Monday, January 30, 2006

Antidisestablishmentarianism; Anti-antidisestablishmentarianism

I'm closing some tabs while I draft a column on NHPD brutality, but here are couple of beatings, er, links that I didn't want to forget.

First, it appears that the text adventure is not a dead art form. Some creative talent (that girl, I'm thinking of you) ought to pick this up and run with it. (Link via Jim Henley probably, but I'm not 100% on where I first saw this.)

Second, I'm frankly baffled by Matt Yglesias's knock against the concept of meritocracy. (No, I haven't read Michael Young, but I don't think I need to if Yglesias's argument is essentially his.) When Yglesias claims that meritocracy unfairly privileges intelligence, he is flat out wrong. Meritocracy privileges merit; neither here at Yale nor at Yglesias's alma mater in Cambridge could there possibly be a single student who is not at least acquainted with a superlatively bright flame-out. Of course intelligence is a factor in determining merit, but there are other necessary conditions of attaining merit that are purely volitional [at least if we table the paradoxes of free will-ed.]. It's no more fair that some people are smarter than others than it is that some people are prettier than others; now, from the viewpoint of the scarcity of economic resources, A's meritocratic achievement imposes a cost on B. But happiness, unlike money, is not a scarce resource. A's greater achievement relative to B has no bearing on B's potential to live a fulfilling life. Does Yglesias consider it unfair that he has managed to become a journalistic wunderkind while less talented scribblers toil away anonymously? I don't; he might; but even if he does, that unfairness tells us nothing about whether or not Yglesias has earned his present position. Would he consider his success to have greater justification if it is due to his Harvard connections? or his skills as a writer?

(My complaint, just to be absolutely clear, is not that Yglesias is a hypocrite for attacking meritocracy since he has plainly been the beneficiary of it. One of the most annoying habits of argument on the left is to belittle black conservatives who are against affirmative action. Such arguments are straightforward genetic fallacy. To take the example you're never supposed to take, Nazi racial theory isn't wrong because Nazis uphold it; it's wrong because it fails on its own terms. To be sure, the left has no monopoly on argument by genetic fallacy -- in addition to my citizen's revulsion at the right's reliance on treason-baiting, I have nearly as deep philosopher's outrage at the supposedly liberal MSM for not calling unambiguous fallacy what it is, and having done with -- but what seems to me exclusive to at least a segment of the left is a kind of euphoria over sniffing out hypocrisy and declaring argumentative victory on no other grounds. The justice of affirmative action is not partly, let alone wholly, a function of the moral worth of its proponents or opponents.)

Back to Yglesias's argument. Under meritocracy, society rewards individuals on the basis of what they freely achieve with the skills the genetic roulette wheel has given them. Under any non-meritocracy, society rewards individuals on the basis of nothing but a roulette spin. Clearly, our society is a mix; the question for Yglesias is whether political justice consists in moving in one direction or the other, or staying still. Frankly, I don't think the question is difficult.

Or, to give it an alternative framing that the libis will appreciate, any non-meritocracy will entail coercing individuals against achieving what their unachieved skills enable them to. A free society is meritocratic.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Constitution Schmonstitution

Nothing can top this:
Q. How does a War Bill become a War Law?
A. It all begins with the president, who submits a bill to the president. If a majority of both the president and the president approve the bill, then it passes on to the president, who may veto it or sign it into law. And even then the president can override himself with a two-thirds vote...[snip]...

A. Cause without the wiretaps there's nothin to stop the terrorists from eatin you, yknow. The terrorists and their army of bees.
Q. Oh no! I'm allergic to terrorists AND bees!
Fafnir forgot to add that even after both houses of president have passed a bill and the president has signed it, it's still subject to review and interpretation by the president.

The PoPo

This shit just needs to stop. There's only one plausible reconstruction of the events here: the NHPD wrongfully arrested and abused another Yale student, then falsified the documentary record to cover their asses. And surprise, surprise, the creep at the center of this affair is none other than our old pal, that's right, Marco Francia.

Okay, so it's pretty clear to anybody who read's Radley Balko's blog that cops, like the president, are above the law, and so Francia and his accomplices won't be heading to the prison cell they've been working towards, at least not anytime soon.

Still, this situation creates what Kant would call a perfect duty for one member of our community. As some folks may recall, I endorsed Nick Shalek's candidacy for alderman in the fall on the grounds that as someone who isn't party to New Haven's regnant political machine, he'd have the chance to do a small something about the political rot and sclerosis that cripple urban government and, among many other consequences, enable urban police forces to plod along lawlessly, corruptly, and without any capacity to admit error, much less correct it. So here's a simple proposal for Shalek. Get Officer Francia permanently removed from any detail in which he'd be likely to deal with Yale students; Shalek, to be sure, has no authority to make personnel decisions for the PD, which is why it is his absolute obligation to his constituents to raise hell at every board meeting until the city holds this thug accountable.

