Wednesday, August 31, 2005

TNH's Particles

Everyone should always click on all of the links Theresa Nielsen-Hayden puts under particles. For your convenience, here are the most recent four, all good.

The invisibility of white riots
English is essentially...
Praying Mantis Eats Hummingbird
New Primate Exhibit at the London Zoo. (Do they get to masturbate and throw feces at the visitors?)

Update: Actually, a lot of the White Riot article is about life on campuses like SLU, so it is worth quoting at length

More recently, there were the Cleveland beer riots of 1974, as well as the multiple campus beer riots at places like Colorado, the University of Oregon, Washington State University, Southern Illinois University, and Penn State among others in the last few years. While people of color have been keeping things relatively calm, with flare-ups only in a few cities like Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, or Los Angeles, whites are rioting somewhere in America every three to four months. But of course no one notices, as we become conveniently color-blind in the face of dysfunctional behavior by members of the dominant group.

Or more to the point, we are quick to downplay its significance or even excuse it. In the wake of riots at Michigan State and Colorado University, neighbors in the riot zone and local police sought to "reach out," to attempt to "understand their frustrations," referring to the students who had just trashed their streets.

Students at the University of Oregon claim that the "iron fist" of campus police (presumably being applied to them in a fashion no different from that experienced by Blacks and Latinos in South Central L.A.) is the main cause of the riots. Sharing a level of frustration that must rival that experienced by Rodney King, one white male victim of police abuse exclaimed, "The police just roll around in their squad cars looking for parties to break up." One female student there recently called campus police "a box of shit," which one supposes is just the white middle class version of rap group NWA's "Fuck Tha' Police." Make way for KWA: Kappa Kappa Gammas With Attitude.

Socrates' Arguments

Cross posted with the SLU philosophy blog.

I had a minor revelation teaching The Euthyphro in class today that I thought I'd share.

There is an old disagreement in Plato scholarship about how to treat the arguments Socrates gives in the dialogues. There are many scholars out there who painstakingly map them out, identifying premises and conclusions, pointing out fallacies, etc. There are peer reviewed articles out there devoted to trying to figure out just what the heck Socrates was saying in the passage in The Euthyphro where he compares being "god-loved" to being a "carried thing" (10d-11c).

There are other Plato scholars who think this is a boring waste of time. The arguments aren't very good, and they aren't really what Plato, as a literary artist was interested in. Plato scholarship should be more concerned with Socrates as a character, the dramatic ironies of the dialogues, etc. (I'd give examples of these two interpretive camps, but I don't think blogging demands that level of scholarship.)

The second camp has one major piece of evidence on its side: many of the arguments Socrates gives aren't very good. The Euthyphro argument in 10d-11c is an example of that. Moreover, there are ways that Plato indicates that he knows these arguments aren't very good. In The Phaedo, Socrates presents a sequence of arguments for the immortality of the soul of increasing quality and complexity. This pattern in the dialogue indicates that he knows well that the first arguments are poor.

So in class today I'm giving my interpretation of Eu 10d-11c, and simultaneously trying to explain some basic terms of informal logic (reductio ad absurdum, valid, sound, etc.) and I have a revelation: this is why Plato put this poor argument here. He does want us to analyze it, even though he knows it isn't very good. The arguments are exercises for his students. Everyone agrees that the dialogues are exoteric literature: they are made to bring the general populace to philosophy. In trying to figure out why Plato makes choices, you should figure out what the choice means for his students. In the case of Socrates’ arguments, the complexity is there to make them challenging; the oddity and fallaciousness is there to make them entertaining.

Well, I’m sure someone in the 2500 years of Plato scholarship has noted this before, but it was my little breakthrough for the day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Song Xiande Says:

This is from a syllabus by my colleague Sid Sondergard (Song Xiande):
Late assigments will not be accepted in our course, and your attendance is required. If either seems a hardship to you, look into your heart and ask why that is.

New on Blogroll

The SLU philosophy department now has a blog.

