entertaining and titilating to believe that everything you can say or write down--our best science included--is just a story. Our best science, according to such folk, is no closer to the truth than is some crap doggerel pop song or explicit lie. (Perhaps because there's no such thing as truth; perhaps because there's truth but we can't know it; perhaps because everything is true because all assertions generate their own facts...the folks in question are usually none to clear about the why of it...)

So it's all just stories.

But, of course, 'story' doesn't sound erudie and quasi-technical.

So 'story' won't do.

Oh no.

And so we get 'narrative.'

As Anonymous points out, it's handy to have something that means 'story' but without the overt sense of fiction lurking in the background. That's true. Tho I think 'narrative' does have that--given its conceptual background, it's supposed to subtly suggest that all accounts are fictional. Or something similar. Or something worse.

And then there are the vague god-knows-what's-going-on uses of the term as in: "the conservatives' problem is that they are bad at narrative." (roughly here.) WTF is that supposed to mean? Not much, that's what.

And why is the left so much more adept at generating dopey irritating terms than the right? Logocentrism...phallocentrism...phallogocentrism...valorize...celebrate...deconstruct...intervention (in the lefty intellectual sense)...bleh. The list goes on and on.

(James directs us to this discussion of irritating terms at Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanze Refuge.)

Take everything around this place with a grain of salt, as usual.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Words That Suck
Episode 1: 'Narrative'

Stupid word.

That is all.
Obama "Failure" Watch

Wow! That was fast! (via Sullivan)

I still can't believe that the Obama presidency failed so quickly! I mean, it almost seems as if he failed before he even started. But that wouldn't make any sense, now would it?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Crazy Obama Rejects Lysenkoism
Maintains That Science Should Be Objective


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Double-Standard Watch:
Conservatives Suddenly Concerned About Deficit Spending

Better late than never?
Reading: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation

Just finished it, actually. A helluvan interesting little book. Aimed at younger teens, I'd guess, it's substantial enough to be enjoyable by adults, sez me. I'm not smart about literature, but I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think I got something valuable out of it. Sadly, my aforementioned literary not-smartness prevents me from saying anything interesting or illuminating about this (or, for that matter, any) novel.

But FWIW, I recommend this book, and if you've got a kid, consider sending it in their direction.
George Will Suddenly Cares About The Constitution


What could account for the fact that he has suddenly become a scrupulous defender of the Constitution? (Even extending it by some kind of analogy to union elections!)

I just can't figure it out... What is it that happened recently that made Will care about such things? Something in the last few months, obviously.

Well, if anybody can figure out this puzzle, do let me know...

On a more serious note:

My conservative friends have nearly bitched more about Obama in eight weeks than liberals did about Bush in eight years. These folks really do have some kind of problem with democracy. Unless they win the elections, of course. A big ol' bunch of 'em simply don't seem capable of being the loyal opposition. I have to admit, it's almost made me happy to hear them scream bloody murder about things that pale in comparison to the daily outrages coming out of the Bush White House.

However...I don't want to be like them. I do want to be objective about the Obama administration and this Democratic Congress. Now, with regard to foreign policy matters, I know enough to know that e.g. the overtures to Iran are the right policy, and that conservative whining is ignorable. Most of them either don't know or don't care about our actual history with Iran, refuse to acknowledge our errors, and so forth--basically par for the course for our friends across the aisle. So long as America acts aggressively, it's always right. But with regard to the really major issues in play, the economic issues, I'm basically clueless. So, as much as I'd like to ignore politics for awhile, I suppose it's my duty to get up to speed so I can at least semi-understand WTF is going on.

One of the hardest things in all this is to remain willing to criticize Obama. After watching the vocal core of conservatism defend even the most outrageous of Bush's actions, and now watching as they spew spittle at Obama, starting before he's even elected and objecting to everything he does, it'd be easy to become a knee-jerk defender of the guy. But we can't let ourselves do that.

That is all.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Double-Standard Watch

As you know, we are not permitted to declare Bush's policies a failure even after eight years; rather, we are to wait indefinitely long before drawing negative conclusions about them. However, if his policies can in any way be construed as having succeeded--like, say, the surge--then we are not only permitted but obligated to immediately judge them to be successes.

