August 31, 2006

Citizenship Means Nothing

Glenn Greenwald points to a story about two U.S. citizens who are being refused reentry to the country because they have not consented to lawyerless interviews with the FBI. (Follow his links; here's a permalink to the NY Times story.) Relatives of theirs have been convicted in terrorism-related cases, but as their lawyer says if the government has evidence sufficient to charge them with a crime then it should do so. As it is, they have as Glenn says effectively been banished without any process of any kind. (It is their right to have a lawyer attend any FBI interview.)

These are, I emphasize, U.S. citizens. If they can arbitrarily be refused reentry into the country there is no principled reason that you or I could not be refused reentry (assuming you are also a citizen). Be very afraid.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:45 PM | Comments (7)

August 25, 2006


My school e-mail spam-filters messages from my personal e-mail.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:47 PM | Comments (5)

August 17, 2006

I'd Like to Go to Scotland

I'm off today to the Epistemic Value Conference at Stirling, if the airlines will let me fly. Most of the papers are available at the link, and I've already learned a lot from them; it should be a great conference.

I'll leave you with a request for an intuition check. How do the following two sentences sound to you, with and without 'really'?

(1) That mouse is [really] small for an elephant.
(2) That mouse is [really] a small elephant.

Are they obviously sensical? Are they obviously nonsensical? Can they be interpreted in a way that makes sense, but is nevertheless kind of funny?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:46 AM | Comments (10)

August 15, 2006

Crooked Timber Link Dump

I've complained before about how our public discourse doesn't conform to my theories about credibility, on which people who assert falsehoods should suffer credibility problems. Still ain't working.

[Actually, unlike the cases I discuss in my previous post, Krauthammer doesn't pose any problem for my theory. People who read one of his columns usually do so fairly regularly. They don't have any excuse if they haven't noticed that he's always wrong. So he is subject to the normative credibility sanction: No one has any reason to believe what he says any more. If people do believe him, that's their fault.]

Matt Bishop says, "On reflection, maybe the ban on carry on luggage won’t be so bad: without a pc, let alone a phone, there need be no guilt about watching some movies on the seat-back video instead of working." But the movies are often terrible! I usually don't try to work on the laptop on flights, but I like my CDs and books. (And this is an issue. Sigh.)

On a serious note, Ellery Eells has died. I didn't know him but this is obviously very sad.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:59 AM | Comments (5)

August 14, 2006

Good Thing Quine Didn't Say "The number of the planets is greater than 8"

They're thinking of kicking Pluto out of the planet club. Bastards. I somewhat sympathize with this:

Some have appealed to Gingerich's group not to downgrade Pluto, saying it would disappoint children and throw our understanding of the universe into chaos.

Think of the children!

But it also seems to me that this should be a teachable moment about the progress of science and the notion of conceptual change. We didn't have a rigorous notion of planet before, or the one we had was clearly inadequate, and when we come up with one we may discover or decide that Pluto isn't a planet after all.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:52 AM | Comments (4)

August 09, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your News Media

via Jim Romenesko's Media News, two pieces of journalistic criticism:

Clay Risen says that the L.A. Times should have killed Claire Hoffman's much-blogged piece on 'Girls Gone Wild' founder Joe Francis. Risen says that Hoffman couldn't be objective, or shouldn't have assumed the mantle of objectivity, after Francis physically attacked her. Another reporter should have been assigned "to present Hoffman’s story as well as Francis’s." Note that a police officer, Ementi Coary, backs up Hoffman's version of events.

Charles Kaiser, in the New York Observer, notes that Donald Rumsfeld told a blatant lie about his past statements in Iraq, and no major news outlets reported the facts that contradicted him. Rumsfeld said that he had "never painted a rosy picture" about Iraq. Three major news outlets simply reported Rumsfeld's statement, even though Hillary Clinton had inserted thirteen overoptimistic Rumsfeld quotes into the Congressional Record.

Do these stories make you think that something is wrong with journalism's conventions of objectivity?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:26 PM | Comments (1)

'Any Other'

I'm summarizing some anti-contextualist arguments right now, and I find myself wanting to say things like:

McX argues that 'know' is not an indexical because it does not behave like any other indexical.

Is this sentence coherent? At least, is it coherent if I do not want to commit myself to the idea that 'know' is indexical?

The question here isn't about indexicals, it's about whether the phrase 'any other F [besides Y]' entails or presupposes that Y is in fact F. If it does, then I oughtn't to use 'any other indexical' unless 'know' is an indexical or (since it appears inside an attitude ascription) McX thinks it is. I suspect that this entailment or presupposition does hold, and so I should avoid sentences like this.

