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Just Because

Posted by Ogged
on 10.14.05

Do you have crush-triggers that you've discovered only after they've been leading you around for years? The voice thread reminds me: I'm a complete sucker for husky voices. Truly a sucker, in that, even now, I often don't realize that that's what's attracting me to someone. I spent years beating myself up for a big crush on Sherry Stringfield until I realized that she has a husky voice. It doesn't do a lot for my faith in human agency when I can be gaga over someone for a trivial reason that I'm not even aware of.


 

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Move Along

Posted by Ogged
on 10.14.05

The guy who blew himself up in Oklahoma was just a guy who blew himself up in Oklahoma.


 

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Finding Funny

Posted by Ogged
on 10.14.05

If W-lfs-n could still type, I'm sure he'd be here to tell me that I'm hopeless for saying this, but a lot of New Yorker cartoons crack me up. This one in particular was the cause of much merry smiling.


 

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Voice

Posted by Ogged
on 10.14.05

This, quoted by yggy, is very cool, and I wonder if it's true.

Scientists used to consider the frequency band of 500 hertz and below in the human voice as meaningless noise, because when a voice is filtered, removing all higher frequencies, ne hears nothing but a low-pitched hum. All words are lost. But then it was found that this low hum is an unconscious social instrument. It is different for each person, but in the course of a conversation people tend to converge. They settle on a single hum, and it is always the lower status person who does the adjusting. This was first demonstrated in an analysis of the Larry King Live television show. The host, Larry King, would adjust his timbre to that of high-ranking guests, like Mike Wallace or Elizabeth Taylor. Low-ranking guests, on the other hand, would adjust their timbre to that of King. The clearest adjustment to King's voice, indicating lack of confidence, came from former Vice President Dan Quayle.
The same spectral analysis has been applied to televised debates between U.S. presidential candidates. In all eight elections between 1960 and 2000 the popular vote matched the voice analysis: the majority of people voted for the candidate who held his own timbre rather than the one who adjusted.

First, I have no idea what this means, in terms of voice. Are we always making two sounds when we talk?

Things that make me think, "bullshit": "it is always the lower status person who does the adjusting" Is it even always clear who the "lower status" person is? And "The clearest adjustment to King's voice, indicating lack of confidence, came from former Vice President Dan Quayle." So were the other adjustments less "clear"? And how convenient that he gets to bash Quayle.

I want to believe this, because the notion that there are lots of signals being sent between people of which they themselves aren't aware seems true, but I'd rather hear it from someone who sounds a bit more rigorous.

Ok: Good comments, and thanks to Joe O for this article, with more detail, and there's also this, which tells us that status was determined by polling about 600 undergrads about the status of Kind's guests.


 

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Where does a pseudonymous blogger come down on important issues?

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 10.14.05

And why would you care? In case you wondered: I think one reason why it's hard to resist consequentialism at the level of normative theory (that is, when it comes to determining what acts are right and what acts are wrong) is because of the appeal of utility-based considerations at the "foundational" level (that is, theories about "the point of morality"). Consequentialist theories give you a pretty good answer when it comes to the "what's morality about" question, since, after all, well-being matters.

But if there were a better answer, I think that would undercut some of the appeal of normative-level consequentialism. That's why I find Scanlon's work so exciting: it's a pretty compelling answer to the "point" of morality that allows us to explain why we shouldn't be act consequentialists in a way that goes beyond "because act-c is counterintuitive." What we owe to each other: it's [a good book].


 

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Small Talk

Posted by Ogged
on 10.13.05

Let's deal first with the specific issue of Philip Greenspun being a dick.

At a dinner party the other night the person sitting next to me asked how I knew our hostess, Lisa. I told her that I refused to answer on the grounds that Lisa and I had known each other for 15 years and there was no possible answer that would be interesting or significant against that background of friendship.

Two things. First, in giving the grounds for his "refusal" to answer, he's already given a perfectly acceptable answer to the question: we're old friends. So the refusal is more provocation or noodgery than actual refusal. Second, actually refusing to answer would be not just rude, and certainly not clever, but a pretty basic misunderstanding of how conversation works. Which takes us to the general issue: people who go on about how much they "hate" what they call "small talk" are selfish and annoying.

