Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Public Enemy of All Mankind"!

After Christian Dior dropped Sharon Stone from its ads in China, Stone released a statement saying she is "deeply sorry" for her claim that the earthquakes were the result of karma (defined as "When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you").

The official Chinese Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary that Stone is the "public enemy of all mankind."

I hate Stone as much as the next person with a eyes and a brain, but "public enemy of all mankind" seems a tad exaggerated. She's simply not that important.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stone on Karma

You'll be glad to know that Hollywood dimwit and frightfully inept actor Sharon Stone has weighed in on earthquakes in China and the concept of karma:

I’m not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else [. . . .] And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?

Where to begin.... On second thought, why bother? Too fucking stupid.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fish on Colorado Follies

Stanley Fish has just posted a blog about the president of the University of Colorado's plan to endow a "Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy." This is the usual nonsense: Republicans take themselves to have cornered the market on Conservatism, define any non-Republican as therefore a "Leftist," assemble some statistics showing a disproportionately low number of Republicans among the university faculty ranks, and draw the conclusion that the universities are in the grip of "Leftist" bias and so are in need of the kind of "balance" which could be provided only by mandating an increase in the presence of conservative viewpoints on campus.

The argument is a muddle for the simple fact that it confuses its categories. This confusion results from the need to map political ideology onto party affiliation. So, all of those who are not registered Republicans are taken to be therefore Democrats (rather than simply non-Republicans), and Democrats, since they are non-Conservatives, must be "Leftists." But all of this amounts to a Disneyland view of politics. Not all conservatives are Republicans; some conservatives are Democrats; some conservatives are Libertarians; some liberals are Libertarians; some Democrats are moderates and thus anti-Leftist; some Leftists are Socialists; and so on.

The logical error is so simple, I can't imagine how people so readily fall for it: Define a position, x, very narrowly and then compare the number of persons who hold x with the number of those who don't. X will come out in the minority every time. So, let's try this: Stipulate that a "Leftist" is someone who accepts Marx's historical materialism. Now go survey the professors at any university. The vast minority of them will turn out to be Leftists. So the university is disproportionately conservative! QED.

Sorry for the long post. As with everything that Fish writes, there's the good part and the crazy part, and I don't want to let the crazy part go unmentioned. Fish writes:

A classroom discussion of Herbert Marcuse and Leo Strauss, for example, does not (or at least should not) have the goal of determining whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized. Rather, the (academic) goal would be to describe the positions of the two theorists, compare them, note their place in the history of political thought, trace the influences that produced them and chart their own influence on subsequent thinkers in the tradition. And a discussion of this kind could be led and guided by an instructor of any political persuasion whatsoever, and it would make no difference given that the point of the exercise was not to decide a political question but to analyze it.

Apparently Fish thinks that every university should be a Great Books program: we "describe," "compare," and historically contextualize great thinkers, without trying to determine what is true. What nonsense! What, exactly, is it to "analyze" a political question but to try to figure out which position is right? Otherwise, why bother?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mister Lonely

I'm compelled to see the new Harmony Korine film, Mister Lonely, simply because it stars Samantha Morton. Some would say I have an interest in Morton that's unhealthy. And they're right.

But there's a problem. The film is about celebrity impersonators. Morton plays a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, and the opposite lead plays a Michael Jackson impersonator. But the film poster lists them as playing the persons their characters impersonate (viz, Samantha Morton as Marilyn Monroe). Now, it's obvious that this is just false. Morton does not play Marilyn. She plays someone pretending to be Marilyn. Even if Morton's character changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, I think it still would be a mistake to say that Samantha Morton is playing Marilyn Monroe! This is one place in which it would make sense to use quotation marks (viz., Samantha Morton as "Marilyn Monroe").

It's been a long time since I cared about anything in philosophy of language. Does my position above commit me to the Kripkean view of names?

I should mention that I discovered this fact about the film poster while in line outside a theater. I had intended to see this film this afternoon, but the poster's error made me walk away. I probably won't go see the movie now-- all because of this error. Philosophy can be a sickness.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Inland Empire

I just got around to watching David Lynch's Inland Empire. Anyone care to tell what the fuck was going on (in 250 words or less)?


Relatedly, Dick Martin has a posse.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Overheard at Whole Foods

I've never actually bought anything from Whole Foods, but I do on occasion make some time to walk around there, just to watch how powerful identity-marketing is. People who shop there seem to really have invested themselves in it: food shopping is for them something like a social event. Whole Foods is where they meet up with their friends, hang out, bring their kids, and so on.

