Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BP Does Not Care About Oil Spills

(NSFW for naughty, but non-gratuitously naughty, language)

this is right, BP doesn't stop the oil spill in the gulf because (a) they don't really care about oil spills, ergo (b) they weren't really prepared for the spill, and (c) they aren't even using the containment booms correctly. The root of the whole thing is, apparently, (a). Since they don't care, they don't actually make their employees learn how to boom correctly, and give them certification nevertheless (this sort of thing seems to go on all the time all over the place in corporate America...my theory is that it's because this is what people learn in college: you show up for class, get drunk at night, get your 'B', and move on).

Anybody know whether the claims in this video are true?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Theory, Literature, Hoax

Worth a read, largely for the following bits:

From the intro:
We love stories as much as we need them, but a funny thing has happened to departments of literature. The study of literature as an art form, of its techniques for delighting and instructing, has been replaced by an amalgam of bad epistemology and worse prose that goes by many names but can be summed up as Theory.
From the (very short) story:
Rumors had reached us of a doctrine called Theory emanating from distant corners of the university. We in the Department of Philosophy understood it immediately as a grand hoax....This is the story not of my particular emotions but rather of Theory. Suffice it to say that the self-parody of the appellation, singular and majuscule as if affixed in Plato’s firmament, appeared to rule out all interpretations competing with that of shenanigan. So, too, did the buffoonery of the language, phraseology bloated past the point of grotesqueness.
How To Deconstruct Almost Anything--My Postmodern Adventure

This is really, really good.

Here are the facts about contemporary deconstructiony, PoMo-y literary (and cultural) criticism: there are some interesting ideas there, but not many. The practitioners are generally gripped by--one might even say obsessed with--a certain orientation according to which everything is "socially constructed" or something like it, and the primary categories through which one ought to consider and analyze things are in or near the race/class/sex/gender sector of conceptual space. The theories, positions, distinctions, methods, conceptual categories etc. in this vicinity are not very reasonable and/or not very plausible and/or not very interesting and/or not very likely to be true or accurate or genuinely fundamental. (Too many disparate elements in there to be precise or grammatical...but I'm in a rush here...) The approach is not thoroughly corrupt and mistaken, but it's as big and ostentatious a failure as you're ever likely to encounter in an actual university. It's not that people who do this sort of thing aren't smart, but the approach is so corrupt that it tends to drive away better minds and undermine those it doesn't drive away. That last bit is the most important part: this approach actually makes you dumber. Better disciplines are characterized by better approaches and methods. If, say, an average person studies a more respectable discipline characterized by a better general orientation, he'll be enabled to think better thoughts and do better work than he could have done left to his own devices. The generally approaches we're discussing here, however, tend to send people on downward trajectories rather than upward ones. Average people who learn to think like this will end up saying things that are less interesting and plausible and fruitful and likely to be true than they would if they'd been left to their own devices. The thoughts of smarter-than-average people will be put on a more average trajectory. And so forth.

It's not that the study of literature and culture is inherently bullshit. It isn't. In fact, it's pretty hard. It's rather that these currently-fashionable approaches are very largely bullshit. It's as if theologians had all become Scientologists, or the majority of people in the chemistry department had suddenly taken up alchemy.

Anyway, this is all fast and loose. Read the essay on the other end of the link for something genuinely thoughtful and insightful on this issue.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Template For Discussion of a Philosophical Problem by a Scientist

Ha ha! Philosophers are so foolish and stupid for discussing [name/describe issue]! It is an absurd problem that is not even a problem, and is easily solved! [Mention empiricism here.] It is extremely obvious that the answer is [insert sophomoric answer normally debunked in PHIL 101 here.]! I only had PHIL 101, though I did not pay attention, and see how I have solved this problem?! Philosophers would realize they are foolish and stupid if they were not foolish and stupid! What has taken philosophers 2500 years to understand could be done by scientists over beers in one evening! I could solve all of the problems of philosophy in, like, a week, max, if I deigned to think about it that long! But I have better things to do because I am a scientist! Foolish, stupid philosophers!

[Joshua--this does not mean you!]
Sam Harris, "Toward a Science of Morality"

What to say about this?

Well, first the good: Harris makes a few good points that really need to be made in a public way. They are not new points--absolutely nothing here is even close to being new--but some of them are worth making.

