Friday, December 31, 2004

Chomsky at the APA

Many people have been asking me about Noam Chomsky's appearance at the APA. I can only answer the most commonly asked ones:

How did he look? What was he wearing? Noam looked quite grandfatherly in a grey v-neck sweater and blue collared shirt. He looked quite healthy for a 76 year old anarchist. It looks like he managed to shake all the paparazzi on his way over from Cambridge, because I can't find any pictures of his APA appearance on the web.

Were there any other celebrities there? Was there hugging? Yes, there was celebrity hugging, which took me by surprise, because I never thought of Noam as a hugger. As Chomsky made his way through the throng at the APA group session meeting of the Society for Social and Political Philosophy, Cornell West, star of The Matrix and Princeton's African American Studies Department, jumped out and offered Chomsky a hug, as if they were old friends. Chomsky looked startled, as if thinking "Who is this person, and what is wrong with his hair?" Once he got a better look at West, though, he recognized him as a fellow rock star, and gave him one of those one armed, token hugs.

When will his remarks be published? Under the Chomsky Universal Transcription Act of 1980, every sound Chomsky makes in public must be published somewhere. My bet is that this will turn up in South End Press.

Were there any good Chomskyisms? His more devoted fans may be familiar with some of these, but they impressed me.

"The United States accomplished all of its major policy objectives in the Viet
Nam war"

(Because by crushing South Vietnam, it demonstrated that successful defiance of US policy aims will be punished. The fact that the US failed to establish a client state in SE Asia is a minor loss compared to the overwhelming success it had in preventing the growth of stable prosperous societies outside of its control.)

“There’s a slogan I really don’t like, although it comes from people I do like,and that is the Quaker slogan ‘Speaking truth to power.’ You can’t ever be sure you are speaking the truth; you shouldn’t speak to people, you should speak with them; and there’s no point in speaking to the powerful, because they know exactly what they are doing. A better slogan would be ‘seeking truth with the powerless’”

(I’m paraphrasing a little, but the rhythm of the remark is right.)

“Incidentally, 50% of Iraqis polled said something that no US intellectual would dare utter in public, that the US invasion was motivated by the desire to control the last major reserves of the world’s most important energy source.”

(Again, I’m paraphrasing, but remember, all good chomskyisms are introduced with the word "Incidently")

Also, for what’s its worth, I’m a US academic, and I’ll say it in public:

The war in Iraq was fought for oil.

The people who were tortured in Abu Graib, were tortured for oil. The thousand plus US soldiers who died, died for oil. The hundred thousand plus Iraqis who died, died for oil.

A few servings of Chomsky every month are part of a balanced intellectual diet. You can lose perspective without him.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

quick APA blogging

had my first job interview, here is the post mortem

Q1: Did the candidate appear relaxed and comfortable: 5

(1 = stammering only interrupted by vomiting; 10 = left with interviewers home phone numbers and an invitation to go dancing)
Q2: Did the candidate answer all questions completely and cogently: 8

(1 = all answers monosyllabic and about football; 10 = all answers ready to be published in a peer reviewed journal)

Q3: Did the candidate blurt out the truth when he really should have evaded: 5

(Among the blurts: "How did you wind up with the research program you have?" "Well, time and chance really. I couldn't get my dissertation published, and I landed this gig teaching medical ethics."

Friday, December 24, 2004

I'll be your straw man

Ever since Bill O'Reilly announced that he was the only one out there "defending Christmas" the holiday media have been dominated by two memes: conservatives claiming that Christmas is under attack from secularists forcing people to say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas"; and liberals insisting that no one is attacking Christmas, and that conservatives are creating another liberal boogie to perpetuate the idea that they are somehow oppressed.

As I mentioned in the comments on Echidne, all of this makes it very difficult to what I want to do most this time of year: attack Christmas. My deep need to attack Christmas has been simmering for the past week, as I conduct my rounds of Midwest holiday visits, so I really, really need right now to list all the aspects of Christmas that I wish to see annihilated by any means necessary, Christian sensitivities be damned.

1. The phrase "Merry Christmas"

2. "The Little Drummer Boy"

3. Suicide.

4. Relatives who hold their holiday gathering every year at the same time
grades are due, and then get mad at me because I don't come.

5. The fact that social niceties led me to go to a Christian church this Christmas eve, and Christian churches make me very, very antsy.

Like any human institution, Christianity has positive and negative aspects. Nevertheless, overt displays of Christianity can make me anxious in a way that no other display of religion can. It is a visceral, irrational response.

6. " Oh little town of Bethlehem"

7. The contemporary Christian rock version of "the little drummer boy" I
heard in the diner the other day.

Most of the things that I loathe about Christmas are carol related. This is odd, because normally my aversion to Christianity is suspended when it comes to music: I dig Mahalia Jackson, shaped note singing, Bach, etc. If one were to read me uncharitably, one might think that I only liked the Christian music it was ok for hipsters to like, but when confronted with the honest expression of worship from ordinary people, I turn up my nose. The way I read me, though, what is really at work is aesthetic detachment. When Christian ideas come from other places and times, I can take what I like of it and leave the rest. When Christianity comes from my own culture, I feel pressure, like I’m supposed to buy this whole hog, and if I don’t there is something wrong with me.

