Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do Even Heavy Drinkers Outlive Teatotalers?


Best is "moderate" drinking--one to three drinks/day. Man, three drinks per day seems like a bit much to me...and I've been known to down a few in my life.
Overpopulation Watch: The Potash Problem

Dunno whether this is on the right track...I've kind of quit caring. No one is ever going to take overpopulation seriously. We'll just overclock farms until the whole system overheats and there's a catastrophic failure.

Of course we could start being reasonable about reproduction rates while it's still possible...but we won't.
Hurricane Camille, Nelson County, VA 1969

From Wikipedia:

On the night of August 19-20, 1969, Nelson County was the site of disastrous flooding due to Hurricane Camille. The hurricane had come ashore on the Gulf Coast 2 days earlier, and weakening over land, had traveled north and then stalled on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains dumping a record quantity of 27 inches (690 mm) of rain, mostly within only a 3 hour period. The rainfall was so heavy there were reports of birds drowning in trees and of survivors who had to cup their hands around mouth and nose in order to breathe through such a deluge.

As many people slept unaware, the ensuing flash floods and mudslides killed 153 people, 31 of them from Tyro and Massies Mill alone. Across Nelson County, 133 bridges were washed out, while some entire communities were under water. In the tiny Davis Creek community, 52 people were killed or could not be found; only 3 of 35 homes were left standing after the floodwaters receded. The bodies of some people were never found; others washed as much as 25 miles (40 km) downstream along the creeks and rivers. The entire county was virtually cut off, with many roads and virtually all bridges, telephone and electric service interrupted.

Medical Students Routinely Perform Unnecessary, Non-Consensual Pelvic Exams On Anesthetized Women


I am astonished.

And I'm astonished that, apparently, male students do this more commonly than female students. It doesn't take a huge imaginative leap to understand the wrongness of this.

Somebody needs to sue the living sh*t out of these places.

I really don't know what else to say.
Better Fried Beer

Don't like (to paraphrase Joshua ) scalding-hot alcohol exploding out of your mouth and all over your chin when you bite into your beer-flavored treats"?

Then go to Skepchick and get the original.

I might actually try this one out...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Glenn Beck's Loony Religiosity

I wasn't going to say anything about it when he started doing this, but it's getting pretty goddamn creepy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fried Beer

The ultimate food?

[See also: deep fried butter.]

(via Metafilter)
Double-Dip Recession (Maybe) Unlikely

Donald Marron on the yield spread and the odds of recession. (Via Brad de Long)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Psychology is Annoying

Oh, c'mon.

So...lessee...(i) think of a cutesy acronym, (ii) find a few kinda sorta interesting results, (iii) blow them out of proportion.

Check. Check. Check!

My favorite line, though, has to be:
The UBC team remains confident that displays of pride and some aspects of mating, for example, will turn out to be pan-human characteristics.
Um, really? That's what you've got?

I hereby absolutely guarantee you--and will bet very large amounts of money on this--that there will be many more, and more significant, "pan-human characteristics" than, e.g., "displays of pride."

(Here imagine me pinching the bridge of my nose and looking very annoyed that I spent five minutes of my life reading this article...)

I like reading about psychology because--sometimes--even philosophy seems almost respectable by comparison...
Stupid Academic Buzz Word Du Jour: "Rubric"

If I hear this word one more !@#$%^ time I swear..

It's amazing/appalling how many academicians will just fall in line, mindlessly parroting dopey new buzz words.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Uber-Republican Ken Mehlman Announces He is Gay
Why Don't Gay's Identify with the GOP Against Anti-Gay Islam?

I don't care who's what--unlike so many of our friends across the aisle, I don't think it's any of my business who other adults have sex with. But this is kind of interesting, in particular this bit:
He [Mehlman] often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called "the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now."
So what's the explanation for this? Nothing could be more obvious:

1. Dems are as opposed to Islamic extremism as rational people can be; the GOP has gone over the edge in this regard. Stronger opposition is not always better--nor saner--opposition.

