Monday, December 19, 2011

Child's play

Child's play
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Caroline and Joey were playing Buffy using the big lego set up. This is Willow, being held captive by The Master, on the evil side of the lego world.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Who is behind, and why do they have so much information about me? is a website that lets students compare professors. The main thing they have over sites like is that they have access to the complete grade records of each instructor, so you can select the instructor who gives out the highest number of As. Here is my profile.

I'm happy that this information is published. I would have offered it to anyone who asked. But how did get it? Apparently, someone at LCCC has given them access to our enterprise level software, as have people at many many other colleges and universities. Now is a for-profit company that makes its money from advertising, and probably also selling information on its registered users. They have been accused of sending spam using the emails they gather.

The founder of got a fawning article in the New York Times, which strikes me as supremely misleading, given that they never mention that the point of the website is to find easy graders.

My question is this: if is making money using information we gave them, why don't we get a cut? There is no reason they should be the ones to make money off information that we collect.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Return of the Big Monkey Reverse Difference Principle.

It is time to invoke what I have called in other contexts "The Big Monkey Reverse Difference Principle."

The plutocrats are motivated in part by a desire for wealth, and in part by a desire for inequality. They want to be sure to have more wealth than others. The Reverse Difference Principle is a rule for balancing these two goals. It says that equality is to be tolerated only to the extent that it benefits the best off.

Imagine two societies. One has a great deal of inequality, but the richest 1% are relatively poor. Another society has less inequality but the richest 1% are much better than the people in the first society. Now which society to you want to be a plutocrat in?

I believe it is now the job of political philosophy to convince the plutocrats of the US this truth.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dear Chancellor Katehi

Linda P.B. Katehi
Offices of the Chancellor and Provost
Fifth floor, Mrak Hall
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616

Dear Chancellor Katehi,

I am writing to express my outrage and dismay at the actions of the UC Davis police office who pepper sprayed sitting protesters, now visible to the entire world on Youtube. The Davis Enterprise is reporting that he is Lieutenant John Pike. Numerous cell phone video and still pictures show that Pike's attack was completely unprovoked and the protesters where being assiduously nonviolent.

I have two children who will be college age in a few years. I cannot imagine sending them to an institution that treats its own students in this fashion.

I urge you to relieve John Pike of duty immediately. You also must change your policies toward Occupy protesters. The Enterprise reports that you personally ordered that the encampment be cleared. This incident makes clear the folly of using force to stop students from exercising their freedom of speech when your only justifications are "liability concerns and limited staffing."


Rob Loftis


Video of the Attack.

Davis Enterprise Story on the events

UC Davis police professional standards unit. The second and command of the unit seems to be Lieutenant John Pike himself.

Office of the Chancellor:

Friday, November 11, 2011

For Armistice Day, Two Poems about Vietnam.

By my co-worker Bruce Weigl

Song of Napalm

for my wife

After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,
We stood in the doorway watching horses
Walk off lazily across the pasture’s hill.
We stared through the black screen,
Our vision altered by the distance
So I thought I saw a mist
Kicked up around their hooves when they faded
Like cut-out horses
Away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more
Scarlet; beyond the pasture
Trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches
Crisscrossed the sky like barbed wire
But you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once
I was sane enough to pause and breathe
Outside my wild plans and after the hard rain
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed
They swung finally away from me ...

But still the branches are wire
And thunder is the pounding mortar,
Still I close my eyes and see the girl
Running from her village, napalm
Stuck to her dress like jelly,
Her hands reaching for the no one
Who waits in waves of heat before her.

So I can keep on living,
So I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings
Beat inside her until she rises
Above the stinking jungle and her pain
Eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak
And the girl runs only as far
As the napalm allows
Until her burning tendons and crackling
Muscles draw her up
into that final position

Burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing
Can change that; she is burned behind my eyes
And not your good love and not the rain-swept air
And not the jungle green
Pasture unfolding before us can deny it.

Elegy for Peter

That night we drank warm whiskey
in our parked car
beyond woods now lost to the suburbs,
I fell in love with you.