I'd really like to get funding to do


Dear Concerned Women for America

Dear Concerned Women for America,

I am pleased to see you publicly protest the lack of balance on the quotes printed on Starbuck's Coffee cups. Anything that is displayed in public should present a wide variety of views. I can't help but notice, though, that your press releases are also one sided and biased. Activist groups have deeper pockets and therefore more influence than individuals do, and thus need to give equal time to the views of transsexuals, pagans, lesbian separatists, and Satan-worshiping sex workers. Right now your pro-Christian, anti-gay stances are offensive to many of these groups. I think it's wiser for you to stay out of these issues so that they don't offend liberals and secularists.

Thanks for your time

Rob Loftis
Canton, NY

Two Local Discoveries

Two local organic farmers just visited my environmental classroom, because I will be placing students with them as a part of the community based learning program. They're great people, and I'm so excited to work with them.

I also made two discoveries, one about my guests and one about myself. These are very local topics, but they might be interesting to you, the internet, because they are similar to phenomena in your location.

1. A fact about our guests: they are all hard core animists, although they did not use the word. People from both farms said that they assign mental properties and full moral status to absolutely everything. Hearing them talk, they almost sounded like Jains. Brian from Bittersweet seemed especially impressed by the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, which had been introduced to him by his neighbor. Now, I am...not a fan of Steiner. But this should still make for interesting conversation.

2. A fact about me: I'm terrible when I bring in guest speakers. I fall into audience mode--I just sit and let them talk. I have done this for other speakers as well. I need to learn to keep focus in the classroom even when I am not center stage.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Failure of Science Education and the Slander of Lisa Lloyd

Via Pharyngula Lisa Lloyd has a post up at Philosophy of Biology responding to some of the more bizarre misinterpretations of her book that have appeared on the web and in major newspapers like the Guardian and the SF Chronicle.

What all these responses have in common is that they are all feminists who assume that Lloyd's work must be some sort of misogynist attack on the female orgasm. It is extremely difficult to imagine how someone could look at a book that is a critique of sexism in evolutionary research and think it is an attack on the orgasm. Nevertheless this is the most common reaction people have to it.

(I know, I have written that Lloyd has not completely distanced herself from the androcentric assumptions of the people she critiques. But saying she hasn't carried her critique through to the end is very different than missing the whole point of the critique. Nothing I said amounts to "And we all think Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd is something of an Uncle Tom for women.")

I'm glad Lloyd has replied to this crew. I have been meaning to blog on this myself, but I mean to blog on so many things. The question the weird reaction to Lloyd raises is "how can so many people misinterpret her so badly?" Lloyd provides an explanation, but I think it is unnecessarily complex. Lloyd's explanation is this:

1. These critics assume "that orgasm *needs* to be an adaptation in order to be culturally important."

2. This is, of course, completely false.

3. People only believe 1 because of the legacy of the way Freud was rejected in the sexology literature. Masters and Johnson elevated the clitoral orgasm, and debunked Freud's shit about how only vaginal orgasms are healthy. But since Freud thought the vaginal orgasm was adaptive, the only way to emphasize the importance of the clitoral orgasm is if that too is adaptive.

Parts (1) and (2) are clearly true, but point (3) assumes that there is more going on in the minds of Lloyd's extreme critics than actually is. Here's a much simpler explanation:

The core problem is that most college educated feminists get little or no scientific training. They are not trained in scientific reasoning, or the basics of the dominant scientific theories. They can even become dismissive of science, abetted by a superficial reading of the great feminist philosophers of science.

This is a big deal. I was just talking to a colleague from Global Studies who said that no one in her department, and probably no one in Sociology here at SLU, does quantitative methods. She added "I was an English major, I didn't take a single math course in college." I fear many SLU students can wind up doing the same thing. Our mandatory first year program does a great job of teaching writing and presentation skills, but there is no equivalent program for teaching scientific reasoning.

The lack of science training is compounded by the fact that, by necessity, much of feminist scholarship is conducted in an unmasking mode. The first step in fighting the patriarchy is to recognize it, and this requires showing the true face of a lot of things that are taken for granted.

But I think a lot of students of feminism walk away believing that unmasking is all there is. Or, perhaps, that once an accusation of sexism is in place, it cannot be removed. In any case, I've seen plenty of feminist communities fall into a rut where everyone is trying to out denounce the others, and to be more ideologically pure than the others. (This also happens in environmentalist circles, and on the other side of the political spectrum, in fundamentalist Christian circles that emphasize the fallen nature of modern society.) Since too many feminists are ignorant of science, and are stuck in a denouncing mode, it becomes hard to recognize one’s allies in the sciences.

