Friday, December 29, 2006

Why do candidates

have to wear suits to job interviews in philosophy. No one wears a suit on any other occasion in our business. If you wear a tie to teach or give a presentation, you are considered somewhat old fashioned. Someone who wore a full suit would just look like a dork--or someone on their way to a job interview.

So what does it tell the interviewers that I wear my one good suit? That I could at one point afford to spend $400 on an outfit? That I know how to tie a tie? That I am willing to follow academic customs, no matter how arbitrary or irrational?

In other news, I kicked ass in my interview with NY College of Technology. I think I'd be a good fit and it would be a good place for me to work.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The nifty diagram from my talk today

aesthetics diagram
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
I'm thinking about adding another half dozen thinkers and giving each one dots to represent how far along each spectrum they are. I'm not sure why I will do this, though, since I doubt the chart will wind up in any published version, and giving the dots exact locations only creates facetious objectivity.

Craig Delancey: "Optimal Ecosystems: A Positive Account of Wilderness"

Another nice talk at the session I was at attempted to provide a new definition of wilderness, one that works better than "A place that people haven't touched." Here it is:
A wilderness is an enduring ecosystem that, for the available genotypes and
resources, is highly optimal in terms of maximizing both the quantity of the
flourishing of the individual organisms and the quantity of kids of organisms,
relative to the historical conditions for that ecosystem.
Basically the definition points to the aspects of ecosystems that environmentalists find attractive as the defining characteristic of wilderness, and adds a clause relativizing it to historical conditions and available resources. This last bit is key, otherwise the Amazon would be more wild than the arctic, since it supports more life and more kinds of life. The idea is that a wilderness is a place that is doing as best as it can to create life, given where it started. It then turns out to be a historical contingency that areas less touched by humans are more likely to be wilderness.

It is worth noting how this definition deals with some potential counterexamples. A pig farm is not a wilderness because it supports few kinds of individuals, although it contains many individuals. A zoo is not a wilderness because although it supports many kinds of individuals, it doesn't large numbers of individuals. The moon is also not a wilderness on this definition. DeLancey thought this was an advantage of his account, although immediately after the talk, I bumped into someone who said "of course the moon is a wilderness!" Make of it what you will.

On this definition areas that have been stripped of life by either natural or human causes are "denuded wildernesses" which amounts to not being a wilderness at all.

liveblogging the APA 2

I just came back from my talk. I got an objection that I should have anticipated and that I think I can deal with, but which forces me to think again about the shape of my argument.

Backing up a second: I am presenting my paper on Buddhist nature appreciation. Basically what I do is look at the contemporary debate in analytic philosophy over the correct way to appreciate nature, and suggest that some ideas from traditional Buddhist poetry can solve it. My original post on the idea is here. More specifically, I create a logical space of two dimensions for the debate in analytic philosophy, place the Buddhist attitude that interests me (I call it the Theregatha model) in the same corner of that space as Kant, and say that it does a better job that Kant does. (I'll post my nifty chart later on.)

The objection: That's not Buddhism! Buddhist nonattachment has nothing to do with Kantian disinterestedness! You can't call mindfulness either cognitive or noncognitive! The metaphysical background is too alien to draw any comparisons!

My first attempt at a reply: Well, obviously there are differences, that is what makes the Theregatha model better.

Objection: There isn't even a family resemblance between them, because Kantian disinterestedness is still grasping.

Hmm. Maybe. The question I have to ask myself, though, is how important is it for my argument that the Theregatha model occupy this portion of the logical space I defined for the western debate. I placed it there as a way to frame the issue, so that I could formulate arguments tightly. But my ultimate goal is simply the acceptance of the Theragatha model. I could do that if the model wound up in another quadrant of logical space, or even in a different logical space altogether. I would need different arguments if that were the case, though. I can't provide arguments for every possible translation of the Theregatha model into the western debate. So maybe I should just stick with this one.

The problem is the same for any translator. I'm serving two constituencies: the ideas I'm translating, and the people I'm translating them for. Putting the model in a specific quadrant of logical space is a way of serving my audience which might not serve the ideas.


On a different note: There were some good talks on my panel, including a nice talk by Sarah Kenehan which used van Frassen's notion of empirical adequacy, and Heather Douglas's treatment of inductive risk to show that climate models provide a stronger reason for action than economic models. The shorter version of the talk: Weather is easier to predict than people. I'll talk more about it later.

nervous --> stupid (liveblogging the APA, pt. 1)

We all know that nervous implies stupid. The converse inference is also possible, at least at an inductive level. Given that nervous --> stupid and a few background conditions, the best explanation for my current level of stupidity is that I am nervous.

Since arriving at the APA, I have misplaced my nametag, my parking ticket, my program and my registration receipt. I managed to lose my program and registration receipt within 15 minutes of getting them. This wouldn't have been a problem, except that today I left my nametag at my parents' place in the suburbs, and needed my receipt to get a new one. I never did find my parking ticket last night, which meant that I had to pay the full amount to get out. (As it turns out, I would have had to pay that anyway.)

Oh yeah, and last night I got lost coming home from the conference.

You would think that after 10 years of job interviews at the APA, I would be able to deal with the conference. In fact, that is exactly what I believed about myself, until I noticed I was screwing up every little thing I tried.

Ok, I have a presentation in 12 minutes. This should be the easiest part of the conference. The most stresfull part: one of the places I'm interviewing hasn't checked in yet, and I need to confirm the interview time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas is very poorly timed

I really don't like this idea of putting Christmas right where it is, sandwiched inconveniently between the end of the semester, with the big grading crunch, and the APA. I mean, Christmas brings a lot of obligations: travel, gift giving. Why hold it at a time when I'm already really busy?

Ok, I've been really busy this week, which is why I haven't been posting, and why this is the best I can do for my annual "hate on Christmas" post.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Doubleplusgood Protest Idea

The Ministry of Love is sending copies of 1984 to all the goodthinkers in the legislature who voted for the Military Commissions Act. Miniluv is looking for donations from proles and Outer Party members to assist the project. Order copies of 1984 and have them sent to Ministry of Love, Box 655, Guilford, CT 06437. Earmark one for your representative! I ordered 10, including one for John McHugh. Those with a real bellyfeel for the protest can use paypal to support the inner party members at miniluv directly.

Via Comrade O'Brien, in the comments

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Habeus developments

The Supremesa district court has issued a new ruling in the Hamdan case. LizardBreath blogs it here. As she reads it, it is a good news/bad news case. Good news: RobertsRobertson, the district court judge, agrees that the military commissions act cannot deny habeas rights to anyone who has them under the constitution because there is neither invasion nor rebellion going on right now. Bad news: Robertson doesn't think Hamdan had habeas rights to begin with. You can't deny habeas rights to citizens, no matter where they are, and you can't deny anyone habeas rights if they are on US soil, but you can deny non-citizens habeas rights overseas. The discussion at Unfogged includes much back linking to Obsidian Wings, where CharleyCarp is putting up the argument that this goes against the habeas rights in English common law. This remark about the English laws that formed the basis of modern habeas rights gets featured
More to the policy end of things, one of the main reasons for the 1679 act was the crown's policy of intentionally placing prisoners beyond the reach of the writ, so that it would not have to justify its conduct in a court of law. This was tyranny then, and it's tyranny now: there is (imo) and should be no place on earth where the American Executive is free of the constraints of the legal document that created it.

