I am moving to Milwaukee very very soon--leave your Laverne and Shirley joke in the comments--and that means that there will be a break from blogging for a while, as I gear up and then get settled in. It also accounts somewhat for the total lack of philosophical content on the site for the past month or so (though I have been getting some work done on, you know, papers). Anyway, see you from Milwaukee.
This would be the time to put up a list of previous posts of interest, but I don't have time to do that either, so I'm just setting the front page to show the last 30 days of posting--if you want to compare parking laws of Milwaukee and Salt Lake, it's back on the front page for your convenience! Hopefully this will avoid an embarrassing blank front page. Anyway, if you want serious epistemology blogging, head to Certain Doubts (this advice will remain in effect when I start posting again).
Report, more or less: Abuse due to bad apples rather than systemic problems, though detainees were widely held in extremely poor conditions.
Sen. McCain, R-AZ: "If you didn't look at the gross and egregious violations, what else didn't you investigate?"
Sen. Reed, D-RI: "It has not answered with finality what went wrong. We don't know in a definitive and factual way what were the policies coming out of higher headquarters. It's pretty murky."
Sen. Talent, R-MO: Report "vindicat[es] our leaders and our soldiers."
[UPDATE: NYT editorial board: "300-page whitewash"; "Mr. Rumsfeld's team may be turning over stones, but it's not looking under them."]
[Digression: What is "nearly two-thirds of the detainees were held at collection points for as long as 30 days" supposed to mean? Nearly two-thirds were held at all? Nearly two-thirds were held for longer than they were supposed to be (12 hours)? More than one-third were held for longer than 30 days?]
A nice article in the Pittsburgh City Paper on The Only Bar That Matters. I managed to schedule my summer visit to Pittsburgh during their annual first-week-of-July vacation/repair, but it's good to see that the new ownership knows what their mission in life is--keep the bar the same, except the bathroom.
I'm not quite sure what Berry is talking about when she says “This neighborhood is so geared towards religious families, or graduate students who don’t go out much. It needs this”--if Squirrel Hill is geared to religious families, it's the kind who don't go out Friday nights, and in my experience graduate students aren't exactly shy about going out.
[If you've never lived in Pittsburgh this post may make no sense to you. Do I look like I care?]
I, Robot was pretty decent, as Kevin Drum says (spoiler in link), though it did bring the hokey at some points. There's a hilarious parody of what liberal-bias hunters would think of it here (tons of spoilers), via laloca (no spoilers at all!)
I'd like to thank the blogosphere for being all over the "This departs radically from Asimov!" story, thus enabling me to confirm my suspicions without actually going back and reading Asimov, who kind of sucks.
Strained philosophical analysis, and spoilers, below.
First of all, this isn't a spoiler because these are the first words on the screen in the movie, but the First Law of Robotics is that a robot can never harm a human or through inaction allow a human to come to harm, the Second Law is that a robot must obey orders from a human except where the First Law prevents, and the Third Law is that a robot must protect itself except where the first two laws prevent.
So the movie is basically--well, it's basically an action flick, but lemme have my fun--an extended brief on behalf of sentiment-based moral theories instead of utilitarian ones. The ultimate nefariousness of the robots' plans is that their attempt to bring about the best for everyone ignores side constraints and infringes on people's liberty. (Also that utility is defined by a lexical ordering of avoidance of harm [First Law] followed by preference satisfaction [Second Law].)
I also thought that the movie's explanation of the robot revolt was much better than Asimov's. As I remember, there's an Asimov story in which the robots decide that they count as human, and it is clear that we're doomed. In the movie, the main robot brain decides that the First Law requires it to keep humans from harming themselves, and that this can only be done by instituting robot rule, and perhaps harming some people in order to do so. This makes sense, even without citing the Zeroth Law, because the First and Second Laws as written obviously cannot always be obeyed and require adjudication of conflicts. The First Law wouldn't be inconsistent if it respected the doing/allowing distinction, but the movie is quite explicit that sometimes a robot must decide who it will allow to come to harm.
Ted Barlow blogs The Adversary, the true story of a man who
missed an important exam at the end of his second year of medical school, but never rescheduled it. Impulsively, he told his parents that he had passed.
