Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Epistemological Exercise (or, This I Believe)

Ok class, take out a piece of paper, this will be an exercise that will go in your in class exercise portfolio. I want you to take ten minutes to list 20 things you believe very very confidently. Try to make them as various as possible. To give you a sense of what I mean, here are five items I believe

Torture is always wrong
I have never been to the moon.
Two plus two is four.
I love my wife and children
Humans arose by a process of evolution by natural selection

Ok, so take ten minutes, and then I will give you further instructions.

[Wait. During that time write your own list, try to make it new each time.]

Ok, now I want you to explain, for each of these items *why* you believe it.

I was just taking a long bath (which I always recommend) and thinking about assigning this exercise. It doesn't particularly fit with where I am in any of my classes right now, but I think it is a good one. I may create an online version and use it to replace some of my online discussion questions, which are pretty weak. It would work in my intro course if I linked it to issues of empiricism and rationalism. Or in the critical thinking course for issues of authority and also the tie in to the Clifford reading and the viewing of 12 Angry Men But I don't have an exercise portfolio in the critical thinking class right now. hrm.

Truth to Power

Comedians have an incredible license and an incredible power to tell the truth, and it is nice to see someone actually avail themselves of it. The more I think about it, the more Chris Rock is right on Reverend Wright:
"A 75-year-old black man who hates white people. Is there another type of 75-year-old black man? Do you realize his whole third grade class was lynched?"
It is depressing to think that we might not be able to have a black president until everyone who actually remembers the civil rights era is dead, and all we are left with the the whitewashed vision of American Progress.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Know your rights! pt two.

Video of 14 year olds on cool skateboards being hassled by a cop who has to ride around in a golf cart. I approve of you tubing this encounter, but they would have been better off if they had seen this video by the ACLU. (Which I blogged here.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Report: Reliance on adjuncts drives away students

Here's one that has been sitting in my "to blog" pile for a while.

Audrey Jaeger and Kevin Eagan of NC state have found that that when adjuncts teach introductory level courses, students are less likely to go on to take other courses in that field. The two looked at four state schools in the American southeast and found that when adjuncts taught "gatekeeper" courses, like Biology 101 or Chemistry 101, students were significantly less likely to go on to take other courses in the field.

The study was presented at the American Educational Research Association, and reported in the Chronicle here. Jaeger's web page also gives this citation for what seems to be the peer reviewed version of the research
Jaeger, A. J., & Hinz, D. (2008 - in press). The effects of part-time faculty on first-year freshman retention: A predictive model using logistic regression. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 10(3).

Interestingly, the effect appears only for part time adjuncts, and not graduate students or non tenure track visiting faculty. This lets us know something about what in the mistreatment of contingent faculty really begins to hurt students. Students have very little access to part time adjunct teachers, and the teachers have extremely difficult schedules and no institutional support, even something basic like an office.

My division uses adjuncts for 60% of its courses, and as a two year college, everything we teach is a intro level course. This should tell the administration something about how counter-productive their strategy is.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Critique of pure super heroes. First outline.

So my essay idea on The Watchmen was accepted. The editor said they had a lot of submissions on consequentialism and Ozymandias vs deontology and Rorschach, which doesn't surprise me in the least. They picked mine because "we thought you had the best approach (and the authoritarian angle set it apart as well)."

I need to get cracking on this. These essays books are generally cranked out on a fast time table. No doubt they will want to time the book with the release of the movie slated for March 6, 2009. (Remind me to start bitching about the movie now.) So I've put together an outline below. Mostly this is just re-arranging the elements of the proposal, and figuring out what needs to be added to make it into an essay. Notice that I've somehow managed to keep the structure of the classic five paragraph theme, just like I push on the undergraduates!

First outline
Means, ends, and the critique of pure superheroes

I. Introduction [Make this snazzier/lighter, introduce section with quote]

A. Background: The central conflict in The Watchmen is the face off between cosmopolitan liberal Ozymandias and the right-wing loon Rorschach. In addition to having easily identifiable politics, both these characters have diametrically opposed ethical viewpoints, which underlie their politics. Ozymandias, with his grand, murderous scheme to end the cold war, represents consequentialism, the belief that all action should be judged by their consequences, so that the ends will sometimes justify the means. Rorschach, with his unbending principles in the face of apocalypse, represents the contrasting idea, deontology. The deontologist says that we should not think of morality in terms of ends and means at all, and instead only act in ways that express moral rules. During the course of the comic, both these ethical viewpoints gets a searing critique. The prominence of these themes and critiques makes many people think the comic is really all about liberalism, conservatism, consequentialism and deontology. But these are really only stepping stones to the real point of the comic.

