Friday, May 30, 2008

Ascetic Narcissism

Ignorant, self-involved morons with money. No, it's not about law students, it's about the obnoxious, self-righteous specialists in empty-gesture environmentalism that have multiplied like insects in the past few years. Conspicuous nonconsumption is the hilarious result of amputating the religious, cultural, and intellectual limbs of modern man, and expecting that cutting off a desire from its objects will simply make that desire wither. Well, rather than let the phantom-limb pains convince them of the folly of cabining human experience to eating, sleeping, and fucking, people have chosen simply to alter the way they eat, sleep, and fuck - go Green! This secular religion has all the bizarre ritual of a real religion, but because it, by definition, focuses on no objects other than those created by the human mind (the "environment" representing nothing but subjective, anthropocentric judgments about relations among essentially unrelated, purely existent things), it has no higher purpose than to make people feel good about themselves. And boy, do they feel good about themselves.
"I'm a happy person," he said. "It's great to do something that you believe in doing."
The problem with materialism is that it's so apparently self-indulgent - if pleasure is the sole good, and I buy and consume a lot of things to attain that pleasure, my selfishness isn't mediated by anything. Religious man didn't have this problem because his activity was directed to an external end - soli Deo gloria. The trick is to feel good by mediating the bare pursuit of pleasure with an artificial end - activity is directed toward improving the environment, certainly not to make the actor himself happy, so, you see, the motive is pure!

Because "the environment" is meaningless without a human correlate (do you think nature would be any more nature if we stopped emitting carbon? if we emitted more carbon?), it's really another way of saying "Me." But, because the new Environmental Man (here's your one-dimensional man, Herb) doesn't bother learning logic, this bug is really a feature. Watch this:
Yawns hate ostentation.
Except the ostentation of the hybrid car, right? Does BMW have to make a hybrid for the self-parody to hit home?

You are yuppies. Deal with it, you clueless tools.

There is so much more I could say about that pathetic little article. "Self-absorbed idiots are idiots" didn't seem to be a difficult point to make, though, so I'll quit now. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stale Idiocy

Is Scott McClellan seriously trying to cash in on "Bush lied, people died" in 2008?

I look forward to his 2015 book about the subprime mortgage crisis.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Best Buy Owns Barely Literate Idiot

Snopes took a break from conflicts of interest to try to own some stupid e-mail about Best Buy. Sadly, Snopes was not up to the task. I got your back, Snopes.

