Friday, June 28, 2013

Welcome To the Police State: Charlottesville Bottled Water Edition

Six plain-clothes ABC agents jump some UVA girls--who only had bottled water--at night in the Harris Teeter parking lot. They pull their guns and start screaming at the girls to get out of their vehicle. One jumps on the hood of the vehicle, waving his gun. Girls panic and drive away, thinking they are being attacked by lunatics. And, well, it kind of looks like that's exactly what happened... Girls immediately call the police, and immediately pull over when the blue lights go on. Driver gets thrown in jail, largely for "grazing" two agents with her vehicle while trying to get away, and for evading cops.

Let's hope the shit hits the fan, these agents get the boot, and the girls win a big-ass civil suit against ABC.

What a bunch of bullshit.

1960's "Literacy" Tests

link to MeFi post.

Obviously written by people who were morons. Or evil. Or, in all probability, evil morons.

Drum On A Move to Class-Based Affirmative Action


I don't think it's a mystery that 2/3 of Americans support class-based affirmative action and only 1/4 support race-based affirmative action: class-based affirmative action is a more reasonable policy. Race, it has long seemed to me, is a proxy for class/SES. Rich black kids are, on average, more advantaged than poor white kids. Though, of course, a higher percentage of black kids are poor.

So there's decent reason to think that class-based AA is a fairer/better policy than race-based AA. And there's good reason to think that it will be a more popular policy. And finally, as Drum notes:
Carnevale and Rose concluded that class-based policies produce higher graduation rates than either a pure merit-based system (test scores and high school GPAs) or a traditional affirmative action program.
And that's not just a happy consequence of such programs--it is, I'd say, more evidence that such programs are justified. The point of AA programs should be to get at genuine merit, in the sense of something like competence as opposed to performance. That is to say, what we want is a program that will filter out/correct for advantages, preferring students with more potential but fewer achievements to those with more achievements but less potential, when the explanation for the differential is SES. Such a system won't take race into account directly, but it will do so indirectly--so long as race affects SES, at any rate.

A move to class-based affirmative action seems like a win all around to me.

Fiction: John Scalzi, Old Man's War


I gave up on sci fi some time ago. I think of myself as still liking it in principle, but so much of it seems, even by my rather modest standards, unreadably awful... So I kind of abandoned the genre. But I've been testing the sci fi waters again, and just finished John Scalzi's Old Man's War.

I'd call this a good beach read. It's perhaps not quite a space opera...maybe it's a space operetta... It'll remind you of Starship Troopers (though any such book probably will), but it's far from a generic space infantry tale. Just when you think you're in for a straight-up bug hunt, Scalzi will throw in an idea that will liven up the old formula enough to keep things fresh. There are some decent characters and more than a little genuinely amusing banter (though that typically goes on a line or two too long, and tends to pass amusing and wind up being cutesy...but, hey, that's not going to kill you).

Old Man's War isn't a classic of the genre or anything, but I think it's a solid effort. I've been reading for straight-up entertainment of late, and those are the standards I'm applying here...  But I simply abandon way more than half of the novels I start. If a book doesn't have something to offer, I just toss it and start something else. But I eagerly finished OMW, and would read a sequel if one showed up (which it won't, since the tale seems fairly self-contained).

So there's that opinion, FWIW.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SCOTUS Strikes Down DOMA


Holy crap!

I really can't believe the change in our national trajectory on this. This seems to me like genuine moral, legal and political progress.

I really do sympathize with the concerns of honest slow-change conservatives (as opposed to the weird "conservative" radicals that dominate American politics). Ideally, I think we'd have gone with civil unions first...but that may be an overabundance of caution with respect to something so many people think of as a fundamental right. And I recognize that I'm a weirdo here because I've never seen marriage as that big a deal. Also/therefore, I'd like to see civil unions available to heterosexuals, too...

But, anyway: this seems to me like a big win for reason and justice.

I do fear that it will energize the right...but that's a fear that attends lots of big wins for liberals. So I'll take that risk.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RIP RIchard Matheson

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"PUA"s: A Whole New Breed of Asshole You Didn't Even Know Existed!

"PUA" = Pick-Up Artist


Well, maybe not entirely new, nor entirely unknown...but now a self-conscious group with books and websites and all that sort of stuff.

Sounds like some of them are just lonely, desperate guys who have a hard time meeting women...but the spectrum runs all the way to outright rapists...with, apparently, a whole lot of assholes in between...

Some of this stuff is extremely angrifying. The stuff about intentionally insulting women as a tactic for breaking down their self-esteem so they'll sleep with you isn't new...but it's always been loathsome as hell. I'm tempted to feel sorry for somebody who has such a hard time attracting women that he's got to resort to that...but...well...I'm not that tempted. That's assholery of a fairly high order.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

TNR and the Death of Contrarianism?

A link to the MeFi thread in order to get all the links in at once.

Oh TNR, I loved you so much, but you were such a f*ck-up...

I haven't even looked at the new version.

Possible Link Between Hairston's SUV and an Agent

What a *@#$ing mess.

Needless to say, PJ should be regarded as innocent unless proven guilty...  But it's hard to be happy about this...

Almost Everybody Wants a Path To Citizenship For Illegal Immigrants

Drum summarizes.

Good news on both important fronts from my perspective: 87% want a path to citizenship and 83% want tighter security. (Ergo 4%, apparently, live in something like the open-borders fantasy world...)

