Sunday, August 17, 2014

Include disclosure of contingent faculty compensation and other working conditions

To: HEAA2014@help.senate.gov
cc: info@newfacultymajority.info

Sen. Harkin,

Thank you for sponsoring the Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA), and working to keep college accessible to all Americans. I am writing to ask you to make this bill even more effective by including provisions to address the reliance of colleges and universities on contingent faculty--adjuncts and other non-tenure-line faculty. As you know, part time faculty now comprise 50% of the faculty workforce, and 80% of the workforce at community colleges. These faculty are paid substandard wages, have to juggle positions at several schools, and are not compensated for spending time out of the classroom with students. All of this has a tremendous negative impact on the quality of education students are receiving.

You can help alleviate this problem by including a provision in your legislation requiring colleges and universities to disclose contingent faculty compensation and other working conditions. Transparency is already one of the four major goals of the HEAA. This goal should be expanded to include transparency on this crucial issue.

Thank you for your time

Prof. J. Robert Loftis
Lorain County Community College.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From the Frequent Responses file

Every time I teach medical ethics, I get at least one paper asking "why don't we experiment on prisoners, instead of poor, defenseless animals." I have added an entry to my canned response files for this one. I post it here in hopes that I can dissuade as many people as possible from this stupid, but inexplicably popular, idea.

 Ever since the Nuremberg war trials again Nazi doctors, experiments on humans without their consent has been considered a war crime. This has been adapted by most countries, including the US, as a part of law. If you want to experiment on prisoners, you need to explain how it can possibly be consensual.

You might think that US prisons are different than prisoner of war camps, because the people there are guilty of things like murder, assault and rape. But this is not what is going on in most prisons. In 2006, 49.3% of state prisoners were in jail for nonviolent offenses. For federal prisons, that number is 90.7%. (See wikipedia, end of the fourth paragraph down.) The drug war is largely responsible for this. In 2004, the majority of (55%) prisoners in federal prison were there for drug offenses. The same year in state prisons, 22% of the prisoners were there for drug offenses. (See here.)

For profit prisons also play a role here, because they lobby for tougher sentencing laws to increase their business, and hence their profit. (See here and here. In the most extreme case, a for builder of for-profit juvenile detention facilities in Pennsylvania bribed two federal judges to send innocent kids to their juvenile prisons. The judges in the case received 28 and 17 years in prison. The developers of the prisons who paid the bribes received 18 months and 12 to 18 months.

You said, "They had rights when they were not committing crimes and knowingly killing and raping people. If they want rights they shouldve thought about that before taking away someone else." But most rights specified in the US consitition do not go away if you have committed a crime. In fact, many of them only make sense after a person has been accused of a crime. The right to a fair trial, the right to see the evidence presented against you and the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment are all rights that you get after you enter the justice system.

It is also worth looking at what happens when people do experiment on prisoners. The most notorious cases of this are the Nazi war crimes, but this has happened in US prisons as well. In 1906 Dr. Richard P Strong began experiments infecting prisoners in the Philippines, which was then a US possession, with cholera. Thirteen prisoners died when they were accidentally infected with bubonic plague. Six years later Strong conducted lethal experiments where prisoners were put on a diet without vitamin B1 in order to induce beriberi. They were given cigars as compensation. For more information, see this article, called "They were cheap and available" on the history of experimentation on prisoners. The article was originally published in the British Medical Journal, but the full article was posted on a web page run by health case activists.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Microduties

On my run I was thinking about the idea that every intention carries with it a microduty to fulfill that intention. (A microduty would be like a prima facie duty, but smaller.)

I got to thinking about that because I was thinking about situations where one desires at one time to avoid a future outcome but the outcome is one which, in the future, you would have actually be fine with if it occurs. This isn't as weird as it sounds. Think of a couple who are considering having an open relationship. One reason they might not want to is the fear that if they had an open relationship, they would fall in love with other people, break up with each other, and live happily with their new partners.

Or here's a more common one: a person gets a diagnosis of Alzheimer's and decides that when they reach a certain level of mental decline, they will no longer want life-extending treatment. But actually when they reach that level of mental decline, they are quite happy. They watch TV shows whose plots they can't follow and a nice lady brings them ice cream. This version isn't quite like the open relationship scenario, in that the person isn't absolutely sure they would like the outcome they are trying to avoid, but the basic idea is the same.