8. The fact that my daughter is exposed to Christianity a lot this time of year.

I develop this irrational feeling that she has gotten some Jesus on her, and I should wipe it off. Its irrational, because I don’t believe that Jesus is necessarily bad for you. I am certain that the good aspects of Christianity have actually made bad people better. Still, I have to admit that I don’t want my daughter to be a Christian. This can be very problematic socially, because my wife’s family are Christians of various stripes (United Church of Christ & Quaker). We occasionally find ourselves around God-related toys, and I always have to find a way to steer Caroline away from them without announcing “I’m not really one of you.”

9. The sermon I heard today, about how we all come with “some assembly required”
and only God can help us put the pieces together.

Contemporary Christianity begins with what Buddhists call the first noble truth, the truth of suffering. Life is full of suffering. I feel this truth quite strongly, and am always suspicious of people who don’t. The question is how to respond to this suffering. Buddhism offers a diagnosis of this suffering that makes sense. The second noble truth is that suffering comes from desire, and the cure for suffering is the release of desire. Christianity (like all the Western monotheisms) takes the opposite route. Suffering is not caused by desire, but by having the wrong object of desire. The only object of desire that can relieve your suffering is God. Thus a god is posited that can satisfy all desire. Such a god would have to be infinite, paradoxical, and in the end, unbelievable.

10. The phrase “happy holidays”
It’s just like “merry Christmas,” only more insipid.

I know this list is going to offend some. Suicide is an important holiday tradition for Americans. There is really no good reason why I should call on the annihilation of a sermon that no one was making me hear, and is perfectly protected speech under principles that I myself hold dear. Whatever. My real point was put best by PK "We must stop christmas from coming." We failed this season, but maybe next year.

Well, I could go on, and I probably will at some point, but I should also mention one aspect of Christmas normally targeted for death by grinches like me, that I want to see spared in the upcoming Christmas holocaust:

"Its a Wonderful Life"

Why spare "Its a Wonderful Life"? Because while I was in college I had an alcohol-fueled religious experience watching it. At the time T.V. stations were in the habit of really pushing the Frank Capra classic. That Christmas eve easily half of the stations on my parent's cable system were running it. My parents had gone to bed, but I couldn't sleep, so I started drinking beer and surfing the various broadcasts of Jimmy Stewart's brush with suicidal depression. I quickly discovered that the different stations were not quite in synch, and that if you flipped the channels just right, you could watch the same sequence over and over again. At around my fifth beer, I managed to watch the Zuzu’s petals sequence for a good fifteen minutes “Zuzu’s petals!” “Zuzu’s petals!” “Zuzu’s petals!” This led me to achieve mystical union with … well with something.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Real Climate for the Reality Based Community

via pharyngula: are a group of climatologists blogging to get the word out on the consensus that people studying the climate have reached:

(1) the earth is getting warmer,

(2) human activity is responsible for at least half of this increase,

(3) if we do not change our ways, warming will continue or even accelerate.

I've just begun to comb through it, but this post , which begins to address the role of consensus in the scientific process, is interesting from a philosophy of science perspective.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Gas Station, and exit off I90

So I get out of the car and pop the gas cap. A kid comes up to me. He's wearing a parka with the hood up, and under that a knit cap from the fashion company whose logo looks like a pair of those girly silloettes you see on mudflaps. He says "how much do you want."

"Wow, I didn't realize this was full service." Seriously, I thought full service was exctinct, even on the New Jersey Turnpike, where it had clung tenaciously for years.
"Um, fill it up."

I get my credit card and go inside the little booth, where they sell coffee and chips. The pudgy guy behind the counter has a catepillar on his upper lip.

As I go to the counter to pay, and old guy comes in the employees only door, and is now standing on the wrong side of the register.

"Are you the manager?" he says to the pudgy guy.

"Um, I'm actually the manager at another station. I came here to get..."

"This young man," the old guy says, pointing to the girly logo kid shivering outside, "want me to pay for my gas before I put it in my tank."

"I already put it in your tank sir" says the kid "I put in 20 dollars worth."

"He wants me to give him 20 dollars before I fill up."

"I don't know anything about that" says the pudgy guy.

"He thinks I would run off without paying." they old guy is agitated.

"I already put the gas in your truck sir," says the kid again.

"Sir," says the manager of another store, "I didn't see any of this, so I really can't say"

"I've been coming here for...I would never run off without paying." says the old guy.

"Sir, I didn't see what happened. It's all a matter of perception. I can't judge..."

Holy shit! David Hume is a pudgy gas station manager with bad facial hair!

"I'm sorry if this person offended you." concludes the gas station empiricist.

"I want this young man to apologize to me."

The kid looks at me like I should intervene. I really want to explain to the old man that his gas was already pumped, but the whole thing just says quagmire to me.

"I'm sorry sir," the kid says. One of my students once insisted to me that one of the mud flap girls on his logo shirt was actually a mud flap boy. I'm looking at the logo again, and I swear they are just mud flap girls.

The old man gets in his truck and drives away.

"How much gas did you get?" bad facial hair Hume says to me.

I'm a cool hunter making you my way

Check me out, I'm blogging from a hotel room, using a a wi fi connection. I am so right year.

Didn't get on the road until 8 last night. Drove as far as Buffalo. I have nine more hours of driving before Chicago. I could be there by 7 if I stopped dicking around on the internet and actually hit the road.

Hotel rooms always make me feel safe and anonymous. With all the identical doors down the hallway, why would anyone bother mine? And there's the predictability. The pay per view. The coffee maker. If you're lucky, a minibar.

And highspeed internet access! Using Molly's new computer, which is so superior to mine!

Monday, December 20, 2004

cold front, bringing with it retardation

A cold front came in last night. Last I checked it was 18 below F outside, before the windchill. This causes a lot of things to freeze up, like the battery half of my car's hybrid engine, and my brain.

