May you live in interesting times

The 4/1: Prof. Volokh posts some news which may surprise and disturb you. See also the comments for the personal impact this news had on the Volokh family.


A spark of life

Via Todd Zywicki (who descirbes it as "great), I come upon this Robert Samuelson column on Global Warming and Kyoto. His thesis appears to be that because nations aren't taking the hard steps which would reduce global warming, they should stop talking about it and stop trying to do anything about it. I don't want to talk about that, but rather the completely unsupported claim that, "Even if rich countries actually curbed their emissions, it wouldn't matter much. Poor countries would offset the reductions." Hs point is that since developing economies may have no choice but to increase their CO2 production, countries that do have a choice shouldn't do anything. This is, oh, completely insane.

I want to be clear that is emphatically not suggesting some mechanism via which decreased CO2 production in rich countries will lead to greater increases in poorer countries. Rather, he is just saying that since the level from poorer countries will increase irrelevant of the actions of the larger ones, the larger ones should do nothing. Here's a similar argument: The murder rate is going to up in small town X. Therefore, noone should be concerned about their murder rate. The only way Samuelson can save his argument is if any level of CO2 production above some threshold is equally harmful. But he doesn't suggest this and it is, as far as I know, false.




I viscerally loathe Karl Rove

So today we learn that it's far more acceptable to state that all liberals have the motivation of harming American soldiers than it is to state that the actions of certain American soldiers more closely resemble the actions of certain terrible totalitarian regimes than they do the actions of the America of our ideals. This isn't surprising, but nevertheless, as I suggested below, I need a drink.

I agree with every word of this, and promise to vote in a future presidential primary who says anything like it, though presumably more suited to the person saying its actual situation than the link currently is. Actually, I don't know enough about Chicago politics to know if the mocking of Daley is deserved. But the rest is certainly right on, and Daley did stab Durbin in the back.


He was such a stupid get

Since Justice Thomas started it with his, "Diverse and Always Evolving Needs of Society Clause" line, how would the Constitution have to read so that some of the decisions which sincere limited government types (which has to have a close to a non-existent overlap with members of the modern Republican party) object to would be clearly correct as Constitutional law. For instance, how would one make the position and powers of the regulatory agencies which currently exist obviously constitutional without saying, "All three branches of government, especially Congress, can delegate any or all of their power to anyone for any reason." How does one craft a commerce clause which does limit Congress's power but makes Raich correct? How's the 8th Amendment going to read? I'd provide part of an answer to part of this question, but I've been drinking. Will, I'm so looking at you on this topic.



One of the better reasons to mar, deform, burn, or otherwise desecrate a flag is to protest that some people value symbols so highly, and dissent so low, that they want to amend the constitution to prevent any damage to their (Calling the American flag the symbol of some other group is quite similar to the error I get angry with liberals for liberalism about. It is my symbol as much as it is anyone's, except maybe Betsy Ross.) symbol. I do wonder if a massive outpouring of flag burnings to protest the potential amendment would raise the level of outrage by people who are on the fence about it enough that the amendment would be passed, or if it would lead people to recognize that there is nothing particularly egregious about that kind of dissent.

See also some neat pictures of flag desecration (via Lindsay). And Volokh's slippery slope argument against the amendment. While it has passed the House everyone says this is its best chance to pass the Senate. I would guess this is because Senators are aware that there are people who are passionate on the pro-Amendment side and will vote against them if they oppose it, but aren't as aware of the opposition who will vote against them if they support it. Which is to say, contact your Senator.




Going through the motions

Hiding coins in the sand for your children to find, omitting to tell them that you hid them: Permissible, probably a good idea depending on what your kid(s) are like.

Saying no to your children if they ask you whether or not you hid them: Hurtful to them, unless you have good reason to think they aren't sincerely asking. Doesn't one want to reward their child's inquisitiveness by letting them in on the secret?

Worrying about how your one-year old will remember things: Unecessary. Not to say that because your one year old will forget things that happened to them, there's no obligations to them, only to say that the reason to worry won't be because of how they'll remember it later.

The second answer, that one is obligated to pay for the damages one caused to a car even if someone else later damages the car such that the money one pays won't be used for repairs, is obvious and non-controversial. As Randy says, the repair bill is a measure of how much of a burden one unjustly placed on another, not the mandatory mode of remedy.


Some Rankings

1. Third Man (movie)
2. Thin Man (book)
3. Thin Man (movie)
4. Third Man (book)

This list is not intended to dispute the point that Graham Greene is a superior writer to Dashiell Hammett, but only to note that I don't see this as a particular instantiation of that truth, qua written fiction (proviso provided because Greene also worked on the screenplay for #1). I would cite to, for example, Heart of the Matter versus The Continental Op (or any other Hammet work) as an example of Greene's evident superiority.