Mohammed Munaf

Another possible case of mishandled justice in the war on terror: Mohammed Munaf Munaf is a US citizen kidnapped in Iraq along with 3 Romanian journalists. He was later acused of being in on the plot and sentenced to death by an Iraqi court. His lawyer, Badie Arrief Izzat says this about his trial, according to Wikipedia.
Izzat alleges that the trial was unfair because Munaf was not allowed to bring or question any witnesses at the trial. In addition, Izzat alleges that the judge was ready to dismiss the case of his client, but that shortly after two U.S. military officials privately spoke with the judge the death penalty verdict was handed down. Munaf's defense team also alleges that his confession was produced under torture and that their client was nothing more than a captured hostage during the kidnapping episode.
Right now I'm just going on Wiki-information, so I won't make any firm judgments about how his trial was handled. I certainly am not making any claims about his innocence. (Something you should rarely do in civil liberties cases.) This is still another item for the torture database.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Its like the epcot center, or something.

Louisa Lim is doing a week long series on NPR about the construction boom in Shanghai, including a weird plan to create 9 satellite towns housing 500,000 people each designed in the style of a different country (6 European styles, 2 Chinese styles, and one Canadian). It sounds a lot like the fake villages at the EPCOT center, except that people are actually supposed to live there.

Lim's most recent broadcast ended with some serious, and probably needed editorializing: "And with homes priced out of the market for many, Shanghai's plans for its satellite towns are placing gimmicky foreign settlements above the real needs of its own people."

Article in American Conservative denouncing torture

Again via Steve H. Jim Bovard in American Conservative magazine denouncing torture and the Military Commissions Act: "The new law -far more dangerous than the more controversial Patriot Act- is perhaps the biggest disgrace Congress has enacted since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850."

Monday, December 11, 2006

AAUP releases data on contingent faculty

The AAUP just released a new report, the Contingent Faculty Index, 2006. It includes a table of over 2,600 colleges and universities and the proportion of their faculty who are contingent, that is not tenure eligible. You can look up your own institution! Here at SLU 35.4% of the faculty is not tenure eligible, compared to 52.5% for private baccalaureate colleges nationwide. The report also contains an essay on the effects of the reliance on contingent faculty "Consequences: An Increasingly Contingent Faculty" which concludes on this note
The nature of contingent employment is stark: an exchange of constrained teaching for minimal pay. The scholarship or collegial participation in shared governance of these faculty members is not of concern to the institution, and if fully 65 percent of the current academic workforce is employed in this way, the other 35 percent cannot be far behind.

More fun stats:

Auburn University: 63.3%
University of California System: ranges from 72.4 to 83%
Northwestern: 64.9%
Number of Doctoral and Research Universities with 100% contingent faculty: 13.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Another resource for environmental issues in China.

I'm starting to gather resources for next semester's class on Chinese environmental issues. The Three Gorges Probe is a Canadian environmental group that was founded after a group of Canadian engineers did a feasibility study for the People's Republic of China on the Three Gorges Dam. Three Gorges Probe was able to use Canadian law to get information out about the dam that the PRC wanted to keep secret.

The Probe website now carries useful news and information about all major water projects in China including the story of the anti-dam protester who was recently executed in secret. Chen Tau was arrested for taking part in violent protests last year against Pubugou dam in Sichuan. Part of a wave of domestic unrest in response to the communist party's top-down approach to modernization. (See for instance here) Check out how Chen's family found out that he had been executed:
Chen Yongzhong, the father of the executed prisoner, learned of his son's fate only when police instructed him to collect the young man's ashes and pay a 50-yuan "bullet fee," the Chinese-language news website reported.
On the bright side, it looks like Chen's execution was rushed in order to get it done before a new law turned control over all capital cases to Supreme People's Court, a move hailed by human rights advocates as a way to avoid just this kind of injustice.

The Three Gorges Probe also has a story up on an earthquake that recently struck the Three Gorges Dam. It is unclear right now whether the new reservoir behind the dam is actually triggering earthquakes or what effect this will have on the dam.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Baiji and jiangzhu

The Wall Street Journal today had an article on an expedition to find any remaining Baiji (Yangtze river dolphin). The results were, as you would expect, negative. It looks like the earth has lost its first big aquatic mammal in 300 years. The expedition did find about 300 Jiangzhu (Yangtze finless porpoises). The Yangtze finless porpoise is a subspecies of finless porpoise, which are found throughout the coastal waters of Asia. Here are some clips from the WSJ article.
HUBEI PROVINCE, China The Swiss heir to a trucking fortune and a team of scientists want to save the Yangtze River's white dolphins. But nobody is sure there are any left.

Last month, August Pfluger led a team of Chinese, Japanese, Swiss and American scientists in search of the *baiji,* a shy, nearly blind freshwater mammal known for centuries in Chinese legend as the Goddess of the Yangtze.

In the early 1990s, scientists estimated that there were about 200 *baiji* left, dodging the freighters and fishing boats clogging the river. By 1997, at the time of the last reliable sighting, scientists estimated that, at most, only about 17 of the 6-foot-long dolphins remained.

If this dolphin is now deemed to be extinct, scientists say it would be one of the few large aquatic mammals to be wiped out in 300 years. In the 1950s, the Caribbean monk seal was hunted to extinction. Other species have been pushed to the brink but have crawled back. By most reckonings, China's *baiji* has been pushed too far.
Here is the page for the expedition's organizers. The image above is of qi qi, the only baiji to thrive in captivity. Here is more on him from Cetacean Society International. Here's another photo where you can see two of its interesting adaptations: the weird pointy jaw and the fact that it is almost completely blind.

And here is the not dead yet Yangtze river finless porpoise

Someone put an ad in my blog

It was inserted into the text of my last blog post. Fuckers. Well, I've changed my password. Is there anything else I can do? Has this happened to anyone else.

Update: Wait, I just realized that an image I had put up was replaced with a spam image. Perhaps the image I imported was changed on the site where it was originally.

Doris Wishman, Film Auteur

Last night we had guests over, and they noticed I owned a DVD of Nude on the Moon, which led to a number of obvious but difficult to answer questions, like
  • What is this?
  • Why would anyone watch it?
  • Why do you own a copy?
Even though I have no answer to any of these questions, and can barely sit through the movie, I am very pleased to have it in my collection.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The government put you in a box until you go crazy and doesn't have to explain why

Jose Padilla's lawyers are now alleging that he is unfit to stand trial because his confinement has driven him insane. Also the NY Times has obtained a video of a dental visit Padilla received while in confinement.
“Today is May 21,” a naval official declared to a camera videotaping the event. “Right now we’re ready to do a root canal treatment on Jose Padilla, our enemy combatant.”

Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla’s bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla’s legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.

Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla’s cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.
Please remember that although the government has accused Padilla in public first of being involved with 9-11 and then with plotting to use a dirty bomb, it has pressed none of those charges in court. Originally, of course, the government didn't want to have to charge Padilla with anything, or even explain what they were doing. Once the supreme court announced that it would rule on the legality of his confinement, he was quickly transferred to the civilian prison system, and charged only with sending money and other material support abroad to Muslim groups in Chechnya and Bosnia.