Why The Economy Can't Grow Forever

Rob Dietz

That all seems right to me...but I'm embarrassed to say that the question turns out to be more controversial than I realized...

Do You Think Women are Female? If So, Then It Turns Out That You Are a Bigot...

Ah, the things I learn on Metafilter...


So, this gaming fellow Krahulik tweeted, basically, two things which, as I'm surely realize, make him literally Hitler.His points, basically:

1. 'Cis'* is annoying jargon

2. 'Man' basically means male, 'woman' basically means female.

So far as I can tell, he's absolutely right on both points...  But according to the Tumblerific left, he is a "transphobic" bigot.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you of my standing hypothesis:

When conservatism/the GOP ascends again to political dominance, it will be, in part, because liberals shoot themselves in the ass by letting the far left alienate reasonable people.

The PCs of the '90's helped shift a whole generation of college students to the right. I'm wondering whether the so-called "social justice warriors" of the internet left will play roughly that role in the future.

Now, one shouldn't have to say what follows...but, well, one does:

I'm with the old-school feminists on these points. Males tend to be more masculine and females tend to be more feminine, but both lie on a spectrum. There are feminine males and masculine females, and, as with basically every other behavioral difference linked to sex, the distributions overlap. There is often more similarity than difference. Society is often crazy, and used to be crazier than it is now, and, sadly, averages got turned into norms. Men tend to be more masculine than women wasn't good enough for society, and, through the magical irrationality of social convention, got turned into: males ought to be extremely masculine; females ought to be extremely feminine. Which, or so seems pretty clear to me, is nonsense. For example, there's nothing wrong with androgyny, nor with any non-standard combination of sex and gender. It's all cool.

And, so I don't see--and don't see how anyone can see--anything wrong with, say, very masculine-acting women. Dress like men standardly dress, act like men standardly act, whatever. I'm baffled that people care about such things.


That's not good enough for a certain radical segment of the left. They want to insist that...well, they're not very clear what they want to insist...other than that if you disagree with them, you are a bigot...  But, roughly: if you think of yourself/represent yourself as a man (or woman), then you are a man (or woman).

So far as I can tell this is simply false. That's not a moral claim, nor a claim that in any way entails that it's bad to represent yourself as something you aren't, nor any such thing. However: the concept man is primarily a concept satisfied by adult male humans. Linguistically: 'man', in its primary sense, (and ignoring its use to mean, simply, 'human') means adult male human. (You can check the OED if you like, but I'm too lazy to walk downstairs... Dictionary definitions aren't always dispositive, but at the very least they establish the burden of proof...)

You are not--and I am not--and Krahulik is not--a bigot for thinking this. It's simply true. It's not a moral point. It's a point about the concept man (and woman) and the meaning of the word 'man' (and 'woman').

You can think this without thinking that there's a damn thing wrong with people who are biologically male representing themselves as female, calling themselves women, or whatever. Your position on the factual question need not have any morally troublesome consequences.

Look, suppose you are born white, but you really want to be black--in fact, you feel black. You think of yourself as black. Whatever. So you start dressing and acting in ways that are more characteristic of black subculture. You might even have medical treatments to make your skin darker or whatever. Are you black? (Racially speaking?) The answer seems to be in the negative. And, of course, the case seems analogous.

There's more to say here than you might think...  It's really too bad that so much of the lefty orthodoxy on this matter comes out of gender studies--not one of the more rigorous bits of academia...  'Man' does have overtones that aren't entirely biological (consider the admonishion to "be a man"...) So there's room for the other side to maneuver here, and I don't see that discussion should be in any way closed off.

Sadly, the other side doesn't see it that way, and that's part of what's disastrous about this debate. The other position is not particularly strong, it's riddled with confusions and unclarities, and it's largely motivated by the desire to make people not feel bad. That's an admirable goal, obviously, but it has no place in discussions about what e.g. 'man' means, and whether it is more accurate to say that some men are female or that some females (inaccurately) represent themselves as men. Nobody wants to make anybody feel bad. But this debate basically looks like so: one side insists on saying false things, and also insists that anyone who refuses to say false things--or who insists on pointing out that the first side is saying false things--is a bigot. The other side is happy to let people live their lives however they like, but simply refuses to say things that they believe are false, and to accept what they consider to be false analyses of concepts like man and woman. (There's a third, conservative, side that, if I'm not mistaken, thinks that there is something wrong with representing yourself as the other sex... But I'm not interested in them.)

You'll see that the author of The Garden of Forking Thoughts (great blog title, incidentally...) employs the don't try to tell me what I am argument. That argument is fallacious, so far as I can tell. If I'm ethnically Italian but really identify with the Japanese, I can speak, dress, and act like them if I want. But I cannot insist that others are bigots if they refuse to believe that I am ethnically Japanese.

At any rate: the side I defend above has the stronger position, in my current opinion.

Finally, this is all exacerbated by the lefter left's well-known tendencies to spew confused and annoying neologisms, and to play thought-and-word police, insisting that if you don't accept every silly new bit of terminology they throw out, you are an oppressor, jack...

Really finally: it's kind of dangerous to go out on a limb with such issues that we, collectively, are all still thinking through. The other side can spew accusations of bigotry all day long, and if we ultimately conclude that they were wrong, they'll move on at no cost, and, somehow, with clear consciences. If I'm wrong about this, I (and others) will look back on it as an embarrassing bit of bigotry that constitutes a stain on my moral character. That's one reason why so many people roll over for the other side in this dispute.