The book What Sorts of People Should There Be features several similar scenarios that play out at the level of human evolution. We can imagine a future where people live as clone pods, a hundred or so genetically identical individuals who only are concerned with the interest of the pod as a whole. We might want now to avoid this outcome, even if we would have no problem with it were it to happen.

My basic thought, while running along, was that we can make sense of our conflicting intuitions in these situations if we imagine that forming the intent at the earlier time creates a little duty. I can't spell out the rest of the thinking yet. And in any case, I'm a consequentialist, not a deontologist, so I shouldn't be trying to rescue these intuitions anyway.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What is up with analects 17.8?


I’m trying to figure out what is going on with Analects 17.8. I have a bunch of very specific questions, some of them just translation issues, but really I’d just like to ask the broad question, “What is up with analects 17.8?”

This is how the passage is translated by Chan Wing-tsit, as it appears as an epigram to chapter 5 of the ethics text I use.

One who loves humanity but not learning will be obscured by ignorance. One who loves wisdom but not learning will be obscured by lack of principle. One who loves faithfulness but not learning will be obscured by heartlessness. One who loves uprightness but not learning will be obscured by violence. One of who loves strength of character but not learning will be obscured by recklessness.

The passage offers a striking parallel to Aristotle. In this the version of the passage, Confucius names five virtues and pairs them with five vices that arise from an excess of the virtue. Unlike Aristotle, he does not name a second vice associated with a deficiency—perhaps fact that the complete absence of a virtue is a vice was simply too obvious to be named. Another way he differs from Aristotle is that he has very specific theory about what is needed to keep from falling into the vice of excess: the moderating factor is always learning (xué).

For some reason, however, this version of the passage is missing one virtue-vice pair. Every other translation out there inserts “One who loves boldness but not learning will be obscured by unruliness,” between Chan’s fourth and fifth sentence. In fact, the full version of the passage makes it clear that there should be six virtues and six vices. This is the translation from Sligerland:

The master said “Zilu! Have you heard about the six [virtuous] words and their six corresponding vices?”

Zilu replied “I have not.”

“Sit! I will tell you about them

“Loving goodness without balancing it with a love of learning will result in the vice of foolishness. Loving wisdom without balancing it with a love of learning will result in the vice of deviance. Loving trustworthiness without balancing it with a love of learning will result in the vice of harmful rigidity. Loving uprightness without balancing it with a love of learning will result in the vice of intolerance. Loving courage without balancing it with a love of learning will result in the vice of unruliness. Loving resoluteness without balancing it with a love of learning will result in the vice of willfulness.

My textbook uses this passage as the epigram to the final chapter on moral knowledge, and I have my students analyze the passage as a part of introducing the major themes of the chapter. I’m interested to what extent the themes of that chapter actually resonate with the concerns of Master Kong. To help with that project I’ve created charts of the words different translators use to translate the virtue names Confucius uses. I’ve reprinted it below.


Sentence 1

He who loves
Rén ()
but not learning (Xué, ) will be obscured by
yú ()
Leys

Humanity

Silliness
Slingerland

Goodness

Foolishness
Ames

Acting authoritatively

Being easily duped
Chan (in Liszka)

Humanity

Ignorance
Legge

Being benevolent

Foolish simplicity


Sentence 2

He who loves
zhì ()1  
but not learning will be obscured by
dàng (蕩)2
Leys

Intelligence

Frivolity
Slingerland

Wisdom

Deviance
Ames

Acting wisely

Self-indulgence
Chan (in Liszka)

Wisdom

lack of principle
Legge

 Knowing

Dissipation of mind

1Ames and ctex.org give the character, as , but it seems to be more commonly written with the radical at the bottom, . See p. 55 for a discussion emphasizing the practical character of zhì. Wisdom seems to be the standard translation here.

