Fodor on Hughes on Kripke

by Tom on October 21, 2004

Brian Leiter points out that the London Review of Books has recently published a characteristically clever and funny piece by Jerry Fodor in review of a critical work about the writings of Saul Kripke, Kripke: Names, Necessity and Identity, by Christopher Hughes.

True, Chris has already linked to that LRB article, but I’ve my own meanderings to add rather late in the day. They’re below the fold.

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To blog a mockingbird

by Ted on October 21, 2004

I recently read a blogger (can’t remember who) wondering aloud about what would have happened if the blogging phenomenon had been around for earlier periods in our history.

Just what history needs: more Mickey Kaus.

(cue dream sequence)

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My kingdom for a cab

by Ted on October 21, 2004

A Bangladeshi immigrant put himself in the driver’s seat by paying a record US$360,000 at a city auction on Monday for a New York taxi medallion, which is required by the city to own a taxicab. Most cabdrivers in the city work for taxi fleets or lease time from a medallion owner.

Mohammed Shah, 44, mortgaged his house in the New York borough of Queens to help finance the purchase of one of 116 new taxi medallions sold to the highest bidders.

Madre dios. I’ve never lived in New York City, but I’m pretty sure that the city isn’t drowning in a sea of cabs. You don’t need to be a blue-skinned libertarian to see that artificial scarcity has some real consequences.

I know that Mayor Bloomberg’s got a lot on his plate, and I know that it’s unfair to personalize the NYC bureaucracy in the form of one man. But, still… he’s a shrewd businessman who came to office with relatively few political debts. From my distant perspective, he seemed to spend an awful lot of capital on necessary tax hikes and unnecessary smoking bans.

He was probably the last, best hope to phase out rent control and crazy cab restrictions, wasn’t he? Damn.

In Cambodia, I imagine

by Kieran Healy on October 21, 2004

David Post “complains”: that John Kerry was not at the game to see the Red Sox beat the Yankees:

bq. AND WHERE WAS JOHN? … I’m surprised that there hasn’t been much talk about why we didn’t see Kerry at any of the games. He’s the junior senator from Massachusetts; he’s got a bona fide reason to snap his fingers, get the front row seats, put on his sox cap and jacket, and root like an ordinary human being. What, he doesn’t want the national TV exposure?? Was he worried about alienating Yankee fans? I guess one shouldn’t make too much of what is “just a ballgame,” but really: to his constituents, this is the most important thing going on at the moment; he’s lived and worked in Massachusetts all his life; is he the only person in that category who wouldn’t take free tickets to see these games? I honestly don’t get it, and it does make me wonder about the guy.

Note the pincer movement here. On the one hand, Kerry should have been at the game because that’s what “an ordinary human being” would do. On the other hand, Kerry is not a regular guy, because he’s a senator, is running for President, and he could have snapped his fingers to get front row seats. So, either he snaps his fingers or he doesn’t. He chose not to, for whatever reason, and so leaves himself open on the flank David attacks: “who wouldn’t take free tickets… does make me wonder about the guy” and so on. But say Kerry _had_ snapped his fingers and gotten front row seats, his face on the Jumbotron and the inevitable TV News coverage. What then? It’s obvious. He’d have opened himself up to whinging on just the _opposite_ grounds, viz, “Isn’t it typical of an elitist Senator who hasn’t been to a game all season to just snap his fingers, get front row seats, and try to use the Red Sox’s historic victory as a campaign rally? A classier guy — any ordinary human being, really — would have stayed away and let the fact that the Sox beat the curse have the limelight.” Heads I win, Tails you lose.

The Power of Nightmares

by Chris Bertram on October 21, 2004

I watched the first part of Adam Curtis’s new documentary, “The Power of Nightmares”: , last night. The hype around the series has been that it claims that Al Qaida is a myth. Anyway, I thought it might be useful to use “David Aaronovitch’s reaction”:,5673,1330499,00.html as a template for my own. Here’s Aaronovitch:

bq. I admire Curtis greatly, but this time his argument is as subtle as a house-brick. It is, essentially, that everything in American politics in the past 25 years from Reaganism, through Christian fundamentalism and anti-Clintonism, to the war on terror, has been got up by Dick Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and others that the programme identifies as conspiring neocons. They have created a “dark illusion” about Islamist terrorism, just as they earlier created one about that tin-pot, ramshackle, essentially harmless old flea-bitten bear, the Soviet Union. Curtis’s is a one-stop conspiracy theory to stand alongside those fingering the Illuminati, the Bilderberg group and (vide the Da Vinci Code) Opus Dei.

