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

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$zwichenzug$ 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

Thursday, October 27, 2005



A person affected by a hurricane, usually adversely.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Ethics training liveblogging

Yes, it's that time of year again, time for my state mandated online ethics training. Last year, as some readers know, I figured out how to generate certificates of completion for Genghis Khan and Osama Bin Laden. We'll see if they've fixed the loophole.

The first part of my ethics training comprises three lessons. It turns out that it's possible to rapidly click through each page of the first lesson without reading it, so I did. Tried the same with the second lesson, but on page 11 there's a question that must be answered. I'm going to say "No." Apparently, that was incorrect. The good news, however, is that having answered the question I'm able to move on and, get this, I still haven't read anything. Woo hoo! Page 15, another chance to answer a question. I picked the third answer of the three given. Apparently, that was incorrect as well. Moving on to lesson three. Page 9, answered A. It was wrong, but so what?

So that was the education portion of the state mandated online ethics training. I feel like I got a lot out of it. Now, on to the quiz.

Last year, by the way, the quiz portion wouldn't let you answer a question incorrectly. I'm hoping that this year I'll be able to flunk.

Crap! I accidently skipped a lesson. What I thought was lesson one was really just the introduction. Damn it! This is what happens when you try to complete your online ethics training without actually reading any of the information presented. The good news is that I finally got one of the questions right. The answer was "No."

Another question right! "No" again.

Ok, here comes the quiz. My answers:
  1. A
  2. B
  3. A
  4. D
  5. C
  6. A
  7. D
  8. D
  9. A
  10. D

A bad cad, dad. Get it? That's what an unethical person is. Sure hope I did well...

Crap. I only got 6, 7, and 10 right. I'll have to retake it. This time I'll try: B C B A D A D A B D

Crap! Those clever nellies shuffled up the questions. Looks like I'll have to do some reading after all. Here we go.

Question 1
Mira is processing payroll for her department when her supervisor suggests that she assign his time (and thus salary costs) to a federal grant program that is unrelated to the work functions he performs. Mira knows that falsely reporting her supervisor's time is improper and against university time-reporting policy.

Which of the following actions would be appropriate for Mira to take?

A. Tell her coworkers that she thinks her supervisor is doing something wrong.

B. Go along with his suggestion, because he is responsible for approving her payroll report.

C. Do as her supervisor suggests, since he's the boss.

D. Report her supervisor to the appropriate authorities.

Hmmmm. This is tough. Clearly, 'D' is wrong. If Mira were to report her supervisor he wouldn't have an opportunity to break the rules and she'd have no hope of soliciting a bribe. 'A' is also a bad idea, since spreading this sort of thing around could lead to the supervisor getting caught before Mira has a chance to get paid. That leaves 'B' and 'C'. I'm pretty sure that the answer must be 'B', because it's the supervisor's responsibility for the report which makes him a proper target for bribery. Very subtle.

Question 2
You have reason to suspect that a state or university employee, or someone conducting business with the state or university, is violating the law or behaving unethically at work. What is your responsibility as a state university employee?

A. Consider whether embarrassment to you or the university would result if you reported the situation and, if so, remain quiet.

B. Avoid asking questions if doing so might interfere with accomplishing your daily responsibilities.

C. Report your concerns only if you believe that what's going on could affect your personal reputation.

D. Report your concerns to your supervisor, the university Ethics Officer, or the Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor.

Easy. 'D'. There's no point in bribing a peon. By reporting her, you let the higher ups know that there are consequences for refusing to pay up.

Question 3
All but one of the following people are violating state rules by including false information on a university document. Who is acting properly?

A. Mike, an hourly paid employee who includes on his time sheet two hours of overtime he worked that was approved in advance by his supervisor so that he could meet a project's completion deadline.

B. Becky, who enters in the "Salary History" section of a university job application a salary that's $5,000 higher than she was actually making at her last job.

C. Derek, who in his department's section of the university annual report makes it appear that his department accomplished more work than it actually did.

D. Danielle, who puts on her time sheet that she worked 40 hours this week, even though she took a half-day off, without approval.