And, of course, a week or two is more than long enough to declare any Obama policy a failure.
A Paradox In Conservative Attitudes About America

I've written about this many times, and I wish I could think of a pithy name for it. The substance: many (though not all) conservatives have a reverence for America that is largely based on a view about its moral goodness. These views are largely shaped by WWII and our national conduct therein. However, many conservatives are dismissive--even contemptuous--of the actual principles that made our conduct admirable, e.g. the humane treatment of prisoners.

Sullivan has an interesting quote from Michael Yon on this point. In brief: views about America's moral greatness among non-Americans were strong and deep and largely grounded in our conduct in WWII, especially our treatment of prisoners. (Note that several conservatives (including, as I recall, Stephen den Beste) have argued on this blog that such attitudes are ephemeral and unimportant; I denied it, and the evidence Yon points to supports my position. In my view, America's moral capital is/was among our most valuable assets. It is this moral capital that Bush, Cheney and their minions have squandered.)

It's important, of course, to realize that not all conservatives are of this type--roughly Bush/Cheney conservatives. They're characterized by hyperbolic regard for the U.S. combined with an incompatible, roughly Hobbesian "realism" in foreign policy. (Remember: foreign policy realism is not actually what ought to be called 'realism.' Rather, it's a kind of national ethical egoism according to which we ought to do only what's in our narrow national interest.)

Thing is, you can't get all misty about American one minute, waving the flag and waxing poetic about our moral greatness, and in the next minute emit a spittle-flecked tirade about how we ought to f*ck up them terrorists at Gitmo and teach 'em not to mess with us.

I mean, the latter attitude is insane, the former is plausible though questionable, but one thing is for sure: you can't hold both of them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Go Tar Heels, Beat LSU

Rumor has it that Lawson will start, but I rather hope he doesn't. We shouldn't need him, and another week of R&R would be good.

Man, has the ACC stunk it up in the tournament or what? Beating us was the high point of Wake's season, and immediately afterward they went into a tail spin, going from #1 in the nation to losing to a 14 seed--and not by a little bit. Clemsun folded in the first round, as is their tradition. Maryland's getting spanked even as I type. dook might make the Sweet Sixteen, but, barring major luck, not much past that. So the only real hope the ACC has to avoid total humiliation seems to be Carolina winning it all. So let's go Tar Heels. Time to get serious.

Man, I'd give a lot to have Ginyard healthy and suited-up...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Student Misconceptions About Grades Lead to Disputes With Professors
American Universities, Where All The Students Are Above-Average


Allegedly, many students believe that they should get good grades merely for working hard and/or completing the assigned course work.

There's actually some unclarity in what some of the interviewed students say, but I don't have time to address that right now.

One problem, IMHO, is that this is the way high school works, and so it's reasonable for students to have these expectations. Sadly, it's also the way many college classes work. At my own institution--which is not excellent, but is better than pretty good--76.5% of students in lower-division classes get either 'A's or 'B's. Only a little over 17% get 'C's. The upper-division numbers are worse, though I can't remember them off the top of my head.

For a long time I wondered why I had so many whiny students. Turns out that the answer is: I'm giving them normal grades when they've become accustomed to inflated ones. It's not exactly their fault--I'm the one who's out of step with the mainstream. (Query for readers: should I switch to the prevailing standards?)

Perhaps we should give out two different grades--one for working hard and doing the assigned work, and another that actually indicates accomplishment. Of course there's actually no way to grade how hard they work, and no one would care about that grade...but it might satisfy students who want such a grade, and make it painfully clear that the actual grade assesses actual mastery of the material.

As I've said in the past, it's the students I feel sorry for in all this. They're being systematically mislead about their abilities. Unfortunately, so is society at large--it's more difficult for grad schools, law schools, med schools etc. to determine who's really talented. Almost everyone who tries hard is getting high grades. This is largely because many profs are too wimpy to withstand their students' displeasure about grades.

Grade inflation is a real problem. Some universities are already addressing it. The others need to get on it soon.
The GOP Is Not The Party Of Small Government

I've harped on this point for years. Here's Julian Zlizer harping on it.

And we might add on a similar note: small and highly intrusive isn't any better than big.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama Picks Heels To Win It All

Oh yeah.

Could I actually be so lucky? Could Obama and the Heels both win?? After eight years of Duh-Duh-Dubya and way too much dook, could the cosmic scales all be set aright at once?