Our Rabbit Hole

For everyone who's asked, the reason for the lack of content recently isn't simple busyness. It's that it's becoming increasingly apparent that there was an explicit order drafted in the White House with the president's knowledge and approval, and executed by the relevant field commander, to torture irony to death at Abu Ghraib. It's hard, in other words, to find any unoccupied reflective space.

Fortunately, Tom Tomorrow did find some. As did, I have it on some authority, my friend and YDN colleague Keith Urbahn, who will shortly be going to press with a defense of the administration's illegal surveillance program---or as the press should not allow them to presumptively call it, the "terrorist surveillance program"---and presumably also a swipe or two at me.

Now, if Keith has been paying attention to the flow of things, he'll know that not even the Bush Justice Dept. is trying to maintain the pretense that the wiretapping program doesn't flatly contradict FISA; but Keith has another argument: FISA is unconstitutional, as it restricts the power of the president in contravention of Article II.

Think about that. FISA does not, in fact, limit what an administration is permitted to do under the law at all; it simply sets up a requirement that executive action be subject to oversight by another branch of government, or as we learned in middle school physics, a check or balance. If FISA is unconstitutional, then the Constitution provides the president with an utterly unchecked power. Recall Logic 101. To affirm the antecedent is to affirm the conclusion. And to affirm the conclusion is to demonstrate breathtaking ignorance of the constitutional tradition. It's also a way of declaring one's preference for elective dictatorship.

The Kripke Tripke

Just as Augie March went to Mexico to visit Trotsky, and generations of Amises have made Pilgrimages to the House of Bellow, I travelled to the CUNY graduate center in New York yesterday along with world-renowned cartoonist Eric Shansby to see Saul Kripke give his first completely open public lecture in God knows how long. (For those in the dark, Kripke is the man who revolutionized virtually every sub-field of theoretical philosophy in about a decade from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, and then proceeded to enter a kind of Salinger-esque hibernation, characterized by cutting off all access to his unpublished writings and all transcripts and recordings of his lectures, and according to some rumors, jumping out of bushes in order to startle unsuspecting [female] passersby.)

The Kripke canon is small enough that anybody who wanted a capsulized presentation of what analytic philosophy can be at its best might as well just get into the whole thing. He has four principle achievements: 1) providing (as a teenager!) a plausible framework for modal logic; 2) Naming and Necessity, later a book, originally a series of lectures he gave without notes, essentially off the top of his head, in which he managed to overturn centuries-old assumptions in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language [this is the book to read if you can only ever read one book of analytic philosophy]; 3) a collection of published papers, primarily "A Puzzle About Belief" and "Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference," which had similar results to those of N&N; 4) a book about "Wittgenstein" that isn't really about Wittgenstein at all, but some imagined philosopher whom some people call "Kripkenstein."

As for yesterday's lecture, it was about as good as I'd expect a new book from J.D. Salinger to be. The argument seemed to be something along the lines of, mind-body dualism must be true on the basis of a theory of the reference of the term "I" according to which (a) we do successfully refer by using "I" and (b) necessarily, the referent of "I" is something like a Cartesian res cogitans. Don't ask me, I don't understand the theory. OTOH, I do now have a signed copy of N&N.

What made the lecture worthwhile, however, were Kripke's anecdotes, the best of which is that he unwittingly managed to train one of the founders and leaders of the Intelligent Design Movement [it's got to be Dembski, right?--ed.] in mathematical logic. Kripke's remark to the effect that anytime a fundamentalist begins a sentence with the phrase "Scripture says that....", unless whatever comes after is in ancient Hebrew or coinic Greek, the sentence is simply false.

Apropos of that sort of objection, I re-read "A Puzzle About Belief" tonight to discover that Kripke had claimed "'Holland'='the Netherlands'" to be the sort of cognitively problematic true identity statement that generates Frege's puzzle (viz., assuming for the sake of argument that the meaning of a name is a function of its reference, how can the sentences "Mark Twain=Mark Twain" and "Mark Twain=Samuel Clemens" differ in cognitive significance, which they must, since the first is a paradigmatic a priori and the second is a paradigmatic a posteriori). Of course, however, "Holland" and "the Netherlands" are not co-referential; Holland is a region of the Netherlands.