Clearly 'A'. Mike was smart enough to fuck around during regular work hours so that he'd get time and a half once the project deadline loomed. Way to go, Mike!

Question 4
Ann, a university medical center employee, receives a call from a physician's office requesting routine medical records for a patient treated in her office. The caller requests that the records be faxed to her immediately since she is leaving on vacation tomorrow. Ann knows there is a law that requires the patient to authorize the release of such records and she has no such authorization from this patient.

Which of the following would be proper for Ann to do?

A. Fax the records to the caller, since she needs them immediately.

B. Request that the caller fax a written request.

C. Obtain the patient's authorization to release the records before sending them to the caller.

D. Offer to read the information needed by the caller over the phone, since it's not appropriate to send the patient's records without authorization.

This one is tricky. You might think that 'B' is best, because it seems to give Ann a chance to ask for a kickback from the physician. One problem here is that Ann doesn't really know how much the records are worth to the physician. This, combined with the fact that she doesn't have any dirt on the physician, means that in choosing 'B' Ann would run a real risk of getting in trouble. A better choice is option 'C'. While it's true that Ann won't benefit at all if the patient gives permission, she'll be giving herself a chance to make a serious profit if the patient refuses, since Ann would then know that he has something to hide and could use that knowledge to extort money or favors.

Question 5
James is a full-time university professor. Besides teaching several graduate classes, he consults on two major research projects for a public corporation. James obtained prior written approval of his research projects as required by university policy and state law. Lately his workload has caused him to cut back on office hours normally devoted to students. For now, James also delegates teaching duties for a weekly class to a graduate assistant. Which of the following is true of James's actions?

A. The university approved his consulting contract, so missing some of his teaching commitments is okay.

B. Reducing his teaching schedule is only temporary and therefore doesn't represent an ethical problem.

C. His actions are justified, since he is contractually obligated to his outside employer.

D. His research activities have interfered with his commitment as a state employee and he needs to resolve the situation.

Clearly, the answer is 'D'. James is a big-time researcher and deserves to be compensated accordingly. He should go to the Dean and demand that his teaching duties be eliminated and his salary trebled. After all, the university's only other option is to lose the research dollars he brings in. In short, he's got the bastards over a barrel.

Question 6
Martin is an assistant in one of the university's administrative offices. He has been directed by his supervisor to destroy certain official records in preparation for moving into new office space and to free up some filing space. Martin knows that maintaining these records is a requirement of state law under the State Records Act (5 ILCS 160/1).

Is it wise for Martin to destroy the records?

A. Yes, because his boss told him to do so.

B. Yes, because even though he is aware of the State Records Act, getting rid of old records will save the university the cost of additional file cabinets and more office space.

C. Yes, because Martin is pretty sure the records are no longer needed.

D. No, because he knows that destroying the records without proper approval under the law is unethical and improper.

This one is also quite simple. Martin should not destroy the records. Instead, he should remove them from the office to some private location. This will increase his options because, depending on the content of the records, he will either be able to extort funds from his supervisor or those mentioned in the records.

Question 7
Candace witnesses someone in her department accepting a bribe. She knows she needs to report the incident quickly. As a state university employee, she's protected a few different ways when she files her report.

Which of the following best describes Candace's potential protections under the law?

A. She can request that her identity be kept confidential to the fullest possible extent.

B. The law offers her potential protection if someone tries to fire her in retaliation for making the report.

C. The law offers her potential protection if someone tries to reprimand, suspend, or demote her, or deny her a promotion, for making her report.

D. All of the above.

Well, 'D', though it seems to me that this question is based on a false premise.

Question 8
Professor Smith is a full-time faculty member who also conducts research that is often funded by private corporations. He has recently been contacted about conducting a short-term research project for a large corporation that employs his wife.

Which one of the following actions is appropriate for Professor Smith to take?

A. Review the university's policies regarding research and conflicts of interest.

B. Disclose the potential conflict of interest related to his wife's employer to his supervisor, department head, or the university's Ethics Officer.

C. Avoid committing to the research project until it has been determined in conjunction with the university's administration that a conflict of interest does not exist.