Thats right, with the cold has come rampant stupidity. First I get totally taken in by Dr. B's satire. And now I totally get lost taking The Ediedog to the kennel. An errand that should have taken 45 minites took 2 hours.

The only comfort: an Ottowa radio station that played francophone hip hop until 12, hip hop in español after that. The last song I heard featured that bouncy salsa piano part, a thumpy drum machine, and a guy calling out "(garbled) son Latinos!" and getting a shout back from his posse.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

loud emo because the family is gone

The family (Molly, Caroline, tiny unnamed fetus) went off to the midwest for christmas celebrations a few days ago, so it has just been me and The Ediedog here. I'm impressed with how quickly "God I love how quiet it is! I can really get work done!" changed into "Fuck, I'm lonely." Even when Caroline isn't around, I wake up in the middle of the night, expecting to see her needy, demanding face calling me out of bed.

The main advantage to not having the family here is that I can play the stereo really loud. Right now I'm having that really pleasant experience where the CD changer switches to a CD that you had put in months ago, and forgot that you had even purchased, because you haven't been listening to the stereo, just the downstairs boombox that tiny Caroline has already figured out how to put her tiny CDs in. In this particular case, the CD I forgot I had purchased is The Emo Diaries, Chapter 5, "I guess this is goodbye". It sounds right right now.

Well, grading is done. Tomorrow I drive off to join the family for family stuff. Then it's on to the APA, where I have four job interviews. (And I only applied for nine jobs! shows what a publication will do for you.) I was hoping to do something vacation-y once the semester was over. Actually try recording some music I wouldn't be embarassed posting to the web. Create a real web page. Something that isn't work or childcare.

On the stereo right now some earnest youth are singing "just to hold you, just to hold you, I came all the way." The guitars go chunk-chunk chunk-chunk chunk-chunk, in descending chunks.

Sunday Fetus Blogging

tiny unnamed fetus enters the second trimester today. (13 weeks post conception, 15 weeks post last menstrual period) According to the pregnancy calendar at parentspace it is 12.5 cm long and weighs 80 grms.

Last time I was reading on the issue, I came to the conclusion that this might actually be the time when the fetus becomes sentient. All of my citations on the subject are at the office, so I can't give you the details, but I remember I was impressed by two facts 1. Most of the second trimester is just rapid growth. You don't see a lot of new systems coming on line. 2. The pain circut that we share with animals (the delta fibers) is active at this point. The more advanced pain circut, the c-fibers which we only share with the other great apes, won' t be on line until week 28 or so. Well, if any of the pharyngula crowd heads this way, they might be able to correct me on the biology here. I do want to stand by a bit of conceptual analysis, though. I have a strong intuition that my dog can feel pain. If the fetus at this stage has roughly the same functioning hardware with a similar evolutionary history, I think it will feel pain too. Given the way reflective equilibrium works, one could deny sentience to both the 13 week fetus and dogs, but that is unsatisfactory.

I also, by the way, think that the fetus at this stage has the same moral status as my dog, which makes me out of touch with both pro-life and pro-choice hardliners, even though I consider myself pro-choice.

I had earlier wanted to post some composite pictures by Tsarias of the developing fetus, but a google image search didn't yield any. Now a link on pharyngula lets me know that Tsarias' company has an elaborate flash-based web page for all of their anatomical art. This is a deep link to the section on fetal development. If that doesn't work, this is the front page.

Tsarias's page has interactive graphics for the period from conception through implanation, for the 3-8 week period (technically known as the "boiled shrip stage"), and the third trimester (technically known as the "space baby from 2001 stage"). Nothing for what tiny unnamed fetus is doing now. The pictures from the boiled shrimp stage are cool, because they look more like menacing alien babies than pro-life propaganda posters. I only wish Tsarias' pictures came with more signage: explanations of the different sources used for the different images, what it means that certain systems were colored red, etc.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Three things posted instead of grading

Thing one:

I should be grading right now. If I get my grading done early, I will have time to do some activist blogging, the sort of thing that requires a couple hours web research, before I go to my in-laws. I'd like to write a letter calling for the extradition of the Union Carbide guy to India on murder charges. I’d also like to get a list of charities and political groups on my sidebar, and do some blogging about the best places to give. I could do all these things, if I just went back to grading.

Thing two:

Here beginneth the annual wussing out. I’ve stopped riding my bike to work. I made it to mid-December this year, which is better than last year, when I only made it to mid-November. Still, I’m not like these guys. Or this guy. Or these guys. (I had a really good winter riding site bookmarked a while back, but I can’t find it anymore.)

When I lived in Chicago, I bicycled all winter, largely because I didn’t own a car, and winter biking was no more painful than winter standing-on-an-elevated-platform-waiting-for-a-train-in-minus-five-degree-weather-christ-why-does-chicago-have-an-elevated-train-anyway.

The real problem is that once the winter wussing begins, it doesn’t end until Spring, even on days like today, when the weather isn’t bad at all. Wus wus wus.

Thing three.

I’m most of the way done grading my environmental course. I enjoyed teaching the course, and want to teach it again. The papers, though, are not as good as I would have liked. The students were all environmental studies majors, and they didn’t really know how to write a philosophy paper. Next time I will have to use more structured assignments.

Friday, December 17, 2004

What's the deal with

What's the deal with the skirt over jeans look? Is it just an SLU thing, or are kids doing this on other campuses?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Zazen again

I've done all the grading I'm going to do today, and I have sitting meditation in a half hour.

