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Jon Mandle

Amazon recommends

by Jon Mandle on November 7, 2008

I don’t think this is exactly what Kieran had in mind when he suggested that the Amazon recommendation engine might be broadening its scope, but I just received this:

Dear Customer,

We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased or rated Political Liberalism (Columbia Classics in Philosophy) by John Rawls have also purchased Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That’s Bringing Common Sense Back to America by Mike Huckabee. For this reason, you might like to know that Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That’s Bringing Common Sense Back to America will be released on November 18, 2008.

Brooksley Born and Alan Greenspan

by Jon Mandle on October 9, 2008

The Times tells the story of the failed efforts of one Brooksley E. Born, the chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Association in 1997, to attempt to impose greater regulation on derivatives. “She called for greater disclosure of trades and reserves to cushion against losses.” She was fiercely opposed in this by Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin. [ed:spelling corrected]
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Al Franken Commercial

by Jon Mandle on October 9, 2008

Man, if I were Al Franken, I’d put this up as a commercial straight with no commentary. (Okay, maybe cut down to 1:00 or :30.) (via Ezra).

Playing the Building

by Jon Mandle on July 23, 2008

David Byrne – you might have heard of his old band – has an installation at the Battery Maritime Building in New York called Playing the Building. Basically, he placed an old organ keyboard in the middle of a big room and rigged it up so that each key makes noise by banging, blowing, or grinding some part of the building. It’s a great effect and a lot of fun to play. When I was there, Saturday afternoon, there was only a 15 minute or so wait to play it, and everyone was in good spirits and having fun. The building itself is in poor shape and you need to sign a release form to enter. Probably not worth a trip to NY by itself, but if you’re already there, stop by and have some fun making noise.

Walk Score

by Jon Mandle on May 23, 2008

The first house that my wife and I bought was in a suburb immediately to the north of Albany, NY. It was a great 80-year-old house with a nice yard, and an easy drive to my work and to hers. But it was on a busy street, and with no sidewalks it was impossible to walk anywhere. When our daughter was almost 3, we moved into our current house in Albany. I sometimes joke that we moved for the sidewalks, but there’s a lot of truth to that. On the first morning we woke up in the new house, I clearly remember our daughter running out the door and down the block – something that she had never been able to do before. Being in a neighborhood with sidewalks and things to walk to – restaurants and bars, a library, post-office, bank, and supermarket within a few blocks – has made a big difference in our lives.

The contrast between these two locations is confirmed to some extent by Walk Score. Our old house was a lowly 23 while our current house gets a 68.

Liberal Neutrality Conference

by Jon Mandle on May 15, 2008

Two weeks ago, May 1-3, McGill and the Centre de Recherche en Ethique de L’Universite de Montreal (sorry about my pronunciation) co-sponsored a conference on “Liberal Neutrality: A Re-Evaluation.” Papers are here, and my notes are below. Take this for what it is – impressions and imperfect summaries from an audience member. (I was there for the first two days, but not the third.)
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Rawls Bleg

by Jon Mandle on March 23, 2008

As some of you may know, David Reidy (Philosophy, University of Tennessee) is working on an intellectual biography of John Rawls. He has done research in the Rawls archive at Harvard which contains much, but not all, of his correspondence. He asks of anyone who might be willing to share with him their correspondence with Rawls – baseball-related or otherwise – to please contact him directly at: “dreidy [at] utk [dot] edu”.

More Sin

by Jon Mandle on March 11, 2008

In yet more sin news, according to Bloomberg (and others), the Vatican has updated its list of mortal sins to include “seven social sins”:

1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control
2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research
3. Drug abuse
4. Polluting the environment
5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty

The Times Online observes that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that ‘immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell.’” And while acknowledging that “there is no definitive list of mortal sins,” they provide a list of:

The original offences and their punishments

Pride – Broken on the wheel
Envy – Put in freezing water
Gluttony – Forced to eat rats, toads, and snakes
Lust – Smothered in fire and brimstone
Anger – Dismembered alive
Greed – Put in cauldrons of boiling oil
Sloth – Thrown in snake pits

Interesting, in a that-wacky-Pope kind of way. But their source is a little peculiar: The Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft, by Ernst and Johanna Lehner. They neglect to mention the subtitle: “244 Illustrations for Artists and Craftspeople.”