D. All of the above.

Clearly, the answer is 'D'. It is very important to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. I mean, think about it. If somebody has dirt on you, how on earth could you successfully bribe them?

Question 9
Jason receives a couple of tickets to a professional basketball game from one of the contractors he's been working with on behalf of his university. He suspects that he should not accept the tickets. However, he recalls that the contractor is doing some work at the arena where the game is being held, and he thinks this would be a good opportunity to see some of the contractor's work before deciding whether to use this contractor for the next phase of his university project.

What's the best action for Jason to take?

A. Take his wife to the game because she's a big basketball fan.

B. Take his wife to the game because it's a good opportunity to check out the contractor's work.

C. Thank the contractor for the gift, but return the tickets and explain that the state Gift Ban prohibits him from accepting them.

D. Give the tickets to his neighbor.

The answer is 'C'. In the first place, this best satisfies the no-dirt-on-me principle mentioned above. But, more importantly, this communicates to the contractor that he's going to need to sweeten the pot.

Question 10
Duane, a student-employee, is contacted by an investigator from the Office of Executive Inspector General, who requests his participation in a confidential interview. During the interview, Duane is questioned about coworkers who were asked by their supervisor to spend part of the workday collecting signatures from fellow students for a political campaign petition.

After Duane hangs up with the investigator, whom can he discuss the investigation with?

A, His coworkers who were asked to collect petition signatures.

B. His supervisor's boss.

C. His roommate, since he doesn't work for the university.

D. No one, except individuals specifically authorized in advance by the OEIG investigator.

This is really an unfortunate turn of events. If Duane had known about the interview in advance, he could have contacted his supervisor and arranged to be paid for a favorable cover story. As things stand, Duane's best course of action is to keep his nose clean and hope that the next supervisor will be savvy enough to pay him a retainer before investigations ensue.

Now the results...I passed. Somehow, though, I missed the first question. Seems to me that the designers of this little quiz could use a few lessons themselves.

Friday, October 21, 2005



[from Greek 'bathos', depth]

The sudden appearance of the commonplace in otherwise elevated matter or style.
2. Exceptional commonplaceness.
3. Insincere or overdone pathos.



[from 'bathos', insincere or overdone pathos, from Greek 'bathos', depth]

Effusively or insincerely emotional.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Travel notes

  • Lesson # 1: It takes more than two days for your butt to recover from sixteen hours of sitting in a bucket seat. About an hour into my drive back from Austin my ass hurt so badly that I was afraid it was going to fall off. Luckily, it numbed up by the time I got to Dallas.
  • If I ever decide to transport drugs or other contraband across state lines and get stopped by a cop near the state line for (allegedly) failing to promptly signal a lane change and the cop has me come back and sit in his cruiser for a few minutes so that he can take my measure, I'm totally going to tell a story about how I was at my college roommate's wedding and it's about time they got married since they've been living together for so long and boy howdy did he marry up and yeah I was a member of the wedding party and yes the bride did have some cute friends but no I wasn't the guy who was going to jet into town looking to score. They eat that shit up.
  • My hotel room in Austin had several stickers on the ceiling. They were round, about the size of a coaster, and each had a picture of a coat hanger with a red line through it. I thought it was very Austin that you could gaze up at pro-choice propaganda while lying flat on your back on the bed, but when I climbed up on a chair to look at the stickers more closely I discovered that they were actually there to warn guests not to hang their clothes from the sprinkler heads.
  • Cool kids I hung out with in Austin: Aaron, Alex, Cole, Emily, Evan, Laren, Monk, and Rachel.
  • Monk, by the way, is quite good at chess. Most kids his age move more or less at random, but Monk understands the need to follow a plan. His play is a little bit loose, but that will fix itself with experience. I was impressed that he already knew some basic strategic concepts, and hope that he took to heart my comments about the importance of controlling the center of the board.
  • Lesson #2: Do not enter Oklahoma on I-44 between the hours of 10pm and 6am unless you already have all of the gas and coffee that you're going to need.
  • On the Oklahoma side of the Texas-Oklahoma border there's a huge casino and a shop selling tax-free cigarettes. On the Texas side there's an adult bookstore, a liquor store, and cowboy boot factory outlet.
  • You would think that if you happened to be driving through Missouri during an Astros-Cards playoff game then you would have no trouble finding the game on the radio. You'd be wrong.
  • My ontology includes perfect days. A perfect day isn't necessarily a day when nothing goes wrong, but it is a day in which everything taken together goes right. Sunday was, for me, a perfect day. Here's an example of something that went wrong in the right sort of way. An old friend of mine who I care about deeply but hadn't seen in a long time (for reasons that I don't really want to get into but which involve a woman making what was clearly the right decision) suffers from a chronic medical condition and was having an episode during the reception. I know it sucked, and I felt for him, but at the same time I hadn't seen him since before the condition took hold and it meant a lot to me to share, just a little bit, that part of his life. I'm sure that sounds self absorbed, but there it is.
  • Vegan pumpkin pancakes taste good.
  • Round Rock is a whore.
  • That last one probably hurt my feminist cred, so let me just say that the Umlauf Sculpture Garden freaked me out with its full on heteronormative mojo.
  • Speaking of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, I was struck by this sculpture, "Icarus", though not because of its artistic merit. No, what I noticed was that Icarus' wings formed the letter 'W' as he plummetted earthward. Somebody could make a pretty good anti-Bush t-shirt out of that.
  • Lesson #3: Some radioactive waste smells worse than one of those farts where you would swear that something crawled up into you and died.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005