The last meditation session was unfruitful. I kept thinking about the zen slogan "form is sunyata and sunyata form" and developing the sneaking suspicion that really form is nothing like sunyata. This is a problem mostly because I am doing the sitting zen to clear my mind. Contemplating metaphysics is the exact opposite of what I want to do. I can do metaphysics at work.

To compensate, I began to repeat "Sunyata is nothing like form" in my head. A lot of meditation for me is subvocal chanting. It does an ok job of banishing all thoughts besides itself.

One nice thing about the zen group that I've been attending is that you are supposed to meditate with your eyes half open. If you sit long enough with your eyes unfocused you can start seeing shapes that aren't there. Last week, the light fixture across from me grew to look more and more like a winged beetle with preposterously long antennae. (The lampshades and the glare from the two light bulbs managed to look like two pair of wings; the long shadows cast by the stems looked like antennae. This is after 20 minutes with my eyes unfocused.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Common Gender Netral Names I Like

  • Dana
  • Cameron

Common Girl Names that I Like

  • Sarah
  • Heather
  • Rebecca
  • Rachel
  • Jessica
  • Lilly (extra credit for Christine Ranney if we use this one)
  • Maggie (extra credit for Lawson Parker if we use this one)

Common Boy Names that I like

  • Aaron
  • Seth
  • David Hume (only with the middle name!)
Uncommon Names (in the US) That I might try to slip past Molly

  • Lakshmi
  • James Robert Loftis V (for a girl only!)
  • Mykel (for a girl)
  • Shiva the Destroyer Hinshaw Loftis
  • Socrates


I just got spam from someone using the name Modigliani O. Localized, which sounds pretty cool to me. (The spam was lame, though.)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Big Day for Tiny Caroline.

Tiny Caroline turned two today, and suddenly acquired competence with the first person subjective pronoun. All day she has been saying things like

"I wash hands with soap"


"I pooped"

Just yesterday she would have said "Washa handa me" and "Poopy me".

Not only that, look at that first sentence. It contains an adverbial phrase. An adverbial, prepositional phrase! Were you to diagram that sentence, it would have a main line, and a smaller line coming off of it, like a side track.

Not only that, she also said

“My pretty dress all wet”

(This right after she washed hands with soap.)

Look at her use of adjectives! She is so cool!

Friday, December 10, 2004


I'm published. I'm fucking published. I'm motherfucking published.

Loftis, J. Robert. 2005. "Germ-Line Enhancement in Humans and Nonhumans" Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 15 (1): ???-???

I'm one published motherfucker.

I did, however receive the first acceptance letter I have ever encountered that began with the words "I am very sorry"

Why is it that so many journals seem to have a policy of not informing authors of their decisions? I used to think it was me, that I'm so sloppy with mail that I simply threw out notices half the time from journals. I don't think it is me anymore.

Time to update my CV!

Dear Rob: I am very sorry; I was certain that you had been informed that we
would like to publish your paper in a special thematice issue on Justice and
Genetic Enhancement that we are preparing for the March 2005 issue of the KIEJ.
I apologize if you did not receive that notification, and am pleased that I have
good news for you.

The paper does need to be trimmed down, and the issue editor, Ronald M. Green
(at Dartmouth College), has made some suggestions, which I will incorporate into
my copyediting and will return to you for your approval or modification.

I hope to send the edited copy to you via email within the next two weeks.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Semester post-mortem 1

Today was the last day of my environmental class. A student asked me to explain the prisoners dilemma. I started explaining it at length. Then I started expounding on a case, found by Axelrod, of a real life prisoners dilemma involving artillery units in WWI. Then a student interrupted me, saying "wait, class time is almost up, and before the semester ends, I wanted to ask you what you wanted us to get out of this course."

I realized that I had been talking too long about something not really germain to the course. I realized that I had made this mistake more often than I should be able to get away with in this course. I thought of all the nifty in class stuff I wanted to do this semester, but never got organized enough to do.

I said, "I wanted you to get a better sense of your own goals in life and the role consumption and material wealth plays in it. And I wanted you to get a better sense of the social problems consumer culture causes for us as a group."

I shouldn't have talked at length about the artillery units in WWI. But there will always be a part of my brain that says "This fact you are relating to your students is simply interesting. It is in itself worth knowing. How could anyone be bored here?"I need to shut that part of my brain up.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I Heart Donald Rumsfeld

ok, I don't really heart him. He has cause the death of over a hundred thousand people (registration req.) by leading us into a pointless and poorly planned war.

But, you know, if someone is going to lead you into a pointless and poorly planned war, it should be Rummy, and I'm really glad he's on the team for the next term. We all know his success as a poet some of us even know his work as a lyricist. But really, his true art is dodging a question. Other people might have found this situation embarrassing. His own troops are asking why they don't have the material they need to run the occupation. Rummy's response "you go to war with the army you have."

It seems so commonsensical. Of course things aren't going to be perfect. There are always unknown unknowns. You take what you can get.

Notice, though, that his answer assumes we had to go to war, that there was nothing he could do about the timing of the war, and hence our preparation for it.

This is the kind of clever rhetorical move that gets written up over at the nonsequitur a lovely site aimed at first year logic students by my friend and fellow logic teacher Colin Anderson, which uses the tools of basic logic to take down some of the idiocies and slick tricks we see in the media.

Next semester I'm going to make my logic students symbolize Rumsfelds "The Knowns"

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread.