Anyway, last night I overheard a woman, a 2008 equivalent of a yuppie (someone please coin a word for this new breed), saying to whoever was on the other end of her cellphone, "Yeah... I'm at Whole Foods. Where are you? Ok. They're giving out wheat grass shots tonight.... They taste like poo." Yet she continued drinking.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blog: Logic for Politics

Leiter links to a new blog, written by David Braybrooke, devoted to "commentary on the simple logical implications of various contributions to current political discourse. " The blog is called Logic for Politics.

It looks like the kind of blog I'd be writing were I not so busy getting my fiddle ready for fireside entertainment.

Note also Leiter's riff on that incompetent piece on Mill by Alan Wolfe, which we discussed earlier.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fishing & Stripping

This E-Bay seller specializes in two things: Fishing equipment and stripper apparel.

One-stop shopping!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Line

Today I saw an advertisement for a bail bonds service called... wait for it... Free at Last Bail Bonds.

Was that the sound of the line being crossed?


In other news of tastelessness, I saw a woman wearing a white t-shirt with the following words printed across the front: Love is a battlefield.


We're doomed.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bon Scott or Brian Johnson?

What to make of this....

An academic paper (in economics) with the title "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson"?

The author writes:
Among musicologists, researchers of popular culture, and rock and roll lovers of all ages there exists a common debate. That is, with respect to the rock band AC/DC, who is the better vocalist: Bon Scott or Brian Johnson?

The paper concludes that Brian Johnson is the better vocalist.

Good thing that's settled.

BTW: Is this a joke?

Tom Waits Tickets

Got my Waits tickets, bitches.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mindfucking

The latest book by the toughest, hardestcore philosopher in the world, Colin McGinn, is titled Mindfucking.

Those of you who don't know McGinn from his view that humans can no more explain consciousness than monkeys can explain algebra might know him from the pissing-match resulting from the painfully frank and utterly relentless book review he wrote some months back. (The review begins with the following sentences: This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad. It is painful to read, poorly thought out, and uninformed. It is also radically inconsistent. )

In any case, there's no information about Mindfucking on Amazon. Does anyone know what this book is about? If I read it, will McGinn fuck my mind?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Film Shoot

I just found out that parts of the Hannah Montana film are being shot on my campus-- indeed, in my building-- next week.

Suggestions?

More Fun with Copy Editing!

My copy editor just wrote back to me insisting the the following sentence (rewritten by her) is "absolutely fine":

The argument proceeds along the lines of what logics and linguistic frameworks one takes to be fundamental or correct about the basic building blocks of reality are.

Note that this is the "copy edited" version. The original was two sentences. I don't get it. She seems fixated on reducing the number of sentences, even if that means adding more words (and losing all sense). In any case, she must be incorrectly reading this sentence, because it's manifestly not "absolutely fine"!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Copy Editors: Must They Suck?

I'm presently working through the proofs for my next book. This is usually a frustrating process at best: one's precise, yet manifestly readable and engaging prose is inevitably turned into crap by some copy editor somewhere who very likely knows nothing about one's topic. One learns to live with it. However, this time around, things have gotten really bad. To wit:

Nearly every instance of "according to which" has been changed to "namely,"even in cases where "namely" makes no sense. Example:

Original sentence: Deflationism is the view according to which truth is not a substantive property. The task of the deflationist program is to...

Changed sentence: Deflationism, namely, the view that truth is not a substantive property, has as its task...

My favorite copy-editor mangle thus far is:
The questions of ontology have two main areas naturalists have taken that they might help.

What bullshit.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mill: "Forgotten" Philosopher?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published a piece by one Alan Wolfe titled "The Forgotten Philosopher." The tag-line for the piece makes the assertion "Academe's specialization has left John Stuart Mill out in the cold," and the opening paragraph runs as follows:

Contemporary academic philosophy is riven by a great divide: Either you adhere to a Continental perspective identified with Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger that addresses big speculative subjects like the Essence of Being, or you identify with the British and American analytic school that puts a priority on rigorous logic, language, and meaning. What, then, are we to make of John Stuart Mill, who belongs to neither?

This is complete nonsense. First of all, Mill is easily among the most widely taught figures in philosophy (no ethics or social/political course can omit him); his work, especially Utilitarianism and On Liberty, is among the most frequently anthologized; the secondary literature on Mill continues to grow rapidly; and Mill remains central to contemporary discussions of utilitarianism and liberalism. In short, it's silly to say that Mill has been left "out in the cold."