It's almost too much to hope for...
Salon: Teams We Hate
Chapter 1: dook

Word to your maternal unit.
"He Stands For What's Good About College Basketball"

ESPN story about Tyler Hansbrough.

The story is loosely built around the question: does he need to win a title to secure his legacy? Answer: no. Hans stayed for four years and did everything in his power to win. He turned away from the big bucks and he just plain came back. He's a great kid, and he's given us everything he's had for four years. We love him, title or no title.

Um, of course title is better...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 6-7 Dirtiest College Basketball Teams

UCLA shows up twice, so it depends on whether we're counting types or tokens...
Graduation Rates For NCAA Tournament Teams

In the main, it ain't pretty.

Monday, March 16, 2009

American Torture

I'm basically speechless about this.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is Inequality The Cause Of Most Social Ills?

Obviously not the craziest hypothesis ever...but not all that plausible, either.

The kind of thing you'd predict some academicians somewhere would eventually come up with. Which is not to say it isn't true of course...
Congrats to FSU and dook

Just got back in town, so just now able to post congratulations to FSU for a good semi-final win over the Heels, and to dook for winning the ACC tournament title. Big surprise for dook, who nobody gave much of a chance. But without the Heels in serious contention, and as Wake continues its weird, half-season-long collapse, the door was left wide open for the Blue Devils. Gotta show 'em some respect for taking advantage of the opportunity, whatever you think of them.

Roy has long made it clear that he doesn't care much about the ACC tournament, and it was hard not to feel that we were basically sitting this one out. Without Lawson (and what was almost worse: in effect without Danny Green, who is in the mother of all shooting slumps) we're not the same team, and Roy just seemed to be using the ACC tournament as practice for the big tourny, experimenting with stuff he rarely uses in serious games, like the zone D. Now, far be it from me to question Roy--he makes the big bucks for a reason--but personally I prefer a 75% chance (at least) of winning the ACC tournament to a 25% chance (at most) of winning the big tournament (note: strangely high as that seems, that's what Vegas has as the Heels chance of winning it all). Resting Lawson during the ACCT to make a better run at the big tournament will strike old school types as a kind of heresy...and, man, there's going to be lots of criticism if they don't win it all--especially since it allowed dook to more-or-less cruise to a tournament championship. I certainly am with Roy to the extent that I think the ACC regular season championship means more than an ACC tournament championship...but not everybody sees it that way, to say the least....

So, anyway, heal up, Ty, because there's a lot riding on that toe of yours!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Go Heels, Beat FSU

Carolina's going to have to get through the ACC tournament without its most important player, Ty Lawson. Without Ty penetrating and distributing the ball, it ain't gonna be easy. Frasor and Drew II are going to have to step up big if Carolina's going to cut down the nets.

On the menu today: Florida State. State played us tough in our sole meeting during the regular season, and they're gonna be loaded for bear today. Their half-court defense seems tough to me, so we need to run...but without Lawson, we don't have anyone who runs the break well. So color me concerned.

Prediction: Heels 80, FSU 78...but it could very easily go the other way. Should be fun in either case.

Go Tar Heels!
Blaming Obama for Blaming Bush
A Very Puzzling Washington Post Article
Everything That Isn't Clinton's Fault Is Obama's

I've posted several times on the tightrope that liberals have to walk with regard to bipartisanship. In short, they have to urge us to come together while also making it clear that our recent polarization is almost entirely the fault of conservatives. And, though there are actual quantitative studies that support this claim, it's not an easy case to make, rhetorically speaking.

What's surprising about this Post article is that it's central thesis is that there is something like an inconsistency between (a) Obama's calls for bipartisanship and (b) his reminders that he inherited this mess from Bush. I find this very puzzling.

It is clear to any even vaguely objective and minimally knowledgeable person that the current mess is Bush's fault. There is no question about that, no serious debate to be had. It's a fact. (Remember facts? They're the hard things that you can't wish away. The things the Bush administration didn't believe in...)

Of course, some conservatives (like Rush "Big Pharma" Limbaugh) were trying to "re-brand" this as "the Obama recession" even before Obama took office. Apparently they believe in backwards causation. (But, hey, if you get everything else backwards, why not causation, huh?)

