Saturday, January 31, 2004

Here's to The Super Bowl

Since when am I long-winded and nostalgic? It might very well be prudent to skip this post -- it's probably much more interesting to me than to you. Brayden King has a sociologist's salute to Super Bowl Sunday:
Americans consume more food on Super Bowl Sunday than they do on any day other than Thanksgiving (according to the American Institute of Food Distribution). The California Avocado Commission claims that Americans eat over 8 million pounds of guacamole alone on Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl has become to food consumption what Christmas is to retail sales. ... The Super Bowl is a group event (unlike the NFC or AFC championship games which may be slothfully watched by a lone beer guzzler). The average number of people attending a Super Bowl party is 17 (according to Hallmark). With all of the partying and socializing going on, Super Bowl weekend also happens to be the slowest weekend for weddings. (Can you imagine the horror of the bride's father when she tells him to schedule the reception hall on Super Bowl Sunday??). For Americans the Super Bowl is a ritual of great cultural importance - a moment of collective effervescence. ... it is one of those events that more people in the U.S. take part in than not. So without overly-intellectualizing this great moment of social solidarity, find some friends, pop open a can of your favorite beverage, and enjoy the weekend's fanfare. Who's playing anyway?
I was thinking about Super Bowls today. My earliest football memory is watching Joe Montana lead the 49ers to a last minute 102-yard comeback Drive to win Super Bowl XXIII in 1989. I haven't missed a Super Bowl since -- and I've only been a serious NFL fan for two or three years. Some people find the prospects of a Patriots/Panthers matchup underwhelming. I do not. I love to watch defenses, and these are two of the best in a long time. And one must appreciate Carolina's Cinderella-status. Plus, they beat the Rams, which counts for a lot in my book. I'll be pulling for New England, because I have all season (plus hey, I live here now), but it's been a long time since the Super Bowl has had two teams, both of which I like this much. Some of my best memories are Super Bowl parties. I remember watching the Broncos beat the Packers with Ellen, my first girlfriend, in my arms my junior year of high school. I remember cheering as the Rams beat the Titans my freshmen year at Rice, because Adrian had played as the Titans in our Madden 2000 season. (I rooted for the Rams as recently as 2000!?!?) I remember the Ravens beating the Giants at Carmen's, where I watched in the company of several people who would eventually become by best friends. And of course, the Patriots and the Bucs in the WRC PDR, perhaps the most comfortable place in the world. (There are some seriously nice couches and chairs there.) Tomorrow is looking like it plans to be my first solo Super Bowl-viewing -- hopefully that'll be fun too. Someday I'll go to a Super Bowl. Not, alas, tomorrow. Here's to the Super Bowl.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Common-Sense dictates mocha as a first principle?

Someone clicked through today to this blog as the 8th google hit for "Thomas Reid" Starbucks. (Thomas Reid was an 18th-century Scottish philosopher.) Oh yeah, and if you're looking to keep track of my life, I'm now back in Providence after a great time in Houston. I'm getting back into the swing of things. Go me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Always and especially

In the Introduction of each* O'Connor's book (the products made by Jones McClure Publishing, my oft-employer), the following text appears above the lists of JMP staff who work on the books:
RESEARCH & VERIFICATION As always, the editorial staff of Jones McClure worked especially hard in ensuring the accuracy of this publication both for substantive citation to the law and for precision of the layout and page design. The persons who worked on this edition of O'Connor's Employment Codes Plus are listed below.
Is it conceptually coherent for us to always work especially hard? We work hard... but only especially hard about half the time. *Books other than the Employment Code book vary in bold italic text.

RSS

Blogger now seems to offer an RSS feed. If you use such things, give it a try on my blog and let me know how it works. My old third-party RSS thingy is also still active. I don't really know much about these things, so if you think one's better than the other, or think I'm doing something wrong, please let me know. Thanks to Brian for the tip.

Morality and Liberals

David Callahan has an interesting and worthwhile post at the Cheating Culture Weblog. A sample:
The problem is that few Democrats--on the campaign trail or off--have done well at moving beyond the Clinton strategy of playing defense on values. Democrats tend to operate in a debate defined by the right. They are good at mentioning their long marriages or their belief in personal responsibility. They slip in references to God and the Bible. And more Democrats now frame issues such as healthcare through a "family" lens, reflecting advice from pollster Stanley Greenberg and others. Edwards has been the most aggressive of the Democrats in attempting to move the values debate onto home turf by couching the liberal ideals of fairness and opportunity in strong moral language. This is good stuff, and I think it points the way to the future of the Democratic party. Democrats need to sharpen their core values, and then hammer them home again and again.
Secular morality... apparently a big theme for me the last few days.