Critical Mass

Pippy has a nice post up about attending the last Chicago Critical Mass ride. Critical Mass rides are my favorite form of anarchic civil disobedience, and really one of the few I can throw myself into wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I don't think you could pull one off in our tiny hamlet. Do check out Pippy's post. It involves a clown dropping his pants, people blocking Lake Shore Drive, and unnecessary use of force by the police.

Friday, August 26, 2005

NYT Roundup

1.Look what you get if you pray to the God of Catfish.

2. Senator Tom Coburn is opposed to funding a program that teaches third world prostitutes about condom use and supplies them with free rubbers. Perhaps he is in favor of preaching abstinence to the prostitutes? No, it is unfair of me to attribute that view to him. Perhaps he is in favor of finding them all jobs outside the sex industry, restructuring the third world economies? No, obviously he knows how hard that would be. Perhaps he thinks the US should fund police efforts to enforce anti-prostitution laws the world over. No, any effort that would prevent as much disease as promoting condom use would be prohibitively expensive. sad

Perhaps he just wants these women to die of AIDS because they're whores anyway?

3. The Bush administration continues to suppress scientific findings, distort the scientific process, and mismanage wild lands.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Apocalypse now

An amusing anecdote from Abigail Zuger the NYT:
"I was crossing Third Avenue yesterday and I was coughing so hard I had to stop and barely made it across," a patient told me last week. "I'm really scared I'm getting the avian flu."

I just looked at him. What could I say? He has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for the last 50 years. He has coughed and wheezed and gasped his way across Third Avenue now for the last 10 years. His emphysema is not going to get any better, but it might stop getting worse if he were to stop smoking.
Zuger's article is about the way disease fears in the media help us avoid confronting real problems in the here and now. Her thesis has rich analogies in other domains, particularly mine, environmentalism.

Environmentalists are often parodied as doomsayers and chicken littles, constantly predicting an ecological crises that never arises. This image is facilitated by environmentalists like Lester Brown, who really are doomsayers constantly predicting an ecological catastrophe that never arises. Brown's failed predictions about everything from population to the price of copper make it hard to talk about global warming and peak oil. Every time I try to talk to my colleague Steve Horwitz about resource issues he reminds me that the predicted copper shortages never came.

So here’s the deal: I’m never making dire predictions about the future again, because the present sucks enough. I'm going to start with peak oil. I officially no longer care whether oil production has peaked or will peak, because excessive demand for oil—greed for oil—has already launched two Gulf wars. Here’s a charming anecdote from the current Gulf war, included in a recent Human Rights Watch report excerpted in the NYRB, describing the treatment of “Persons Under Control” (PUCs).
Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all US soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy's leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn't be in with no PUCs
You don't need to predict the end of civilization to demand an end to oil dependence. All you need to do is show that if we don't kick our oil habit, things will stay likey they are. Something similar can be argued, I'm sure, using the current hurricane season and global warming.

I just recognized

the interrogator's voice in the videos promoting the movie Serenity. It's Joss! He's impersonating Hugo Weaving!

Action alert

My next irate letter will be about this (link to the American Association for the Advancement of Science). Maybe you should beat me to it. Huda Ammash is an Iraqi scientist being held without charges or trial. She was originally accused of being a major player in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. The US military dubbed her "Mrs Anthrax" for her important work developing Iraq's huge stockpiles of biological weapons. She even was number 53 on the Pentagon's most wanted list of 55.

Too bad there was no weapons of mass destruction program.

