Archive for July, 2010


Hume in Three Minutes

July 27, 2010

Monday Fun

July 26, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Friday Fun

July 23, 2010

Here’s a video made by our local rag, the Daily Camera. Flip through to the 1:10 mark or so. That’s my little boy dancing in the streets. That’s also him finishing the race a few shots beforehand.


Kant’s Ethics in Three Minutes

July 23, 2010

Student Spice

July 22, 2010

Ripped to Shreds

July 22, 2010

Brian Leiter rips Mark C. Taylor to shreds in his post this morning. If you’ve been following the New York Times Room for Debate column, you’ll know that Taylor stupidly argued last week that tenure should be abolished, or some such nonsense.

I suggest — nay, I insist! — that you head to Leiter’s site and read his awesome takedown.

I’d just add my two cents on tenure. I agree that it plays a fantastically important role in securing academic freedom, so it is important for this reason. I don’t want to downplay the significance of academic freedom, as it seems to me incredibly important.

But I also think that tenure provides the grease the keeps the wheels of the university running. That is to say, universities aren’t structured like businesses. They’re extremely horizontal organizations. They run in part on the good will and charity of their faculty. Every faculty member is, more or less, in command of his or her own research program. Every faculty member commits hours of her day to her teaching, to her research, to the health of the department, and/or the wider university community. This seems to work pretty well, as faculty tend to pick contributory tasks that suit their talents and their interests.

I certainly put in many more service hours than are required of me, and I’m happy to volunteer this time because I like doing the things I do. In part, my autonomy as a faculty member helps me feel that my contribution is good and worthwhile. What I do is not required of me, but I like it and so I do it. Though I’m not yet tenured, I feel that my otherwise risky contributions in this regard (because they are above-and-beyond my service requirement) are rewarded because they are satisfying for me, my colleagues, and my students. It’s a bonus for them. I further have the continued sense that I am not so much being evaluated on my extra-curricular contributions as I am being given the freedom to contribute in a way that I see fit to contribute. Almost every department runs on this underlying expectation of faculty. We contribute because we want to, because we know how universities work, and we have a sense of what makes a university work well.

If I were required to fight every year, or every few years, for my job, I might stick much more closely to my job description. Moreover, if I were required to fulfill X, Y, and Z service requirements as a line in my job description, only to be evaluated on the quality of my contributions by my colleagues — “gee, we put him in charge of that conference and he screwed up the coffee and the crudité” — I think I might be much less inclined to do what I do. So too with teaching and research. If I am forced to face down a panel of my bosses who will evaluate and score my teaching, I will be much less inclined to take chances with pedagogy; or I will be much more inclined to take the safe path.

To be sure, there is still considerable oversight and feedback from senior faculty down to junior faculty, but even across cases of wide seniority, there is more parity than in most workplaces. I am not called into the boss’s office to get a talking to about my performance. There is also oversight from peer reviewers at other universities, so the work and research of faculty is held in check by the scrutiny of experts renowned in their field.

To abolish tenure would require dramatically restructuring the service and oversight requirements of individual faculty. It would require making chairs into bosses, deans into CEOs, and provosts into kingpins. In short, it would require a dramatic overhaul of the university system. That university, the one that seems to tickle Taylor, would be unrecognizable from the university we currently know and love.


Fakes and Frauds

July 21, 2010

Boy, BP really stepped in it this time. This is a small matter, on one hand; but on the other, it’s unreal. Basically, BP has been photoshopping images of the gulf spill to make it look like they’re doing more than they actually are. Washington Post reports on it tonight. Gawker has the initial details. And here’s another, different, photoshopped photograph from BP.

Unbelievable. Seriously, if they photoshop widely distributed images, how on earth are we to trust them when they give us only numbers?



July 19, 2010

Stephen Schneider has passed.


Slacker and a Cheat

July 16, 2010

I’ve been slacking this week on the blog front, but all this slacking has given me a little time to catch my breath and get some real writing done, which has been refreshing. Plus I’ve doubled down as daddy this week. My wife’s been away, so I’ve been playing dinosaur and other fun things with my son.

At any rate, here’s at least one thing I would’ve commented on, but didn’t, this past week.

Namely, Peter Singer has an interesting piece on cheating in the World Cup. Here’s a nice quote where, I think it’s clear that he agrees with my position:

Players should not be exempt from ethical criticism for what they do on the field, any more than they are exempt from ethical criticism for cheating off the field – for example, by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Sports today are highly competitive, with huge amounts of money at stake, but that does not mean it is impossible to be honest. In cricket, if a batsman hits the ball and one of the fielders catches it, the batsman is out. Sometimes when the ball is caught the umpire cannot be sure if the ball has touched the edge of the bat. The batsman usually knows and traditionally should “walk” – leave the ground – if he knows that he is out.

What I think is important about this quote is that, ethically speaking, Peter Singer and I aren’t entirely on the same page. He’s one of the foremost representatives of utilitarianism, and I’m…well, I’m nobody really… just a sapling of an academic with affinities for neo-Kantian and pragmatic ethics. Yet we both agree on the nature of an ethical reason, on the nature of ethical scrutiny.

No doubt, Singer would offer different arguments as to why we should call out cheaters — consequentialist arguments, for sure — but I think it’s important to see that even among widely differing ethicists, there is critical convergence. In effect, rules are not made to be broken. They are binding. When we break them, we can be called out for it.

Roger Pielke Jr., one-time climate blogger and now enthusiastic soccer buff — though I will say that more than half of the faculty at CSTPR have gone ga-ga for soccer puffs, partly because Roger and Max are around to explain the rules to us — has this to say about sports being a perfect laboratory. He is, of course, absolutely right about sports offering very interesting cases. That’s one of the reasons that I like chess, and even edited a book on philosophy and chess. It’s maybe not the hard crunching sports that Roger is talking about, but philosophers for quite some time have been interested in games, in rules, and in the nature of play. If you’re looking for a little summer reading, and you don’t feel like digging deeply into Wittgenstein on games, check out this light and amusing, albeit academically very interesting, work by philosopher Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. If you like Socrates, if you like games, this is absolutely delightful summer hammock reading.

I have a few other posts cooking, so stay tuned.


Fucking Octopus

July 11, 2010