What waited was the war
like a bloody curtain,
and a righteous moment
when the lovely boy’s

spine was snapped,
then the long falling into hell.
But lately, you’ve been calling me
back through the years of bitter silence

to tell me of another river of blood
and of the highland’s
howl at dusk of human voices
blasted into ecstasy.

That night in sweet Lorain
we drank so long and hard
we raised ourselves
above the broken places,

mill fires burning
red against the sky. Why
is there is no end
to this unraveling.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Their lies, your power.

People sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement have frequently noted that the 1% have done nothing that justifies their massive share of the wealth. As Krugman says, "They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs." They're really just a bunch of boiler room hucksters our of Glengarry Glen Ross. Elizabeth Warren reminds us that no one gets rich on their own.

The myth that the rich are responsible for well-being of the economy is the strength of the working class. Things don't grind to a halt if Wall Street stops working. Sometimes it even helps things: that's why Roosevelt declared a bank holiday. They talk about "Going Galt" but they know if they did nothing would change. But if everyone else stopped doing what they do, society would stop. Wall street cannot call a general strike, but main street can. The economy exists because people wake up every morning and make it exist. And if we don't like it we can make it go away. This is the power of nonviolence. They can shoot rubber bullets, but you control the fabric of the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Adventures close to home

There's an estate sale around the corner from us--about 100 yards down our street and another 100 yards down the busy street ours comes off of. Molly sent me there and authorized me to pay up to $100. They had this great workbench, with 8 drawers and wheels and and a vice for 75 dollars. So I say I'll take it. I say, "I guess I'll have to clean all that stuff out of it."

This is when I start running into trouble. The guy says he'll throw in the contents of the bench for another $75. I say $25. He says, we'll lets look what's in it. Couple hammers, some files, copper wire, pipe cutter, trowels and gardening stuff. Ok, I'll pay 75 for it. "That's just for the stuff in the drawers. Another $25 for the stuff on top." "Ok."

He totally upsold me! What started as a good deal for $75 became a crappy deal for $175! I think Cialdini has something to say about why people always fall for this. Ungh.

In any case, since I don't have a car, and its only about 200 yards back to our house, I decide to roll the thing home. Its heavy, the wind is picking up, and I have to push it up hill. I get about 25 yards and a wheel breaks off, the drawers all slide open facing downhill and the whole thing nearly tips over. I'm trying to figure out how to finish wheeling it home, but I really only have the strength to keep it from tipping over.

"So you bought Marcellus's old workbench." A guy who has raking leaves up from his yard has come over to see what's up. We chat. I say I'm going to get a wagon to carry the contents of the drawers away so the thing is manageable. It looks like with his help, though, we can roll the thing up the hill. We get to the top of the hill and turn onto our street when another wheel breaks. Well, the nice man has helped me out enough, so he leaves and I go to get a wagon to empty the thing.

There's a lot of junk in it. Old mouse traps, the kind from the cartoons with the spring and the thwapper. A lot of wood files. Will I ever use these? The electric sander does a fine job for what I need. Nails. Screws. Thistle seed. People plant thistle? Should I plant thistle? A broken gauge of some sort. "2004 Classification and Handbook of Dahlias." Sockets for a socket wrench. Metal things that look like dental instruments for dinosaurs. Drill bits of various sizes.

Even with all the junk out of the drawers, the workbench is hard to roll down the bumpy sidewalk. I go back for twine to tie the drawers in place. It is still tough going. Then another wheel breaks. Well, there's no way to move it with just one wheel. So I home, get the kid's wagon, take of the sides, and plop the whole workbench down on top of it. By some small mercy, the whole thing is stable, and I get the bench home.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Unable to stick very long to my resolution to be productive while the family is gone, I have plopped Splice into the DVD player, staring Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley (two very good looking people) as Dr. and Dr. Frankenstein. So far the movie has done a good job of communicating the fundamental horror of human reproduction. You fall in love with what you have made, but they are monsters. Also, as Brody notes into his audio recorder "Observations of feeding cycles show that subject H50 craves sucrose."