So the justification of Dr. Ammash's inprisonment turned out to be bogus. Why is she being held? It turns out that her real work was studying the environmental impact of the American sanctions and the first gulf war. From the AAAS:
Dr. Ammash's research has focused on investigating the after-effects of depleted uranium contamination left by American bombing in the first Gulf War in 1991. She has written extensively on environmental health in Iraq and its relations to war and sanctions, notably detailed in her paper, "Toxic Pollution, the Gulf War, and Sanctions" (Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War; South End Press, 2002). She was deeply critical of American sanctions against Iraq, as well as the manner in which the UNSCOM, under the direction of Richard Butler, conducted weapons inspections and published other papers on this subject, such as "Impact of Gulf War Pollution in the Spread of Infectious Diseases in Iraq," (Soli Al-Mondo, Rome, 1999), and "Electromagnetic, Chemical, and Microbial Pollution Resulting from War and Embargo, and Its Impact on the Environment and Health," (Journal of the [Iraqi] Academy of Science, 1997).
In other words, Ammash is a scientist being held for criticizing Americans. I suppose I should note that some of the dangers of some of the pollutants she investigated (EM fields, depleted uranium) are debated, and that South End Press is an activist press, not a scholarly one. But that doesn't really matter. She is being held indefinitely without charge for reasons that have totally collapsed.

Via Substitute Bitch Elsie at Bitch PhD.

Quick links and thank yous

1. Thanks to all who suggested art sites on the web. It is clear that I'm not going to have the artsy part of my presentation ready for the first class, but it will be up for a later one.

Another good art resource I found for those who are logging in from universities that subscribe to it is artstor from the people who brought you jstor.

2. I'm going to have to withdraw my mockery informed critique of Tierney, because he wasn't really going on faith. He was presenting an argument from authority. I don't like his authority, but I need a bigger argument to call him an illegitimate authority.

3. Via Sweater Project, some clips from the new Joss Whedon movie Serenity. These are clips that purport to be leaked from the studio, but are actually a part of a deliberate marketing campaign. Sometimes they are even packaged as if they were from the fictional world of the movie "These are interrogation videos of River Tam leaked from the Alliance Evil Blue Hand Guys"

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New Meta-Study on Fetal Pain

Ok, I've dropped the three things I was doing all at the same time to look at the new article in JAMA on fetal sentience. The NYT write up of the JAMA article, which puts it in the context of recent legislation demanding that abortion providers give anesthesia to the fetus, is here.

I've got to run home soon to look after the kids, so I'm just going to live-blog my reaction to the article.

~5:10: Looking at references. "Cool. They looked at a lot of the same research I looked at when I studied the issue. This means that I wasn't completely misguided when I tried to do this for myself."

~5:15: Reading the introduction and definition of pain. "Ok, they are using the IASP definition of pain, which I think I endorsed when I was looking at this issue. Oh but wait. They are setting things up so that the thalamocortical connections are a necessary condition for sentience. I can see already where this is heading."

~5:19: "The are explaining some basic stuff in this article. They know they are writing for a popular audience."

5:23: "They began by listing the search criteria they used for their meta-level study, but the bulk of the article so far reviews studies of thalamocortical connections which wouldn't have shown up in their first search for articles on fetal pain. How much of this business of listing your search criteria in your meta-level study is really true to the thought process that went into the paper? Is this another case where the paper presents a logic of justification quite different than the logic of discovery?"

5:32: I stopped looking at the article, and spaced out for a bit, a move sparked by their diagram on page 348. The diagram there contrasts spinal reflect circuits with circuits that go through the thalamus to the cortex. The latter we are supposed to infer, are real pain, while the former are just reflex. My recollection from reading Valarie Hardcastle's The Myth of Pain, though, is that there are two kinds of circuits that go all the way to the brain, the C-fibers and the delta-fibers. The C-fibers hook up to the thalamocortical conction in the diagram that Lee et al. have, but the delta fibers don't. Really the delta fibers aren't on this diagram at all.

But the delta fibers are important. They are a pain system we share with lower animals. The c-fiber system is only in the great apes. (again, I'm trying to recall hardcastle here.)

Ok, I'm all ready to assert a thesis: there are at least two kinds of pain, ape pain and dog pain. This article only concerns ape pain.

5:35: call from molly. I'm not going to finish this article before 6.

5:43: Page 940 has a lot of summaries of articles that inferred fetal pain from some circumstantial evidence, like behavior, cerebral blood flow and EEG patterns. Each gets a one sentence reply. The pattern of argument seems to be "This is a tenuous inference, whereas we have simply defined pain as requiring thalamocortical connections, so our evidence is stronger." I'm not thinking of this article as definitive, merely a salvo in an existing argument.

