9/29/05

Philosophy Later


Fake letter written in response to a friend's experience of several years of silence and non acknowledgment from the popular journal Philosophy Now. Not sent, and no real ill will wished on this fine publication. Just for fun!




Dear Editor,



This is the widow of Glenn Chafedaughter. After waiting several long months for your acknowledgement, Glenn began his descent into a deep funk. He has always admired Philosophy Now, to the point of having large blown up covers on his wall and making (and wearing proudly!) his homemade Philosophy Now--Forever! T-shirts. For Glenn, your silence was deafening.



As the weeks turned into months, and then years, and then back to months, and then days, but not minutes, Glenn passed through his now full-blown depressive phase and matured...into what has come to be called "his dangerously angry phase." Several postal workers quit their jobs (all just short of retirement) and Glenn's dog became so afraid that she built her own doghouse and moved in, just to get away from Glenn. While I was never personally threatened by him, I installed an "invisible fence" inside the house to keep me safe while I slept.



But as everyone knows, anger, too, is just a phase. It gave way to a kind of dissolute ranting, coupled with an egregious disregard for personal grooming. Both the Centers for Disease Control and FEMA put Glenn on their "top threats" list, and local vagrants began to gossip about Glenn's "fragrance." In fact, he was so pungent that by merely walking by our gas stove Glenn caused a three foot flame to leap across our kitchen, roasting several apples and our parakeet in the incident.



But I digress. Eventually, Glenn became less of a person than a walking black hole. First his words then later the very sounds emanating from his mouth were drawn urgently back into his personal event horizon. More vortex than man, Glenn's final words--true on so many levels--were: "Man, I suck!" And with that utterance he shrivelled into a tiny spot of light and odor and popped out of existence. He was gone.



So thank you for your kind note. While it's too late to save Glenn, it's not too late to inflict his thought on your unsuspecting readers. Wherever Glenn is now, if he is, he'll be smiling his sickly half-brained smile at the notion that the "Greatest Magazine Ever!" (his words) has published the fruit of his "mind-loins" (his words).



Very Sincerely Yours,

Mrs. Glenn Chafedaughter

What went wrong with the Roberts nomination?


Like many people, I wanted more answers from John Roberts and more
dramatic portraits of what he has done for big business over people.


Thomas Frank argues persuasively that the Right wins battles by
diverting attention away from economic issues and toward social issues
like abortion. The Roberts nomination fight played right into their
hands, just as Frank could have predicted. And the next one will, too.

9/18/05

Faith based legal interpretation


Have just been reading Euthyphro in my class, trying to help students see the distinction between gods making something pious and gods recognizing piety, pre-existent. It's the fundamental difference between groundless and rationally grounded authority.



I was just reading a piece in a recent Harpers by Cass Sunstein about the shift rightward in America's Supreme Court, when I realized that the exact program of the "strict constructionists" or the "originalists" is the same as what is happening in the Euthyphro.



When someone argues for these types of literalism, they are essentially saying, like a priest, "we know what original intent was" or "we have access to the real meaning--and you don't." It is as groundless as the view Socrates is inveighing against, groundless in the sense that ultimately it does not rest on reasons accessible to all through dialectic, but only through some special form of access granted to those with power.

9/2/05

Hurricane Katrina has ripped apart buildings and lives. It has also

ripped away a veil which has hidden from middle class view the daily
indignities that plague the poor in American cities. Many of us have
been shocked at preparations and responses that can, at best, be called,
"inadequate." We have been shocked at how quickly a "civilized" American
city has degenerated into "third world" desperation and
thuggery.

But maybe we should be just as shocked at our own
reactions.

American poverty is hidden from most people's views.
It goes largely unmentioned in political campaigns and major news
outlets spend precious little time on it, either. (After all, there's
always something more important to cover: a celebrity trial or a young
white female who's gone missing.) We spend thousands of dollars on cell
phones, iPods, and cars while millions are just a misstep away from
hunger, disease, and homelessness. We do this not because we are
heartless, but because we have allowed the poor to slip off our radar.
(Indeed, it's worth noting that the common abstraction, "the poor,"
already constitutes a retreat from moral responsibility.)