Harris's thesis is that ethics is something like an incipient science. What he says is this: "...morality should be considered and undeveloped branch of science." My formulation is probably better, as morality is something more like the phenomenon and ethics is something more like the study of it. Hence ethics (or moral theory) is analogous to science and moral rightness more like the phenomena studied by the science. Harris also holds (roughly) that ethics is the science of maximizing well-being. That is, he's a consequentialist. Again: nothing new here.

If there's nothing new here...if these conversations just recapitulate the early moves in the on-going debates in moral theory, then why does Harris re-start the discussion without reference to those very well-developed debates? According to him, he finds terms like "deontology," "meta-ethics" and "non-cognitivism" boring.

This, incidentally, is what it's like to be a philosopher: you slowly and painstakingly grind out distinctions, definitions, and the occasional fairly secure conclusion, but people couldn't give a rat's ass. They just wade in as if they were inventing the stuff. And that's a tad bit annoying. (Not that it's not good for people to do their own thinking--but they'd spare themselves lots of work and embarrassment if they'd just get up to speed by attending to what's already been figured out.) But no need to stew over this. At least there's a little philosophy going on in public forums, and that's good.

In this piece, Harris is responding to criticism from, e.g. the physicist Sean Carroll, who trots out the old chestnut that "there is no single definition of well-being." Harris rightly points out that if this is supposed to bring us to a screeching halt, then every branch of inquiry is in trouble, since there is always someone who disagrees about something. This is the kind of point we make to our students in 101. Again, it's not new, but it's a point worth making.

Harris also shows himself to be on the side of the angels when he writes that "...it has been disconcerting to see the caricature of the over-educated, atheistic moral nihilist regularly appearing in my inbox."

Now, I certainly think that moral nihilism is a view that deserves respect and careful attention. What irritates me, however, is how many otherwise intelligent people smugly advocate nihilism, or views that entail nihilism, with apparently absolutely no recognition of the earth-shaking consequences of their beliefs. Nor do they generally recognize the self-defeating nature of their positions. For example, as a means of blocking right-wing puritanism, many on the left hold that morality is a pure and unmitigated "matter of opinion" (or, writ large, a "social construction"), i.e. that there are no moral truths. They think this gets them some kind of liberal permissiveness about e.g. sex, when what it actually gets them is the view that there is not a thing in the world wrong with being Hitler or Pol Pot--or Jerry Falwell. Among other things, it gets them that sexual permissiveness is no better than sexual puritanism. With no moral truths, there is no kind nor degree of oppression that is impermissible, since nothing is impermissible. Permitting homosexual actions is no better than forbidding them--both are ungrounded choices that cannot be rationally evaluated.

So Harris gets all that right. But he also gets many important things wrong.

He may find that the term 'deontologism' "increases the amount of boredom in the universe, but the discussion he wants to have cannot be had without that concept being in play. (Imagine someone saying: I want to talk about mathematics, but I find the term 'function' boring, so I don't want to look at anything previous mathematicians have done.) Harris presupposes many things he's not entitled to presuppose, and perhaps foremost among them is that consequentialism is true (and deontologism is false). That is, he presupposes that what we ought to do is to maximize well-being. However, the perils of such a view are well-known. Suppose that you need kidneys and I need a liver, and that we'll die without them. Suppose also that Smith, an innocent person, happens by, sporting healthy organs of the specified kinds. Suppose that we can easily kill him and take them and the world will be a better place for it--Smith is an unpleasant sort with no family or friends; but we are otherwise. On simple views of Harris's sort, we are not only permitted to kill Smith and take his guts, we must do so. One might try to squirm out of this by invoking speculative claims about our subsequent guilt, but such defenses don't work--some people's guilt will, after all, be outweighed by their future well-being. Ergo Harris cannot affirm what seems to be true--that we'd never be justified in killing Smith just because we need his guts. Of course the conversation gets complicated after this point...but Harris seems oblivious to even these initial moves in the discussion.