Monday, January 23, 2006


I'm not sure what the Knappster doesn't understand: If Steve Kubby doesn't die in excruciating pain in prison, Our ChildrenĀ© might be induced to accept the false and pernicious belief that a single puff of their older brothers' shitty reefer won't ruin their lives.

Next thing you know, he'll be arguing preposterously that 'Merican society won't collapse if medicinal consumption of homegrown isn't classified as interstate commerce. (Right, TL?) I mean, these ain't no brain teasers.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

New Year's Prediction

Photos of old pals Abramoff and Bush turn up everywhere and saturate the 24-hour and evening news. See also....

Championship Sunday

Pittsburgh and Carolina, then Pittsburgh in the Superbowl. It's a lock.

UPDATE: I mean, Seattle, it's a lock. Pittsburgh still to win.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New At YDN

A small-r republican case for impeachment. Nut graf:
So what is to be done? In a memorable essay called "Why I Write," George Orwell remarked that one of the forces propelling his political engagement was "a power of facing unpleasant facts." Undoubtedly the realization that justice demands the president's impeachment will strike many people as unpleasant, to put it mildly. Despite that unpleasantness, any legal remedy for the president's crimes short of impeachment is simply insufficient; the president's debt to society for the wrongs he has inflicted upon it can only be recouped by removing him from office.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Scarlett Johannovna

I originally posted this as an update to a post on Brokeback Mountain from December. The new year brought the best theatrical release I've seen in about ten years and Woody Allen's best work in about fifteen years:
Add Match Point to the list of movies I have zero reservations about. (I don't mean to imply there is absolutely nothing about these movies that could be improved, but that they are (so I say) essentially as good as any film can be.) One caveat: I'm a huge fan of Woody Allen, and reading Dostoevsky was a life-changing experience for me, so any film that is the product of Allen's full exercise of his talent and that rings insightful and ironic changes on the basic plot of Crime and Punishment is going to be up my alley. Mine is admittedly idiosyncratic, albeit very good, taste.

N.B.: One prominent reviewer whose name I can't recall, else I'd provide a link, wrote something to the effect that "you'll never see the plot twist coming." That's fatuous. The first two thirds of the movie resound with Hannah and Her Sisters, and the last third with Crimes and Misdemeanors, which is (duh) an adaptation of C&P. If you're familiar with the source material, in other words, you should be able to pinpoint the moment at which the "twist" part of the plot is set into motion, and more or less exactly how it will play out. Of course, grasping the bare essentials of the plot isn't the purpose of the exercise. Which points towards a potential constituent of greatness in art: an experience that becomes richer and deeper on the second, third, nth viewing/listening/etc.

My four word review of Match Point (undercutting the old boss by one): Tolstoyan take on C&P [if Bush gets to bend the rules of FISA, we at FW get to bend the rules of counting--ed.]. With that said, I'm hoping to see a reaction to the film and the foregoing from the actual Tom...Schmidt.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sunday Sermonette: Troy Cross

How do we account for the coincidence between some of the modal properties of objects (their persistence conditions) and our beliefs about them? Here, the hypothesis that the world is the product of a benevolent and intelligent designer provides a ready answer. Even if it is not strictly required to avoid skepticism, naturalists would do well to have an answer too. But Rea argues that no such answer is possible; the only naturalistically acceptable theories of the persistence conditions of objects are conventionalist, thus rendering extrinsic those properties and the ordinary objects that have them.

There is a familiar reply to this sort of anti-conventionalist charge: rigidification. Do not reduce the persistence conditions of objects at a world, w, to relations between the mind-independent ingredients of w and the mental activity at w. Instead, reduce persistence conditions to dispositions of the mind-independent world to cause a certain kind of response in minds like ours as they are in the actual world, in accordance with our actual conventions. Thus, just as the color that is actually my favorite would have existed even if I had not, so persistence conditions, as well as the ordinary objects having them, would have existed even if there were no minds. This is one overlooked strategy. Another is a reductive linguistic ersatzism paired with counterpart theory. Of course, naturalists owe a detailed account here, but the point is that there is no reason to think they face an explanatory problem they are in principle unable to solve.
---From a review of Michael Rea's World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism

MLK Day Quick Links

Slaving away on a YDN column for all of you, I'll just drop a few links for now and add some more substantive commentary later.

Jonah Goldberg: the Achilles of bedwetters. (Pissy response here.)

The fruit of John Rawls' loins: oy vey.

Michelle Malkin: what a (Soviet) patriot.

TCS: strong on "the metaphysics of conservatism," weak on metaphysics.