Padilla is not the only person to receive this treatment while on US soil. Less well publicized is the case of Ali al-Marrihas been declared an enemy combatant and held for four and a half years in a South Carolina prison. The conditions of al-Marri's imprisonment closely match Padilla's: the focus is on extreme isolation with periodic threats, including the threat that he would be raped, or that his wife would be raped in front of him.

Doesn't it make you proud to be an American? Oh yeah, and via Niel at Unfogged, ABC news caught army recruiters on tape telling potential enlistees that the war is over:
"Nobody is going over to Iraq anymore?" one student asks a recruiter.

"No, we're bringing people back," he replies.

Another good one:
Yet ABC News found one recruiter who even claimed if you didn't like the Army, you could just quit.

"It's called a 'Failure to Adapt' discharge," the recruiter said. "It's an entry-level discharge so it won't affect anything on your record. It'll just be like it never happened."

"We're not at war. War ended a long time ago," another recruiter says.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Organic Rainbow Rings

A few weeks ago I encountered "organic rainbow rings" You can call them "Organic Rainbow Rings" but I know Froot Loops when I see them. Mindful Momma has a comment about these, too. According to her google-fu, they actually are a little bit better than Froot Loops. But, she adds "do we really need organic fruit loops?"

truth diagram

truth diagram
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
This is a diagram for today's symbolic logic class (11/30/06). It is actually my best recollection of a diagram drawn in the symbolic logic class I took from Sandy Zabel about ten years ago.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Khaled El-Masri

Here's another story of someone picked up without explanation as a part of the war on terror, tortured, and then released without being charged. Khaled El-Masri is a German citizen who was kidnapped while on vacation in Macedonia and taken to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. The ACLU is suing George Tenet and other CIA officials on behalf of El-Masri. The case was thrown out of a lower court on national security grounds. The news today is that the ACLU is arguing the case before an appeals court. I just heard NPR report that the government wants the case thrown out because it "seeks to prove something that is a state secret." This really, really makes me think that the secret here is "We picked up an innocent man and tortured him for no reason."

Johnny Mercer Song about Pythagoras

If I can find a sound file for the Johnny Mercer song about the Pythagorean Theorem in the next five minutes, I'll play it for my symbolic logic class. Otherwise, I'll just show them this lyric sheet.


A diagram for my 12:40 class

question diagram
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I just had a think

this is rob, not molly. I just had a think while riding my bike home, and I need to write it down. David Loy in Nondualism distinguishes 3 kinds of nondualism. Making this distinction allows us to understand how Baird Callicott can be such an intensely rational guy, yet constantly assert things like "holism" and "postmodernism." Basically, he is a nondualist in the second, and maybe the third of Loy's senses, but not the first. It is essentially the first nondualism--basically, denying the principle of noncontradiction--that makes rationality in the traditional sense beloved of analytic philosophers impossible. Also, accepting the other two nondualisms but rejecting the first is what allows me to say that "distinguishing three kinds of nondualism" is a sensible, even enlightening, thing to do.

update: this will also save Callicott from the charge of quantum physics abuse. I hpe no one else has thought of this, because I want to develop it into at least a talk.

Joey has croup.

For the past two days Joey has been wheezing horribly, and he periodically makes a coughing noise that is lower and louder than his tiny body should be capable of producing. It turns out that this is "croup," a name which sounds as terrifying as the noises joey is making. Molly looked up croup on the "Ask Dr. Hippie Attachment Parenting Guy" website, and the results seem reassuring, though. It appears that most cases are mild, and you should only bring in a doctor if the child genuinely can't breathe. Other than that, Dr. Hippie Attachment Parenting Guy recommends steaming up the bathroom and more breastfeeding. I get the sense that Dr. Hippie Attachment Parenting Guy recommends more breastfeeding in almost any circumstance. Really, I don't think he wants to see your breast in your shirt for any reason.

Update: Mom says that when I was nine months old I was hospitalized and spent time in an oxygen tent because of the croup. Joey is feeling better now: he's not barking, but he's still wheezing. I think we will take him to the drs tomorrow.

New York Times Bullshit Trifecta!

This op-ed piece about the apparent trend of public arguments against the existence of God uses all three of the crappy rhetorical techniques favored by the New York Times.

1. Ask a rhetorical question. Note immediately that it has a simple answer which does not fit your political agenda. Go on to spin a much more elaborate and completely unsupported hypothesis that answers the question, and hope that people forget the simple answer by the time you get to the end of your story. The great thing about this trick is that you can always, if asked, say that you acknowledged the simple answer. Then you can proceed to ignore the simple answer all over again.

2. Tell an anecdote and then claim it represents a social trend. For bonus points, have the anecdote be fictional.

3. Quote someone saying something very extreme in a way that makes it seem like you agree with that person, without actually coming out and agreeing with him. This lets you promote the extreme idea without having to actually defend it rationally.

I also see that PZ Myers is on the case.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Decorating Bleg

dining room 1
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
We had to pull down the ceiling of our dining room because it had peeling lead paint, so now we are going to basically redecorate the room. At least for the time being, we plan to tack colored fabric to the exposed under ceiling, instead of putting in a new ceiling. We are also going to repaint the walls.

dining room 2

So here's the question: what colors should we use? We want to use one color for the lower part of the wall and one color for the upper part. We have yards and yards of white fabric for the ceiling that can be dyed any color that RIT manufactures. (Molly has ruled out tie dying, for reasons that remain obscure to me.)

dining room 3

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Collapse in Iraq

The Shia Mahdi army is giving some massive payback for the bombings in Sadr City yesterday, and politicians loyal to Moktada al-Sadr say they will withdraw from the government--effectively destroying it--if Iraqi president Nuri al-Maliki so much as meets with George Bush.

So if we stay in Iraq, whose side are we on in the civil war? It is silly to pretend, that there is some nonsectarian legitimate government that we are backing. The government is simply a battlefield for the sects. I mean this quite literally. Al-Sadr controls the Health Minsitry, and as a result is headquarters was attacked by Sunni militiamen today.

So whose side of the civil war are we on? Sadr wants us to leave, probably because in the Madhi army would come out on top of the ensuing chaos. In general, I think the Shia would benefit from our departure: they would almost immediately be able to establish their own state in the south, and as the majority nationwide could probably wind up dominating the Baghdad area as well. So are we in Iraq to protect the Sunni? The main Sunni faction I'm familiar with are the Baathist resistance? So we are there to protect Saddam's old guard?

Meanwhile, the Bush administration dispatch simply makes no sense. This is from the NYTimes:
"These ruthless acts of violence are deplorable. It is an outrage that these terrorists are targeting innocent civilians in a brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government. These killers will not succeed.”

