Friday, September 30, 2005

The water's too warm

Ezra cites the following poll:

"Canada has a universal health care system run by the government that covers all people. Compared to Canada, do you think the overall health care system in the United States is better, worse or about the same?"
Better: 29%
Worse: 37%
Same: 23%
Unsure: 11%

The first thing to say is that there's a bit of push in the first sentence of the poll. If most people like the idea of universal coverage (as I'm guessing they do) it's going to make the poll an inaccurate measure of basic public sentiment about Canada itself, since some people might not know that Canada has universal coverage. On the other hand, "run by the government" probably isn't widely regarded as a plus, so maybe it balances out. I guess if you're looking for a poll that gives you feelings about US and Canadian health care contaminated by feelings about government-run universal coverage, this might be the poll for you.

But I don't think this difference is sufficient to account for the difference between the poll results and the American-health-care-boosterism that one encounters in the media. Part of the explanation of that, I think, is the quality of health care enjoyed by the pundit class. People in the media, and most people who you'll find holding forth on the awesomeness of American health care, have the employer-provided health care that's available to educated white-collar professionals, not the absence of health care that's experienced by 45 million uninsured Americans. Rising health care costs are a relatively uninteresting social issue to them rather than an active threat to their well-being.

There's a cartoon I saw on the wall in our department that depicted a man in a Jacuzzi. The caption was, "The system can't be collapsing! The water's too warm."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

He's been reading The Nation

Always special to see Josh Marshall link to an webpage that says:

Nevertheless, the tragic fate of the Ewoks seems to have been the subject of a New Republic cover-up.

Intro to violence

From an article on how Palestinian authorities are trying to round up loose weapons:

The crackdown came as dozens of Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank held municipal elections. The powerful Hamas movement was expected to make strong gains, despite a continuing Israeli offensive against Islamic militants.

despite? This is exactly what I'd expect when you turn up the level of violence. I really can't pronounce on whether you create more terrorists than you destroy when you publicly kill a bunch of their leaders, but the electoral consequences of this kind of thing should be pretty obvious. Hamas terrorism makes Israelis run to Likud, and Likud violence makes Palestinians run to Hamas.

New twist in the TAPPED game

In the course of trying to push embarrassing drunk posts further down the page, I'm going to talk about TAPPED, which I regard as the best political blog in existence, since they just added Ezra and got the biggest piece from the tripartite division of Matt. Since the bylines are at the bottom, there's a game I used to play as I read it -- scroll down slowly, and after finishing the post, try to guess the author. I used to be able to pick out Yglesias posts with something like 80% accuracy. But now the addition of Ezra has thrown the whole thing into chaos. It's not so much that I confuse his writing with anyone else, but the addition of an extra possibility has unsettled my judgment to the point that I'm not calling them right. I guess I just have to take time and get used to Ezra-style with a red/black background.

While I'm at it, Ezra's defense of Medicaid is really good.

lampposts and Aeroplanes

When you're drunk and you encounter a lamppost, and you touch your face to it and start kissing it, and you gently stroke the back of the pole as if you're touching the back of her neck, who do you imagine that it is?

Don't actually answer that question in the comments or anything. The point is, that's who you're in love with. And since it's just a lamppost and not her, she probably doesn't know. Which, given the circumstances, is how it has to be.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, by Neutral Milk Hotel, is probably my favorite album of all time. So much of the album seems to be expressing a need for closeness with other people -- most strikingly, a little Jewish girl who died in the Holocaust and whom we all read about in 7th grade, but when Jeff Mangum read about her he was overwhelmed by grief. When I want to be closer than possible to people, it's all I want to listen to.

And here's where your mother sleeps
And here is the room where your brothers were born
Indentions in the sheets
Where their bodies once moved but don't move anymore
And it's so sad to see the world agree
That they'd rather see their faces filled with flies
All when I'd want to keep white roses in their eyes

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why are poor people fat?