2. Democratic anti-jihadism, largely in virtue of being sane, is more effective; the GOP version is often counterproductive (see, especially, the Iraq war)

3. The GOP is largely anti-gay; ergo the failure of most homosexuals to gravitate to them is no mystery.

4. The anti-gay inclinations of the GOP are far more likely to have an impact on American homosexuals than are the anti-gay inclinations of Islamic extremism (since the odds [probability] of the latter affecting American laws is 0.0%)

Asking why American homosexuals haven't allied themselves with the GOP is like asking why American atheists haven't. Sure, fundamentalist Islam hates atheists even more than do the relevant sectors of the GOP...but that sounds like a reason to join the GOP only if you strip away every other relevant consideration. Add those considerations, and there' s no puzzle at all about why atheists--and gays--don't flock to the GOP.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Costs of War

In addition to everything else, war makes people crazy.

The war advocated by Bush, Cheney and American conservatives is and will continue to be mind-bogglingly costly in ways we've not even thought of yet.

And all to make us less safe.
Experimental Philosophy: Knobe's "Return to Tradition" Claim

Joshua Knobe--who was, apparently, at UNC after my time--makes a very odd claim in defense of so-called "experimental philosophy" here.

First, I should say that I'm no fan of experimental philosophy. I think it'd be good if philosophers did more science and if scientists understood more about philosophy. There would be something to be gained (and, of course, also something to be lost) by more interdisciplinarity in that regard. However, most experimental philosophy I've encountered has been nothing more than (i) some philosophy + (ii) some surveys of non-philosophers about their so-called "intuitions" relevant to philosophical problems. There's little to be gained from that...though it might finally get philosophers to quit unreflectively appealing to "intuitions," which is something that is long, long overdue. That crap drives me insane.

But more to the point: Knobe claims that experimental philosophy represents a kind of return to tradition for roughly the following reason: pre-20th-century philosophers like Nietzsche did not recognize a hard-and-fast distinction between philosophy and psychology. But this claim seems to me to be highly misleading. Philosophers like Nietzsche didn't recognize such a hard-and-fast distinction because they did psychology with, roughly, the methods of philosophy. Now, in the age of a more-or-less scientific psychology, an approach that tries to unify philosophy and psychology by getting philosophers to be more like psychologists represents more of a break with philosophical tradition than a return to it. Experimental philosophy often seems to flirt with absurd conclusions to the effect that we can solve philosophical problems by doing surveys. Hey, suppose a mad brain scientist can control your actions by implanting desires in you; you'd be doing what you want...so would your action be free? Well, that question is at the core of the free will debate, and it might be interesting to see what people who haven't thought about it much have to say about it...but finding out, e.g., that 60% of people say 'yes' and 40% say 'no' wouldn't answer the question.

Psychology is a discipline no closer to philosophy than is, say, physics, and part of my lack of interest in so-called experimental philosophy has to do with the fact that it is the umpteenth movement to, apparently, deny this fact. Psychology is, in general, easier than physics, of course, but I'd be way more interested in all this if philosophers were to expand in the direction of the latter discipline rather than the former one. You want science that casts light on philosophical problems? Come up with something like Bell's Inequality, and do something like the CHSH experiments. Now that's science with philosophical implications...

Some good things will, no doubt, come out of this movement...some good things come out of almost any philosophical movement. But as Sosa--and many, many others--have noted: thus far, the results are unimpressive. My prediction for some good that will come of it was already mentioned above: philosophers will become more reflective about what they mean by "intuitions."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Speaking of Zombies: The Zombie Diaries

Here's a zombie movie that's good according to me: The Zombie Diaries. This movie, I think, illustrates what I take to be an important point about the IZA...but I won't give it away. Worth watching. Philosoraptor says: check it out.
The Walking Dead: In Which I Am Scooped Yet Again

Well, so much for my recent brainstorm. A zombie t.v. series! Hasn't Joss Whedon shown us that you can do more with t.v. than you can with movies? Movies are for high-budget brainless action. T.v. is...well, generally for low-budget brainlessness. But it doesn't have to be! What's needed, I realized, to really represent the horrors of the IZA, is a t.v. series...slogging on, day after day, horror after horror...plus, I could get rich! Rich I tell you!

Ah well. More than a day late and a dollar short, as usual.

Here's AMC's up-coming series, The Walking Dead...and it looks pretty dang good according to me...
Sucker Punch: Best Movie Ever?

Quite possibly...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Zionizing Wikipedia


Ah, my youthful infatuation with Israel is just about entirely gone.

At least the conservatives just started their own damn wiki, wherein they can write whatever nonsense they like. But that's not good enough for these folks, who want to "make sure that information in the online encyclopedia reflects the worldview of Zionist groups."

