an in-between move

Cool kids read The Bellman.


Don't read this blog!

I mean, thanks for dropping by my little corner of the blogospheric backwaters, but the blog you should be reading is The Bellman. The stuff I post there is much, much less likely to be imbued with dormitive powers.


[German, from zwischen, intermediate + zug, move

Literally an "in-between move". A move in a tactical sequence is called a zwischenzug* when it does not relate directly to the tactical motif in operation. |source|

image copyright TWIC

From this position, black played a zwischenzug: 19…d5
(Linares 2002, 1-0)


about your blogger

David Rowland studies philosophy at the University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign, where he's an active member of the Graduate Employees Organization. He used to play a lot of chess, but wasn't all that good. He has a blog. And email.


error log

January 2004  
February 2004  
March 2004  
April 2004  
May 2004  
June 2004  
July 2004  
August 2004  
September 2004  
October 2004  
November 2004  
December 2004  
January 2005  
February 2005  
March 2005  
April 2005  
May 2005  
June 2005  
July 2005  
August 2005  
September 2005  
October 2005  
November 2005  
December 2005  


$zwichenzug$ sell-out zone





Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under
a Creative Commons License.

Union Label

Direct Action
Gets the Goods!


some folks I know

Mark Dilley
a daily dose of architecture
Safety Neal
January Girl
mimi jingcha
Hop, Skip, Jump
ambivalent imbroglio
Brooke & Lian


some blogs I read

strip mining for whimsy
It's Matt's World
School of Blog
Fall of the State
Dru Blood
Echidne of the Snakes
Colossal Waste of Bandwidth
Running from the Thought Police
Bionic Octopus


some philosoblogs

Fake Barn Country
Freiheit und Wissen


some labor blogs

Confined Space
Working Life
Dispatches From the Trenches
Labor Blog
Eric Lee


some A-list blogs

This Modern World
Matthew Yglesias
Andrew Sullivan
Political Animal
The Volokh Conspiracy


some other links

Rule 33
This Week in Chess
War Nerd
National Priorities Project
Bible Gateway
Internet Archive
A Weekly Dose of Architecture
Orsinal: Morning Sunshine
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Safety Sign Builder
Get Your War On


some philosoblogging

Six views about reasons
Seidman on reflection and rationality
And another thing
Tiffany's argument for strong internalism
Internalism v. Externalism
What do internalists believe anyway?
Rationalism and internalism
The experimental method in philosophy
Advertising to children
On moral skepticism
A linguistic argument
More on Williams
Williams on reasons
General and particular
Normativity and morality
Political intuitions
What it is, what it was, and what it shall be
Objectivity and morality
Thinking revolution
Abortion and coercion
Moore on torture
On the phenomenology of deliberation
Even more Deliberation Day
more Deliberation Day
Deliberation Day run-down
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge, cont.
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge
Every shepherd is an abomination
Droppin' H-bombs
ad hominem

Sunday, February 29, 2004


Re: a double dog dare

Since the late 1990's, there has been growing interest in one particularly catastrophic climatic event. It envisions an abrupt fall in global temperatures, caused by incremental warming from rising emissions of heat-trapping gases. What better fodder for movie makers or military strategists?

In the coming movie "The Day After Tomorrow," directed by Roland Emmerich, who last threatened Earth with alien warships in "Independence Day," "super storms" destroy Western Europe, and Manhattan is covered in a sheet of ice.

"An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," on the other hand, was written recently by two consultants for Andrew W. Marshall, the Pentagon's legendary guru of long-term threat assessment. [source]

Think I can't be goaded into a post? Think again!!


In case you were wondering...

why we call them wingnuts, here's something that was posted today on The Corner, a blog run by The National Review:
Today is the 300th anniversary of the Deerfield Massacre--an atrocity from one of the French and Indian Wars in which 300 marauders from New France targeted a small Massachusetts village, killed dozens of its inhabitants, and hauled away more for captivity and ransom. A striking number of the murders involved women and children, including babies. It was one of the most brutal events in our national history--and it has a lot to do with why my forthcoming book on Franco-American history (co-authored with Mark Molesky) is called Our Oldest Enemy.
Posted at 01:03 PM [link]



Aristide is out, and now we're sending in troops. This feels weird, but for once I approve of the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy. So far.

Back in the mists of time I opposed Clinton's 1994 intervention to prop up Aristide. This got me into several very unpleasant arguments. I don't clearly remember precisely what I was thinking back then, but it had something to do with respect for the sovereignty of other peoples. My thought was that it wasn't our place to step into disputes between Haitians.

I still basically agree with that, although I think a case can be made for intervention when there's evidence of mass atrocities.

By stepping in back in 1994, Clinton hoped to endorse the principle of democratic legitimacy. The idea wasn't that Aristide was our boy, but that Aristide had been duly elected. So we were supposedly there to support the democratic process and were saying to the rebels that if they wanted reform they would have to work the process.

The problem with that message is that it gets lost unless you follow it up. We didn't do anything when Aristide began consolidating his support and rigging elections. However legitimate Aristide was in 1994, that legitimacy was lost long ago. And it could be argued that part of the reason that he managed to stay in power so long is that the actions of the United States created the impression that he could count on the backing of the region's main power.


The rich get richer

Zagg points out that Forbes has published their annual list of billionaires. From his post:
The gory highlights:

There are 587 billionaires.
Their combined wealth is $1.9 trillion (up a whopping 36 percent from last year).

That's just insane.
Three billion people live on $2 per day.

These numbers make my head spin. But I'm in the minority there, at least among Americans.
Freudian slip dept: Above I originally typed, "Forbes has punished...

Friday, February 27, 2004


Zwichenzug culture watch

This week's topic is books on the night stand. Or, more accurately, books in the milk crate near my bed or on the floor within reach of my bed.

Goin' to Kansas City / Nathan W. Pearson Jr.
Not just another Count Basie/Jay McShann/Charlie Parker/Bennie Moten hagiography. This book delivers a social history of KC and the midwest through the lens of jazz. Pearson approaches the subject more as a folklorist than as a historian, and the book consists mainly of firsthand accounts from musicians. Now if only I could find recordings of the Kansas City Rockets, the Twelve Clouds of Joy, and the Tuxedo Brass Band...

Webster's New World Dictionary
I still have the same big blue dictionary I took to college in 1989. Didn't use it much until a very wise person convinced me that it was a lot smarter to look up words than to puzzle out meanings from context. Before too much longer the spine is going to break.

Cases in Collective Bargaining & Industrial Relations
This book should be on my night stand, but I just bought it yesterday and I accidentally left it at school. It has about 100 case studies reconstructed from NLRB records. I'm hoping to use a few of them next time I teach Intro to Ethics.

The Radical Reader / Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John McMillan, eds.
An anthology of primary texts from the American radical tradition. It has everything from the Bill of Rights to The Boondocks.

Chapterhouse: Dune / Frank Herbert
Science fiction's gift to insomniacs. Nothing will put you to sleep faster.

And then there's Rawls, Rawls, Rawls, and the Cambridge Companion to, you guessed it, Rawls. What great works of literature are within your grasp?


Friday fun for wonks

Go here and find out where you stand on the political compass.

(and go here if you want to see the place where I found out about this little gem)

Guess what? I'm an outlier.

My scores:
Economic Left/Right: -8.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.25

Be sure to tell me where you stand. The CIA needs the info for their files.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


Details emerging

Calpundit tracked down some details on the agreement. From the LA Times:

The stores accomplished such goals as installing a two-tier system of employee compensation, under which new hires would earn considerably less in wages and benefits than current employees, the sources said.

There also would be a cap on how much the supermarkets contribute to their employees' healthcare coverage, a change the stores aggressively sought in order to combat rising healthcare costs, they said. Until now, all of the workers' healthcare costs have been borne by the stores.

The union, meanwhile, persuaded the grocery stores to contribute more money into the workers' health care reserve fund, the sources said. The upshot of that move, they said, is that veteran grocery employees should not have to contribute to their healthcare coverage in the first two years of the contract, although they might have to pay some amount during the third year. [link]

Quick and dirty analysis: In the end, asking the strikers to stay on the line for the benefit of workers who hadn't yet been hired was too much. The agreement has significant protections for current workers, but new hires will be firmly planted in the lower class.

There's a lesson here about solidarity. What we need is one big union.

Seriously. The only way that the workers on the line could have beaten back the supermarkets - and the only way they should be expected to take responsibility for doing it - is if they were part of a vibrant movement. If, for example, the Teamsters had continued to refuse to deliver goods, and had refused at every store, the supermarkets would have lost. But even then it's just the Teamsters and the UFCW against three multi-billion dollar corporations. Where were the rest of us?

