Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Saturday, December 27, 2003
Monday, December 22, 2003
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Buckle Up Next Million MilesApparently it's a big government thing.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Monday, December 15, 2003
A friend who's in liquor production Owns a still of astounding construction. The alcohol boils Through old magnet coils; She says that it's "proof by induction." -- David M. SmithI'm almost done with my course requirements... I have one term paper to finish, and I'm optimistically thinking about finishing it late tonight. Of course, there's still a growing pile of undergrad papers waiting to be graded, but those are much less stress-inducing. So I expect to be a more interesting blogger again soon.
Friday, December 12, 2003
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
The [Pennsylvania] state Superior Court panel based its decision in part on a finding that exposing Kaylynne to polygamy posed a substantial threat to her. Roberts' lawyer, Richard K. Konkel, said learning about polygamy from her father could put Kaylynne at risk of "child abuse and sexual abuse and whatever else." "In a custody case, the best interests of the child is always paramount," Konkel said.Please explain the following three things to me, Richard K. Konkel. (1) What does polygamy have to do with child abuse? (2) What does polygamy have to do with sexual abuse? (3) Of what 'whatever else' are you concerned, and what does polygamy have to do with it? When answering these three questions, it may be useful to keep in mind the following: do these answers also provide reasons not to teach my child about the existence of God? UPDATE May 2006: I've had an email exchange with Mr. Konkel, and it's obvious to me now that I was judging things way too quickly when I wrote this, two and a half years ago; I was interpreting uncharitably to read offensive views that weren't there. I really feel pretty silly about it, now. I apologize to Mr. Konkel for the unfriendly attack, and to readers for having to read a pretty dumb rant.
Monday, December 08, 2003
Saturday, December 06, 2003
Friday, December 05, 2003
Feeling, or sensation, seems to be the lowest degree of animation we can conceive. We give the name of animal to every being that feels pain or pleasure; and this seems to be the boundary between the inanimate and animal creation.This point is not critical to Reid's argument, but I'm baffled as to why he would think this is true. Anyone see any plausibility in it at all?
Thursday, December 04, 2003
If great voices, vibrant costumes, and an enchanting plot are all it takes for you to consider a show worthwhile, then Ruddigore (or The Witch’s Curse) is your show... and then some. The show itself was eye-candy. The blocking was perfect, with the set being used to its fullest potential. The acting was good, full of well-timed one-liners that kept the audience laughing throughout. And most important, it was obvious that the cast truly enjoyed what they were doing, which is a sure sign of a good show.
"To Lizbie Browne" Thomas Hardy Dear Lizbie Browne, Where are you now? In sun, in rain? - Or is your brow Past joy, past pain, Dear Lizbie Browne? Sweet Lizbie Browne, How you could smile, How you could sing! - How archly wile In glance-giving, Sweet Lizbie Browne! And, Lizbie Browne, Who else had hair Bay-red as yours, Or flesh so fair Bred out of doors, Sweet Lizbie Browne? When, Lizbie Browne, You had just begun To be endeared By stealth to one, You disappeared My Lizbie Browne! Ay, Lizbie Browne, So swift your life, And mine so slow, You were a wife Ere I could show Love, Lizbie Browne. Still, Lizbie Browne, You won, they said, The best of men When you were wed Where went you then, O Lizbie Browne? Dear Lizbie Browne, I should have thought, "Girls ripen fast," And coaxed and caught You ere you passed, Dear Lizbie Browne! But, Lizbie Browne, I let you slip; Shaped not a sign; Touched never your lip With lip of mine, Lost Lizbie Browne! So, Lizbie Browne, When on a day Men speak of me As not, you'll say, "And who was he?" - Yes, Lizbie Browne.For the record, I like the song.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
- If I think, then I am.