Really really finally, none of this addresses the ambiguity in 'male' (the genetic conception vs. the anatomical conception). It also doesn't address any interesting sci-fi thought-experiments about futuristic procedures that would allow us to switch sexes at will... But you can't discuss everything all at once...

At any rate, that's how it all looks to me right now, FWIW.

* Short for 'cissexual' or somesuch... The amount of confusion and unclarity among people who assure us that they are experts on this stuff is astonishing...but it's roughly supposed to mean that your sex and your gender match in the ordinary ways: that is, you're male and you represent yourself as a man, or female and represent yourself as a woman. I've seen different accounts of this. Anyway, it's not worth knowing about.

Friday, June 21, 2013

WHO: Violence Against Women an "Epidemic"


Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mr. And Mrs. Smith Is a Good Movie

That's right, you heard me.

Conservatives for Overpopulation: Jeb Bush/Immigration Edition


Right. So how hard is it to see that there is a problem with the view that we should pump up the population in order to pump up the economy? Simple question, Jeb: can this strategy work over the long run?

Absolutely astonishing. We finally start getting our own birth rate down, and the response is: let's bring in a lot more people with higher birth rates! If that strategy should somehow fail, should we start working on clones maybe?

Jesus Christ. The population problem is manageable now. We could get ourselves on a decent trajectory toward a sane population without much pain. But if we wait until the problem is too serious to ignore, it's going to be a lot harder to solve.

Tell me we need to allow more people into the country for humanitarian reasons, and I'll listen. I'm not going to be a pushover on the point, but I'll certainly listen. Tell me you want to let in more people in order to grow the economy, and the conversation is over.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What Daleks, Xenomorphs, and Slasher Movies Tell Us About Paleoart

Kind of an interesting post, with several interesting links, including this one:

The Mysterious Mysteries of Feather Resistance

Stephen Bond: Why I Am No Longer A Skeptic

link (via Metafilter)

This essay is a mess in several important ways, but I also think it's onto something.

"Skeptics," in this odd sense, are...what? Something like: people who reject pseudoscience and religion. Paradigmatically, they reject things like ESP and UFOs. When I was a kid, the rejection of religion was rather less overt; now it seems like the core of the thing.

I do think that the essay gets something right. Specifically, I think that the "skeptical" movement is eaten up with scientism. They typically don't know much philosophy, so they tend to not understand the logical and epistemological problems associated with trying to justify scientific inquiry. They treat the justification of science as unproblematic. (Dawkins, pointing to technology as justification for science: "It works...bitches." So I guess that's supposed to be an inductive justification of induction...) In my experience, you do encounter many "skeptical" STEM/IT types who are ignorant of philosophy, but are sure that they are too smart for it, and that science doesn't need it, and that you're an idiot if you deny this... And that's all nonsense. So good on Bond for calling "bullshit" on this.

OTOH, the Bond piece goes way off the rails at several points. For example:
Because we perceive the world through metaphors, all observations, theories, experiments, statements and facts have a context, including a political context. Our science is necessarily and unavoidably contaminated by our political system; political ideologies propagate through science, and science on its own is incapable of purging them. This is widely understood by people who study scientists, but less often by scientists themselves, and never by skeptics.
Skeptics like to portray science as a hermetically-sealed, self-correcting enterprise, where false theories naturally yield to conflicting evidence, and the truth will always out. To support this position they always trot out the same old anecdotes. I've lost count of the number of times I've read the heartwarming tale of the old geologist who happily dismantled his life's work once the truth of plate tectonics was demonstrated to him. However, the history of science shows that such tales are the exception, and that old theories, and old scientists, have greater stubbornness. Much more common is the scenario described by Max Planck:
"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
This "new generation", not incidentally, tends to be armed with new political attitudes.

Yeah, no.

First, note how an important falsehood gets slipped in at the very beginning, as presupposition:

...we perceive the world through metaphors...

 No, we don't.

Well, it's actually not clear we get to say anything very definite about the claim, because it's not at all clear what it means. What is it to perceive x through a metaphor? God knows. Metaphors clearly play a role in our representations of the world, and in our reasoning...but not so clearly in our perceptions. At any rate, this must be a universal generalization to do what the author needs it to do here, and the universal generalization, to the extent that we can make sense of it, is false. Even if we can make sense of some perception being "through" a metaphor, it's clear that not all are. I'm perceiving a clipboard in front of me right now, and that perception is not "through" any metaphor. It might be worth noting here that, even ignoring the perception stuff, not everything can be metaphorical--metaphors eventually have to ground out in non-metaphors. Juliet might very well be the Sun--but the the Sun is a star, and there's nothing metaphorical about that. Similarly: Juliet is represented as being on the balcony, many buildings have balconies, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare is deceased, and so on. Not everything is metaphorical.

The rest of the paragraph is, similarly, disastrous. The next bit might mean that, overall, politics have some significant influence on science; or it might mean that each scientific discovery is contaminated by politics. The former seems true, the latter is simply false. Science provides us with a way of shoving irrelevant considerations to the side and letting the relevant facts/evidence have its say on our beliefs. If we want to know whether timber rattlers eat mice in the wild, then we go and observe some timber rattlers in the wild. If fifty are observed, and all eat mice, and none are observed that do not eat mice, then we have good reason in support of a conclusion. There is simply no room for politics to intrude here. Not all science is so clean and simple, but much is. Politics sometimes influences science, but it doesn't always do so. And there is no doubt about that.