I'm reminded of an organizing conversation I had about a month ago. I was talking to a first year teaching assistant from one of the science departments. She agreed that our health insurance wasn't very good and thought that it would be a very nice thing if our employer picked up at least part of the tab. But she also thought that it wouldn't be fair if we got coverage while so many working people didn't.

I think it would be great if we had a comprehensive national healthcare system. But I also think the only way to get there is by having strong unions that win major concessions from employers. Why? Because the only way to fund comprehensive national healthcare is by imposing a new tax on employers. And the only way employers are going to sit still for that is if the burden of the new tax is offset by savings in their employees' benefits packages.


What's being said around the blogosphere (I'll keep updating this as I find stuff):

As always, the Joe Hill Dispatch is the definitive site for labor news.

Calpundit argues that the diminishing power of unions is allowing corporations to roll back health coverage and that, ironically, this is likely to lead to increased popular support for national healthcare.

Pacific John at Gropinator echoes and amplifies Calpundit's point.

Update: There's quite a discussion thread going on over at Calpundit. The star, as far as I'm concerned is this post from a certain R.Porrofatto. He points out that in 2002 the compensation packages for the top 20 HMO executives amounted to: "not including stock options: $237,907,917! Add to that the stock options: $1,153,864,691! Yes, that is a billion dollars! Together you are looking at $1.75 billion that went to twenty people in that industry in 2002 alone!!!!!"

It's worth reading the whole post.

Update: Body and Soul weighs in with a thoughtful post that links the grocery strike to the ongoing debate about globalization.

Update: Nathan Newman argues that this strike was so damaging to the supermarkets that other corporations will think twice before trying to take health benefits from workers.


Will it ever end?

Update: The Associated Press is reporting that an agreement has been reached. No details yet on the terms. A vote to ratify may begin as soon as tomorrow. [source]

For about a week now I've been googling 'California Grocery Strike' every few hours thinking that I could announce the end of the strike in a post. But it keeps not ending. The latest news, which I've got over in the Holding Zone and which Calpundit also has, is that the agreement on the horizon seems to contain serious concessions by the strikers. The LA Times is reporting that, "the deal on the table would trim supermarket employees' health benefits and create a second tier of new workers who would earn less than those hired before the dispute began, according to sources who know the rough details of the proposed contract."

Until we know how much health benefits are cut we won't be able to identify any winners. This much seems clear: there are lots of losers.

The strikers, even if their health benefits aren't cut substantially, have lost five months of income. While it's true that some earned strike pay by walking the picket lines, that money didn't match their normal income. Assuming that a two-tier wage system is installed, don't be surprised if the strikers find themselves slowly pushed out the door by managers eager to reduce labor costs.

Any new employees are going to be on the bottom tier of the pay scale, so they will be consigned to the working poor. Count them among the losers.

Nor is it clear that the three grocery chains are going to benefit much. To begin with, they've significantly eroded their customer base. They've also lost so much money that when you crunch the numbers it's hard to see how picking this fight could make any economic sense at all. Worse, for all their talk about the need to reduce payroll expenses, they haven't addressed any of the inefficient business practices that lie at the root of their inability to match the low prices of discount retailers.

Critics have lambasted the UFCW for their failure to bring the supermarkets to their knees. But as far as I can see the real problem is that the chains aren't acting in their own rational self interest. How do you influence someone who's immune to reason?

I know it goes against the conventional wisdom to suggest that it's in management's interest to pay their employees a living wage. But consider:

While Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons spent a 14th consecutive day Tuesday at the bargaining table with their workers' union, one of the grocers' biggest rivals, Costco, smoothly agreed to a new contract with 12,000 California employees.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters ratified Costco's contract proposal on a 94 percent vote and Teamsters officials contrasted their bargaining process to the bitter stalemate that has kept 59,000 Southern California grocery clerks out of work for 137 days.

"This contract makes sure that Costco employees remain the highest paid workers in the grocery industry," said Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa. [source]

Not only did Costco avoid a dispute that would have alienated their workforce, they also saved tens of millions of dollars that they could have spent fighting the union. And by keeping the peace while others went to war, Costco gained significant marketshare.

They look pretty smart to me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


The Department of Education is a propaganda ministry

Here's hoping that the controversy surrounding Education Secretary Rod Paige's "The NEA is a terrorist organization" remark leads to his resignation. I'm not holding my breath.

By the way, I believe him when he says it was a joke. And I don't think that this constitutes a new administration policy to treat unions as threats to national security. Maybe you can make the argument but this isn't evidence for it.

I just want to get rid of Rod Paige and the rest of the No Child Left Behind idiots.

Back when Rod Paige was superintendent of the Houston Independent School District I was a VISTA volunteer with an organization called Communities in Schools. CIS had programs in about 20 schools in the Houston area, mostly in HISD. I was assigned to a school in the Alief school district on the southwest side of the city, but I frequently had occasion to visit campuses in HISD and they were as bad or worse than mine.

At CIS we provided programs for 'at-risk' kids. The idea was to keep them from dropping out so that they could one day aspire to be worker bees.

Texas state laws says that a kid is considered to be at-risk if they meet any one of the following conditions: was not advanced from one grade level to the next for two or more school years; has mathematics or reading skills that are two or more years below grade level; did not maintain an average equivalent to 70 on a scale of 100 in two or more courses during a semester, or is not maintaining such an average in two or more courses in the present semester, is not expected to graduate within four years of the date the student begins ninth grade; did not perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument; is pregnant or a parent; has limited English proficiency; is sexually, physically or psychologically abused; or, engages in delinquent behavior.

School districts are allowed to include other criteria at their discretion. The district I worked in, Alief, added the following conditions: broken home; primary care-giver is not a parent; and, any member of the household has been convicted of a felony. I think that these additions were also made in HISD.

In my school, and in all the Houston schools I had acquaintance with, a solid majority of students met these criteria. And yet, somehow, every school managed to post good TASS results. (TASS is the Texas Assessment of Scholastic Skills, the test that inspired the No Child Left Behind Act)

How? Fraud.

Teachers and administrators systematically excluded the scores of students who could be predicted to do badly. They had to, because otherwise their schools would be denied funding.

And let there be no doubt that they needed funding. Class sizes in Houston are routinely above 30, there aren't nearly enough tutors, and experienced teachers are fleeing en masse for higher paying jobs in suburban districts.

Not to mention the deplorable physical condition of public schools in Houston. Many of the building's are, to put it bluntly, falling apart. Even where the main buildings are in good shape there are temporary classroom shantytowns filling the playgrounds. Once I was out in a temporary classroom - a structure most of us would describe as a trailer - during a terrific thunderstorm. I looked out the window and noticed that the rain was falling sideways. Drawing on my Oklahoma heritage I thought "Tornado!" and got everyone the hell out of there and into the main building. As far as I know, ours was the only temporary classroom that was evacuated. A mile away a tornado tore the roof off of the gymnasium of a junior high school.

Houston's public schools are in a sorry state. White flight has pulled the money into the suburbs, and the Supreme Court has ruled super-districts to be illegal. The only solution, there as elsewhere, is a new funding model for public education.

Or: you could implement a testing regime that produces misleadingly positive results.

That's Rod Paige's legacy. Kick the bums out.


Gonna eat me a plate of biscuits and beans

The Split Lip show isn't for another couple of days, but I think it's fair to say that I'm ready. There's a rumor that the Shack Shakers will be the opening band, but the website disagrees.

I've just about worn out my Split Lip cds, so I've been looking for other ways to live in hype. Today I've been reading the Winfield-Courier.


Jail options to be ready by Friday, architect says

Panel endorses bill to regulate abortion clinics

Parkfield packs the house

And that's all the news that's fit to print!

Tuesday, February 24, 2004


The folly of fools is deceit

Time for a quiz. Consider the following statement:

America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions. Our government should respect every person, and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities. We should also conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.

From which speech is the remark taken?

A. "Why I am Not a Feminist" -- Phyllis Schlafly, 1972

B. "The Purity of the Race" -- Strom Thurmond, 1962

C. "Marriage is Mine" -- George Bush, 2004

D. All of the Above


Extra Credit: Using examples from the crucifixion scene in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ to illuminate your answer, compare and contrast Christian love and unnatural acts.


Slimy cheapish deafening toadeater

Not that it matters, since Bush won't be on the ballot, but according to a poll conducted by the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV Bush is 14 points behind Kerry in Illinois. Edwards beats Bush by five points. The poll was taken before last week's primary in Wisconsin. [link]

No word yet on where Kerry stands with respect to Nader.


I want to move to Vermont

Turn up the sound and watch this flash movie from Congressman Bernie Sanders. Do it now!

