April 30, 2006

Useful Resource on Human Rights Abuses in War on Whatever

I just ran across Rummy's Diaries, which as it says is

An archive of information on human rights abuses, prisoner abuse, and torture committed by the Coalition of the Willing in the Global War on Terror.

A useful resource for anyone concerned about what we have become. Note that entries are posted retroactively to the date that the incident happened, with a contemporaneous post to note the new post/update.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:18 PM | Comments (3)

Not So Fast, Louis

In the previous post I gave a sentence in which an NPI was licensed by an embedded question, or so I suggested. But (as I said in comments) not every embedded question seems to license NPIs. Take:

(1) I know who's been to France.

The embedded question "who's been to France" doesn't seem to license NPIs:

(1a) ?I know who's been to France at all.

So if the NPI is licensed by the embedded question in my previous example,

(2) What requires explanation is why anyone at all has strong Gettier intuitions

(and I don't see what else would, although that could be my problem), then an account of NPIs needs an account of why some embedded questions license them and others don't.

[I just started to type out an explanation of which of (1) and (2) are downward- and upward-entailing, confused myself utterly about which entailments hold between "What requires explanation is why philosophers have strong Gettier intuitions" and "What requires explanation is why epistemologists have strong Gettier intuitions," and deleted the whole thing. Anyone who has any suggestions, please let me know. This may cast doubt on my claim in the previous post that with indicative sentences like (1) and (2) we may be able to make more sense of upward and downward entailment than with questions, though I think it just casts doubt on the claim that I may be able to make sense of anything.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:08 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2006

Questions and NPIs

Brian Weatherson has wondered why questions are NPI-licensing. The question is difficult to answer in terms of a lot of customary treatments of NPI-licensing, since they tend to deal with upward and downward entailment*, and it's not obvious what entailment is when you're talking about questions.

I just typed the following sentence:

What requires explanation is why anyone at all has strong Gettier intuitions.

In this sentence it seems to me that the NPI 'at all' (and 'anyone' as an existential quantifier, which is also an NPI) is licensed by the embedded question, "why anyone at all has strong Gettier intuitions." If there wasn't an embedded question, NPIs wouldn't be licensed:

What requires explanation is Rumsfeld's awful mistakes.
??What requires explanation is any of Rumsfeld's awful mistakes.

And this is an indicative sentence overall, so we may be able to make more sense of upward and downward entailment. Though I won't try to do this now. (As usually for my meditations on linguistics, it's very likely that this has been covered before.)

*Roughly, .... is a downward-entailing environment if ... F ... entails ... G ... whenever F entails G. UPDATE: Dammit, I got this backwards, as usual. ... is a downward-entailing environment if ...F... entails ...G... whenever G entails F. So negation is downward-entailing because "I'm not a linguist" entails "I'm not a semanticist" while "x is a semanticist" entails "x is a linguist."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:09 PM | Comments (4)

April 27, 2006

Lubbock Officially Repeals Residential Segregation

From The Daily Toreador, which often seems to be a better paper than the professional one, Lubbock City Council has unanimously repealed a 1923 ordinance forbidding black people from living west of Avenue C or south of 16th St.

Mayor Marc McDougal says that the law was implicitly repealed in a 1959 overhaul of the city ordinances, and it has been unenforced for decades (as I should hope). Regji Davis, president of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, says that he has lived outside the East Side for more than 20 years and did not know there was such an ordinance. But he adds this, which I quote without comment except to say that in an ideal world it would not make sense to say this:

The majority of the African-American population [71% according to the Toreador -- mw] does live in the East side, and I can see how that might skew the population trend, but at the same time, people want to live where they're wanted.
Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:23 PM | Comments (0)

The Internet Is Inadequate

I was just reminded of the song that goes "I'm So Sorry You Have Reached My Answering Machine," from back in the days when answering machines were Teh Novelty. So I search for that phrase and what do I find? This here for the answer, and...

Sorry, this entry cannot be found.

It's just like in the song, where each verse ends, "And the answer is... ding! And the phone went dead."

Supplementary searching reveals this Musiq Soulchild song, in which " if you leave your name and your number
The whole routine" perhaps alludes to the second line of the refrain, "Leave your name and number I'm sure you know the whole routine." Or perhaps not. That is your artistic insight for the day. Also, this entry is sure to become the top hit for the Google search right soon, so if you know what you're talking about tell me more about the song and maybe I'll change the post title.

[Standard apology for lack of philosophy posts goes here, with vague promises of some forthcoming.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:55 PM | Comments (2)

April 18, 2006

New Film Genre

I have discovered a new cinematic genre: Scary/Creepy Person in Large Rabbit Suit Cinema.

It includes Sexy Beast, Donnie Darko, The Flaming Lips' videos for "Do You Realize" on the Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots DVD, and this.

(via Armsmasher.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:26 PM | Comments (7)

April 13, 2006

Norms of Guessing

via Marginal Revolution, Bryan Caplan writes:

One of the most frustrating things about non-economists is their reluctance to guess. Latest example: Today at the repair shop.

Mechanic: The freon's going to leak out unless we replace the compressor.

Me: How fast?

Mechanic: Don't know.

Me: Could you take a guess?

Mechanic: Nope. Could be tomorrow, could be a year.

You could say that the mechanic doesn't want to convey a false sense of certainty. But surely I let him off the hook when I asked him to guess, didn't I? You'd have to have an awfully short fuse to get mad at someone for being wrong after explicitly asking them to guess.

This strikes me as a straightforward case of the mechanic conforming to norms of assertion, where in this case guessing is a species of assertion. Or if you like, guessing is continuous with assertion and the norms of guessing are continuous with the norms of assertion.