We've
been too content in the bubble. Katrina is offering us the chance not
only to reach out with immediate aid and shelter, but to reconsider what
"justice" is. Surely, it must include taking care of these least among
us with policies that provide for them in the present and in the face of
future contingencies. Can we redefine "justice" and still have "low
prices" and "low taxes" and "small government"? Maybe not, but we'll
just have find comfort in the knowledge that we have traded those things
for "healthy children" and "safe communities" and "disaster
preparedness."

I could live with that.


3/23/05

More on why Intelligent Design is Neither


From washingtonpost.com's
"Who's Afraid of Intelligent Design?"

HERE




Here's an important moment in the article:


"Drop in on an average biology class and you will find the same slow,
deadening march of memorization that I endured at 15. Why not enliven
this with a student debate on contrasting theories? Why not have an
intelligent design advocate stop by to be interrogated? Many students,
like me, find it hard to understand evolutionary theory, and the
scientific method itself, until they are illuminated by contrasting
points of view."



There's nothing wrong with enlivening science. And there's nothing
wrong with questioning premises and scrutinizing hypotheses. But the
alternative should be plausible on the same grounds as the
theory/hypotheses under question, no?


ID postulates a leap to an explanation. The very nature of the leap is
unverifiable and unfalsifiable. It cannot be made consistent with the
*type of scientific reasoning it would purport to support.* Its
introduction as a possible explanation really does damage the general
understanding of how science makes an explanation plausible.


Is it wrong to compare evolution and creationism as creation stories? No,
but they must be seen as myths or stories and the purposes of that
comparison must be made clear and distinct from the comparison of,
say, two scientific theories.


If we can't keep these kinds of comparisons distinct, then what shall
prevent the scientist from trumping the ID theorist by saying,


"Sure, we can say that evolution came from an Intelligent Designer.
But that Designer came from a lifeless and senseless cloud of ancient,
cosmic gas. How does intelligence arise from non-intelligence? Well,
it's what we call Magic Chance. Oh, you want evidence of this? Sorry,
it's the only possible story which can account for Intelligent
Designers."


And off we go.


We need better teachers. We need students who feel secure in their
spirituality while also equipped to confront the scientific challenges
threatening this planet. But we don't need to undermine the empirical
and experimental bases of science in the process.


And that's why we don't compare evolutionary theory with creationist
stories and call them both "possible."

1/15/05

PBS: Half the NOW, Twice the Conservative Propaganda

PBS and Rocky
Mountain PBS made a mistake when they cut NOW in half and put Tucker
Carlson and the Journal Editorial report with Paul Gigot on. We count
on PBS for objective reporting and commentary that confronts facts
honestly. Neither Tucker Carlson nor Paul Gigot can claim to do that.
They are, as Jon Stewart put it, "partisan hacks" who cheered this
country into a war that is devastating both us and the Middle East. In
fact, after watching them for years I can honestly say that they
cheerlead for nearly every conservative policy, never mind the facts.

While I appreciate the reporting that PBS does, particularly
NOVA and Frontline, this shift to the right will not be forgotten. Is
it not enough that most newspaper owners are conservatives, that most
of the billboard advertising in America is owned by conservatives, and
that FOX News and the right wing radio airwaves have the loudest and
most relentless voice in broadcasting? You should be ashamed to give
ground to pundits who care little about journalism and
more about lending ceaseless and unthinking support to
conservative agendas.

This is not just the cry of a liberal
who dislikes conservatives. This is the protest of someone who is
tired of "news" shows where the evidence doesn't matter.

We
are taking a break from supporting PBS. Don't email or mail us
anything. We'll let you know when we are over this by sending you a
membership check.

I know you're just trying to survive. I
just wish you'd go down fighting.