- I think not. Therefore,
- I do not exist.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
- San Francisco 49ers
- Detroit Lions
- New England Patriots
- Houston Texans
- Cincinnati Bengals
- The entire AFC South
- Baltimore Ravens
- Green Bay Packers
- Philadelphia Eagles
- New York Giants
- Kansas City Chiefs
- St. Louis Rams
Monday, December 01, 2003
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Remember, while first-order moral judgments depend only on the consequences of an action, second-order judgments take many more things into account -- they consider everything that bears on what the consequences of our second-order judgments would be. This includes some considerations which do not depend on the first-order moral status of the action at all. Consider the following thought experiment. In the spirit of debates about consequentialism, my story will involve a trolley, but against that spirit, it will not involve any harms so bad as death. William, who is wheel-chair-bound, is near a trolley track. He knows that the afternoon trolley contains a quantity of baked goods, intended for the enjoyment of a group of children this, their last afternoon of school for the year. However, just as he sees the trolley approaching, he notices that the track switch is in the wrong position; unless something is done immediately, several seconds from now, when the trolley reaches the juncture, it will follow the wrong path and fail to deliver the cookies and cake to the children. William happens to be sitting with Alisha, a ten-year-old girl. He considers quickly explaining the situation and instructing her to turn the switch, but he realizes that he doesn't have enough time to get the message across. (Alisha doesn't speak English.) So, William pushes Alisha toward the switch. He throws her with enough force to cover the distance to the switch and still have enough momentum to push the switch into the correct position, but with a small enough amount of force such that he was reasonably sure she wouldn't be seriously injured, although the whole ordeal was likely to be somewhat physically painful for her. (The switch is not near the track, so there's no danger Allisha's falling in front of the trolley.) William's plan succeeds, and the trolley delivers the sweets to the kids. Alisha does not suffer any serious injury, and five minutes later, no pain remains. If the happiness brought to the children by the sweets outweighed the pain suffered by Alisha (and that suffered by the over-sugared children's' parents), and there was no other way to solve the problem, then William's action satisfied the utilitarian formula and maximized happiness in the world. But it would probably not be praiseworthy -- William demonstrated a lack of a protective instinct against harm to children. We might criticize William, admonishing him for his ready willingness to hurt a child, even for the greater good. We could reason, what if everyone were as willing as William to hurt children? This would surely result in more hurting of children, which is first-order bad! Even if we were assured that William acted out of the best utilitarian intentions, calculating probabilities of variously-valued outcomes, and were careful to specifically praise his calm, moral deliberation, this would still be likely to have a bad result. Suppose that many others were encouraged by William's example, and were careful always to be ready to hurt children in situations were such that doing so would maximize utility. This would also be undesirable, because it would also inevitably lead to more child-harm than good. People are not reliable judges of when it's best to ignore rules of thumb. That's why utilitarians encourage character traits and dispositions in the first place.Comments welcome -- particularly smart-ass ones. My favorite part of the thought experiment is the first parenthetical.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Marriage is in crisis because marriage, which relies on a culture of fidelity, is now asked to survive in a culture of contingency. ... Still, even in this time of crisis, every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity — except homosexuals. ... We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.I found this interesting for two reasons. First, because it's a very different argument than I'm used to hearing from the right, and second, because it's a good object lesson for validity and soundness of arguments, which I discussed a few days ago. Here's an oversimplified version of the argument:
- Sex, including homosexual sex, outside of marriage is bad.
- The more marriage, including homosexual marriage, there is, the less sex outside of marriage there will be. Therefore,
- It is good to encourage homosexuals to marry.
Monday, November 24, 2003
Sunday, November 23, 2003
C: If this sentence (C) is true, then Santa Claus exists. (1) If C is true, then If C is true, then Santa Claus exists. (1') If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then (if C is true, then Santa Claus exists). (2) If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then Santa Claus exists. (3) If C is true, then Santa Claus exists. (4) Santa Claus exists.I said that to go from (3) to (4), we used modus ponens on (3) and (3). Modus ponens is one of the basic rules of logic. Basically, it says that any time you know A, and also know "if A, then B", you can conclude "B". Here's an example of valid use of modus ponens:
- If Jonathan is rich, I'm a monkey's uncle.
- Jonathan is rich.
- Therefore, by modus ponens on (1) and (2), I'm a monkey's uncle.
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Thursday, November 20, 2003
(1) If C is true, then If C is true, then Santa Claus exists.Or, to spell it out,
(1') If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then (if C is true, then Santa Claus exists).Note that the parenthetical antecedent is true when C is true (after all, that's what C means), so (1) pretty clearly entails by modus ponens,
(2) If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then Santa Claus exists.But since the italic claim in (2) above just is C, (2) is pretty clearly also equivalent to C. So let's sub it in:
(3) If C is true, then Santa Claus exists.(3), of course, is equivalent to C. So it follows from modus ponens on (3) and (3),
(4) Santa Claus exists.Of course, you should feel free to sub in your favorite implausible claim for "Santa Claus exists". This argument would be equally effective at proving that God exists, or that the St. Louis Rams are worthy of praise. There's a lot of big logic-y words in my explanation, but it's actually all very intuitive... if talk of modus ponens and equivalence and entailment makes your eyes glaze over, then just look at the numbered sentences -- you should be able to see that they follow logically from one another. UPDATE 11/21: I had no idea that "Santa Claus" didn't have an "e" in it. How very, very strange.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
- (premise)Jonathan has a blog.