First of all, apparently they are. (I'd suspected it, but I was never really sure whether it was just some kind of prejudice working on me.) It's because calorie-dense foods are cheaper, while healthier foods like fruit, fish, and lean meats are more expensive. Given how unhealthy it is to be obese, working to feed the hungry more nutritious foods might help us improve their health prospects in the future.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ask a Werewolf: Iraq and Terrorism

My latest Ask a Werewolf is up at Ezra's. I like this format, because it indirectly addresses the fact that there's something oddly comical about random bloggers out in the hinterlands offering political strategy advice to high-profile elected officials.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Justin is incoherent, but also really smart

[Here's Justin's comment on my parental consent post. I wanted to put it up here just to make sure that nobody missed it because of troll infestation at Ezra's. Again, the words are Justin's not mine, which is why I'm referred to in the 3rd person.]

I like the argument.

I strongly suspect that the general population's moral intuitions about abortion and what should and shouldn't be legally allowed are something of a mess. Here's a question sequence I've asked students:

#1) Is abortion morally wrong?

Ignoring those who say yes, for those who say no consider the next question...

#2) Imagine a woman who has 87 abortions over the course of her lifetime. She has each one with complete indifference -- they don't give her pause for thought, much less any regret. Admittedly, this isn't very cost efficient for her, and the abortions don't protect her from STDs, but for whatever reason abortion is her favored method of birth control. Is this woman doing anything morally wrong?

Many people who confidently say 'no' to #1 feel at least some inclination to say 'yes' to #2. In fact, my own unreflective intuitions (but not my considered judgment) go this way. But, it would seem, this is incoherent. If abortion really is morally neutral (a 0 on the moral ledger rather than a -10), then a whole bunch of it should be morally neutral too (37 x 0 = 0). So, if you're okay with abortion, as I am, it seems that you should be okay with the woman in #2 too. But again, I find that my intuitions just don't want to point this way.

Related to this point, if abortion is genuinely morally permissible, then there is no *moral* reason that we should want abortion to be rare. There may be financial reasons (e.g., abortions are expensive) and there may be psychological reasons (e.g., even though abortions are morally permissible, people have a hard time allowing this point to fully sink in, and so they have hangups) to want abortion to be rare. But, from a moral perspective, we shouldn't really prefer a country where abortion is rare to a country where it's extraordinarily abundant.

Public polls on where people stand on abortion -- for X, against Y, etc. -- seem to me to reflect incoherence. That is, they don't reflect a carefully worked out and subtle view which could justify how you could be in favor of X but against Y. What they reflect is a deep underlying incoherence accordin to which abortion is sorta okay and sorta not.

Views on parental consent laws are, I think, a case in point. If abortion is genuinely bad, then parental consent should be irrelevant -- parental consent can't make an immoral action moral. On the other hand, if abortion isn't bad, then Neil's sort of reasoning seems good to me. It's plausible to me that the usual motivation for parental consent doesn't generally apply in abortion cases or, if anything, applies in the opposite direction of how the laws actually go (as Neil argues).

Still, at a gut level, Neil's argument feels "glib", like it's missing the deep point here. At least in my own case, though, I suspect that this intuitive reaction to the argument should be ignored. My intuitions here ought to be rejected, just as my intutions that there's something wrong with the woman in #2 above ought to be rejected. I suspect that those intuitions of mine which speak against Neil's argument aren't really responding to some deep and good considerations which speak in favor of parental consent while acknowledging that abortion per se is morally permissible. I suspect that what my intuitions are responding to is an underlying incoherence I have on abortion.

The futures of girls

My argument against laws requiring parental consent for abortion is now up on Ezra's blog. I think I've given a successful argument for a controversial position (even among Democrats) and I'm fairly proud of it.

[Update] Is this 'shunting all the comments to the Ezra blog' thing okay? There is a substantial troll presence there, although I've sent Ezra an email looking into ways to deal with it. (In other words, Tony, your voice is being heard.)

[Update2] The 30th comment, by Justin, is excellent.

D B T!

Just got back from the Drive By Truckers show at La Zona Rosa here in Austin. Dan Korman, in his great tactical wisdom, got us there early so we could grab the front-and-center positioning, and fully appreciate their awesomeness live. And awesome they were, with excellent guitar action and much well-done rocking out! (The cute bassist girl touched my hand, so I may not be fully objective.)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Law and Lennon

Dadahead has an excellent post on what the law actually is.