Note: not: reflects
the facts, mind you. Rather: reflects their preferences.

A quote from one Miriam Schwab, one of the Wikipedia zionizers:

“In general, it’s so important for us to be online working to defend ourselves and to prove to the world and to ourselves that we are just and we are right.”

Again: not to get the facts straight. Rather, to help convince others--and themselves--that they are right.

Propaganda, that is.

Thus will Wikipedia eventually die out. I don't see how it can survive if enough groups like this make concerted efforts to skew it in their preferred directions.

[Oh, and: "people from the U.S. and Europe never hear about Israel's side"??????????????????. WTFFFF? WTF alternative reality is this person living in? It's almost the only side we ever hear. Jesus these people.]

Oh and, as one Redditor noticed/pointed out, they say their goals is to "
be there; to influence what is written there, how it’s written and to ensure that it is balanced and Zionist in nature.” It's one or the other, bud. One or the other...]

[Via Reddit]

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Glenn Beck to Reveal His "Hundred-Year Plan For America"
With Guest Star Sarah Palin!

You simply can't make this stuff up.

A marginally-sane radio shock-jock and a the vapid sports girl from some local news show somewhere are about to tell us how America should conduct itself and its affairs for the next century.

Oh, and this spectacle is to be devoid of politics...though it's called "The Restoring Honor Rally."

O.k., let's think just a wee bit about presuppositions and conversational implicature.

A. Suppose I call my rally "Restoring Honor."

B. This indicates that I believe that honor needs to be restored...in this case, roughly, to the country...and here that really means: to the Presidency...and possibly also to the Congress.

C. To say that honor needs to be restored to x presupposes at least two things: (i) x used to be honorable, and (ii) x is no longer honorable.

D. Which, in this case, really means: the government and the nation were honorable when Bush, Reagan and other Republicans held power; under Obama, however, honor is absent.

See, though Reagan and Bush '43 deserved impeachment, they are honorable. Obama, in virtue of being a Democrat, is not.

Devoid of politics: no. Devoid of anything resembling reason: yes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Psychologists on Disgust and Morality

Here's a piece mostly on psychologists trying to show that morality is nothing more than a matter of disgust.

Although these are experiments philosophers ought to be interested in, there really are tons of confusions here. (Science reporting is a dicey game, and generally not very good...so it's not really clear how many of the confusions are real, and how many are artifacts of the reporting.)

For one thing, such "nothing more than" arguments have to be treated fairly carefully. I don't think anyone denies that emotional and visceral responses play a major role in morality, so that's not news. Nor is it really news that there are similarities between more visceral kinds of disgust and moral disgust. The question here that's more straightforwardly philosophical--and the kind of question that we're generally better-prepared to think about than are psychologists--is, roughly: what are the implications of those things?

Without a bit of philosophical training, people tend to leap from premises like 'disgust plays some role in moral judgment' to 'morality is nothing more than a matter of disgust' (whatever the latter might mean...).

But everyone knows that such judgments generally involve some affective element; the relevant question is, roughly: does reason have any role to play in such judgments/reasonings?

Certainly it apparently does. People often have feelings of disgust in response to certain things, and yet recognize that they are not immoral. I, for example, felt extreme disgust at the idea of homosexuality early in life, but as the result of reasoning about the matter, came to recognize that my disgust was ungrounded. At first the negative affective response hung around, kept in check by reason; eventually the affective response even went away.

For another interesting example, consider cannibalism per se--that is, where no killing is involved, as in the famous Andean plane crash. My revulsion at the idea of such cannibalism is extreme, yet I don't think it is in any way immoral.

An interesting question: do we ever conclude that something is morally wrong and yet have no feeling of disgust toward it? Nothing comes immediately to mind...

But, as anyone who's studied Kant should realize, the real question here is not whether or not judgments of immorality and revulsion go together, but, rather: which is the cause and which the effect? Those on the Humean side of things think that the emotional reactions are in the driver's seat; those on the Kantian side think that, at least in some cases, reason is. It makes me happy beyond the telling of it that this is a question we might be able to answer with experiments...but not, of course, if we misunderstand the problem and jump to unwarranted conclusions.