- (premise)Anyone who has a blog uses the internet. Therefore,
- (conclusion) Jonathan uses the internet.
- (premise) Emily has a nephew.
- (premise) Anyone with a nephew must love children. Therefore,
- (conclusion) Emily loves children.
- (premise) Jonathan's name is "Jonathan". Therefore,
- (conclusion) Jonathan is male.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Monday, November 17, 2003
You are in hell and facing an eternity of torment, but the devil offers you a way out, which you can take once and only once at any time from now on. Today, if you ask him to, the devil will toss a fair coin once and if it comes up heads you are free (but if tails then you face eternal torment with no possibility of reprieve). You don't have to play today, though, because tomorrow the devil will make the deal slightly more favourable to you (and you know this): he'll toss the coin twice but just one head will free you. The day after, the offer will improve further: 3 tosses with just one head needed. And so on (4 tosses, 5 tosses, ... 1000 tosses ...) for the rest of time if needed. So, given that the devil will give you better odds on every day after this one, but that you want to escape from hell some time, when should accept his offer?I recognized that this was a fascinating problem, and presented the following in a comment:
Following is what is surely a bad argument for the conclusion that if I'm a rational agent, for any day, it's not soon enough. Unfortunately, I can't see what's wrong with the argument. Suppose it's now day k. I could take the chance now, or wait until tomorrow. By choosing to wait until tomorrow, I incur the disutility of an additional day of torture -- but I also gain some finite probability of an infinite utility -- to leave hell. Therefore, this probability should carry greater weight in a judgmentl judgement than the finite day of torture, and I should wait another day. Of course, if this is right, it suggests that we should NEVER take the devil's offer -- and that's pretty clearly just dumb. I'm not sure what this tells us, other than that this is an interesting question.In the undergrad course for which I'm grading this semester, we talked last week about Pascal's Wager -- in a nutshell, Pascal argued that a rational self-interested agent should believe in God, because in so doing, he has everything to gain, and very little to lose. Here is a possible more formal reconstruction: Let A be the world in which I believe in God, and B be that in which I do not believe in God. Suppose God exists. Then A leads to everlasting bliss, and B leads to eternal damnation. So A is better for me by an infinite amount. Suppose God doesn't exist. Then there is no afterlife, so B is preferable to A by the cost of believing in God (after all, it's not fun to be virtuous) -- maybe 25 hedon-hours. Then for any non-zero probability of God's existence, the expected utility from A is greater than that from B -- because it's infinite. So the prudentially rational person will believe in God. But surely this isn't right. This example is from Felicia Nimue Ackerman, given in class: suppose I'm offered a highly experimental drug, which has a 99% chance of torturing me to death (finite disutility), and a 1% chance of eternal bliss (infinite utility). I wouldn't take the drug, and I'm not inclined to think I'm therefore being irrational. The drug case, Pascal's Wager, and the bargain with the devil all have in common that they involve comparisons of infinite utility with finite utility. So one possible conclusion is just that infinite numbers just aren't allowed into the expected utility game -- this is rather unsatisfying, though, because I want there to be a correct answer to each of these cases. Another, more drastic, possible solution is that there is no fact of the matter what a rational person would do in general -- personal risk-affinity should be a factor... but this doesn't seem right to me, either. Alas. I'm going to go read Jerry Fodor on acquired perception now.