He also repeated the administration’s insistence that Iraq was not in a civil war. “We’re constantly asked that question, and while the situation is serious, Prime Minister Maliki and President Talabani have said they do not believe it is a civil war,” he said.
The killers were not primarily attempting to topple a democratically elected government. The killers are, for now, the largest bloc in that government. The killers were avenging the attacks that occurred yesterday against their people. The Bush administration is unable to acknowledge this fact, though, because for them the violence yesterday was another act by "the terrorists" against the democratically elected government. The attacks today can't be vengeance for the attacks yesterday if they were both committed by "the terrorists." Jackasses.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving notes

1. Ice skating is much more difficult that the more familiar linoleum skating.

2. Flashlights are post-it notes make the best children's toys.

3. If the youngest child you are watching is 3, you can turn your back on them long enough to write this sentence.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What is to be done

Ok, I leave tomorrow to go to my parents' house for Thanksgiving, and I have more small tasks than you can possibly imagine to get done before I leave. It is like this for every trip. I think if I only left to go someplace once I was completely ready to go, I would become completely immobile. I haven't even been able to draw up a to do list this time, because each time I start to, the items I list are so small, that I think I should just do one of them, since doing them would take less time than making up the list. But this leaves me with the sense that I am drowning in responsibility, and I feel sick.

I also have been literally feeling sick the last couple days. We are trying to get rid of some old lead paint in our house. Half the house is sealed off with plastic wrap, but you can still smell the crazy chemicals coming from the other side. When I felt sick yesterday, I decided to blame the chemicals, rather than the fact that I had three beers but skipped dinner. This morning I felt fine, after no beers, so I was all prepared to pronounce the chemicals innocent of my previous illness. But then I get to the office, and I feel woozy again. I'm a little nauseous, and my hands are shaking. I haven't been able to figure out what is going on, largely because I've been relying on everyone's favorite fallacious rule of inference: post hoc ergo propter hoc.

In any case, I'm am now going to share with you, the internet, my to do list. I think of this as profgrrrrl blogging, since she is the first blogger I saw doing this. I don't know why I feel compelled to read others' to do list, or share my own. It makes about as much sense as the gallery of grocery lists. But here it is.

  • As many job applications as possible [answer, 4]
  • 2 emails about the china course
  • 2 emails about SOC
  • 1 student email about grades--this requires actually tabulating some grades
  • 1 letter of recommendation: at least set a deadline for yourself about it.
  • Decide what work stuff to take on vacation with you
  • Pack it.
  • Do the grading that is sitting in your email inbox, so that it looks like you have less to do than you really do.
  • 1 personal phone call.
Well, maybe this isn't so bad.

Update: is using the word "ecstatic" in a job application going too far? As in "I am ecstatic at the opportunity to work with the Alden March Bioethics Institute"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

UCLA student repeatedly tazered for not producing ID while using the library

Mostafa Tabatabainejad was tazered by university police, after he failed to exit the university library quickly enough when he failed to produce the ID that is required of all students using the library after 11. He was tasered once when he didn't get out quickly enough, and then repeatedly after that for failing to stand up after being tazered the first time. Other students who asked the police for their names and badge numbers where threatened with tazering.

The whole incident is was caught on camera phone, and accompanies this article.

Update: the video from youtube

Update again: the link was from Bitch, the youtube link from a commenter at Bitch. Welcome Pharyngula readers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Emergency Contraception for Students

Do any SLU students read this blog? Just in case you do, here is an important announcement from the health center:
As of today, Plan B emergency contraception will be available without a prescription in pharmacies across the country for women 18 and older.

Plan B emergency contraception (EC) is a safe and effective back up oral contraceptive; it can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex or sexual assault to prevent pregnancy. But EC is most effective the sooner you take it. Studies show EC can reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy by 89% if taken within the first 72 hours after unprotected sex – and by 95% if taken within 24 hours.

Plan B will continue be available in the Diana B. Torrey '82 Health and Counseling Center upon request. If you plan to purchase Plan B at a local pharmacy, you will need to ask for it at the pharmacy counter as it is classified as a "behind the counter" medication. You may also need to show proof of age so take an ID. Unfortunately, the price of Plan B has increased at local pharmacies to approximately $38- $40 per package due to the increased pricing by Barr Laboratory. The Torrey Center price will remain $20 as long as possible.

If you have any questions or concerns please call the Health Service at 229-5392.
I didn't even know the health center offered Plan B for $20, but then again, there is no reason I suppose that I needed to know. Still, it would be nice if amongst all the announcements about flu shots and mono, they put out more information about reproductive health. The quality of reproductive health is probably more sensitive to the availability of information than health issues surrounding germ-based diseases.

Monday, November 13, 2006

two points of scientific literacy

Some random parts of my scientific reasoning mid term. Questions are in bold. My answers are in regular font.

13. What are the basic elements of a Darwinian model of the origin of species?

Four point answer: Some reference to common descent

Five point answer: Common descent, random variation and natural selection.

Talking about finches will not help you here. Mentioning adaptation doesn’t help much either. Adaptation is only a part of the model in that it is something that is to be explained. Adaptation is observed, and then explained using random variation and selection. In philosophical terms, adaptation is the explanans, variation and selection are the explanandum.

18. Why are special creation theories marginal science?

Because they do not make any testable predictions. Three points off if you say because there is no evidence for them. The real problem is that the theories are not developed enough that there can be evidence for them.

What's good for the goose...

The Onion

Evangelical Haggard Claims He Was Molested By Republican Congressman

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO-Evangelical leader Ted Haggard, who stepped down last week after confessing that he purchased methamphetamines and...

And hey, The Onion now has a "blog this" feature!


Time is reporting that Rumsfeld will be prosecuted for war crimes in Germany.
Just days after his resignation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Search string: "is habeas corpus a right"

Someone just got here from a yahoo search for the exact phrase "is habeas corpus a right." The answer is "You're damn right it is, motherfucker."

New Teaching Statement?

While trying to write an application letter for a job at this department, I wound up writing these four paragraphs.
I am committed to student-centered learning, informed by current teaching scholarship, and backed by innovative techniques. In designing my courses, my focus is on what would serve my students best, rather than the best way to approach a body of knowledge. The focus of my reasoning course is, thus, to help students be more rational; the focus of my ethics course is to help them be more ethical. The result in each case is an emphasis on virtue theory and real world situations, with a constant awareness that, as Samuel Johnson said, people “more frequently require to be reminded than informed.” I use for my ethics text James Liszka’s Moral Competence, which presents a theoretical outline of what it means to be a competent moral decision maker, including discussions of moral emotions, autonomy, virtues, wisdom, and moral knowledge. I then ask them to apply this framework in their own lives by engaging in service learning (or “community based learning” as the program is known here). I have students do volunteer work with the elderly and disabled, or at a local soup kitchen. During this process, almost all the issues involved in traditional theoretical ethics arise: questions about the meaning of autonomy or distributive justice, for instance. But they now come up in a context where students are reminded of their basic ethical knowledge (such as golden rule level maxims) and sound ethical habits (door-holding level altruism) in a way that reinforces these.

Something similar goes on in my reasoning class. The class uses a motley array of sources: Alec Fisher on arguments from authority, Edward Tufte on lying with quantitative graphics, along with standard textbook treatments of the informal fallacies. Mostly, though, the class is built around field projects, where students are required to go into the real world of the internet and news media, find real arguments, and analyze them using the tools they are given. I also strongly emphasize the epistemic virtues in the class. We begin by reading Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief” and watching 12 Angry Men. The students have responded very positively. One former pupil made “All St. Lawrence students should be required to take Dr. Loftis’s reasoning class” his thesis for a final project in a speech class.