He also links a hilarious article on why the FBI didn't consider John Lennon to be a threat to society. Click through, I'm not going to spoil it for you.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Fighting the next battle

I've left this position in comments on a few blogs now, and I was thinking of saying it to Laura and Amanda, so I guess I'll just post it here: the Democratic base shouldn't be getting too worked up about how anybody votes on Roberts. Even with all Democrats voting against him, he wins. Frist has too much power over the pro-choice Republicans for them to vote with us and defeat Roberts. Filibustering would be a bad move here, since the compromise Republicans will desert us, the GOP will push the nuclear button, the filibuster will be destroyed, and we'll be defenseless before whatever maniac Bush wants to send in as the O'Connor replacement. When the Senate math guarantees Roberts' confirmation, Democratic Senators would be wise to take up positions that'll win them the next battle.

That's what they 've done. If Bush nominates, say, Priscilla Owen, Leahy gets to say, "I'm willing to vote for competent Bush appointees -- heck, I voted for Roberts! But Priscilla Owen is simply not fit for the Supreme Court." In terms of winning the media battle, this is a more powerful position than universal opposition, and it'll make Owen look like the extremist she is. If Owen makes it out of committee, Harry Reid launches the filibuster. Then, if the right-wing judges are indeed regarded as genuine extremists by the public, compromise Republicans will be able to let the filibuster stand.

Another possibility is that the White House thinks through the above situation, looks at Bush's low poll numbers, and decides that an extremist won't be able to make it into O'Connor's seat. They nominate a relative moderate, and expose Dobson to the risk of another David Souter. Given how little power Democrats have, I'll be congratulating Harry Reid for at least the third time this year (Social Security Privatization, the Katrina Whitewash Investigation) on how well he's played his cards.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Collective anal action problems

I recently received a large number of comments, including one from a well-respected member of my dissertation committee, on a post attacking the purported anti-factivity of pretense. Now I shall squander any gained reputation for high-mindedness by applying philosophical rigor to problems of ass fucking, as cited by Alley Rat:

Now guys, we know you love the ass fucking. Love to see it, love to think about it, and you love to pretend that you are doing it. But consider for a moment what the world will be like if all the normal women out there catch the “porn star fever” that is beginning to spread and begin ass fucking as a matter of course. Sure, you may enjoy that now but how will you feel when, as you start to lose your hair and thicken around the middle you finally settle down and get married? You will then be all but guaranteed to wed someone who has ass fucked every man she has ever dated. Do you want to live in that world? We didn’t think so. Please, for the love of God leave the ass fucking to the real porn stars of America.

Unfortunately, the solution described above is subject to a collective action problem. If I wish to avert a future situation where I am "guaranteed to wed someone who has ass fucked every man she has ever dated", the success I can attain through refraining from any anal acts of my own will not be great. I shall, of course, be able to marry a woman who has dated n men and ass fucked n-1 of them -- myself being the exception. But excepting the trivial case in which my wife has dated only myself, I stand no great chance of marrying someone whose rectal chastity is uncompromised. And uncompromised rectal chastity, I think, is the desideratum that concerns us here. A man who engages in anal acts with women whom he will not marry -- a "free rider", as the game theory literature would call him -- does not decrease his chances of marrying a wife whose rectal chastity is inviolate. So it will be in his interest to disregard principles of respect for rectal chastity, regardless of the behavior of other men. The goods achieved by collective action will not be sufficient to safeguard rectal chastity when every man has an all-things-considered interest in free riding.

The problem is not especially pressing to me, I admit, because I personally do not regard rectal chastity as a desideratum of any significance. (Befitting an academic of my position, I have a preference structure which relaxes some of the strictures that others have. I have argued elsewhere that if Lewisian views of modality are correct, preferences like mine might be satisified even by women who do not actually exist.) Relative indifference to issues of rectal chastity, I think, is part of the sensibility with which men should approach women and the world.

Kevin's weird graph

Kevin Drum has a graph with one of the weirdest y-axes I've ever seen. "Time till next event" -- does that mean the time until the next dot that gets plotted on the graph? Then the arbitrary decision to assign dots for some things and not for others makes a big difference. If it so happened that humans controlled fire immediately before learning agriculture, and you decided to put in a dot for fire, you'd get an big downspike in the graph. Really, there are tons of other dots you could think up -- "domestication of animals", "man on the moon", "discovery of alcohol"...

