Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Oh boy. I'm five pages into Fodor and Piatelli-Palmarini's What Darwin Got Wrong and they have already introduced five entirely gratuitous acronyms, so that I'm reading sentences like (and here I exaggerate a little, but very little, for effect), "If we are correct that in ET, NS is separable from GS and, in its reliance on S-R, analogous to OT, then our case is made."

Why, oh why, do analytical philosophers write like this?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Inexplicable NFL Calls

The Vikings had the ball with a handful of seconds left in the first half. They tried a long bomb to Randy Moss. He caught it, but got called for pass interference. The Vikings then let the clock run out, although they had time for two more bombs.

One of the announcers was so puzzled that she went and asked Minnesota's head coach about it at halftime. His explanation? "We decided we were going to take one shot at it."

That's an explanation?! That describes what they did, but certainly does not explain it. You just saw Randy Moss could beat his defender. Why not let him try again? (And Moss agreed with me: He was clearly exasperated when the Vikings ran out the clock.) I see teams do this a lot. But why isn't it a straight probability calculation: Yes, there is some chance a bomb will be intercepted and returned for a touchdown, but isn't that a miniscule probability compared to the (still tiny) chance that your team will score?

Also: Brett Favre is done. Stick a fork in him. His desire to be the hero is destroying him. Both recent interceptions (I write this in Q 3) never should have been thrown at all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aristotle the Utopian

Having assigned my students a paper on Aristotle's economic thought, I was shocked to see how many of them characterized the Philosopher as "utopian" and "an idealist." I puzzled over this until I realized the cause: Any check, moral or legal, on acquisitiveness is seen by young people today as utopian! They cannot conceive that acquiring a certain amount of wealth, while often necessary to living a good life, is not sufficient; for them the good life simply is getting lots of stuff.

Markets are wonderful tools that promote allocative efficiency. But this is what happens when markets are allowed to run untrammeled over society: instead of being properly understood as tools, the tools are worshipped as ends in and of themselves. The moneychangers don't just have a booth in the temple; they are now the priests running it.

The Wellspring of Religious Tolerance

I was thinking about a recent post by Bob Murphy when I came across this:

"Since no name can apprehend the divine, or exhaust its meaning, it can therefore be conceded, on the other hand, that all names, in so far as they proceed from a genuine religious conviction and are conscious of their limited and mediate capacity, may be assured of a certain relationship to the divine. Thus apparent scepticism first opens the way to variety, freedom and scope in moral and religious ways of life, and transfers the centre of religious 'truth' from gogma to the ways of life themselves. Henceforth, neither variety nor contradiction in religion need give offence." -- Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England (Cassirer is here discussing the work of Nicolas of Cusa.)

Thus, religious tolerance and a frank admiration for religious diversity can be based not just upon a wishy-washy reluctance to hurt anyone's feelings, but also upon a sophisticated acknowledgement of the fact that we are talking about the ineffable, and it just can't be effed the way subway directions to the Bronx can be simply right or wrong. ("No, if you follow those directions, you will wind up on Staten Island.") From this point of view, asking "Which is the correct religion?" is somewhat like asking "What is the correct style of music?"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Boys

During WWII, a large flight of planes took off from two aircraft carriers. While they were away, one was sunk. Too many planes returned. When the hold was filled, the crew started tipping planes over the side so that others could land. This was duly reported in the stateside press, with the editorialization that this illustrated how much value our army put on the lives of our fighting men. Why did Martin, who told me this story, laugh?

How to (Subtly) Lie with Statistics

Look, I suspect the main thesis of this article is spot-on: Americans are less connected to their communities than they were a generation or two ago. But note the bogus maneuver executed in this paragraph:

"Moreover, the current that Putnam observed has, according to more recent studies, only intensified in the last decade. One study found that Americans had one-third fewer nonfamily confidants than they had 20 years earlier, and 25% had no one in whom to confide whatsoever. Another study of 3,000 Americans found that on average they had only four close social contacts, but these included family members like one's own spouse."

The theme of the paragraph is how Americans' isolation has "intensified in the last decade." And then several studies are cited to back that point. But, in fact, the last study cited, on its own, is totally irrelevant to the point at hand. It only describes the current state of American society, and gives us absolutely no traction for answering the question "Does this state of society represent an intensification of the trend Putnam observed?" Perhaps a decade ago, Americans had, on the average, only two close social contacts, so that this statistic represents a reversal of the "current" that Putnam observed. Now, I'm not saying that is the case: I'm only pointing out that a statistic that is essentially a static snapshot cannot tell us anything about the direction of a dynamic process, and that this author either was too dull to realize this or was deliberately bullshitting us by including it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Primate Experts Try to Ape Philosophy

Yikes, the results are ugly. Let's start with this:

"For those who believe that morality comes straight from God the creator, acceptance of evolution would open a moral abyss."

Yes, is why the Catholic Church has refused to accept evolution all these... Wait, say what? The Catholic Church never rejected Darwin's theories, and now fully accepts that humans evolved from primates? And what, St. Augustine actually anticipated Darwin by some 1400 years?

Oh, never mind.

OK, but what about this little proof of the (basic) irrelevance of God to morality?

"Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked social norms before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal? Humans must have worried about the functioning of their communities well before the current religions arose, which is only a few thousand years ago. Not that religion is irrelevant — I will get to this — but it is an add-on rather than the wellspring of morality."

So, if someone proposed to de Waal that gravity is essential to our bodies staying planted on the earth, I suppose his comeback would be, "Ha! Humans stayed on the surface of the earth long before Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity! So gravity is at most an add-on."

