Voting dogs

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2004

Via “Butterflies & Wheels”:http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=630 I came across the following ludicrous and offensive argument against gay marriage from “Keith Burgess-Jackson, the self-styled AnalPhilosopher”:http://analphilosopher.blogspot.com/2004_11_01_analphilosopher_archive.html#109984596293987913 :

bq. I have said in this blog many times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks. I do the same for dog “voting.” If we took our dogs to the polls and got them to push levers with their paws, they would not be voting. They would be going through the motions of voting. It would be a charade. Voting is not made for dogs. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution. The same is true of homosexuals and marriage.

“Richard Chappell at Philosophy etc”:http://pixnaps.blogspot.com/2004/11/gay-marriage-analogies.html says nearly all that needs to be said about Burgess-Jackson’s “argument”, so I wouldn’t even have bothered mentioning it if I hadn’t been in conversation on Tuesday with the LSE’s Christian List whose article “Democracy in Animal Groups: A Political Science Perspective” is forthcoming in _Trends in Ecology and Evolution_ . List draws on Condorcet’s jury theorem (previously discussed on CT “here”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002706.html ) to shed more light on research by Conradt and Roper in their paper “Group decision-making in animals”:http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v421/n6919/full/nature01294_fs.html , from Nature 421 (155–8) in 2003. Conradt and Roper have this to say about animal voting:

bq. Many authors have assumed despotism without testing, because the feasibility of democracy, which requires the ability to vote and to count votes, is not immediately obvious in non-humans. However, empirical examples of ‘voting’ behaviours include the use of specific body postures, ritualized movements, and specific vocalizations, whereas ‘counting of votes’ includes adding-up to a majority of cast votes, integration of voting signals until an intensity threshold is reached, and averaging over all votes. Thus, democracy may exist in a range of taxa and does not require advanced cognitive capacity.

[Tiresome, humourless and literal-minded quasi-Wittgensteinian comments, putting inverted commas around “voting” etc. are hereby pre-emptively banned from the comments thread.]

Elections, election…

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2004

I linked last week to an op-ed by John Allen Paulos about the conclusions that might (or might not) be drawn from the recent Presidential election. Now he’s written “a piece about the possibility of election fraud”:http://www.math.temple.edu/~paulos/exit.html , which draws on work by Steve Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania. His conclusion in part:

bq. The election has prompted extensive allegations of fraud, some of which have been debunked, but many of which have not. In several cases non-trivial errors have been established and official tallies changed. And there is one more scenario that doesn’t require many conspirators: the tabulating machines and the software they run conceivably could have been dragooned into malevolent service by relatively few operatives. Without paper trails, this would be difficult, but probably not impossible, to establish. Hard evidence? Definitely not. Nevertheless, the present system is such a creaky patchwork and angry suspicions are so prevalent that there is, despite the popular vote differential, a fear that the election was tainted and possibly stolen.

In completely unrelated news US Secretary of State Colin Powell “declared of the Ukrainian elections”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4040177.stm :

bq. We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse. We have been following developments very closely and are deeply disturbed by the extensive and credible reports of fraud in the election. We call for a full review of the conduct of the election and the tallying of election results.

Hoist on their own petard

by John Quiggin on November 25, 2004

Having been involved in the debate over schools policy for quite a few years, I’m enjoying a bit of schadenfreude following the publication of a couple of regression analyses showing that students at charter schools (publicly funded US schools operating independently from the main public school system) score worse on standard tests than students at ordinary public schools[1]. I don’t have a particularly strong view on the desirability or otherwise of charter schools, but I have long been critical of one of the most prominent rationales for charter schools and other programs of school reform[2].

This is the claim that “regression analyses show that students in small classes do no better than those in large classes”. If you believe this claim, you should believe the same claim with “charter schools” replacing “small classes” since both are supported by the same kind of evidence.

[click to continue…]

The Wrong Pie

by Kieran Healy on November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving is one of America’s best ideas. Appropriately it is intimately associated with one of America’s worst inventions, the Pumpkin Pie. I say “appropriately” because such antinomies are common in American life. North and South, Red States and Blue States, expensive gourmet coffee and never a spoonful of real cream to put in it what do you mean you only have the kind that sprays out of a can never mind no that’s fine. On such foundational tensions is America built. I’m sure Alexis de Toqueville has a line about this somewhere in _Democracy in America_. Something about the Pumpkin containing the Seeds of its own Destruction — no wait, that was Marx in Vol. III of _Theorien über den Wurzelgemüse_. For de Tocqueville, pumpkin pie is the fulcrum of the argument developed in “Book II, Chapter 14”:http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/ch2_14.htm of _Democracy in America_, where he shows “How the taste for physical gratifications is united in America to love of freedom and attention to public affairs.” A taste for physical gratification that is fed with pumpkin pie is sure to kindle a strong love of freedom (from the obligation to eat any more) and a concomitant commitment to public affairs (especially the effort to ban the thing once and for all).

I admit this may be a minority reading of de Tocqueville, though surely a wholly plausible one of Marx. But a number of figures in pie scholarship may be against me. Although I have not been “able to trace”:http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&safe=off&c2coff=1&q=fafblog+pie+blogging&btnG=Search a specific pumpkin-related discussion by the “best-known”:http://fafblog.blogspot.com/ of the world’s two leading pie authorities (the “other one”:http://www.weebl.jolt.co.uk/pie.htm is similarly silent on the matter), there is “some evidence”:http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2004/06/help_us_fafnir_.html that Fafnir is strongly pro-pumpkin. (“If a pumpkin pie is not a pie, well then I do not want to live in a world with your cold mechanical robot pies!”) This is a worry. The pumpkin pie is generally neglected in the social science literature, in my view rightly so. Milton Friedman “once commented”:http://www.policyofliberty.net/quotes6.php that “Most economic fallacies derive … from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie”, but the pie’s actual substance was left unspecified by him. Neoclassical economics assumed away the pumpkin by fiat, a move that goes back at least as far as Walras. He found that the tatonnement process could not plausibly be completed as long as the “auctioneer”:http://economics.about.com/od/economicsglossary/g/walrasiana.htm was left with a shitload of pumpkin that he couldn’t get off his hands for love or money. It re-entered the philosophical literature in Wittgenstein, who got it from Sraffa, but his solution is unknown — although in 2001 his grave in Cambridge was “found to have a pork pie on top of it”:http://myweb.lsbu.ac.uk/~stafflag/ludwigwittgenstein.html (no, really, it was), and also a “Mr Kipling Cake”:http://www.mrkipling.co.uk/about/ — perhaps evidence of efforts at solution via reduction to problems already solved.

At any rate, my plan is to avoid the pumpkin altogether and make an apple crumble instead. I have a lot of things to be thankful for today, and I hope you do as well — and if one of them is the courage to face up to reality and just eat the nutmeg out of the jar this year instead of using pumpkin puree as a substrate for it, so much the better for you.