From the look of the graph, though, "next event" seems to be whatever happens (roughly) at the present. That would explain why 10^9 years before the present, you get an event that's 10^9 years until the "next event". So it's no wonder that the graph is pretty much a straight line -- the number of years before the present varies directly with, um, the number of years before the present.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Ezra loves the latest from John Edwards, and so do I.

I'm toying with the idea of starting up a CafePress shop that sells Edwards shirts, and possibly other Democratic items. Ideas are appreciated. "Return of the New Deal" and "FDR: Part II" with a nice picture (I'm partial to this one, but I may need something bigger) is a possible idea.

Stewart at the Emmys

Without TV service, I'm forced to rely on Crooks and Liars for my Jon Stewart fix. Thanks, C&L!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Is "pretending" anti-factive?

Time for another survey of intuitions! Consider the following situation:

As part of a tasteless joke, Rob starts pretending that he's a blind person. From noon to 12:02 PM, he closes his eyes and wanders around the room with his hands outstretched. But at 12:01, a strange chemical reaction occurs in his eyes, permanently and totally destroying his ability to see. The reaction is painless, and he doesn't come to believe that anything is wrong with him until 12:02, when he opens his eyes. Until 12:02, he just keeps making jokes about blindness while wandering around the room with his eyes closed.

It seems pretty uncontroversial to me that Rob is pretending to be blind from 12:00 to 12:01. But here's the harder question: From 12:01 to 12:02, is Rob pretending to be blind?

I solicit opinions from philosophers and non-philosophers alike!

[Update]: As always, make up your mind before you look at the comments, so nobody taints your intuitions. Of course, if the comments convince you that you've misunderstood the question, feel free to rethink.

Budget tragedies, budget statistics

As Democrats know and Republicans try to forget, this Administration has turned the record budget surpluses of the late 1990s into unprecedented budget deficits. We've gone from a surplus of $236 billion in 2000 to a $412 billion deficit in 2004. Among the causes are tax cuts, the Iraq War, corporate welfare, and general mismanagement.

The Bush Administration hasn't paid any serious political price for its fiscal nihilism. When there's a war on, nobody can be brought to care about bloodless matters like deficits. Furthermore, there's a level at which you pay no additional political price for pushing the deficits higher. You'll have the fiscal conservatives (all five of them, perhaps!) against you with the same intensity whether you run deficits of $112 billion or $412 billion. So once you've stuck yourself with deficits, there's no reason not to let them run out of control.

Comment at Ezra's blog

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Why Hillary Will Lose

The old CW on Hillary's presidential aspirations was that they'd be crushed under her liberal reputation. The "socialized medicine" attacks on her health care reform plan stuck to her more than they stuck to Bill. And while Bill's upbringing and red-state governorship made him acceptable to Southern regionalists, Hillary's Chicago roots and New York Senate seat marked her as someone from the strange liberal cities that many small-town folk still regard as foreign to their way of life.

The new CW is that she's moving to the center and leaving the old liberal reputation behind. She supports the Defense of Marriage Act, repositions herself on abortion, and has an incomprehensible position on flag burning that allows her to vote for a ban. But I doubt that she's actually gained any lasting political support through these moves. A candidate just coming onto the political scene might use these positions to get a genuine reputation as a moderate on the issues, which could play into any number of attractive political identities. But given Hillary's history and the way her moves are being analyzed by the press, her new reputation will be that of an unprincipled opportunist -- a reputation that has, in one way or another, defeated our last two presidential candidates.

They said Gore was a serial exaggerator who would make up anything to win; they said Kerry was a flip-flopper whose positions shifted with the political winds. While people identify with and vote for leaders who share their values, there's no identifying with opportunism. The current understanding of Hillary's positions is one that plays straightaway into charges that she's just saying whatever will help her get elected in 2008. Perhaps it's somewhat overblown -- this bit from Media Matters argues that she's not actually changing her positions that much. But perception here matters more than reality, and Media Matters documents the ubiquity of perceptions that Hillary is making opportunistic moves.

Every one of our other 2008 primary possibilities -- save the hapless John Kerry -- has a reasonably well-defined political identity, and staying true to this identity will do a lot to avoid charges of opportunism. Wes Clark is the General, and he can present himself as personally concerned with good national defense and foreign policy. Russ Feingold is the Liberal, and while this has limited appeal, he'll avoid charges of opportunism as long as he just goes out there and does his lefty thing. I'm guessing that Mark Warner will present himself as the Governor, a competent executive who knows how to make a government work efficiently. John Edwards, the Populist, probably has the most firm identity of them all. Who is Hillary? I'm worried that she's the Opportunist.