Finally--on the subject of such "nothing more than" arguments: it surprises me that psychologists in this area don't seem to think much about affective responses associated with non-moral judgments and conclusions. People get angry and feel revulsion when considering non-moral matters all the time. For example, they do so when arguing about purely scientific theories--and not just, e.g., evolution and anthropogenic climate change. Really abstruse scientific, logical and mathematical matters can also stir up anger and revulsion...but few are tempted to jump immediately to the claim that science, math and logic are "nothing more than" matters of emotion. In response, for example, to particularly ridiculous new-agey nonsense like all the 2012 stuff, or "facilitated communication," my feelings of revulsion are pretty strong, but it certainly seems that the revulsion in question is a reaction to the objective unreasonableness of the things in question.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The End of Antibiotics?

Well that's just great.

Special shout-outs to farmers who routinely feed their livestock antibiotic-laced food to speed its growth and patients who demand antibiotics when they have viruses.

[via Inside Carolina]
Abolish Tenure?

At Slate

I haven't thought about this question enough. I've got it...so that's good and all. (Though, to quasi-quote Richard Russo, getting tenure at my university is rather like getting first-place in a sh*t-eating competition...)

But should we abolish it?

Well, I know of people who get tenure and then never publish another paper nor re-write a lecture (nor, I suspect, read a book or paper in their field...) ever again.

But I've also seen just unbelievable abuses by the administration--an un-tenured (part-time) instructor fired largely because of an unsubstantiated (and, the evidence suggests, false) accusation by one Muslim student of an anti-Muslim utterance; an un-tenured prof fired by a notoriously irrational and bitchy dean for no reason other than: she didn't like him. A whole department (physics, no less), eliminated because the department Chair stood up to a fascistic university president (tenure wouldn't have helped there--that's why they got rid of the whole department: if the department is eliminated, you can fire tenured profs. Protests stopped this from going through, incidentally...and the local Ministry of Truth soon re-wrote history...and guess what? It never happened!!! Funny...I was there and and could have sworn I remember it...)

The Slate story suggests replacing an emphasis on publication with an emphasis on teaching. This would be good, at least in the humanities, where "research" (i.e. scholarship) probably ought to be rarer, and teaching is more important. It makes sense to emphasis research in the natural sciences, and to a rather lesser extent in the social sciences...but not really in the humanities. But it doesn't have much to do with tenure.

And, unfortunately, we still don't have very good methods of evaluating teaching. We still rely on student evaluations and, though I get good ones, let me tell you, those are bullshit, and they are largely responsible, I believe, for the erosion of standards in the university (since some profs curry favor with their students by making their courses easy and entertaining). A better way to evaluate teaching is to have one's colleagues sit in on class...but that method has its own obvious problems.

Note that, if we did get rid of tenure, it might very well force universities to pay more--job security is a plus, and if it goes away then, other things being equal, people will demand more money.

Anyway: I don't know.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ben Quayle: Stupid Douchebag


So, after the GOP gives us a guy who is a legitimate contender for the worst president in history, and we follow him with a guy who--whatever his flaws--is smart, decent, knowledgeable, centrist and so forth...they go ahead and unleash the patently absurd claim that he is the worst president in history.

I'd complain about the stupidity and ignorance of it all--and of the whole Quayle clan, apparently--if I thought that there was a dram of honesty in it... No, wait... I was about to say that it was just a ploy, when I realized that I just don' t know. Is he stupid? Is he ignorant? Is he an outright liar? Is he just a douchebag? Who knows? It's the puzzle of the contemporary GOP...what they say is so goddamn out of touch with reality that you just can't tell what their problem is.

It's not even worth responding, of course...but: no: you might disagree with Mr. Obama--as I do on may things. But he is a good president, and only a complete and total asshat would think that the charge of being the "worst president in history" had any chance of being true. He may, in fact, turn out to be the best president of my lifetime--though Clinton currently holds that title.

Do you, perchance, remember the previous president at all?

Oh, I mean:

Do you, perchance, remember the previous president at all you douchebag?

Jebus, they grow some big stupid in the Quayle clan...

(Note that, according to the story, this Quayle used to post on a site called "DirtyScottsdale.com"... Nice family values, dillweed...)
Douthat on Same-Sex Marriage


Douthat rightly rejects the more common right-wing arguments, e.g.:

Marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman.

Let's stop here for a second and mull over the argument he rejects before looking at the one he apparently accepts.