2 I’m having trouble finding any focal meaning or customary interpretation here. Google translate gives “swing” here.

Sentence 3

He who loves
Xìn ()1
but not learning will be obscured by
zéi(賊)2
Leys

Chivalry

Banditry
Slingerland

trustworthiness

Harmful rigidity
Ames

making good one’s word

Harm’s way
Chan (in Liszka)

faithfulness

heartlessness
Legge

being sincere

an injurious disregard of consequences.

1trustworthiness seems to be the standard translation here. Google gives as the first translation of trustworthiness and trust as the third translation of 信. See Slingerland p. 242.

2 “Thief” is the meaning that comes up on Google for . Leys seems to be getting at a common meaning here. Also “chivalry” and “banditry” are a nice pair.

Sentence 4

He who loves
Zhí ()1
but not learning will be obscured by

Leys

Frankness

Brutality
Slingerland

Uprightness

Intolerance
Ames

Candor

Rudeness
Chan (in Liszka)

Uprightness

Violence
Legge

straightforwardness

Rudeness

1 Seems to mean moral rectitude in general, with a specific connotation of candor and forthright speech. See Slingerland p. 242. Another oddity: the character is missing a stroke if you change the font to SimSum: 直.

Sentence 5

He who loves
Yǒng (勇)1
but not learning will be obscured by
Luàn ()
Leys

valor

Violence
Slingerland

courage

unruliness
Ames

boldness

unruliness
Chan (in Liszka)
seems to be missing?



Legge

Boldness

Insubordination

1 The first hit on Google translate for “courage” is . The first two hits for are “brave” and “courage.”

Sentence 6

He who loves
Gāng ()
but not learning will be obscured by
Kuáng ( )
Leys

Force

Anarchy
Slingerland

resoluteness

willfulness
Ames

firmness

rashness
Chan (in Liszka)

strength of character

recklessness
Legge

Firmness

Extravagant conduct

As it turns out, one major issue in comparing Confucius and the ethics text I use is whether zhì () can be productively compared to the Greek phronesis. The textbook is James Liska’s Moral Competence, which presents a philosophical model of the morally competent individual. Chapter 4 discusses the role of wisdom, specifically conceived of as practical wisdom or phronesis, in moral competence. Chapter 5, entitled “Moral Knowledge”, essentially argues that in addition to practical wisdom, moral competence requires some kind of theoretical knowledge. The passage from Confucius is there in part because it asserts that wisdom (zhì) must be moderated by something else, learning (xué). Thus Liszka’s chapter 4 seems like it might be about zhì and Chapter 5 might bear some resemblance to xué.

More broadly, however, I’m interested in how the ideas in Analects 17.8 parallel and diverge from Western virtue theory, both ancient and modern. (This is the concern that makes me think someone on the internet might want to read these thoughts.) One important question for both my narrow and broad concerns is to what extent zhì can be identified with phronesis. This question is extremely fraught, not only because it involves comparing the semantic field of two terms in very different classical languages, but also because each term is going to have a broad, popular meaning and narrow meanings in the context of the theories of different philosophers.

So, the questions:

·         To what extent can zhì be identified with phronesis?
·         Why is Chan missing sentence 5?
·         What are the real semantic fields for these six virtues and six vices?


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Then they build monuments to you

Again, someone in the world has mangled the "first they ignore you" quote, forcing me to look up the original and remind myself the actual name of the guy. (Particularly galling this time: the mangler was a libertarian, and the original was from a labor rally)

In any case, I am not placing this in prominent places in my extended brain so I can find it easily the next time this happens.

"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. and Then they build monuments to you." --Nicholas Klein

Saturday, March 22, 2014

In support of Lawrence Torcello

Dear President Destler:

I am writing to thank you for supporting the free speech rights of Lawrence Torcello in the face of an organized smear campaign against him, and to urge you to issue an even stronger statement in support of your faculty member.

In particular, I urge you to issue a statement affirming that Professor Torcello's essay is being completely misrepresented by his attackers. He did not in any way call for the imprisonment of individuals who deny the existence of global climate change. His criticism was leveled against those who organize and fund media campaigns promoting ideas about the climate that are harmful and false. Harmful and false statements are already a regulated category of speech, as when the law prevents people from advertising dangerous quack medicine or bans hate speech. Professor Torchello's proposal is thus well within the bounds of normal, reasonable political discourse.