Ooh the H50 just listened to Polley, and did what it was told, when it was told not to kill Brody's brother.

Monday, September 26, 2011

More bad news

This has not been a good year for dogs in our family. Yesterday while walking Neville I noticed that his collar was loose enough that he might be able to slip our of it if he was determined enough. I didn't adjust it though. Later that evening, the kids and I went down to the lake to get some ice cream, and took the dog. Neville saw a dog on the other side of a busy street, broke off the leash, ran out into the street and was struck by a car. I ran to him but didn't know what to do. The driver of the car got out and didn't know what to do. Another woman pulled over, got out of her car, put her hand on my shoulder, and began praying loudly for me to Jesus. An ambulance stopped. The driver told me he had called the police, but couldn't stay, because he had a human patient. A person, did I understand. The generous woman drove Neville and I to an animal hospital and another generous woman walked the kids back to our house. On the way to the hospital Neville died.

Molly has made a donation to for all our friends who have lost pets this year. There have been too many. We are holding all of you in the light.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

one of the things that are wrong with me.

I've been reading in this book about the hypothesized existence of a "reorientation module." Googling the phrase leads quickly to this article which suggests a genetic component to such a module. Now I get lost really easily, and so did my maternal grandmother. There is also a distinct pattern to the way get lost that seems to go beyond simple inattention to my surroundings.* One problem comes when I go into an area that is psychologically closed off from a larger area--for instance if I am walking along a row of shops, and then enter one of them, or if I am walking along a corridor and enter a room--upon returning to the larger space, I am completely disoriented and unable to identify the direction I was originally traveling.

I don't know if that quite relates to the skills tested in material I'm reading. They mostly look at tasks where people and animal have to find an object hidden in a rectangular room, where you have to remember that the object is in a corner that has the short wall on the right and the long wall on the left. Its interesting stuff. there is evidence of modularity for this kind of task: people who can do it are unable to explain how they did it, the skill is only sensitive to certain kinds of environmental input, etc.

*Although inattention to my surroundings is clearly a factor, too. A few months ago I became lost while traveling from my work to home because I was completely distracted by this Philosophy Bites podcast.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Edie Hinshaw. 1999-2011. Good dog.

03- Good dog.

We found Edie in the autumn of 2000, when she was approximately one year old. We were newly married had returned from our long cross country bike trip, and were talking about getting a dog, but had reached an impasse, because I wanted a large dog, and Molly wanted a small dog. One day Molly's co-workers saw a small, agitated brown dog rambling around their office parking lot. Catching her immediately became an office project. (The people in Molly's office were always happy for an excuse to drop work.) When they finally lure her into the building, Molly's boss announced "Great, let's call the pound!"

"Wait," said Molly, "No one is going to find this dog's home? We're just going to let it be put down?"

Thus it fell to us to find the dog a home. We put up posters all over the part of Lubbock where she was found, but the only response we got was chastisement for nailing a sign into someone's living tree. And so, we became the caretakers for a small, hyperactive dog.

When we took her in to be neutered, the vet guessed that she had been a stray for a while, based on the pavement wear on her claws. He also told us that she was probably about a year old, and had escaped from where ever she was before in her first heat cycle, which was still subsiding. Based on the way she responded to people, she had probably been abused or neglected. She was part dachshund, part terrier.

We named her "edie" because "idi" means "come here" in Russian, and when Molly was in Kaliningrad, the park was always full of old ladies calling "IDI! IDI!" to their dogs.

When Edie first lived with us, we called her our "decorative under-the-couch dog" because she hid all day, coming out at night only to soil the carpet. Gradually, she learned to sit with us, but she would always try to nip my hands. Eventually I learned that the spot on the back of her head I was patting her was a place dogs don't like to be touched. She would get out a lot in those days, and we spent a lot of time looking up and down the dusty alley behind our house for her. Normally she was waiting home for us when we got back. Once we tried to take her to a friend's house, and she slipped out of her harness and came straight home. It took a long time to get her house-trained. For a while we were putting her in the kitchen behind a baby gate when we went to work, but she could jump clear over it. Those stubby legs could actually push her high in the air.