5:51: Reading the conclusion. When I taught this issue in my medical ethics class, I put in my PowerPoint that the "major pain circuit" was online at 29 weeks. The JAMA article reaches the same conclusion, based basically on a more detailed review of the same evidence. The one point where the authors and I differ is on the importance and possibility of other pain circuits. Of course, they are doctors writing in JAMA, and I am a philosopher blogging.

Quick request for advice

I need some good images of works by Hudson River School painters (Cole, Church) for my environmental class tomorrow. A reliable page with general background information would be nice, too. The stuff that comes up on google immediately is of mixed quality. People selling. Gallaries that want you to visit in person to see a decent image.

Good sites for on-line 19th century nature art?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Perfect Example of Market Fundementalism

John Tierney has placed a $5,000 bet on oil prices in 2010. He did this not because he has any knowledge of oil markets or production, but because he believes that the market always prevents natural resource crises from occuring. This is a piece of wisdom he learned from Julian Simon. All natural resources are unlimited. No society has ever collapsed from expending its natural resources. Really. The free market provides. The only piece of evidence he provides is the story of Paul Ehrlich loosing a bet to Julian Simon over the price of copper. Matthew Simmons, who took Tierney's bet, gave Tierney a wide spread. He thinks that the price of a barrel of oil in 2010 will be over $200, adjusted for inflation.

I won't make any predictions about the exact price of oil. I just want to note right now how little evidence Tierney has. He even flaunts his disinterest in real data. I can't think of a better example of belief in free markets acting exactly like religious faith. There is no need to look at the world, look into your heart. Just as the bible can tell us more about history than fossils, so to can the market tell us more about natural resources than geologists and engineers.

Oh yes, and housing prices are going to go up indefinitely, too. There is no housing bubble. Bubbles are imperfections in the market. The market is perfect.

Who would Jesus have assisnated?

Pat Robertson calls for the assisnation of Venezuelas President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela a tad upset.

The holy justification: "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

The state department comment on Robertson's fatwa: "This is not the policy of the United States government. We do not share his views"

No, the policy of the US was to sponsor a coup against Chavez. Now that the coup is in the toilet, we are just eating high gas prices.

Bob Moog, Rest in Peace

Bob Moog, father of the analog synth, died Saturday at the age of 71.

My grad school band was heavily influenced by the sound of Moog synthesizers. Wasn't everyone? I still own a Theremin made by Moog's last company, Big Briar. I never learned how to play it, but promise to someday. How can you resist an instrument you can refer to as a "Moog Theremin." Can't you feel the power of analog technology running through the name?

Monday, August 22, 2005

I know my chicken, You got to know your chicken!

"This is a bit more confinement than I would like, but it was the only way to stop the predation." The guy from Bittersweet farms turned out to be a really burley fellow with a big beard. He looked kinda bikery, but there weren't any motorcycles, around--precious few internal combustion engines at all. He tills the fields with oxen.

The chickens he was pointing to lived in a small enclosure, maybe ten feet by five feet, which was not fixed to the ground. They ate the grass in the field, and at the end of the day, when they had pecked their little ten foot plot down, they were moved ten feet over. Their feces never built up around them, the way it does in factory farms. Instead, it returned to the soil. They ate mostly grass, which is mostly what they are supposed to eat. They didn't have all the space in the world, but they could move around, and weren't so cramped they had to fight. I imagine that in addition to keeping the predators away, the enclosure is needed to be sure they graze the pasture evenly.

These chickens were being raised for meat, though, so they weren't the ones I wanted to see. I don't eat meat, but I did want to know where my eggs come from. The egg laying chickens lived in a wooden wagon, and could roam around the whole paddock. Their nests lined the edge of the wagon, and little doors gave easy access to fresh eggs. Brian Bennett, the Bittersweet guy, gave me one.

Most of the chickens were red and brown and orange and healthy looking, but there were several coops of white sickly chickens. Brian called them Tyson chickens, emphasizing that Tyson wasn't a real breed name, just a nickname for the kind of chicken preferred by the big industrial growers like Tyson Chicken. The Tyson chickens don't do so well if they aren't in a sterile environment and constantly fed antibiotics, but there isn't much of a market for the darker, gamier meat of the happier looking chickens, so he raises some Tyson birds as well. He does all his own slaughtering ("processing"). He does it on Thursdays.