Ok, this is really just a response to a post of Patrick's, but his dang comments don't appear to allow HTML so I'm posting it here. Maybe he'll read it. At any rate, because this is a blogfight, I hereby command my minions to troll his blog and call him nasty names. I suggest "doo doo head." Or, possibly,"short stuff." I do ask, however, that you stick to schoolyard taunts. We'll leave the big time adult insults to Leiter.
Patrick wrote:

It is also clear that this criticism of me is off base. I am arguing that the Americans would be justified in attacking Iraq if Saddam was producing-or about to produce- nuclear weapons that he would give to AQ even if no nuclear attack by Saddam or AQ was imminent (much like the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear weapons plant before the Persian Gulf War), provided that we knew all that to be true and there were no means short of invasion to prevent it. That clearly isn’t preemption.

Except that Patrick initially claimed to be defending those Congressional Democrats who Leiter had accused of "supporting the war on strategic grounds." That means that he was defending those who accepted (as I believe Kerry did at one point during the campaign) Condoleeza Rice's grave and gathering threat argument. That's an argument that's clearly focused on prevention rather than preemption. By replacing it with his speculative argument, Patrick switched the goal posts.

Much of the rest of Patrick's post focuses on the vagueness of the distinction between prevention and preemption, and especially on the empirical difficulty of determining whether a particular case fits in one category rather than another. This line of criticism, it seems to me, ignores the tradition in which the distinction arose, a tradition which is strongly committed to casuistic methods. Now, notoriously, casuistical investigations and justifications can be manipulated by unprincipled thinkers, and that's a difficulty that casuists must engage.[1] But it is no criticism at all of a casuistic principle to say that its application is unclear until we have made an in depth study of the facts of the case. What the principle is supposed to do is clarify the moral issues at stake so that we know, when we look at the many facts of the case, which are salient for the purposes of moral evaluation.

As for Patrick's parting shot, I opposed the war for many reasons, not the least of which was that none of the arguments that anyone presented for it were any damn good.

1 In fact, I think just this kind of abuse was taking place in the run up to war when various hawks exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The method of dispositional conceptual analysis

One of the core methodological commitments of The Moral Problem is to the efficacy of a style of analysis that might be called dispositional conceptual analysis. In this post my goal will be to make a start at clarifying what is involved in such an analysis. The question of the philosophical potency of the methodology will be left for another time.