There was a large park near our house, and we would go on hour long walks many, many nights. She was terrified of bridges and storm drains, and we would often have to take long detours to avoid them.

One night she got out, and I found her wrestling with a larger, yellow dog in the back yard. I couldn't tell if they were fighting or playing. I watched a while, but eventually got nervous and pulled Edie away. In retrospect, they were probably playing, and that was probably a moment of great happiness for her.

After we moved to Auburn, she became completely settled in. We first lived in an apartment across from two women who owned dachshunds. I had always thought of Edie as a wiener dog, but when she stood next to full-blooded wiener dogs, I realized she was only a little wienery. When Caroline was born, we were worried that Edie would not get along with her, but Edie recognized Caroline immediately as a member of our pack.

If it wasn't too hot, I would go on walks in the afternoon, with Edie's leash tied to Caroline's stroller. Getting everyone to go the same direction was sometimes difficult.

Our time in Canton, NY was good for Edie. It was a rural village and she could spend plenty of time outside. There was an island in the Grasse River near our house where we would let her go off leash. Once she spontaneously jumped in the water, swam in a small circle, and then popped back up on land. It was her only experience in water, and I gather like most small-legged dogs, she didn't like it.

We got her little booties to walk in the snow, but she didn't like them.

We had back porch with a small ramp for Edie that sloped into a large, grassy backyard. We could tie Edie to the rail of the porch with a long rope and she sit inside with us, or run down the ramp to pee in the yard. The grass in the area she could reach was dramatically thicker and greener than the grass elsewhere.

There were two nice playgrounds in walking distance of our house, where I would go with Caroline and Edie, tying Edie up to a piece of playground equipment. One day I had her tied up to one of those geodesic domes. We had been using a slip collar to dissuade her from pulling when she walked, and I foolishly hadn't switched to the regular collar when I tied her up. Two bigger girls started teasing her, tangling their legs in front of her while they sat on the bars of the dome. I told the girls to stop, but as I did, Edie let out a low belly growl I had never heard before or sense. She broke off the weak slip chain and bit one of the girls, breaking the skin. Her mom was a econ prof at SLU and she called animal control. To avoid trouble, we enrolled in animal behavior classes. A lot of the training involved walking at heel in a square around the backyard and stopping to sit at every corner. Edie was definitely a calmer dog after that.

When Joey was born, Edie immediately decided he was in the pack. I don't know if the kids ever appreciated that this was a rare honor, afforded by Edie to very few other other animals. Grandma Flo, our current across the street neighbor Joni and Joni's dog Daisy are the only other people who were ever fully accepted. Everyone else was to be barked at.

Our time in Ohio has been the golden years for a mellower, aging Edie. We went on walks down to Lake Erie, or down the train tracks, or just around the block. The yard wasn't as well laid out for a dog. It is narrow and a long rope would let her get into either neighbors yard, where she would cause trouble. Mostly she liked to sit on the couch with us. Caroline would love to pat her and tell her she is a good dog.

In the last year, she put on a lot of weight suddenly, started drinking a lot of water and urinating a lot, sometimes in the house. Her back legs became very weak, and she could no longer go up stairs or jump up on the couch unassisted. We put off doing anything about it because it seemed mostly like aging, but when we went to the vet for a regular check up, we told him our worries. It turned out Edie had Cushing's Disease, a hormonal problem. The weight gain was mostly from a swollen liver. She was on meds for a while. The swelling in her abdomen, which we had thought of as weight gain, went down and her drinking a urination returned to normal.

Two nights ago, Caroline was lying in bed with Edie, and asked me asked why Edie was sick. I started to explain Cushing's disease again to her, and she said, "But no, why is she shaking." Edie was trembling something fierce. I took her outside, thinking she might just need to pee and get some fresh air. The next day she was definitely worse. She really didn't like using her back legs at all. We took her to the vet, and he said she'd be ok. She had a reaction to the meds, but we can just lower the dose. Last night we put her in bed with us and she seemed awful. She didn't want to stand at all. I could tell she was in pain. In the morning she had passed.