One could go on...

But I'll just point out that, the thing about the Planck quote is: it's false, and actual studies in the history of science show that. It's catchy, it's a good hypothesis, but it isn't true.

The punchline:

Mindless scientism is bad, and it does infect so-called "skepticism" (note: "skepticism" in this sense is not actual skepticism, which is the view that we have no justified beliefs at all). But it would be a profound mistake to leap out of the scientistic frying pan and into the relativistic/social-constructionist/Kuhnian/postmodern fire. There is no sound inference that takes us from the denial of bone-headed scientism to any of those crackpot views.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is Permissible to Joke About Terrible Things?

That's a serious question.

Superman Panders to Christians

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kaminer: When Conservative Senators Sound Like Anti-Porn Feminists

At the Atlantic.

Far leftists often have more in common with conservatives than they do with liberals. Radical feminists have always sounded a lot like conservatives with respect to many aspects of sex and eroticism.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Call To Publish Unpublished Results of Drug Trials


Drug companies should be forced to publish the results of all of their drug trials. They should have to register the trial before it begins, and not be allowed to appeal to the results of any trial that wasn't already so registered, no matter how favorable it is to their drug.

Let me publish only the results I want, and I can make tar water look good.

(via Reddit)

U.S. Policies Have Worsened Inequality

Drum's synopsis.

 Do the rich really tend to hate the government more than other folks? Or is that an illusion caused by a few notable assholes like the Kochs?

At any rate, they shouldn't. If they're soulless and purely self-interested, that is...  The government has helped to make them fabulously rich at everyone else's expense...

Who Rented PJ Hairston's SUV?


Things are starting to look pretty damn bad... Surely PJ is not that corrupt/stupid... There's no doubt that Roy looks for good character, and no doubt that he makes it very clear to the players how they are expected to conduct themselves...

And PJ may be innocent.

But it sure looks about as bad as it could possibly look.

World Population: Bad (Quasi-)News


11 billion by 2100?

Looks like: maybe.

Possibly as high as 17 billion.

Africa apparently will be hit hardest.

Alas, it is politically incorrect to be concerned about this problem... My strategy is to point out (as the linked article does) that two major responses are increasing access to birth control and educating women. That might take the edge off liberal hesitance to take the problem seriously. I hate resorting to such rhetorical tactics...but it's true, they're good solutions, so there's that. I don't know of any way to get conservatives to take the problem seriously.

Bank Robbery Suspect Wants NSA Phone Records to Prove His Innocence


I was just wondering yesterday when this kind of thing was going to start happening. Specifically, though, I was thinking about cases like missing person/abduction cases.

Thing is, there is simply no doubt that a program like PRISM could do an enormous amount of good dot dot dot

Should We Accept PRISM to Avoid 9/11+?

How severe would a disaster have to be to make it worth putting up with PRISM in order to avoid that disaster?

How about 9/11? A 9/11 every decade? Every year? Nuking a major U.S. city? A major biological attack? Or is would no plausible attack be bad enough to warrant such a program?

I have no answer to this question, incidentally.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Good News/Non-Good News on U.S. Population

We had a natural decrease in the white U.S. population last year.

So, that's a step in the right direction. This was offset by immigration--more than offset even just considering white immigration--still, it's not nothing.

There have been some encouraging estimates recently about the population out past 100 years or so, and that's good. I'd like to see us not wait that long, and address the problem in an at least semi-serious way...heck, I'd be happy if anybody even acknowledge the problem...  But business and those who think that the economy can grow forever are always pushing for more people, conservatives think we're going to be out-bred and overwhelmed by the heathen Muslims, and liberals refuse to even consider throttling back on immigration, the biggest driver of growth...

So I guess we'll just have to hope that the problem really does resolve itself.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Better Take Off And Nuke The Site From Orbit: Designer Water Edition

Somebody f'in shoot me.

Or, better yet, shoot the people who are hawking "Resource" water....

You are terrible, stupid people with terrible, stupid jobs. You should be ashamed of yourselves. More precisely, you should be revolted by yourselves.

Do Stand Your Ground Laws Help Whites More Than Blacks?


The numbers here, if accurate, look very, very bad. OTOH, I think we know better than to trust publications like Salon when it comes to firearms...

Take, for example, the juxtaposition of the two crazy cases. (I knew about the Alexander case--that's insane enough without being juxtaposed with the other case.) What we really need is not two crazy cases on the ends of the spectrum--I mean, they tell us a little bit, but not without explicit evidence that there are no similarly crazy cases counterbalancing these crazy cases--that is, clearly justified shootings (in the one case) in which white defendants were unjustly convicted, and clearly unjustified shootings (in the other) in which black defendants were convicted. It'd be more informative if we could take all of the shootings of a roughly specifiable type, blind them with respect to race, conclude whether each shooting was warranted or unwarranted given the relevant statutes, and then compare these conclusions to the verdicts.

It's also worth noting that there seems to be a general bias against non-whites in the judicial system, so, before we know whether or not numbers like this count against SYG laws in particular, we'd need to know whether verdicts with respect to them are more skewed than other laws.

Not complicated points...though points that Salon notably fails to discuss... matter how you slice it, the numbers are, prima facie, rather damning...