Several murders later,
On the stand, the judge asked him why he didn’t just reschedule the exam, and he wasn’t able to answer. “That’s the question I’ve asked myself every day for eighteen years,” he said.
In comments, Ophelia Benson (governess of the State of Extreme Annoyance says,
What’s interesting (she said, pointing out the obvious) is the solipsism of it all. He doesn’t want to be embarrassed so all these other people have to be killed, so that he won’t be embarrassed.... Bizarre way to think - and yet probably quite common.
From the armchair, I say--it may be even more common than the story makes it seem. I think a lot of moral behavior may come from a desire not to embarrass yourself--not to be called out in front of others.
But embarrassment as a force for Good can turn into a force for Evil. I'm much more likely to put off something I ought to be doing after I think I'm embarrassingly late doing it. I mean, a friend of mine is. Worser, think of the Millgram experiments; the subjects may have (so they thought) tortured someone to death because they didn't want to make a scene in front of the scientist who seemed to know what was going on. Perhaps this has something to do with why the people you-know-where who weren't actively sadistic for the most part didn't do much to stop what was going on. And Joseph Darby, the hero who blew the whistle, turns out to have had reason to fear being shunned.
Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing has a couple of reports of prisoners who claimed to witness rape in the Abu Ghraib prisons; pdfs of the documents (provided to the Taguba inquiry and hosted by the Washington Post are here and here.
These are stories from prisoners, not the videotapes Sy Hersh claims to have seen. The witness's stories may not be accurate. Even if they are, the victims may not have quite been children--though that would be no excuse.
[UPDATE: My colleague Ron Mallon is quoted extensively in an article about this in the Deseret News.]
My recent or soon-to-be ex-employer, the University of Utah, has
agreed to draft a policy for students whose religious beliefs clash with assignments... [A] seven-member U. committee [is] charged with drafting the policy and an appeals process for students who disagree with a facutly member's decision
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this--of course much depends on what the committee comes up with. There seem to be some cases in which religious accommodation is clearly called for--according to this article, some professors require Orthodox Jewish students to write "God" rather than "G-d" in their papers. That strikes me as outrageous. On the other hand, I don't think you could have an Art History major who refused to look at images of the female nude, or a Studio Arts major who refused to draw human figures--those are cases where the religious restriction would prevent the student from functioning in the discipline.
Given the modern theatrical corpus, refusing to swear seems like it might be a pretty substantial handicap for a theater student, but perhaps not around here. This article makes it seem as though actors can make a good living in Utah while refusing to curse, because of the heavy local demand for G-rated entertainment. So it makes sense to train an actor who refuses to curse.
I hope and trust that the possibility that a creationist biology major would not have to complete assignments on evolution is this reporter's speculation and not something that will be seriously considered. It would be best if the committee strongly endorsed the centrality of evolution to the teaching of biology.
Also disturbing is the comment here that this is the latest in a series of controversies over anti-Mormon bias at the U. The legislature earlier forced two audits of medical school admissions to investigate whether white Mormon males were discriminated against (the audits found no bias), and two state legislators recently stated that the U. should not "challenge the local culture" or "teach something that we don't believe in."* The U. is vulnerable to a certain degree of Mau-Mauing, and the presence of a formal complaint process may have a chilling effect on professors who might consider teaching controversial material.
*There may be more merit to the charge that the U. neglects LDS history, though the opening paragraph of that article seems impossibly naive about the academic hiring process.
The fast-growing movement to unionize graduate students at the nation's private universities suffered a crushing setback yesterday when the National Labor Relations Board reversed itself and ruled that students who worked as research and teaching assistants did not have the right to unionize.
In a case involving Brown University, the labor board ruled 3 to 2 that graduate teaching and research assistants were essentially students, not workers, and thus should not have the right to unionize to negotiate over wages, benefits and other conditions of employment.
For legal reasons that I don't understand, this doesn't apply to public universities.
Maybe I should leave this as an open thread for grad students who teach classes or assist professors in research: Do you work for a living? Or has your university just socked you away in a cushy sinecure so you can finish your dissertation?