Apparently, that's an argument

I read this story from the BBC:
A medical ethics adviser has provoked controversy by comparing the morality of abortion with that of infanticide. Professor John Harris said it was not "plausible to think there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal". He questioned whether there was any moral difference between infanticide and a late abortion in the event of severe brain damage. ... "The geographical location of the developing human, whether it is inside the womb or not, is not the sort of thing that can make a moral difference."
This is a serious challenge for people who oppose (morally) infanticide, but not abortion. But apparently, those who care about these issues aren't interested in serious challenges:
Pro-life activists called the BMA adviser's comments "horrifying". ... Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said Professor Harris's views were dangerous and that the ethicist had indulged in "a philosopher's mind game".
I hate that "ooh, you're just doing philosophy" can actually pass for a rebuttal in some circles.
"He is wrong in saying there is no moral change that occurs in the process of birth. "That is a change that is recognised in the law. Most parents would recognise their views about their newborn baby are considerably different than their views about the foetus in the mother a day earlier." Julia Millington, political director of the ProLife Party, whose question prompted Professor Harris's remarks, told the Sunday Telegraph: "Infanticide is murder and is against the law."
Millington and Nicholson seem to be making an even more obvious mistake than Margaret Somervile's confusion regarding gay marriage. Do they seriously believe that the illegality of infanticide settles the moral issue? Surely they recognize that it's conceptually possible for something to be illegal but not (otherwise) immoral (presumably, they think this about pre-Roe abortion), or legal but immoral (I hope they think this about husbands cheating on their wives). Abortion, sad to say, is one of those issues that is so highly-charged that people are entirely unwilling to engage in dialogue about it. These pro-choice complainers get as far as recognizing that Professor Harris's suggestion runs at least slightly contrary to their point of view, and just start blasting away. And no, I certainly do not think that pro-lifers are more rational in these debates.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Sunday, January 25, 2004

"There's something you need to know about me, Donna. I don't like people knowing things about me."

Brian linked to question from Language Log last week. Geoffrey Pullum encountered an utterance which he found odd. He solicited input, but as far as I know, hasn't gotten any answers. I'm nothing like an expert, but I have a position on the issue. The text in question: There's something you need to know about me, Donna. I don't like people knowing things about me. Geoffrey wondered:
Is there a hint of the liar paradox there? Is it coherent to tell someone (i.e., cause someone to know) that you don't like people knowing things about you, which entails that you don't want them knowing that you don't like people knowing things about you, which is precisely what you have just caused them to know about you? Is it merely self-contradictory? Or does it have no truth value at all, like This sentence makes a false claim?
I don't find it at all problematic to say something like this -- it's neither self-contradictory nor paradox-causing. Consider the Liar paradox, which is italic in Geoffrey's text. "This sentence is false". If that sentence true, then it truthfully describes of itself that it's false. But if it's false, then it falsely describes itself as false, which means it's true. This is a genuinely interesting paradox -- every obviously possible interpretation leads to a contradiction. Not so of the "knowing about self" utterance. It might be true both that I hate people knowing things about me, and that it's very important for you to know that about me. Maybe I'm a very secretive person, to the point of being unable to function normally in society, and you're my psychiatrist. Or maybe I'm very secretive and also have, as a repressed memory, the secret to disarming the nuclear weapon that's about to destroy Manhattan. Of course, there is something odd about the utterance in question. But it's not odd in a paradoxical way -- it's merely odd in the sense that most people wouldn't say it. That's because most people, when they want (not X) don't deliberately cause X. But it's possible. I think the speech act in question is exactly as odd as the utterance of any of the following:
  • "I hate using the word 'hate'."
  • "I hate mentioning the word 'mention'."
  • "I wish I never spoke English."
  • "I want to always use textbook-perfect grammar."
There's something funny about each of these, but it's not a logical contradiction like "this sentence is false" or "I'm hungry and not hungry." It's merely that each of these sentences, if true, looks prima facia to be a sentence that ought not to be uttered.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Anti-Adoption?