I apologize for linking to Snopes, and if you would rather not click that and get 300 aggressive, pop-up-blocker-dodging, malware-infested ads, well, all the text you need will be quoted here.
An erotic foot-fetish tale?
Best Buy has some bad policies....
They do open their doors to the public, which, as the rest of this stupid thing will show, was their first mistake.
Normally, I would not share this with others, However, since this could happen to you or your friends , I decided to share it.
Normally, I would use a period to end a sentence, However sometimes, I find it best not to, That's just how I am, You will probably agree that a comma serves just as well. as a period.
If you purchase something from, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, JC Penny, Sears etc
I really like how the anticipation is built by separating a preposition from its objects. And by making the sentence a barely comprehensible fragment. If you get what I mean.
If you return the item with the receipt.
Why does each conjunct in the antecedent to this conditional get its own sentence? I don't know; maybe this guy is not an expert on linguistics?
They will give you your money back if you paid cash, or credit your account if paid by plastic.
Let me get this straight. If you purchase something from Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, JC Penny (sic), Sears, etc. (presumably meaning "or others" and not "and so on," because otherwise you'd have to purchase some one thing from every store to satisfy this), and if you return the item with the receipt, and if you paid cash, then they will give you your money back; if the first two are met and you paid by plastic (hello, only person in the world who, in 2008, calls it "plastic"), then they will credit your account. Besides not actually matching the facts, this conditional is way too complicated for the author to understand.
Well, I purchased a GPS for my car, a Tom Tom XL.S from "Best Buy".
Oh no, he's driving?
They have a policy that it must be returned within 14 days for a refund!
I can see how this description of their return policy merits an exclamation point!
So after 4 days I returned it in the original box with all the items in the box, with paper work and cords all wrapped in the e plastic.
eplastic™ is plastic infused with nanotechnology. This was an expensive GPS, when even the packaging contained futuristic wrapping material.
Just as I received it, including the receipt.
Unopened? Did you return it unopened? Are you lying to me, dude?
I explained to the lady at the return desk I did like the way it could not find store names.
In fact, I liked the fact it could not find store names a little too much, which is why I was returning it. Not finding store names was getting to be an obsession with me.
The lady at the refund desk said, there is a 15% restock fee, for items returned.
The commas really break this up into something that sounds a lot more epic than it is. "There is a 15% restock fee," whispered Gandalf, "for items returned." Aragorn looked to the east at the gathering clouds of returned items.
I said no one told me that.
I said, "I don't read the terms of contracts I enter. I sure hope no one finds out about my crippling ignorance and gets me to sign a really nasty contract, because, here I am, broadcasting that I am a total fool who agrees to things without having any clue as to their terms." Loan sharks - find this man.
I said how much would that be.
...15%. DERF.
She said it goes by the price of the item.
Here we have a person who is apparently driving an automobile who does not know what a percentage is. The Best Buy clerk has to fill in where the remedial math teacher failed. Damn you, public schools!
It will be $45.00 Dollars for you.
I wonder if it was actually $45 or if the clerk was starting to catch on to this guy's utter stupidity and was just going to hose him and keep the difference. Yeah, I've worked in retail, what of it?
I said, all your going to do is walk over and place it back on the self!
Imagine if the clerk could actually hear his misspelling. "All my what?"
Then charge me $45.00 of my money for restocking!!
$45 of your money? The money that you handed to us when you bought the awesomely store-name-ignorant GPS? Wait, are you saying you stole the GPS? CALL THE COPS.
She said that's the store policy.
He's seriously still recounting this conversation.
I said if more people were aware of it they would not buy anything here!
I think that might only affect people who are so fickle that they return items they just bought for no reason - people who aren't aware of how addicted they will become to not knowing store names, for instance.
If I bought a $2000.00 computer or TV and returned it I would be charged $300.00 dollars restock fee!!
Who did this math for him? Who?
She said yes, 15%.
"The numbers checked out."
I said OK, just give me my money minus the restock fee.
Times my money by the restock fee and then take away 15 apples for every 100 apples of my money and give me my apples! DAMMMMMMMIT!
She said, since the item is over 200.00 dollars, she cant give me my money back!!!
It's spelled "Kant." Immanuel Kant can't give you your 100 thalers because it's an imaginary 100 thalers.
Corporate has to and they will mail you a check in 7 to ten days.!!
The emotion expressed here is subdued by the single period, but inflamed by the double exclamation point. 7 to ten whole days.!!?"
I said "WHAT?!"
Do you see what is first done here? This is the first actual quote. "WHAT?!" is the only thing we can be sure was actually uttered.
It's my money!!
What exactly did you give in consideration for the GPS, if the money they have is yours and not theirs? I'll ask again - did you steal it? Are we reading a confession?
I paid in cash !
No indeed you did not pay in anything; you never transferred any money to them. That's what you just said, at any rate.
I want to buy a different brand..
The finality of the double-period is not diminished for its being applied to such a mundane sentence. It's Hemingwayesque, really.
Now I have to wait 7 to 10 days.
"By this point in the conversation, I was pissed. I had no time to wait to spell out 'ten,' so I brazenly used the numerals '1' and '0' like a madman."
She said well, our policy is on the back of your receipt.
I said, do you read the front or back of your receipt? She said well, the front!
Then she replied, "No, but I also don't spend hundreds of dollars on products I don't know a damned thing about, and I don't expect stores to rent me merchandise free of charge. Oh, and since I'm not returning any items, it's probably irrelevant whether I read the non-existent contract that I didn't have with anything involved in this conversation." I was furious at this ironclad logic.
She said well, the front!
That's what she said! Ooo!
I said so do I, I want to talk to the Manager!.
At first I was excited, but then, well, my emotion sort of petered out, as you can see from the exclamation point/period combo.
So the manager comes over, I explained everything to him, and he said, well, sir they should ld of told you about the policy when you got the item.
"Read the f'ing receipt." You should ld of read the receipt.
I said, No one, has ever told me about the check refund or restock fee, when ever I bought items from computers to TVs from Best Buy.
The employees probably figured you were a human being capable of entering into contracts. Their mistake, I guess.
The only thing they ever discussed was the worthless extended warranty program.
Were they supposed to quote Article 2 of the UCC every time you bought something, or what? Whose responsibility is it to make sure you got what you want, buddy?
He said Well, I can give you corporate phone number.
He totally did not blow me off, muttering "Why the fuck did I drop out of college to manage this shithole?" under his breath.
I called corporate.
I assume this means that he filed a certificate of incorporation for his phone call, issuing two classes of stock in an IPO of "My fone cal, ink." It's trading aggressively.
The guy said, well, I'm not supposed to do this but I can give you a 45.00 dollar gift card and you can use it at Best Buy.
The gift card, of course, couldn't find store names either, so I returned it. Lulz.
I told him if I bought something and returned it, you would charge me a restock fee on the item and then send me a check for the remaining 3 dollars.
Clearly, instead of making me more aware of the finality of purchases, this episode has simply informed me that every time I return an item (which will happen constantly, I can never decide what I want even after I buy it) I will lose money. Well, no more! Now, all the money I'll lose is the time and gasoline involved in returning to a store I just visited to return something I have no idea if I ever wanted anyway! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY I WIN, BEST BUY! SUCK IT!