To which my reaction is: not really. I did find the organising trope of the first episode somewhat irritating: a supposed parallelism between Sayyid Qutb and Leo Strauss. But there was a good deal of highly suggestive and illuminating material amid the polemic. The efforts by “Team B”, for example, systematically to exagerrate both the offensive capability and the aggressive intentions of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. These included the assertion, based _on no evidence whatsoever_ that the Soviets had developed a non-acoustic submarine detection system, the reasoning being that since they didn’t have a working acoustic version they must have had a secret ultra-modern technology that the US didn’t know about! And then there was the bizarre demand that the CIA provide the evidence to back up a claim that the Soviets were behind a single, interlinked global terror network (IRA + Baader Meinhof + etc). This fell down because the CIA operatives knew that what was being cited as “evidence” was, in fact, black propaganda that they themselves had concocted and planted in European newspapers! (Today, of course, such “evidence” would be endlessly recycled around the blogosphere by credulous dupes.) Does Curtis exaggerate the influence of the neocons? Almost certainly.

For example, next week’s episode is supposed to be about the neocons and the Islamic fundamentalists joining forces to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, as if this was a project dreamed up in the neocons’ heads. But the idea of drawing them into a war in Afghanistan was conceived not by the neocons but by Zbigniew Brzezinski under the Carter administration. In the latest LRB, “Chalmers Johnson”: has Brzezinki saying:

bq. “CIA aid to the mujahidin began during 1980, that’s to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. But the reality, kept secret until now, is completely different: on 3 July 1979 President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And on the same day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained that in my opinion this aid would lead to a Soviet military intervention.”

bq. Asked whether he in any way regretted these actions, Brzezinski replied: ‘Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”‘

It is hard to know exactly where Curtis will go next, but I expect him to argue that whilst Islamic terrorist groups certainly exist (who could deny that!) they don’t constitute a co-ordinated international network (AQ+ Hamas + Hezbollah, etc etc) of the kind that is often suggested. He’ll probably suggest that such “links” as are claimed are largely an artefact of similar propaganda to that behind the last “international terror network”. Anyone who has followed the pathetic attempts by figures like the Daily Telegraph’s Con Coughlin to demonstrate a Saddam-AQ link will probably suspect he has a point.

[One further thought, on Brzezinski’s lack of regret. On a view of moral responsibility that one frequently finds deployed in parts of the blogosphere, Brzezinski and other proponents of the Afghan “trap” bear no responsibility for the millions of dead in Afghanistan — and elsewhere — since. It isn’t a view I can share.]

Over-Enthusiastic Organ Procurement?

by Kieran Healy on October 21, 2004

Reading about a case described in the “National Review”: by Wesley J. Smith,[1] Kevin Drum “wonders”: “if there really are serious moves afoot to redefine “death” in order to expedite organ harvesting.” The case in question concerns a “Colorado man”:,1299,DRMN_21_3230615,00.html, William Thaddeus Rardin, who shot himself in the head. His organs were procured for transplantation. In his report on the death, however, the local Coroner, Mark Young, ruled that proper procedure hadn’t been followed, that Rardin’s brain death hadn’t been properly established and so the cause of death was the organ procurement itself. The local Organ Procurement Organization (OPO), “Donor Alliance”:, has “strongly rejected”: this charge.

An answer to Kevin’s question, and some commentary, below the fold.

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How do Swear words get to be swear words?

by Harry on October 21, 2004

In my Contemporary Moral Issues course I’ve recently been teaching about hate speech codes on campus. Well, it was contemporary a few years ago, and still interests me. So it was fair enough for one of my students to email me a question I can’t really answer:

bq. Yesterday I found myself wondering why bad words are bad. I can’t seem to figure it out. I understand that some people find these words to be offensive but I don’t know why that is. Any comments?

I started an email rambling on about conventions, taboos, and common knowledge about certain uses (eg, various racist epithets enjoy their status as deeply offensive and hurtful words because we all now they are routinely used by racists for that purpose); and of course I realise that conventions depend on background practices and contexts (it is awfully difficult, in America, to come up with a hurtful and ‘racist’ term for English people, because, well, their just isn’t the social context or history to support such a term). But swearing doesn’t have exactly the same sort of route, and within each group of bad words there seem to be different paths. And, truth is, I feel that I’m just restating the existence of the phenomenon he’s wondering about. If you can answer his question I can either steal your answer and sound smart (and hope he doesn’t read the site) or just point him here.