(via funferal)

Monday, February 23, 2004


Use Your Mind Constructively

The LA Times ran a story with the headline, Grocery Pact Seen as 'Only Days Away' last Friday. The occasion of the story was the tenth consecutive day of negotiations, the longest stretch at the table since November. Reports indicate that the sides met again Saturday and Sunday, but news has dried up in the last few days because the federal mediator imposed a gag order. For all I know that's a good sign. This analysis from Friday's LA Times seems credible:

The marathon bargaining also suggests that the 59,000 idled grocery workers and the stores' stockholders 'have metaphorically locked the various parties in a room and won't let them out without a deal,' analyst Mark Husson of Merrill Lynch & Co. said in a report Friday.

It's been days, and there's no sign of an agreement. I'm sure things are exciting at the bargaining table, but not much else is going on. There have been some arrests, and the California AFL-CIO is threatening to expand its boycott. Strike pay has been cut again, but then it's not easy being a scab either. Sales are stong at alternative groceries.

All in all, not much news. I agree in spirit with the call to action Jonathan Tasani of TomPaine.com published yesterday. He writes:

The stakes must be raised now. First, every Democratic presidential candidate, with their various proposed fixes for the health-care system and their newfound populist rallying cries on behalf of workers, should march the picket line and unequivocally support the strikers. Second, while organized labor is beginning to press harder in a more coordinated fashion, with mass rallies in many cities, it is a moment for a concentrated focus on this one fight. Unions might consider redeploying to Southern California the legions of foot soldiers now trudging around various political battlegrounds on behalf of Democratic presidential contenders—it will not matter who the nominee is if hundreds of thousands of workers lose their employer-based health care in the inevitable aftermath of a lost strike.

Third and finally, every organization whose mission centers on preserving a basic social safety net must see the strike as a defining moment that will echo through all facets of advocacy. These workers have put themselves on the line for every citizen to prevent a further undermining of America's middle class.

It may be a little late to be offering this advice. Anyway, there's still time to donate to the strike fund.

Update:'Talks in the 135-day-old Southern California grocery workers strike and lockout continued past 2 a.m. Monday and resumed after breakfast.' Source: North County Times


Social Hygene Posters

Some of my favorites:

Danger In Familiarities Conventions are the fences society has built to protect you and the race

Outdoor Life will help a boy break the habit called "self abuse" (in case he has acquired the habit)

The Spirited Horse and the Sex Impulse The sex instinct, when directed, is the source of power and of a richer, fuller life

Beware of Chance Acquaintances Know the men you associate with

Is Your Mind Diseased?

The glory of manhood is strength

Conventions Which Bring Freedom Decent good times lead to more good times

Do Not Worry Unless emissions occur very frequently, no attention need be give them

There are more over in the Holding Zone. I found them here.


167 is a bigger number than 159

Notes on the Atrocities points out this essay from The Atlantic Monthly about the new written portion of the SAT. The article is written by some folks at The Princeton Review. Their advice:

To receive a high score a student should write a long essay of three or more paragraphs, with each paragraph containing topic and concluding sentences and at least one sentence that includes the words 'for example.' Whenever possible the student should use polysyllabic words where shorter, clearer words would suffice. The SAT essay will not be a place to take rhetorical chances. Flair will win no points; the highest-scoring essays will be earnest, long-winded, and predictable.

Unless The Princeton Review's work has gone into the toilet in the five years since they bought me 150 points on the GRE, this advice is probably pretty good.

But the point of the article isn't to help readers (or their children) get into selective colleges. No, they're making fun of the standard. They trot out passages from several famous authors -- Hemingway, Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Unabomber -- and evaluate each using the College Board's criteria. Predictably, the Unabomber gets the best score.

It took me awhile to get the joke. They started out with Hemingway, and I thought it was supposed to be an example of really bad writing that nevertheless received a high score.

Frankly, the authors could learn a thing or two about signposting.

Here's the evaluation of Shakespeare's "all the world's a stage" bit:

Reader's evaluation: This essay is poorly organized, with only one paragraph (though, to Mr. Shakespeare's credit, the topic sentence does speak to what the rest of the sentences in his one paragraph are about). It is riddled with errors in syntax, incomplete sentences being the most noticeable problem. Although his supporting sentences are vivid in their description, they are vague and general, not true examples. And he unfortunately spells "honor" with the extraneous "u." Grade: 2 out of 6

I'd venture to say that any student who writes in Elizabethan English on a standardized test doesn't have room to complain. Speaking as someone who occasionally wades through trackless swamps of undergraduate prose, 'earnest, long-winded, and predictable' sounds like something to strive for.

But I'm biased. The College Board is going to hire thousands of part-time readers to grade the essays, and I'm hoping to sop up some of that gravy.

Sunday, February 22, 2004


We ought to codify that

Late last fall one of my students asked me if I knew Richard Mohr. Of course I did. He's a professor in my department, and my department isn't very large. The student's question had been prompted by something he saw in the New York Times. It was a marriage announcement. What made it stand out, and what prompted the student to mention it to me, is that Richard Mohr is gay.

He and his partner were married in Ontario over Thanksgiving break. They met there years ago, and the city legalized gay marriage last June.

Before I go any further, I should mention that Richard Mohr gets a fair amount of press. There was an article about him in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week, and he was featured on a nationally syndicated radio show the week before that (admittedly, it was a nationally syndicated philosophy show). There's a rumor that he has a publicist. He's not egotistical about this at all. But it's part of his career, part of his life as a gay rights activist, and he's not shy about letting the department know when he's in the news.

I hadn't heard about the Times' wedding announcement.

Getting him a gift was out of the question. Dirt poor grad students do not buy gifts for their professors. Besides, what do you give a man who wrote his own coffee table book?

Actually, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. In addition to the fact that he hadn't let the department know, I already thought of him as married. For all I knew, the announcement in the Times was the goal and the Ontario ceremony was merely a means to that end.

A few weeks later an article in our local paper caught my eye. It was about Richard Mohr and his marriage, and one of the themes was that many of his and his partners' relatives and friends hadn't treated the marriage as if it were on a par with heterosexual couplings. This clearly bothered them. It was touching.

I decided to buy a greeting card.

My first stop was the Quad Shop at the student union. Their selection isn't particularly broad, but it's skewed towards the campus community. It seemed possible that they might have a gender neutral wedding card.

But no. There was a card for the pedophile crowd, showing the naked butts of a young boy and girl, but nothing that might plausibly be considered appropriate for the occasion of gay nuptials.

The closest thing I could find to a gender neutral card featured two peas, one in a top hat, the other sporting a white veil. I'm not up on my Mendeleev, but I don't think peas come in male and female varieties. In a pinch I could believe that both peas were of the same gender and that one pea had opted to deliver its vows in drag.

I considered and rejected the idea of buying that card and writing something clever on the inside.

My next stop was the University bookstore. They had the same selection of cards.

I stopped by an independent bookstore next, knowing there wasn't much hope.

Eventually, I found my way to a Hallmark shop. They had cards for birthdays, sickness, sadness, graduation, friendship, anniversary, inspiration, general congratulations, love, apology, birth, baptism, confirmation, bar mitzvah, retirement, sympathy, home ownership, gratitude, greetings, appreciation, forgiveness, fortitude, fondness, engagement, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's, Jewish New Year, and, of course, heterosexual marriage.

They even had the card with the peas. I bought it, since the inside was blank, and headed back to the University bookstore. There, I bought a package of Picasso postcards.

One of the postcards featured a painting that seemed to me to be homoerotic in a romantic kind of way. It had two shirtless adolescent boys, one playing pan pipes while the other watched. I pasted the postcard onto the front of the greeting card, covering the peas and their wedding regalia. On the inside I wrote, 'congratulations' and signed my name.

It turned out to be a pretty nice card, better than the sappy pre-packaged sentimentality pervading most of Hallmark's catalog. But it shouldn't be this difficult.

Because I work and study at a university, and because my social circle is heavily salted with left-leaning political activists, I probably know more gays than most Americans. All the same, Richard Mohr's marriage was the first among my gay friends and acquaintances. At first I wasn't sure how I ought to respond. Even when I knew where I stood the infrastructure wasn't designed to support my actions. But the raw materials were there.

Polls consistently show that Americans strongly oppose gay marriage but that there is growing support for civil unions. I'm not sure that I believe those numbers. I think a lot of the civil union supporters see civil unions as a way to advance gay rights without poking the religious right in the eye.

But, as Josh Marshall observed a few days ago, establishing civil unions for gays amounts to official endorsement of the idea that their unions are inferior to heterosexual relationships. It grants rights while taking dignity.

That's a realization he came to because he was confronted with the spectacle of the San Francisco weddings. For the first time he saw married gays and it forced him to rethink his position. Chalk up one vote less for civil unions.