All of this is backed by an engagement with teaching scholarship and innovative teaching techniques. As you can see from my CV, I regularly attend and present at the biennial conference of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers. I already mentioned using service learning in my courses. I also use a variety of in-class exercises and games: small group work, free writes, the true-false surveys from Nils Rauhut’s Ultimate Questions, quescussion (the discussion that consists only of questions), fishbowl (the discussion where a small number of participants are in “the bowl” and others are on the outside and can tag in), and daily question card exercises. I also use travel: My course on Asian environmental attitudes next semester concludes with a two week long trip to China.

Your advertisement asks for technological experience; I am fluent with current teaching technology. I know the advantages and pitfalls of PowerPoint. I have worked with all three of the major courseware packages (WebCT, Blackboard, and Angel.) I grade papers using the comment feature in MS Word, but I am considering moving to Acrobat. I have had students keep blogs. So far this has not proven to be any improvement over the discussion forums in the standard courseware packages. However we are likely to ask students to keep videoblogs for the upcoming China trip, which should be extremely effective.
The letter has simply started to blossom into a teaching statement, and a teaching statement I like a lot better than my current one. In all honesty, my current teaching statement hasn't fully shaken off the ghosts of my St. John's education. As a result, it both comes off as fusty to most people and doesn't really reflect my current practice.

So now I've got these four paragraphs, which are really too many for the letter, but too few to be a teaching statement on their own. I should probably create a new teaching statement by folding some of the old content into this new framework, and then shorten the letter by simply referring in parts to the new teaching statement.

All this makes it hard to do what I actually should be doing, though, which is getting the damn stuff in the mail. Also, I'm not sure how much of my current teaching practice really isn't just a product of being at a rich institution now that can fund all sorts of cool stuff with trips and computers and community placement programs. Hrm.

Amnesty USA petition against torture


Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Effect of Age, Gender, and Hotness on Student Perceptions of Teacher Quality.

Molly, in the comments my post where I publish my complete SLU course evaluations, notes that two of my female colleages have chili peppers on, but so so teaching ratings. This needs to be put in some context, and should even be a springboard for an important discussion.

It is folk wisdom in the faculty lounges that there is a causal interaction between age and gender on student evaluations. Roughly, being young is a plus on your evaluations for men, but a minus for women. I hypothosize a futher age by gender by hotness interaction, such that being young and hot is an extra strong negative factor on student evaluations for women, and at worst a neutral factor for men. My proposed mechanism here is the same as the mechanism that is standardly used to explain the age by gender interaction: the problem of establishing authority. The folk wisdom of the faculty lounges says that young women have trouble estabilishing authority because of the prejudices of their students (both male and female.) I would extend this mechanism further to cover young hot women.

So here is my first question: Where can I find the actual data on this--either the claim of folk wisdom or my claim about hotness.

Another point of context for the chili pepers on ratemyprofessors: ratemyprofessors is not even a valid measure of student perceptions of your performance, let alone your actual performance, because of self-selection bias and incredibly small sample sizes. This is probably obvious to the professors on ratemyprofessors, but less obvious to the students.

This leads me to my second question: can anyone recommend a general resource for contextualizing the information on student evalautions? I am interested, first of all, in their validity simply as a measure of student perceptions. I am also interested in how to bridge the gap between reports of student perceptions and actual measures of quality.

Is there a lawyer in the house?

I'm trying to put one of the Guantanamo cases in perspective by considering a bunch of hypotheticals. Suppose for a second, that there is no war on terror and no war in Afghanistan. The existing conflict is over and something like the current Karzai government is in charge.

Case 1: A Canadian national kills an American national on Afghan soil. Where is the trial held?

Case 2: A Canadian national kills an American soldier on Afghan soil. The soldier is stationed lawfully in Afghanistan. Where is the trial held?

Case 3: Just like case 2, except we now remove the assumption that there is no war in Afghanistan. Instead assume there is combat, authorized by congress, but no declared war, and still no bullshit rhetoric about a war on terror. Where is the trial held?

Case 4: Just like case 3, except add that the Canadian national is believed to have been working with the enemies of the US in Afghanistan. Where is the trial? Is the Canadian now simply a prisoner of war, to be held until hostilities are over?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Links to Publications

This post is a table of contents for my online academic publications.

Means, Ends, and the Critique of Pure Superheroes in Watchmen and Philosophy ed. Mark D. White (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2009)

"What a Strange Little Man" in Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy ed. J. Eberl (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2008)

“The Theragāthā Model of the Aesthetic Appreciation of Natural Environments” accepted, subject to revision, at Environmental Values. This version is a draft only, not for citation.

“The Other Value in the GMO Debate” In Ethical Issues in the Life Sciences, edited by F. Adams. (Charlottesville, VA: Philosophy Documentation Center, Forthcoming).

“Germ-Line Enhancement in Humans and Nonhumans” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal Special Issue on Justice and Genetic Enhancement 15:1 (March 2005).

“Three Problems for the Aesthetic Foundations of Environmental Ethics,” Philosophy and the Contemporary World 10:2 (Fall–Winter 2003).

My reviews at Metapsychology Online

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Listen to Captain America.

This panel is taken from here. Apparently there is a tradition in Captain America comic books of having the real Captain America face off against a fake Captain America. In the comic this panel is from, the *real* CA announces that flags are nothing: only the values behind them count. Via pharyngula.

The satisfying "kerchunk" of democracy

Have you voted today? Molly and I voted this morning, and did you know? Here in the North Country we are still using the old fashioned mechanical lever machines. I know optical scan combines a paper trail with great accessibility, but I just love the satisfying "kerchunk" of democracy.

Adrienne Shelly RIP

Actress, writer and director Adrienne Shelly has been murdered, apparently by a construction worker who was upset with her noise complaints. I, like most people, know Shelly best from her roles in the great Hal Hartley movies Trust and The Unbelievable Truth. Her main focus, though, was writing and directing comedies. I saw her first feature, Sudden Manhattan, and was suitably amused. Since then she has made another movie I'll Take You There, and had a third, Waitress (with Firefly star Nathan Fillion!) in the can.

The construction worker who allegedly killed Shelly is said to have punched the slight, 5'2" director. I bet he didn't realize he could kill her like that. He then (allegedly) took her body to her office and tried to make it look like a suicide.

She had a husband and a three year old daughter.

Stories here and here.
Hat tip to Carin.

Update: NYT Story here. Apparently she was still alive when the guy tried to fake the suicide, and only died later after he hung up her unconscious body.

Monday, November 06, 2006

My Complete SLU Course Evaluations

As a part of my commitment to transparency in higher education, I have decided to put all of my teaching evaluations for my time at SLU online.

Here is single table summarizing of the numerical data for two key questions, Question 1: A high level of effort was demanded by this course, and Question 5: The instructor was an effective teacher. (Students are asked to agree or disagree on a seven point scale.) Molly made up these charts. Thanks.

Here are the university summaries for the quantitative sections, including all five questions.