Consider the following astonishing bit of sophistry by GOP Minority Whip Eric Cantor:
"It is the Obama economy and the Obama stock market...This is about today, and he's assumed his post."
These are the same people who tried to blame Clinton for everything that went wrong in the Bush administration, up until two months before Obama took office, when they began blaming him. These people are sophistical infantile shitheads. But I state the obvious.

One wonders: is it a coincidence that the party that is incapable of taking responsibility for its errors is also the party that cannot admit any errors by the nation as a whole? A pattern seems to be emerging here...

The confusion in the Post piece is more-or-less summarized by/concentrated in the following quote from Lawrence R. Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota:

"What the administration is involved in now is the politics of attribution. Each week that goes by with falling job numbers and Republican criticism of the administration's flaws means falling approval ratings. What's the antidote? That the guilty party is George Bush."

"The trick," Jacobs said, "is how do you shift blame to George Bush and retain any credibility on the idea that you are looking past partisan warfare? This looks like a doubling down on a very partisan approach."

"The politics of attribution"??? Is this some kind of joke? People get tenure for this kind of analysis (and I use the term loosely)? Pointing out, e.g., that Obama inherited a war that Bush started is "the politics of attribution"??? (Insert incredulous stare here)

The confusion here is to think that a commitment to bipartisanship requires us to step into a fantasy world in which everyone is equally responsible for everything that has ever happened. Pointing out the obvious--that Bush is responsible for the current mess--is not a "trick" nor an "antidote." It is simply stating facts. Should Obama stand up and say, e.g., "Of course I am completely responsible for the Iraq war. I am now president, and hence 100% responsible for everything that has ever happened to this country."

Is Obama responsible for the Revolutionary war? Is he responsible for slavery? Is he responsible for making us the world's sole superpower? If he's responsible for everything about our current status, then he's done a damn fine job all things considered. Nice work, Barack!

Or is he responsible only for the bad things?

Of course that's the GOP's actual position.

A thought-experiment: were the economy to suddenly turn around, which of the following would conservatives say:

(a) "It is the Obama economy and the Obama stock market...This is about today, and he's assumed his post." Good job, President Obama!

(b) Well, this is obviously attributable to the policies of George W. Bush and the Republicans. Obama hasn't been in office long enough to effect this kind of change. The seeds of this were sown over the last eight years, and conservative policies are just coming to fruition.

Is there anyone anywhere who thinks (a) is even a remote possibility?

A wee principle:
Although this is far too simplistic, I'm going to propose this as a starting point for serious discussion here. 9/11 happend eight months into Bush's tenure; the economy was already in the crapper when Obama took over. So, on the face of it, we have to do one of the following:

(i) Blame Bush for 9/11 and Obama for the economy.

(ii) Neither Blame Bush for 9/11 nor blame Obama for the economy.

(iii) Blame Bush for 9/11 but not blame Obama for the economy.

The one option that cannot, prima facie, be on the table is:

(iv) Don't blame Bush for 9/11 but do blame Obama for the economy.

The GOP, of course, employs flexible principles when attributing responsibilty. Clinton is responsible for every bad thing that happened even 7.5 years after he left office...until Obama's backwards causation powers made him responsible for any bad thing that happened after that. The GOP is, of course, responsible for any good thing that happened...which basically means only: aside from the worst terrorist attack in history, they "kept us safe." No doubt Bush will continue to be responsible for "keeping us safe" unless/until there is another attack, at which point it will be Obama's responsibility.

One conclusion we can take away from all this, though, is:

Although bipartisanship is a useful approximation, it's not what we really need. What we really need is reasonableness. We don't need to split the difference on everything, we need to be able to state the facts without spin. Though partisanship is the enemy, bipartisanship is not exactly the opposite of partisanship. And what we most need is an end to partisanship. The respective parties need to be reasonable, to take responsibility when that's appropriate, and to cut the manichean tribalistic bullshit. The GOP has been far, far more partisan/tribal than the Dems have. So the cure for the debilitating partisanship that plagues our politics lies mostly with the GOP.

God help us, but that seems to be the way it is.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Conservatives Cannot Distinguish Between 'I Don't Like X' And 'X Is Harmful/Wrong'

I've often thought that one of the major failings of your average conservative is that he can't tell the difference between (a) I don't like x, (b) x is harmful and (c) x is morally wrong.