Noam Chomsky: Still Full of Shit

“If Bush, the Bush administration, didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers,” the renowned American scholar told Democracy Now on Monday.
“If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them, so you don’t have to have torture chambers all over,” he said.
This from the guy who thinks that Mao and the Khmer Rouge weren't all that, y'know, bad...

(end tu quoque here...)

Drum: We Haven't Learned Much From The NSA Leaks

3/4 Americans Oppose Race-Based College Admission Programs

As I'm sure everybody has seen by now.

I'm surprised that there's so much agreement about this. I'm torn about affirmative action; I don't see how any sensible person could not be torn about it... But, since I am torn, this finding concerns me a bit.

My guess is that this view is a consequence of two things: (a) sound moral judgment and (b) lack of appreciation of the facts. True, one shouldn't show preference on the basis of race. However and of course, that's not really what the programs in question do. Rather, they seek to correct for past illegitimate preferences, and for past injustice. Or, at least, that's how the best arguments go. If we had a level playing field, then there would be a very, very strong (though not conclusive) argument against affirmative action. But we don't have a level playing-field.

On the bright side, my guess is that Americans are generally in favor of taking individual students' socio-economic background into consideration. And that, IMO, is what we really want to be doing anyway. Race is just a proxy for what we're really interested in here. If Smith is black, but comes from an extremely well-to-do family, has gone to a private high school, and so forth, the arguments for giving him some affirmative-action-based advantage over white Jones, who is extremely disadvantaged, are vanishingly weak. But, since being black is still a notable disadvantage in the U.S., taking socio-economic background into effect will help out blacks significantly, shouldn't it?

I can't wait for us to start having the male affirmative action discussion...  Females now outnumber males in college, and, on average, tend to do better in high school and college than males. My own institution is nearly 60-40 female-male now, and there are rumors that steps have been taken to prevent those percentages from getting even more out of whack. If that discussion ever happens, it's going to be very, very interesting....

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Americans Have Short Memories

And CNN is full of shit.

CNN frequently puts inflammatory headlines on their home page, but those same headlines don't appear on the page with the story. To accompany the story reporting that, allegedly, 49% of Americans reported a favorable view of Bush in a recent Gallop poll, CNN smeared the headline "Miss Me Yet" across their home page. That, of course, is a line that Bush supporters have used since Obama's election to suggest that Obama will make the country long for Bush.

Fuck you CNN.

You people are idiots.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Only 3% of Data The NSA Collects Is From The U.S. (But That's Still 3 Billion Pieces)

Drum, as usual, trying to be reasonable about all this.

Though, hell, reasonable might entail rioting in the streets in this case... 

I just don't know.

Cohen: Cold-Hearted Liberals Have Abandoned Syria


If not for Iraq, I probably would have been advocating for intervention in Syria. I'm not advocating it, however. Not, contra Cohen, out of cold-heartedness, but, rather, because I don't think it's something we can reasonably try to do. It is yet another opportunity cost ot the Iraq debacle. We exhausted our military, our treasury, our credibility, and our moral authority in Iraq. There are all sorts of things that we can't reasonably do, and in my (eminently fallible and changeable) view, intervening in Syria is one of them. I'd be happy if we could do it; but I don't think we can.

Also: we're not the only democracy with a strong military. We're not the only country that could, theoretically, do something.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

David Simon: Against Outrage About PRISM

The Audacity of Depair

I have to say, this might very well be the most reasonable thing I've read about the PRISM dust-up.

I'm less sanguine about the whole thing that Simon is, but I think he's making a hell of a lot of sense.

In particular: this shouldn't come as that much of a surprise, it's neither illegal nor unregulated, and it is a not-unreasonable respose to the threat of terrorism.

I do think we need to think hard about the risks and benefits of this sort of thing. Given that terrorism simply doesn't seem to be as much of a threat as the U.S. thinks, my sentiments are largely against PRISM. The burden of proof is on those who want to collect such data; absent fairly clear evidence that we will probably pay a fairly high cost without collecting the data, we don't collect it. I'm willing to listen to the case, but it has to be made.

And there is a real sense in which the real problem is the PATRIOT act. It's a little odd that everybody's freaking out now--the time to freak out was when that thing was passed. This really just shows what that bad legislation can do when combined with current technology. This is a consequence of the PATRIOT act...but sometimes we need to have the consequences of a principle made really clear before we can tell whether the principle is acceptable.

Gun Found Near Hairston's Vehicle During Arrest

This is very bad.

We're already going to have another rough season, and if Hairston goes, we're toast. But there is no place for this in Carolina hoops. If this is what it looks like, he needs to be gone.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Michelle Obama Heckling Incident: Privilege Fight!

I sure do love a good game of "privilege" chess...

Angry black woman exploiting the "privilege" of her position agains a lesbian? Or white woman leveraging "white privilege" in interrupting the FLOTUS, a black woman.

Jesus christ. I don't object to a discussion of this issue. But this idiotic business about "privilege" really has to go. All it does is muddy the waters of every discussion it turns up in.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Hairston Arrested

Busted with weed, and didn't have his license on him.

Dumb, PJ. Very dumb.

Stewart Baker: Why The NSA Needs Your Phone Calls

I wondered below what the rationale could be for PRISM.  Baker, at FP, makes some good points:
Let's start with the order. It seems to come from the court established to oversee intelligence gathering that touches the United States. Right off the bat, that means that this is not some warrantless or extrastatutory surveillance program. The government had to convince up to a dozen life-tenured members of the federal judiciary that the order was lawful. You may not like the legal interpretation that produced this order, but you can't say it's lawless.
In fact, it's a near certainty that the legal theory behind orders of this sort has been carefully examined by all three branches of the government and by both political parties. 

