The Sensible Knave

"I do not see that we are further along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament." - W.V.O. Quine

Sunday, November 27, 2005

How to Build a Spam Mailing List

Post a job listing like this:

Reply to:
Date: 2005-11-25, 4:00PM ESTLooking foor in school or to be graduates for new positions, please email with resume poster for further contact. Please include school, major, year that you in and current major along with resume.
Compensation: discuss it later
no -- Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
no -- Please, no phone calls about this job!
no -- Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
no -- Reposting this message elsewhere is NOT OK.

Sorry for reposting this message, even though it was NOT OK to do so.

This is pretty clever way to collect the e-mail addresses of the naive. I suppose that many of those who would respond to this ad would also be receptive to the overtures that initiate the Nigerian 419 scam. I'd surely bet that the ad is tied to this or something similar. Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

No Double Standards

Some folks are chagrined by the Venezuelan leader's motives don't matter. If he actually goes through with it, that's great.

For those who may not have known, Citgo is the oil company owned by the Venezuelan "people." If you wish to support a worker's paradise, buy your gas from them. That's what I hear some folks saying, anyway. I would think that making Citgo's ties widely known would only hurt the cause in the long run. For every person that wants to throw money at an ideological train wreck in progress, there are probably several people that don't. As for me, I wouldn't begrudge the collectivists a little healthy competition.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I haven't been posting here recently, since our daughter is being discharged from the hospital today! We've had to scramble to prepare; they decided to send her home a good four weeks before her original due date.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Money Buys Elections

Yes, it's true. But this truism is often misconstrued; don't confuse a sufficient condition with a necessary one. Money buys elections likes it buys handguns; you need the money, but you also need the credentials. All the money in the world is not sufficient to buy an office that's worth anything.

Now, if we're going to talk about limiting campaign contributions, we also need to talk about limiting self-funding. If we don't limit the latter, then we shouldn't limit the former. But should we limit the latter? I don't think so.

That someone has successful enough in business to the point where they can finance their own political campaign is in fact a selling point to voters. Many would rather have a captain of industry in office than a career politician.

Of course, none of us wants an aristocracy, where those with wealthy backgrounds can buy positons of power. On the other hand, that someone would finance a campaign with inherited money, without bringing any bona fides to the table, is more likely to be seen by voters as a liability.

Then there is the theory that wealthy industrialists will join government in order it "capture" it. A Ross Perot, for instance, could have pushed an agenda that would better allow his business interests to flourish once he returned to returned to them. Wouldn't the cost of campaigning, as well as the opportunity cost of years of service as an elected official offset this benefit? Wouldn't aggressive lobbying achieve a better ratio of costs to benefits?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Prematurity Awareness Day

That day is today. So why not look at the blog dedicated to my beautiful daughter? She's nine weeks old now, and less than five away from her original due date.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Name That Fallacy

  1. X has been working to achieve A.
  2. X has not achieved A.
  3. Therefore, X has failed to achieve A.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ph.D. Training?

A while back, Brian Leiter and Dan Solove debated whether you need "Ph.D. training" to do cutting edge interdisciplinary work. If actually having a Ph.D. is a necessary condition, doing cutting edge interdisciplinary work in one's (first) dissertation would be out of the question. To be sure, no candidate for a (first) Ph.D. could be required to do cutting edge interdisciplinary work; that would be an awful Catch-22!

On the other hand, "Ph.D. training" might comprise the work that gets you to the ABD level, or it could be the collaboration with a mentor that is part of the dissertation process. However, a dedicated scholar can get to an "ABD level" of competence in another field on one's own, or with limited coursework, and you don't need to be a Ph.D. candidate to collaborate with a mentor who does cutting edge work. So, either you don't need Ph.D. training, or "Ph.D. training" needn't be someone that requires or leads to a Ph.D.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Hypothetical

Here's a scenario for those who oppose the teaching of "Intelligent Design" theory in public schools (for the record, I do):
A philanthropist offers a financially strapped school district a vast sum of money. Some of it would be earmarked for physical plant expenses such as pest control and essential repairs. Much of it would be earmarked for science education costs, including chemistry textbooks, laboratory equipment, and new computers. There is one stipulation: each year, the ninth grade biology class must set aside 2 hours to discuss the problems with Evolutionary Theory alleged by leading ID proponents, and to explain the central concepts of ID theory.
As a member of the school board, would you vote to accept this offer? I think I would. Sure, I'd rather not have this taught, but the cost of saying no is just too high.

This leads me to my real point. As you might know, the recent Election Day yielded victories and defeats for ID proponents. Clearly, considerable resources were spent opposing ID efforts. Given the state of many public schools in general, and the state of science education in particular, is this fight really the best use of our resources? Sure, now students won't be lectured on pseudoscience, but does that matter when they are not learning the fundamentals of physical and life science anyway?