The raw materials are there.

Americans don't believe in discrimination. Opposition to gay marriage can't withstand acquaintaince with the real marriages of real gays. Even if you don't personally know any of the San Francisco couples, their stories and pictures are showing up all over the web.

The thing that strikes me is how normal the couples are. I read their stories and look at their pictures and what I see are people who are in love, people who are overwhelmed by the opportunity to express that love.

Here is one of the most moving pictures I have ever seen. I have no idea who these people are, but their joy is palpable.

I know it's not macho, but it makes me cry. Lots of people cry at weddings.

Saturday, February 21, 2004


The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog

Don't miss Tom Vanderbilt's great article about fonts. The news that made it possible for the article to be written is the State Department's recent decision to switch from Courier New 12 to Times New Roman 14 for official documents. But the interest of the article comes from the attention it draws to the aesthetic qualities of typefaces.

I'm a Times New Roman man myself, so I can't say that I regret the passing of Courier.

As far as I'm concerned, the only merit of Courier is monospacing. That used to matter a lot back in the early days of word processing when I was a young geek putting together a chess club 'zine complete with tabulated tournament results. Courier was de rigueur.

But it always seemed like an ugly font to me. So the ad copy Vanderbilt quotes as saying that
With its "modern, progressive look," Courier exemplified the "trend toward the long, low and extended in an age of ranch houses and stretched-out cars"
strikes me as disingenuous.

Something about the monospacing makes Courier looks simultaneously modern and archaic. Modern because the regularity is evocative of industrial conformity. Archaic because measures haven't been taken to hide the conformity from the viewer.

In the end, I suppose it comes down to readability. Other things being equal, I prefer a font to have serif's. If I can't have Times New Roman, I'll take Palatino, or even Georgia. But those fonts just aren't as readable in electronic form. So if you're posting something on the web those fonts don't work. You're left with fonts like Trebuchet, Chicago, Arial, and (shudder) Helvetica.

Friday, February 20, 2004


Zwichenzug Culture Watch

Last week's edition was a rousing success resulting in my acquisiton of albums by Eric Dolphy, The Herbaliser, Interpol, and Devil in a Woodpile. This week's topic: good bad DVDs.

Some bad DVDs I've enjoyed recently:

Once Upon A Time In Mexico -=- all of the over-the-top stuff that made Desperado
terrible somehow works here

Dog Soldiers -=- werewolves, small squad infantry tactics, and crazy glue

The Transporter -=- weak plot, great fights, and a darn good car chase

Undisputed -=- Rocky meets The Longest Yard

28 Days Later -=- somebody finally delivers on the promise of Night of the Comet

Your recommendations?


You put your left foot in...

Folks, I think we're looking at a movement. It started slow, but I don't think it's going to stop soon.

One of my professors was an early adopter. He and his husband were married in Canada on November 24 with all the trappings, including an announcement in the NY Times. There's a sweet story about it here.

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of gay marriage, and the legislature hasn't yet found the votes to turn that around.

Then came Marriage Day. I don't know about you, but Marriage Day had slipped under my radar. Apparently it's been going on for a couple of years. If you're still not hip, the dope is that gay couples, nationally, apply for marriage licenses on February 12.

In San Francisco the mayor said ok.

Pause for a moment. Take a good look around you. Note the lack of locusts. Ok, let's move on.

I don't know how many couples have been married in the last week, but it's in the 1000s. I've been seeing pictures of newlyweds posted all over the internet. Somebody went to the trouble to make this
Marriage is love.
and it's been popping up as well. (I'm not complaining, but if there were, say, a gay wedding counter, that would be extremely cool.) There's also a program that lets you send flowers to random gay newlyweds.

This is such a movement that this is my second post about it. Even though, as far as I can tell, it doesn't involve the California Grocery strike, Wal-Mart, or both.

Yesterday, the mayor of Chicago came out in favor of gay marriage. Fox News reported that, "Mayor Richard Daley said he would have 'no problem' with Cook County issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in Chicago, the nation's third largest city."

And then I ran across this tidbit:
A 1997 report published jointly by three committees of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and endorsed by the association's committee on matrimonial law concluded that New York's current domestic relations law is gender neutral. The association concluded that marriage licenses can and should be issued now to same-sex couples under existing law. A supplemental joint committee report by the association in 2001 reaffirmed this conclusion. [link]
And this:
Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk has shown that advancing years are no barrier to an open mind and liberal attitude.

After watching television images of gay marriages in San Francisco, the 81-year-old monarch has decided that single sex weddings should be allowed in Cambodia too.

He expressed his views in a hand written message on his website which has proved extremely popular in Cambodia.

The king said that as a "liberal democracy", Cambodia should allow "marriage between man and man... or between woman and woman." [link]


Zwichenzug gift guide

Boobie Flask -=- This two in one device increases your bust size while giving you a handy way to keep your buzz on at sporting events, theatrical screenings, and mosques.

Feng Shui Products for Love Enhancement -=- Valentine's Day may have passed, but it's never too late to Feng Shui. Includes Feng Shui love guide.

Hurt 'em Hume -=- David Hume action figure features constant conjunction karate chop action. Part of the Philosophical Powers collection.

BeerDisappear -=- These convenient decals give any aluminum beer can the appearance of a major label soda!

Thursday, February 19, 2004


Every shepherd is an abomination

As you may have noticed, conservatives are freaking out about the fact that the city of San Francisco is issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The real reason they're freaking out, of course, is that they can't see any distinction between gay marriage, polygamy, and serial tag-team ferret humping. But they're pretending to be upset because the mayor of San Francisco is threatening to destroy Western Civilization through his disdain for the rule of law. They've even managed to snooker Andrew Sullivan into believing that this is reason enough for outrage. Sullivan keeps flip flopping on the issue but now seems to think that it's reasonable to draw, "a distinction between those private citizens seeking marriage licenses and the mayor. They are merely seeking their civil rights. He is supposed to enforce the law."

Sullivan was convinced to concede this point by a reader who wrote that:

Public officials such as Newsom and Moore do not have the LEGAL DISCRETION to act as they have done in their respective cases. Moore ultimately was thrown out of office after he defied the Federal court's order, but he was only cited for contempt of court after he had already persistently violated his oath of office as a public official. And he was roundly condemned across this state and across the country for his actions long before the contempt order was issued by Judge Thompson. Again, if public officials have the privilege of being able to disregard the CLEAR mandates of the law in executing the law, then there is no law at all, just arbitrariness.

Civil disobedience relies upon private citizens forcing public officials to enforce unfair or immoral laws, even when the officials in good conscience would prefer not to do so. By doing this, it points out the immorality or unfairness of the laws in question.

The proper way for Newsom and others to have made a symbolic showing on this issue while conforming to the law would have been for thousands of gay/lesbian applicants to have appeared day after day at his office seeking marriage licenses, and for him to have publicly and reluctantly denied their individual requests. [link]

This argument involves a misunderstanding of the justifications for and workings of civil disobedience. The middle paragraph is the key. There it is admitted that the point of civil disobedience is to confront public officials with unjust laws. The author seems to think, however, that the officials are nevertheless supposed to enforce the laws. This is civil disobedience as street theater.

But civil disobedients are not interested in merely pointing out the injustice of certain laws. Their ultimate goal is to have those laws changed. One of the points of confronting officials with the need to enforce the law is to make officials decide whether they are, in fact, going to allow themselves to be willing participants in an unjust regime. Thoreau puts this point well:

My civil neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with—for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel—and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall he ever know well what he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he shall treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and a well-disposed man, or as a maniac and a disturber of the peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with his action.

The idea here is that laws will wilt of their own accord if officials are unwilling to enforce them. This is meant to translate into legislative change on the theory that just as particular officials will not find it in themselves to enforce an unjust law, neither will the public at large find it in themselves to penalize the officials or the lawbreakers. To say that acts of civil disobedience become unconscionable at that point where officials shirk their duty of enforcement is to misunderstand the phenomena.

There is, however, another way of putting the rule of law objection to civil disobedience. Roughly, the objection holds that civil disobedience undermines respect for law because it embodies the principle that one ought to obey only those laws with which one agrees. Former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas put the point strongly:

We are a government and a people under law. It is not merely government that must live under law. Each of us must live under law. Just as our form of life depends upon the governments subordination to law under the Constitution, so it also depends upon the individual's subservience to the laws duly prescribed. Both of these are essential…

Each individual is bound by all of the laws under the Constitution. He cannot pick and choose. He cannot substitute his own judgment or passion, however noble, for the rules of law…A citizen cannot demand of his government or of other people obedience to the law, and at the same time claim a right in himself to break it by lawless conduct, free of punishment or penalty.