Earlier this afternoon, I posted about a secular argument from Margaret Somerville against gay marriage. In the discussion from the comments to that post, Matthew expressed sympathy with one of Somerville's complaints about the legalization of gay marriage. In her words, as quoted in my first post:
And marriage could not establish the general norm that children have a right to know and be brought up by their biological parents and to identify their genetic relatives. These functions of marriage are important for both individuals and society, especially children.
I quipped in response:
(One must assume, of course, that Professor Somerville is also opposed to adoption.)
Matthew wasn't bothered by this. He said:
Well I'm anti-adoption myself. At least to the degree that I think it'd be great if kids could have healthy, supportive, relationships w/ their biological parents.
Well, I'm also anti-adoption to that degree. But this degree is pretty small. It's the degree that means I'd be opposed to a policy of allowing would-be adopters to steal infants away from biological parents who are looking for healthy, supportive relationships with their children. Of course, this isn't the way that adoption works. Almost all sets of parents who have children and want to healithy support and raise them do so. The cases where they do not generally involve tragedies and do not figure into this debate. The only kids who get adopted are kids who, for some reason or other, don't have biological parents choosing to raise them. Maybe the parents are dead, maybe they're too poor, maybe they're in prison, or maybe they just really don't want kids. To oppose the adoption of these unfortunate kids is not to support biological parenting -- it's to support the continued orphan-status of parentless children. There are no kids who would suffer from homosexual marriage, unless you're prepared to argue that having homosexual non-biological parents is worse than having no parents at all. At any rate, being pro-biological-parent-having in no way provides a reason to be anti-homosexual marriage. (As a side note, this discussion reminds me a little bit of Brian Weatherson's discussion of cloning a couple months ago. He thought that the possible reduction in adoption rates as a result of the availability of cloning technology represented one of the strongest arguments against the legalization of cloning.)

Pre-Med: the Musical!

Katie just pointed me to Ben Hayden's website, which includes a page dedicated to Pre-Med: the Musical, a student-written show I acted in my freshman year at Rice. Check it out if you want to read some hilarious lyrics and/or hear how good a singer I was four years ago. I had solo material in "We need an A", "I only want to date a premed", and "We love Rondolet". I also wrote some of the lyrics for each of those songs. It was a fun and silly show, and I'm glad Ben has a site for it.

Some thoughts on gay marriage

Matthew responds to a question on my link to the story about Ohio's new ban on gay marriage. Clayton had wondered whether there were any genuinely good arguments against legalization of gay marriage. Matthew points to Margaret A. Somerville as an example of a person who's provided a secular argument against marriage. We should remember, of course, that 'secular' doesn't necessarily imply 'good'. In this particular case, however, I believe Professor Somervile's argument to be neither secular nor good. She thinks there are important differences between the question of recognition of same-sex marriage and that of the granting of recognition for same-sex partnerships. And so do I. But I don't think it plays out the way she does:
Sexual identity and behaviour are primarily personal, private matters -- although some people, in some circumstances, may choose to make the personal political. For religious reasons, or otherwise, some regard homosexual behaviour as immoral. They have a right to such a belief.... But, in a secular, democratic society that respects human rights and constitutionally protects people against discrimination, that belief itself (as compared with the fact that they hold that belief) cannot inform law or public policy. ... Marriage is a different matter. It is both a civil and religious institution and it cannot be changed in its civil aspects without affecting its religious elements. That means that religions have a valid voice in influencing the decision, especially when the change goes to the inherent nature of marriage.
Why is the legal institution of marriage a religious institution? If marriage is actually a fundamentally religious arrangement, then that is exactly a reason why the government should stay out of it. We don't think our governments should regulate tithing which is both religious and civil (in the sense in which some churches provide valuable charitable services with their funds). Of course, this argument doesn't go through, because marriage needn't be a religious instution. There are perfectly good secular reasons to have families and marriage-like partnerships. I think part of the problem is that Professor Somerville, like so many people, has a tendency to conflate morality with religion. This quote is extremely troubling:
Opposing same-sex marriage for secular reasons is not, however, the same as opposing it just on moral or religious grounds. The former are a valid basis for public policy and law and should be taken into account by all politicians.
Surely she doesn't believe that moral beliefs are not permitted to influence policy! There's a very good moral reason that there's a law against, say, murder. It's that murder is immoral. Of course, a good many people take their morality from their religions. There are lots of problems with divine command theory, and I don't want to go into them today, but I hope we can agree that there is conceptual space for morality without religion. That's the whole point of a government free of religion -- it's free to do the moral thing without the complication and interference of a religion. Somerville does mention two secular arguments against gay marriage:
Secular reasons for opposing same-sex marriage include the idea that marriage could no longer institutionalize and symbolize the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman.
This seems half-reasonable... but I'm left wondering why we should care. What's so important about the inherenty procreative relationship between a man and a woman? It's not like we have a problem with a dwindling population.
And marriage could not establish the general norm that children have a right to know and be brought up by their biological parents and to identify their genetic relatives. These functions of marriage are important for both individuals and society, especially children.
Why not? Because all the kids that would be born of heterosexual couples will suddenly appear in the custody of gay parents instead? Who are the kids that Professor Somervile is worried about losing genetic identity? How would gay marriage hurt them? (One must assume, of course, that Professor Somerville is also opposed to adoption.)