Here's yet more support for that thesis: Stephen H. Webb, "How Soccer is Ruining America." Biggest problems with soccer? (1) It's European, and (2) girls play it. Now, as we all know, females are deplorable and defective unless one of them is raising your children or cleaning your house...or if you are having sex with one. Assuming, of course, that you are male, and the purpose is reproduction. If you're just doing it for love or fun--especially if you yourself are a girl--then that is wrong.

Webb indicates that he is, to some extent, kidding...but it's not clear to what extent. Nor whether he's serious about the suggestion that he's kidding.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't much like soccer--though it's hard to like a sport you've never really played much. I agree with the point that there's something lame about not using your hands...though Webb sees something sinister behind that--it's a way of making sure that everyone is disadvantaged--which is, of course, the liberals' dream! (How about non-contact sports like hoops? Is that a conspiracy of the weak as well? Should all sports be full-contact in order to be politically correct?) Me, I think not using your hands just lame. Like, say, the DH. But being lame doesn't make something evil. And being something you don' t want to do doesn't, either. Liberals tend to be capable of making the relevant distinctions, and recognize that lots of things are morally indifferent, occupying what they see as a fairly wide spectrum of permissible, non-obligatory options. Liberals never say, e.g., "everyone must have casual sex!" That's because they recognize that it would be stupid and wrong to think such a thing. It's permissible, but in no way obligatory. It's conservatives who want to enforce their personal preferences on others, and who mistakenly see those preferences as obligations; they're the ones who say, e.g., "no one may have causal [er, that would be casual] sex!" Conservatives, like the Soviets, think that everything that is not obligatory is forbidden. Liberals recognize that many things are just permissible, period.

But there's no reasoning with these people, so instead of trying, I think I'll go do some actual work.

As I note in comments below:
Ooh, I'm totally busted on this from all angles!

Mac's right, it's a parody. I was too annoyed and rushed through the final para.

Busted, busted, busted!

Shows something important about my cranky, anti-conservative prejudices, I'd say.

Anonymous also busts me--though in my defense, I'm usually pretty careful about that point. It's really political extremists who are bad at this, left and right, the left in just the ways A points out. It's just that leftist extremists are fairly rare in the U.S., confined mostly to the weaker reaches of the humantities and social sciences, in academia.

I totally stand corrected on this.]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chuck Norris: Moron

I know, I know. It's not like this is a guy anybody should be paying attention to.

But I keep seeing more and more crap like this. It's not like it's just one idiot...it's like a whole idiot movement. Eight years of Bush--quasi-stolen election, shredding of the constitution, destroying of our moral authority, lying us into wars, subordinating policy to politics and science to ideology--and all these dumbshits never said a word...unless, of course, it was to support the guy who was running the country into a ditch.

One month of a smart, honest guy trying to clean things up, and they're talking about revolution and secession.

We are dealing with some very, very stupid people here. And in many cases, stupid = dangerous.
Adventures In Stupidity:
Arthur Herman, "What's Behind Barack's Brit Snit?"
And: Double Standard Alert

Behold, one of the stupidest things ever written. [via Sullivan]

Now, I know the New York Post is not an actual newspaper, so one might make the case that this doesn't count. But it's just so astonishingly f***ing stupid that I couldn't resist.

Short version of this piece of crap: Obama didn't meet with Brown in the Rose Garden, and gave him some poorly-thought-out gifts. This, plus the fact that Obama had a bust of Churchill moved from the White House to the British Embassy shows that Obama is abandoning the entire Anglo-American view of government. He wants to end the special relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain, probably because, like Jeremiah Wright, he thinks the Brits and Americans are primarily evil colonialists and racists.

See, because eviscerating the fourth amendment shows that you love liberty, while giving the wrong present shows that you are abandoning the very idea of liberal government.

Maybe these guys should stick with stuff like "Headless Body in Topless Bar"...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Carolina-dook Today!

Terrifying news rocked the UNC basketball world Friday when it was discovered that Ty Lawson had injured his toe and had left practice on crutches. He didn't practice yesterday, and is questionable for today. The University of New Jersey at Durham has only won one of the last six of its contests with Carolina--and that was a game in which Lawson was out with a sprained ankle.