On Smith's view, which seems to me to be fairly standard, the project of providing an analysis of a concept C is the project of articulating a concept C* such that (a) for any x falling under C, x also falls under C*, and vice versa; (b) C* is unobvious; and C* 'will tell us something new and interesting about C.'[1]

A dispositional conceptual analysis accomplishes this task by gathering together the various platitudes associated with the term which designates the concept in question. What Smith means to appeal to with the invocation of platitudes are the various simple declarative sentences which a competent user of the term would be expected to assent to. For example, one of the platitudes which Smith asserts to be associated with the term 'right' is the sentence, "When A says 'x is right' and B says 'x is not right' then A and B disagree with each other" (33). A platitude said to be associated with the phenomenology of color experience is that, "Everything we see looks coloured."

The notion that this collection of platitudes amounts to an analysis of a concept is based on a further contention about the role these platitudes play in our inferential practice. In discussion of a set of platitudes offered as a partial dispositional analysis of color terms, Smith writes that, "we come to master colour vocabulary by coming to treat remarks like these as platitudinous" (30). Treating the terms as platitudinous, in turn, seems to amount to accepting the various inferences and judgments implicit in the remarks as being valid a priori. So a proffered dispositional analysis of a term amounts to an analysis in that it is able to "capture the inferential and judgmental dispositions vis-à-vis the [term] of those who have mastery of the term" (30).[2]

Smith provides the following summary gloss to his initial discussion of dispositional conceptual analysis:
…the dispositional analysis is perhaps best seen as an attempt to encapsulate or to summarize, or to systematize, as well as can be done, the various remarks we come to treat as platitudinous in coming to master [a] term…In this admittedly vague sense, it can therefore lay some claim to giving us knowledge of all the platitudes. And, accordingly, it can therefore lay some claim to constitute an analysis. (31-2)

This may be enough to show that a dispositional analysis meets condition a above, but it remains unclear how such an analysis could meet the other conditions. Smith addreses this issue a few pages later:
Why are analyses unobvious and informative? Because even though someone who has mastery of some concept C must have certain inferential and judgemental dispositions, it may not be transparent to her what these inferential and judgemental dispositions are, and so, a fortiori, it need not be transparent to her what the best summary or systematization of the platitudes that describe these dispositions is. Whereas mastery of a concept requires knowledge-how, knowledge of an analysis of a mastered concept requires us to have knowledge-that about our knowledge-how. It might therefore take time and thought to see whether or not C* constitutes an analysis of C because it takes time and thought to figure out what the relevant inferential and judgemental dispositions are and what the best systematization of the platitudes describing these dispositions is. (38)

1 This characterization is drawn from the discussion on p. 36-37.

2 It is, of course, possible that the sentences which we take to be platitudes might turn out to be false, or that the set of platitudes taken together might turn out to be inconsistent. Such possibilities don't undermine the project of giving a dispositional conceptual analysis, but rather, Smith argues, merely show that analysis should sometimes encourage us to reform our inferential habits. He goes on to write that, "At the limit, to give up on the platitudes associated with…terms…is to give up on using the…terms altogether. For they themselves have a prima facie a priori status, and gain a priori status simpliciter by surviving as part of the maximal consistent set of platitudes constitutive of mastery of the term" (31).


Smith post the first

I'm currently reading The Moral Problem by Michael Smith (1993), and am going to try to get a couple of posts up about it today and over the next several weeks. I wanted to say first and briefly, though, how the book seems to fit in the contemporary literature. Let me note that these are extremely tentative judgments.

The Moral Problem seems to be the locus classicus for a particular way of understanding the nature of the philosophical problem about moral reasons. In particular, Smith conceives of the moral problem as a philosophical difficulty about the metaphysical properties of reasons in general, and moral reasons in particular. The difficulty arises because our pretheoretical commitments about moral reasons are in tension and it is hard to see what sort of things such reasons could be if they are to satisfy those commitments.[1] Since Smith rejects the prospect of abandoning our pretheoretical commitments, he takes the view that finding a solution to the problem requires that one provide an account of the metaphysical properties of moral reasons which explains how such reasons could fulfill the various offices required of them.

This project is quite different from that pursued by authors like Scanlon, Korsgaard, and Nagel. For those philosophers, the fundamental problem in metaethics has to do with showing how it is that an (in some sense) objective morality can be motivating. Their focus, then, is not on the metaphysical status of particular entities, reasons, which figure in such an account, but rather on the operation of human moral psychology.[2]

1 Our pretheoretical commitments include, in particular, the thoughts that morality is objective and that it is motivating. So Smith's worry is that it is difficult to see what sorts of entities reasons could be such that they are both objective and motivating.