Saturday, November 15, 2003
Friday, November 14, 2003
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
While exotic theories like quantum mechanics and general relativity violate our common expectations of causation and determinism, one routinely assumes that ordinary Newtonian mechanics will violate these expectations only in extreme circumstances if at all. That is not so. Even quite simple Newtonian systems can harbor uncaused events and ones for which the theory cannot even supply probabilities. ... Here is an example of such a system fully in accord with Newtonian mechanics. It is a mass that remains at rest in a physical environment that is completely unchanging for an arbitrary amount of time—a day, a month, an eon. Then, without any external intervention or any change in the physical environment, the mass spontaneously moves off in an arbitrary direction, with the theory supplying no probabilities for the time or direction of the motion.If you're not excited and shocked by this point, then you're not me. Norton goes on to set up the system, in which a mass rests frictionlessly on top of a dome. He gives mathematical definitions of the dome and the force of gravity. He observes that Newton's first and second laws can be trivially solved for the mass' location at all times t, in r(t) = 0, the apex. But he also identifies a second solution class in which the mass starts moving in any radial direction after any arbitrary time T! Unfortunately, my calculus is too rusty to check the math, but I have every confidence that he's right. Again, I have nothing to say other than that I find this surprising and interesting. If you do too, check it out... he explains this system in detail in §3 of his paper, starting on page 8. There's a good diagram, too. The paper is available online as pdf or gif images of each page. If you understand the science (or the philosophy) better than I do, I'd appreciate enlightening.
Monday, November 10, 2003
Now I'm all for occasional doses of overheated language to enliven our political discourse, but Bernstein’s rhetoric verges on the bizarre. Canada has adopted some (relatively moderate) free speech restrictions in its Charter, but by most reasonable definitions of the word, it isn't an authoritarian society. Nor is it likely to become one anytime soon. There’s a rhetorical slippage in Bernstein’s argument, between government-enforced restrictions on free speech and political authoritarianism/totalitarianism. They’re rather different things. States can have some restriction on free speech and remain democratic. France and Germany have done it for fifty-odd years.In general, I find this kind of development more alarming then Henry does, but that's not my point here. What I'd like to address is the confusion of the logical relationship between authoritarianism/totalitarianism and democracy. People make this mistake very often, and I've always been a bit puzzled by it. I'm no political theorist (although I was a poli sci. major for a few semesters), but I was under the impression that democracy and authoritarianism were completely different things, and not conceptually inconsistent. Democracy refers to the sources of political legitimacy and power, and totalitarianism is concerned with how much the government interferes in private life. Therefore, when David says that a country can restrict free speech and still be a democracy, of course that's true -- but it doesn't mean it's therefore not totalitarian. Suppose that the large Christian majority in a country voted to forbid the practice of minority religions -- this law would be both democratic and totalitarian. Of course "totalitarian" is vague, and I'm pretty sure that Henry's right to claim that describing Canada as a "totalitarian theocracy" is an exaggeration. But I don't think David is outside the realm of reason to suggest that a case like the one he links constitutes becoming a little bit more totalitarian. Democracy is just not the issue.
Friday, November 07, 2003
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora had never drawn an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty until Sunday, when he became unhinged over a holding call that preceded a San Francisco goal-line stand. Mora, who was smiling during post-game interviews, claimed he thought carefully about his actions before line judge Mark Steinkerchner pulled out his yellow flag and threw it in front of the 49ers' bench. "You know, I figured that was a good time to get my first NFL penalty," Mora said, "because it was only going to be a one-yard penalty. It was either going to be first-and-goal from the 2 or first-and-goal from the 1, so I just told (the official) how I felt about it. ... Mora said 49ers coach Dennis Erickson told him to calm down when the argument with Steinkerchner began. But when Mora explained the penalty wouldn't be expensive yardage-wise, he said, "Dennis went after him, too."Here's to football.
Monday, November 03, 2003
Sunday, November 02, 2003
A man goes to his local grocery store once a week and buys a frozen chicken. But before cooking and eating the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it. He never tells anyone about what he does, never regrets it and never shows any ill effects from behaving this way. He remains an upstanding member of his community. a) Is anyone harmed by this man's sexual activities with a chicken (assume there are no ethical problems with meat eating)?Philosophy is fun. Anyway, go check out the quiz. You want a bonus picture? Ok.
Friday, October 31, 2003
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
On whether it's morally permissible for a boss to fire an employee for performing a morally impermissible action when off-hours
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
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Top 10 Average
Top 10 Average
Monday, October 27, 2003
Although Terri's husband wants to let her die, her parents do not. They apparently hold the delusional belief that Terri is going to be just fine.Rule of law out the window.At a press conference, Bob and Mary Schindler repeated previous statements that they believe their daughter can respond to them when they visit. They dispute statements by doctors who say she is in a "persistent vegetative state," and they criticized media organizations for what they see as bias.It's really very sad. The parents also have a web site, with heartbreaking and pathetic captions to photographs like "Terri responds happily to her mother's affection."