And no, I have no idea what math he's using to get 3 dollars.
You can keep your gift card, I'm never shopping in Best Buy ever again, and If I would of been smart, I would of charged the whole thing on my credit card!
What's so awesome about "If"?
Then I would of canceled the transaction.
Credit card fraud is the brilliant idea. Don't worry. He'll do it someday and go to jail for it.
I would of gotten all my money back including your stupid Fees!
I would of goed to jale two!
He didn't say a word!
"I hope this guy actually does that. Man, imagine what they'd do to him in prison."
I informed him that I was going to e-mail my friends and give them a heads up on this stores policy, as they don't tell you about all there little caveats
Funny you should put it that way. Caveats indeed. What's that saying, anyway?, nope, can't recall.
So please pass this on.
I'm passing it along like a kidney stone, duder.
It may save your friends from having a bad experience of shopping at Best Buy.
Don't do what Donny don't does.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Figure that one out.
The fire lit by Ron Paul, and the masses of young people who have flocked to warm their hands at it, are easier for a conservative to understand. I might agree, as some of my colleagues murmur, that some updating and culling is in order, but Dr. Paul’s main message is heartily, full-throatedly, unapologetically conservative, in a way we have not seen for a long time. It’s not going anywhere this season, nor likely the next, but the Paul campaign offers proof that conservatism is still alive and can still find converts among the thoughtful young.
Ron Paul is all things to all people. He appeals on each issue by being uncompromising and pure on that issue, but I suspect most libertarians supporting him aren't comfortable (to say the least) with his immigration hawkishness and his solidly pro-life position. People who are in love with his small-government plan of cutting taxes and slashing spending probably ignore the catastrophic effects of eliminating entire government agencies. Dr. Paul's foreign policy bizarrely hearkens back to a time when we ignored the world and gave evil time to regroup - and this isolationism is supposed to be a selling point.

Is there anyone out there who can say that he likes everything Ron Paul says? Anyone?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Et tu, Snopes?

Is Snopes shilling for Obama? This has gone from annoying to distasteful. Stay conflicted, Snopes!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


It just keeps happening.
Steven Pinker has thought longer and harder about human language, its structure and functions, its origins and its relations to human thought, than anyone alive.
Shouldn't people jump all over him when he says something stupid, then?
It's just a witless snot-faced child tugging on Superman's cape.
I assume we will never hear John Derbyshire whining about elitism anymore. Right? Right.

Herr Derbyshire is really being dense here:
You yourself weigh in on "Pinker's (in)famous line about how music is nothing more than accidental 'auditory cheesecake.'" Surely you appreciate that Pinker was just trying to

(a) Offer an informed cog-sci speculation for the esthetic appeal of music,


(b) render that speculation in terms a lay person can grasp.

Pinker did (a) because he's a cognitive scientist, and that is the kind of thing cognitive scientists are paid to do; he did (b) because he is a skillful and successful popularizer of his science. If you think his speculation is way out in left field, give us an informed criticism of it — or better yet, a speculation of your own. Why does music appeal to us?
"Music as cheesecake" is a glib, reductivist theory that betrays Pinker's dismissiveness of anything beyond the barely material. It's fine for scientists to act as if matter in motion is all that exists when conducting science, but to smuggle that materialism from physics to metaphysics is wrong. A related problem is to see literally everything that happens in the natural world as an expression of natural selection. It's a convenient starting point - see a behavior, assume an evolutionary explanation. But one can't stop with mere assumptions. You have to look, think, put some damn intellectual effort into understanding the phenomenon. A provisional theory is provisional; a heuristic is a guide.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Taking "music as cheesecake" on the merits, it confuses the pathological appeal of music and what makes music specifically musical. I hate to harp on old theory, but Hanslick made the distinction in 1854. Crack a book?