Ah, you say, but the scandal here isn't what has been done illegally -- it's what has been done legally. Even if it's lawful, how can the government justify spying on every American's phone calls?
It can't. No one has repealed the laws that prohibit the National Security Agency (NSA) from targeting Americans unless it has probable cause to believe that they are spies or terrorists. So under the law, the NSA remains prohibited from collecting information on Americans.
On top of that, national security law also requires that the government "minimize" its collection and use of information about Americans -- a requirement that has spawned elaborate rules that strictly limit what the agency can do with information it has already collected. Thus, one effect of "post-collection minimization" is that the NSA may find itself prohibited from looking at or using data that it has lawfully collected.
 And this "minimization," Baker claims, is key. The NSA might need to collect a lot of data, but there are rules about what data it can and can't use.

But why collect all that? Here's the speculation/hypothesis: even "decent improvised tradecraft" might very well involve terrorists using multiple cell phones from multiple carriers. To be able to track the calls, the NSA would have to grab a bunch of data when it needed it, and figure out what it's legal to use later.

The whole thing is worth a read.

It seems a little unlikely to me that all three branches of government have gone insane. So I'm willing to suspend my outrage for a bit until we hear what they have to say.

Should We Overload PRISM?

Like every other even vaguely sensible American, I'm furious to learn about PRISM.

However, like any good liberal, I have a tendency to be too open-minded to take my own side in an argument...  I really would like to hear the case in favor of this. Is there something we don't know? Say, three or four loose nukes known to be in the hands of al Qaeda and bound for the U.S.? I'm operating on the assumption here that the NSA isn't just a bunch of totalitarian lunatics...

But...assuming that there isn't a pretty astonishing rationale for this, it seems fairly clear that the program has to be stopped. But what if we can't manage to get it stopped through the ordinary channels? After all, we thought we were putting a stop to this sort of thing by electing Obama, who claimed, roughly, that there would be no more illegal wiretaps were he elected. Simply making the illegal wiretaps legal obviously isn't going to count as living up to the spirit of the promise...

Well, as a more-or-less last resort, should we consider overloading the system? That is, making it useless by making sure that all of us, in a high percentage of our phone call, texts and e-mails, include some words or phrases that should count as something flagged by the system? So, for example:

Date: 7/6/2013
Subject: Your bullshit
Bomb bomb bomb. Listen, how many times do I have to tell you that you are full of shit? Uranium Sarin Will you PLEASE JUST QUIT POSTING THIS NONSENSE???? Make 9/11 look like Mardi Gras. I'm not even going to waste the electrons trying to straighten your sorry ass out anymore laser base on the moon. In short, STFU.
Death to America,

I don't suggest this lightly, and, of course, hope that (a) there is not some threat out there so awful that PRISM is, in fact warranted, and that (b) the public outcry will force the government to back down on this. I also, of course, realize that I may be missing something here, and that this program may be less outrageous upon reflection than it seems at first contact. But I'm just floating an idea in case it's as bad as it seems and we can't get action on it in a less drastic way. It seems that one strength of this plan is that it won't work unless a lot of people participate, so a few cantankerous cranks can't sink the system--only fairly widespread opposition to the system could sustain such an effort (if even that could).

So there's an idea.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The White Student Union

Holy shitsnacks.

I bend over backwards to try to be fair to these people.

I really do.

I do think that if you encourage the existence of, say, a black student union, then it's non-trivial justify forbidding the formation of a white student union. There are reasons we can marshal, of course...but it's not as easy a question, IMO, as liberal orthodoxy would have us believe. It's a question that ought to be treated seriously, and with an open mind and a fair bit of care. Bullshit answers to questions like this can alienate people who might otherwise be set on the right path. They can also make us not only appear less reasonable, but, worse, make us actually be less reasonable.


By the time you get to the end of this video, it seems to me that there's not much room for doubt about whether or not these kids are racists. "If it's ok for you to be proud of your race, then why can't I be proud of mine?" is, IMO, a rather tough question. (Actually, I'm skeptical as to whether anybody should be proud of their race... Though I think nobody should be ashamed of it...) "We want to form a white Christian nation..." well, that's a bloody different thing entirely...

The last three minutes or so of this video makes me pretty angry that I spent the previous 17 minutes hurting my head trying to be (more than) fair to these racist dimwits.

It also makes me wonder what kind of teacher would fear being challenged by this kid... Jeez, buck up. Treat the serious questions seriously and slap the rest of that shit down.

Now I'm in a foul mood just in time for bed...

(via somewhere in Reddit)

Capa D-Day Photos


69 years ago today!

Why Are Many Feminists Unwilling to Accept Good News For Women?


It's a phenomenon I've noticed myself. It's not isolated to feminists--I've encountered the attitude among several different lefty activist types. But it does seem like a pretty prominent problem among feminists. Take the ca. 2011 drop in rapes. You'd think feminists would be ecstatic about that. Instead, I encountered a lot of anger and refusal to accept the drop. A common response (not quite an actual quote): "It's just a drop in reported rapes...this proves nothing!" My response, on the other hand, was: thank God.

