Philosophy of Cricket

by Brian on November 10, 2003

Who knew such a thing existed? And who would have guessed that if it did exist, it would exist in Belgium?

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Just Hypothetically

by Kieran Healy on November 10, 2003

The July issue of the Journal of Philosophy has a paper by Frank Arntzenius built around a few puzzles about rationality, probability and belief, roughly in the tradition of the ones Chris and Brian posted recently and which attracted so much commentary. One of Arntzenius’s puzzles concerns a glitch in how a Bayesian agent ought to update her degrees of belief in x under a particular kind of uncertainty. But never mind about that. The example is about waiting for a reprieve on Death Row and is set up in the following way:

bq. You are to be executed tomorrow. You have made a last minute appeal to President George W. Bush for clemency. Since Dick Cheney is in the hospital and cannot be consulted, George W. will decide by flipping a coin.

Cheap, but funny. It suggests a topic: philosophical importance of U.S. Presidents. Bill Clinton is finding his way mainly into examples in the philosophy of language (“It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”). Also possibly ethics courses. Bush Sr doesn’t seem to have have left much in the way of a philosophical legacy. Dubya is a binomial estimator.

Slippery slopes

by Henry on November 10, 2003

“David Bernstein”:http://volokh.com/2003_11_09_volokh_archive.html#106843767837011188 responds to Matthew Yglesias’ “suggestion”:http://www.matthewyglesias.com/archives/001789.html#001789 that righties have an “unhealthy obsession” with oddball groups on university camps, and in so doing, jumps off the rhetorical deep end. It turns out that the takeover of the universities are just “a step in the authoritarian radical Left’s broader agenda.” And that agenda? Government-enforced authoritarianism, just like they’re successfully introducing in Canada. Yes, that’s right. Canada. Bernstein bolsters his argument with a quote from a professor in Western Ontario, who describes Canada as a “totalitarian theocracy” ruled by the “secular state religion” of political correctness.

Now I’m all for occasional doses of overheated language to enliven our political discourse, but Bernstein’s rhetoric verges on the bizarre. Canada has adopted some (relatively moderate) free speech restrictions in its Charter, but by most reasonable definitions of the word, it isn’t an authoritarian society. Nor is it likely to become one anytime soon. There’s a rhetorical slippage in Bernstein’s argument, between government-enforced restrictions on free speech and political authoritarianism/totalitarianism. They’re rather different things. States can have some restriction on free speech and remain democratic. France and Germany have done it for fifty-odd years.

Bernstein’s hyperbole gets in the way of his argument, which is perfectly defensible. It’s not unreasonable to oppose government restrictions on free speech. However, lurid denunciations of these restrictions as creeping totalitarianism, or as initial steps toward implementation of the radical left’s master plan are … odd. I don’t think David Bernstein is a candidate for the tinfoil hat brigade. I don’t agree with most of what he has to say, but he seems fairly rational, and occasionally indeed thoughtful. Which is all that any of us can aspire to being. But this time, he’s gone over the top.

Update: David Bernstein “responds”:http://volokh.com/2003_11_09_volokh_archive.html#106849886448412231 with a comeback that he seems to think is a gotcha, but which (a) rests on a rather strained interpretation of Canadian law, and (b) doesn’t really address my criticism. I’m not asking whether or not Canada’s legislation on free speech is a good idea; I’m questioning whether it’s appropriate to describe it as theocratic totalitarianism. And so far I’m not seeing anything to convince me that he’s right.

UK Universities (plc)

by Chris Bertram on November 10, 2003

The depressing state of debate over the British university system is well explored by “Stefan Collini in the LRB”:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n21/coll01_.html . He ponders this paragraph from the White Paper on Higher Education:

bq. We see a higher education sector which meets the needs of the economy in terms of trained people, research and technology transfer. At the same time it needs to enable all suitably qualified individuals to develop their potential both intellectually and personally, and to provide the necessary storehouse of expertise in science and technology, and the arts and humanities which defines our civilisation and culture.

And observes

bq. Even those statements which are clearly intended to be upbeat affirmations of their importance have a way of making you feel slightly ill. It is not simply the fact that no single institution could successfully achieve all the aims crammed into this unlovely paragraph, taken from the introductory chapter to the Government’s White Paper, The Future of Higher Education, published earlier this year. It is also the thought of that room in Whitehall where these collages are assembled. As the findings from the latest survey of focus groups come in, an official cuts out all those things which earned a positive rating and glues them together in a straight line. When a respectable number of terms have been accumulated in this way, s/he puts a dot at the end and calls it a sentence.

As a certain person would say, read the whole thing.

For men were born to pray and save

by Kieran Healy on November 10, 2003

Lisa Keister is a sociologist at Ohio State who is, amongst other things, an expert on wealth inequality. She has a paper in the current issue of Social Forces (available to institutional subscribers on ProQuest) on the role of religion in the accumulation of assets in early adulthood. The main finding of the paper has been attracting some commentary from various quarters. Essentially, after controlling for pretty much everything you might think of, there’s a direct effect of religion on asset accumulation. Jews “enjoy tremendous gains wealth ownership” (about three times the average) while conservative Protestants accumulate “relatively little wealth”. Mainline Protestants and Catholics are indistinguishable from one another and from the general population in this respect.

I heard Lisa present the paper at Princeton a few years ago, and gave her some comments on it. The dataset is good (it’s NLSY data) and the effect is very robust, but it’s very difficult to pin down the causal mechanism with confidence. The paper suggests a few ways in which Jewish beliefs might directly affect wealth, but there’s only so much that an individual-level analysis can tell you. Another problem, of course, is that even talking about this topic tends to make people come out in hives.

Grr

by Ted on November 10, 2003

If you saw the link to this Philosoraptor essay over at Atrios and skipped it, don’t. It’s the most satisfying takedown I’ve read since John Holbo read David Frum. (Digby had some related thoughts on a different subject.)

I’ve been starting a lot of posts recently and deleting them before I finish, because I judge them to be too bilious to stand behind. I’m sure that it will pass. I’ve been thinking about a bitter, prescient essay by John Montoya, written in October 2001 called “Why the Bombings Mean That We Must Support My Politics.” I’m reposting it here; I hope that he doesn’t mind.

(In cheerful news, I should mention that I saw School of Rock tonight, and it was just terrific. It washed the taste of the Matrix Revolutions right out.)

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NRO More

by Kieran Healy on November 10, 2003

I dropped by NRO’s The Corner a minute ago. I know, I know. John Derbyshire carries the conservative banner of civility-in-blogging by casually stereotyping jews and blacks in the service of a bit of backhanded homophobia. But I’m sure this is just more evidence that the left has no sense of humor. Meanwhile, Rod Dreher runs something under the headline “Pakis Against Bobby.” I hope Rod is just being pig ignorant here. And Kathryn Jean Lopez produces a one-sentence post. (Scroll down to “Bring the Cots.”) Parsing it is left as an exercise to the reader.