This line of objection, though, falsely assumes that no distinction can be made between holding that a particular law is unjust and not to be obeyed and holding that, in general, any law with which you disagree may be disobeyed. But we can make such a distinction, and we routinely expect officials to do so. That is, we can and do think that, in general, we ought to obey even laws we disagree with but that some laws are so unjust that they ought not to be obeyed. Some, including Fortas, have objected here that this just amounts to substituting one's own judgement for the legitimate rulings of relevant authorities. This point is misplaced because it illicitly assumes that one's own judgement may be put aside. In fact, when someone is accused of a seriously unjust act we don't consider it a defence that they were 'just following orders' even if those orders were issued by a legitimate authority. We expect, rather, that individuals will govern their actions partly by the dictates of their own conscience. So this line of argument fails.

There is, however, a pragmatic variant of the rule of law argument. Those who offer this variant generally try to position civil disobedients as exemplars who, through their actions, teach society at large that the rule of law is not a viable principle. This argument was used to put blame for the race riots of the late 60s and early 70s on the civil rights protests of the previous 15 years. So the idea is that civil disobedience is wrongful not as a matter of principle, but because of its unavoidable practical consequences.

The answer to this argument, it seems to me, is to insist that respect for the rule of law is best secured by enacting and enforcing laws which are worthy of respect. If the race riots were, in fact, attributable to a lack of respect for the rule of law it seems likely that the damage was done not by a decade and a half of peaceful protest but by centuries of lawful oppression.

I think something similar can be said about laws which prohibit gay marriage. The protests of College Republicans notwithstanding, homosexuals are the only prominent group against whom discrimination is widely accepted and legally sanctioned in the United States. As such, civil disobedience seems to be justifiable.

Pugnacious and Pedantic Addendum

In the main part of the post I granted the claim that what we are seeing in San Francisco is civil disobedience. However, it seems clear that this claim is false.

Generally, civil disobedience is understood to consist in the open and deliberate violation of law for the purpose of changing a law that is considered to be unjust. It is sometimes also thought to require that disobedients violate the same law that they wish to have changed. Additionally, it has been held that civil disobedience requires that disobedients be willing to peacefully accept punishment.

It's not clear what is supposed to count as civil disobedience in the San Francisco cases. Although the mayor appears to be issuing licenses in violation of law, he argues that the law violates the equal protection clause of the California State Constitution and is, as such, invalid. In refusing to issue an injunction, the courts have implicitly accepted that this claim has prima facie plausibility. Moreover, since the courts issued no injunction the mayor is not now acting in violation of law, even if, before the rulings, he was. At most, marriage licenses are being issued which will subsequently be invalidated.

Neither are the couples applying for licenses acting in violation of law. The law does not prohibit them from filing an application. It might be argued that knowingly accepting an invalid license is a violation of law, but that won't be an issue until a court has ruled the licenses to be invalid.

This all stands in stark contrast to the case of Justice Moore. When he installed the sculpture of the ten commandments he could not have reasonably believed that the law prohibiting that act was invalid or unclear. Moreover, Moore refused to remove the sculpture even after an injunction had been issued.

In sum, the San Francisco cases aren't civil disobedience for the simple reason that nobody is acting in violation of the law. Rather, what is happening there is more like a series of test cases.

edited for clarity

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


Need more vitamin Z?

Back when I was trying to correct problems with Zwichenzug's template I set up another blog page to test things out on. Lately I've been using it as a place to put links that I might want to go back to. Its latest feature is a blogroll that I might eventually move over here. I put a link to it over on the link list and, for your convenience, here.


Grocery strike news round up

According to a story just posted on the online edition of the San Diego Union Tribune:

Talks are expected to continue today in the Southern California grocery strike, the eighth straight day of talks between the union and the three major supermarket chains.

John Arnold, a spokesman for federal mediator Peter J. Hurtgen, said yesterday grocers and United Food and Commercial Workers Union have been talking into the evening for seven days. If they meet again today, as expected, it would be longest the sides have sat at the bargaining table since Dec. 2-8. [link]

I have to believe that they wouldn't be meeting if they weren't making progress. We may have gotten far enough into this thing that both sides want to end it.

There have been a lot of stories in recent days about the hardships the strikers are undergoing. This LA Times story about the caseworkers who decide how to distribute the UFCW's emergency assistance fund has been widely syndicated. The LA Times also ran this sympathetic profile of Rick Icaza, described as "labor's point man in the California supermarket strike." The profile features pithy quotes like these:

Icaza said he and other UFCW officials still hoped to reach a "fair and reasonable" deal to end their members' growing hardship.

"I know my members are suffering," Icaza said. "It's the most tragic thing that I've ever experienced. There are nights when I don't go to sleep."

Icaza also is aware of his place in the history books. "I just don't want to have that legacy of being the one that destroyed the very thing it's taken us 60 years to achieve," he said.

The UFCW has to regard both of these articles as extremely good press, especially considering that they came from the Times. I think we're seeing some of the effects of the AFL-CIO's stepped up involvement.

At the same time that the press is playing up the hardships of the workers, other unions are stepping up to help out. According to this report:

Tuesday morning, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 in Wilmington handed out 272 checks totaling $100,000 to financially strapped grocery clerks so they can continue paying for health care benefits.

ILWU Local 13 President Joe Donato will present individual checks to members of four United Food and Commercial Workers union locals who might otherwise lose their benefits at the end of the month, according to the union.

There are other positive signs. In New England an agreement between UFCW and Stop & Shop averted a strike that would have involved 42,000 workers. The issues there mirrored the issues in the California strike -- Stop & Shop wanted to significantly reduce the employer contribution to the cost of health care. In the end, it looks like both sides compromised but that the union got the better of the deal. [link]


Droppin' H-bombs

Heidegger: "whether as a mode in which uncoveredness is appropriated or as a way of Being-in-the-world, assertion is grounded in Dasein's uncovering or rather in its disclosedness."

Is it just my close minded analytic self, or is that gibberish? And, no, it doesn't seem to get more clear as you read more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


Fun with exit polls

Wisconsin (2238 respondents)

Edwards gets 36% of both men's and women's votes. Kerry gets 36% from men, but jumps to 41% among women. The pattern seems to be determined mostly by race, since Edwards polls two points higher among white women than among white men.

Kerry's support gets slightly stronger as the age of voters increases. Dean is strongest among the youngest voters, Edwards is weakest there.

Dean's support is pretty constant across racial lines. Kerry loses to Edwards by a point among whites, but beats Edwards by 39 points among African Americans and by 22 points among Latinos. (demographics: whites: 89%, african american: 6%, latino: 3%)

Kerry beats Edwards by 10 points among voters who earn less than $50,000, Edwards wins by two points among those who earn more.

Support for both Edwards and Dean increases with education level - though it's much more pronounced for Dean. Kerry does better among those with less education.

Kerry beats Edwards by six points in union households and by four points in veteran households.

Kerry beats Edwards by fifteen points among Democrats. Edwards carries the Republican and independent vote.

Kerry and Edwards both poll at 40% among moderates. Kerry wins the liberals, Edwards the conservatives.

Once again, Kerry wins the atheist vote, but this time by only three points. Catholics and Protestants vote for Kerry and Edwards in about equal numbers, but Kerry wins 'other Christians' by a whopping 15 points.

Edwards beats Kerry by 16 points among those who made up their minds in the last three days. Kerry wins by 29 points among those whose minds have been made up for awhile.

Kerry again wins big on 'can beat Bush.' Edwards beats Kerry 2 to 1 among those who are satisfied with the Bush administration, and beats Kerry 3 to 1 among those who are enthusiastic about the Bush administration.

Kerry and Edwards poll evenly among those who oppose gay marriage, whether or not this opposition is cashed out in terms of support for Civil Unions. Kerry beats Edwards by six points among those who favor gay marriage. Kucinich enjoys a six point bounce among those who favor gay marriage.

Edwards beats Kerry by 10 points among the 35% who support the war in Iraq. Kerry beats Edwards by 10 points among the 65% who oppose the war.

1% of respondents characterize the economy as excellent. Among those who think the economy is good, Edwards beats Kerry by 14 points. Kerry wins by three points among those who think the economy is not good and by 15 points among those who think the economy is poor.

Edwards beats Kerry by 2 to 1 among those who think the Bush tax cuts should not be repealed. They run about even among those who want to repeal tax cuts for the rich. Kerry wins among those who want all Bush tax cuts repealed.


Crackerjack analysis:

Some people are trying to spin this as a Kerry loss since Dean+Edwards beats Kerry. Although Kerry does seem to be losing momentum, this strikes me as wishful thinking.