And the new list seems to suffer from some … um … padding: 5, 6, and 7 are not the same, but if you avoid excessive wealth and don’t create poverty, it seems you’ve got a pretty good jump on not “contributing to widening divide between rich and poor.” Not to mention that number 2. threatens circularity, while “Drug abuse” seems kind of vague to me. Perhaps not the best thought-out list.

But upon further investigation, it’s not clear that the Vatican intended to produce a new list in the first place. According to the AP: “Vatican officials, however, stressed that Girotti’s comments broke no new ground on what constitutes sin.” As far as I can tell, in an interview Bishop Gianfranco Girotti commented: “If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a weight, a resonance, that’s especially social, rather than individual.” And he gave some examples (although I admit to being a little unclear about how they are social in a new way). But it doesn’t seem that he gave seven examples. And, frankly, I can’t even tell if he intended his examples to be of mortal sins. My advice: avoid anything that is “morally dubious” until the situation is clarified.

Spitzer’s End

by Jon Mandle on March 11, 2008

A year-and-a-half ago, I wrote in anticipation of Eliot Spitzer’s election as governor of New York that I was eager to see how he handled the responsibilities of the position. In the last year, his approval rating tumbled fast, and it appeared that he hadn’t mastered the art of compromise – something that wasn’t as important when he was Attorney General.

Still, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Last week, I drafted (but didn’t post) an argument that perhaps his feud with Senate leader Joe Bruno was part of a deliberate high-stakes strategy to claim the state Senate for the Democrats. And as of last week, it looked like he might win. Bruno would become just another Senator from upstate, and Spitzer might have a much easier time with the reforms he has championed, even with a lower approval rating. Just two days ago, the NY Times editorialized that one-party state rule, while risky, might allow passage of campaign finance reform, independent redistricting, not to mention other badly needed reforms such as a new lobbying law. Alas, it turns out Spitzer was just irresponsible.

It’s still possible that the Democrats will pick up the Senate seat they need. But if Spitzer resigns, Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will take over and the Lieutenant Governor position will remain unfilled until the election in 2010. Next in line … Joe Bruno (who is himself under federal investigation).

G.A. Cohen Interview

by Jon Mandle on January 2, 2008

Speaking of G.A. Cohen, “Philosophy Bites” has a brief interview (less than 11 minutes) with him that serves as a nice introduction to his thought.

Constitutional Foot Tapping

by Jon Mandle on October 27, 2007

Larry Craig, who has withdrawn his intention to withdraw from the Senate and now intends to finish his term, is trying to withdraw his guilty plea for disorderly conduct. According to this AP story, his lawyers intend to argue: 1. that “Minnesota’s disorderly conduct law is unconstitutional as it applies to his conviction in a bathroom sex sting”; 2. that “the judge erred by not allowing Craig to withdraw his plea”; and 3. that “the judge who sentenced Craig to a fine and probation never signed anything saying he accepted the guilty plea.” These last two seem pretty trivial, but the first point is serious. The AP story is never exactly explicit concerning the constitutional issues at stake, but it helpfully points out that “an earlier friend-of-the-court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that Craig’s foot-tapping and hand gesture under a stall divider at the Minneapolis airport are protected by the First Amendment.” That sure seems right to me, but is that actually the argument that Craig is going to make? Recall that his explanation at the time [pdf] and (as far as I know) since has been that there was absolutely, positively, really and truly no speech involved – he just happens to have a “wide stance when going to the bathroom” and that he “reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of paper that was on the floor.”


by Jon Mandle on September 8, 2007

So which Republican candidate will be first to match or beat bin Laden’s 2.5% flat tax proposal? I wonder what his plan for health care reform looks like.

The British Museum

by Jon Mandle on August 23, 2007

I recently visited the British museum for the first time. The very little I saw really was astonishing. I found it surprisingly moving, in fact – especially the Rosetta Stone, for whatever reason. But despite the sense of amazement, I also had the gnawing and depressing feeling that the last 3500 years of human history really just boils down to one damn war after another. Another (related) feeling was the more inchoate discomfort with how all that stuff managed to arrive in London.