I'm placing a couple environmental ethics students on the Bennetts' organic farm this semester, and a couple more at the Birdsfoot organic farm (which is also a real live commune!) as a part of the Community Based Learning program. I'm looking forward to working with everyone. I know I'm going to learn a lot.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hey, knock it off.

Fall comes too early
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Someone better tell all these leaves that it is still August, and some of us are not ready to let go of summer yet. Stupid leaves. They think that just because they're pretty they can go and start Autumn, even though it is still clearly summer.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Nonviolent Psychopath, with links.

Last year in my ethics course, in the section on empathy, I emphasized that not all psychopaths are violent. The textbook I was using defined psychopaths as people who were completely lacking in empathy, and further described their identifying marks, such as a lack of emotional depth, grandiose self-image, endless deciet and manipulation, etc. The type is familiar from movie killers, but in the real world the remorseless rarely need to use violence to achieve their ends. About 1% of the population is entirely lacking in empathy. During your life, you will have to deal with someone who is not violent, but clearly psycho. Lord knows I have. (The "nonviolent" in nonviolent psychopath isn't a reference to Gandhian ahimsa, merely a description of a lack of Hollywood style brutality.)

In this discussion I was inspired in part by people I had met, and in part by articles like this one about the work of Robert Hare (via /.). Hare developed a checklist (the PCL-R) used by police to identify psychopaths. Recently, though, Hare has turned his expertise on corporate executives, and has lent some scientific credibility to the bit of folk wisdom that these fuckers are all a bunch of heartless bastards.

I want to do more with this in my ethics classes, because I think students will recognize the nonviolent psychopath as an other that they will want to distance themselves from, leading them to cultivate their own empathy, ability to feel remorse, etc. (Look, you can make people more ethical without having endless discussions of ethical relativism!)

With that in mind, some links for future reference:

Here is Hare's homepage.

Here is where he warns you not to try to PCL-R at home, because of the risk of randomly accusing people of being psychopaths. (Damn! I love using psychological checklists as party games.)

Here is an abstract for an article by two British psychologists who used the MMPI and the DSMII-DP to find higher levels of psychopathy among corporate types.

ok, that's all for now.

Update: The link to the article by the British psychologists is broken. Here is the full citation: Board, Belinda Jane, and Katarina Fritzon. 2005. Disordered personalities at work. Psychology, Crime and Law 11 (1):17 - 32. DOI: 10.1080/10683160310001634304

Serious Emotional Blockage


I have nine folders on my hard drive with the label "Job Search" followed by a date. I have made some effort to search for academic work on the national market every year since 1997. One of the things I am supposed to do today is create the document where I list all the jobs I want to apply for, their addresses and deadlines. I just can't bear to even hit "create document." The whole thing just makes me feel sad and queasy.


Like many people, I use my email inbox as a sort of to-do list. I keep messages there from people who expect things from me as reminders that they are out there, expecting things from me. Right now I only have five messages in my inbox, which is quite low. I could clear the whole thing out today, were it not for one message, from Fred Adams, saying I need to put my essay "The Other Value in the GMO Debate" in final form for publication. The task is fairly routine, but I'm finding it weirdly daunting. I cited a bunch of government documents in the essay, and the federal government has this habit of rearranging its websites every six months, so that you can't find any of the official documents you used to link to. Oh, and also, I need to update information on soy subsidies. I don't want to do any of this.

Teaching Materials Online

I am in the process of putting all my teaching materials online under a Creative Commons license. The early version of the page is here. I've got 14 syllabi and 9 PowerPoints up right now.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

sunset crowd 2 by heidi the vigil organizer

sunset crowd 2 by heidi the vigil organizer
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

This is from our local edition of MoveOn's vigil to support Cindy Sheehan. Not a bad crowd for a small town. And unlike the peace vigils we had in Auburn, we weren't constantly menaced by frat boys in pickup trucks waving American flags, chanting USA USA USA, and flipping us the bird.

Molly, the kids and I are next to the white dog. Photo by vigil organizer.

Also check out the Camp Casey photo pool. Watch the vigil slideshow while listening to Le Tigre "New Kicks"

More notes on truthmapping

This exchange shows that they system is not a perfect filter for fruitless internet debates.