The idea that there's an anti-Kerry majority depends on the notion that Dean supporters will flock to Edwards if Dean drops out. I just don't see it.

To begin with, Wisconsin's open primary format makes the numbers look closer than they are. Edwards does well among constituencies that aren't likely to vote Democratic in November--war supporters, Republicans, and so on. Kerry beats Edwards soundly among women and minorities.

Other things being equal, conservatives prefer Edwards and liberals prefer Kerry. Dean's support is pretty evenly spread among conservatives and liberals, so you'd expect the conservatives to break for Edwards and the liberals to break for Kerry.

Things aren't equal, of course, because a sizeable number of Dean's supporters hate Kerry. So Dean's supporters will break for Edwards.

But they won't all go to Edwards, and they won't go 5 to 1 or even 3 to 1. Those are the kinds of numbers you need for an Edwards majority.


Speaking of fallacies

Grover Norquist says:

There is no part of the Republican coalition that lives off the state or its power. This is a tautology, as the Democrats have held united control of the government from 1932 to 1952, 1960-68, 1976-80 and 1992-94. If there was a part of the GOP dependent on state power, it was asphyxiated or co-opted long ago. [source] via seetheforest

Zwichenzug says: military/industrial complex

Zwichenzug could go on.

Monday, February 16, 2004


This makes me really mad...

and I think I know why.

Anyhow, the UFCW now says that 59,000 workers are on strike in Southern California, not 70,000. The UFCW also claims that this is what they've been saying all along, but somehow I don't believe them. [source]

Sunday, February 15, 2004


University of Illinois news

About a week ago the University Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, announced that she was leaving and taking a job at Syracuse. It's pretty widely thought that this is a step down in prestige. Nobody really knows why she's leaving, but it's possible that it has something to do with the fact that there are anti-Cantor billboards up all over town.

The billboards were put up by an alumni who hates Cantor because she favors getting rid of our University mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

He wouldn't put it that way, of course. As the Honor the Chief website argues at length, Chief Illiniwek isn't a mascot, he's an honored symbol. That's why he puts on a minstrel show at all University sporting events.

Back in November, the Board of Trustees was supposed to vote on whether to give the Chief an 'honorable retirement.' Their meeting was a circus, complete with hundreds of singing Chief supporters, chanting anti-chief activists, bemused police officers, and soon-to-be-frustrated TV crews. The Board, predictably, voted to delay voting on the issue until their March meeting.

Reportedly, Nancy Cantor cried in frustration afterwards. That made me think that she might not be all bad.

In today's local paper it was reported that the Board may now delay the vote again. Their excuse is that Illinois Student Government voted last week to have a student referendum on the issue the week after the Board of Trustees meeting.

Trustee Marjorie Sodermann was quoted as saying, "I think we should know how the students feel. I am glad they are going to have a voice in it."

Two points. First, they don't care how the students feel. If they cared how the students felt they wouldn't have eliminated discussion sections in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and they wouldn't have raised tuition. Second, everybody knows that the students are going to vote to keep the Chief, and by a wide margin.

(Although it's in no way relevant, I'd like to mention that we had a student referendum here last week, and the students voted to disband Illinois Student Government)

The real reason to delay the vote is so that Cantor won't be around to twist arms. Those in favor of keeping the Chief know that they're more likely to lose the vote with her around, so they're trying to wait her out.

It'll probably work.


postscript: I have a suspicion that if I'm bothered by Chief Illiniwek then I should also be bothered by my hometown Kansas City Chiefs. Anybody got an argument that I shouldn't? I do, but it's lame.



I've been reading a blog that has nothing but poetry made of nothing but spam subject lines. It's really pretty cool. This is the most recent entry:

American Patriots,
How can we serve you better?

Win a laptop computer?
Win a trip to Florida?
We give you more of what you want.

American Patriots,
How can we serve you better?
Want free movies?
Want to date a supermodel?
Want a bigger penis and stronger erections?
You will love it!

American Patriots,
How can we serve you better?
We have decided to increase your credit,
Increase your penis size, now
Give you free money.

Just Vote Bush. Your wife will never know.

Read more at: Kristin Thomas Spam Poetry


ad hominem

Warning: This post is long, pedantic, boring, and quite possibly mistaken. Maybe you should skip down to the next post.

Update: I've been floating this argument with my colleagues and the consensus is (a) that I'm nuts; and (b) that I'm not totally nuts. In light of those discussions, I want to offer the following clarification. While I maintain that ad hominem attacks sometimes legitimately allow for testimony to be excluded from consideration, one would be guilty of the ad hominem fallacy if one held that the legitimacy of this exclusion was tantamount to a showing that the testimony was itself flawed. I didn't mean to be saying anything stronger than this, but I think I did in a couple of places.

Over at .jasonblog. a couple of posts in the catastrophe corner have generated a tremendous amount of discussion. The general topic of the posts is whether the concerns raised by the PEAK Oil site give us reason to think that an inevitable spike in the price of oil will bring down human civilization. One argument for the claim that they don't provide such a reason turns on the assertion that the folks behind PEAK Oil are nutjobs. It has been objected that this argument is unsound because it commits the ad hominem fallacy.

In this post I will argue that the argument in question doesn't commit the ad hominem fallacy as that fallacy is properly understood. In addition, I'll float an unrelated speculative argument in favor of ad hominem reasoning. I begin with a short exposition of the fallacy.

It will be helpful to have a definition. The following definition is typical of those found in introductory texts:
The ad hominem (Latin for "to the man") fallacy directs attention away from evidence for the claim to a person making the claim. The social, political, religious, or other views of the person or the person's character, personal background, or self-interest is focused on in order to support or discredit the statement the person has made. "You shouldn't listen to what she says, because she's a Communist (or something else)" is sometimes used to discredit a person's statement. But this works only if we assume that all Communists (or other group) are mistaken about all matters, which is, of course, false. [source: A Preface to Philosophy, Mark Woodhouse]

For convenience, let's introduce the following terminological conventions. Let's call the person against whom an ad hominem attack is leveled the 'agent.' We'll refer to the conclusions advanced by the agent as 'claims' and to the reasoning given in support of those claims as 'testimony.' And we'll use the term 'trait' to refer to whatever it is that is said of the agent. Then we can say that when an ad hominem fallacy is committed an agent's claims and the testimony given in support of them are undermined on the basis of traits ascribed to the agent.

The ad hominem fallacy is an informal, rather than a formal fallacy. This means that its status as a fallacy isn't related to the logical form of the argument, but is tied instead to the substance of the reasoning. Because the fallacy isn't one of logical form, it is possible for two arguments to have the same formal structure but for one to commit the fallacy while the other doesn't. So, in order to decide whether a given argument commits the ad hominem fallacy a judgment must be made as to whether the trait ascribed is relevant to the conclusion.

With this understanding in mind, I want now to introduce a logical form which some fallacious ad hominem attacks seem to me to share with certain arguments that don't commit the fallacy. That form is:
Let C be a claim about some subject matter S, and let A be some agent and T be some trait. Further, suppose that the only evidence for C is the testimony of A.

(1) A has T
(2) Having T undermines the credibility of testimony regarding S
(3) All evidence for C has been undermined
hence, (4) C ought not to be accepted.

There is a suppressed premise, namely that one ought not to accept claims for which all evidence has been undermined. We'll leave that aside.

Whether or not the inclusion of ad hominem reasoning is legitimate turns on the status of premise 2. Typically, this is an empirical question. An example of what might be considered legitimate ad hominem reasoning is: "The only evidence we have that Jake served in the Alabama National Guard is his word, but Jake is an inveterate liar." My claim here is that the empirical fact that Jake is an inveterate liar, if true, would serve to undermine all of his testimony regardless of content.

This doesn't mean that a document referred to by Jake must be entirely disregarded. My claim is that the reference to the document, though not the document itself, is part of Jake's testimony. So Jake's claim that a document exonerated him, as testimony, would not give us a strong reason to search for the document. But if the document were provided and it did, in fact, exonerate Jake, then its testimony wouldn't be undermined by facts about him.

The point is that a trait ascribed to Jake legitimately undermines the status of his testimony. Knowing that Jake is a liar, we may legitimately disregard the whole of his testimony. We are not obligated to go through it in an attempt to discover precisely where it diverges from the truth.

I want to note that the liar example is not uncontroversial. The typical examples of legitimate ad hominem reasoning involve a logical structure that doesn't directly concern the evidential standing of testimony. For example, consider Woodhouse's discussion of legitimate uses of ad hominem reasoning:
Whether a nominee for the president's cabinet is an alcoholic, for example, may be a very important issue insofar as it pertains to job performance. And if someone states that she is morally opposed to gambling, it would support a charge of hypocrisy to note that she had a financial interest in a casino. What would be fallacious would be to assert that an alcoholic's views concerning beverage taxes must be false, or that a gambler's arguments concerning the legalization of parimutuel betting must be unsound because of their personal histories.

