Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Razors and Muffins are Absurd?

From the always amusing New York Sun:

[...] a New York University senior bit into a razor-filled muffin left on a classroom table last week, according to university officials. The student was not injured.

The muffin was baked for a philosophy course. According to a spokesman for the university, John Beckham, a student brought in the booby-trapped confection along with several normal muffins as part of a project on absurdism, a philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless.

Being no expert in the alleged philosophy of "absurdism," could someone please explain this to me? Is there something absurd about baking razors into a muffin? How does this exemplify the irrationality and meaninglessness of the universe?

***NEW THOUGHT!!!***
Or is the use of a non-absurd object (a razor-filled muffin) as an exemplification of absurdity itself absurd? Someone call Alanis Morissette, that is, if anyone remembers that has been who never should have been.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ethics of Selling Textbooks

As you may know, academics receive throughout the year unsolicited copies newly published textbooks from academic publishers. The books are sent for review for possible adoption in courses. The hope is that upon receiving a free book, one will look it over and assign it to one's students. A few adoptions of a given textbook apparently offsets the cost to the publisher of giving a few thousand copies away.

Around this time each year, an elderly couple appears, unannounced, at my office door. They ask if I have any textbooks that I'd like to sell. The couple apparently lives in a mobile home, traveling the country, making money in the used textbook market. I usually sell whatever texts I've received that I've had the time to look at. Since I nearly never use textbooks in my classes (I use primary sources and journal articles), it doesn't much matter what I think of the texts I am sent anyway.

The question is whether it's ethical to sell complimentary review copies of textbooks. Some thoughts: Copies sold in the used market do not yield revenue for the publisher, and so no royalties are paid to the author or editor of the book. On the other hand, the copies are unsolicited, and take up space in my office. And used books save students money. But, again, textbooks are so expensive precisely because publishers need to offset losses due to the used market. Yet I like the elderly couple that shows up at my office, and would like to seem them succeed in their little business.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Annual Bitch about Grade Negotiation

I'm pretty good at sending strong signals to students that there's no use in coming to my office to discuss (read: negotiate) final grades. Yet roughly one or two students each year prove foolish enough to try talk their way into a (slightly) higher grade. I never budge.

Today, some benighted student dropped by my office, without an appointment, to discuss his final grade. Within a few minutes, it became clear to him that he had no real basis for disputing the grade he earned on his term paper, so he then turned to purported reasons why his grade for the course should be increased. Of the many foolish suggestions he made, one that stuck out was this: He told me that he should get "a little extra credit" due to the fact that he came to class. I explained to him in palpably annoyed tones that one does not get credit for meeting one's most basic obligation.

The point was entirely foreign to this student. He couldn't see how it was the case that by registering for my course he incurred the prima facie obligation to attend class regularly, and how this meant that the idea of giving him extra credit for attending class regularly is incoherent.

That someone could get through 3 years of university education and not be aware of this basic point about obligation and moral credit is amazing. It's also an interesting indication of how universities are failing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nietzsche's Grave

Don't ask me why, but I went to see some live music last night. The opening act was some apparently semi-famous country singer/songwriter type. She performed with an acoustic guitar and some guy on electric. Anyway, her final song of the evening had as its chorus, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." As you may know, that's a quote from Nietzsche (from his Twilight of the Idols, I think).

It's always sad to see profound insight appropriated by ignorant hacks for sappy bullshit. But the insult goes deeper: the song was about how guardian angels watch over us and make sure we get stronger.

I'm no fan of Nietzsche as a philosopher (though I'm willing to allow that he is probably not as bad as many of his disciples make him out to be), but I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor old guy as he was turning in his grave.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Praise for Slackers

This morning I-- against my better judgment-- patronized a Panera, or maybe it was Bread & Company. I can't remember. Anyway, the guy in the suit who was standing in front of me in line asked the girl behind the counter the following question:

What's the difference between French bread and Country French bread?

The counter girl replied:

The ingredients.

Angered, the guy walked away. I paid for my coffee and bagel with a ten dollar bill, and told her to keep the change.

Slackers, 1; Suits, 0

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Kind of Dick I Am, part 607

I've mentioned previously that, despite being at my current university for what many would call a long time, I know nearly nobody outside of my department. And I like it that way.

Just now, I was walking to my office, and was greeted by one of the countless fellow faculty members I've passed innumerable times in the halls of my building but do not know. Today, she decided to try to chat me up. She said,

Hi. What a beautiful afternoon! You know, I've been seeing you around for at least 8 years-- you're almost always in your office-- and we've never really met. Are you some kind of academic misanthrope?

I answered coldly, Yes-- 'academic misanthrope' sums it up well. I know almost no one at this university.

Nervously laughing as if I'd been joking, she replied, Well, tell me how you do it. You're here all the time, but apparently are never asked to serve on committees, or do other things that usually result in mingling with other faculty! How is it that you're here all the time but know nobody?

I responded, Well, my colleagues generally do not trust my judgment, so I'm never asked to do committee work, and otherwise I try not to talk to people.

She again started laughing nervously, as if I was trying to be funny. Then she saw that I was not smiling. She replied, Wow... , and before she could continue the thought, I said, Good day, and walked away.

That's the kind of dick I am.