2 Oddly, both of these approaches lay claim to Darwall (1984). My inclination is to say that his thought is more congenial to the second group, but there's no denying that the journal fodder produced by those working from Smith's paradigm relies heavily on Darwall's specification of the internalist view.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Astros liveblogging

It's the bottom of the 17th, Astros at bat, Game 4 of a 5 game series with the Astros leading 2-1. The series, that is. The game has been tied at six since the ninth inning. The Braves are on their sixth pitcher. The Astros have used eight.

Brad Ausmus is first up. He's been playing first base for the last several innings, though he started at catcher. I'm pretty sure he hit the game tying home run in the bottom of the ninth. Struck out this time.

Bruntlett, playing center, is up. 0-2 already. But there's a ball. I'm listening to a radio stream from KTRH in Houston. If you follow the link you'll see that they have a disclaimer saying that they are contractually forbidden from streaming Astros games, but that doesn't seem to have stopped them. Another strike out. Crap.

Biggio is up. I'd like to see a walk off, but there's every chance that game 5 will be televised if it comes to that, so there's at least some reason not to be upset if the Braves win. Pops out. Crap.

That pushes us into the eighteenth inning. Clemens stays on the mound for the Astros. He came in as a pinch hitter (I think) in the bottom of the 15th, so this is his third inning of work. Chipper Jones is leading off for the Braves. Ground out. Andruw Jones is up next. Error by Vizcaino at short, Jones to first. Crap. Franco, who should have been tossed for arguing balls and strikes his last time up, is at bat. This is Franco's fifth time up even though he didn't get into the game until the eighth inning. Franco is 47, Clemens is 43 -- that's gotta be some kind of record. Popped out. Jeff Francoeur, 20, strikes out to end the inning.

Roger Clemens leads off for the Astros in the bottom of the 18th. The play by play guy -- Milo Hamilton -- announces that he's added new lines to his scorecard. The color guy announces that he's given up on keeping score. The Rocket strikes out. Chris Burke is batting, takes two quick balls and then....homerun to left!!

Astros win the game and the series. Cards are next.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Balk rule clarification

PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.

Source: Official Rules of Baseball, 8.05


Working hard on a Saturday morning

"If you'd like to visit some others, just click on the union bug in the top right hand corner of the page."[1]

That's from this post, found following this meme:

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same.

Who shall I tag? Here's a sneaky way to do it: the first five commenters on this post are tagged.

1 - For some reason the union bug stopped working a few weeks ago (there's still a link up there, but no graphic, and it takes you to a holding page). The list of union label weblogs still exists, but it's at a different url. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Friday, October 07, 2005




(Via Exploding Aardvark)

Thursday, October 06, 2005



[from 'reflex', from Middle English 'reflexen', to bend back, from Latin 'reflexus', to have bent back]

Directed back on itself.
2. In grammar: of, relating to, or being a verb having an identical subject and direct object; or derivatively, of, relating to, or being the pronoun used as the direct object of a reflexive verb.
3. Of or relating to a reflex.
4. Without volition or conscious control.
5. Characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior.
6. In logic, a relation R is reflexive if for all x, xRx.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


On our obligations to bureaucrats

A bureaucracy is an organization which pursues rigidly defined ends through rigidly defined means. The bureaucrats who staff such an organization are obligated to treat the rules and procedures of the bureaucracy as if those rules and procedures were a manifestation of the highest possible law – a law which is complete, self-sufficient, and inviolable.

Anyone who has dealt with a bureaucracy knows that the rules and procedures followed by bureaucrats fail to have these qualities. Clients recognize, almost innately, that the rigidity of bureaucratic thinking is inconsistent with the plasticity required for successful navigation of an irreducibly complex world. Indeed, the frustration often expressed toward bureaucrats is a manifestation of this recognition.