Universities are contractually obligated to protect the academic freedom, including the free speech rights, of their professors. Please honor this obligation to its fullest by publicly showing your complete support of Lawrence Torcello.

Sincerely,

J. Robert Loftis
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Lorain County Community College 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

A poem on famous expressions

A poem on famous expressions

This has been an issue
People have pondered over
For ages; hence
The famous expressions
An eye for an eye
Or, two wrongs don't make a right,
Revenge is best served cold.
You get what I'm going for here.

Friday, November 01, 2013

A Poem on Difference

I believe to me that it is all up to the individual.

Different things are different at different times. It to me is all in the way you look at things. What is different to you might be different to me. Everyone has their own difference. Who is to say what is the same? If you believe in Christianity, which I am, you don’t do certain things. But other people do because they are different.

I believe it depends on the situation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thoughts on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

I watched it Tuesday with Molly, and I just watched it again with Joey. I enjoyed it the second time, and and picked up on some new stuff, which is a good sign.

This is definitely Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, not Joss's Agents of SHIELD. There are a some Whedonesque touches, like the way J. August Richards feels complete moral clarity at the moment he's doing the wrong thing. And, of course, the dialogue is razor sharp. But mostly this is a big dose of Marvel style storytelling.

Molly pointed out that Skye is basically Eliza Dushku. The part seems to have been written for her, and Chloe Bennett is copying her. Molly thinks that Dushku was passed over because she's too old for Hollywood. I was thinking that Dollhouse might have soured people on her. But, while Dollhouse definitely showed Dushku's limitations, but a character like Skye is totally in her wheelhouse. So maybe Hollywood just can't handle the concept of an older hacker babe.

Why does Skye play around with sugar packets like they are a game of three card monty while talking with Richards in the diner?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

boss's boss's boss's ...

Guy on radio: Coming up, are kids hardwired to believe in God?

Me (thinking): Well, we are hardwired with a notion of authority, and we are hardwired with a generative notion of infinity. So we can imagine our boss's boss's boss's ....[on and on indefinitely] boss. Is that really all it is?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Andre Leonard: "Lego Robots Ate My Son"

Andrew Leonard is the dad in a father-son lego team. His boy is 16 now, about about to go off to college to study robotics. Is this Joey in 8 years?

Also, there is a new edition of Mindstorms (EV3) coming out. Like Leonard, I started playing with EV1, first with Caroline, then with Joey. The best robot we built was "Fast Phillip," made with two EV1 bricks. Fast Phillip would barrel full steam at a wall, hit it, turn around, and zoom for the next wall. It generally survived three collisions before falling apart. We never did much with Mindstorms EV2, mostly because I never found a command for the brick that just said "Go as fast as you can as far as you can."

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness, with Spoilers

Misc thoughts, with spoilers on ST: Into Darkness
  • With all the fan servicing in this installment, why not have Pike end up stuck in box only able to communicate "yes" and "no" with a single beeping light? 
  • Holy shit was there a lot of fan servicing. Do you really want a jokey reference to a previous movie at the big climactic moment where the main character appears to die?
  • If the final face off between the Enterprise and the Vengeance is right next to Earth, why don't any other Federation ships intervene?
  • Ms. Day is extra correct when she says "seriously, in the future not one woman over 40 is in charge in this world?!  How can that happen?" The plot pivots around Kirk, his commander Chris Pike, and Pike's commander Marcus. Someone in this hierarchy could have been female. You could do this either by making Marcus female--imagine if Carol Marcus had played this role in this timeline--or by not having Pike continue to be Kirk's immediate superior.
  • Chris G., somewhere I can't link to directly, notes that there is really no reason why old-Spock should be all cryptic about what he knows from the alternative timeline.
  • Few people, writers or fans, appreciate the Prime Directive. It is not an arbitrary rule devised to create moral dilemmas for the characters. It is also not some weird artefact of a show that first appeared during the cold war. It is a hedge against imperialism. For once, our explorers are actually noble. They are not bent on conquest. They are not interested in finding proxies for conflicts with rival empires. This will continue to be relevant as long as there are empires.  
  • Why is it called Into Darkness anyway?