And he goes on to show that many animals exhibit forms of what we would consider moral behaviour. Which goes to show that God can't be the root of moral behaviour, since, as religious people admit, animals have nothing to do with God. Or, as de Waal puts it:

"I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today."

Yes, and it is clear that animal life doesn't depend on oxygen either, since oxygen was only discovered in the 1790s, and animal life existed long before then!

In short, de Waal has thoroughly confused the proposition "Morality springs from God" with the proposition "Morality springs from the idea of God."

What a muddle!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sir Isaac Newton, Part-Time Scientist

(I just found this in a comment and thought it should appear at the top level in the blog.)

Newton's priorities, in descending order of importance, seemed to be:

1) Perform dangerous alchemical experiments;
2) Work out odd theories of biblical exegesis;
3) Scheme to get his way within the Royal Society;
4) Run the mint;
5) Engage in priority disputes over 6) and 7);
6) Physical research, including other dangerous experiments such as inserting sharp needles deep into his eye socket; and
7) Mathematical research.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How's That, Chuck?

There is presently a controversy over counting absentee ballots from military personnel in New York -- details unimportant for our purposes. Chuck Schumer came on TV to comment on it, and said (I quote from memory) "These young men and women are fighting for our right to vote, and it's wrong to deny them theirs."

Ah, yes, Chuck, so the main platform of the Taliban is to deny American citizens the vote, is it?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Isn't Amazing...

how the evolutionary junta have no problem spouting off on philosophy (often, as in the case of Dawkins, really, really badly), but when a philosopher comments on the philosophy of evolutionary theory, throw a fit?

From the post:
"Of course, Fodor is not the first author to be on the receiving end of this “argument from professional jurisdiction.” This is the first rhetorical tick of any Darwinian when their theories are challenged; instantly, they complain that the critic has not properly understood evolutionary theory, and loudly lament the intrusion of the unscientific mind upon such topics."

The Presidential Election of 2008...

says something great about the spirit of the American people. To elect another Irishman so soon after Reagan was truly a healing gesture:

Instead of Working for Actually Possible Improvements...

it's more fun, and much, much easier, to sit back and dump on those who do!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Conoscete che cosa mi importuna?

I menu di DVD, quello è che cosa mi importuna. Sono progettati dalla gente che non ha utilizzato mai un computer? Il modo che queste cose dovrebbero lavorare è stato sistemato gli anni fa!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Holy Crap!

I walked out on the porch in PA last night. When I turned the corner of the house I found myself face to face with:

(This photo was taken after I scooted back inside, out the second floor window.) Although you can only see two in this photo, there were three -- one guy was busy digging up my newly planted daffodils in the front.

The worst part of the whole episode is that they pulled my pants off the clothesline... and pissed on them! Thems fightin' actions!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Slex voana irre menenthoushelie ktasthoeithadnrmen. De se sre naihk doeloeketrietie.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Signs of the Times

Man, for $25 I want my dinner post-fixed, not pre-fixed.

What?! You don't have a honey, luggage, and clothing store near you? What do you wear?

My Breakthrough Invention

So, my friend Gerry Scott and I are talking about how people wander around in a mobile-device-addiction haze. He said this very morning he saw someone step right in front of a city bus while texting on their iPhone. The guy behind him caught his collar and yanked the hapless pedestrian out of the way... and the fellow turned on his saviour and yelled, "What the hell are you doing?"

Gerry intervened, and said, "You were almost killed there, buddy -- you stepped right in front of a bus."

Gerry said the guy was stunned -- he had had no idea a bus was nearby. Which leads to my multi-million dollar invention: an IPhone app that alerts you when something is about to hit you. That way, you never, ever have to look up. You already have text there, sports scores, weather, your current location, voice mail, e-mail, and that beautiful sunset in the distance, why, you have a screensaver just like that! If I can just make this little app that flashes up and says, "Step back immediately!" or "Duck!" you're good to go.

Difficoltà che aggiunge le osservazioni

Blogger sembra incontrare difficoltà con l'aggiunta delle vostre osservazioni. Ci scusiamo.

(Trouble adding comments, mates.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Il genio di Hegel

"The only difference between being caught up in a system of opinions and prejudices based on personal conviction, and being caught up in one based on the authority of others, lies in the added conceit that is innate in the former position."

"The conceit which understands how to belittle every truth, in order to turn back into itself and gloat over its own understanding, which knows how to dissolve every thought and always find the same barren Ego instead of any content -- this is a satisfaction which we must leave to itself, for it flees the universal, and seeks only to be for itself."

Meanwhile, Here in the World of Actually Existing Capitalism

Our insurance company was disputing with us about where we lived (Brooklyn or Pennsylvania). Finally, we seemed to convince the person on the phone that the car is in Pennsylvania enough of the time that we qualify for insurance there. We were all set -- we thought.

The next we heard from them, it was a notice saying our insurance had been cancelled -- for several months! So, we called to sort this out. The lady on the phone explained that it was the fault of vague notes taken during the previous conversation, and our insurance would be restored.

"So," she added, "what we'll do is give you retroactive coverage for the time you had no insurance, and you can pay for that."

"But why," I asked, "do I need retroactive coverage, when I think there is little chance I will have a retroactive accident?"

"Well, otherwise, you'd have a break in coverage, and we'd have to charge you a lot more to restore your coverage."

"You mean, because you accidentally cancelled my coverage, I will have to pay a lot to have it restored, unless I now pay you for the time you weren't actually covering me?"

"Yes, that's right."

Ah, sweet freedom whispered in my ear, "You're a butterfly."

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...