Saturday, February 28, 2009

Public Philosophy, Failed Again

On my flight back from that colossally depressing event last week, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a guy who fancied himself a philosopher. He was on his way to my home city to participate in a "workshop for life" (as he called it). At first I didn't get the gist, so I said, innocently, "you mean the workshop lasts until you die?" Not quite...

It was then explained to me that the US government allows-- even encourages-- the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens every year, and that this must be stopped. So I asked whether, in his view, it must be stopped by taking institutional measures designed to lower the number of unplanned pregnancies, and lower the cost (personal, financial, social, etc.) of single-parenthood, and so on. He declared that such measures "might be a part of the solution," but since "good people" shouldn't have to pay for the irresponsibility of others, the real aim was to criminalize abortion, to make the law reflect that abortion is equivalent to murder.

Then I said, "Interesting. Let's say that you're right, and let's say that you succeed in getting abortion criminalized. What should the law do about pregnant women who attempt (illegally) to get abortions?" Astoundingly, he replied, "they should go to jail, like any other murderer." I didn't raise the complication concerning the fact that we were considering a case in which no abortion had (yet) been performed, but instead replied, "So, if you're successful, we'd have a pretty large population of children born in prison. Who would pay the cost of raising, schooling, caring for them? Wouldn't it, again, be the 'good people'?"

"Hmmm..." he replied. Then he asked, "What's your line of work?" I said, "I'm a professor." Suspicious, he replied, "Professor of what?" I said (in keeping with my usual strategy), "Logic." His instantaneous, beautiful, reply: "I figured. Liberal."

The End.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In-flight Reading

A funny thing happened on my way to the airport last week. I was packing my briefcase, and a friend saw me pack one of the many fine recent philosophy books that have the word terrorism in the title. I was strongly urged not to bring such a book with me to an airport. The proposed reason was that anything suggesting an interest in terrorism-- even a book suggesting an interest in condemning terrorism-- would be a red flag for airport security.

We argued about it for a while, and then I guess I figured that the likelihood of a hassle precipitated by the book was high enough. So I left the book in my office. But I'm still bothered by the fact that I did. Is it really this bad at the airports these days?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Doom: JFP

I'll refrain from commenting at length about the most recent Jobs for Philosophers. My only hope is that every unemployed philosopher in the country applies to the Yale job in the Department of Coins and Medals.

It would be especially fitting if applicants cited among their credentials an extensive collection of heavy metal albums: e.g., Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and, of course, Accept (What's more metal than Udo Dirkschneider? Nothing.).

And it should be noted that I've received confirmation that the Central will be meeting in Chicago in February for the next several years. No word about whether the APA will adjust the JFP publication schedule accordingly. Luckily, this debacle was not much of an issue, since there are no jobs anyway...

Saturday, February 21, 2009


A bottle of crap beer at last night's "smoker": $9.00

A bottle of not-crap beer in the Palmer House hotel bar last night: $6.00


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Citing Referee Reports?

Here's a query:

Let's suppose that there's a really idiotic position that has risen to prominence in a certain interdisciplinary area of research to which philosophers, among others, are regular contributors. Let's say that the idiotic position is most commonly held among the non-philosophers working within the interdisciplinary area. So, one dutiful philosopher I know has taken up the cause of exposing this idiotic position, and he has written a definitive refutation of the idiotic position.

But there's a problem: his paper keeps getting rejected at the main journals in this interdisciplinary area. And reviews that accompany the rejection are indisputably idiotic; in fact, the reviews most often confirm the criticisms the author makes of the idiotic position. So, he keeps revising in ways designed to respond to the idiotic criticisms contained in the most recent rejection he has received.