Alito: Nope, no ideology here.

David Howard (Albert Brooks): "Say it! Say it! Say 'I lost the nest-egg.' Go on, say it!" ---From Lost in America, one of the great unsung masterpieces of our time.

I Had A Dream

...and guess who's back.

Could anybody who is watching the Golden Globes tip me off (phone call, IM, whatevs), so I can catch a spurious MLK reference in medias res. Also, go Match Point.

Bonus points to anybody who can name Hugh Laurie's two most famous roles before House.

UPDATE: Well, now that it's over, I think it's safe to say that reading that girl's live-blogging of der Golde Globulus, or any awards show for that matter, is approximately infinitely more edifying than watching the horrendous thing. (Now, if it were a literal as well as figurative circle-jerk, that would be entertainment. Bring on the Kathy Bates/Queen Latifah cock measuring contest.) And in the end, it seems that the gayest movie of the year not based on a book by C.S. Lewis wins best picture. [If it were about a cowboy and a cowgirl, would it have won? Or has our culture progressed to the point that any heterosexual forbidden love story is wildly implausible.--ed? Dunno, didn't see it. And I'll wait for Mickey Kaus's review of the cowgirl/cowgirl adaptation, premiering on Cinemax later this month.--F.]

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Will The Wised Up Realists STFU Now?

By 52-43, Americans agree with the statement, "If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."

N.B.: President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge. The antecedent is fulfilled. The conclusion is unmysterious. (Link via Atrios.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Second Thoughts On Galloway, Anybody?

Here's video of Gorgeous George, contestant on UK Celebrity Big Brother, pretending to be a cat drinking imaginary milk out of some celeb's cupped hands. For the people of Iraq, indeed.

Friday, January 13, 2006


As reported here, Judge Alito thinks that in interpreting the Constitution, "we should look to the text of the Constitution, and we should look to the meaning that someone would have taken from the text of the Constitution at the time of its adoption." This is identified as a particular principle of interpretation, originalism. I know I am probably not saying anything new here, but "originalism" as an interpretative metric of the Constitution is radically mystical and has no place in a secular society based on any principles of logical rigor or pragmatic discourse. It is inherently onto-theological, this idea that the rules that should be prescribed for and by society are to be determined by the convocation of the imagined psychological structures of dead persons, i.e. of ghosts. It is no accident that originalist judges are the same judges who are collapsing the so-called separation between church and state. They are not using an originalist doctrine to accomplish the enshrinement of the church; rather, any doctrine of originalism is inherently theological, and based on neo-Platonic and Christian economies of an eidetic text or referent imbued with natural, psychical power and a full, enduring and non-discontinuous presence.

I would go further. The very idea of a constitutional democracy, as it has developed in this country, is opposed to the notion of democracy. There is nothing proud or noble in the frequent claim that we Americans are not ruled by a monarch or a God but by law, i.e. a text. For this text has been imbued with the same ludicrous and totalizing notions of infallibility, of historical continuity, of respect as a monarch, God or tyrant-- it acts as a center in which is constantly located by those in finite power a force of radical regression and conservation of that power. It is a figment -- when F. Douglas burned the Constitution that was the last moment of its actuality, and it was judged unworthy. Don't believe the hype. There is no Constitution. If you want a Constitution to your liking, one that can constitute a better state, you will have to take it from the teeth of every politician, every judge, every law professor, every monopolist, etc.

UPDATE: Finnegan here, just wanting to make a quick point dovetailing off of Jeremy's remarks. One of the big problems/puzzles in social contract theory---and like it or not, this is a nation that exists because of a literal contract---is how any members of a society who were not alive at the time of the adoption of the social contract could be bound to it. One possible answer---and this is a thought that would need to be fleshed out more---is that the linguistic and social context of a particular point in time at least plays a role in determining the meaning of the contract. If a theory explicitly prohibits such a causal relation, as Alito-style originalism surely does, then it clearly (if implicitly) sets up a strong, maybe insurmountable barrier to the present members of a society consenting to a contract adopted by past members; and not because the present members are intransigent, but because their language and their society just isn't the language and society of the time of the contract's adoption.

In other words, if a Constitution is not an evolving thing---not more akin to a biological species than to a Platonic form---it is not a legitimate contract at all, but rather a prescription for coercion.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Don't Call It A Comeback

So where I been? I'm afraid the answer isn't any more exciting than that I didn't have a blog-functional computer for the past three weeks. More TK. I'm not sure if my next YDN column will be this week or next, but either way, it'll be on this impeachment stuff.

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