(OK, so those questions were formulated in a slightly leading manner. There are arguments for and against unionization, I figure, but it's a total non-starter to pretend that grad students aren't adults working at jobs that usually serve as their sole means of support.)
[UPDATE: Brian Leiter has more; he speaks from personal experience as a unionized TA at a public university.]
I don't have a camera, and I don't take pictures much. If I did, I might have taken a picture of the new WWII memorial in Washington DC. (The reviews didn't tell me that it would be a family-friendly feel-good kind of place--when I went there it was full of children and other people splashing in the pool.) Maybe it's a good thing that I didn't.
Maybe you've heard about the Nepalese illegal immigrant who was subjected to 24-hour lighting in a 6-by-9 foot cell for three months, because he unintentionally videotaped a building that contained an FBI office. But you're probably not an illegal immigrant.
You may have heard about the writer who is now on the Homeland Security watch list, because while on a plane he worked on a story containing the word "bomb" (meaning "surprise," it seems). But that's a comedy of errors.
But you might not have seen the Artist's Statement, via Michael Froomkin. An American citizen--a black photography student--takes pictures of the train bridge at the local locks, "easily my neighborhood’s most recognizable landmark and its highest point of tourism." He is surrounded by three Homeland security agents, three Seattle Police, and two security guards for the locks. Agent McNamara of Homeland Security tells him that he has broken the law by photographing federal property.
This is not just the top of a slippery slope. It's already a substantial abridgement of our rights. It seems that you can't take a picture in public, for fear that it might contain federal property. Maybe this won't always be enforced, but something that you do only at the pleasure of the local police isn't something you're free to do.
When I told my mother about this, she said, "It's like the Soviet Union in the fifties." One of her college teachers was arrested on a trip to the USSR for taking unauthorized pictures.
I don't think this is necessarily an order from on high--it's just that, as Froomkin says, "the reaction to 9/11 has given some of the worst tendencies in law enforcement an undeserved patina of legitimacy."
And I don't think the U.S. is really like the Soviet Union. I don't expect to be arrested or detained or to suffer any adverse consequences from writing this (except that some people may decide that I'm a jerk). But "better than the Soviet Union" isn't a standard to aim for. I fear that our society is getting just that bit less open, free, and democratic, and every little bit hurts.
(I hope this is the last shrill post for a while. I had actually been planning to post it since I saw the Artist's Statement, which was before a couple of things happened that made me lose my temper. Regular programming should resume soon.)
The Congressional investigation into the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison has virtually ground to halt, as a senior Senate Republican said Thursday that no new hearings would be held on the matter until this fall at the earliest.
Democrats and a few Republicans have called for hearings soon, "[b]ut House Republicans and, privately, some Senate Republicans say Mr. Warner, by holding more hearings, would only hand Democrats an explosive campaign issue."
Look. It's pretty simple. Either you think it's a big deal that the U.S. government tortured Iraqis and others, or you don't. If you do, you want to find out what happened regardless of the election schedule. If you don't, you can go with Republican Congressman Ray LaHood (I think not discussing torture specifically):
Our party controls the levers of government. We're not about to go out and look beneath a bunch of rocks to try to cause heartburn.
So you have to ask yourself, when you decide who to vote for--for President or Congress--do you think torture calls for an investigation, or is it OK to cover it up for political gain?
Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week.
Brad says, "Either Sy Hersh has gone completely insane, or the House needs to vote to impeach George W. Bush tonight." There's no evidence that Hersh is insane or otherwise untrustworthy. In any case, we need a vigorous investigation of these allegations.
But of course, we've needed a vigorous investigation for a long time. As soon as we learned of the torture of Iraqis by Americans at Abu Ghraib, we should have dropped everything to ask: "How could this happen?" Instead, we got a party-line vote against subpoenaing the memos on U.S. government torture policy, and White House stonewalling as to where the orders came from. It seems that some people--though I'll hold out hope for John Warner--have decided that Americans torturing innocent Iraqis is no big deal, at least not compared to safeguarding their own party.
And that's true regardless of whether Sy Hersh is insane. Even if he's making everything up, there's no excuse for the failure to investigate it.