Note that there is a screw up on these forms with 202A (Reasoning) and 203A (Ethics) from the Spring of 2006. I gave the Ethics forms to the Reasoning class, so all the Reasoning responses were tabulated by the university as Ethics. When it came time to give evaluation forms to Ethics, I discovered that I only had the 202A, Reasoning, forms to give out. I tried to compensate for the mistake by having the students write 203A:Ethical Theory on the form. The university refused to tabulate any form that had the extraneous marks on it. They did however tabulate 3 forms from students who did not follow my instructions. Of course, these were ethics students, whose three forms were then tabulated as Reasoning.

All of this is corrected in the summaries that Molly made up for me, and you can check it against the raw data.

OK, here is the raw data.

Fall 2003
Spring 2004
Fall 2004
Spring 2005
Fall 2005
Spring 2006
Ack, it's time to go home. I'll fill in the rest of these links later. Done! Also, there is was a summer course in 2004 on environmental ethics that I forgot completely about. I'm not even sure where the evals are. This will do for now, though.

Further Update: Let's also add a link to my page at Please note that 33.3% of the students reporting (N=3) rated me as "hot."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

OMG, a textbook fallacy

Check this argument out:
The Rev. Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Maplewood: "I thirst for water, and water exists. I hunger for food, and food exists. I hunger and thirst for God, so I concluded that God must exist."
from this interview with Richard Dawkins. The interviewer asks Dawkins what he thinks of this quote. Strangely, Dawkins does not say: "is this the best you could come up with? I despair for the American education system"

In any case, there's one for Reasoning class on Monday.

Name that philosopher

So I'm cruising department websites while working on job applications, and I see this page which is decorated with unlabeled pictures of philosophers. I cannot recognize the last three on the lower right. Also, I'm assuming the picture on the far left is Wittgenstein on a bad hair day, but it is not a photo I've seen before. Any ideas?

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I'm tired. I haven't entirely worked out what I'm going to say about Jose Padilla tomorrow. And I've got this framing thing for the talk about moral emotions and story telling which doesn't quite fit with my other framing thing about the importance of fair trials. But I'm tired.

I also see that I've already started missing job deadlines, some for good jobs. I keep saying to myself I'm going to send out my material, but then I teaching portfolio isn't how I'd like it to be...oh but no one cares about teaching, it's only research...people think it's weird enough that you have put so much effort into your teaching portfolio...but if I could make it more succinct it would all make sense. IN any case, I’ve got to get my butt in gear for job stuff in the next couple days.

Of course, the teach in is tomorrow, and Saturday Bérubé is appearing on our campus, and Sunday I have an extra class I agreed to teach for reasons which escape me now. And I’m already blowing off the Fulbright seminar on teaching Islam, even though they were kind enough to give me all these free books, and one of them even discusses the definition of religion, which is something that I’ve always wondered about but never formally researched, and I hear that one of the other seminar participants has good things to say about the topic.

But in any case, I’m tired. And my hands hurt from typing too much.

Some resources for detainee stories

interrogator commits suicide after refusing to commit torture

Aparantly, some people are resisting the orders to torture prisoners, but there is a price. This is the full story from an Arizona NPR outlet.
10/31/06 (2006-10-31) Army specialist Alyssa Peterson was an Arabic speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at the Tal-afar airbase in far northwestern Iraq near the Syrian border. According to the Army's investigation into her death, obtained by a KNAU reporter through the Freedom of Information Act, Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.

Instead she was assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. She was sent to suicide prevention training. But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle.

Alyssa Peterson graduated from Flagstaff High School and earned a psychology degree from Northern Arizona University on a military scholarship. She was trained in interrogation techniques at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, before being deployed to the Middle East in 2003.
Via Majikthise

Update: This article leads with something that I didn't even notice in the shorter NPR piece: the death occurred three years ago, and the reasons for it are only coming out now.

Fun Spam

Header: New york naked-eared

Body: elizabeth was forced to give into a little falsehood here; for to acknowledge the substance of"the person of whom i speak is a gentleman, and a stranger."

The body is a mash up of a couple lines from Pride and Prejudice. The intended payload of the spam--presumably some obscene jpegs, were stripped away by the spam filter.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Torture: It's not just for grown ups anymore

Omar Khadr: When stories about the use of child soldiers in Africa hit the Western media, the reaction was largely one of sympathy. The child soldier was someone who was victimized, brainwashed, forced to do horrible things. The questions asked were "How can we let these kids just be kids again? How can they be brought back into human society?"

Our leadership seems to think that everything is different if the child is a muslim, though. Then the question is "how can we torture this child for information?"

Omar Khadr was fourteen or fifteen years old when he was picked up by US soldiers in Afghanistan. No one denies that he was a soldier for Al Quada. His father is one of bin Ladin's lieutenants. Although he mostly grew up in Canada, he also lived in the bin Ladin compound, playing with Bin Ladin's children. No one denies that he threw a hand grenade that killed an American soldier. But none of this makes him significantly different than the children kidnapped into African armies and taught to kill. The fact that the abuse came from his own blood family is irrelevant.

Khadr's parents have probably been telling him his whole life that Americans are devils. Everything that has happened since his capture can only have reinforced this message. He has apparently been beaten, kept in stress positions, denied medical attention, and smeared with his own urine and feces. The last story was reported by his lawyers in a press conference on January 16, 2005. Before you go blowing off this testimony, remember that we have smeared our prisoners in shit before. The guards at Gitmo also like to use the threat of rape, claiming all the time that they are going to transfer him to a foreign prison where they like little boys.

As with all detainees at Gitmo, the main goal of the imprisonment is to manipulate every aspect of the prisoner’s surroundings so that they are perpetually disoriented, lose their sense of identity and ultimately their will to live. The methods were developed by an Air Force called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) which was originally meant to train our soldiers how to resist torture. It is silly to describe the SERE techniques as somehow torture lite. They were designed very carefully to cause the most possible harm. It is also silly to deny that people at Gitmo are being subject to these techniques. They are built in to the organization of the facility. As a writer for the Rolling Stone put it: "This is Guantanamo Bay: To be held there is, per se, to be tortured."

How can anyone condone the torture of children?

Wikipedia, Rolling Stone.

re: Your Brains

via unfogged.

My China Course

Travel to China

Environmental Ethics and Issues in China

(on campus course plus trip)

Philosophy 348 / Environmental Studies 348

Tuesday – Thursday 10:10 – 11:40

Professors Rob Loftis (Philosophy)
and Stephen Robinson (Geology)

China has the world’s largest population, fastest growing economy, and a history of environmental catastrophe. This course will look at attitudes towards nature in China and the policy issues they generate, starting with readings on traditional nature attitudes and ending with the current dilemmas facing China. This course will be truly interdisciplinary in nature with perspectives from philosophy, public policy, environmental science, and engineering. In addition to the campus section of this course, we will travel to China following exams to learn first-hand about several of the sites and issues from the class. Students will interact extensively with local people experiencing these problems and meet with local representatives of environmental non-governmental organizations searching for solutions.