First, the above is not precisely an argument, it's a premise in an argument--an argument with an unstated conclusion. (Though 'argument' is sometimes used to mean premise(es) + conclusion, and it is sometimes used to mean premise(es)...so it might seem a little odd to harp on this. But here, as is frequently the case, explicitly writing down the conclusion helps a lot.) In its full form:

(1) Marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman
(2) The concept same-sex marriage is incoherent/contradictory

But (2) obviously false. As I've noted before, if (2) were true, then when we heard the suggestion that we allow same-sex marriages, the suggestion would sound rather like:

Let's have some round squares, then


How's about we have the draft and not have the draft at the same time, in the same respect?

If marriage were, by definition, between people of different sexes, then 'Adam and Steve are married' would sound like 'Adam and Eve are married and not-married.' But it doesn't. Because marriage is simply not by definition between people of different sexes. If it were, we wouldn't understand the proposal; but we understand if full well. It is not nonsense, even if it turns out to be bad. Trying to win in a disagreement of this kind with the definition ploy has all the advantages of theft over honest toil...except for one: it cannot succeed.

So what about the argument Douthat does accept?:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

Thing is, arguments this strong are a dime a dozen. One can almost always find something that sounds vaguely plausible to say about the superiority of anything over some other thing. Are John Deere tractors better than New Holland tractors? Well, green is the color of the earth, and there is something harmonious about...etc....

If there's something uniquely admirable about a male and a female engaging in the "mutual surrender...of their reproductive self-interest" (ah, Douthat, you smooth-talkin' romantic fool...), I can't detect it. I mean, I don't think it's unique, since two males or two females could do the same thing (that is, abjure reproducing with anyone else). And I don't see that it's particularly admirable, frankly. I mean, so long as there's no deception involved, so long as everyone's on board with it, what would be the harm in, say, the male from marriage 1 helping the female from marriage 2 produce a child? None of this is to my taste...marriage, cross-fertilization, etc...but I can't detect anything intrinsically wrong with any of it...

Anyway, advocates of same-sex marriage should be able to come up with roughly isomorphic arguments, or at least arguments of similar strength. Here's a go at it that I'm making up as I type: a child can benefit from growing up in an environment with two mothers because there is something uniquely nurturing about such a home; exposure to males can happen all over the place, but only wall-to-wall females can be uber-nurturing. Loony? Yep. Worse than Douthat's? Nope. As for two males...I dunno...ever seen a gladiator movie? I keed...I keed...

Douthat is too intellectually honest to fall for his argument for long, I'll bet.

Before I bring this fascinatin' discourse to a close, let me say that I think my distinction between formal and substantial conservatism can shed some light on all this.

I have a fair bit of respect for formal conservatism, though I have only known one or two formal conservatives in my life. The formal conservative is, basically, a Burkean, who thinks something like:
Our current social arrangements are the conclusion/output of a long, informal experiment, and, as such, should be given a significant degree of moral/political/epistemic weight.
The substantial conservative, on the other hand, simply thinks that conservative positions on issues are true or rationally preferable--abortion is wrong, American might should only be used to advance American national interest, the welfare state is bad, sex is dirty, there should be prayer in school, etc. The substantial conservative has no dialectical advantage over the liberal--he has to defend each of his positions. The formal conservative, however, can say: I don't know why (e.g.) different-sex marriage is better, but the great experiment has put its stamp of approval on it; not so for same-sex marriage.

Formal conservatism, however, inches toward cultural moral relativism as it becomes more and more conservative. Tradition gets weighed more and more heavily...and eventually it becomes unclear whether or not we're talking differences in degree or differences in kind. At the point conservatives start believing (usually tacitly or unclearly) that the fact that x is traditional makes it right--i.e. constitutes its rightness--they become cultural moral relativists. At that point, the confused right is unified with the confused left. Almost no one ever actually gets to that point...that point is, rather, like a limit or a center of gravity; it's a theoretical object, posited to make sense of observations--that is, of actual positions held by actual people. Douthat approaches it when he writes:
[the Western/different-sex idea of marriage is] a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.
Cultural moral relativism always fails; it's always false, always unsupported by sufficient reason. But at least Douthat is clear and honest enough to put his reasons lucidly out front, thus allowing us to identify them, understand them, and respond to them. And the obvious responses are:

1. It's not clear that that's our idea of marriage; yours, maybe--conservatives' idea. But the idea common to us, common the West, is vague enough to allow it to be worked out in various different ways.


2. Even if that is the Western idea, that doesn't make it the right one, nor the best one, nor even the only one.

Three damn cheers for Mr. Douthat for being so clear and honest.