[Crossposted at Ezra's, go there to comment.]

Monday, September 12, 2005

Too cool to be believed

The southern Bosnian city of Mostar wanted to put up a statue of a hero whom all of the local feuding ethnic groups could look up to. So whom did they choose? Bruce Lee!

"At a time when politics and ethnic ideology have occupied and poisoned everyday life, we want to show that there are true values that have nothing to do with politics," the Mostar association earlier said of the initiative.

"It would also be a reminder of our childhood dreams of a just world where crude physical force does not matter, but skill, speed and the will to fight for justice does."

Sunday, September 11, 2005


"...the causes we care about will reap much more benefit from long-term damage to voter perceptions of the Republican party than from damage to Bush's personal reputation."

Ezra said my post had one of his favorite titles ever! Go see.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Word verification

Imagine my excitement when the post below suddenly appeared with 5 comments! Then imagine my annoyance when they all turned out to be comment spam. Now, loyal readers, you'll have to go through the annoying step of typing an additional word to prove you're not an evil spam robot. Sorry about that.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Alchemy World: Why Water=H2O isn't metaphysically necessary

In this post I'm going to attack the view that water and H2O are identical in all metaphysically possible worlds. I was discussing this example with some of our new first-year students last week, and they seemed fairly impressed with this case, so I'll throw it out to whatever philosophical readers I have left.

Imagine Alchemy World. It isn't another planet in our universe, like Hilary Putnam's Twin Earth, but rather a planet in a different possible universe where instead of our 100+ elements on our periodic table, there are only 4. Call them E, F, A, and W. W makes up most of the rivers, lakes, and oceans, and it falls in rain. The people on Alchemy World drink W regularly. Their lives and the macrophysical phenomena surrounding them are identical to the lives and macrophysical phenomena of people on our world until, say, 1600 AD. Of course, things are different at the microphysical level, since our world has molecules of H2O where theirs has the indivisible element W. Suppose further that the elements of their world are so constituted that if H2O suddenly appeared in their world, it would annihilate everything.

Now the question is: In their world, is water H2O or W (or both or neither)? My intuition is that W, not H2O, constitutes water in such a world. Water, I'd say, is multiply realizable across the space of metaphysical possibility. It's probably only singly realizable across the space of physical possibility, however. Alchemy World contravenes physical laws, and I don't imagine you could get another reduction base for water without contravening physical laws.

Personally, it'd be a lot more convenient for me if I accepted the metaphysical necessity of the water-H2O identity. I think aggregate hedonic improvements constitute the good in all possible worlds, and I often have to refer back to the identity of H2O to water when I'm trying to make some point about how metaphysical necessity connects to issues in epistemology and science.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Explaining Michael Brown

Why would somebody with the comical resume of Michael Brown get a job at FEMA? In a post at Ezra's, I explain.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The nature of the mission

In a rather disjointed post over at Ezra's place, I talk about the Bush Administration's fiscal nihilism and offer my view about what motivated the Iraq War.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

No more northerners!

I'm going to start linking my weekend Ezra posts individually from here, so that my regular readers know what I'm up to. Here's my magnum opus on why Democrats need to nominate a Southerner for the presidency, with full-color graphics! (Okay, one full-color graphic.) Comments are closed here, but they're open over there, so go ahead and join the big discussion that I hope will happen!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Jabbor Gibson's hurricane bus

With legions of poor people who couldn't afford transportation trying to escape New Orleans, Jabbor Gibson took matters into his own hands. He stole an abandoned school bus, got about 100 people onto it, and drove them 7 hours to the Astrodome. His passengers got there before anyone else did. Watching the video that's attached to the article, I can't help but think of how media coverage might differ if the bus were full of articulate white people rather than poor black folks.

At first, I was hoping that the authorities would decline to prosecute him for his heroic act of bus theft. Now I'm thinking it might be better if they prosecute him unsuccessfully, so that his story becomes more widely known and long enough for some kind of TV-movie deal that makes him rich. I wish Jabbor all the best.