July 30, 2006

Bring Back Melanie Martinez

Neil is right about this. This firing is shameful. It's not a First Amendment issue, I'm pretty sure, but it is a blow against freedom of expression.

And I can't help thinking:
a) that there's some backstory to Martinez's alerting PBS to the existence of the videos; surely someone was going to start complaining
b) whoever is offended is as offended by the videos' political content as by their (almost entirely verbal) sexual content.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:25 AM | Comments (8)

A Conditional

Someone spontaneously uttered this:

(1) [I]f you are the person I was talking to at Bohemian Beer Garden who was telling me about a semi-regular meetup at Gingerman, I have forgotten who you were and the meetup details you provided me with

and asked me for my opinion on its biscuit conditionality. My response was:

That's an interesting case. If you were addressing a single person and said, "If you were the one who told me about a semi-regular meetup at the Gingerman, I've forgotten the details about the meetup," it would be a straight-up biscuit conditional. As it is, it combines that bit of biscuit conditionality with some peculiar features of a speech act directed to the multitudes; Andy Egan uses the example of (approx.) a motivational speaker saying to an auditorium full of people, "You have the power to take control of your life, even if the rest of these schmucks don't." And "I've forgotten who you were" is an interesting locution, since it clearly doesn't mean "I've forgotten who you, the person I'm speaking to, are" but "I've forgotten who was telling me." Combine all this, and I'm not sure whether it is a biscuit conditional or something weirder.

In the end I don't think it's a biscuit at all. More, and some thoughts on "I've forgotten who you were," below the jump.

The sentence is pretty much the same as:

(2) To the person who told me about the meetup: I've forgotten who you were and the details

in which "To the person...." specifies the addressee of the speech act. The original conditional (1) is used to perform a speech act addressed to the multitude of readers, or (two views Andy considers) a bunch of speech acts each directed to each individual reader, or a speech act whose content is relative to the person reading the sentence. The new (2) expresses a speech act addressed only to that person (even though the speaker doesn't know who that is).

Back to (1): Looking it over I think it's not a biscuit conditional. Compare this, said to an individual person:

(3) If you told me about a meetup, I've forgotten what you told me.

In this case the truth of the consequent depends on the truth of the antecedent; if you didn't tell me about the meetup, I haven't necessarily forgotten what (if anything) you told me. Supposing that (1) expresses a multitude of speech acts, one addressed to each reader, it has the same form as (3). If one of the clauses in the consequent omitted 'you', like:

(4) [I]f you are the person who was telling me about a meetup, I have forgotten the meetup details

it would be a biscuit conditionals, because I have forgotten the meetup details regardless of who I am speaking to.

About "I have forgotten who you were": I think that has to be one of Geoff Nunberg's descriptive indexicals (pdf, HTML cache). If 'you' were directly referential, then this would translate to "I have forgotten who [addressee] was," which is the wrong reading; I may remember who every potential reader is. That is, there may be no reader such that, if confronted with them, I'd say "Who are you again?" (This may not be what is meant by the singular proposition that would be expressed by "I have forgotten who [term directly referring to a person] is," but it's the best I can make sense of that proposition without Nunberg's mechanism.)

What this does mean is "I've forgotten who it was that told me about the meetup." "I've forgotten who you were" is asserted only conditionally on "You are the person who told me about the meetup." In this case, as per Nunberg's theory, that individual contributes a property to the proposition: the property (made salient by the antecedent) of being the person who told me about the meetup. Hence "I've forgotten who you were" becomes "I've forgotten who [individual who will contribute relevant property] was" becomes "I've forgotten who the person who told me about the meetup was."

A different reading is possible with some stage setting:

I distinctly remember the appearance of the mand who told me about the meetup. And I remember his name (though we're not allowed to mention names on this Top Secret CIA blog). But I've forgotten his identity before joining the Organization. So if you're the one who told me about the meetup, I've forgotten who you were.