Mandatory information session:

Friday November 10, 3:00 pm in Brown Hall 143-44

Permission of instructors required

Junior or Senior standing only

Halloween 2006

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
Homemade dragonfly costume courtesy Grandma Flo

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pure Beauty

This animation explores the same idea musically, visually, and mathematically. It is hypnotic as fuck. Be sure to check out all the variations on the right, especially the hand crank version. I wish I could spend a semester studying it. via unfogged.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Virginia Slims ad

Virginia Slims ad
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
Hey look, I'm not blogging torture! In fact, I'm grading homework!

A student submitted this as a part of a "find a logical fallacy in the media" exercise. It just struck me as especially appalling.

Update: Oh yeah, this ad is available at the tobaccodocuments site.

Another victim in the war on terror

Read Majikthise on the case of Adama Bah an 18 year old who faces deportation back to Guinea, where she faces female genital mutilation, on unsubstantiated charges that she is a potential suicide bomber.

Detailed Teach-in Poster

Detailed Teach-in Poster
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Using the military tribunals against journalists

One sign that new government powers go to far is when they are used to attack journalists. Here is an example of that happening in the war on terror.

Sami al-Haj is a cameraman for Al-Jazeera who has been held for five years in Guantanamo without being charged. He was picked up on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan while covering the war there. The Pentagon maintains he carried money for Chechen rebels and has worked for Al Quada, but the evidence for these claims is secret. Mr. al-Haj's lawyer (who cannot attend his hearings) maintains that the US holding him to get information about Al-Jazeera, which they consider to be an enemy organization. (Remember the still-unconfirmed reports that Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera?) While in custody, al-Haj has been subject to beatings, stress positions, and denial of medical care. No one can say whether the charges against al-Haj have any merit, nor will we be able to until he is given a fair, public trail. He has a wife and a son who was one year old when he wsa arrested. The son, Muhammad, is now six. Here is al-Haj's page at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

If I get the chance, I will also try to write up the case of Bilal Hussein. There is one thing I can say about Hussein right away: If an American reporter, embedded with American troops, were captured by insurgent forces, would you want her to be treated the way we are treating Hussein?

Cases like these are what led Reporters without Borders to lower the United States' rating for freedom of the press nine places, to 53rd, on a par with Croatia, Botswana, and Tonga.

Fuck You, John McHugh

A colleague of mine, Bill Olsen, contacted the office of our representative John McHugh, about his vote for the Military Commissions Act (MCA). Bill got a letter which tried to explain the vote, which Bill forwarded to the SOC listserv.

The most remarkable thing about Rep. McHugh's letter is that it does not even mention the most appalling aspect of the MCA, the end of habeas corpus. He also does not talk about the President's unlimited ability to declare anyone an enemy combatant, or the incredible loss of rights American citizens suffer when they are moved to enemy combatant status. Finally, he does not talk the fact that US citizens who are accused of being alien enemy combatants have no way to challenge that finding.

Here is a little of what he does say. After thanking Bill for his concern, giving some history of the MCA he says.
The Court in Hamdan decided that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – an article that many assumed only applied to regular armies–applies to terrorist organizations, like al Qaeda. As a result of this decision, our brave personnel in the military and other national security agencies are faced with an unpredictable legal landscape because the meaning of certain elements of Common Article 3 are vague.
How did article 3 suddenly become vaguer? The military has been able to comply with Common Article 3 conflicts more pitched and bloody than this. What has changed?
Over the course of several months, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings and briefings on standards of military commissions and tribunals, as well as the administration's recommendations. Subsequently, legislative measures were crafted to provide a comprehensive statutory structure for military commissions that will allow for the fair and effective prosecution of captured members of al Qaeda and other unlawful enemy combatants.
Did you notice the presumption of guilt here? The people on trail are assumed to be members of Al Quada, this despite the fact that large numbers of people who have survived the military commissions process have turned out to be completely innocent, picked up on little or no substantial evidence. The presumption of guilt is one of the most powerful rhetorical tools the administration has been using. We are constantly assured that the people in Gitmo are "the worst of the worst," when in fact we have no reason to think this is true, and the whole process eviscerating the courts is set up to keep up from ever learning if this is true. Ok, here's some more McHugh
The suggestion that the Military Commissions Act condones torture or that the legislation implicitly permits, "enhanced torture techniques" is absolutely false and contradicts the very language in the bill. First, it is illegal under U.S. law to torture – this was true before and it will remain true. Moreover, the measure makes torture a war crime that can result in the death penalty. This means that under the War Crimes Act, any U.S. personnel that engages in torture will be subject to prosecution for committing a war crime. Additionally, in the context of military commissions, a statement obtained through torture is not admissible.
Well, there might be some technical sense in which these things are true, but for all practical purposes they are not. The law explicitly says that evidence gained by “coercion” is allowed. ((3(949a)(C))., see Karl Schonberg’s analysis here.) The other important fact is that the administration still gets to decide what counts as torture. And they have already told us that they aren’t going to count anything as torture. The practical upshot is clearly that the Military Commissions Act allows the government to waterboard a confession out of you, and then use that as evidence against you in your trail.

McHugh’s defense of his vote is feeble. Vote the jackass out of office.

the poster for our teach-in

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Thanks to Cathy and the poster committee for the design of this and the button below!

Save our Constitution Button Design

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
I will soon be distributing buttons like this for our campus civil liberties group, Save our Constitution. Big fun!

The program for next week's teach-in

The Constitution, Human Rights, and the War on Terrorism
A Teach-in Sponsored by Save Our Constitution (SOC)

November 3, 2006 from 12:00 to 4:00 PM
St. Lawrence University
Winston Room, Student Center

Schedule of Events

Welcome Remarks

Noon: Natalia Singer (Department of English)

The Military Commissions Act
12:10: Eve Stoddard (Department of Global Studies)

12:25 - 1:10 -- Panel 1 -- Erosion of the Constitution,
Moderator: Eve Stoddard
Panelists: Steve Horwitz (Department of Economics, Associate Dean of First Year Program), Jon Cardinal (President of the Thelomathesian Society). Discussion to follow.

1:15 - 2:15 -- Panel 2 -- Torture and International Law,
Moderator: Rob Loftis
Panelists: Karl Schonberg (Department of Government), Rob Loftis (Department of Philosophy), Armina Omerika (Department of History). Discussion to follow.

2:20 - 3:15 -- Panel 3 -- Language, Rhetoric, Politics of Fear, Moderator: Gus diZerega
Panelists: John Collins (Department of Global Studies), Gus diZerega (Department of Government), Laura Rediehs (Department of Philosophy). Discussion to follow.

3:20 - 4:00 -- Wrap-up -- What You Can Do, Moderators: Natalia Singer and Jon Cardinal
Remarks from: Sal Cania and Somdeep Sen (Amnesty International), Dennis Morreale (the ACLU initiative), Julia Warn (SLU Republicans), Mihnea Tudoreanu (SLU Democrats), Carol Kissam on voter registration, Oxfam, Armina Omerika (Facebook), other student and community groups.

Save Our Constitution Mission Statement
We are deeply concerned about the assaults on the U.S. Constitution, a document animated by the highest ideals of human freedom. The Constitution has survived a Civil War, two World Wars, and the Cold War. In war and in peace, generations of Americans of all backgrounds have struggled (and in many cases died) to defend it, improve it, and extend its protections to all.