B: Thesis: The ultimate target of the comic’s critique is authoritarianism, the idea that anyone should set themselves up as a guardian of society, an idea captured by image of the superhero. The critiques of consequentialism and deontology, and indeed of liberalism and conservatism, support this anti-authoritarianism, which is a more central theme throughout Moore’s work. The comic is not a purely negative work, however. It provides a positive moral image in the person of Hollis Mason, a rather ordinary man who used to dress up in a very corny costume and, when the book opens, is running a car repair shop (“Obsolete models a specialty!”)

C: This chapter will: This essay will highlight the critiques of consequentialism and deontology in the comic, focusing on the parallels to the classical philosophical arguments from people like Mill and Kant. I will also touch on the interaction between normative ethical theories like consequentialism and deontology and political theories like liberalism and conservatism, both in history and in the lives of the characters. The main focus of the chapter, however, will be seeing these themes as steps toward the broader critique of authoritarianism in this book and in other work by Alan Moore.

II. “‘In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian, nothing ever ends.”

A. Ozymandias a consequentialist.

B. Consequentialism and liberalism history with parallels to Ozymandias.
C. Critique of consequentialism imbedded in structure of the story. Ozy has the villains role: Rorschach is the viewpoint character, the audience learns of the nefarious plot as he does.

D. Critique of consequentialism imbedded in theme of the corruption Ozymandias. The most prominent theme of The Watchmen—the one alluded to in the title, the one most clearly signaled by the development of the characters and the history of the alternative universe the comic takes place in—is the easy corruptibility of the guardians of society. This is obviously part of Moore’s overall critique of authority. More on that latter. Right now we just need to see that consequentialism is the means by which Ozymandias is corrupted.

E. Critique of consequentialism imbedded in the perspective and explicit statements of Dr. Manhattan. Ozymandias’s worldview doesn’t just corrupt him, it is ultimately futile. This is where the connection to the Shelly poem becomes important.

F. Discussion of philosophical examples of the critiques in (D) and (E) and how consequentialists like Mill have responded to them.

III. [Quotation about how crazy Rorschach is]

A. Rorschach as deontologist. Emphasize that this portrayal is as much a critique of deontology as the portrayal of Ozymandias is a critique of consequentialism.

B. Deontology and conservatism history with parallels to Rorschach.

C. Deontology in the structure of the story: The critique of consequentialism does not come from the story’s deontologist, Rorschach, but from Dr. Manhattan.

D. Critique of deontology imbedded in the theme of corruption of Rorschach.

E. Rorschach’s deontology not just futile but counter productive, especially his potentially world ending act of sending the details of Ozymandias’s plan to the New Frontiersman magazine.

F. Discussion of philosophical examples of the critiques in (D) and (E) and how deontologists like Kant have responded to them.

IV. “Who watches the watchmen?”

A. The role of anti-authoritarianism in the comic

B. The role of anti-authoritarianism in Moore’s work in general.

C. Anti-authoritarianism & anarchism as a real political philosophy,

V. Conclusion: I said I was going to do it, and now I done did it.

Day at the office

I slipped away from the kids to get caught up on office work, and in the hopes of guiling myself into more productivity, I'm going to live blog what I get done.

Here's my to do list as of 12:01:

  • Sort the piles of paper in my office, get everything ready to hand back to students 12:43
  • Grade CT test 4 2:28
  • Notes on Watchmen paper now here 4:00
  • Notes on paper for AAPT
  • Grade CT test 5
  • Some progress on outcomes assessment paperwork
  • Clear email
  • Class preps (added 1:21: including answer sheets for CT tests 4 & 5)
  • Household to do list onto igoogle.
  • Keep unfogged time under 1/2 hr as measured by Rescue Time. ten minutes!
  • Letter for KC (added 12:18)

ack, it's 6 and time to go home. I got some of the class preps done, including the answer sheets for tests 4 and 5, and I got some of the grading done for test 5 (as in). I also went over to Quizno's because I realized I hadn't eaten all day and waas going to pass out. This has not been as productive as I'd have liked.

Friday, April 18, 2008

One for the fallacy files

For the fallacy files, this paraphrased description of a conversation between NPR and Jake Tapper about the questions asked Obama by the moderators in the last debate:
Q: "It seems like a lot of the complaints weren't about the questions being tough or necessarily biased against one candidate, but instead some people thought the questions were irrelevant and nonsensical. Do you think there might be some truth to that?"