My guess is that activist types are overly attached to the proposition that whatever problem they're wedded to is horrible and pressing. And any progress against it threatens to rob it of its rightful place as the Worst Problem Evar.

A Case For More Collaboration In Philosophy

At the Chronicle.

I think it's probably a bad sign that there's so little collaboration in philosophy.

In my department, incidentally, you only get 1/2 credit for a collaborative paper with respect to tenure and promotion. Or, rather, you get 1/n of a paper credit for it, where n=the number of authors. I don't think that's unfair, and, in fact, I'm partially an architect of that system. But it means that you do have to think hard about collaborating. By the time you get to two or three co-authors, you're really not going to get any appreciable T&P mojo for the thing. So you have to think hard about a project like that. OTOH, in disciplines in which there's a lot of collaporation, people tend to have enormous CVs with enormous numbers of collaborative papers. So it probably all works out to be about the same.

Anyway...we should probably try more of the collaboration thing. In general, if the sciences do something, that's decent evidence that there's something to it.

McGinn Response to Harassment Allegations




Look, I'm not an uptight guy. But the probability of me making a "hand job" joke to a female colleague is 0. And to a student??? WTF?

And when the joke is not even a little bit funny nor clever...well, then one looks for other explanations for why it was uttered.

Me, I leave every even vaguely sexual aspect of myself at the boundary of campus by both inclination and principle. I will say that there is something a little weird and inhuman about philosophy departments. They're radically desexualized places in my experience. I'm not saying that it isn't odd. But that's the way it is, and despite some vague concerns that it might be kind of deranged in a way, it's in accordance with how I naturally conduct myself in professional environments. I'm extremely (some say too) laid back in every other way, but my professional persona is resolutely/reflexively non-sexual...

So it's pretty damned hard for me to fathom the mind-set of someone who'd make that kind of joke to a student.

Yeah, yeah, grad students are different. The boundary between profs and grad students is pretty blurry and often pretty informal...  But still...that hand job joke is just weird and not funny and out of line.

OTOH, if that was the only transgression, it's not a big enough deal to warrant firing.

OTOOH, it sounds like it isn't the only alleged offense.

I've had jobs outside of academia in which there is a fair bit of sexual banter. And some people have told me that thats the way a lot of jobs are. But it's not the way it is in philosophy--not in my experience, anyway. I had a gf in English for awhile, and they were less uptight over there. But, er...people do not generally make McGinn-esque jokes in philosophy departments in my experience.

I'm not saying that the dude should get the chair for this. And I am fully aware that there are people in philosophy who relish the opportunity to blow comments like this out of proportion. But honestly, McGinn's statement doesn't move me in his direction at all.

IRS Approved Tax-Exempt Status For Over Twice As Many Conservative Groups as Liberal Groups

Drum has details.

NSA Collects All Verizon Phone Records


This is really just off the scale.

There should be protests in the streets over this.

Of course, we only have something like one side of the story here--we don't know what the NSA knows, and don't exactly know what they're trying  to stop. It's not impossible that this is warranted...but it seems awfully damned unlikely...

Oh and:
As I've made clear, I don't like Greenwald. He's mean-spirited, dogmatic, and insufferably self-righteous. And his anti-Obama jihad got old long ago. He's just Fox News in that respect, so far as I'm concerned. About what you'd expect from a Chomsky epigone.

But I also think that he sometimes does good work. That kind of desire to "get" people can sometimes have good effects if channeled in the right general direction. He's done good work here, that's for sure.

Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument

The entry at the SEP.

The PLA is one of the most famous--and, to my mind, oddest--arguments of 20th-century more-or-less analytic philosophy. It's almost impossible to even state the argument without running up against interpretive controversy. But, very roughly, the argument (if, indeed, it is an argument...) is suppose to indicate the impossibility of a "private language." A private language is not like a secret code, but, rather, something like a language that is in-principle understandable/speakable by only one person, (largely?) on account of the fact that its referential terms refer to intrinsically private objects, the contents of the speaker's mind (basically: the speaker's sensations).

The argument is extrinsically interesting because it would apparently show that solipsism is incoherent, and would raise serious problems for versions of empiricism that hold that we have indubitable knowledge of our own sensations.

This was the first major philosophical argument that I learned about in any real depth, back as an undergrad. I find myself returning to it as part of the relativism project, though I'm mostly interested in a more refined version of the argument than can be called the solitary language argument. On some interpretations of the PLA, it also rules out the possibility than an individual isolated from a linguistic community could follow rules or speak a language. That interpretation is rooted in some comments of Wittgenstein's, but also shows up in the Ayer-Rhees dispute, and, most notoriously, is articulated by Kripke in Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. The SLA is extrinsically interesting because it has a bunch of implications for the realism-antirealism dispute.

Anyway, the PLA and SLA are possibly worth knowing about. I'm rather ambivalent about Wittgenstein, FWIW. I'm certainly no groupie, but I'm also not a hater. Dude is rather interesting, IMO, and I've spent an unusual amount of time on his stuff. I probably wouldn't put him high on the list of philosophers one ought to know about...but he might very well be on the list somewhere...

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

TSA Won't Allow Pocket Knives

Jesus Christ.

This is idiotic. I don't know how people live without pocket knives, and I don't want to have to check my bags all the damn time.

I'm less critical of the TSA that some. I don't think I'm under any illusions about this; I do realize that every such decision is a trade-off. But it's hard for me to see it as anything other than goddamned idiotic. Nobody's going to take over a plane with a Swiss army knife...