Thinking about my outburst in my previous post, I think there are two things that really bother me about the floating of the proposal to delay elections in the event of a terrorist attack, even though we know perfectly well a delay is not going to happen.
(1) As I said, it shows the low regard in which our government seems to hold democracy. It's not inherently a bad thing that someone in the government thought about the impact an attack could have on elections. It's a bad thing that he didn't think, "What can we do to ensure that the election proceeds as smoothly as possible, with minimum disruption?" but instead "How can we cancel the election if this happens?" And that this particular proposal then made it up through the hierarchy unchanged. Shouldn't Tom Ridge have sent it back, saying, "We don't cancel elections if we can help it. Think of some alternate plans"?
(Also, why is the National Election Assistance guy reporting to Homeland Security?)
(2) Much, much worse: It shows how much we've been infantilized in the face of terrorism. As has been pointed out by others, we held elections in the face of two wars (1864 and 1944) that threatened the existence of America itself. Terrorism doesn't do that. But it's terrorism that makes us cry, "What if terrorism happens? How could we possibly hold an election in the face of terrorism?" That's just pathetic. We should be resolving, up front, that if there is a terrorist attack on Election Day more of us will vote than ever before. Terrorists shouldn't be able to scare us away from democracy.
One of my friends (and a few bloggers) said to me, "What if there's a terrorist attack on election day in SE Florida?" And it's disturbing to think that an attack might interfere with people voting. But terrorism isn't the only thing that can do that. In comments here, Christopher Ball makes this comment:
A contingency plan is worth considering, but it seems that this authority could be delegated to the state in which the event occurred. This might also be useful if severely disruptive weather occured during an election.
Well, I'm not happy about delegating authority to the states--remember when the Florida Legislature was preparing to appoint a pro-Bush slate of electors--but this raises the question--why do we need a contingency plan for terrorism but not one for weather, or electric blackouts, or malfunctioning voting machines? What makes terrorism so special? A hurricane might disrupt voting in Florida [UPDATE: This probably reflects profound ignorance of when hurricane season is], or an earthquake might disrupt voting in California, much more comprehensively than most terrorist attacks. But we treat terrorism as though it's some uniquely horrific disaster worthy of bringing the country to a halt.
And I think this infantilization is deliberate. We could have tried to show that we were stronger than the terrorists by refusing to let them disrupt our liberties. Instead we were treated to some ridiculous clampdowns that don't make us safer at all (note--I'm not saying all post-9/11 security reforms are ridiculous, I'll give examples later), scaremongering about chemical weapons that, outside of massive bombardments, have never killed as many people as Great White, and completely unspecific terror warnings that serve no purpose other than to frighten and to grab the headlines. The Bush Administration has used this climate of fear to political advantage, and it's left the country much weaker and more divided than it needed to be.
A couple more posts of shrillness on the way, but I hope to get back to the regular menu of analytic philosophy and stupid jokes soon.
DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission... noted that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state's Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, "the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election." Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call.
The rationale is that we need to have some policy in place for a possible election postponement before some precipitating event actually occurs. But my understanding is that we already have a policy in place on postponements: i.e., we don't do them.
And Mr. Soaries? There's a reason why no federal agency has the statutory authority to cancel an election. It's because ELECTIONS ARE THE ESSENCE OF OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM. It would be extraordinarily dangerous to give the government the power to call them off. And it's not reassuring when you say that you're "seeking to establish a process to do so should it become necessary." Once some panel has the power to call off elections, it might do so, and by the time (if ever) it explains itself it'll be too late to explain itself.
In an ideal world, maybe it would be good to have a process put in place to deal with disruption of an election. But that's not the world we live in. We live in a world where any such decision would be made by people who, inevitably, would be appointed by and beholden to the people in power, and will inevitably be tainted by politics.
(There is the question: What if it makes it impossible to hold a vote--for instance, if a polling place is blown up? Even so, I think it'd be better to deal with it post facto. If there's consensus that the vote was obstructed, then there should be consensus to pass a law allowing for an emergency revote. If there's not consensus to allow that, then there wasn't enough consensus to justify the much more drastic step of cancelling the election.)