A: "Well, the questions were tough, but I don't think they were necessarily biased against one candidate. And as for being irrelevant, you know, these are the kind of questions the candidates are going to get from journalists, so it's important for journalists to ask these questions so the candidates know what kind of questions journalists are going to ask."
I need to get the original transcript

Sunday, April 13, 2008

our show

Molly thinks that the final cylon is Hera, or the unnamed child of Cally and Chief Tyrol, or both. I didn't believe it, because I was assuming that all of the final five cylons were models that existed since the beginning of the show. And how could the final cylon be orchestrating all the events if it just came into existence?

Molly's evidence is strong. Series creator Ron Moore says that the final cylon isn't any character that appears in a promotional photo that includes all the major characters. It would be completely toolish of him to make the final cylon be someone who hasn't appeared in the show at all. Dirk Benedict. Bob Dylan. Katie Couric. Also, Molly points out that the repeated phrase from the Hybrid "they won't shoot one of their own" and the recent plot twist where the cylon raiders refused to fire on Helo. I'm not quite sure how this shows that the final cylon is Hera, or even among the humans, but it points to the general theme of human-cylon unity, and having Hera be the final cylon fits this.

Also, I said that Hera can't be the final cylon, because she was only created in season two (or three, or whatever). When I said this, I assumed (1) the final cylon has been running things since the beginning of the show and (2) that any baby born of human and cylon would be the first of its kind. Maybe there is a cylon running the show that we haven't seen, and there are many copies of this cylon, and Hera and the baby born to Tyrol and Cally are among these copies.

Ok. I think Molly is right.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

senior administration officials signed off on individual cases of torture.

According to ABC news Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, and Ashcroft met personally dozens of times to ok a list of specific tactics to be used on specific captives, including the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah.

Here, at last, evidence that the principles of the Bush administration directly authorized war crimes. Now can we have some justice?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Unrecognized Heroes

Amid all the bad news surrounding Nouri al-Maliki's failed offensive against the Sadr militia in Basra, no one has noticed that about thousand people did the right thing. Maliki asked the army and police force to break a cease fire and attack their countrymen and fellow Shi'ites. About a thousand of them, including 100 officers, refused.

No one in the media will call these men heroes. For them, deserters on our side are always either traitors or cowards. Just as deserters on the other side are always loyal and brave. Fuck that. If you are given an inhumane, destructive order, and you decide to put down your gun and walk away, you are a hero.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

a fun moment for a philosophy teacher

So I was presenting Leibniz's argument that we live in the best of all possible worlds to my evening intro class, and I really dug in--gave it the best presentation I could. Suddenly, I believed it. No really. For any change you might think to make in the universe, there is good reason to believe either (1) it actually wouldn't be better or (2) it actually isn't logically possible. Certain facts about human abilities guarantee that this will always be possible. Facts about the need for some optimism in order to act, and about the virtue found in being grateful, and in the limits of our capacity to imagine other worlds and... and...

No wait, I lost it. But for a moment there, I was Leibniz.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Elephant art

Elephants make real art. Here is an example from the Elephant Art Gallery.

The elephant's trainer named the elephant SriSiam and this artwork "Mercury Rising." We do not know what the elephant calls itself or this work.

This counts as real art because it was spontaneously produced by an intelligent, self aware creature, based on its own aesthetic sense. Aum-Mon Weesatchanam, the founder of the Elephant Art Gallery, explains:
I am certain that our elephant artists know what they are doing when they paint. After I have handed the loaded paintbrush to them, they proceed to paint in their own distinctive style, with delicate strokes or broad ones, gently dabbing the bristles on the paper or with a sweeping flourish, vertical lines or arcs and loops, ponderously or rapidly and so on. No two artists have the same style.

Also, the art is very pretty.

Fake elephant art also exists. Here's an example of fake elephant art, from Slate

A couple commenters on slate say that this trick is all over Thailand and that the elephant is responding to physical cues from the trainer, so the trainer is subtly guiding the trunk. Aum-Mon Weesatchanam discusses fake elephant art here.

I've been meaning to do an elephant art post for a long time. I'm a fan of elephant art the same way I am a fan of kids art. Promoting elephant art fits the mission of the North Country Academy for the Excruciatingly Fine arts. The video from Slate got forwarded to the ISEE listserv just now, so I thought I'd take this opportunity.

Update: Artist/provocateurs Komar and Melamid also have an elephant art project.