I'm generally carrying either my Spyderco Navigator or my Spyderco Native. The latter is somewhat new, but the former used to get through security no problem. (I was stopped once, and the security girl declared it "kinda pointy", but that was all). And I keep either my big fat Swiss army knife or my Leatherman in my bookbag at all times. And when I don't have 'em, it annoys the crap out of me.

Damn security theater triumphs again.

The McGinn Sexual Harassment Case

Colin McGinn will resign from the University of Miami at the end of this calendar year as a result of allegations of sexual harassment.

Real or imagined? Dunno. If I were guessing, I guess I'd guess real. If it were bogus, one would expect him to fight it. Yet apparently he does have his defenders.

I can't even tell you have many bogus accusations, quasi-accusations and intimations of sexual harassment I've encountered in philosophy. Lots. In fact, we actually need a new category: sexual harassment harassment: i.e. harassing someone by falsely accusing them of sexual harassment, or making it clear that you think they ought to be (falsely) accused. Perhaps interestingly, these bogus accusations and intimations have always been of the "hostile environment" variety. In fact, it's always been possible for reasonable observers to see that the charges were bogus--even if some were too cowardly or blinded by bad theory or unwilling to look at the facts to admit it. Also perhaps interestingly: I have never personally encountered an accusation of straight-up, ordinary, sexual harassment (i.e. not "hostile environment" harassment) that I knew to be bogus. And in both of the cases I personally know of, the accusations of straight-up sexual harassment were true, and the harassment egregious.

I personally know of exactly one case of sexual harassment in academic philosophy--and it was clear-cut, no-doubt-about-it, and clear as the nose on your face. It was as close to a paradigm case of sexual harassment as you're ever likely to see. There were several women involved, all harassed over a period of a year or two by the same asshole, and all willing to testify. But by the time they'd all figured out that each was not the only victim, and that they really needed to do something, the university's six-month statute of limitations had run out. The sonofabitch is still in the same department, and there's every reason to believe that he's still harassing people.

I also personally know of one case from English, which was a case of straight-up psycho stalking...

Anyway, it's tough to know what to think about cases like the McGinn one. We're normally urged to remember that accusations generally are often false...  OTOH, it's common to hear people insist that we're supposed to give presumption to accusations of rape and sexual harassment... My general policy is to suspend judgment, but the little I've heard of this case makes my gut incline me to give some credence to the accusations... I'm not sure what we ought to think here, but I know how I'm inclined to think.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Partisanship Is Partially Dishonesty

...and not entirely a matter of ignorance:

Drum summarizes:  Cash rewards reduce the partisanship of answers to factual questions.

Though, as he notes, the questions are hard. What happened with inflation under Reagan? Hell, I don't know...

Monday, June 03, 2013

Do The Best Teachers Get The Worst Student Evaluation Scores?


I get pretty good student evaluation scores, and I don't trust the things much at all.

IRS Tea Party Targeting: Not So Unreasonable When You Look At The Facts

Seems that many of the targeted groups may very well have been political.

The Wetumpka Tea Party, from Alabama, sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama” while the I.R.S. was weighing its application.
And the head of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, whose application languished with the I.R.S. for more than two years, sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature.

Philosophy Majors Make More Than You Might Think

Even when you figure in those who get their Ph.D.s, apparently...

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Stand for "God Bless America"?

I stand for "The Star Spangled Banner."

No way I'd stand for "God Bless America."

Actively ridicule the loathsome Pledge of Allegiance...

Cheerios Ad Prompts Racism


My theory: the problem is: black male, white female.

On rare occasions, you'll see biracial black/white couples in commercials...but it'll be black female/white male. (I haven't noticed anything about, say, white/Asian couples).

A buttload of people are goddamn stupid.

Easy to forget...

Louise Mensch: How About Some Reality-Based Feminism?

Right on, person-friend...:

At this point, I had drifted off into Monty Python's Life of Brian, where Stan and Judith are debating whether they should stick up for Stan's "right to have babies" even though he can't have babies.
And that is what the modern feminist movement has become. Full of intersectionality, debates about middle-class privilege, hand-wringing over a good education (this is again "privilege" and not well-deserved success), and otherwise intelligent women backing out of debates and sitting around frenziedly checking their privilege.
It does nothing. It accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing.
Ultra-feminism's mournful obsession with words and categories is making the movement a joke
The academic and internet feminist equivalent of the vanguard of the proletariat is turning feminism into a joke. It's not just that it doesn't accomplish anything, it's that it's also intellectually indefensible.

The nuts-and-bolts of liberal feminism has always involved working for political equality between the sexes, working for equal rights for women and seeking to combat sexism (real sexism, in the sense of prejudice by anyone based on sex; not the made-up neologistic version according to which women can't be sexist). The academic/internet vanguard has moved away from this, toward spinning out ever-more-implausible theoretical orthodoxies to berate people for not accepting. Liberals, sadly, are hesitant to criticize them, largely because they're afraid to be called sexist. Since the only criticism tends to come from the right and MRAs, the vanguard becomes convinced of its infallibility.

Look, every movement has its kooks. But feminism seems unwilling to take on its extremists and loons. And it's that unwillingness that, more than anything else, ultimately drove me away from the movement so-described. Yes, feminism is a big tent...but that's all the more reason to think that some of the people in the tent are maybe--just maybe--not entirely right about everything.