Even more silly, however, is Wolfe's depiction of the "great divide" in academic philosophy. I leave it to the people who work on Nietzsche's metaethics and epistemology to confute the description of the "Continental perspective." Note the even more ridiculous characterization of the "analytic school"! Later in the article he implies that analytic philosophers are "interested in logic for logic's sake" Does anyone fit this description? Not Quine, not Putnam, not Davidson, not Searle, not Dennett, not Nagel, not even Kripke!

Note also that Wolfe's characterization of the "great divide" entails that academic philosophy ignores all ethicists and political philosophers (not just Mill). Yet ethics and political philosophy are at present easily more active subfields in the profession (and perhaps more respected, too) than philosophy of language (which has arguably been dormant, and certainly not central to the discipline, for twenty years). Just think: by Wolfe's description Rawls, Habermas, Nozick, Dworkin, Nussbaum, Raz, Scanlon, Walzer, Waldron, Sen, and Pettit have all been left out in the cold by contemporary academic philosophy!

In the 7th paragraph, we get an explanation... I think. Wolfe says, "I am no philosopher, so perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking that Mill has gotten a raw deal from those who are." But I don't get it. Wolfe seeks forgiveness for his ignorance? Fair enough. But it's not his ignorance of what's going on in academic philosophy that's objectionable, but rather his willingness to assert sweeping claims about what's going on in academic philosophy while acknowledging his ignorance! That's plainly irresponsible and stupid. Unfortunately, it's a common kind of irresponsibility and stupidity. Why do people who are not philosophers nonetheless show no hesitation in making claims about the current state of the discipline?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spare Us The Cutter

I've just been alerted that Echo & The Bunnymen will be playing Radio City Music Hall on October 1st. There's a special presale arrangement, so that the clamoring hordes of fans can get their tickets early. It appears that the band will be performing their album Ocean Rain in its entirety.

One question: Why it this fucking happening?


(Disclosure: I saw Echo & The Bunnymen in 1987...)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tom Waits Tour Dates

Dates for Tom Waits' Glitter and Doom tour (summer 2008) have been announced. Check it here (thanks to the Eyeball Kid blog).

That's right: Waits is touring this summer under the banner of DOOM. He knows....

I'll be at several shows.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Small Talk

I just got off a plane, and, as you know, a full plane is a breeding ground chit-chat among complete strangers. I hate small talk to a degree that many would say is excessive. My strategy is simple: endure the chit-chat until the inevitable question arises, "So, what do you do?" My trusty answer, "I'm a logician," typically elicits nothing more than an "Oh," and then stops conversation cold.

The last few times I've used this tactic, though, it backfired: my interlocutor said something like, "How interesting. Could you explain what that involves?" Yuk. Today, though, it worked like a charm. After I claimed to be a logician, the woman next to me picked up Sky Mall, and "shopped" for the duration of the flight.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Leiter: "troglodyte in cyberspace"?

I'm surprised it has taken so long for this piece from the Boston Globe to reach my desk. For those who don't know, Brian Leiter is a well-known philosopher of law who runs an influential philosophy blog, The Leiter Reports. The blog serves as one of the profession's main sources of helpful news and (sometimes helpful) gossip concerning faculty hires and moves, job placement, academic freedom issues, "academic bill of rights" debacles, anti-science (ooppps... sorry-- I meant "design science") movements, and other stuff.

Leiter is also the founder of the institution known as the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR), a peer-ranking (by faculty reputation) of most of the Ph.D. programs in Philosophy in the English speaking world. The PGR is widely despised and reviled among those who don't bother to understand its methodology or its clearly stated purpose. So Leiter spends lots of time swatting down misplaced and uninformed criticisms and the people who push them.

Anyway, what's interesting (read: nauseating) about the piece is the author's need to appear "fair and balanced" by introducing at the end unsubstantiated hackneyed criticisms: Leiter's blog "alternates philosophy with verbal soccer hooliganism" and so Leiter is a "troglodyte in cyberspace" who may be "demeaning" the profession. I, personally, think that philosophy isn't enough like verbal soccer hooliganism. If anything demeans the profession, it's the sickly pall of civility.

Imaginary Daddy

In the US, today is the National Day of Prayer. The website claims that prayer is "America's strength and shield." America must be pretty weak if it needs a shield in addition to its strength.

Go on, everybody, get down on your knees and beg to your imaginary daddy in the sky. And don't forget to deceive yourself into thinking that begging for goodies from a cosmic bully is the essence of morality.

Excuse me while I puke.