Carroll raises roughly the above obvious objection. Harris's reply shows how far out of his depth he is:
It is true that many people believe that "there are non-consequentialist ways of approaching morality," but I think that they are wrong. In my experience, when you scratch the surface on any deontologist, you find a consequentialist just waiting to get out. For instance, I think that Kant's Categorical Imperative only qualifies as a rational standard of morality given the assumption that it will be generally beneficial (as J.S. Mill pointed out at the beginning of Utilitarianism). Ditto for religious morality. This is a logical point before it is an empirical one, but yes, I do think we might be able to design experiments to show that people are concerned about consequences, even when they say they aren't.
Um, no. Kant is not a consequentialist. This is an elementary error. If you're making mistakes like this, they you shouldn't be pronouncing on these topics. Rather, you should be hitting the stacks. Kant did not think that the Categorical Imperative was the fundamental principle of morality because of any consequences it has, nor did he think that the moral law has rational authority because it had good consequences. Rather, Kant holds that morality has a kind of rational authority over us in virtue of our rationality and autonomy. The authority of the Categorical Imperative over our actions seems to be rather like the authority of the Law of Non-Contradiction over our thinking. To will something not in accordance with the Categorical Imperative is to will incoherently, hence irrationally (and, on some interpretations, not to even will at all--to abandon our rationality and autonomy). And there is no hidden premise in play about maximizing rationality or any such thing. Kant could (obviously) be wrong--but he is certainly no consequentialist. To insist that every view must reduce to conseqentialism is simply to betray a misunderstanding of the logical terrain. Even if the topic of deontologism bores you, you really ought to understand the view before dismissing it.

But let me end with something important that Harris is right about. Harris notes that Sean Carroll and P. Z. Meyers hold--as do so many people--that skepticism is a problem for morality, but not for science. If you just grant science its presuppositions, then it can do all sorts of wonderful things. Carroll writes:
And finally: pointing out that people disagree about morality is not analogous to the fact that some people are radical epistemic skeptics who don't agree with ordinary science. That's mixing levels of description. It is true that the tools of science cannot be used to change the mind of a committed solipsist who believes they are a brain in a vat, manipulated by an evil demon; yet, those of us who accept the presuppositions of empirical science are able to make progress.
But Harris's response is right on the money, even if, again, the point is familiar to philosophers:

Of course, it is easy enough for Carroll to assert that moral skepticism isn't analogous to scientific skepticism, but I think he is simply wrong about this. To use Myer's formulation, we must smuggle in an "unscientific prior" to justify any branch of science. If this isn't a problem for physics, why should it be a problem of a science of morality? Can we prove, without recourse to any prior assumptions, that our definition of "physics" is the right one? No, because our standards of proof will be built into any definition we provide. We might observe that standard physics is better at predicting the behavior of matter than Voodoo "physics" is, but what could we say to a "physicist" whose only goal is to appease the spiritual hunger of his dead ancestors? Here, we seem to reach an impasse. And yet, no one thinks that the failure of standard physics to silence all possible dissent has any significance whatsoever; why should we demand more of a science of morality?

So, while it is possible to say that one can't move from "is" to "ought," we should be honest about how we get to "is" in the first place. Scientific "is" statements rest on implicit "oughts" all the way down. When I say, "Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen," I have uttered a quintessential statement of scientific fact. But what if someone doubts this statement? I can appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcome of simple experiments. But in so doing, I implicitly appeal to the values of empiricism and logic. What if my interlocutor doesn't share these values? What can I say then? What evidence could prove that we should value evidence? What logic could demonstrate the importance of logic? As it turns out, these are the wrong questions. The right question is, why should we care what such a person thinks in the first place?

Science cannot secure its own foundations in the ways that Carroll and Meyers want it to. Above, Carroll seems to make two common mistakes at once--he suggests that science should get to simply presuppose the rationality of its method, and he points out that, if we do so, then we'll see that science is successful. The two errors here are (1) presupposing what needs proof, and (2) pointing to the successes of science as evidence of the truth of these presuppositions. Of course you could just assume the rationality of the scientific method--but then you're left with an unjustified assumption at the heart of our seemingly most important and successful epistemic endeavor. And, of course, you'd have to let morality assume anything it needed. So if we're allowing wanton assumptions, then any view can be "defended" in this way. On the other hand, if we point to the successes of science in support of the rationality of science, we have to ask: how do we know that science is successful? The answer ends up being, roughly: when we carefully tabulate the successes of science and compare them to the successes of other methods, science wins. But that sounds like: when we scientifically compare science to non-science, science wins. And that, ignoring a few details, seems circular: science shows that science is best. We have little reason to care what science says about its own success unless we already have reason to think that science is the right way of investigating things.

The view I currently favor, FWIW, is a Peircean view of the logic of science based on a Kantian deontological ethics of belief. (The best place to see this view worked out is in Richard Smyth's Reading Peirce Reading, incidentally. Don't mind the title--it was supposed to be the much less trendy Readings of Peirce.) But to understand this view requires understanding a lot of the long conversation that is Western philosophy. In particular, it requires understanding some moral theory. And yes, it requires understanding deontologism, even if you find it boring...