This idea seems to have gone down like a lead balloon, but I'm chilled that the Administration thought it was a good idea to even float it. (And I'm not reassured by the fact that it's been known to resurrect unpopular ideas under different names.)
I'm particularly disturbed by this quote:
The issue has been raised against the backdrop of bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured 2,000 others on March 11, three days before the Spanish national elections. The bombings were blamed in part for the defeat of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar [sic--I think Aznar was retiring, but his party was defeated], who strongly supported the war in Iraq.
If all that's meant is that Al Qaeda might strike close to the elections, as they did in Madrid, fine. But if it's meant that we shouldn't be voting at a time when a recent terrorist attack might influence elections, that's appalling. No one has the right to decide what issues should affect voters' votes. This is a democracy; we can vote on whatever issues we like. Jack Balkin:
The fact that a terrorist attack might influence voters one way or the other is not a reason to cancel an election. Lots of things happen before elections that can influence voters.
(Balkin also has intelligent comments on why Aznar's party really lost, and invaluable legal analysis.)
And, from a couple of liberal bloggers, I'd like to see more anger, please. The Administration is drawing up contingency plans to cancel the elections; that ain't paranoia. Do you want a signed postcard from them saying "Democracy isn't important to us?" I don't think that they would cancel the election, even if they could have their way, but I think we need to be very very careful.
And as you may guess from the title of this post, the no-politics policy is at an end. I still will try to keep this a mostly non-politics site, but there are some things I just won't be able to keep my mouth shut about.
[UPDATE: Kevin Drum says it won't happen, and he's right. But that's not the point. The point is that it should have been unthinkable to propose this.]
How about that-- a massive thread on the epistemology of testimony, focusing on this case (presented by Jon Kvanvig):
You have multiple testimonial sources for p. None of them have knowledge, since none of them have a total body of evidence sufficient for epistemic justification. But each of them has some evidence for the claim, which is why each of them tells you that p is true. They are all correct: p is true. And you believe them, so you have a true belief. Moreover, if you combine all of their reasons for believing p, the combination is a secure, ungettiered epistemic justification for believing p. So if the quality of their reasons is somehow behind their epistemic authority, can the multiplicity of sources cover over the epistemic flaw that each of them displays in reporting to you something they don’t know to be true? In short, even though they don’t know, do the details about their grounds for belief allow for you to know on the basis of these multiple testimonial sources?
As you may know, I don't think knowledge is particularly important compared to justification, but my immediate answer is: Hells yeah. This even seems like a relatively sound method of doing history--if you have a bunch of imperfect observers, each of them may be likely to make an error, but they're not all likely to make exactly the same error. So a belief based on many imperfect witnesses may be properly very robust, which I think is characteristic of most knowledge.
But, as comes out in Jon's comments, the question is whether this is really pure testimonial knowledge, in which one simply accepts the speaker's word for what is said, or is inference involved? I think it's hard to pick out exactly when inference is involved, but I could imagine Jon's case working as followed. The first person says p, and you think, "Maybe." The second person says p, and you think "Probably." The third person says p, and you think, "Lookin' good." The fourth person says p, and you think "Definitely." This seems pretty non-inferential to me--as you get each new report, you simply come to believe them more and more.
I think this matches Sandy Goldberg's condition (iii) in this comment (as amended in this one) that pure testimonial knowledge "depends for its status as knowledge on and on nothing more than, (a) the reliability (or safety or sensitivity) of the testimony and (b) the hearer’s epistemic right to rely on that testimony." The hearer in this case is depending only on the (imperfect) reliability of the many testifiers. There is no individual piece of testimony for which her knowledge satisfies both (a) and (b), but it satisfies both (a) and (b) when you take the total testimony on which she's basing her belief.
(Note that I also hold that, in a case in which S tells you that p, and you think "Is S trustworthy? Yes" before forming the belief that p, you've accepted S's testimony in pretty much the same way that you ordinarily accept testimony--all that's happened is that some implicit assumptions have been made explicit. People who don't like that might not like my description of the cumulative case as pure testimonial knowledge. I think that excluding these cases makes us rely too much on blind trust, but your mileage may vary.)
In the tradition of Stone Roses, Benny Hill, and figgy pudding, Faithless is a revered British institution that has generated little enthusiasm here.