Although September 11, 2001 was a traumatic event, we do not want future historians to say that the events of that day sparked the end of constitutional democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law in this country. In the interest of avoiding such an outcome, we feel a profound call to stand up now and strengthen our defense of democratic principles. To this end we are organizing teach-ins and other events to alert the public to these threats and to facilitate discussion about how to save our Constitution at a time when it is under unprecedented attack.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Waterboarding: It's not just for the Khymer Rouge!

The Vice President stopped hedging a couple days ago and simply admitted that the US practices waterboarding. Cheney was being interviewed on a right wing talk show on WDAY in North Dakota, when he called the acceptability of waterboarding "a no-brainer." The story has been weirdly absent from the big mainstream media, but the transcript of the interview is just right here on the whitehouse website, and an article is here at the a group called the McClatchy Newspapers and in a small piece in the North Country's own Watertown Daily Times. .

Coincidentally, we also have some nice new graphics today showing just what waterboarding is. David Corn has an interview up with Jonah Blank an anthropologist and journalist who has returned from Cambodia with pictures of the waterboarding apparatus used by the Khymer Rouge as a part of one of the great genocides of the 20th century. Here it is.

Here is how it is used

Blank emphasizes in the interview that the Khymer Rouge did not use waterboarding to extract information. They did it to extract confessions for show trials before their victim was ritually killed. Bottom line: "They-- like so many brutal regimes--made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised." Check the whole story out.

The McClatchy papers also have a nice graphic explaining how waterboarding is done.

And one more thing: A taxonomy of torture techniques from Slate.

hat tips to majikthise, and Bart Harloe and Ken Gould on the SOC listserv.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More Resources on Absentee Voting

Check it out, NY residents. If you are planing to vote absentee in your home district, you need to apply for a ballot by Tuesday, October 31st

I'm going to start collecting information on absentee voting on this site, beginning with the states that SLU students come from. I'm just quickly scanning the homepages for the Secretaries of State, so corrections are encouraged.

New York. Instructions, Application Form
Deadline to apply for ballots: Tuesday, October 31st
Postmark deadline for the ballot itself: Monday, November 6th

Vermont, General instructions Application form
Deadline ot request a ballot: the day before the election, from the League of Women Voters has a good list of links, including links to state elections pages.

Information on Absentee Voting

MTV's rock the vote has a list of webpages where you can get information about absentee voting in your state. Unfortuntately, their page doesn't load right, so I am reprinting it here. We will be promoting this information as at SLU as a part of our Save Our Constitution actions.

Alabama (800) 274-VOTE

Alaska (907) 465-4611

Arizona (877) 843-8683

Arkansas (501) 682-3526

California (800) 345-VOTE

Colorado (303) 894-2200

Connecticut (800) 540-3764

Delaware (302) 739-4277

District of
Columbia (202) 727-2525

Florida (850) 245-6200

Georgia (404) 656-2871

Hawaii (808) 453-8683

Idaho (208) 334-2300

Illinois (217) 782-4141

Indiana (317) 232-3939

Iowa (888) 767-8683

Kansas (785) 796-4564

Kentucky (502) 573-7100

Louisiana (225) 342-4970

Maine (207) 642-7736

Maryland (800) 222-VOTE

Massachusetts (800) 462-VOTE

Michigan (517) 373-2540

Minnesota (651) 215-1440

Mississippi (800) 829-6786

Missouri (573) 751-2301

Montana (406) 444-4732

Nebraska (402) 471-3229

Nevada (775) 684-5705

New Hampshire (603) 271-3242

New Jersey (609) 292-3760

New Mexico (800) 477-3632

New York (800) FOR-VOTE

North Carolina (919) 733-7173

North Dakota (800) 352-0867
ext. 8-4146

Ohio (614) 466-2585

Oklahoma (405) 521-2391

Oregon (503) 986-1518

Pennsylvania (717) 787-5280

Rhode Island (401) 222-2345

South Carolina (803) 734-9060

South Dakota (605) 773-3537

Tennessee (615) 741-7956

Texas (800) 252-VOTE

Utah (800) 995-VOTE

Vermont (800) 439-8683

Virginia (804) 786-6551

Washington (360) 586-0400

West Virginia (304) 558-6000

Wisconsin (608) 266-8005

Wyoming (307) 777-7378

Keith Olbermann on the Military Commissions Act

Here. "Your words are lies sir, lies that imperil us all."

Save Our Constitution! Ask Me How!

It looks like our local civil liberties group, Save Our Constitution, is going to be printing up buttons that say "Save our Constitution! Ask me how!" There has also been some discussion of how to respond if someone asks you how to save the Constitution.

The answer is simple, and I urge it on you the internet.

These are the lists of everyone in the House and Senate who voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Don't vote for these bozos.

Govtrack presents the same information in more readable format, including a nifty map, here and here. Govtrack, btw, seems to be a nifty site.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More one the Quaker menace

The Pentagon continues to keep records on Quaker activities on the grounds that the pacifist religious group constitutes a terrorist threat. Previously I have linked to reports that the Pentagon issued a "Threat and Local Observation Notice" (a TALON) on a meeting of Friends in Florida. The ACLU is now reporting similar TALONs have been issued for activities by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Akron, Ohio and Springfield, Mass.

These new TALONs were issued with all of the competence and sensitivity to the value of human intel we have come to expect from the Global War on Anything We Decide to Label Terrorism. First of all, they misreported the second event as being in Springfield, IL, rather than Springfield Mass. Second, the Pentagon spies apparently found out about this event through the incredibly sophisticated method of "Subscribing to the AFSC emailing list." You'd think that if they had the announcement for the event in front of them, they would get the city right.

There's a fun personal connection here, too. Molly has a lot of family who are Quakers living in the Akron area. My in-laws could be a threat to national security, with their damned nonviolence and mayonnaise heavy, Midwestern cooking.

Via John Collins on the SLU listserv.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Exxon Mobil's PR firm creates "homemade" YouTube spoof of An Inconvientent Truth

The DCI Group, a PR firm working for Exxon Mobil, has an excellent record of creating the appearance of grass roots support for their causes on the web. They are the force behind Tech Central Station, a blog that appears to be a news for nerds type website but is actually devoted to spreading unwarranted doubt about global warming and endless positive messages current energy policy.

DCI’s latest? The video "Al Gore's Penguin Army," appears to be a homemade spoof of An Inconvenient Truth posted to YouTube by 29 year old named "Toutsmith," from California. The Wall Street Journal, however, has discovered that the video was actually posted from DCI computers in Washington DC. For those who subscribe the full story is here. For those who don’t here are some highlights.
Nancy Snow, a communications professor at California State University, Fullerton, viewed the penguin video and calls it a lesson in "Propaganda 101." It contains no factual information, but presents a highly negative image of the former vice president, she says. The purpose of such images is to harden the views of those who already view Mr. Gore negatively, Dr. Snow says. …
Traffic to the penguin video, first posted on in May, got a boost from prominently placed sponsored links that appeared on the Google search engine when users typed in "Al Gore" or "Global Warming." The ads, which didn't indicate who had paid for them, were removed shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted DCI Group on Tuesday.
Via Dale Jamieson on the ISEE list.