Harris also ends with the following tangle of confusions. There are points hidden in there, but as it stands its rather a mess. Let me just reiterate that these are the kinds of mistakes you end up making if you ignore what all the smart people who came before you had to say, and try to solve the most difficult problems about science and morality in one essay on the Huffington Post...:

So, while it is possible to say that one can't move from "is" to "ought," we should be honest about how we get to "is" in the first place. Scientific "is" statements rest on implicit "oughts" all the way down. When I say, "Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen," I have uttered a quintessential statement of scientific fact. But what if someone doubts this statement? I can appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcome of simple experiments. But in so doing, I implicitly appeal to the values of empiricism and logic. What if my interlocutor doesn't share these values? What can I say then? What evidence could prove that we should value evidence? What logic could demonstrate the importance of logic? As it turns out, these are the wrong questions. The right question is, why should we care what such a person thinks in the first place?

So it is with the linkage between morality and well-being: To say that morality is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that the well-being of conscious creatures is good, is exactly like saying that science is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that a rational understanding of the universe is good. We need not enter either of these philosophical cul-de-sacs.

Carroll and Myers both believe nothing much turns on whether we find a universal foundation for morality. I disagree. Granted, the practical effects cannot be our reason for linking morality and science -- we have to form our beliefs about reality based on what we think is actually true. But the consequences of moral relativism have been disastrous. And science's failure to address the most important questions in human life has made it seem like little more than an incubator for technology. It has also given faith-based religion -- that great engine of ignorance and bigotry -- a nearly uncontested claim to being the only source of moral wisdom. This has been bad for everyone. What is more, it has been unnecessary -- because we can speak about the well-being of conscious creatures rationally, and in the context of science. I think it is time we tried.

Harris is right in the first paragraph until the last sentence, where he suddenly tries to dismiss the very problem at issue. These questions are real questions, and waving your hands in irritation will not make them go away. And, besides, wasn't he just taking these questions seriously like two sentences earlier? He's right that moral relativism has had bad consequences, but that's rather beside the point. What matters is that the view is false--though he gives us no reason to think so here. He's also right that the search for a rational ground of morality is important--philosophically important...important qua theoretical question--though I'm not sure it's practically important, since I think that most people recognize the rational authority of morality in action, even if they deny it in words. And I actually think that science might be more relevant to that search than it's common to think. But it's not relevant in the way the Harris thinks it is. Of course if we simply assume the truth of a certain type of consequentialism, then suddenly science becomes clearly and direction relevant. But everything interesting here is simply packed into Harris's unproven assumptions.

So, again: there's nothing new here, and nothing that interesting to anyone who's had an introductory ethics course. I'm glad somebody's talking about this stuff in a public way, and Harris is, by my lights, right about a lot of stuff that many people get wrong...but in the end, it's hard to classify the majority of this as anything but sophomoric.]

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The End of Facebook?

I don't do Facebook, but here's this at Metafilter.

[Update: The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook.]

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hoops News: Come on Down to Chapel Hill, Kadeem Jack!

So by now I'm sure you've all heard that the Wears are transferring. Good luck David and Travis, we'll miss you both.

Coming so late--and on top of Ed Davis's decision to go league--this leaves us very thin in the front court next year. (And that's not a joke about John Henson's weight...)

I know you're as concerned about this as I am...and that's why I bring you news of...Kadeem Jack! 6'8" 210 lb., he's a 4 who runs the floor well, explosive hops, apparently needs some work on his offense, but lots of potential. Jack had decided to delay college for a year to work on his skills, turning down offers from several top programs (e.g. AZ, UConn). Apparently Roy is calling and Jack is all ears.

So this could be good.
Does Pressure To Publish Lowers Research Quality?

It wouldn't be surprising.

Friday, May 07, 2010

We're Not From Around Here, Are We?

Turns out our solar system may be from the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy, and not the Milky Way.

I thought that thing about the line of the Milky Way being orthogonal to the ecliptic was pretty weird....

No wonder I felt so out of place in high school...

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Attack of the Memristors

ZOMFG....apparently. I don't know. But smart people are freaking out...ergo if I freak out too...