The shortcomings of bureaucratic cosmology may not undermine the bureaucrat's own justification for endorsing the supremacy of bureaucratic law. They do mean, however, that the clients of a bureaucracy need not feel morally bound by its rules and procedures. Clients, that is, have not shirked an obligation merely because their actions fail to conform to bureaucratic law.

The particular shape of a client's encounter with bureaucracy may seem to create other obligations. Consider, for example, that clients are often required to make representations to bureaucrats about how things are, and that strictly truthful representations sometimes gum up the works of the bureaucratic mechanism. Thus, making strictly truthful representations to bureaucrats may prevent clients from accomplishing their ends. Importantly, this kind of situation can arise even in cases where the client's ends are such that they would have been approved had the bureaucracy's rules and procedures been appropriately sensitive to the granularity of the world. And yet, even assuming that the client's ends are permissible and that he has no reason to endorse bureaucratic law, there is a prima facie reason to think that he has an obligation to make a strictly truthful representation. Namely, that failure to do so would be an instance of lying to a person.

Kant's moral theory offers an attractive diagnosis of the wrongness of lying, a diagnosis which, when considered at a certain remove from the rest of his theory, seems to capture the core of our ethical concerns in this area. On Kant's view, lying to a person is wrong primarily because it interferes with the person's capacity to make reasoned choices. To lie to a person, on this account, is a way of short circuiting their rational processes so that they may be manipulated to serve your ends. Insofar as we have a duty not to treat people as objects to be manipulated in the service of our own ends, then, we have a duty not to lie.

Now, consider a case in which a false representation is made to a bureaucrat. In our imagined case, the client wishes to accomplish some end, but the end can only be accomplished through the action of the bureaucrat. Moreover, given a true representation the bureaucrat will refuse to act as needed. The purpose of the false representation, then, is to manipulate the bureaucrat into taking the desired action.

On the face of things it seems abundantly clear that making a false representation in such a case would be a violation of our duty not to lie. Take note, however, of the rationale that is available to the client here. That rationale fixes on two points: first, the fact that the rigidity of bureaucratic thinking is at odds with the practical need for plasticity; and, second, that the bureaucrat's fealty to bureaucratic law stands in the way of engaging the bureaucrat in reasoned discussion about her actions. If we look closely at the second of these points we will see, I think, that it is sometimes permissible to lie to bureaucrats.

The claim made by the second point is that the bureaucrat, in virtue of her commitment to bureaucratic law, has removed herself from the domain of reason. Since there is nothing we could possibly say to such a bureaucrat which would move her to reconsider the principle of her action, we have no choice but to view her as a cog in the bureaucratic machine. In this light, any representation we make to her – truthful or not – is best understood as an action taken for the purpose of manipulating that machine.

This is not to say that individuals who become bureaucrats are not persons. Rather, they are persons who have committed themselves to the project of being bureaucrats. To make a misrepresentation to such an individual in her role as bureaucrat is fundamentally different from making a misrepresentation to her as a person. This comes out in the fact that a misrepresentation to her as a bureaucrat leaves all of her commitments as a person untouched. Put another way, making a misrepresentation to her as a bureaucrat doesn't interfere with her capacity to make choices as a person. And the key fact here, I am claiming, is that insofar as she is committed to the project of being a bureaucrat, the individual has muzzled her faculty of choice. She is not, therefore, susceptible to manipulation in any objectionable way.


Dated rap lyric of the week (not a weekly feature)

I don't need a glock cause I'm not a hard rock
Got bitches on my jock, like New Kids On The Block
I can't lose like Parker Lewis, I'm undefeated
Step into my sector, homeboy, you'll get greeted

Feel It
House of Pain

Monday, October 03, 2005


A story about Godel

This is from Brad Plumer. I'd never heard it before.
When Kurt Godel, mathematician extraordinnaire, etc., applied for U.S. citizenship long, long ago, he took the process very seriously and made a close study of the Constitution to prepare. The night before taking his test, he called a friend in panic and mentioned that he had found a loophole in the Constitution that would allow for a dictatorship. Friend laughed and said best to stick with the basics. Anyway, the day of the test, the judge asked Godel where he was from, he said Austria, the judge said something like, "Well, they have [or have had] a dictatorship over there; here in the United States we could never have such a thing." At which point Godel shouted out, "To the contrary! I can prove it's possible!"