Woodhouse's cases of legitimate ad hominem reasoning are cases where traits of the agent are relevant to the truth of the claim they are making. What I have been arguing, however, is that sometimes traits of the agent are relevant to the status of their testimony. As such, it might seem that I am committed to the following textbook example of the fallacy:
"What she says about Johannes Kepler's astronomy of the 1600's must be just so much garbage. Do you realize she's only fourteen years old?" This attack may undermine the arguer's credibility as a scientific authority, but it does not undermine her reasoning. That reasoning should stand or fall on the scientific evidence, not on the arguer's age or anything else about her personally. [source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

On my understanding this is an example of the fallacy because the age of the agent is not relevant to the status of her testimony. My claim is that there can be features of the agent which are relevant in this way because they undermine the status of the testimony as reasoning. Denial of this claim would constitute a rejection of my liar example. But such a denial would also mean that every instance of the logical form given in three is an instance of the fallacy. If that were so, then the failure of the example would teach us an important lesson -- it would teach us that the fallacy is formal rather than informal. This strikes me as an extremely unlikely result. However, if it were accepted the speculative argument I give later would remain unaffected.

Consider this argument: (1') the author of the PEAK Oil page is a nutjob conspiracy theorist; (2') the testimony of nutjob conspiracy theorists does not constitute evidence for any claim; (3') the only evidence for the PEAK Oil catastrophe claim is the testimony of the nutjob conspiracy theorist; hence, (4') we ought not to accept the PEAK Oil catastrophe claim.

I claim that this argument does not commit the ad hominem fallacy. Those who have, on .jasonblog., disagreed with this assessment have granted 1' and would, I think, grant 3' as well. The accusation of fallacy rests on the claim that their testimony cannot be judged based on the trait ascribed in 1'. This is what 2' denies. And I have argued that the evaluation of premises like 2' is an empirical matter. If 2' is false then the argument is fallacious.

In this section I want to float a speculative argument in support of ad hominem reasoning. The argument relies crucially on a distinction between reasoning and reasoners. That is, we can distinguish between the criticism appropriate of fallacious reasoning and the criticism appropriate to the epistemic agents who engage in it. I make the general claim that reasoners are not always properly criticized even when their reasoning is fallacious. In particular, I claim that there are many instances where exemplary epistemic agents engage in fallacious ad hominem reasoning.

The first move in the argument is to notice that epistemic agents are finite. As such, they are limited in the expertise they bring to an inquiry and in the time that they can devote to furthering that expertise. Even if all agents had equal cognitive capacities, they would, owing to their different histories, diverge in their degrees of expertise about particular matters of fact.

Because epistemic agents vary in their expertise about particular matters of fact, they vary in their ability to evaluate one another's testimony. For example, a particle physicist may be a fairly competent evaluator of the testimony of a chemist, but might not be competent to evaluate legal arguments. Similarly, a lawyer might do a good job with legal arguments while being unable to parse articles published in Nature.

Because epistemic agents have finite time, they can't always develop the expertise necessary to evaluate particular arguments. Moreover, even if they have the requisite expertise, or could easily acquire it, they must consider whether investigating the argument is a worthwhile investment of their time.

What emerges from these considerations is the necessity for standards which agents can use when deciding whether the testimony of others is worth attending to. This is a need which is based in fundamental facts about human reasoners, facts which have been true throughout human history and, thus, throughout the period during which our canons of reasoning were formed.

The application of such standards will sometimes involve commission of the ad hominem fallacy. The practice is nevertheless, I claim, embedded in our accepted norms of reason, and necessarily so. Hence, agents who engage in ad hominem reasoning sometimes exemplify our best epistemic practice.


How cool is Andromeda?

Well, in this week's episode they're in an alternate universe where the first name of Harper, the ship's engineer, is 'Zelazny' instead of 'Seamus.' It's not clear what historical difference accounted for the change. Also, Rebecca Valentine is a redhead.

Not that non-fans have any business watching now that Keith Hamilton Cobb isn't bringing his Tyr Anasazi badness on a regular basis.

Saturday, February 14, 2004


Grocery strike news rundown

The LA Times reports that negotiations will continue through the weekend. Since meetings have been sporadic for the last several months, four consecutive days of talks represents a dramatic shift in the pattern. Add the fact that it's a holiday weekend, and it looks like this may be about over.

There are other signs that the chains want to get the current strike settled before labor disputes erupt elsewhere.

Contracts for 5000 workers at Kroger owned Food-4-Less stores in Southern California were set to expire at the end of February. Kroger agreed yesterday to extend the contract through April. [story]

Safeway has employees working under expired contracts in Arizona and Chicago. In addition, contracts will soon expire in San Franciso, Sacramento, Seatle, and Baltimore. The dispute in Baltimore is already heating up. At a protest yesterday the head of the local AFL-CIO was arrested when he attempted to make a purchase using only pennies. [story]

An article in The Street had this illuminating bit:
"In the next month, it's critical for Safeway to end this [strike] ," said Lou Mellet, a grocery analyst with retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group. "It could really mess up the company for the foreseeable future if they don't get it resolved now."

On a conference call with investors and analysts Thursday, Safeway CEO Steven Burd sought to downplay such concerns. Labor issues differ from market to market, Burd said. Just because Safeway workers are on strike in Southern California, doesn't mean that workers in other areas will follow suit, he argued. "I don't think the dots connect in exactly that way."


Zwichenzug culture watch

Five tracks I've been listening to this week:

Whiskey Store Blues / Memphis Slim / The Bluebird Recordings 1940-1941
Hoodoo Voodoo / Billy Bragg & Wilco / Mermaid Avenue
Personal Jesus / Johnny Cash / American IV - The Man Comes Around
Combine / Split Lip Rayfield / In the Mud
Fortunate Son / Creedence Clearwater Revival / Willy & the Poor Boys

What have you been listening to?

Friday, February 13, 2004


Get out your calculator

Yesterday Safeway reported a $696 million loss for the fourth quarter of 2004. This includes $103 million attributed directly to the strike in California. Naturally, their stock went up. [source]

I don't know how many of the striking workers are employed at the stores owned by Safeway. But let's suppose, falsely, that all 70,000 are employed there. Next suppose that all of those workers are full-time. Then, they put in 2.8 million work-hours per week and 145.6 million work hours per year.

Safeway's $103 million dollar loss is for the quarter running from October 4 through January 3. That means that during that period Safeway lost about $2 million per day. If losses continued at that rate, then Safeway has lost another $80 million since January 4. Company execs don't give specifics, but they claim that strike-related losses are trending lower. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say that Safeway's total loss through February 13 is a mere $143 million. And we'll assume that losses continue to accrue at the rate of $1 million per day.

REALLY SIMPLE MATH tells us that, under these assumptions, Safeway's loss amounts to nearly $1 per work-hour over the course of a full year. That is, four months of labor unrest have cost Safeway about as much as it would have cost to pay for a full year of $1 per hour raises for every striking worker. Add a nickel to that for every two weeks the strike goes on from here.

Safeway, of course, doesn't employ all of the striking workers. If they employ three quarters then the loss per work-hour jumps to $1.32, and goes up by a dime for every three additional weeks. If they employ half then the loss is $1.96 per work-hour, with another nickel added every week.


Discussion question: Was it worth it? Your answer should take account of such factors as brand damage, workplace civility, and the workers' expressed willingness to renew the expired contract despite the fact that it did not provide for significant increases in compensation. Only those who answer in the affirmative will be considered for admission to the M.B.A. program.


Update (Thursday, February 26): It looks like the strike is going to end within the next few days. I wanted to take this opportunity to post some final numbers. As noted elsewhere, the UFCW changed it's estimate of the number of strikers, revising the number downward to 59,000. Using that number and the previous assumptions (including the assumption that Safeway employs all 59,000 strikers) carried out through today, the cost of the strike is about $1.27 per work hour over the course of a year. If Safeway employs three quarters of the strikers, then the cost rises to nearly $1.70 per hour. And if Safeway employs half of the strikers then the cost is $2.54 per work hour.

Thursday, February 12, 2004


No real purpose to this post

Except that I wanted to archive something RNC Chair Ed Gillespie said today about the GOP's 2004 campaign strategy. Here it is:

It's only February and they have made it clear they intend to run the dirtiest campaign in modern presidential politics. This is because they don't want a debate on the issues, and they don't want to run on Sen. Kerry's record. I guess I can't blame them for that.