Conversations about "important" topics can't get started without some common ground. You can't talk politics unless you know the other person follows the news; you can't talk fishing unless he fishes, etc. "Small talk" is an exercise in finding and building that common ground. And it's difficult, because you have to make yourself available, and you also have to listen, and there's no guarantee that you'll get anywhere. But the alternative is to get wrapped up in a self-fulfilling belief that other people aren't interesting, and are only interested in small talk, because you never hear them talk about anything else, after all.

And it's no accident that nine times out of ten, the people who disdain small talk are men. Women are raised to be social, to put people at ease, to get people talking. That's work. When men hang back or scoff at how "insignificant" small talk is, they're enjoying a luxurious self-regard that's being paid for by the people they're scoffing at.

If you're someone who "doesn't do" small talk, it's time to start doing your fair share, because whether you know it or not, you're making other people do it for you. None of this is to say that cocktail parties, for example, aren't sometimes full of stupid, boring people. But if you come out of one thinking that, you better have earned the right to say it.

More: Good points here, thanks to Sherry for the link.

...art expresses something big in something small. (If it expresses something small in something big, you leave during the intermission.) Likewise, in small talk, we express ourselves in the details of what we talk about, the words we use, the ones we don't, how far we lean forward, how tentatively or aggressively we probe for shared ground. Because all of this is implicitly presented, it tends to give a more accurate picture of who we are and what we care about than big, explicit conversations.
Third, because small talk pokes here and there as it looks for ground, you can de-commit to it without hurting anyone's feelings. Walking out on a heavy talk about God's presence is history because you "think you heard your cat" is rude. Excusing yourself during a chit chat about whether Brittany Murphy is a Spring or a Winter is not nearly so.

 

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Why consequentialism is not a [completely satisfying] moral theory

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 10.13.05

Actually, this is a sort of follow-up to "Becker" (CBS at 9). Consider a perhaps-analogous debate in moral theory: whether consequentialist views get things right or close enough to right when it comes to reflecting our considered moral intuitions.

"No!" say deontologists. "Consequentialists can't make sense of our intuitions concerning constraints against harm, or against lying. Besides, they can't make sense of non-fractured agency. Also, Bentham has a stupid wax head."

"But wait!" reply the consequentialists. "We can simply build in those allegedly overlooked features in our theory of the good. If you think our theory permits too many broken promises, we'll simply claim that a state of affairs has more intrinsic value when it contains no promise-breaking in its history. So too for the occurrence of unjust harms, of 'moral schizophrenia,' and so on."

But these replies don't really work, in an important sense. Minimizing the occurrence of promise-breaking (among other evils) doesn't produce the same results as a constraint against promise-breaking, since, e.g., the constraint, but not the consequentialist model of it, would prohibit breaking promises to prevent future broken promises. And so on. These are familiar debates. The point is that the consequentialist's model adjustment doesn't really get at the heart of the complaint, which is that our moral intuitions strongly suggest contraints that are (at least somewhat) independent of utility. You can get the c-ist results closer by fudging with value, but you won't get it right. (I hope this is correct. It seems correct, but I have reason to doubt it.)

The problem with the rational-choice model of addiction is much the same. Addicts' behavior seems to be clearly irrational, but-- not so fast! If we think of the addicts as having preferences like these (future discounts, etc.) we can get something like addictive behavior out of rational agents. Fair enough. But that's not really what's going on: the model doesn't get things exactly right, just close (supposing the empirical criticisms are right). 'Close enough' is useful for predictive purposes (just as the rigged c-ist moral view is a reliable indicator of moral truth) but it's an indication that we've got a bad underlying model. (This might not matter to fans of RCT, as ogmb's comments make clear.)

I had a sort of Korsgaardian point about normativity and rationality, but I'll save that for another time. It would be too weird to be hurraying (after a fashion) deontology and CK in the same post.


 

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Pinter

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 10.13.05

I started reading Harold Pinter's plays in high school because it seemed like the kind of thing I should enjoy doing. (This impulse also led me to spend a lot of time with Hamletmachine in the hopes that I would magically become European. It was a rough adolescence.) Somewhere along the line I think I actually began to enjoy them in the conventional sense, but at this point it's impossible to be sure.


 

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Becker

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 10.13.05

It would be [nice] if this were a post about Ted Danson, but, sadly, it's about Gary Becker, and in particular about the appeal of his "rational choice" model of addiction. On Becker's view, as I understand it, addicts are acting to maximize their preferences at every moment, though they have lower levels of welfare than the non-addicted. This is because of (a) increased tolerance (say, of a drug) and the reinforcement of addictive behavior (increased penalties for withdrawal, more or less) as well as (b) the addict's rather severe discounting of future outcomes.