John Derbyshire has also written recently about panpsychism and contemporary philosophies of mind. I've noticed two problems, to which I may get later: panpsychism is insane and cognitive scientists still haven't absorbed Kant. Causation is still assumed to hold among things, not merely among things as objects of the mind. If someone solved causation while I've been in law school, I would appreciate a comment. Thanks.

One might think the philosophical status of music, minds, or causation makes little difference to the science being done. But in fact that science assumes a certain philosophical viewpoint, without which its conclusions would not hold without modification.

John Derbyshire objects to the description of Pinker's piece as "[A] bizarre and astonishing display of paranoid vitriol," because John comes at Pinker knowing he's smart and expecting him to say smart things. But look - Pinker was saying that dignity is bad. That's bizarre. Accusing the pro-dignity people of having some dangerous agenda is, well, paranoid. If you actually read what he's saying instead of sighing dreamily and thinking "He's writing! The love of my life, Steven Pinker, is writing! This is so smart and wonderful!" then it's a weird position. What's the truly moral way to act - to treat people as lumps of flesh? Or what? Bizarre rants make people think you're crazy - imagine that!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Undergraduate Philosophy - Joke or Ultrajoke?

I have to call out my old undergraduate philosophy department at Albright College. It wasn't perfect when I was there and it has made some changes since that have only made it worse. I will preface this complaint by saying that I wouldn't bother trying to expose the philosophy program's flaws if I didn't think it was important and salvageable - after all, I'm long gone from the place, so I have no personal stake in its survival. This is something I feel compelled to do, and this post may get refined into a letter to the chair.

When I started at Albright, the department consisted of three professors. Two of those professors have left. Their two positions have been filled by four people since their departure, and the impression created by the college's behavior in performing its job search (taking on two professors for one year and firing them after their second semester) was one of shaky job security. This disregard for young professors' need for stable employment is not limited to the philosophy department at Albright, but having two thirds of the faculty in that department axed in one year is less than professional. Perhaps those professors weren't very good; I happen to think they were far less than ideal, but you hired them in the first place. Piling one mistake on another has only made the school's already dismal reputation even worse, and destroyed any chance of hiring quality people to teach philosophy.

Albright has a pretty poor academic reputation, but the professors that made up the department when I matriculated were good. Albright had better than it deserved, and, obviously, two of the professors knew it and left for better employment (which they both now have). Albright's method of filling the vacancies was awful, and the combination of awful job security and (probably; I have some circumstantial evidence) terrible pay scared off candidates. This is a real shame.

The effect of the decrease in the department's fortunes is reflected in a sharp decrease in its rigor. One of the professors who left, a brilliant man (who was responsible for introducing me to philosophy), taught a course called "A Philosophical Tour Through Mathematical History." Auskunft could describe it better than I can, but it was, roughly speaking, an introduction to the theory of mathematics from a philosophical and historical perspective. The course involved real math, and actually counted for the core Quantitative Reasoning requirement, meaning a person could take the course and not have to take any courses in the math department at all.

Well, the course has been gutted. It used to use Morris Kline's excellent Mathematics for the Nonmathematician. This is apparently too much for the kids, so it dropped the book and dropped much of its rigor.

A "logic" course, defined as "Critical Thinking" or "Symbolic Logic," has always been a graduation requirement for philosophy majors. Well, Symbolic Logic is gone. I was told, when I wanted to take it, that no professor in the department was able to teach it, the one who had been able having already left. "Critical Thinking" touches on fallacies and deals with logic in a very informal, simplistic way, and it hardly seems possible to devote an entire semester to the junk taught in there. Still, that class is as much logic as philosophy majors at Albright College will get. This is a disgrace, and I get actually angry thinking about it. For one thing, logic is one of the things that philosophy can't get wrong. It's exact and relentless. That a person can receive a BA in philosophy without knowing any formal logic is outrageous. Many graduate schools require that applicants have taken a basic course in symbolic logic during their undergraduate study. Albright College graduates will be unable even to compete for admission to those schools, and I can only imagine that this deficiency in alumni's education makes them less attractive candidates at any grad school.

Albright - remedy this. Allow students to receive credit for taking Symbolic Logic at other regional colleges, or get the math department to teach it, or something. That the course isn't even in the catalog anymore is baffling. How can you award a bachelor's in philosophy without teaching a critical aspect of philosophy? This borders on diploma-mill behavior.