Well, I have learned that this blog has, as yet, no readers. No matter. If I keep writing I will find a blog-voice, and from there, blog readers.

Ethical Reading

"We have stopped reading, we have not the time. Our mind is solicited simultaneously from too many sides: it has to be spoken to quickly as it passes by. But there are things that cannot be said or understood in such haste, and these are the most important things for man. This accelerated movement, which makes coherent thought impossible, may alone be sufficient to weaken, and in the long run utterly to destroy, human reason."

Félicité Robert de Lamennais in his Mélanges religieux et philosophiques. In 1819. Via this post at languagehat.

I know nothing of this French cleric beyond what is in the bio Languagehat linked to, but I love him. He lived in a time like mine, where things had been accelerating recently, so that one could no longer find the time to read the way one ought.

Here is how I read a book these days. I get it in my head that I should assign some book that I myself have not read yet. I think about the book in the abstract for a while, riding my bike or spacing out while watching the baby, not really knowing what is in it. Two weeks before the book order is due, I get a copy of the book to see if it is actually the book I was daydreaming about. I read the first chapter, the last chapter, and enough of the middle to at least know that it is a book worth assigning. In drawing up the syllabus, I assign parts that I haven't read yet. Those parts will be read one hour before class. If parts of the book go unassigned, they go unread.

There are variations on this routine. There is the version where I am reading for a book review. There is the version where I am reading to look for arguments or information useful for a paper I am writing.

I don’t want to read this way.

I want to read without an ulterior motive. I want to read whole books, from beginning to end. I want to read one book at a time. I don’t want months or years to pass between sittings with a book. I want to read books the way I read when I was fourteen.

This isn’t really a want, I think, but a duty. I don’t know the principle behind this duty. I don’t know who the duty is owed to: myself? The author? Pure reason?

Time isn’t the only problem. Discipline is another. I loose interest in too many books. Serious books become books for work. Light books get dull.

I’ve tried tricks. I’ve forced myself to read without pen in hand. I’ve purchased books that look like they will be too compelling to drop. Molly suggested that if I wanted to read like I was fourteen, I should read the same books I read then. Well, I’ve tried reading the same types of books, to no avail. Perhaps I should actually read the same books. But can I really read Ringworld again now that I know the author is a crony of Newt Gingrich?

This semester hasn’t been so bad. I read all of Huxley’s Island and The Aesthetics of Natural Environments (Carlson and Berleant, eds, review forthcoming in Environmental Ethics). By the end of the semester I will have reread Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello. They were all read for reviews or classes, though.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

nuevas imágenes de maltrato

Was this picked up by the major american news outlets and I just missed it? More torture pictures have come out. The AP found them...using Google. They show lots of stuff we are familar with: hooded male prisoners wearing women's clothing, soldiers smiling and giving the thumbs up sign. Other pictures are weirder. I'm not sure what is going in the picture of the person bleeding from the neck. Is he a prisoner? Is this a raid?

The AP story has few details and shows none of the truly ugly pictures. The NYT is runing the story but not the photos, and is not putting it on the front page. Fortunately the Spanish paper El Mundo has the story and some of the pictures.

This page also has them. The language guesser at Xerox says that the page is in Turkish, as does Languid

This page has one picture of a person being choked that is not on the others.

via boing boing and the memory blog

My mom is the best

...Especially at managing small children. Normally it is my job to give Tiny Caroline her bath and put her to sleep. I'm the primary breadwinner, and away at the office all day, so when I get home in the evening, it's my turn to watch the baby. I always thought I was pretty good at getting Tiny Caroline to bed. As a college professor, putting young people to sleep is a part of my job.

While we were visiting my folks over thanksgiving, though, I saw a true bedtime master in action. One evening Caroline was wailing like a banshee, refusing to get in the bath. My Mom stepped in, "Do you see this penguin, caroline"

Caroline: "Waaa, yes, snif, waaa"

Mom: "Does the penguin want to get in the water?"

Caroline: "Snif, yes"

Mom: "Can you show the penguin how to get in the water"

Caroline: "ok"

And in the tub she went. It was amazing. Later Mom got Caroline asleep in a mere 10 minutes reading Dr. Suess's Sleep Book.

Meanwhile, my attempts to be a Sensitive Dad are worsening. Yesterday we were at the midwife's for our first appointment regarding tiny unnamed fetus. The midwife was discussing the circumstances in which she would order a C-section. Important stuff. Here's what was going on in my thought balloon:

"You know what would be really cool? A zombie movie set in a hospital. Like, patients would come in, and the doctors would have to decide if they had the zombie disease. Yeah...but what kind of society would be left? Maybe the doctors would have to argue with the local warlord who acts as their patron..." I was really quite a line of thought. I nearly wrote a whole screenplay before I remembered that I was supposed to be acting supportive.

Friday, December 03, 2004

introducing...the tiny unnamed fetus!

ok, the big news. Molly is pregnant. Child number 2 is due mid June. So far, everyone is happy and healthy.


Right now we are in the 9-10 week stage. I was going to scan and print some composit pictures of fetuses at that stage by Alexander Tsiaras. I was even going to make a thing of it, posting new pictures as the baby developed. But I realized the time involved was preventing me from simply making the announcement. So instead I have a picture from, above.