Another ranking to demonstrate an obvious point (Nicholas Cage is an excllent actor, with terrible taste in roles), mostly cross-posted from comments:
Movies I think Cage was good in:
Peggy Sue got Married
Raising Arizona
It Could Happen to You (aka Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip) (also, the movie is terrible)
Leaving Las Vegas (a rare moment of agreement between me and the academy)

and Matchstick Men (despite the twitchiness)

I've heard he was quite good in:
Vampire's Kiss
Red Rock West
Wild at Heart
but to my great shame, I have not seen any of those. Even in his other roles, many of which were terrible choices, I find it hard to argue that he was actually bad (probably Gone in 60 Seconds, but I've tried to erase that from my memory). Also, I realize that this list doesn't demonstrate the terrible taste in roles part of my claim.

Disappointment at not getting into classes I requested:
1. Dworkin-Nagel colloquium on Law, Philosophy and Politics
2. Anything else




Tabloid X is evil

So one of the local tabloids decided today to run a story about an eleven year old girl who is very upset about her elementary school yearbook picture. She's so upset that her parents asked the school to destroy all two hundred copies and replace them with one that has a better picture. The tabloid, being concerned with her welfare, decided it would be fun to put the hated picture on the cover. So, their thinking is that she was really upset about 200 people seeing her picture, so let's show it to millions? Now I don't think the picture is all that bad, but clearly she does, and that's what counts.

The reason I'm not saying which paper is to make it slightly harder to google and thereby not to do the same thing I'm faulting the paper for.


The life of Tyler

They're coming to take him away ho ho hee hee ha haaa/ to the funny farm/ where life is beautiful all of the time/ And he'll be happy to see those nice young men/ In their clean white coats.

Renowned economist and blogger extraordinaire Tyler Cowen is spending his weekend in a Mexican mental hospital.


and the moon is made of green cheese

So Austin claims (in lecture XI, I think) that the statement, "France is hexagonal" isn't true or false, but rather it's just "rough." It's a pretty bizarre thing to claim. What he appears to be doing is reading the claim, "France is hexagonal," as "France is roughly hexagonal," and then affirming the truth of that statement.

Normally, I would fell a need to provide argument when I disagree with an eminent philosopher whose work I'm reading, but Austin doesn't provide any reasons that the claim isn't false, and since looking at a map of France doesn't support his point, he's wrong, the statement is false. Either that or France isn't the sort of thing which can be hexagonal or not, since it's quite difficult to explain what a "side of France" is in the relevant fashion. Now that I've written this, I think I'll search for articles explaining why Austin is right.





Some thoughts that occurred to me while watching Piano Masters salute Piano Legends:

The sentence "The bass is too low" is ambiguous between (at least) a sentence referring to decibels and a sentence referring to hertz.

If/when I have children, I want to save the ticket stubs to everything I ever take them to which provides ticket stubs. This is because I wish I had ticket stubs from everything I'd ever been to, and while I could start now, it seems likes it's too late. But if I start for the kids, they'll have a head start and will hopefully get in the habit.

I find the lilting phrase (whether or not it actually lilts isn't strictly relevant) "Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy, a kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?" terrifying. Things that remind me of the phrase are slightly less terrifying. I have a good explanation why, but it would require such a *SPOILER WARNING* that I don't want to go into it. Many of you probably know anyway.

It was a real mistake to grant that oppositeness is linear (in the sense that it can be represented on a number line, not referring to the rate at which it grows), when it's clearly multi-dimensional. Consider some X such that X has many qualities, including extreme loudness. Linearly, we can only vary one quality, for instance, loudness. But if we take Y such that Y is exactly like X except that Y is silent, it is clearly not X's opposite.

Free movie gimmick (and by free I mean I now claim all proprietary rights to it, and possibly creative commons rights): Write a fairly intricate who-dun-it, with multiple murders and other crimes taking place, some of which are "solved" in the course of the plot and some of which remain unresolved. As the marketing campaign for this film, offer a million dollars to the first person to correctly explain who committed each crime, how they did it, and why they did it. Guarantee that all crimes were committed by characters listed in the credits who have speaking parts, and that there are clues leading to the answer in the film. I predict that this would, with a semi-competent marketing campaign, add greater than the million dollars and the cost of the marketing. It would do so through at least two channels: First, it would greatly increase the first weekend gross, since the audience would want to be the first or among the first to see it. Second, it would greatly increase repeat viewings. Of course, there would also be risks of it being the most bootlegged movie of all time. Also, it would be very important to keep the marketing campaign secret from as much of the cast and crew as possible, since otherwise they'd be too tempted towards mischief. This would be the case even with the usual contest rule of, "friends and family of people working for company X are ineligible." In fact, the screenwriter should keep the correct answer in his/ or her hands for as long as possible, though it seems impractical to have one person checking all the responses.