The media has, it seems finally begun to realize that--important though Tyler Hansbrough is--it's Lawson that is Carolina's most indispensible player. Although dook is simply not that good this year (they're record's good, but I think even dook fans would have to admit, they've been very, very lucky when it counts, and gotten more than a few crucial, controversial calls), Carolina without Lawson is a completely different team. And even Lawson at 90% is not really 90% of Lawson, if you know what I mean. I've got more faith in Bobby Frasor than many folks, and the smart money would probably still be on Carolina even without Lawson--but it's annoying that dook gets yet another break, and that this injury could make a game that should not be close close. Grumble...

Still, winning is secondary, and it should be a good game anyway. dook's got some (far less important, unfortunately) injuries, too. It'd be great to see these teams going at each other full strength--where that means Ginyard and everybody. Too bad that's not going to happen.

At any rate: GO TAR HEELS, beat UNJ-D!
More On Democratic Pork: Deadly Pork

To follow up on the recent Democratic pork post at Bottom-Up Change: there's this in today's Post.

Perhaps I should start by making it clear that I've always been in favor of substantial defense spending, unlike some liberals of my acquaintance.

However, 46% of our discretionary spending is, under current conditions, probably far too much. And wasteful military spending is bad in more ways than other types of wasteful spending. For one thing, more money is at issue. Buying even one unnecessary unit is significant when you are talking about, e.g., F-22s. For another, the best-case scenario for excess military equipment is that it goes to waste; the worst-case scenario is that a bloated, super-powerful military makes irrational military adventures like Iraq more likely--such a military, some argue, actually pushes us into more wars. And, of course, excess equipment is often sold to other countries, some of which misuse it. (It'd be awhile before technology like the F-22 would be sold to such countries, but we need to take the long view here--and it's not just the F-22 and it's ilk that are at issue).

What's surprising in the Post article is that it's Dems--some very liberal Dems, of a type often accused of being anti-military--who are a big part of the problem. It was seven Dems (including Ted Kennedy) and four Republicans who demanded that the Pentagon reverse its decision not to buy more DDG-1000 destroyers (cost: $2.7 billion apiece). The Pentagon says it doesn't need any more of them, because they can't defend against even some very simple missile threats.

Now, I'm not up on the DDG-1000 debate, and it might very well be that the Navy is just maneuvering to get an even newer and more-expensive destroyer. That would be a reason to push them to take more DDG-1000s. But that's pure speculation.

As for the F-22, I'll be posting on that again soon. The last post drew an e-mail from a PR person under contract to Lockheed, offering up several patently sophistical arguments in support of continuing the F-22 program. But I'm giving the PR guy a chance to respond to queries before I post on that.

We now have the military-industrial complex that that noted bleeding-heart liberal Dwight Eisenhower warned us against. This is an internal enemy that can suck trillions of dollars from us, make us a more bellicose nation, flood the world with weapons, make war a more tempting option, and ultimately make us less prepared to fight one. Although I'm a fairly well-educated layperson on these issues, I don't know enough about specific programs like the DDG-1000 to know whether it is clear that we shouldn't have more of them. But my general rule of thumb is: if the Pentagon doesn't want it, then we don't need it.(1, 2)

1. Though see qualifier above about turning down one unit in order to shoot for something snazzier in the future.

2. The reverse, of course, does not hold.
Bottom-Up Change: Time For Obama To Take On The Dems About Pork

Amen, brother Jared.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Limbaugh: Evil

As you know, I like to go slumming in the drooling craposphere of right-wing nonsense from time to time. (Actually, I like to do the same sort of thing to the left, but the real crackpot lefties are a smaller, less vocal, and less influential group, largely confined to academia; so that's a different kind of thing.) Anyway, to be brutally honest about it, I am convinced that I do this in part because it makes me feel smart. So, if I'm feeling a bit down, I can just go hunt up some conservatards (at, say, the Corner), and, voila, I'm feeling a whole lot better about myself. Whatever my intellectual failings, at least I turn out to be a fairly smart guy in comparative terms. So there! Ahhhhhh. All better...

So you'd think I'd like to listen to Limbaugh, who should be able to make just about anybody feel fairly smart.