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Gay marriage banned in Ohio

MSNBC story.
Jay Hottinger introduced a bill in the House. Hottinger, now a senator, said the bill was not an attack on homosexuals but rather was meant to protect a traditional definition of marriage. "Ohio must be able to clearly establish and define our own laws, rather than have another state or country define something as important as marriage," said Hottinger, a Republican.
One could imagine a reasonable person, family, or religious group saying something very similar, replacing "Ohio" with its own name, and replacing "another state or country" with "some government."

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Rice Sports Blog

I've added a link in my sidebar to Mariner Optimist, a blog run by a Rice grad who intends to provide updates on Rice athletics.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

When worlds collide

Once More With Hobbits The Lord of the Rings is retold using music from the Buffy musical. A sample:
BILBO: Every single year The same arrangement Fireworks and food and beer But this time I feel A strange estrangement Nothing here is real My departure's near I don't think he knows But when I go This will all be Frodo's 'Cause I've been going through the motions Walking through the part The open road is calling to my heart Soon I'll leave the Shire To write my opus But I find I'm wavering Now I feel desire To keep my precious - No, I'll leave the ring
Check it out. I think there are even MP3s, although I haven't listened to them yet. (My favorite is #3.)

Monday, January 19, 2004

Just call me 'amigo'

I had a long ponytail until last August, and now I don't. Apparently, I now look Hispanic. The homeless man downtown this afternoon brings to six the number of strangers who have unexpectedly begun speaking to me in Spanish.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Rival Curates

List while the poet trolls Of Mr. Clayton Hooper, Who had a cure of souls At Spiffton-extra-Sooper He lived on curds and whey, And daily sang their praises, And then he'd go and play With buttercups and daisies. Wild crôquet Hooper banned, And all the sports of Mammon, He warred with cribbage, and He exorcised backgammon. His helmet was a glance That spoke of holy gladness; A saintly smile his lance, His shield a tear of sadness. His Vicar smiled to see This armour on him buckled; With pardonable glee He blessed himself and chuckled: "In mildness to abound My curate's sole design is, In all the country round There's none so mild as mine is!" And Hooper, disinclined His trumpet to be blowing, Yet didn't think you'd find A milder curate going. A friend arrived one day At Spiffton-extra-Sooper, And in this shameful way He spoke to Mr. Hooper: "You think your famous name For mildness can't be shaken, That none can blot your fame-- But, Hooper, you're mistaken! "Your mind is not as blank As that of Hopley Porter, Who holds a curate's rank At Assesmilk-cum-Worter. "/He/ plays the airy flute, And looks depressed and blighted, Doves round about him 'toot,' And lambkins dance delighted. "/He/ labours more than you At worsted work, and frames it; In old maids' albums, too, Sticks seaweed -- yes, and names it!" The tempter said his say, Which pierced him like a needle-- He summoned straight away His sexton and his beadle. These men were men who could Hold liberal opinions: On Sundays they were good-- On week-days they were minions. "To Hopley Porter go, Your fare I will afford you-- Deal him a deadly blow, And blessings shall reward you. "But stay--I do not like Undo assassination, And so, before you strike, Make this communication: "I'll give him this one chance-- If he'll more gaily bear him, Play crôquet, smoke and dance, I willingly will spare him." They went, those minions true, To Assesmilk-cum-Worter, And told their errand to The Reverend Hopley Porter. "What?" said that reverend gent, "Dance through my hours of leisure? Smoke?--bathe myself with scent?-- Play crôquet? Oh, with pleasure! "Wear all my hair in curl? Stand at my door, and wink--so-- At every passing girl? My brothers, I should think so! "For years I've longed for some Excuse for this revulsion: Now that excuse has come-- I do it on compulsion!!!" He smoked and winked away-- This Reverend Hopley Porter-- The deuce there was to pay At Assesmilk-cum-Worter. And Hooper holds his ground, In mildness daily growing-- They think him, all around, The mildest curate going.
by W.S. Gilbert