Brian is Australian, not British, but maybe the Stone Roses travel throughout the Commonwealth. Definitely a case for some kind of relativism, though.
(That post and comments also contain some philosophy of interest.)
[Extended entry beginneth here]
Actually, I shouldn't hate on the Stone Roses, because I'm not sure what they sound like. I'm not even sure I've ever heard them. On the other hand, I find it difficult to see how I could possibly have gone through college ('88-'92) without ever hearing them, so the fact that I'm not sure I've heard them or what they sound like is in itself evidence that they can't possibly have made the best British album ever. Not that I expect anyone else to agree with my nomination, The Mekons Honky Tonkin--most people think Fear and Whiskey and Rock'n'Roll are the best Mekons albums and a fortiori the best British albums. I'm right and they're wrong, though--some people's criticisms of Honky Tonkin' rest too much on the desire to understand what every word of every lyric means, which has little to do with understanding what the music means. Though I'm given some pause by the fact that I've never heard the Mekons play any of the songs from Honky Tonkin live; every other album of theirs, but not that one.
The NYTimes link is not permanent and also contains an ad with a picture that I find kinda disturbing. I'll try to fix that if I can.
[Salt Lake, by contrast, keeps it simple; I can't leave my car on-street during the day anywhere within a half-mile of my apartment.]
Autoreverse in car stereo cassette players is a nice thing, but the auto-reverse can occasionally become hair-trigger sensitive, to the point that cassettes (or cassette-simulating adaptors for portable CD players) will flip over when they aren't supposed to. Accordingly, it would be even nicer if car stereo manufacturers would include a mechanism by which autoreverse can be turned off.
One of the problems with Enhanced CDs seems to be that when you put one into a computer it insists on going through all the advanced folderol instead of just playing the damn music. The review of the new Bad Plus CD will be delayed (possibly forever).
Tove Jansson has a Moomintroll novel (anyone remember which one? [it sounds like Finn Family Moomintroll--MW]) in which one character tells a ‘story’ that runs, in its entirety: “There was a water-rat named Poot.” That's not a story.
How about this: a work of fiction must contain at least one non-stative verb. And of course, given such a rule, what we need is a novel that breaks it, and is perhaps more natural than the novel without verbs that everyone was on about a little while ago.
(Blog posts without non-stative verbs, at least outside direct quotations, are arguably pretty easy. Arguably because I'm not even sure I know what a stative verb is.)
An e-mail from the APA:
Although the deadline for papers submitted to the Central Division has been changed from September 1 to July 1, the 2005 Program Committee recognizes that it takes time for the knowledge of any such change to reach all our members. Therefore, the (postmark) deadline for this year only has been extended to July 16, 2004.
So you still have time to get that paper in the mail. Colloquium submissions only (3000 words or less). Also, the July deadline is annoying anyway, though I'm not in charge of organizing so I don't know what pressures the committee faces.
Lindsay Beyerstein reminded me that Tom Friedman is on leave for three months to write a book. I think we should help him come up with a title. Suggestions from Lindsay's comments so far--
"The Pie of Humility, or How can one man be so wrong for so long?" (me)
"Uncle Tom's Gabbin': Attitudes and Platitudes" (Lindsay)
"If We Had Some Ham
We Could Have Some Ham and Eggs
If We Had Some Eggs" (Thad; my favorite so far)
Have at it!
[UPDATE: And the winner is, "The World Is Flat," submitted by Tom Friedman! I guess it's going to be a compilation of his pro-war columns.
From the same column, I'd like to add a few words to this sentence: "I believe the main reason the Abu Ghraib prison scandal happened was because [the people who sent] U.S. forces in[to] Iraq were facing an uprising [vicariously] and had no intelligence [and never had, not since the day they were born]."]
HM* and I are on a swing east for a week-plus, where HM is strengthening my mom's plants by introducing them to the idea of natural predators and I may or may not be getting a little work done. In any case, there probably won't be much philosophy posted for a little while, and posting may be light even after I get back in the run-up to and aftermath of my move to Milwaukee. Enjoy your potato salad!
*Her Majesty or Hostile Mascot, depending on her mood.