I am fairly certain that a thesis was a graduation requirement shortly before my graduation. I am also fairly certain that, by the time I wrote my thesis, it was not, and a person could take an extra course in the department and forgo the thesis. I suspect I know why the department did this - Albright College students in any major simply cannot write. They never learned the skill in high school and two semesters of basic composition aren't up to the task. I don't know what goes on in the first composition course, having tested out of it (I gather it's virtually a remedial writing class), but students in the second course are barely literate by the time they get there, so it can't be doing much. As an aside, I've seen some barely literate writing here at law school, so maybe Albright is just one failed system among hundreds. Whatever. The problem with simply accepting that students can't write is that this is college. If they can't write, they can't earn the degree; is there a flaw in that logic (it would be unfair to ask this question of Albright grads)?

I found that doing the research, thinking, discussion, and writing for my thesis was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. In fact, one would think that any philosophy major should be encouraged to think a lot about a philosophical topic and write about it. An extra course in the department is no substitute for producing an original work of scholarship about a philosophical issue. Again, those who have aspirations of graduate work in philosophy will need a writing sample and will need to know how to write a substantial paper in philosophy. Those with no such aspirations should still have a written embodiment of their undergraduate experience.

A philosophy major used to have to take two courses in the history of philosophy to graduate. These two were selected from a total of four courses offered: "Greek and Medieval Thought," "Early Modern and Enlightment Thought," "Late Modern Thought," and "20th Century Thought." Only one course is needed now, which I think is a more substantial problem that it appears. Taking one course in the history of philosophy can leave a person woefully ignorant of the foundation of philosophy or its subsequent development. Taking two courses, any of those two, informs a sense of the coherence of philosophical history and the development of philosophical issues. Let me take each course in turn and show what sort of view a person who took that course and that course only for his history requirement would get:

Greek and Medieval Thought: The course begins with the birth of philosophy with Thales, and continues through the monists and pluralists (including the Atomists) before reaching the giants Plato and Aristotle. Some study of Hellenistic philosophy and Augustine rounds out the course; I thought Aquinas might have been taught but I don't actually recall. At any rate, it may be taught differently now. The person who took just this course would have a great idea of the origins of philosophy but absolutely no idea what has happened since. Descartes, Hume, and Kant are all outside the purview of this course. No one can understand a bit of contemporary philosophy by taking just this course.

Early Modern and Enlightment Thought: Descartes to Hume, I suppose. Because so much "common sense" today is actually philosophy developed during the modern period, the course is a good way to uncover everyday philosophical assumptions. Two problems are apparent, though: the student will have no idea how philosophy developed and what solutions the ancients offered, and the course ends before Kant. Not knowing Kant is a serious deficiency; it can even lead a person to write huge, awful novels about capitalism.

Late Modern Thought: Besides being terribly named (it's actually a course on German idealism and the proto-existentialists Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), this is actually a fun course. Kant is taught, so you know it can't be bad. However, it's hard to imagine someone taking only this as his history course, having to read Kant and Hegel with little or no background in philosophy. And, though the subject matter lays the foundation for contemporary philosophy, this course will teach students nothing on the subsequent development of the discipline.

20th Century Thought: The department did something sensible and actually has a prerequisite for this course - any of the other history of philosophy courses. Thus, no one could take this without having some background in the history. Still, I can't see anyone understanding this stuff without knowing Kant, so, effectively, Late Modern Thought is the prereq.

The only combination of two that doesn't work is the first and the last, which is still possible. I don't think 20th century philosophy is comprehensible without Kant. Further, skipping two thousand years is insane. Still, if anyone has done this at Albright, I'd like to know.

The required courses used to be this (I'm going from memory): a logic course, the thesis, two history courses, two reality and knowledge courses, two value theory courses, and three courses in a related field (the field to be chosen by the student). Possibly the department's worst sin was adding this category:
Difference and Diversity. Select at least one from courses dealing with perspectives about different formations of identities (such as class, race and gender) and the diversity within them, and about various philosophical, cultural and historical traditions: PHI 130, 135, 222, 228.
Critical theory, gender identity, the social construction of reality, "hyphenated studies": these are the reasons philosophy is a joke. A department should not go out of its way to foist this muddle-headed thinking on students. I can see an additional reason why Symbolic Logic is dead: anyone having to take that would be immune to the stupefying influence of these shabby "Difference and Diversity" courses.

Albright philosophy - you need to man up. Thanks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Snopes - WE GET IT

OK, Snopes, we get it. Enough already. Enough with the social commentary on every damn urban legend you debunk. Just tell me whether the thing stated is true or not and stop there. While you're at it, could you maybe tone down the pop-up-blocking-software-evading ads?

