Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Liberty Fund

I see that our pal over at Brooks Blog has recently participated in a Liberty Fund event. For those who don't know, Liberty Fund organizes multiple events (they call them conferences) each year; the events consist in a few days of discussion among distinguished academics of some classic text dealing with questions of liberty, equality, justice, and the like. In my experience, the events are typically quite nice-- they usually take place in a posh hotel in a nice city, the social aspects are extremely pleasant, and conversations tend to be interesting.

I've participated in several Liberty Fund events over the years. But I started declining their invitations a few years back. I'm not sure why, but I started thinking that there was something objectionable about the fact that during the conversations among the academics, there was always a Liberty Fund representative quietly sitting in the corner taking notes. In the past, I'd tried to get a sense of what the note-taking was all about, but could not get a clear answer. Maybe it's nothing, and I'm overly suspicious. But maybe not. In any case, I began to think that there was something creepy about it all.

So: Does anyone know what the deal is with them?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Overheard in Academia, Again

A beloved reader writes in to remind me of another notable occasion on which I overheard something outrageous in the halls of the academy. This was overheard many years ago, back when they'd just introduced vending machines that could take dollar bills...

A student was feeding a dollar bill to the vending machine, and I heard him say only slightly under his breath: Yeah... take it bitch... you love it.

How many things are wrong with that?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Overheard in Academia

I just overheard this from someone in the hallway of my building on campus.

I'm so hungry, I could skullfuck myself with a hot dog.

You're welcome. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Strangers with Kidneys

So much for the hiatus.

I just got an email from a complete stranger who doesn't bother to introduce himself in any way. The email says:

Dear Professor [Spiros],

I have a paper due tomorrow on your views about [x]. If you send me two critical reviews of [your recent book about x], I will owe you a kidney. Thanks so much! --[Stranger]

What to do....

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Machine Gun Etiquette

A quick note to say the following two things:

1. An ungodly number of tasks (proofing proofs, mostly) have landed on my desk with ridiculous due dates, so I'll likely be on hiatus for most of the week. If anything truly indicative of DOOM happens, I'll let you know. Otherwise, behave yourselves.

2. I've long held the (common) view that Machine Gun Etiquette is the best album by the Damned. I was for a brief while in the 80s of the view that The Black Album was their best (I still take "Wait for the Blackout" to be among their best songs, though). Since early spring always brings me back to the Damned, I've been working through their catalog. I'm now convinced that Damned, Damned, Damned is by far their best.

A friend with whom I've discussed this shift at length contends that the move from Black Album to Machine Gun to Damned, Damned, Damned signifies some deep truth about how punk rockers age. And I have no idea what the fuck she's talking about. Over.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Rawls Book

I just got my copy of John Rawls's new book, A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith. This is Rawls's undergraduate thesis, written at Princeton in 1942, when Rawls was 21 years old. The book includes an introduction by Josh Cohen and Tom Nagel (excerpt here) and a commentary by Bob Adams.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading the book, but I must confess that I feel a little queasy about its publication. Given that Rawls was so careful about his work, taking a couple of decades to write his first book, and well over 10 years working out the ideas in his sceond, should an essay written when he was 21 be published? Do we have any reason to think that, were he alive, Rawls would consent to this?

I know all about the importance of the document for historians and future biographers, and such. But that's a good reason to make his undergraduate thesis available in an archive. To publish it as a book is to present the thesis as a part of Rawls's professional oeuvre. I'm not sure how to feel about that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Glenn Beck's Epistemology

I have somewhat perverse interest in the epistemological claims and commitments advanced in the world of pop political commentary. Michael Savage thinks that anyone who disagrees with him is ipso facto suffering from a "mental disorder," Al Franken thinks that being wrong is sufficient for being a liar, and Ann Coulter thinnks that one should avoid conversations with those with whom one disagrees. And so on. But Glenn Beck, easily the stupidest in this pool of incredible stupidity, takes the cake. He's reported to have said the following:

Believe in something! Even if it's wrong. Believe in it!

Good to know that Beck countenances the belief in / belief that distinction. Anyway, since believing in what's wrong is OK with Beck, he must have no problem with those who believe in suspending judgment, or believe in not believeing anything in particular, or believe in changing what they believe in every day, etc.

BTW: Does anyone have the exact source of this claim by Beck? A link to a transcript or clip would be cool.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Colloquium Etiquette

I was off last week giving a talk at another department's weekly colloquium. I gave my talk, and was shocked to find that every question was prefaced by 30 seconds of thanks for the talk, then a word or two about what each questioner found especially interesting in my talk, and then a question. I found this unbearably patronizing, but when I interrupted a questioner by saying "You needn't thank me. Just ask your question," it was taken to be an expression of politeness or gratitude. What a waste of time. Thank me for the talk by asking a hard question.

Then on Wednesday I attended my own department's colloquium, and noticed a different vice: questions were preceded by long (sometimes a minute or more) build-ups intended to clarify the "context" of the question. Sometimes the build-ups seemed to be unrelated to the question. Sometimes the question seemed unrelated to the talk. Sometimes no real question was asked (after the build-up). It's hard to know what to do to remedy this-- I suppose one cannot simply say to one's colleagues that they need to learn how to ask a question (or pay closer attention to what the speaker actually said).

When I was a graduate student, my department had pretty strict rules concerning colloquia q&a: a moderator kept a list of people who wanted to ask questions, grad students were always placed at the bottom of the queue, and those with bad q&a habits were never allowed to ask the first (or second) question. This seemed to me then problematic, since it required the moderator to implicitly express judgments (often unflattering) about his colleagues. But maybe there's no better way to keep things on track? Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Brian Barry

Brian Barry passed away today. What a loss.

Culture and Equality is definitely in my top 5 books of the past decade.

If anyone knows of memorial events, please post here.

Joys of Email

My department must have just sent out its graduate admissions decisions, because I've been getting emails from rejected applicants asking for an explanation of why they were not offered admission. I have no idea why I'm the one getting these emails (maybe such emails are being sent to all of my colleagues?). But the very idea of emailing a stranger and demanding an explanation of this kind of thing strikes me as inappropriate.

Anyway, here's my favorite of the bunch (only slightly modified):

I was shocked to receive word that I was not accepted into [your graduate program in Philosophy]. [Your school] was one of my "fall back" schools, and I expect to receive offers from many programs that I'd rank higher than [your department]. It seems to me that you should probably correct your admission process. No wonder [your department] hasn't produced a top-notch philosopher in quite some time.