I should go to concerts where I have to be silent for long periods of time more often, I have thoughts I like.

1: Kenny Barron
2: Geri Allen
3: Randy Weston
4: Uri Caine




Raze the House

See Hilzoy and DeLong on the Representative who may have accpeted a $700,000 bribe in exchange for directing defense contracts to the briber, and who as of now does not appear to be under any kind of investigation.

This, combined with Sensenbrenner last Friday and the general existence of Tom DeLay has inspired the title of the post.


Modern Poltical Philosophy

Chris Bertram just put up a thoughtful post on ethical obligations to redistribute income and libertarianism. I like the post for, among other things, focusing on theories of my Contracts professor which I was unaware of. I expect the comment thread to get interesting, though it's been a while since a truly classic Crooked Timber comment thread in my opinion. I'd nominate the twin Steven Landsburg respone ones, though I'm quite open to the idea that there are more recent ones that I'm forgetting.




Either I'm missing something or...

Under what moral theory worth the name can one not take it for granted that going out of your way tomaximizing increase the pain/disutility experienced by another human being is essentially the worst thing you can do? This is basically a premise of any deontological theory, while the utilitarian arguments on torture are ably summarized, but apparently often forgotten, in Belle's post here. Which is to say that almost everyone agrees that there are conceptual circumstances in which torturing leads to a better outcome than not torturing, there's no particular reason to think that those circumstances have ever obtained, and talking about those circumstances casts a veneer of acceptability over the morally depraved acts which have taken place


The Return of the Randy

The length of my Ethicist response posts is, I think, inversely related to the quality of his columns. I am not neurotic enough to have confirmed this.

This week, his first issue is about how much weight should be given to the desires of the recently deceased. This is more of a coordination problem than anything else. As long as people know what the presumption is about how their desires will be enacted after their death, they can organize their fares during life accordingly. But that might be making this case too easy. Let's assume that the presumption is in favor of keeping things confidential which the recently deceased made the effort to make confidential during life, and that some positive step must have been taken, and that this was well known. We still might want to make an exception for people who die quite young and haven't given any thought to this. It's tough, but I think I have to go with Randy and assume that the daughter here was writing with the assumption that no one would ever read what she wrote, and that her assumption should be enforced. If society said it was fine to look at your child's confidential materials when they died, people would censor their journal writing, which seems like a bizarre cost to impose.

On the second, I really think the teacher should accept non-typed materials if they can be read with exactly the ease of typed ones. But that rule would be very hard to enforce, as students may well think mistakenly that their handwriting is easier to read than it is. Beyond that it's a very fact-based inquiry as to how many hours the lab or some other public free facility must be open. Even if there is really good access to computer labs, the student may still be problematically stigmatized as poor. So Randy's wrong, the policy is unethical, but Randy's take is more defensible than some of his previous work.


A flourish too far

I take "ignorant partisanship" to mean support or opposition to some policy or person based not upon factual opposition, but rather upon political affiliation. I take "partisan ignorance" to mean a choice to not become informed about a particular policy or person because of ones own political affiliation. Are there really discrete individuals, as Jim Hoagland claims, some of whom are motivated by one and some of whom are motivated by others? Highly dubious.

Bonus points for noting the redundant phrase above which is almost certainly as problematic as Hoagland's phrasing which I am criticizing.

Update, slightly over one year later: Isn't "discrete individuals" redundant? What would a non-discrete individual be like?




Revealing personal anecdote

On Friday, I was talking to some friends, and we made plans to go to the Belmont Stakes. Knowing nothing about horse racing, but wanting to win some money, I decided to make use of the blogosphere's collective intellectual capital. Aware that he has had a surprising degree of success in the past, I left a comment on the as of that writing top post on Steve Levitt's Freakonomics blog, asking for his thoughts on the race. Unfortunately, I didn't check his site anytime between 5 PM on Friday and sometime on Sunday morning, after having attended and lost money on the race. So I was quite chagrined to see that he had responded and properly picked the exacta on Friday night. My exacta bet had the correct winner but the horse which actually came in tenth (!) picked for second place. I had five dollars on that bet, so I can safely say that my lack of follow-through cost $110. Me am dum.