Read the editorial I linked about the Florida House. Here it is again. The point of it is that the courts know best, and ought to be making the tough calls, and the legislature just strong-armed its way in because it didn't like what the courts were doing.Really bad arguments.
The following quotations are from an editorial by Judie Brown, president of the American Life League. The nonblockquoted observations, rebuttals, and sarcastic comments are from a blog entry by Jonathan Ichikawa, graduate student at Brown University.This story makes me sad, and the reactions to it I've discussed make me frustrated.In a court of law, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. They must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused actually did commit a crime. In the case of a severely disabled woman whose starvation death was ordered by a Florida judge, the court of law has not determined her guilt or innocence, because she committed no crime. The court has preferred to arrogantly deem it compassionate to put her out of her alleged misery by sanctioning an act of murder.Congratulations, Ms. Brown, you've managed to correctly understand that this is not a criminal trial. I don't even have to explain why this wouldn't be murder.But in the case of Terri Schiavo, who is not terminally ill, and was not near death until the starvation process began, it has been ruled that her life is not worthy to be lived. Thus others were willing to impose on her a slow, agonizing death by starvation.On this one I have to admit that I haven't heard all the details, but my understanding is that in cases like this, suffering is not an issue. There will be no agonizing on Terri's part, either because she has no brain activity and therefore no conscious experience at all, or because they'll be treating her with pain kills. I'm disappointed in the media for not making it easier to find out what her exact physical status is -- anyone know more than I do?That is murder according to the natural law; but according to the Florida judicial system, it is an exercise in compassion. So much for human justice!One man's so much for human justice is another man's so much for "the natural law"!The sad reality is ... that Florida's Catholic bishops have been virtually silent. [They] said the Church could not make a decision regarding whether Terri Schiavo should be starved to death. These bishops urged that more time be given prior to Terri's imposed death by starvation so that "greater certainty as to her true condition" could be reached. How much more certainty does one need that a living, breathing human being will die if he or she is denied access to food and water?The bishops, one can only assume, have apparently made the genuinely enlighted realization that quality of life is a determining factor in a life's worth. Unlike you, Ms. Brown, the bishops recognize the possibility of subtle and complicated issues that go far beyond "life good, death bad".As the moments continued to pass, and the very life ebbed out of this lovely young woman at the center of this storm of controversy, one could only wonder what it really means to be innocent until proven guilty.Ok, maybe I was wrong. I might have exaggerated a little when I suggested that you understood that this was not a criminal trial.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
I am willing to do whatever it takes to be successful and for my team to win.This quotation, out of context, sounds like just the right thing to say -- the "team player" line, just wanting his Bucs to win, etc. It's funny, however, given the context: Michael Irving had just asked him whether he'd consider leaving Tampa Bay for another team where he would be used more effectively. So "my team" in Johnson's quotation apparently referenced not the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, but whatever team Keyshawn Johnson happens to be on. I'm not criticizing Johnson or his attitude -- I'm merely remarking that it was an amusing use of a relative article.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
Jesus actor struck by lightning Actor Jim Caviezel has been struck by lightning while playing Jesus in Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion Of Christ. The lightning bolt hit Caviezel and the film's assistant director Jan Michelini while they were filming in a remote location a few hours from Rome. It was the second time Michelini had been hit by lightning during the shoot.The Onion couldn't have done better.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Friday, October 17, 2003
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Defense Secretary Donald H . Rumsfeld and the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff publicly defended a new deputy undersecretary of defense of intelligence with a reported penchant for publicly casting the war on terrorism in religious terms. Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, whose promotion and appointment was confirmed by the Senate in June, has said publicly that he sees the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. Appearing in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, Boykin said Islamic extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan."Right now, I don't have time to go into this in detail. Or the stomach. I'm disgusted.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
['How to be Gay'] "legitimizes behavior that literally puts the lives of young people at risk," Glenn continued, adding that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice, as opposed to race, which was unchangeable. "There are no former African Americans," he said.Emphasis and clarificatory block-quote by me. Avoid the temptation to argue with the second claim, and focus on the first one. I've helped you by italicizing it. What's Glenn talking about? Is he worried that gay men might become the victims of hate crimes? And why would the BDH print a statement like that without giving it a little bit of background, or context, or justification, or refutation, or anything? Like the Patriot Act story, linked above, I haven't found any other news source reporting this feature of the story. This time, of course, the surprising statement is a quotation, and so I have to conclude it actually occurred. But seriously, folks: huh????