I like to think we gave her a good life for a dog.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Unpaid jobs: The new normal?" by Katherine Reynolds Lewis

To the editors,

Your article "Unpaid jobs: The new normal?" by Katherine Reynolds Lewis glibly offered readers advice on how to break laws meant to protect workers. Lewis discussed the benefits of getting people to work for free under the guise of "internships" and profiled Kelly Fallis, who uses 50 unpaid interns in her business. Explaining her decision she says "From a cost savings perspective, to get something off the ground, it's huge."

The law explicitly forbids using interns for "cost savings." See item 4 on this Department of Labor fact sheet Under the "test for unpaid interns" the fact sheet explains that to legally use an intern "The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded"

I trust that Fortune would not publish an article on how to run a Ponzi scheme. Why would it run an article like this?


Rob Loftis

Monday, February 28, 2011

Some questions to ask about the particular virtues

In prepping for class tomorrow I jotted down a list of 12 questions that we can ask about any particular virtue. I imagine others have made better lists of questions and systematically answered them, but still, I thought the list might be useful to teachers of virtue ethics.

What is it?
1. Can you give a pithy definition of it?
2. Is it a form of self control with regard to an emotion?
3. Is it a mean between two extremes?

How does it relate to the other virtues?
4. Is it a special case of another virtue?
5. Does it need to be distinguished from another virtue that it is often confused with?
6. Is there a general class of virtue that it falls under?

What can we learn about this virtue from others?
7. Are there relevant findings in empirical psychology?
8. Do different cultures regard this virtue differently?
9. How have people symbolized or represented this virtue artistically?

How do I cultivate this virtue in my own life?
10. Is this one that I am good at, or one that I need to work on?
11. What happens to people who lack this virtue?
12. What habits can I adopt to cultivate this virtue.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Easing into a story

When authors tell stories, they assume the reader starting at the beginning and going to the end. But that's generally not true for me. Consider how I've absorbed the Harry Potter series so far. Roughly, it breaks down into these steps.

1) Knowing the general cultural buzz and mapping the characters onto standard genre figures. Boy who finds out he's special. Geek girl sidekick. Gandolf figure. Gentle giant.

2) Overhearing Molly read the books to the kids, while I am doing other things. Occasionally I am called on to read portions of the book. I distinctly remember reading the scene where Hagrid shows our heroes his brother in the woods in book 5. This before I know much of anything about the story.

3) Watching all the movies with the family, in order, except for the one that isn't out yet.

4) Getting books 1 and 2 on CD for Christmas. Listening to book 1 while driving around for the holidays. Notice that this is the first time I actually hear a whole book from beginning to end.

5) The present day: Listening attentively every night at bedtime while Molly reads book 5 to the kids and listening to book 2 on CD when I drive to work.

I bet a lot of people learn stories in ways similar to this. Its not introduction, conflict, climax, denouement. Not boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again. Even now, now that I am trying to get the story in order, I am missing things. I missed a chapter of book five because they read it while I was working, rather than at bedtime.

This seems like it should be significant for aesthetic theory. But I'm not sure how.

In any case, I still don't know what happens in the second half of the last book, so don't tell me.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Lovers' Dialogues I (free writing continued)

Panos and Sylvia

Panos Aristocles stands naked, pot bellied, and balding at the window, watching the snow under the street lamp.

Sylvia: Panos, sweetie, step away from the window. Someone will see you.

Sylvia sits up in bed, her back against the wall. She has long since reached the age where her breasts point straight down, and further past the age where she cares.

Panos: Don't worry. We're on the second floor. No one ever looks up.

Sylvia: I wish I knew you when you had your buff, wrestler's body.

Panos, sounding less offended that you would expect: You are looking for younger men now?