For whatever the mechanic may guess, his guess had better be some sort of guide to the truth. If not, it's a bad guess. Caplan is presumably relying on the mechanic's superior expertise to guide him in some sort of decision; if the mechanic's guess leaves Caplan no better informed than he was before, it won't have been helpful. (And it'll have destroyed what we might call super-Socratic ignorance: Caplan's knowledge that he has no idea.)

We can go even farther. Caplan presumably wants to use the mechanic's guess to make a decision about what to do with the appliance. The mechanic may know that, even if he has some degree of support for a belief about how fast the freon will leak out, that degree of support won't be high enough for any action Caplan might take. So there's good reason for the mechanic to refuse to say anything. Whatever slight degree of support Caplan might get from his guess, he's still better off acting as if his decision were being made under conditions of total ignorance.

Note that the dread knowledge account of assertion plays no role here. The mechanic is explicitly asked to make a guess and permitted to disclaim knowledge. Still, the norm of this guess is that it should be true, or at least likely enough to be true enough for the current purposes. Since it is a guess, those purposes don't require it to be very likely to be true; but it's still possible that any guess won't meet those very low standards.

My own guess is that Caplan wants the mechanic to guess because he thinks preferences should conform to the Savage axioms, so probabilities can be assigned to everything. That's why he complains that it's non-economists who won't guess. On this view there's no difference between risk and ignorance, and you can always adjust your probabilities a micron to reflect whatever new information you have. The mechanic also ought to be able to come up with an expected value for when the freon will leak out. So if you assign probabilities to everything, you should be able to communicate to other your guesses as to what the probabilites should be. But you shouldn't assign probabilities to everything, so sometimes you shouldn't even be prepared to venture a guess.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:13 PM | Comments (8)

April 05, 2006

Stirling Conference on Epistemic Value, August

There'll be a conference on Epistemic Value at the University of Stirling August 19-20, which to my great pleasure I've been invited to comment at. Website here (this post was occasioned by my noticing that they'd added me to the list).

I'm very excited about the opportunity to take part in the conference. The question of what properties are epistemically valuable is one I've been interested in since I started seriously working on epistemology, and a lot of excellent work is being done on it. It's an honor to be asked to participate.

More details (including how to register, if you're interested) at the conference website.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:01 PM | Comments (4)

April 02, 2006

Life Imitates Gene Wolfe, Sort Of; with a disquisition on politics and ethics

Dana Rohrbacher has a proposal for how to deal with the labor shortage that will result if the U.S. expels all illegal immigrants. It's straight out of Gene Wolfe's "How the Whip Came Back," except without the secularism, feminism, socialism, and world government that Wolfe seemed to think was necessary for us to give up our freedom.

Which perhaps raises an interesting question about aesthetics and politics. I didn't like the Wolfe story, partly because I found it a bit heavy-handed, but also because I thought its political analysis was bad. He's looking in the wrong place for threats to freedom. Is this an aesthetic flaw (or is the aesthetic flaw just that the political message is too far upfront)?

An interesting comparison case is John Le Carré's A Small Town in Germany, which is tremendously suspenseful and builds up to a chilling vision of evil. But I think the envisioned evil didn't really exist in our world, or wasn't a real possibility (I'm talking about the way the Western powers behave, though I won't say more for fear of spoilage).

Perhaps it's like this: If a mystery's solution violated the laws of physics, we would feel cheated. No one wants to find out that the murderer got into the locked room by levitating up to the third-story window. Similarly, perhaps my complaint is that these works violate regularities concerning politics, which is a cheat in a similar way. Of course neither of them is realistic. Still, they seem meant to illuminate something in our nature in a way that fails if they get our nature wrong. Or perhaps they're exaggerating or stylizing something that's not there, or not prominent enough to merit such treatment.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)

April 01, 2006

Lay Off the Waitress

You may have heard this story: Michael Scanlon, former Tom DeLay aide and Jack Abramoff partner and current confessed criminal, was turned in to the FBI by his former fiancée (and colleague in DeLay's office), Emily Miller. Previous Raw Story article here.

I want to nitpick on something in the coverage of this story. The WSJ article linked in the first Raw Story link above mentions that Scanlon dumped Miller for "a 24-year-old waitress." Previously, perhaps channeling friends in the know, the Raw Story said that Scanlon's new fiancée (now wife) was a manicurist. The suggestion is that the Other Woman is a low-class dumb young thing. And to show I'm not just making this up, Wonkette describes her profession as "trashy/awesome" (if less so than that of manicurist).

I think this is unfair. Scanlon was I believe 31 years old at the time; a 31-year-old dating a 24-year-old is no great age gap. And waitressing and manicuring are perfectly honorable professions. Some would say they're more honorable than "professional Republican," let alone "Abramoff-DeLay machine crook." So lay off the second Mrs. Scanlon. She's too good for him.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:27 PM | Comments (4)

Nice Headline

via Scotto chez Saheli, Texas police look in bars for signs of drunkenness. Well done, anonymous Moonie Times headline writer.

The story says this is a campaign to crack down on drunk driving. I don't know if it's going to be effective; I suspect not, since I can't see it spurring people not to get drunk in bars, and the actual number of arrests will be negligible. Plus, as is pointed out, not everyone who is drunk in a bar is planning to drive away from it.

Drunk driving might be rarer if there were a way to get around Texas without driving so much, but that horse has flown the coop. Round here, it might help if it were legal to buy booze in a store in a city and take it home to drink, instead of having to drink in a bar.

Also: "My grandparents went through this kind of repression in Germany a long time ago. I never thought it would happen here." Much like this.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)