In chapter 8 of Cosmopolitanism, Kwame Anthony Appiah asks “Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?” He points to an ambiguity in the term “culture.” Sometimes it refers to artifacts – “whatever people make and invest with significance through the exercise of their human creativity.” Other times it refers to “the group from whose conventions the object derives its significance.” He struggles with the relationship between these two senses of the term – specifically with the question of the return of ancient cultural artifacts to people who claim them as their “cultural patrimony”.

Appiah has lots of sensible and interesting things to say on the issue. He holds that it is “a perfectly reasonable property rule that where something is dug up and nobody can establish an existing claim on it, the government gets to decide what to do with it.” But the government should think of itself as a trustee “for humanity”. This cosmopolitan perspective breaks any kind of special tie to geographic location. “However self-serving it may seem, the British Museum’s claim to be a repository of the heritage not of Britain but of the world seems to me exactly right.”

But he also quotes Major Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts), who after looting the palace of the Asante King Kofi Karikari in 1874 1895 [thanks, rea – see comment 14.] wrote: “There could be no more interesting, no more tempting work than this. To poke about in a barbarian king’s palace, whose wealth has been reported very great, was enough to make it so. Perhaps one of the most striking features about it was that the work of collecting the treasures was entrusted to a company of British soldiers, and that it was done most honestly and well, without a single case of looting.” Appiah obviously recognizes this as theft, and wants a negotiated restitution, but this is because “the property rights that were trampled upon in these cases flow from laws that I think are reasonable. I am not for sending every object ‘home.’ … I actually want museums in Europe to be able to show the riches of the society they plundered in the years when my grandfather was a young man … Because perhaps the greatest of the many ironies of the sacking of Kumasi in 1874 is that it deprived my hometown of a collection that was, in fact, splendidly cosmopolitan.”

There certainly is something very attractive about the ideal of a grand cosmopolitan museum, whether in London or Kumasi. But I just couldn’t shake the thought that most of the artifacts were taken with an attitude that Britain – as opposed to the world – was entitled to them.

Illegal Inheritance

by Jon Mandle on July 25, 2007

For some time, Josh Marshall has been saying that President Bush won’t fire Alberto Gonzales because he wouldn’t be able to get a new Attorney General confirmed by the Senate who would be willing to keep all of the cover-ups in place. Evidence for this theory is mounting. But Bush won’t be able to keep him in office for ever.

Assume a new Democratic President is inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Focusing on the illegal wire-tap program(s) (as opposed to the other cover-ups), which of the following is most likely:

a. the illegal wire-tap program(s) will be dismantled and all evidence of them destroyed by the time the new administration takes office;
b. they will still be up and running, and the new administration will quietly continue them;
c. the new administration will quietly stop them;
d. the new administration will say that they are stopping them, but actually continue them;
e. the new administration will make a big show about stopping them (and actually do so);
f. the new administration will make a big show about stopping them and move to prosecute members of the previous administration for violating the law.

I can’t believe a. is a viable option, so how would a Democratic administration handle such an illegal inheritance? Is there a significant difference among the candidates? (Maybe I should have made a you-tube video asking this.)

Denby on Sicko

by Jon Mandle on July 12, 2007

David Denby didn’t like “Sicko” very much. In the New Yorker, he writes:

“Hauling off seriously ill people to a military base where they won’t receive treatment is a dumb prank.”

Okay – I’m not the biggest Michael Moore fan in the world, and I can see how this might rub some people the wrong way.

“Why not tell us what really happened on the trip – for instance, what part Cuban officials played in receiving the American patients?”

Actually, that might not be a bad idea.

“Moore winds up treating the audience the same way that, he says, powerful people treat the weak in America – as dopes easily satisfied with fairy tales and bland reassurances.”

Seems harsh – this is clearly supposed to be a piece of entertaining propaganda – but, again, I can see the point.

“A shift to the left, or, at least, to the center, has overtaken Michael Moore, yielding an irony more striking than any he turns up: the changes in political consciousness that Moore himself has helped produce have rendered his latest film almost superfluous.”

Er, how’s that again? In polls, a majority are in favor of universal health care, so there’s no need to build grass-roots pressure anymore? Same for getting out of Iraq, I suppose.