Though the sentence might work as a kind of projection, the sort that's usually used to explain "The ancients knew that the earth was the center of the universe, but now we know better" without abandoning the factivity of 'know'. Arguments like McX's usually run, "Suppose 'know' is an indexical. Then it should behave like other indexicals. But it doesn't behave like any other indexical. So it's not an indexical." Here "any other indexical" is OK because we are supposing that 'know' is an indexical; perhaps sentences like my original one are OK because we're projecting ourselves into McX's supposition.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:06 AM | Comments (5)

August 07, 2006

The Syntax of Beliefs

Ran across this sentence in an article about the Shakers (I too had thought they were all dead):

Known as Mother Ann, she was persecuted and jailed for preaching unorthodox beliefs such as sexual and racial equality, pacifism, and that God possesses both masculine and feminine traits.

It sounds funny to me—zeugmatic may be the technical term. To me it sounds as though there's faulty parallelism; at least there should be an 'and' before 'pacifism'. Even that doesn't sound great to me, but there may be something artifactual at work here;

unorthodox beliefs such as that God possesses both masculine and feminine traits

sounds bad to me, but

unorthodox beliefs; for instance, that God possesses both masculine and feminine traits

sounds fine. I don't know what's going on there; could it be something about 'such'?

In any case, I doubt that there's any deep moral about beliefs here. In a similar construction, this sounds terrible:

I was convinced that they would make the playoffs because of their record, their defensive strength, and that the other teams had tougher schedules.

But add 'the fact' and it's fine:

I was convinced that they would make the playoffs because of their record, their defensive strength, and the fact that the other teams had tougher schedules.

Add 'the idea' before 'that' to the Mother Ann sentence and it's fine too. So this doesn't seem to suggest that facts and beliefs can't be made parallel to other things, simply that they have to be made into nouns rather than that-clauses if they're to be made parallel to other nouns.

Note also that Mother Ann's beliefs were pretty great for the 18th century. Shame about the celibacy.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:54 AM | Comments (11)

August 04, 2006

Evidentiality Forever

I was just discussing the game Persian Monarchs in the works of P.G. Wodehouse. I remembered its appearance in "The Smile that Wins," but someone else pointed out that it also plays a role in Uncle Fred in the Springtime, which I'd forgotten. Then I was asked a question about a line involving Persian Monarchs, and said:

(1) That sounds like it must be from Uncle Fred in the Springtime.

Note two evidential markers here: 'sounds like' and 'must'. It might be thought that these are redundant, since 'sounds like' already implies a certain indirectness of my evidence. If I remembered that particular line from UFitS, I wouldn't have said 'sounds like'. But, in this case, what I was relying on was the fact that it didn't sound like it was from "The Smile that Wins." (I don't have TSTW memorized, so I have to go on 'sounds like'.) If it's not in TSTW, it must be in UFitS, since that's the only other work (so far as we know) that mentions Persian Monarchs. But I don't have direct evidence even that it sounds like it's from UFitS; I had to infer it. Hence the double evidential marking.

Of course, my intuitions on this are completely polluted. For the record, in the conversation I first typed it as (1), then changed 'must be' to 'is', then changed it back to 'must be' because I feared I'd be claiming too much familiarity with the role of Persian Monarchs in UFitS. And because I wanted to write this post.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:35 PM | Comments (1)

August 01, 2006

A Pittsburghese Curiosity

I was discussing the origin of the Pittsburgnese (and more generally, South Midlands) construction "This car needs washed." Is it to be construed as simply "need/wash" + past participle or does it result from the deletion of the copula 'to be'? And I ran across
this interesting article
about the portrayal of Pittsburghese in the local media.

Well, it may not be relevant to the argument, but the article brought an oddity to my attention. One of the potential Pittsburghisms cited in the article is "wants traded," where "Craig Wilson wants traded" would mean "Craig Wilson wants to be traded." And it cannot mean "Craig Wilson wants trading," because that just isn't English in any dialect I know of. "Wants traded" + "sports" has a fair number of relevant occurences, "wants to be traded" + "sports" has a ton, "wants trading" + "sports" hasn't a single one. And I can't think of any other formulation where "needs/wants" + present participle isn't acceptable in place of "needs/wants to be" + past participle. For instance, "The car needs washing" is fine. (Even if all the hits seem to be from discussions of Pittsburghese.) I thought it might have something to do with the instantaneous nature of trading, but I don't see hos that would differ from a contract needing renewing.

So, a curiosity.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:27 AM | Comments (7)