Oh, to get back to that whole quitting while you're ahead thing, some of your explanations are actually false. Like, you get whether the legend is true or false but then you explain it by saying lies. You might not want to do that.

Thank you. Carry on.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Since the Seattle Times hasn't yet posted my comment to this, I'll put it here:

Austria and Germany both happened to be inhabited by people who spoke German; therefore, they were really the same. Similarly, if a Finnish Hitler wanted to annex, say, Hungary, we ought to let him, out of respect for Finno-Ugric kinship. If language were culture, this would all make sense, but it isn't, so it doesn't.

Hitler's idea of a Greater Germany was the artifact of a rapacious mind - if anything, Germany was a bit of political artifice created out of the scattered remnants of the Holy Roman Empire, and Austria was the "proper" ruler of the German peoples. Of course, to say that Austria ought to have ruled over Germany, or Germany over Austria, or any foreign power over anyone is really to assume that domination rather than self-rule is appropriate. Chamberlain's response to Hitler's "reasonable" demands resulted in the solidification of a machine of conquest and genocide.

My goodness, if you don't know central European history, then you can, you know, not talk about it. Acting as if there is an objectively correct geographical and political division of Europe that pigeon-holes certain people into the "real" Germany is ignorant.


A bit of spam warned me against unwanted humours. Well, the subject line did, which I just caught before deleting it.

Right now, I'm full of black bile.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hillary Clinton - Tragic Figure

Hillary Clinton's story is one of tragedy. It's still unfolding, but, as with all tragedies, the end is clear long before it is realized. Obama is her Macduff. Thinking herself invincible because she'd pick up a huge chunk of votes on identity politics alone (when your political party is defined by liberal guilt, you can really count on the auto-votes to come in), Hillary met her suspect-class match. As friends betray her and the castle crumbles around her, she fights on. It's touchingly sad.

This was supposed to be Hillary's year. She's been running the cursus honorum as long as she's been in the national eye - First Lady, senator, presidential candidate. No one really doubts that her choice to move to New York and run for Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Senate seat was born of pure ambition. Further, it was clear that the presidency, not the Senate, was her ultimate goal. This was the year for her. She's had experience in national office, "change" is in the air, the current VP isn't running, and her party is on the upswing. The last two Democratic nominees were pathetically weak, so she had every reason to expect weak and easily-defeated competition in the primary race.

And then along came Obama...

I don't know if Hillary will get another chance at this. After all, old senators make weak candidates (remember John Kerry? Yikes). She's lost face and lost the respect of her former supporters in the media and political establishments.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Close Call

Aristotle, Physics, Book II Chapter 8:
Why not suppose, then, that the same is true of the parts of natural organisms? On this view, it is of necessity that, for example, the front teeth grow sharp and well adapted for biting, and the back ones broad and useful for chewing food; this useful result was coincidental, not what they were for. The same will be true of all the other parts that seem to be for something. On this view, then, whenever all the parts came about coincidentally as though they were for something, these animals survived, since their constitution, though coming about by chance, made them suitable for survival. Other animals, however, were differently constituted and so were destroyed; indeed they are still being destroyed, as Empedocles says of the man-headed calves.
Hey, Darwin anticipated! Wait...
This argument, then, and others like it, might puzzle someone. In fact, however, it is impossible for things to be like this.
Never mind. It is sort of fanciful. But hey, that final cause theory seems to work pretty well.

Btw, Empedocles is even more awesome than this makes him sound.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Since 2005, the BB&T Charitable Foundation has given 25 colleges and universities several million dollars to start programs devoted to the study of Rand's books and economic philosophy.
Don't worry, some good may come of it:
The money would establish a course dedicated to Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and help create the BB&T Center for the Advancement of American Capitalism on campus.
Something tells me that Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments will not be the subject of intense study at these programs. Still, Adam Smith - a real philosopher! I am audacious enough to hope for the best.

Someone actually sounds, well, sort of scared by the idea:
But not everyone at the university is excited by the gift. Rick Wilson, a sociology instructor at Marshall and head of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project, says that Rand's philosophy, objectivism, is based on the view that selfishness is the only moral value.