Friday, January 16, 2004

Introducing the GASMAKER

The following email came to Savoynet today. I generally share John's sentiments, and love his new page.
From: savoynet@bridgewater.edu on behalf of John Spartan Sent: Fri 1/16/2004 4:03 PM To: Multiple recipients of list SAVOYNET Subject: The GAS MAKER I, for one, think we should have our way with the music and the libretto. The sky's the limit. Just look at the Statford production where the Pirate King is suddenly reading Shakespeare with every entrance and exit - for no reason what-so-ever - and yet I can not fathom why Gilbert did not think of this brilliant approach. I say - change 'em all! And so, I have programmed the GAS MAKER. It uses a random generator that assigns a Gilbertian character with some totally unnecessary and unrelated character development. Have a look: http://www.geocities.com/ulahlica/GM/GASMAKER.html Next time you direct, feel free to use my little characterization device free of charge and maybe we can make Gilbert and Sullivan funny again. John S LI NY
Check out the GASMAKER.

It almost makes me wish I could boycott the Super Bowl

Brian Leiter directs attention to this story.
U.S. football fans will not see ads featuring scantily clad vegetarians or a political attack on President Bush (news - web sites) during February's Super Bowl after CBS said on Thursday that advocacy advertisements were out of bounds on professional football's biggest day. ... Liberal group Moveon.org, known for its Internet funding power, told members this week that it hoped to have the first political Super Bowl ad. But its hopes were dashed when CBS said the spot, which asks "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?" was an issue piece and could not run. ... In a letter, CBS told PETA that it would not run advertisements on "controversial issues of public importance." PETA spokeswoman Lange said that CBS's broadcast of anti-smoking advertisements and even hamburger chain spots were controversial, advocacy pieces, as well. "In essence, CBS is saying we will air an advocacy ad if we agree with the viewpoint," she said. ... The PETA ad shows two scantily clad women snuggling up to a meat-eating pizza delivery man. "Meat can cause impotence," the screen reads after the rendezvous fails.
Two things to note: (1) CBS's policy is dumb. (2) That sounds like a great commercial. I hope PETA will air it another time/place.

Comments update

Blogspeak, my old comments service, is no more. It -- including archived comments -- are being transferred to Haloscan. I set up a new Haloscan account myself before learning this... I'll probably switch back to to Haloscan version of my old Blogspeak stuff when it becomes available -- likely later today, I'm told. So it looks like I will have my old comments back. Probably, I'll lose my new comments since yesterday, although there are only a few, so I may very well just transfer them manually.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I blame John Madden

...for most of what's wrong with the world, really. But in particular, I'm getting really annoyed with the phrase "heck of a", which is the favorite phrase of every football commentator and coach. Even Steve Mariucci has picked it up.

Rights, risk, and living forever

Tyler Cowan at the Volokh Conspiracy wrote yesterday:
There is an arbitrariness in defining the relevant class of risky events. In my lifetime as a driver, I stand some (fairly low) chance of killing an innocent pedestrian. Few people would argue that I should be prohibited from driving. Assume, however, that science prolongs (fit) human life forever, at least unless you are struck down by a car. My chance of killing an innocent pedestrian then would approach certainty, given that I plan to continue driving throughout an eternal life. In fact I could be expected to kill very many pedestrians. Should I then be prohibited from driving? When we make a prohibition decision, should we measure the risk of a single act of driving, or the risk of driving throughout a lifetime? Measuring the bundled risk appears to imply absurd consequences, such as banning driving for people with sufficiently long lives.
It's an interesting thought experiment, but it doesn't much resonate with me. When we say that it's permissible, in the real world, to undertake the risk of killing an innocent person and drive a car, we're making a judgment about costs and benefits. We're saying that the benefit gained by permitting this person to drive a car (convenience for him, benefit to economy, etc) outweighs the cost (risk of killing an innocent, plus air pollution and whatever else you want to factor in). For a person with a longer life-span, the benefit increases proportionately to the risk. Think of it this way: break up a life-span (normal, long, or infinite) into bite-size chunks -- years will work fine -- and let the question for each year be, should we permit this person to drive this year? There's no reason to think that the answer will change from year to year (assuming that Tyler's 300-year-olds are better drivers than today's average 80-year-old), so if it's right to let people drive now, then it would be under Tyler's thought experiment as well. Tyler has another comment in his post which confuses me:
Of course some people will view this dilemma as an argument against the idea of rights, and in favor of utilitarianism.
Presumably, Tyler thinks that utilitarians don't believe in rights. But of course they do -- the world is a better, happier place when people have rights. The only way I can make sense of this is if he thinks that rights are conceptually required to be absolute. Of course a utilitarian would say that in some extreme circumstances, rights should be violated -- I'm a utilitarian who thinks it's morally justified to prevent a woman from having in abortion if doing so is the only way to save a million children from being raped and eaten. But I think a lot of non-utilitarians would agree with me on that one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Why, Jeff? Why?