That so many people make the fight against the teaching of ID theory a priority in education lobbying is telling. It says to me that people are more concerned with advancing secularism than with insuring that children get the best education possible. It's not that these goals are incompatible, of course. The fact of the matter is that the pursuit of one policy goal is going to carry opportunity costs.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Limiting Campaign Contributions

In this week's post, Richard Posner opines on campaign finance reform, and makes this important remark:
Limiting campaign advertising, whether directly or indirectly, operates as a subsidy to newspapers and other news media, which report on political campaigns. The less political advertising there is, the more dependent the public is on the media.
What is more important is that this subsidy is, in a sense, passed along to the candidates preferred by media outlets. After all, how does a glowing op-ed piece serve a candidate less well than an advertisement or infomercial bought by a loyal campaign contributor? The fact of the matter is that many parties are in a position to make nonpecuniary campaign contributions. Unlimited monetary campaign contributions, on the other hand, serve to level the playing field for those who do not own or manage information capital.

First Amendment rights should not favor those with the gift of self-expression over those who need help with articulating their messages. As long as we have broad freedom of the press, as we should, campaign contribution limits would do just that,

Monday, November 07, 2005

South Park Conservatives?

So much for that idea! Well, not entirely, but this week's episode certainly slammed the opposition to gay marriage. They nailed it. I thought that last season's Simpsons gay marriage episode was insightful as well, but only more generally on the issue of acceptance of gays.

Playing Devil's Advocate, I can't find a principled reason to oppose the proposition either. However, it is only human nature to rationalize opposition when it is backed by such strong cultural currents (in many regions, at least).

Let's be charitable and agree that not everyone who opposes gay marriage hates gays. What could be motivating their opposition? Here are a couple of factors that must get some play:

Traditionalism - "marriage is between members of the opposite sex, period." What if there was a push to Valentine's Day from February 14 to a Sunday in May? The original timing could be compounding the winter blues of lonely people, so why not move it to a nice spring day. Isn't terrible when V-Day falls on a "date night"? I would vote against the proposition, because February 14 is a tradition. In the case of gay marriage, however, I'd have to say the interest of a minority population in long-term happiness probably trumps a sense of tradition.

Fear - I suspect that many people who have nothing against gays would still not want their children or close friends to turn out to be gay, all other things being equal. Gay people are less likely to have children, of course (even adopted ones). Since the gay population is so much smaller than the straight population, it can be much harder to meet someone suitable for a long-term relationship. All considerations of long-term happiness aside, however, I think that many parents just don't want their kids to be gay, and this includes parents who would love their gay children just as much. For such people, I think the prospect of gay marriage is a specter of permanency. Sure, one's child might come out of the closet in high school or college, but one can always hope that this a "phase", "experimentation", or "confusion" that will run its course. Marriage would then be seen as more than a lifelong commitment to a partner; it would also represent a lifelong commitment to a sexual preference. Would many people see it as bad public policy to sanction a commitment to a preference they would rather see go away?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Riots are Bad

The schadenfreude on the right side of the blogging world over the Parisian rioting is palpable. It's time for everyone to come to their senses.

Sure, I think that the French leadership is corrupt and dishonorable, but the same could be said of the mayors of many large American cities. The French have by no means cornered the market on social dysfunction spawned from misguided policy. Should we take pleasure when rioting breaks out here as well?

Addendum: One wonders why more leftists aren't calling out the right on this. I suppose it's because that would require them to acknowledge these events.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


What is the difference between sarcasm and irony? I grew up thinking irony referred to those unfortunate or incongruous coincidences found in life and literature. Wasn't there irony in the Twilight Zone episode where the bookworm, the sole survivor of nuclear armageddon, comes upon a vast library, only to then lose his glasses? Only in the nonstandard sense. Irony really pertains to speakers and their expressions. Something is ironic when its literally meaning is different (or actually contradicts) its intended meaning. I'm embarassed to say that I didn't grasp this before Ethan Hawke's character in Reality Bites explained it.

So irony is just like sarcasm, then?

Well, I've known plenty of sarcastic jerks, but I've yet to meet an ironic jerk. I suppose that's because sarcasm, the "lowest form of wit", is a tone that happens to often involve irony. You can be ironic without being sarcastic, though. You can also be sarcastic without being ironic. Just repeat someone's unsatisfactory suggestion in a sneering, deriding tone. If the suggestion, as a prescription, has no propositional content, then neither does the sarcastic utterance. An ironic statement has to be propositional for there to be an incongruity (or does it?).