Sunday, October 02, 2005


How to have a police presence at your party in four easy steps

  1. Prevail upon a friend to drive to Indiana in order to buy illegal fireworks.
  2. After setting off a number of large devices, aim a rocket so that it will explode 25 feet above the nearest busy street.
  3. Wait until a police car is positioned so as to be directly under the burst.[1]
  4. Light the fuse and back away.
1 This is more difficult than it sounds. Remember, you have to allow for the fact that it takes several seconds for the fuse to burn. I'd say you need about a 150 foot lead, but it really depends on traffic.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Sketch of a project

After the jump is something I wrote about 18 months ago while casting about for a dissertation project. I now think that the concerns expressed in the, uh, piece are too broad to make a workable dissertation, but there are a few interesting ideas there. I'm posting it here mostly for my own use, but feel free to comment. There have been a few (very) slight edits for the purposes of clarity.

February 24, 2004

[I] Kant improved on Hume in that Kant saw that empirical reality couldn't be understood as being completely mind independent, and that, therefore, the self could not be understood as a mere passive receptor but instead took an active role in constituting reality. But Kant also held that this thought could not be seperated from rationalism. Dewey and the pragmatists were a corrective to Kant in that they showed how to harmonize empiricism with the notion of an active self.
  • One of the core problems of latter day Kantian moral theory is that of showing how pure rationality could yield an other-directed morality (that is, the problem of showing how pure rationality could lead one to value other rational agents as such). The leading Kantians of two decades ago ago offered accounts which boiled down to rational consistency, but left it unclear why agents should be committed to consistency. More recent authors (Herman, Korsgaard) have given a fuller account of the way that agents develop conceptions of value over time. These proposals solve the problem of value commitment, but fail to explain why agents are constrained to choose a conception of value that fits Kantian precepts.
  • Pragmatic thought, especially that of Dewey, also has the resources to explain the development of a conception of value over time. Unlike Kantians, pragmatists seem not to be committed to the claim that all ethical rules are linked by a core commitment to autonomy (or, to the-self-as-rational). Since this is so, pragmatists are free to say that different activities each have their own distinctive good.

[II] Pragmatism shares with Kantianism the idea that agents ought to be responsive to other rational agents as such -- this much seems implicit in the ideal of inquiry. It is significant, however, that inquiry could be done independently. Or, to put the point another way, it is significant that it is a contingent fact that the world contains other reasoners. Our obligation to be responsive to such agents is similarly contingent.
  • Pragmatic thought provides a way to build an empirical conception of a reason responsive self. The pragmatic conception of the self is that of an agent who creates knowledge by interacting -- sometimes in a way that could be characterized as experimenting -- with the world. It turns out that some of the most salient features of the world in which we live are other other selves which interact with the world in similar ways. Moreover, these other selves both make demands on the agent and respond, sometimes favorably, to demands made by the agent. We can refer to these facts by saying that we exist in a social world. An important upshot of the fact that we live in a social world is that our interpretation of the world is fundamentally shaped by our perception of reasons. Which is to say that one of our basic projects is that of sorting out legitimate and illegitimate demands.

[III] Rawls identifies as fundamental to democratic thought the idea that the polity is composed of individuals who are capable of developing and acting on their own conception of the good. A second fundamental commitment is that this capacity justifies democratic forms of government. In particular, it justifies a commitment to democratic conceptions of equality.
  • About the only argument Rawls gives for either of these is the fact that both seem to be inseperable from a commitment to democratic forms of government. This line of thought boils down to: if you are committed to democracy, then you ought to be committed to this. But this seems circular, since the point was to justify the commitment to democracy.
  • In Theory (40), Rawls hints at another source for justifying this commitment, namely the Kantian idea of autonomy.
  • But the Kantian justification can't be satisfactory, since Kantianism isn't able to provide a compelling argument for the parallel point about individual reasoners. Pragmatism, on the other hand, does have the resources to provide an empirical account of the self which implies this claim.