Needless to say, I'm mostly thinking: will this hasten the rise of the machines, and attacks by killer robots from the future?
Dude Who Detected Times Square Bomb Was Muslim Immigrant...

...but you wouldn't know it from the news coverage.
Latest News From The Anti-HFCS Jihad

Still more inconclusive evidence in the jihad against high-fructose corn syrup seems to have prompted manufacturers to take it out of more stuff. Because, see, lots and lots of inconclusive evidence = good evidence.

Right now, the smart money is on the conclusion that HFCS is no worse than regular sugar. But there's no excess of objectivity or rationality in the loony nutrition wars. It's downright bizarre how ideological some of this "science" is.
Caveman-Robot War Continues in Earnest

At The Albatross
More Cops Out of Control: Family Terrorized and Dog Killed Over "A Small Amount" of Marijuana

See, this kind of shit is perfectly acceptable.

But if you support affordable health insurance, you're a fascist.
'Epistemic Closure' Has Nothing To Do With Closed-Mindedness

The phrase ‘epistemic closure’ seems to have gained a certain popularity in the blogosphere, generally in connection with the (alleged) rise of closed-mindedness on the American political right. However the right term for what seems to be going on over there is, in fact, just ‘closed-mindedness,’ (or, perhaps, ‘dogmatism’) and not ‘epistemic closure.’ ‘Epistemic closure’ already means something, and it has nothing to do with closed-mindedness. (Of course, in the history of philosophy, ‘dogmatism’ means something different, too, but ‘dogmatism’ is also a term that has a long history in ordinary discourse.)

Below is a fast explanation of what’s up in this vicinity, though many of these principles have more and less complex formulations, and debates about some of them are very complex, and I’ve never followed them all the way out. So there are likely to be small errors here and there. Just to be clear: this is a quick, introductory blog entry for non-specialists, not a paper for Analysis or anything.

What’s Closure?

To understand the already-established meaning of ‘epistemic closure,’ first understand ‘closure’ in its logical/mathematical sense:

A set S is closed with respect to relation R if and only if:

If x is a member of S, and x stands in relation R to y, then y is a member of S, too.

So, roughly, to say that S is closed under R is to say that, if there is something in S that stands in R to something else, then that second thing is also in S.

Famously, the set of numbers is closed under addition: the sum of any two numbers is a number. Addition of numbers does not take you outside of the set of numbers. Also, the set of propositions is closed under entailment: if some proposition p entails a proposition q, then q is also a proposition. On the other hand, the set of non-negative integers is not closed under subtraction: subtract 5 from 1, for example, and you are taken outside of the relevant set.

What’s Epistemic Closure?

Epistemic closure principles are, roughly, principles of closure with respect to certain epistemically interesting sets and relations.

For example, the set of justifiably-believable propositions is plausibly thought to be closed under justifiably-believed entailment. That is, if some individual N would be justified in believing that p, and N justifiably believes that p entails q, then N would be justified in believing that q. For example, if I would be justified in believing that Socrates is human, and in believing that all humans are mortal, and I am justified in believing that those propositions entail that Socrates is mortal (perhaps in virtue of recognizing the validity of the form of this argument), then I’d be justified in believing that Socrates is mortal. (In that example two propositions entail a third…but same basic deal.)

On the other hand, the set of actually-known propositions is clearly not closed under entailment, since the things I actually know often (it’s safe to say: always) have entailments that I don’t recognize. (Remember: we’re talking about entailment here, not recognized entailment, unlike in the above). If I know that p, and p entails q, but I’m not justified in believing that p entails q, then I don’t necessarily know that q (though I might, of course, know it on some other grounds). That is, there are some cases in which I do not know that q. Ergo knowledge is not closed under entailment. [That is: entailment can take you outside of the set things actually known by me.]

What Epistemic Closure Isn't

So epistemic closure is not having a closed mind. In the colloquial sense, that’s called being dogmatic. Or, well, having a closed mind.

The phrase ‘Epistemic closure’ gives you and opportunity to say the word 'epistemic', but (a) it already means something very different, and (b) it’s not even a very good term for having a closed mind. To have a closed mind is something like: to have resolved not to change one’s mind. If one were committed to the term ‘closure’ because it sounds cool, it would probably be more accurate to speak of doxastic closure, since the phenomenon in question here is more about belief than it is about justification or knowledge.