Now there's a different problem: some of the criticisms he anticipates and deals with are so absurd as to strike any non-idiot reviewing the piece as cooked-up and irrelevant. But, as I said, the criticisms anticipated in the most recent version come directly from actual referees' reports rejecting prior versions of the paper. So, the question: May the author indicate in the current version of the paper that the criticisms he's anticipating and disposing of come from actual reviewers of previous versions of the essay? Can he say something like, "A reviewer of an earlier version of the paper recommended rejection on the grounds that my view entails.... But this is mistaken..."? Thoughts?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Disqualifying Job Talk

I heard tell this weekend of a job candidate who gave as his job talk a paper he'd published a year ago. Note: I did not say that the candidate gave a talk on the same topic as a paper he'd already published; nor did I say that the candidate gave a descendant of an already-published paper. The candidate read a paper he'd already published.

Perhaps it's a good paper deserving of a wide audience, but this seems to me to be disqualifying. It's a good indication that the candidate has not had a decent idea in at least a year. It's also deceitful. Moreover, it's an insult to the audience (and especially to those on the SC, who had read the candidate's publications).

Is mentoring at the final stage of graduate school typically this bad?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Central APA

So, we're one week away from the Central APA. As you'll recall, the Central meeting was moved from late March to late February, but the publication schedule of Jobs for Philosophers was not adjusted accordingly. So the next issue of JFP publishes during the meeting. What a disaster.

Amazingly, the APA thus far has said nothing about this incredible fuckup. Given the other stresses on the job market this year, this is unbelieveable.

Some speculated that the "web only" ads would make up for the error. But this turns out to not be the case.

Isn't it time for an organized protest?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sleeping Through an APA Interview

I've been bothered since December by a story I was told by an APA job candidate. According to the candidate, one of the members of the search committee with which he was interviewing fell asleep during the APA interview. Now, the other committee members were awake enough to continue the interview, and so they continued as if nothing was amiss. But the candidate was-- rightly, in my view-- pissed. However, he also realized how awkward the situation was, and so also continued as normal.

The whole thing strikes me as criminal. What should he (the candidate) have done? My view is that he should have called attention to the sleeping committee member and politely asked to reschedule. But I guess it's risky to call to the attention of a search committee that they're not doing their job?

Also: Philosophers Anonymous is one year old today. More soon.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Book Reivew: Written by Author's Parents?

Many will recall the battles occasioned by Colin McGinn's review of Ted Honderich's book on consciousness. McGinn's review was, plausibly, criticized for being over-the-top in its nastiness. If the McGinn review serves as an example of the vice of excessive harshness, surely the vice in the other direction is exhibited in this reivew of Penelope Deutscher's book about Simone de Beauvoir. The reivew has recently appeared in the otherwise above reproach and extremely helpful Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

The review is, in my view, over-the-top positive, gushing even. Every paragraph heaps praise on the author and goes on about how "fascinating," "wonderful," "exciting," and "significant" the book is. The only thing approaching a criticism has it that the author "tends to content herself with pointing out some promising avenues for future exploration, rather than developing these latter in depth." But, lest this seem a downer, the reviewer quickly turns this aspect of the book into a positive: it "leaves exciting new work for Deutscher and for others to pursue in the future."

Now, I do not know the author of the review, and I do not know the author of the book being reviewed. I am in no position to evaluate the merits of the book and am willing to presume that it is an extremely good book deserving of a highly positive review. However, a review like this-- gushing with praise and offering no real criticisms-- seems to me inappropriate and utterly unhelpful. The review is basically an extended advertisement for the book, not a review. This does a disservice to the book and to its author.

Maybe McGinn should have declined to review Honderich, given that he could not restrain his hostility. Maybe, too, the author of this review should have declined to review Deutscher, given her own lack of restraint. Views?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Posse Alert

Lux Interior of the Cramps has a posse. That sucks. Saw them in 1987, btw.

I think I need to go order Bad Music for Bad People on CD. I stole the cassette from a Sam Goody when I was a kid.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Someone Please Stop the DOOM!!

Rolling Stone reports that "Scarlett Johansson Ponders Album of Original Tunes or Leonard Cohen Covers." I take it she's taking this as an exclusive disjunction. In either case, we're totally fucked. But if she elects to take the second horn, we must take action. Wasn't the Tom Waits album enough of a disgrace? I'm horrified. She must be stopped. Shouldn't someone beat her into unending silence with Billy Joel's stiff corpse?