Why, Jeff, why? I even wore his jersey yesterday.

If you're non-partisan, you should sound non-partisan

Charles Kuffner yesterday mentioned a relatively new government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). I'm all for responsibility and ethics, and CREW seems to be doing important work, tracking various political scandals. Part of their mission statement makes me uncomfortable, though:
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-partisan legal watchdog group working to force our government officials to behave responsibly and ethically. CREW's mission is to use the legal system to expose government officials who betray the public interest by serving special interests. CREW aims to counterbalance the conservative legal watchdog groups that made such a strong impact over the past decade. These groups focused their attention on their left-wing adversaries, leaving the right relatively free from scrutiny. CREW focuses equal attention on misconduct by all, including the right. (emphasis added)
If the organization does actually focus equally on the Left and the Right, then it's not really counterbalancing groups that focus primarily on the left. Maybe the word "counterbalance" in the mission statement is just a misstatement by someone who wasn't thinking clearly, or doesn't have a thorough command of the concept of counterbalancing. Or maybe it's the kind of slip that gives us a glimpse of what the organization's goals really are. If it's the latter, they need to be upfront about it -- there's certainly value to a group watching out for ethics and responsibility in the Right, but not to one that does that while pretending to do something else. And if it's the former, they need to change the word "counterbalance."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Comments down. Again.

You may have noticed that comments aren't working. Hopefully they will soon. Sadly, I have no control over the situation at all. We get what we pay for, I suppose.

Monday, January 12, 2004

More odd googling habits

Someone yesterday clicked through to my blog as the ninty-fifth google hit for Jones McClure Publishing. Who scrolls through ten pages of Google to find that? Most peculiar.

They don't pay me, I'm just a fan

It is well-documented in this blog that I love to eat burritos from Chipotle. I'm very happy to be back in Houston, where they're available -- there are no good burritos in Providence. I've recently discovered, however, that Chipotle is cooler than I'd realized: they use free-range pork in all their carnitas items. We're talking open pastures, vegetarian diets, no weird hormones. They, apparently, shun the Meatrix. Chipotle and most of the news stories I've read emphasize the superior taste -- I'll take their word for it there -- but I'm definitely in favor of humane meat production. To that end, I've changed my Chipotle staple from a chicken burrito to a pork burrito. I find it slightly less tasty and it is slightly more expensive, but I think this is the kind of business decision that warrants consumer support. Chipotle ought to be applauded both for producing delicious burritos and for its use of free-range pork.

When memorabilia goes too far

Buy Bill Walsh's Mercedes.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Broken News

CNN Breaking News tells me:
U.S. terror alert to be dropped to yellow, or elevated, today, sources tell CNN.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

It just makes me uncomfortable, ok?

I'm generally a pretty technologically progressive person. I'm not generally bothered by the ideas of a cashless society or an earphone implant or a mind-reading automobile as such (although I think there are important privacy concerns, etc.), but some lines must be drawn.

Read the excellent column on secularism in American politics in today's New York Times.