Unless I'm missing something here, he'll be a supporter of same-sex marriage in a few years. He's just too clear and intellectually honest not to be.
New Superbug (From India/Pakistan?) Hits UK Hospitals


Because doctors and nurses don't was their hands enough, we're all going to die.

(via Reddit)
Don't Miss the Perseids Tonight

Big show.

Beware of triffids tomorrow...
Ancient Photo of Jesus

You want proof? Well, here it is.

Guess that settles it.

Thanks, Weekly World News!

(Via Reddit)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our Porous Border

Interesting clip from a documentary on illegal immigration. Of course NRO harps on the one false thing Napolitano says in the clip, and characterizes the Democrats' increase of funding as an "election-year" stunt. But, then, it's the NRO...
What University Presidents Know But Don't Say: We've Screwed Up Higher Ed

This is pretty much right.

Some important bits:

1. 'A's no longer indicate genuine excellence:
...if you do possess burning intellectual curiosity, we'll let you read all the books we assign and do all the research you want to write profound and insightful papers; it's just that those that don't do all that reading and write b.s. in their papers might get an A, too.
2. Causes:
1. Faculty cowardice - (among some) Many faculty just do not want to argue with students about grades.

2. The quest for good teaching evaluations. I would guess that the correlation between high grades awarded and enthusiastic teacher evaluations is quite high almost everywhere.

3. Political correctness and the mania to support "self-esteem" of students.

4. Precipitous decline of honor codes almost everywhere, so that cheating is rampant.

5. The spread of "spinus dissaperanus," a viral disease that robs university leaders of whatever spine they had before becoming leaders.

6. Governing board failures, due partly to the fact that prospective board members eagerly seek the social status that comes with university board membership.

7. Growing lack of diversity in faculty philosophical views.

Though I don't see how 7 matters at all (it's true: but it's not relevant here). We should add:

8. Valuing publication over teaching

You get nothing--nothing--for being a good teacher. Publications are everything. And if you waste time on teaching, you will lose out to those who are prudent enough to put all their energies into research. (JQ tells of TAing for a prof would would have to ask the TAs on the way to class what he was supposed to lecture on that day...and then he'd proceed, unsurprisingly, to make a hash of it.)

University professors are destroying the future of the nation by refusing to hold students to reasonable standards.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Google (Don't Be Evil) and Verizon ARE Collaborating Against Net Neutrality

Here (SLMeFi)

Would it do any good to stop searching with Google? Or to dump Blogger for e.g. Movable Type?
Why Does American Public Education Suck?
One Reason: Teacher Education Sucks

Some of the most important people in my life were primary- and secondary-school teachers. Thank God for the good ones. They do a job I could never do. And what I am about to say isn't aimed at them--that is, at the minority of good ones.

But (thinking back to the previous post): why does American public education suck? One big reason: because many, many teachers (a) are not smart and (b) are badly educated. At my (pretty good, though not great) university, 70% of education majors receive 'A's or 'A-'s in their upper-division classes (and 20% get some kind of 'B'). Education majors here, as everywhere else, are also among the weakest students, getting, for example, some of the lowest average scores on the LSAT and the GRE. On the rare occasion when people in the Ed school here are confronted with the grade stats, they claim that they are to be explained by the fact that their major attracts the brightest students--a demonstrable falsehood that no one outside the Ed school believes for a second. Basically everyone who knows what's what in academia knows that the education major is a joke.

In fact, when I was an undergrad (at a really crappy school), basically all the non-idiotic students knew that Ed classes were a joke, and the conventional wisdom was that, if you had two brain cells to rub together, you probably couldn't stand to finish an Ed degree. Although some smart people make it through Ed degrees, (i) the major generally discourages smart people from doing so, and (ii) it does not do what it's supposed to do, i.e. make those who study it smarter.

How much of the suckage of American education does this explain? I don't know...but a LOT.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech"

(er...aka 'valediction'...)


Meh. I guess some people think this is big news, but I don't see anything very impressive here. It's not that I don't agree with some of it, and not that I don't think that the education system is a wreck--I do and I do.

But here's the deal: maybe it's different in high school, but, as for college: I can tell you right now, it's not me that's turning my students into mindless corporate automata. Rather, a very large number of them seem naturally suited to that, and want nothing better. In fact, they are the ones who demand that classes speed them toward their goal of becoming mindless middle managers, and they are the ones who seem contemptuous of classes that do not do so. It's my students who only want to learn what's going to be on the test, and that only in order to get out of college with the appropriate piece of paper. Try to teach them something genuinely interesting, and less--far less--than half the class will show any interest in it.