So far, tiny unnamed fetus is tiny and unnamed. I'm open to all sorts of names; Molly is more of a traditionalist. My name is officially James Robert Loftis IV. I am into the idea of passing on that name, but only to a girl. She could go by Jamie. Molly nixed this for the person now known as Caroline, but there still may be hope for the name if tiny unnamed fetus turns out to be a girl.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

more linkage

This site attempts offer a primer on diversity within the evangelical movement, although the author himself seems very right-wing. The author seems thoughtful, but looking through his discussion of the various kinds of eschatology in evangelicalism, I didn't really see much diversity. From my perspective, there were four views on how many angels could dance on the head of the pin, and here I am not believing in angels.

via mr. butt massage on HBO


I've been at my parents for T-giving and then got swamped with job market stuff. I might blog about that later. Right now, since I figure my primary audience consists of Google spiders, I should post some links to things that need to be more widely known.

First, via pharyngula, is this disturbing report on the content of the abstinence only sex education books that the Bush administration is pushing. I taught abortion as part of my medical ethics course in Alabama for four semesters running, and I was always surprised at the strange and false ideas my students had about abortion and sex in general. This furthers my suspicion that they were getting their bad information from abstinence only sex ex.

Next, my pal Amy has posted a bunch of cute pictures of herself reflected in a toaster

Friday, November 26, 2004

Dear Gov. Riley

Gov. Bob Riley
State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130

Fax: 334-353-0004

Dear Gov. Riley,

I am writing to protest the cutoff of Medicaid funding for Lauren Rainey, the disabled thirteen year old profiled by Bruce Mildwurf on WMPI. Lauren breathes through an artificial airway which needs to be suctioned clean several times an hour, 24 hours a day. Her family currently receives 10 hours of professional nursing care courtesy of Alabama Medicaid. If that care is taken away, Lauren could die.

One would think that helping disabled children would be a no-brainer for a politician, the sort of thing that comes as naturally as shaking hands, kissing babies, and ostentatious displays of patriotism. Your statement to WMPI shows otherwise. I was horrified to see you blame the people who are fighting for Lauren for frightening a child, when it is obvious that it is the Medicaid cutoff, and not the fight to stop it, that is scary. I was genuinely embarrassed for you when you insisted that there were other programs to help Lauren, but were unable to name any. Did you not expect a follow-up question? Don’t you prepare for encounters with the press?

Thanks to activists like Michael More, Duncan Black, and Nick Dupree, this case has received worldwide coverage. You could seriously embarrass your administration by allowing this young girl to die.


Rob Loftis

Friday, November 19, 2004

More academic work on voting irregularities

Again via the goddess echine.

Statisticians at UC Berkeley have found a correlation between use of electronic voting machines and an increase in the Bush vote from 2000 to 2004, which cannot be explained by a variety of factors typically used to explain changes in voting patterns, like median income.

Echine thinks that the case for a problem with the voting machines is now as strong as the case that cigarettes cause cancer. As I say in her comment forum, I wouldn't go that far. The argument is of the same form: a correlation with other causes screened out. However I think there are other causes that we would need to screen out before we cinch the case, including patterns of spending in Republican get out the vote drives. (Are their laws about the release of such information?)

Like, a skidillion Indians voted using touch screen machines in an election that was a surprise victory for the congress party. Does anyone know anything about how they handled these issues?

Lauren Rainey Follow up story

WPMI, the Mobile area news team that first publicized the Lauren Rainey case have a follow up.
The good news is the amount of attention Lauren has been getting on worldwide. Michael Moore picked up the story following atrios. Letters have been pouring in.

The bad news is that the state government is stonewalling. Bob Riley, twit, and governor of Alabama had this to say

"Because I think to a large extent what you've done is frighten a child, sent the wrong message to the community that the state is not being as responsive as it can be because there are a variety of different programs and I think if we all had taken the opportunity to sit down and explore all the other options we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

When asked if he knew what those other programs are, the Governor responded, "No, but I can find out and let you know."

As it turns out, Lauren's family is not eligible for any other nursing care, only some housekeeping help that they don't need.

Lauren's airway needs to be suctioned several times an hour. Right now a professional nurse is on duty 10 hours a day to help with that. Without Medicaid, she will not receive the medical attention she needs.

One of Riley's predecessors said that the job of the governor of Alabama is to keep his state off the front page of the New York Times. If this keeps up, Riley will fail at that.

PS: I did a quick Google search for the quote about the governor of Alabama, but couldn't find its source. All I remember is that it was posted in the phil dept office at Auburn University, where I used to work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I'm off to zen meditation after this update. My goal is to sit quietly and think about nothing for an hour. I'll let you, the internet, know how I fared. I'm not real good at sitting quietly and thinking about nothing. For starters, the group I've been sitting with reads a sutra first. The sutra always gets my mind going. What does this text mean? Is it true? All the questions I ask my students. All the questions I've been trained to ask and answer. But these days I'm trying to believe fewer things. I want to be less of a Humean skeptic and more of a Pyrrhonian. Alas, the monkey mind, he is so strong.

I do have a mantra which I manage to amuse myself with:

hari rama krishna rama john paul ringo krishna krishna rama rama george paul ringo

ad infinitum.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

more on Lauren Rainey

Waveflux has compiled a list of Alabama media outlets to contact about the young girl who is having her medicaid cut off. <Link>.

Of course, none of this would be happening if we had a sensible health care system. We could be upfront about the fact that health care is a limited resourse, and spend more money on people like Lauren and less on whole body MRI's for the perfectly healthy.

Just a thought.

Children's Music

For a while now I've been daydreaming about the effusive praise I was going to heap on the musicians now listed in the sidebar, but I've wasted the afternoon trying to get my new DVD burner to work, and I'm feeling spent. At the moment I think all I can do is spew a few random complements.