Sylvia: No, the current you is beautiful. I was just imagining variations on the theme.

Panos: You want the version with the long permed hair and the silly tights? There's a Mexican version where a wear a mask, too.

Sylvia: They all sound delicious.

Panos: It was a preposterous body I had, muscles built for show. They gave the appearance of strength only. I'm surprised you are interested.

Sylvia: I'm a literature professor. Beauty is my business.

Panos: There was no beauty there, only spectacle. I'm glad I'm out of the business. The Mexican circuit didn't even pay well.

Sylvia: Your body would still speak of who you were. It couldn't help it.

Panos: What are you on about?

Sylvia: ...

Panos: The body doesn't speak anyway. The mouth may form words and the hand may write, but these are accidents. The person speaks with the language.

Sylvia: I think I can see facts about who you are--your personality, your nature--by directly looking at you.

Panos: A preposterous thesis.

He is now seated on the window sill.

Sylvia: Your fat--particularly your arms and shoulders--says "athlete gone to fat" not "lifelong couch potato."

Panos: That's my nature?

Sylvia: It is a part of your history.

Panos: Do better than that. Look at my body and directly perceive a mental property.

Panos is standing straight at the foot of the bed, his shoulders square with Sylvia's.

Sylvia: Your pride is shouting at me. I think I will ignore it and say that I can see your playfulness instead.

Panos: And where is my playfulness? Where did you see it?

Sylvia: You were smirking. Slightly. You still are.

Panos: And how do you know that is playfulness, and not insolence or even a mask for anger?

Sylvia: I said this was direct perception. I don't need to give a reason.

Panos: You see it because of your past experience with me. Because we have played together and you know how I play.

Sylvia: Also your writing. You are the most playful writer working in pure metaphysics and formal ontology.

Panos: See, language!

Sylvia: But what is wrong with that? I'm allowed to use past experience to shape my perception. How could I see otherwise?

Panos: It certainly makes your perception less direct.

Sylvia: Whatever, the fact is I am not simply projecting something I already know onto the appearance of you.

Panos: Yes, you are.

Sylvia: Well, here's an easy case for me. If I saw you with your eyes wide open and your jaw agape, I would be directly perceiving that you are surprised, a mental property about you.

Panos: Actually, I don't believe that either, but in that case, I am the one being weird. Your view here is common sense, so i will stipulate it. Can you get from there to directly perceiving my playfulness.

Sylvia: Easy peasy. The cases are exactly the same. In both cases I might be mistaken, and in both cases I am relying in part on past experience and a well functioning biological system of perception. If one counts as direct perception, the other does too.

Panos: One case is an event and the other a disposition. Anyway, what do you mean by "direct perception" and how do you deal with the problem of error in perception.

Sylvia: Oh Pan, I don't have any fancy philosophical theories. I teach stories about people. Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to come to bed?

Panos: I'm going to stand here.

Sylvia, wrapping a blanket around her shoulders: Suit yourself. Look, all I meant by "direct perception" was that the objects of my perception are the ordinary things they seem to be, such as foolish naked men who won't come to bed. And when I perceive them as having a property, like being tall, or pale or devilishly handsome, it is my perception that gives me knowledge of these facts. I'm actually trying not to be philosophical here. I'm ruling out funny theories about sense data or qualia or whatever that I never understood or cared for anyway.

Wait, don't open your pretty little mouth. I know where you go next. You are going to bring up two cases. In one I see, oh I dunno, a snake. And in the other, I merely think I see a snake, but really I'm just looking at a rope on the ground in dim light. The perceptions in each case are indistinguishable, but the realities are different. From this you conclude not just that perception is different than reality, but that the object of perception is not the object in reality, because the object of perception is the same, but the reality changed.

Panos: A snake, Sylvia?

Sylvia: I've been reading Śaṅkara.

Panos: And yet you hate philosophy.

Sylvia: No, I just hate philosophers.

[To be continued. I need to read about direct perception (Jackson?). I've also written down that I should write about Bernard Williams, Problems of the Self .]