One might argue that it's high school that's ruined them, but I doubt it. Of course I think that learning is good in and of itself--but I've come to believe that few people agree with that. We wanted to improve the populace by sending more of them to college, and I have no doubt that we've done so. But we've also suckified college. Now colleges are largely populated by students who have no business there--who are incurious, who have no desire to learn, and who really want nothing more than to make more money as a consequence of enduring what they see as four otherwise pointless years.

There's a lot to rail against in the educational system, but IMHO it's juvenile to think that, if not for the evil system, the great mass of students would be ravenously seeking knowledge in their own unique and creative ways.

[Oh and: "Demand that you be interested in class"???? That's approximately the most absurd thing I've ever heard. Frustrated at my students' lack of interest in arguments for and against the existence of God one day in class, I asked them what they were interested in. Silence. "Well, what kinds of things do you discuss or argue about with your friends?" I asked. "Yankees vs. Red Sox," on kid finally said. Unless the valedictorian in question meant "Demand of yourselves that you be interested in your classes," she's barking up the wrong tree. Otherwise, she's basically saying: demand that your teachers talk about whatever lame-ass crap students happen to like.

Oh and: via Metafilter]
Newt Lies About Ground Zero Muslim Community Center

Got Medieval is on the case. (Via LGF)

Here's the guts of the matter from GM:
Last week, Newt Gingrich released a Newt Direct statement at Newt.org concerning the project. As you may have heard, he's somewhat opposed to it. And to explain why, he offered this history lesson:
The proposed "Cordoba House" overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks - is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites. For example, most of them don’t understand that “Cordoba House” is a deliberately insulting term. It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex. [...I]n fact, every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest. It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way. [emphasis mine]
It's that appositive phrase there buried in the middle of my quote that is the problem. In these twenty-five words, Newt offers the final word on medieval Cordoba: "the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world's third-largest mosque complex." This fact, the transformation of a church into a mosque, is the only thing we should think of when we hear a modern Muslim use the word "Cordoba," according to Mr. Gingrich.

Notice how carefully he's phrased his claim to give the impression that during the medieval conquest of Spain the Muslims charged into Cordoba and declared it the capital of a new Muslim empire, and in order to add insult to injury seized control of a Christian church and built the biggest mosque they could, right there in front of the Christians they'd just conquered, a big Muslim middle finger in the heart of medieval Christendom. Essentially, they've done it before, they'll do it again, right there at Ground Zero, if all good Christians don't band together to stop them.

The problem is, in order to give that impression of immediacy, Newt elides three hundred years of Christian and Muslim history. Three hundred years. The Muslims conquered Cordoba in 712. The Christian church that was later transformed into the Great Mosque of Cordoba apparently continued hosting Christian worship for at least a generation after that. Work on the Mosque didn't actually begin until seventy-odd years later in 784, and the mosque only became "the world's third-largest" late in the tenth century, after a series of expansions by much later rulers, probably around 987 or so.
Wow. This is slimy even by Newt's standards. Nice job, GM.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Attends Ceremonies at Hiroshima Memorial;
Some American Conservatives Accuse Obama of Apologizing for Bombing

Of course everything Obama does is wrong...even the stuff he doesn't do. Sending John Roos to this ceremony is alleged to be an "unsaid apology" by Paul Tibbets's son. (Other relevant links: SLMeFi)

As is so often the case, it looks like Obama is getting this one exactly right: send a representative, but do not apologize. The atomic bombings of Japan were tragic, but not obviously unjustified. But then all the bombings of Japanese civilians (including the notorious incendiary raids) were awful. But then all the bombings of civilians in WWII were awful.

I've never been able to arrive at a settled opinion about the justification of the atomic bombings, and I suppose it's unlikely that I ever will. It's rather difficult to keep one's attention fixed against the backdrop of the fact that Japan started the war, committed unspeakable atrocities throughout, and refused to surrender when beaten. Something similar could be said about their reluctance to own up to their crimes in the intervening years. In short, their actions were so much more awful than ours that their efforts to lecture us on the crimes we allegedly committed in response to their crimes tend to push me in the opposite direction and make it rather difficult for me to maintain my tenuous grasp on objectivity.