They classify all arguments from authority as fallacious, for some reason.

An interesting online critical thinking tool called

Laura Redeihs sent me this link to an interesting tool for critical thinking. Basically it is a discussion board which requires the users to state their claims in terms of numbered premises and conclusions. People who reply have to post a criticism of either a premise the conclusion, and all posts are rated by the whole community on an agreement scale.

This has a fuck of a lot of promise, and is free to boot. The main problem is that there aren't many arguments up yet, and the ones that have been posted are of mixed quality. I imagine that this will change as the site gains popularity.

The only other problem I have so far is that there is no formal mechanism for distinguishing criticisms of the truth of a premise from criticisms of the validity of an inference. Consider this argument. The move from premise 1 to premise 2 is clearly invalid: he is concluding actuality from possibility. However premise 2 is clearly true. He really could have just started the argument there. It would be nice if the structure of the discussion board allowed me to post a criticism of the inference that is marked as such.

I'm going to send my reasoning students to this site during the upcoming semester. I have a week devoted to computer assisted analysis of argument structure, and this would fit in there.

In the mean time, I'm going to post a few classic arguments and wander around for a while.


Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Reason number 50023 why summer is not allowed to end: In summer you can just decide to move dinner to the front lawn.

This is from a month or so ago. Stir fried veggies, seaweed and rice. The veggies all came from the Kent Family Growers, local organic farmers who deliver fresh veggies to your home in crates like the one we are using as a table. The seaweed and rice were not made locally. In fact, they had to come all the way from Korea. The problem is the only brand of seaweed we've found that we like was one that was introduced to us by some Korean friends (and who sadly just moved away.) On the other hand, we do buy all our asian food at a local mom and pop (actually I've never seen pop, only mom) asian market.

Oh yeah, and the milk is not local either. It is from Horizon, a part of what Michael Pollan called the "organic -industrial complex"

In leiu of vultures vulching.

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Riding home from dropping off Caroline at the day care coop i saw about two dozen vultures circling a spot over the grasse river (or maybe rt. 11, hard to tell.) I went back to the house to get my camera and walk the dog, but when I got back the vultures were gone. So instead, a nice picture of the island in the Grasse river.

what the fuck is this?

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Mona saw some geese heading south recently. Now I see this: a leaf turning Fall red. No no no. Summer is not allowed to end. No.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Moustache of Understanding

I'm going to transmit it to you via my UNCANNY OPTIMISM.

If your lungs and stomach start talking, stand with your arms akimbo until they stop.

Terrorism warning signs, via Echidne. Check them out.

Like My Hat?

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Another of David's photos.

The cottage we were staying in was built in the 30s, and seems to have grown by a process of sprouting and enclosing porches. There was a big screened in porch out back ready to be turned into a rec room. I think the original house just had one room, and everything else used to be a porch.

More Beach Photos

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

David sent me some photos he took at the beach. Here's a nice one of Joey. More on Flickr. Family photos, food photos, desolate airport photos. For some reason, I didn't ask david to send me any photos of the actual beach.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dirty Jokes

The Aristocrats

Orange recommends it, and points to this page of clips from it, including a great South Park version of the joke.

I want to see the movie really badly. Molly doesn't want to see it. We both normally love dirty jokes and have enjoyed a lot of John waters together. So why the spit between us?

I can only theorize. I actually like the fact that the joke itself isn't funny. The anti-climatic punchline creates a sort of meta-joke. I also like the basic idea of making a movie tracing the history of a single joke. (very scholarly.) I think Molly is less interested in meta-jokes and scholarly stuff, so she just sees pointless profanity. Maybe, I dunno.

Comedy Central Roast of Pam Anderson

stroll recomends it. His girl Courtney is in rare form. My backup girlfriend Sarah Silverman is also in top shape.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Pseudo-Environmental Opposition to Wind Farms

So which is uglier, this

or this?

People, which now include my neighbors, are opposed to building wind farms in Upstate NY because they will ruin views and spoil the landscape. Sometimes this mascarades as environmetalism, but it is really just NIMBYism. These people, whom my down the street neighbor advertises with a yard sign, are more naked about their concerns: property values.