Now I'm all on board for discussions of whether these discountings are irrational, but my question is cruder. Is there anything appealing about the Becker model? There are sort of small-scale criticisms (it fails to explain various empirical results, etc.) but it also seems completely unappealing in a larger intuitive way-- it misses what's so interesting about addiction, namely, the sort of intra-agent conflict that seems to be at the heart of the phenomenon.

So you can (sort of) model the addict with rational choice theory. Woo-woo. This place reeks of Chicago-- have I missed something?


 

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Wiz

Posted by Ogged
on 10.13.05

I'm on board: reacting to the deprecation of terms like "blows," "blew," and "cocksucker" as insults, Standpipe Bridgeplate suggests "wizard cocksucker" as a term of praise. You can see the apostropher inaugurating its use in comments.

More: Usage note at comment 40 here.


 

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TV! Everywhere!

Posted by Ogged
on 10.13.05

So, you know that you can download just about any reasonably popular TV show, right? Here's the complete first season of The Wire, and of The L Word, last night's episode of Lost....

Especially in the case of the cable shows, I don't think you should, but you can. Still, it seems like big news that ABC and Apple have paired to make Lost and Desperate Housewives available for download from iTunes. As with music, a lot of people would prefer to get theirs legally, and I'm happy to see the mainstreaming (that's right, "mainstreaming") of the expectation that TV should be portable.


 

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Your Celebrity News Source

Posted by Ogged
on 10.13.05

Michael Jackson makes his kids walk around in mosquito netting?

Stallone is starring in new a new Rocky movie. And a new Rambo movie. He's about to turn 60.


 

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Do I Have To Do Another Baseball Post?

Posted by Ogged
on 10.12.05

That ball clearly bounced into the catcher's mitt. What's the matter with the announcers?

Update: Woot!


 

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Thanks For Nothing

Posted by Ogged
on 10.12.05

There oughta've been a law to keep Michael Lewis from making public his family motto, for surely now we will see an escalation.

Do as little as possible

And that unwillingly

For it is better to incur a slight reprimand

Than to perform an arduous task.

I'm going to miss the days of the slight reprimand.

Now...that I've read the whole thing, I heartily recommend it. Lots of funny and illuminating vignettes of post-Katrina New Orleans.


 

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Matters of Great Moment

Posted by Ogged
on 10.12.05

A co-worker has one of those "Life's Little Instruction Book" calendars. Today's tip: never eat something from a dented can. Why not?

Ok: Apostropher answers.


 

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Are You Nomar?

Posted by Ogged
on 10.12.05

Nomar Garciaparra makes like a stud and saves two women from drowning. Now, how many minutes before the Boston press accuses him of making up the story and paying someone to be a "witness"?


 

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So Cushy, I Can't Leave!

Posted by Ogged
on 10.12.05

I understand it's a cush job and I'm not allowed to complain, but I'm still at my cush job at 2am Mountain Blog Time, and, well, late start tomorrow...


 

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Party At My Place

Posted by Ogged
on 10.11.05

Via atrios, sweet sweet news.

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are working on stories that point to Vice President Dick Cheney as the target of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name.

I'm totally over feeling chagrined that the country has come to this; just nail 'em.

Also, can you believe the careless arrogance?


 

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It's A Consensus!

Posted by Ogged
on 10.11.05

They just showed, during the baseball game broadcast, a sign that someone had made: Win or die trying. It doesn't seem entirely appropriate that the fans should settle on this credo.

Further: All you need to know about baseball: the announcers are saying what a badass a former punter is.


 

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Breezily

Posted by Ogged
on 10.11.05

Becks has I just remembered a conversation for the ages with her my roommate.

Me: Hey.

R: Hey.

(pause)

R: I think I might have had a threesome with the neighbors last night.

Me: You "might have"?

R: Yeah. I don't remember.

Me: You don't remember?

R: Yeah, we were drinking and I took some pills...

Me (interrupting): What'd you take?

R: ...I don't know. I didn't ask. He offered them and I just took them. (Sighs) So, anyway, I kind of remember going back in the bedroom with them. Or maybe not. Huh. That's so weird.

(pause)

Me: There has to be some way for you to know....Are you...sore?

R: No more than usual. (breezily) Oh well!