But, weirdly, it ain't so.Limbaugh's vile rhetoric is so poisonous that even I can't enjoy listening to it. Actually, years ago I made many attempts to listen to him seriously just because that's the kind of wimpy liberal I am. If I don't even listen to him, how can I know he's wrong? I thought. Wow. That's one seriously f*cked-up guy right there, friends.

Limbaugh is, of course, largely just pathetic. He's pathetic, first, because he so desperately needs approval from his audience. He's pathetic, secondly, because his audience is pathetic as well, apparently being composed largely of morons and obsessives just this side of hard-core conspiracy theorists. And desperately needing the approval of the pathetic is doubly pathetic at the very least. He's pathetic, thirdly, because he seems to actually believe that he's unusually intelligent, and that, consequently, that he's actually making some kind of contribution to American civilization.

But Limbaugh is so genuinely contemptable that it's not even possible--nor would it be sensible--to feel sorry for him, pathetic though he is. When I happen across him on the radio, I usually can't take more than a few minutes of his bombastic bullshit because it feels like someone is pouring poison directly into my brain. The poisonous combination of sophistry and hatred actually makes me feel rather sick. Now, I'd love it if there were more serious political discussions on the radio, and I'd love to hear a serious conservative making a serious case for conservatism. I'm not only not against such a thing, I'm way for it. But that, of course, is not what Limbaugh is about.

Now, despite what some liberals think, Limbaugh isn't actually an unusually stupid fellow--not in the most straightforward sense of 'stupid', at any rate. He seems to me to be of more-or-less average intelligence. It's not that he doesn't have the intellectual horsepower to do better--it's not as if he's too stupid. At some level, he seems to realize that he's full of shit.

Limbaugh's real problems are intellectual dishonesty and epistemic incontinence. He is, in Harry Frankfurt's sense, a bullshitter: he doesn't care about the truth. He's not an inquirer--he doesn't work to have true beliefs; he doesn't aim to accurately represent the facts. He's not trying to be objective. Whereas the inquirer knows what his methods will be, but doesn't know which conclusion he'll end up with, Limbaugh always knows what his conclusion will be--it will be some version of "liberals suck." What he doesn't know is how he'll get to that conclusion. But make no mistake about it--he'll get there, by hook or by crook, in some minimal sense of "get there."

Limbaugh's M.O. is, basically, free association. He wanders around in rhetorical loops and digressions, almost aimlessly, but, as it were, always turning to the right at every opportunity. The cloud of words that he spews out always aim ultimately at his preferred and pre-ordained conclusion, but it apparently won't do to just assert "liberals suck" over and over again. What Limbaugh aims at--and what his listeners crave--is the illusion of reason and reasoning. And that is what Limbaugh provides for them. Limbaugh's musings have a kind of minimal logicality--in a minimalist sense of 'logic.' That is, there are links of a kind between many of his sentences; there's a kind of way in which one of them leads to another. He always strives to make it sound as if he's making sense. He strives to make it appear that he's reasoning, as if his conclusions follow from the minimal gestures at evidence that he provides. He makes just enough sense that people who really, really, really want to believe his conclusions can tell themselves that sense is being made, that sound arguments are being given, that "liberals suck" is being proven rather than merely asserted.

Almost none of his arguments could ever withstand logical scrutiny--but they never have to. Limbaugh is, indeed, an entertainer, mouthing words that his listeners long to hear, and providing them with a kind of rational facade for beliefs that they can't justify. His job is to make them feel good about their politics. That's what he gets paid to do.
No intelligent person would ever believe Limbaugh if she weren't desperate to do so--it's passion that drives his listeners, not reason. And, unfortunately, the passions in play are usually anger and hatred. Add irrationality and the illusion of infallibility to the mix and you've got something very toxic indeed.

Some liberals have tried to produce their own Limbaugh and have lamented the fact that it hasn't worked. But that it hasn't is actually a mark in favor of liberalism--angry, irrationalist, hyper-partisan hate-fests don't play as well with liberals as they apparently do with with a fairly significant slice of conservatives. Whatever can be said against liberalism, this can be said for it: it neither craves nor tolerates it's own version of Limbaugh. Too bad we can't say as much for American conservatism.
Bottom-Up Change

Bottom-Up Change is an excellent new blog by a former student of mine. I have been actively fleeing from politics pretty much since the election, but when I do dare to peek at what's going on, this is one of my stops.

Philosoraptor say: check it out.