‘Epistemic’ sounds cool, and ‘closure’ sounds cool, and the phrase ‘epistemic closure’ sounds cool, and the phrase kinda sorta almost sounds like it means something having to do with having a closed mind. ‘Closed-mindedness on the right’ doesn’t sound as cool as ‘epistemic closure on the right,’ but it’s more accurate and doesn’t use a well-established phrase to mean something very different than what it actually means. So I’d suggest just calling it what it is. This error probably isn’t as egregious as the error of using the phrase ‘beg the question’ (which means: reason in a circle) as if it meant ‘raise the question’…but it’s in the same vicinity.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Image of Oil Spill Area Thursday-Sunday

Well, we're screwed.

(via Reddit)
Fascist Cops: Couple Arrested For Asking for Directions in Baltimore

When are we going to start giving cops jail time for stuff like this?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Who Grade Inflation Really Hurts

Good students, of course. If you're a student who produces genuinely excellent work, you'll probably be getting an 'A'--the same grade lots of other students who produced pretty good work will be getting. Your excellent work is now, to every other person in the world other than (possibly) the professor, indistinguishable from the pretty good work of other students who also got 'A's. And if you did genuinely pretty good work, and thus deserve (and probably get) a 'B', your work will be indistinguishable from the grades of a big ol' chunk of students did average work but got a 'B' anyway.

And if you graduate college by being fairly smart and doing fairly well and working fairly hard in the vast majority of your classes, your college degree will be largely indistinguishable from the large chunk of students who aren't very smart, really didn't do all that well, really didn't work all that hard.

And those parents who dished out vast sums of money to secure an education for their children...well, you're probably not in much of a position to tell whether they got one or not. Grades aren't a very good indicator--except for bad ones. Those are, in the main, an excellent indicator of educational badness. In very many university classes, you've got to do extremely bad work indeed to get a bad grade. But those good grades--they don't really tell you all that much, since most everybody gets them.

(Of course this will vary from discipline to discipline. An 'A' in an Scomm or "cultural studies" class generally won't mean the same thing as an 'A' in a physics or econ class. So that's something.)

I'm not in favor of any kind of draconian solution here; I don't like to see students struggle, nor fail. I'm not a mean guy. I'm not that tough a grader in the cosmic scheme of things. But this is bullshit, it's wrong, it makes no sense, and it's got to stop.
Drinking And Not Studying At The American University
Or At Mine, Anyway

At my university:

(1) The administration publicly frets about the fact that students drink too much (and here they drink more than is average even for American university students).

(2) The more serious members of the faculty privately fret about the fact that students don't study enough.

(3) Both the more serious administrators and the more serious faculty-members fret about grade inflation, which is a real problem here (and elsewhere).

Students don't study enough, so far as I can tell, largely for the following reasons:

(i) Most of them are not very interested in learning.
(ii) The parties around here are good and frequent.
(iii) A large percentage of classes are so easy that students do not study, do not attend classes unless attendance is mandatory, and often do not even buy the books.
(iv) Even respectable classes are affected by (iii), because many students have developed an in-some-sense reasonable expectation that they will not have to work hard in their classes. They have also come to expect that if they do deign to crack a book, they will get an 'A' or a 'B'. Combine this with the fact that many instructors live or die on the basis of their student popularity scores (aka "student evaluation" scores), and there is even more incentive for professors to ease up on grades.

Now, the student drinking problem is treated in a medicalized way, and it is treated as a problem that is isolated from (and more important than) the problems of grade inflation and student sloth. And this baffles me.

Were we a more rigorous and intellectually respectable institution, an institution where the average class was challenging, and roughly average work got a roughly 'C' grade, the problems of student sloth and excessive drinking would solve themselves.

Of course not every institution is Princeton, and not every institution should be. But when students can not only get by without studying, but maintain a 'B' average to boot, well, a very large number of them are going to do so. Hell, I would probably do so. The faculty sets the tone for the university by determining the incentive structure. Make courses so easy that no effort is required, and no effort will be expended. In this respect, the average student is no different than the average any-other-type-of-person.

There's a kind of silver lining here, I think. Although the disintegration of intellectual standards is the bigger problem, it is viewed by the administration as being unworthy of concerted attention. The drinking problem, however, is something they seem to take seriously. If they can be convinced of the link between the two, perhaps we can not only solve the bigger problem, the disintegration of standards, but also mitigate the problem of excess drinking as well.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Buffy Season 7


First, I have an unhealthy amount of affection for that show. I mean, it's kind of ridiculous how much I like it. I love horror even though almost all horror sucks. I love chop socky even though almost all chop socky movies suck. I'm a sucker for well-done girl power stuff. And I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stuff. Buffy just pushes a large number of my buttons. IMHO, it's a damn great show.