"[Objectivism] goes against the collective wisdom of the human race, I think, pretty much everywhere," says Wilson. "I think it's a curious interpretation of philanthropy to use corporate money to promote, really, an extreme philosophy."
No one who reads this blog has any doubts about my opinion of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. But even I don't think there is anything to fear, exactly, from Ayn Rand, because her philosophy is hilariously bad and holds little danger of fooling a large number of people. Rand's own antagonism actually marginalizes her thought, because it's impossible to take Rand seriously without trashing most of Western philosophy. Given the choice, I think most people who read Rand and then read Kant will realize that Kant was on to something, which excludes any consideration of Rand, on her own terms. People who read substantial parts of philosophy might also realize that Rand was an ungrateful plagiarist - the philosophers from whom she copied shamelessly were bad people! Hate them! Except to the extent that I ripped them off!

Yeah, whatever. Ayn Rand is a convenient punching-bag. I will make use of her whenever she pops up to annoy me again.

Hey, look at this:
But Marshall professor Cal Kent, who is slated to direct the center funded by the grant, says BB&T officials just want to give students an additional perspective on capitalism.

"In my experience you're not able to propagandize students," says Kent. "Certainly that's not our intent in this course, and if it were our intent, we would be doomed for failure from the beginning."
Yes, my experience of undergraduate philosophical study is that it is impossible to propagandize students. After all, we know Marx was totally right about everything, so it's hardly propaganda to say that, right?

I did want to say something serious about Ayn Rand. Her rejection of Kant and, really, all philosophy since Kant is not the product of any amount of thought. "Objectivism" is a naive empirical realism, the kind of epistemology that became obsolete after Kant. It's one thing to say that Kant's solution to the problem was wrong, and to come up with another - we've had over two hundred years of that kind of criticism. It's another to say there was never a problem at all. That kind of thinking is impossible without a wilful blindness about human thought. To that extent, Objectivists are the equivalent of Flat Earthers.

Moving on. College is overrated. A bachelor's is overrated in part because people have conflicting expectations of it. Some people want the enlightenment of a liberal education; some want an admission ticket to lucrative employment; some people want both. A BA in philosophy, to take one example (hmmm), will not get you a good job. It will get you one of those jobs that, inexplicably, require a bachelor's but which actually require nothing that could not be done by millions without a college education (car salesman comes to mind). But an undergraduate education in philosophy can be enlightening and edifying, if the student makes the effort. There is a conflict here, too - the employment-prerequisite function can be achieved by doing the minimum of required work, but enlightenment requires real thought and may not track exactly with grades anyway. The 100-level course in astronomy that everyone takes, or the gutted* "Philosophy of Mathematics" course that everyone takes instead of Calc I, are easy As. They probably also do nothing for your education, any more than attending the required orientation program (which is technically part of the required curriculum and, thus, a graduation requirement).

If you want your bachelor's degree to get you a job, then major in engineering. It's that simple. Kill your dreams of a liberal education and just treat college as a trade school. There's nothing shameful about it. If you want a liberal education, then accept that you may need to go to law school or graduate school to get a decent job, and even then, your prospects are dim. Resign yourself to difficult job prospects, and be content merely in learning.

I have found that those who really want to learn from college often have to use the required readings and lectures as a springboard, because what is done in class is inevitably inadequate. Intelligent people will have no problem with this, besides wondering why college is so expensive if most of the learning has to be done on one's own. Why indeed. The above-average but not extremely intelligent are really screwed by college. They go to college because they are intelligent enough to understand things, but need guidance and explanations. That these people probably make up a majority of the college population is an embarrassment for higher education.

So, stop expecting college to get you a job making $100,000 a year while enabling you to be as witty in conversation as Frasier Crane.

I wanted to finish off with some thoughts about Ben Stein's new movie, but meh. I'll get to it later. Oh, and Mr. Milne, I haven't forgotten about that Yale "artist," to whose folly I will get soon.

*To the one person for whom this will matter, by "gutted" I mean "it dropped the Morris Kline book because it involved too much math for people." The department also got rid of Symbolic Logic some years ago. To be fair, I think the PhiMath course no longer counts as Quantitative Reasoning, though it's still an interdisciplinary - disgusting.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pro cras

I'm sitting here, 200 words from the limit on my takehome final, the final final for this, my 2L year. It's a great opportunity for the kind of writing I do best (yeah, that bad). I have 10 hours to finish. I have just a sliver of will left. I will get to posting soon, dudes. I bought several books and one arrived - The Cambridge Companion to Ockham.

More later.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I have a request. Could someone at CUNY tell me what's being linked to, and by what? Not that I mind, at all, of course - just curious. Comment here to let me know, and I hope this content was useful.