When I was a young man with an embarassing haircut, Dan Zanes fronted an alternative roots rock band called the Del Fuegos. He now makes folkie music for children using an eclectic cast of regular musicians and some pretty spectacular guest stars. Perhaps the most amazing thing I've heard on one of his disks is a duet version of "What a Wonderful World" with Lou Reed, whom one rarely expects to find on a children's album. Reed is amazing, inflecting his usual monotone voice with some jazz phrasings that suddenly make a kitchy, maudlin song into a piece of brilliance. The track ends with a bedtime rap in English and Spanish by regulars the Rubi Theatre Company. Incredible. Also outstanding on the same album: a duet with John Doe doing Woodie Guthrie's "So Long, Its Been Good to Know Ya." Zanes is also one of the best folk/roots/blues guitar players I've heard in a while.

For about the first year of her life, Caroline's bedtime song was "Night Owl" of the Dan Zanes CD. More recently, she has been going to bed with the They Might Be Giants kid's book and album "Bed Bed Bed Bed Bed." She calls it her "la la book" becuase of the chorus of the third track. She seems to be wearing of the la la book, though. More recently she has been requesting "Horses" which is the version of "All the Pretty Horses" by ex-throwing muse Kristin Hersh. She has also been requesting "Cows" which is the first track on Philadelphia Chickens by greeting card lady Sandra Boynton, whom I forgot to list at the right, but who is quite fantastic. The Cows song is about a bovine chorus line: "If you thought that all we could do was go moo/then you ought to know that before us/there's not been a chorus line so fine." She's big on the clever rhymes.

Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton are better known as the band Ida. Their children's music has the same hearbreaking softness and simplicity to it. (None of which sounds like Dan's older band The Hated.)

ok, enough for now.

Monday, November 15, 2004

undercover with the evangelicals

Kos has a diary up from someone who went "undercover" in an evangelical community in Navada. It is a fasinating read, but I'm not sure how much to believe its conclusions. As with any such personal anthropology, the individuals he spoke with could have been unusual and his observaitons biased. More significantly, his observations seem to be all confirmations of a liberals worst fears (secret book burnings, cultures built entirely out of shame, etc.).

If there were an extra hour in the day, I would spend time reading the empirical sociological literature on fundementalism/evangelicalism/conservative christianity.

Again via majikthise

Sunday, November 14, 2004

majikthise on reaching out to evangelicals

Like a good analytic philosopher, Lindsay at majikthise distinguishes three strategies for reaching out to evangelicals, rules out two, and endorses the third. I like clean reasoning. Also, I think she is right.


Saturday, November 13, 2004

Election Fraud, Scientific Objectivity and Conspiracy Theories

I've been thinking more about the way the media is covering the possibility of election fraud and with it question of how to identify paranoid conspiracy theories. As a philosopher of science, this is actually a part of what I do professionally.

A standard move in genuine pseudo science is to point to an anomaly for the existing theory and then shift the burden of proof. "Existing theories can't explain the similarities between Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, so they must have both been made by space aliens." "Darwinian theory can't explain the development of the cell wall, so intelligent design must be true." Very often the anomalies that are pointed to are genuine anomalies. This should not be surprising--all theories are awash in anomalies. The illegitimacy of the move comes when the burden of proof is shifted.

Ok, so the rumors on the internets are full of claims of possible anomalies in the voting. These are not just discrepancies in voting patterns, but anomalies for the theory that the elections were free and fair. Even if many of these anomalies are genuine, it would be paranoid to infer from this that the election must have been stolen. This does not mean, however, that that the anomalies should be left unexamined.

I use Ron Giere’s textbook on scientific reasoning in my intro level course--in fact I’m using it next semester. One of the things I like about it is the way it handles fringe science. Rather than attempting to come up with a rigorous line between science and pseudo science, it simply puts all fringe science into the category “unconfirmed hypothesis.” (This is easy if you accept the semantic view of theories [Rutledge, subscription required]) Of course, the world is full of unconfirmed hypotheses, and most can simply be ignored. If a hypothesis posits an ontology radically incompatible with what is currently accepted (e.g. parapsychology) or is incompatible with a coherent research methodology (intelligent design) there really isn’t any reason to think about it anymore.

The possibility of vote fraud is not like this. We know that vote fraud occurs, and yes it occurs even in the U.S. (I lived in Chicago for eight years.) Vote fraud in a national election would be surprising, but it is only different from past US history in scale. Furthermore, the issue we are dealing with is obviously important.

So here’s my conclusion: the possibility of a rigged presidential election is an unconfirmed hypothesis worth investigating. This means resolving as many of the anomalies out there as we possibly can, especially the gap between the exit polls and the vote tally.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dear Dr. McIntyre (public questioning of medical decisions)

Dr. Mary McIntyre
Alabama Medicaid Agency
501 Dexter Avenue
P.O. Box 5624
Montgomery, AL 36103-5624
fax (334) 242-5097

November 12, 2004

Dear Dr. McIntyre

You have probably already received a large number of calls, faxes, and emails regarding the case of Lauren Rainey, which has been publicized on local news and the internet. I would like to add my voice to theirs. Revoking Medicaid coverage for a little girl who needs twenty-four hour nursing care is heartless and life-threatening. I can’t imagine how you can do this. Please rethink your decision.

You are probably asking, “what right do random people on the internet, whose only source of information is a sensationalist local news story, have to question my medical decisions.” As my grandfather would have said, this looks like “Monday morning quarterbacking.”