But man, that season 7 is just not very good, is it?

I've managed to make excuses, spin the evidence, avert my mental gaze and all that for quite awhile, but JQ and I just finished watching the whole series again. (Huddled on our futon mattress in our still-unfit-for-human-occupancy house, with a giant extension cord snaking through several rooms to the one outlet that works. Grumble. Anyway, it's been really awesome to have the stack of Buffy DVDs waiting after hard day after hard day of not finishing this &%!@* house...). But anyway: season 7, not good.

It's really like the writers suddenly forgot what show they were writing for. Where is the humor? Where is the chemistry between the characters? Where are the unforeseeable twists and turns? Who is this cranky, superfluous fellow who looks like Giles? Sure, Conversations with Dead People is great--one of the relatively few genuinely frightening episodes in the whole series. And Him cracks me up. But other than those, I'd be hard-pressed to pick out a good episode. Chosen has its moments, and isn't too bad given what Whedon had to work with by the time it rolled around. But gah. Kinda painful to watch a large number of those episodes.

I'm not even going to discuss how painful it is whenever Kennedy is on screen. (And if people are fast-forwarding through the lesbian scenes...well, you're doing something wrong...) And Buffy's interminable inspirational speeches. Gah! A thousand times gah! And the whole idea of the slayerettes. Gah I say! And the awesome girl power stuff of earlier seasons is replaced by stuff so heavy-handed that it's almost unbearable. Gah! Gah! Gah! Caleb would have been immeasurably better if the audience had not been beaten about the faces and heads with his misogyny. And the lame meta-watcher woman who shows up for three minutes, twenty minutes from the end of the entire series, just to say "hey, we women watched the watchers so, ya know, still girl-powery!" So, so bad.

And man, if there's one thing I hate, it's an inconsistent conception of a monster's power. For three shows we see Buffy completely outmatched by the ubervamp. She drops several thousand pounds of pipes on his head, squashing him against a concrete floor, and he gets up no only unharmed, but faster and kung-fu-ier than he was before! Then we get the oh-so-lame set-up fight of Showtime, in which suddenly and for no apparent reason, Buffy is able to dust the vamp in order to inspire the troops. And by Chosen, Giles and Wood are taking on ten ubervamps at once by themselves.Even Anya (who dusts two in one second) and Andrew are dusting them. Oh so lame.

One shouldn't complain when a bunch of people have generated a story as delightful, amusing and downright heartwarming as Buffy. The show builds up enough capital and good will that it can coast through the last part of season six and season seven without generating too much frustration on the part of the viewer. But man, by that point it's not half the show it used to be. (Last night as we were watching End of Days, JQ said "by this point, it's just Charmed." She quickly decided that was too harsh. But still...

Anyway, I can't stand to write anything on this topic that doesn't end with something like: overall, that show really does rule.
Homemade Pop Tarts

I frequently complain to JQ about the fact that it's so hard to get really good sugary cereal anymore, and the same goes for pop tarts. I mean, Cocoa Puffs, for example, really went downhill when they took the powdered sugar off of them. I understand why it's better for kids and all that, but why can't we have grown-up, full-strength Cocoa Puffs? Maybe you have to show your i.d. to buy 'em or whatever.

And another thing: when I was a kid, there were these like alternative Pop Tarts by like Nabisco or something. No chocolate fudge, just like strawberry or whatever, but they were pretty dang good...or seemed to be to my youthful palate. Um, anyway, what I want is the ability to purchase really good pop tarts, even if they cost more. (Not that I haven't eaten like 10,000 regular pop tarts, because I certainly have.)

Well, anyway, here's something cool: homemade pop tarts!

Perhaps I'll learn to bake...

(via Metafilter, where you can find how to make other homemade stuff like peanut butter cups and so forth)
Limbaugh Questions Timing of Gulf Oil Spill

I can't tell whether he's suggesting that environmentalists blew up the rig, or that the administration did.

What a loon/idiot.

Oh, and note how he cleverly refers to the administration as "the regime." Remember how the right freaked out and made Kerry apologize when he suggested that what we needed was "regime change" here rather than Iraq? Consistency, of course, has never been their strong point...