But one thing we should all be able to agree on: the bombings were tragic.

Mourning their tragedy is not equivalent to accepting blame, nor concluding that they were not necessary.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Google Against Net Neutrality?

Too soon to tell, but Gizmodo says yes.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Stephen Bainbridge: Why It's Embarrassing to Be a Conservative


Yup. American conservatism is a disaster, and the GOP is now the stupid party. It didn't have to be this way, but the movement and the party let their worst tendencies take over--partially out of a lack of intellectual and moral self-control, partially as a result of their lamentable tendency to demonize those who disagree with them, partially out of a lust for power and the belief that feeding red meat to their masses would win.
Joe Klein and Two New Liberal Canards:
(a) We Should Not Impose Freedom By Force
(b) We Should Only Go To War If Attacked

GodDAMN it.

This kind of bullshit really pisses me off. (Via/at Sullivan's digs--I keep that link b/c he excerpts the two most important graphs).

This is an example of the common tendency to grasp at obvious objections even if they are stupid. The problem with neoconservatism is NOT that it advocates going to war on moral grounds. NOW FECKING HEAR THIS: LIBERALS BELIEVE IN GOING TO WAR ON MORAL GROUNDS. In fact, that has been one of the major bones of contention between liberalism and conservatism in my lifetime, during which conservatives have simultaneously (i) dislocated our national arm patting ourselves on our national back because our cause was just in WWII, and (ii) argued that we should never go to war for mere justice. (Of course some liberals are pacifists, unfortunately...but I'll ignore them here.)

Clinton's interventions in the former Yugoslavia were particularly clear examples of liberal interventionism--we went in and stopped genocide because it was the right thing to do, even though the likely costs to the U.S. exceeded the likely benefits to us.

It is simply not true that national self-defense is the only legitimate reason to go to war.

And the decision to go into Iraq was stupid NOT because it was not in response to an attack (er, well...who knows what was really going on the the minds of Bush and Cheney...). Rather, it was stupid for rather complicated reasons. It had nothing really to do with 9/11, though Bush may (or may not) have thought that it did, the moral case for the war was shaky (largely because it was the wrong time to do it, and because there was inadequate planning for reconstruction), and the moral and strategic cases were hopelessly conflated. Oh, and: we were lied to about all of this.

I've said all this many times before.

I've also noted that IT IS PERFECTLY FINE TO IMPOSE FREEDOM BY FORCE. That's what we did in the Revolution. That's what we did in the Civil War. That's what we did in WWII. Freedom is often imposed by force, and permissibly so. Again, although the criticism sounds good if you don't think about it, it is not the correct criticism of the Iraq war. The relevant problem in this vicinity is that we chose a stupid target for the imposition of freedom. In such cases, likely consequences and probabilities matter. We went to war on false pretenses, on the basis of lies and other deceptions by the administration, on fabricated links to 9/11, against an unrelated enemy of bin Laden, distracted ourselves from Afghanistan, etc. Then when the strategic case became an obvious failure, the Bushies started pushing the moral justification for war. But if we were going to wage a war on moral grounds, we should have (i) gone for lower-hanging fruit, e.g. Sudan, or (b) done actual planning for the reconstruction so that we didn't make matters worse in Iraq...which we seem to have done.

Jesus, this crap pisses me off. Don't just grab any old objection you find laying around just because it sounds good. Think about the implications of the objections that occur to you. When you commit yourself to stupid objections like these, you thereby commit yourself to stupid policies.
Israel Is A Crappy Ally

I grew up a big Israel fan, partially because the Holocaust loomed large in my young mind (I have no personal ties to it, but WWII always loomed large in my mind, and so forth), and partially because Israel always seemed besieged and outnumbered. It took me a long time to change my mind, but I suppose my current position is: I'm fed up with them. Despite the fact that I think we should choose our allies primarily on moral grounds, it's begun to bug the crap out of me that our alliance with Israel is such a one-way street. And I'm fed up with groups in the U.S. (e.g. Israel-adoring conservatives) who constitute a voting block that make it impossible for anyone to rationalize our relationship with Israel. (And, as for the moral case for an alliance with Israel...well, that's not looking too shiny these days either, of course.)

I thought that this--"Israel: Asset or Liability?"--by Chas Freeman in a Nixon Center Debate pretty much hit the nail on the head.