 

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Bested

Posted by Ogged
on 10.11.05

I was chatting with the office wine connoisseur.

Me: I was having a Shiraz last night. I looked at the name, but I forgot it; I'll write it down for you tonight.

Him: That's ok, I know what you had.

Me: No you don't. You do not. You do not know.

Him: Penfolds.

Me: How'd you know that? How did you know? How'd you know that?


 

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War On Poverty

Posted by Ogged
on 10.11.05

This is just too depressing.

As Hurricane Katrina put the issue of poverty onto the national agenda, many liberal advocates wondered whether the floods offered a glimmer of opportunity. The issues they most cared about - health care, housing, jobs, race - were suddenly staples of the news, with President Bush pledged to "bold action."
But what looked like a chance to talk up new programs is fast becoming a scramble to save the old ones.
Conservatives have already used the storm for causes of their own, like suspending requirements that federal contractors have affirmative action plans and pay locally prevailing wages. And with federal costs for rebuilding the Gulf Coast estimated at up to $200 billion, Congressional Republican leaders are pushing for spending cuts, with programs like Medicaid and food stamps especially vulnerable.

Read the whole thing to become thoroughly depressed.


 

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Charles Johnson Probably Shouldn't Come To Singapore

Posted by Alameida
on 10.11.05

Recently, two bloggers were jailed under the sedition act here in Singapore for making "racist remarks" on the internet. Here is a link to a New Straits Times (the Malaysian newspaper) story. The (Singapore) Straits Times does not make its web content available to non-subscribers, and plus you have to, um, log in with a lot of personal information to get to the article, so here are some excerpts from the Oct. 8 print edition:

The two young men who posted inflammatory racist and vicious remarks about Muslims and Malays on the Internet were given landmark sentences today....

In imposing sentence the judge reached back in to the past and also noted current terrorism fears to point out the need for "especial sensitivity of racial and religious issues in our multi-cultural society."

Using the 1964 race riots to make a point, he said: "Young Singaporeans, like the accused, may have short memories that race and religion are sensitive issues.

They must realize that callous and reckless remarks on racial or religious subjects have the potential to cause social disorder, in whatever medium or forum they are expressed."

The comments were both in response to a Malay woman's letter to the Straits Times, in which she complained about people being allowed to bring dogs into taxis, where they might drool and so on, because many Muslims believe that contact with a dog's saliva is unclean. One of the two convicted men posted on the subject at his own blog, but the other was commenting on a thread in an online dog lover's site. The comments have not been reproduced, unsurprisingly; the one alluded to apparently compared Islam to Satanism, while the others were too vile to be hinted at in the paper.

Both men offered grovelling apologies; one was jailed for one month, and the other jailed for a nominal term of one day and fined SGD 5,000. The article closes with another quote from the judge:

"Bloggers who still have similar offending remarks are well advised to remove them immediately," he said. "The Court will not hesitate to impose...stiffer sentences in further cases."

Ooookay, I got the message.

I think that the government was very shrewd in bringing these particular cases. (This does bring up the unsettling mental image of dozens of bright young bureaucrats scouring the net to find just the right case.) Singaporeans are justifiably proud of their "multi-ethnic" society. Bringing the first such case against (ethnic majority) Chinese who were bad-mouthing Islam/Malays to some degree draws the sting of the anti-free-speech clampdown. If the government had first gone against, say, an Islamist site or commenter, they would run the risk of having this appear to be part of some anti-Muslim bias, or an extension of the fight against Islamist terrorism. Though the charges were brought earlier, the verdict was handed down during Hari Raya; this may be significant too.

The taboo against anything which would stir up inter-ethnic strife is really quite strong in Singapore. Obviously, this has everything to do with specific government policies, but it also stems from the memories of the race riots of the (fairly recent) past, and the recent anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto.

With regard to those policies, the most striking to me is the requirement that the population of blocks of HDB flats reflect the distribution of races in the society as a whole. (Explanatory note: HDB apartments the public housing in which most Singaporeans live--they are more like condos in that the tenants own the apartments, which they have bought from the government with money from their personal government savings account. Money is withheld from their paychecks but deposited into an account in their name (notionally; by which I mean the government keeps track of it). The government than uses this money by lending it out at a profit, and uses it to build housing. Money in this special account can be used to buy public housing, and to pay for catastrophic medical expenses IIRC; it is also topped up for very low earners. As a result of these policies, 80% of Singaporeans own their own homes.)