Monday, May 05, 2008


I really, seriously wonder how much of a future the U.S.A. has.
Given the indulgent self-pity of some of its recent immigrants, well, John, I wonder myself.
Our civilization is on the way out.
We're All Doomed, New Revised Edition (2008): This Time, We're Serious. Of course, didn't we all starve to death in the 19th century, or something? Some cold voice of reason named Malthus seems to have predicted it. Oh well.
We are sinking into a bog of mediocrity, frivolity, superstition, and ignorance.
Yep: scientific research has been devastated by armed mobs of Christian fanatics, burning labs and universities, liquidating intellectuals as "dangerous wizards." Right? Right? What facts have to be true to make this hysterical hyperbole true?

In fact, how the hell can John Derbyshire pretend to be a vox clamans in deserto, the voice of Reason and Science amidst Superstition and Barbarism, when more and more kids are eagerly going to college, where, to no one's surprise, they are learning that life is the result of evolution. That a bunch of people with no skill and interest in science occasionally demands that an unscientific theory be taught in biology classes really fails to get me worked up, for two reasons: the contemporary university is in no danger of being overcome by this magical thinking, because academics (in the sciences, at least) have the common sense not to entertain fairy tales; and because, when ignorant people have exerted their political power to force public schools to teach nonsense, they have met with immediate rebuttal. Remember the Dover Area School District?

The Chinese are, by John Derbyshire's own admission, the most superstitious people in the world. Is their civilization collapsing? I don't know what it is about the evolution debate, but it seems universally to make people throw out logic and start arguing utter nonsense, even when their positions are fundamentally sound. Really, does the "evolution happened" crowd need to pull sophistic tricks like these? Does it do any service to education to argue in such a shabby manner, essentially convincing undecided young people of intellect that your position must be wrong, because it requires such bad reasoning to sustain it?

What do Ben Stein, John Derbyshire, and Richard Dawkins have in common? They epically fail at logic. And, well, none of them has been in my kitchen.

I am glad I learned enough to make a judgment about evolution before the debate got so ugly, because Dawkins et al. are a strong turn-off. Nice PR campaign, idiots.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Someone got here by Googling this: cartesian duality in global warming



In order to encourage more interesting hits, here we go: purple monkey dishwasher plateaus deontological differance Hegelian-edifice Bushitler being-for-self deconstructing the Other girl-on-catgirl apriority effluence Zusaetze.

Hey, to random Google users: at least post a comment. I'm talking to you, 450 people who have Googled "Kant third antinomy" and not posted a damned thing. I thought my post on that was actually pretty good.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Shaking with Rage

Oh hi. I'll be done with finals one week from today, and I hope to blog about actual things that happened in the 18th century (as usual).

For now, why is a person with a four-year degree and two-thirds of a doctoral degree begging for an unpaid job? I know, there must be some explanation for this that makes me look like I'm out of touch. Here's another question - why can't employers give you any sort of response to your attempt to work for them? Given the means I have indicated I can be reached by, I would expect one of the following: a letter; a postcard; a phone call; an e-mail. An e-mail saying "You are an awful person and wasted our time even applying" would take how long to send, exactly?

This is a discourteous and, dare I say, unprofessional way to run a job search. That goes to all of you.

No, sorry, that didn't come out right. This bullshit is fucking rude. There. That's better.

I am really getting pissed off at the lack of care people take with their jobs. It's a signal to me, actually - if you can't be a human fucking being while hiring someone, you aren't a very good employer anyway.

Now, I know, this is the way things are done. I am a peon and should feel lucky even to have my resume shredded by someone. But this insane way of hiring law students is the way it is because it's an artificial world where laziness and jerking people around reign supreme. I am baffled as I approach the day (only a year away - how can that be?) when I will have a graduate degree and I still seriously have to consider working in fast food to pay my bills. I am further baffled that, if grades really are as important to this process as I've heard they are, then more than half of my class is actually doing worse than I am at finding employment. What could that possibly mean? Is the bottom 10% of my class actually getting rejected by the public defender's office? Or, worse, is McDonald's taking a look at the 2.5 GPA and thinking "Can we really afford to let this idiot flip our burgers?"

Granted, I am not at Harvard Law School, but I am at a tier 2 school, and more than half of the ABA-approved law schools in this country are ranked below mine. What can this mean for students of those law schools? Is it the case that 60, 70, 80 percent of the law school population can't even get a fucking brush-off e-mail from a state judge they tried to clerk for?

This summer is apparently going to be the last time in a long while that I will be able to do something I want for more than a few hours at a time. I am unsure what to do with the time. I may read books where someone defends a position not because some person is paying him to do that, but because he actually believes what he is saying. This crazy thinking will soon become unfamiliar again.

Carry on.