Actually, though, the public does have a right, indeed a duty, to question the decisions of public officials, even when we lack the relevant expertise. We have this duty in part because you are acting in our name. Mostly, though, we have this duty because we provide a different perspective, which can provide a check on the power of experts. Although you have more training than the public, you are also hampered by the biases that come from institutional cultures. The case of Lauren Rainey looks like such a situation. The distance between you and the case, created by institutional relationships, has blocked ordinary human sympathy. Hopefully the voices of the public will rekindle that emotion in you.


Rob Loftis

The Exit Poll Issue

Steven Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania has posted a paper arguing that the exit poll results that favored Kerry should be taken seriously. This is not an accusation of fraud, merely a call for someone to provide a rigorous explanation of the discrepancy between the exit polls and the precinct returns.

While the internets have been all over this issue, the big media outlets have dismissed it as conspiracy mongering. The problem is that no one has given us a reason to dismiss this issue. We are just being assured, over and over, that the exit polls must have been wrong, because they were merely exit polls.

Freeman’s paper begins a serious investigation of this issue by showing that the likelihood that the discrepancy between the exit polls and the tallied results is due to the margin of error of the polls is vanishingly small. The odds that random variation could have caused the differences we saw are 250 million to one. If the exit polls were wrong, something must have been systematically biasing them. If so, we are entitled to know what it is.

Prof. Freeman’s paper is not peer reviewed. While it would be nice if it were peer reviewed, waiting for peer review would mean that the legitimacy of this election will only be determined by future historians. We need an explanation now.

Link via echidne

Note added:

This NYT article is the sort of big media coverage I was talking about. It raises the issue of the discrepancy, but then simply changes the subject, pointing out that there is no direct evidence of vote fraud. This is all well and good. But it still doesn't explain where the discrepancy came from.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Adventures Close to Home

Hey look, I'm getting traffic!

ok, here's some parenting bloggage.

Tiny Caroline has reset her internal clock, and we can't seem to set it back. Right now "morning" is ~4 AM, and "night" is ~6PM. When she pops up at ~4, she announces "all done!" It is difficult to convince her that she is not, in fact, all done. This is no good. We have given birth to a defective, insistent, alarm clock.

For a while it looked like she had given up on napping, but then yesterday, she took a 4 hour nap, which moved "night" up to 9:30, but had no impact on "morning" at all. We've been trying to keep her up later, so she will sleep in, but short of hiring a brass band, there seems to be no way of doing it.

Thusfar we have wound up doing exactly the thing we probably shouldn't be doing. We've been taking turns getting up with her at ~4, feeding her, reading to her, etc. We can't continue like this. We aren't "cry it out" parents, or even "Ferberize" parents. We are tired parents, though.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Dear Senator Clinton

The Honorable Hillary Rodham ClintonUnited States Senate476 Russell Senate Office BuildingWashington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 228-0282
Voice: (202) 224-4451

November 10, 2004

Dear Senator Clinton,

The Associated Press is reporting that President Bush is going to nominate Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General. I urge you to fight this nomination. Although the move was widely expected, it is not a conciliatory gesture by a president attempting to unite a divided nation. The two words most closely associated with Mr. Gonzales are “torture memo.” His nomination is an announcement that the administration intents to continue with its worst practices in the war on terror. I realize that the Democratic Party does not have as much political capital as the President going into this legislative session, but now would be a good time to spend some by thoroughly scrutinizing the nominee and perhaps even voting against him.

Sadly, it appears necessary in today’s political climate to review the reasons why the Gonzales’ February 2002 memo suspending anti-torture laws in the war on terrorism, and the horrible acts of violence it precipitated in Abu Ghraib and around the world, was a terrible mistake for the United States.

The simple, pragmatic reason not to torture enemy combatants is so that our own citizens will not be tortured in retaliation. We are now paying the price for not remembering this. The ghastly beheadings of hostages we have seen on the internet are expressly a response to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. One of the most prominent demands of the Iraqi kidnappers has been the release of female prisoners at Abu Ghraib, prisoners which even the Taguba report acknowledges have been raped by American guards. The most obvious reason to fight the Gonzales nomination, and the one that will command the most attention in the media, is that he has caused irreparable harm to our men and women in Iraq.

There are other pragmatic reasons to see the torture memo as a mistake (it has clearly hurt our standing around the world) but I want to emphasize a more fundamental one: torture is wrong. The talking heads on cable news are saying that this last election was about “moral values.” I’d like to see the government act on a real value for once, one that doesn’t involve prying into others’ sex lives. Here’s a value: It is wrong to completely debase, abuse, and defile a human being, even if you think you are doing it for a higher good. Don’t give me hypothetical scenarios about ticking bombs here. Such clear-cut situations never happen. Abu Ghraib did happen.

Please be a voice for the 49% of the country that opposed the way the administration is pursuing the war on terror. Please fight the Gonzales nomination


Rob Loftis

inaugural post

Ok, one of the reasons I wanted to do a blog was actually to chide myself into writing more letters to public officials, newspapers, overseas dictators listed by Amnesty International, etc. My thought was that I would make them all open letters, and publish them on a blog, as a small way of building an activism base. More importantly, if I actually had readers, I would feel pressure to actually write letters.

There's other things I want to do here, but the letter thing is what put me over the top. More specifically, what did it was the word that Bush was nominating Alberto "torture memo" Gonzales to the Attorney General. My letter will be the next post. I'll probably wait to actually fax it until Bush makes an official announcement.