Google Maps

I've just learned that my city has been "mapped" by Google, so now one can see my city on "street view." It seems I can be spotted on "street view" exiting a local drinking establishment.... Fitting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bush to Pope (aka DOOM)

Today, President Bush claimed that Pope Benedict's visit to the US was a call to help us to "distinguish between simple right and wrong." He continued that,"We need [the Pope's] message to reject this dictatorship of relativism. . . . "

Sadly, what the President overlooks is that it is the relativists' view which holds that there is anything simple about distinguishing between right and wrong. In fact, on the relativist view, nothing could be more simple than right and wrong! Once again, the leader of the free world identifies complexity and nuance with what is bad, and simplicity with what is good.

We're totally fucking doomed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kook Mail Returns

When I started blogging again, I knew it was only a matter of time before the unsolicited email from deluded anonymous kooks would begin to pour in. Here's a sample (all text verbatim):

Why do you think its a joke when famous people die? The passing to Charlton Heston is no laughing matter. He was a true patriot American and did a lot to protect our freedoms especially in the right to bear arms department. When the government comes to take your property and you have nothing to defend yourself with, you'll wish Mr. Heston was still with us to help the fight for freedom.

Your so-called argument that "Christianity is a lie" is a lie! That you were served beer by some MAN named Jesus (probably the Hispanic pronunciation) on Good Friday establishes NOTHING about the death and resurrection of our LORD, Jesus the CHRIST. Two people can have the same name. Leave it to tenured baffoon liberal academic atheists like you to overlook THIS "inconvienent truth." That you claim to teach LOGIC is the worst part. There is no "logic," no anything, without JESUS THE CHRIST.


As a contributor to more than one "Pop Culture and Philosophy" volume, I was offended by your post suggesting that people like me contribute to such efforts only because we are unable to place our work in peer-reviewed "professional" formus. Have you bothered to look at the world of the philosophy journals lately? It's a small number of people talking to each other about things no one in their right mind should be concerned with. Where are the big ideas and the big thinkers of today? Not in the philosophy departments, and not in the philosophy journals which you so myopically equate with academic legitimacy. Instead of trying to police the discipline with your hegemonic sense of excellence, just try, for once, connecting with people outside of your comfortable circle of privilege. You'll find that all of your distinctions, analysis, and "proofs" are useless. And then maybe you'll learn what Philosophy really is and should be(come).

Monday, April 14, 2008


I thought I'd dip into some old student evaluations this morning. This one strikes me as especially informative:

Professor [Spiros] is a terrible teacher of political philosophy. The readings were too hard. He has no interest in what the students think. Whenever a student would say an opinion, Dr. [Spiros] would argue that the student was wrong (unless it was a philosophy major). This was very frustrating and not a good way to encourage class discussion. He just spent the whole class time talking about the reading.

Would someone remind me, again, of why we ask the uninformed and ignorant to evaluate their professors?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Celebrated Summer

Just writing to let you know that by this time next week, I'll be on summer break. Classes are done early this week. I'll grade in my usual efficient way (no comments on final papers unless students ask) and submit my grades on Sunday.

Oh, I'll also work in a trip to this thing in Chicago. If you're among the weirdos, jesters, hardasses, and masochists who'll be there, I'll be flashing the secret sign throughout. Beware.

By the way: My immanent summer reminds me to mention that I've been listening to a lot of Husker Du lately. I know I've mentioned it before, but Foo Fighters are at best a second-rate tribute band, and at worst a radio-friendly rip off of Husker Du. Is this your celebrated summer?


That so many people have such a poor command of their native language is a sure sign of DOOM. We all know that the word like is abused endlessly in narrative contexts, especially when one is describing a conversation. Today, I overheard an extraordinary egregious violation of the word literally:

He spent three weeks in Europe and he
literally enjoyed it.

People frequently misuse the word literally for emphasis. But this makes no fucking sense.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Doom, part 5307

The Steve Miller Band is playing three shows in the NYC area this summer. Way to go, losers. This is an injustice too horrible to bear. You all should be forced to attend.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Would someone please tell R.E.M. that it is well past time they fucking stopped?

(In fact, they should have stopped after Life's Rich Pageant.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

NYT on Philosophy Majors

Don't miss this bit from the New York Times about the surging popularity of philosophy as an undergraduate major.

The story ends with a quotation from a 20 year-old saying that she has found male philosophy majors to be "interesting and sensitive." She continues: “That whole deep existential torment” is “good for getting girlfriends.”

That's why I majored in philosophy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Greetings from Where I Am

Greetings from the undisclosed foreign land that is presently tolerating my presence. All's well here. I write to let you know that I had the opportunity this morning to employ one of my favorite conversational tropes. A young philosopher asked me about my current research. I responded that I'd been working on issues pertaining to x, y, and z. He responded, "Interesting. But who do you use in discussing these things?" I replied, "Who do I use?" He said, "Well, yes... what philosophers, what figures, do you do X, y, and Z with?"

And so the trope... I replied: I don't do philsoophy with any other philosopher. I do philosohpy against other philosophers.

Seriously: I've been noticing that philosophers allied with methods/traditions/approaches (or whatever) that classify themselves as something distinct from something called "analytic" philosophy increasingly describe their research in terms of the figures they discuss. They tend to say things like, "I work on questions of x through the lens of philosopher P," or they say "I'm wiritng a book on Justice, the main figures I'll be discussing are P, Q, and X." So I ask: How is this not equivalent to saying, "I have no original philosophical thoughts or theses of my own, I'm just a toadie for some philosopher who, lucky for me, had his/her own mind"?