But think about this; it would be as if the US government mandated that each community be 12% african-american, 15% latino, etc. That's some heavy-duty social engineering! (Needless to say, this type of thing is approximately infinitely easier in a single city of 4 million.) Some regard this as Machiavellian strategy to dilute the influence of minority groups, but I think it also has other advantages.

Anyway, the word on the street is that the government is Singapore is reading blogs. They're not just reading blogs, they're reading comments threads. Like, all the way through. Crucial information about what numbered comment sparked the investigation was not given. What if it was 240 or something? What a strange job that would be. Then, I guess I do the same thing all day, and I'm not getting paid...


 

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The Old, Quiet Unfogged

Posted by Ogged
on 10.10.05

There's something quaint about the days when I could write a post about blacks, Indians and Iranians and get just one comment.

(And a few posts down, I waxed baa-ish about the war in Iraq, and got no comments at all.)


 

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The Reading Group

Posted by Ogged
on 10.10.05

Zombies are all the rage, so why not? I have the impression that only W-lfs-n and Lizardbreath are still in the reading group, but that's fine. I'll do the next precis, through page 48, section 11, for Friday.


 

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Finally Living Up To Its Potential

Posted by Ogged
on 10.10.05

Between The Wire and this Dane Cook character kissing Charlize Theron's ass on Leno, I don't want to hear another word about how television is bad, yadda yadda.


 

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Things you never ever hear in real life

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 10.10.05

I just want to luxuriate in this for a moment:

But mostly I just think phil[oso]phers are hot.

Thank you. Thank you all so much.


 

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Ask philosophers

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 10.10.05

Amherst College has put up an invaluable resource: Ask Philosophers, where you can go to get confirmation that philosophers can say banal things in response to dull questions. (They sometimes say more interesting things in response to more interesting questions.)

I think this would be more interesting if the questions were more pointed, e.g. why didn't I get tenure? or did you really think I wouldn't find out about you [having an affair with] my spouse? but that's asking a lot. It will also be funny to observe how, over time, the site comes to resemble one of the Onion's advice columns.


 

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Conflict

Posted by Ogged
on 10.10.05

Seems like there ought to be a place for all you academicians to fret and discuss the fact that Dan Drezner was denied tenure.

I'm feeling conflicted about the whole thing.

On the one hand, Drezner is obviously a smart, reasonable, personable guy, and what the hell is the U of C's problem? On the other hand, I have no idea what the state of scholarship is in International Relations, and how good (really good), Drezner's scholarly work is.

On the one hand, the opacity of tenure decisions, even to the people being reviewed, is an abomination. On the other hand, departments should be able to reject people--whom they might otherwise have to work with for life--just for being "not quite smart enough" or "rubbing us the wrong way," without being forced to invent less defensible, but more reasonable sounding, reasons.


 

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Work Order

Posted by Ogged
on 10.10.05

If you need any copy-editing done, or know someone who does, Adam Kotsko is the man to see.


 

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Ok, I'm In

Posted by Ogged
on 10.10.05

I'm years late to this, but I'll wager that many of you also haven't watched it with any regularity: The Wire is really, really good.

I've never seen a show (or movie) that did such a good job showing how simple self-interest coupled with institutional and systemic pressures (and not cunning conscienceless vilians) cause terrible things to happen--even when all the individuals are aware that they're working in a flawed system.

And the portrayal of D'Angelo Barksdale, who is both homicidal and sensitive, full of strut and wisdom around his underlings, totally cowed by his superiors, is believable and incredibly sensitive to how people act in varying contexts.

Those are just two among a dozen good things I could say about the show. There are already a few seasons to watch on DVD, so check it out. (I wouldn't visit the official site on HBO though, because it's hard to avoid spoilers.)


 

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Want, How?

Posted by Ogged
on 10.09.05

Today, the woman who likes my stroke said, "I want your speed."

That's some euphemistic come-on of the over-50 set, right?


 

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Club

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 10.09.05

Last night's discussion of the "Bacon of the Month Club" got me thinking about items-of-the-month generally. On one hand, I shudder at imagining myself uttering sentences like, "I myself belong to the coffee of the month club!" or "Why thank you!-- it's from the necktie-of-the-month club, of which I am a proud member." On the other hand, I love getting things in the mail. Has anyone had good or bad experiences with these? Hilarious experiences? Any great clubs we could found? (I would totally join a club that sent me a new club every month, I think.)


 

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