Mapping the legal onto ethical obligations

This week, tweedledopey did a fine job on my usual (though no longer quite as usual) Randy Cohen gig. Unlike Majikthise last week, he even mentioned me, unless there's someone else who writes regularly on Randy Cohen and spells their pseudonym, "Washer Dryer."

Here are some thoughts on this week's Ethicist, copied from my comments at his site. You really need to read his post first to get the context for this:

1. Well, there's an argument that the rental company is being somewhat generous. There's a really close analogy with damage measurements for a breached contract. In cases governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, expectation damages can be measured by the cost of going out and buying the thing you would have gotten, and then charging the party in breach the difference between what you would have paid them and what you actually paid. However, you can't buy the goods and expect the breaching party to reimburse you for the entire cost of the goods, since this puts you in a better position via breach than you would have been had the contract been executed. The question then is how much the cost of the inconvenience was, since what the letter-writer actually received wasn't what they would have had the deal gone through as planned.

2. I think I agree that reimbursing is ethically permissive but not obligatory here. Once the decision has been made to break off the relationship, the writer's options are limited to all bad cases. No reason to think having her fly there would have been any better. The argument would have to go that the letter writer should have (was obligated to have?) broken up with her sooner so that she never bought the tickets, and now he needs to reimburse her in order to make it up to her. An ethical obligation to break up earlier seems weird, so I don't know what to do here. Also, a worse but very similar version of this happened to a friend of mine. In fact, I'm sure similar things happen to tons of people, so Randy is asking for a whole lot of reimbursing here.

3. Randy has the presumption backwards. You presume the employee is authorized to give you the goods unless you have good reason to suspect otherwise.


Redundancy watch

I'm currently using a search form which requires me to choose either a "U.S. State," which is fine, since otherwise I might think I was meant to pick a Mexican state or some other kind; or to choose an "International Country." Why in the world would one feel the need to qualify "country" with "international"? What are these non-International countries which they are worried might be chosen. I believe the idea is to disallow the United States as country choice, but the United States is as international a country as the next, if not more so.




Intermittent posting

The installation is one of the great works of the past half-century, the culmination of a remarkable fruition in Mr. Serra's career. - Michael Kimmelman in the Times Arts section. Side-stepping the gushing praise, can a fruition have a culmination? I'm not sure, but it sounds damn awkward to me. On the level of praise matter, I've only seen one of the Serra pieces described in the article, and it more interesting as an echo chamber than anything else. But maybe I'm just a philistine.




Ethicist, do you need a (paid) summer intern?

I've been dropping the ball on my weekly Randy Cohen bashing and/or responding, so I'm glad Lindsay Beyerstein is (unbeknownst to her) filling in for me. Just to throw out my own example for why Randy's semantic point is clearly wrong, if I was the only player of some musical instrument made from wine glasses, an accordion tube, and a taser, I would also be the best player of said instrument. I recognize that this is somewhat conclusory, but I don't see how it's arguable.



Sorry for lack of blogging, I've been busy lately with having started a new (part-time) job on Tuesday, moving into a new apartment yesterday, and starting another, concurrent, part-time job tomorrow. Read Obsidian Wings or something. If you, for some odd reason, really want to read something I wrote, read the e-mail Volokh is responding to in the linked post, though it was mostly just bringing to his attention the "points" I made in the post below this one.





Prof. Volokh (who I've been disagreeing with more than I'd like lately) has a long-standing trope (I remember seeing it very soon after the November elections, I'm sure it has surfaced earlier) that moral claims with religious premises are, even when wrong, not inherently problematic in a debate about what laws should be. His position can be fairly stated as, "Arguments about what the law should be based on moral claims with solely religious grounding may not be disqualified as a categorical rule. Rather, any such argument which one contends is erroneous must be defeated on the merits by getting a larger and/or louder percentage of the voting public (or whomever is enacting laws) to accept your secularly premised argument." I'm pretty sure this is wrong, and also think there is an 80% chance I'm rehashing a previous argument.

I'm going to sketch my argument, and start at the end (take that, King of Hearts): The problem is that arguments based solely in religion simply aren't designed to persuade, while secular arguments could in principle persuade someone who accepts the premises of the religious arguments. The way to get to that conclusion is to grant that reflective equilibrium is possible between principles and the sort of secular moral intuitions which Volokh thinks are no better grounded than religious moral claims, but that reflective equilibrium is impossible with the religion based claims and any broader principles. Bringing in reflective equilibrium is the key step in the argument, but it needs a lot more work to solidify it, or even make it into a real argument. And I'm sleepy.

Also, I'm not contesting Volokh's point about forcing ones moral views on others. Though I might have to make up a way to do so if he wasn't pro-choice.