In any case, the worry that wind farms will ruin the natural beauty of upstate NY is astonishly weak. I can't think of a more straightforward example of a case where moral values trump aesthetic values. If we do not rid ourselves of our dependence on fossil fuels, there will be more wars as nations fight over the remaining supplies. In fact, humanity faces no more pressing problem than how to navigate the transition away from fossil fuels to sustainable resources.

Anti-wind people will say that we don't need wind to wean ourselves from oil. I imagine a sinking ship and someone saying: "I don't think we have to take the ugly green lifeboat. I bet we can all fit in the nicer lifeboats." Maybe. I think we should use every boat that floats.

Also, I don't see anyone volunteering to put a nuclear plant in the Tug Hill region.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

hunting and jesus t-shirts

hunting and jesus t-shirts
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

The left t-shirt says "What happens and deer camp stays at deer camp" and depicts hunters watching a stripper. The right t-shirt says "release the Christian within you." They appear to be made by the same manufacturer.

Painted toenails and a mimosa

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Airport blogging

I'm blogging from the airport, waiting to pick up Pippy and her new squeeze. Thanks to those who expressed concern about Caroline below. As I say in the comments there, everyone is fine now. We are going through the rabies vaccine sequence because there was a bat in our bedroom while we were sleeping. Actual chance of exposure is low, but we aren't taking chances.

The encounter with Mr. Bat was quite an event. Molly describes seeing a massive creature with a two-foot wingspan swooping over the children with lightening speed in complete silence. I recal seeing a clever little mammal, with about a nine inch wingspan, moving in slow deliberate circles around the room. I followed him downstairs while Molly and the children stayed in the bedroom behind a closed door. I liked watching the bat--he seemed so in control. When a bird gets in your house, it flutters, panicked, from perch to perch. The bat could navigate the enclosed space like a kid playing Doom.

We actually couldn't coax the bat into leaving that night. We saw him again two nights later, looking quite healthy, and that time when we opened all the doors, he found his way out.

Are there really two days' worth of insects to eat in our house, or did he come and go?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I need to take notes while doing web research, and might as well post them here.

Caroline Has

Persistant low fever (100.5 under arm); excessive whininess, even by her standards. The fever is not contagious, but everyone else in the family has picked up the whininess.

Question: is this from the Rabies vaccine?

Main CDC flyer:

Mild problems: Soreness where shot is given; nausia, dizziness etc.
Moderate problems: hives, fever (6% of booster doses), very rare transient Guillain Barre.

Contact doctor if: High fever, difficulty breathing, fast heart.

Additional CDC page

"Local pain and low-grade fever may follow injection of rabies immune globulin."

American Veternary Medical Association

An immune complex-like reaction occurred among approximately 6% of persons who received booster doses of HDCV 2-21 days after administration of the booster dose (9,10). The patients developed generalized urticaria, sometimes accompanied by arthralgia, arthritis, angioedema, nausea, vomiting, fever, and malaise. In no cases have these reactions been life-threatening.

The citations are to ...?

Activist site on vaccine issues

Lists some terrifying reactions, including vaccine induced rabies, that seem to be to earlier vaccines which are identified as containing animal brain tissue. The paperwork we were given lists the vaccine manufacturer as Chiron. This seems to be the only rabies vaccine they make. This page descibes it as a cell culture vaccine, which is the newer kind.

Conclusion: even the anti-vaccine leaning page lists only mild reactions to the form of the vaccine we seem to have received.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My Case of the Female Orgasm Review

My review of Lloyd's book for Metapsychology is up here. This will be my last word on the subject unless I decide to move up to the level of a conference paper.


My parents have an electronic device in my old room that periodically goes "hmmmm CHIRPchirpchirpchirp CHIRPchirpchirpchirp CHIRPchirpchirpchirp CHIRP hmmm." I have no idea what purpose it serves.

My parents

My parents subscribe to four newspapers (The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune) and have a phone with a voice synthesizer that sounds like this: "[trill] you have a call from Marian Berkey [trill]".

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Vacation All I Ever Wanted

Thanks to all those who validated my decision to take a real vacation. Blogging will be light for the next two weeks. I'll come back with pictures, though.

In the meantime check out Pharyngula's righteous anger at Bush's decision to endorse creationism.