Here the previous sentence makes salient the property that 'you' contributes, not the antecedent of the conditional.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:17 AM | Comments (1)

July 29, 2006

Stretching the Defense

This Yglesias post strikes me as exactly right. This is why I think it can be a bad idea to engage politely with people who are advocating horrible things. Unfortunately, such people have an immense amount of power in the U.S. today.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:06 AM | Comments (4)

A Link

While searching for occurrences of the phrase "button-down exterior," I ran across this fascinating article about the now-defunct Babe Ruth curse and anti-Semitism directed against a man who wasn't even Jewish.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:13 AM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2006

Torture Was Organized and Deliberate

The invaluable Katherine of Obsidian Wings blogs a story that, as she says, "hammers about 19 nails into the coffin of the 'few bad apples' theory." When some interrogators expressed discomfort with the abuse of prisoners, a team of JAGs came back with a PowerPoint presentation on what they could do to prisoners; including the idea that inhumane and degrading treatment was OK, because the Geneva conventions didn't apply. Which we now know to be false as a matter of U.S. law.

Read Katherine's post, and the Esquire article she links (if, like me, you don't have the stomach for the 53-page Human Rights Watch report).

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:21 AM | Comments (3)

La Jetée on DVD: Beware!

The DVD version of Chris Marker's La Jetée (the short film that inspired Twelve Monkeys), on a compilation called Short 2: Dreams, is dubbed into English. My reactions were much like these; it just sounds wrong. It's particularly egregious that the DVD doesn't give you the option of watching in French with subtitles. You can play the soundtrack on Google video as you watch the DVD with the sound off, but you still won't have subtitles. Here's the English script, but reading along with the Google Video soundtrack while playing the DVD with the sound off is a hack too far.

(The only other Marker film I've seen was dubbed and may have had substantially different narration in English. So Marker doesn't mind dubbing; but this particular dubbing just doesn't sound as good.)

Bijouflix apparently has a French subtitled version with—OMG—Samuel Beckett's Film. [With Buster Keaton.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:11 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2006

Allan Dershowitz Is Going to Hell

via Kevin Drum, Alan Dershowitz posits a continuum of civilianity, culminating with the idea that anyone who remains in southern Lebanon after being ordered to leave by the Israeli army is "complicit"—in terrorism, presumably. Thus, if there are terrorists anywhere around you, another country has the right to make you a refugee; if you refuse to become a refugee, you are aiding and abetting the terrorists, and are no longer to be considered an innocent victim. Which means, I think, that it's not too bad to kill you.

This is extraordinarily repulsive stuff. Yglesias has pointed out that ordering an evacuation is not an adequate way to prevent civilian deaths, because "becoming a refugee is an extremely large risk factor for death." There are other things that could be said here, but when someone's arguments go this far into evil, I think it's best not to engage.

[Yglesias and I are both Jewish, which shouldn't need saying but possibly does.]

UPDATE: More from Fontana Labs and Henry Farrell.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:29 PM | Comments (4)

Speaking of Weeping...

Via Laura Rozen, a CIA contractor writes a post on her (literally) Top Secret internal CIA blog, saying "Waterboarding is torture and torture is wrong," and pointing out the continued relevance of the Geneva conventions. She is fired and threatened with prosecution for unauthorized use of a government computer. The CIA spokesman claims that the reason is that the post was not related to her official duties; unlike, presumably, her previous posts about bad food in the CIA cafeteria.

Apparently basic principles of morality are too dangerous even to be mentioned in today's CIA.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:29 AM | Comments (1)

July 18, 2006


Dear Lord, I weep for my country.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2006


I've been meaning to link to a new philosophy blog, Lemmings, by Brit Brogaard. And I'd been meaning something to say something in response to this post. Since the post is now several down on the front page and I haven't managed to respond to it yet, I figured I should at least put up the link -- one out of two ain't bad.

(Brit has been a really great correspondent about the epistemic modals stuff I've been working on, and she already has a lot of interesting stuff up, so by all means go read.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

Another Direct-Object Knowledge

I was just talking about putting one friend in touch with another who is familiar with a place that the first will be going, and I wrote, "She might know some things for you to do...."