That's what I just did. link Sample:
Today, many voters, of many religious beliefs, might well be receptive to a candidate who forthrightly declares that his vision of social justice will be determined by the "plain, physical facts of the case" on humanity's green and fragile earth. But that would take an inspirational leader who glories in the nation's secular heritage and is not afraid to say so.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

More on Probability and Design

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost wrote a response a little while back to my post on probability-based arguments for intelligent design. I'm sorry to say that I'm not very familiar with these issues, and that I intend to study them a good deal in the near future. But for now, I have a few things to say in response to Joe's post, and to some of the comments on my post. To recap: my position was that it is not reasonable to infer a designer of the universe based merely on the fact that there is a low probability of the universe having the properties it would need (and does have) to sustain life. There are two reasons I think that this is the case: first, we can identify actual events that are unlikely to an arbitrarily large degree, without having any reason to infer a designer. Second, we already know that the world exists and has the properties it has, so it is not unlikely to have occurred. Thinking about them now, I believe that these two arguments are more separate than I'd at first recognized. First Argument: What's so special about unlikely? Here is what I said in my initial post:
Just now, I opened the book to page 61, and discovered the following remarkable thing -- the pattern of the left-most characters in each line on the page, read top to bottom, is "sTvmstvTawcIFseemcuTlormtomibouAanMc'r" ... the probability of that string having occurred on a page by chance is one in (26 * 2 * 2)^38, somewhere on the order of 4.1 * 10^72. But surely that's not remarkable -- it's just what's there. We don't need to posit someone designing the page that way, even though it's fantastically unlikely that it should have turned out just like that. ... Fantastically unlikely things happen every day -- and we can discover true things that are unlikely to an arbitrary degree just by making them conjunctions (for example, even more unlikely than that string's occurrence is that string's occurrence in a paperback book. More unlikely still, that string occurred in a paperback book on a prime-numbered page!
Rusty Lopez and J.P. Carter both took issue with this analogy. In Rusty's words: "The problem with that reasoning is that, even though the even is highly improbable, there is no information being communicated by it. Give me an event with low probability AND high information, and I'll give you an intelligently designed activity." Carter made what is, I think, essentially the same point. I'm not sure what to make of information being communicated by an event. Maybe they're saying something like this: that's just a random string of letters -- that's not remarkable. You know what would really be impressive, though, is if the left-most characters spelled out a message that we could understand, like "This passage was designed by Joe Designer" (or maybe "B-A-C-H"). I think there are two problems with this kind of reasoning. First, it's not clear that carries information is an intrinsic property of an event (or pattern or whatever) -- rather, it depends on the ability of someone external to the event "reading" it. Put another way, it's very possible to imagine the course of human linguistic history running differently, such that "This passage was designed by Joe Designer" would look like mere gibberish, while "sTvmstvTawcIFseemcuTlormtomibouAanMc'r" would appear to be brilliant poetry. Second, even if information-bearing were an intrinsic property of an event, what information does the universe convey? More puzzling still, to whom does it convey its information? Second Argument: We're Obviously Here. I'm running out of time here (the library is about to close) so I won't go into this now in as much detail as I'd like. But think of probability in terms of possible worlds -- a 1% chance of an event's occurrence means that for every world in which it occurs, there are 99 worlds in which it doesn't. Now suppose there is no designer of the universe, and we're here only by random chance. How remarkable would that be? Not very -- the only people in a position to consider the question would be people in universes that were able to support life. It's literally impossible to observe the universe failing to have the necessary properties -- so how could it be reasonable to find it strange to observe them? (A voice in the back of my head tells me that Stephen Hawking has made arguments like this one, but I absolutely am not prepared to declare that as a fact. Anyone know?)

Blogging about football, because I sometimes do that

Brian at Crooked Timber has a wonderful idea. He notes that the worse an NFL team's final record is, the higher its position in the following year's draft, and suggests:
I think there’s plenty of pairs of teams that, going into the start of the season, each think they are better than the other member of the pair. ... So from each team’s perspective, they expect to be better off having the other team’s draft picks. Hence there’s a possible win-win trade with the teams simply swapping all their draft picks with each other.
I'm all for it. The more mind games that get added to the NFL, the better. And imagine the political pressure not to back down from such a trade... By the way, if you're curious, I've decided on a Super Bowl. I want to see the Patriots beat the Packers. Yes, the Packers. Whatever. Realistically, I'm inclined to predict that the Patriots beat the Rams again. As much as I hate the idea of St. Louis winning the NFC, I have to admit that I enjoy watching them lose the big game. That is all.

Jones McClure Publishing!

I'm back in Houston, and at my old job. This is the only place in the world where I can take pride in the speed and accuracy with which I enter numbers into a spreadsheet, then compare them to other numbers. Sometimes I do things that are more obviously important and responsibility-carrying, but I'm actually taking some satisfaction in the gruntwork, too. I think I like it here.