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.