This is another knowledge-the construction, like "know the answer" and "know the facts."* The object of 'knows' is syntactically an NP rather than a clause, but the knowledge in question seems much more like "knowing what to do" than "knowing Sam" or "knowing city X"; more like knowledge of facts than knowledge by acquaintance.

Yet "know some things to do" seems a little bit unlike those others. Perhaps it's that it's a kind of practical knowledge rather than theoretical knowledge. (A distinction that I think can be maintained even if "knowledge how" is another form of "knowledge that.") The construction seems related to the question "What to do?" which is an unusual question (I don't know what the current views on its deep structure are). And it's hardly unprecedented, but in most of the hits for know some things 'things' seems to be unmodified, and when it is modified the modifier is usually 'about'. "I know some things done to me" doesn't count, since the speaker is a bot, but "know some things they can work on" is English (and I'd say related to the question, "What can they work on?").

A nice unified theory would be that "I know some things X" is related to the question, "What are some things X?": what are some things to do, what are some things they can work on, what are some things you like. But the most common, "know some things about," doesn't fit that template at all; "What are some things about X" generally sounds awful unless it's followed by a 'that'-clause or something similar. (As in, "What are some things about magnets that you find interesting?") Though this person's myspace profile does contain the sentence "What are some things about me..."

Still, my conclusion is that the syntax of "know some things" + modifer on "things" is slightly mysterious, to me.

*May I rant? WordPress archives that display only a limited number of entries per page are horrible. I knew (thanks to an entry of mine that I won't link, because it was dumb) that this entry was at the beginning of May, but I had to click through several archive pages to get there, because the "May 2004 archives" for TAR start at the end of the month and don't give you direct access to any individual page. For frequently updated sites like Pandagon this makes the archives pretty much unusable (though Pandagon seems to have lots of archive gaps anyway). WordPress gurus please take note.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:49 PM | Comments (6)

July 13, 2006

Republican Defended

I think TPMMuckraker is was wronging Alan Schlesinger here by calling him a card cheat [and has now corrected themselves, good for them]. Card counting at blackjack is not cheating, as I understand it; it's merely using the information available to you to improve your odds. Casinos ban card counters because they don't want their marks to improve their odds. Wikipedia says, "Essentially, card-counting, if done in one's head and with no outside assistance from devices such as blackjack computers, is not illegal, as making calculations within one's own mind is not an arrestable offence," and that in some jurisdictions it is illegal to ban card-counters.

Of course, I have an incentive to defend Schlesinger, because his continued presence in the Connecticut Senate race will pretty much guarantee that the seat remains with a Democrat of some sort, no matter what sort of crazy stuff goes on.

(I don't gamble myself, but I see card counting as sticking up for the little guy against the casino owners.)

[This entry is now pointless, but it's an entry, so I'm leaving it up.]

[NOTE: The anti-spam software will not allow you to include the string "casino" in a comment; please circumlocute or use extra spaces or write "c4s1n0" or something.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:34 AM | Comments (12)

July 10, 2006

Mom on Writer's Almanac

I missed this on the day of, because I was in transit, but go here and check on the Saturday 8 July entry right now.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:10 AM | Comments (6)

July 07, 2006

Cultural Differences

Non-Americans (N = 2) seem not to know about Punxsutawney Phil. Apparently they thought that the movie was called Groundhog Day because (for obscure reasons) this particular day, for this particular character, involved a groundhog.

(This came up at dinner when someone suggested 'groundhog' and 'woodchuck' as exact synonyms and I said, "Well, you don't wait for a woodchuck to see its shadow." Confusion ensued. Perhaps the English have a similar tradition that distinguishes between furze and gorse.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:33 AM | Comments (13)

July 01, 2006

I Should Have Listened to My Brother

Powerpoint is a horrible, horrible program.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:18 PM | Comments (5)