We as a party can not sink to their level. We must stick to the truth in this race. [source]

Ok. The Republicans are going to run on the issues and the Democrats are going to resort to demagoguery and dirty tricks. At least somebody's taking the high road.


As long as we understand that all of this is just for my own personal archives, I'll go ahead and add this paragraph from Paul Krugman's op-ed in today's NY Times:

By my count, this year's budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River. [link]

I want to emphasize that the inclusion of the Krugman quote in this post in no way indicates belief on my part that Bush doesn't intend to run on the issues. Nor do I believe that he would stoop to demagoguery.


Fair and Balanced grocery strike coverage

The North County Times ran this analysis piece by Edmond Jacoby over a month ago. I missed it at the time, but the good folks at LabourStart listed it in their always excellent labor news digest today.

Jacoby agrees with conventional wisdom insofar as it says that the root cause of the California grocery strike was a desire on the part of the three chains to lower overhead in order to be competitive with Wal-Mart. But he doesn't locate the source of the competitive imbalance in the higher wages and benefits paid to the unionized grocery workers. Instead, according to Jacoby, the California grocers aren't able to compete because their practice of demanding slotting fees from suppliers drives up the wholesale prices they pay for goods.

The key passages from Jacoby's article:
Slotting fees are payments demanded by large supermarket chains to guarantee space on store shelves. Big manufacturers pay surprisingly high fees to guarantee prime space, eye-level and so-called end-cap display, to ensure that their products will be the most visible and most available to consumers.
In fact, the FTC concluded, slotting fees represent as much as $9 billion annually for the supermarket industry as a whole. Only the big chains have the clout to successfully demand such fees, but the three chains involved in the strike are three of the nation's four largest ---- they control about half the retail grocery business in America ---- and they are likely to account for more than half the slotting fees manufacturers pay out every year: $4.5 billion-plus.
The trouble is, that $9 billion or more comes from somewhere. Consumers pay it as part of the price of the products they buy, because the manufacturers just add it in to the price they charge the grocers. Why go to all that trouble? Because the grocers get the fees upfront, and pay it back in elevated wholesale prices over time ---- it's an interest free loan, and in the end it's the consumer who makes the payments.
And Wal-Mart, which has become the nation's largest grocer and is poised to launch grocery superstores in California this year, rejects the fees, telling its suppliers that they earn shelf space with rock-bottom wholesale prices.
The principal cost-of-doing-business difference between the two large-scale retail models ---- Wal-Mart and traditional supermarkets ---- is that one accepts slotting fees and higher wholesale prices while the other does not.

The traditional retail model skews its wholesale purchasing decisions because those purchases are driven by the slotting fees, not by consumer demand for the products. The Wal-Mart retail model allows consumer demand to drive wholesale purchasing.
If the three chains are unwilling to wean themselves from slotting fees when confronted by an intruding competitor with a comparative advantage ---- lower wholesale costs ---- that applies to the most aggressively advertised market-leading products on their shelves, then they must find another formula for deriving a profit from the operation of their stores.

The formula they appear to have chosen is to reduce employee costs ---- not just by shifting some of the cost of health insurance to the current employees, but by replacing them over time with employees who earn much less and who receive far more meager benefits.
If Jacoby is right, then Wal-Mart isn't the bad guy here. Instead, what's going on is that the grocers have an inefficient business model and, rather than addressing the real problem -- that is, rather than fixing the bad decisions made by executives -- they're trying to shift the burden onto the backs of the workers.


Defending Tail Gunner Z

A little while ago a commenter called my blog, 'so pink!' At first I thought this might be something the cool kids were saying nowadays, and that it meant that I was, in my own way, cool. Then I realized that the commenter was calling me a communist. Shocking!

I wouldn't call myself a communist. Unless, of course, I was trying to start an argument at a certain kind of dinner party.

One reason I wouldn't call myself a communist is that I don't believe in the inevitability of revolution, and couldn't support a violent revolution even if I did. Too many professed communists, especially communists with a share of political power, have had a cavalier attitude towards human suffering. They have so dirtied the label that anything noble it might once have stood for is now blocked from view.

Another reason I wouldn't call myself a communist is that I wouldn't want to commit myself to communist economic theory. Marx was very smart and added a lot to the study of economics, but in the century and a half since he did his best work the discipline has moved past him. It's unfortunate that contemporary mainstream economists don't read Marx – he has things to teach them about the way disparities in bargaining power distort markets. But it's also unfortunate when latter day communists don't familiarize themselves with modern economic theory.

Labels are deceptively powerful. The vice principal at my junior high school wanted to be a figure of respect, a man feared by the students and spoken of in hoarse whispers. But his name was Dr. Grippenstroh. That name can only induce giggling among adolescents.

For awhile a desire not to be pigeonholed led me to call myself an anti-ismist and to deny all doctrines other than anti-ismism. I contemplated writing a manifesto. Even after I became disillusioned with anti-ismismist dogma I considered becoming an anti-ismismologist so that I could study the main figures of the movement. Unfortunately, no one had gotten around to writing a manifesto, so that project fell through.

Not all definitions are bad. My uncle happily calls himself an accountant and doing so helps him attract clients. Carnap thought that agreement on definitions was a necessary condition for rational disagreement about anything else.

If I had to give a label to the core of my political beliefs, I'd call myself a radical democrat. With Rawls, I think that the most fundamental democratic commitment is to the idea that all persons have a right to equal participation in the operation of political institutions, and that this right is grounded in the fact that all persons are capable of forming and acting upon their own conception of the good. I don't know how to argue for this commitment, but I don't think it's very controversial either – it seems to me to underlie the professed ideologies of both major political parties in the United States.

What makes me a radical is my understanding of political institutions. As a matter of definition, an institution is political just in case it is a mechanism for the legitimate exercise of coercive force. Using this definition, a libertarian would say that governments are the only political institutions. As a radical democrat, I hold that political institutions are much more pervasive. In particular, I think that the exercise of economic power is an exercise of coercive force and that, therefore, institutions which exercise economic power are political institutions. It follows that all persons have a right to equal participation in the operation of economic institutions, which is to say that the workplace ought to be democratized.

As with the fundamental democratic commitment, this isn't something I have an argument for. In fact, I suspect that it's not the sort of thing that can be settled by argument. Instead, it's a matter of perception; you either see it or you don't. The thing to do in such a case is to try to train the perceptions of others by pointing out the things you think they ought to see.

Sometimes they won't see it. They'll just see you, pointing, and think, "Damn commie!"

Them's the breaks.


Hey you scandal monkeys!

Have you read Calpundit today? His interview with Dan Burkett is, well, compelling.

The coverup:
Instead I looked down into the trashcan. Underneath most of the trash — the trash level was within two inches of the top — I saw that the trash on the bottom was basically packing cartons, I do remember that there were a couple of elastic type straps and that sort of thing, and on top there was a little bit of paper. And on top of that pile of paper, approximately five-eighths of an inch thick, and Jim wanted me to estimate the number of pages and I said probably between 20 and 40 pages of documents that were clearly originals and photocopies. And it wasn't any big deal, I looked at it, it was a glance situation, and it made no sense to me at all except at the top of that top page was Bush, George W., 1LT.

And I look back at it now and I know I was troubled that those documents were in the trashcan. I did ruffle through the top six to eight pages.

And what were they?

Those documents were performance, what I term performance documents, which would include retirement points, [unintelligible] type documents, which would be a record of drill performance or nonperformance, and there was at least one pay document copy within the top six to eight pages of that stack that was in the trash….

And, the coverup of the coverup:
In the process of trying to gain access to medical care, Mr. Conn, who is probably as good a personnel expert as there was at the time, even though he was not assigned in personnel. I relied on his expertise, he'd been in the field for so many years and he'd been on active duty for so many years, and I asked for his advice and counsel.

They downloaded his hard drive off his computer and....found an email that he had sent to me. They brought him in to the Chief of Staff's office where the senior JAG officer was, who read George Conn his rights. They offered him an attorney and began a court martial proceeding against him and showed him the email that he had sent to me. The only thing he was told as far as the reason for the court martial was that he had made derogatory remarks about the governor. What George had actually done in that email was tell me that this might require political leverage to include, and one of the issues was the governor's own military files.

So this email said exactly what?

This email indicated to me that, well, first it indicated that they had no legal or regulation right to keep me from medical care, that they were obviously blocking that and in order to just get access to medical care I might have to play the card at the governor's office. This is paraphrased, play the card at the governor's office, which might require some political leverage. And included within that information was including the governor's own military files.

Burkett says Conn was fired from the Guard the same day, presumably for advising him to threaten the governor's office with information about the missing files.

I don't know whether this guy Burkett is credible or not. USA Today seems to think so. At any rate, it looks like this scandal has teeth.