Thursday, February 16, 2006


I'm just going to repost something I wrote elsewhere about the cartoons issue. It's a bit less careful than I'd like it to be, but I'll put it up anyway.

What's amazing to me about this is that a lot of people who are nominally capable of serious thought about the state of the world who have just uncritically jumped on the bandwagon of defending the Danish journalists. What I wrote comes from the perspective that there are a lot of people who just want war between Christendom and Islam, regardless of the specific circumstances. They will say to invade Iraq because of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but this is only the closest justification at hand. On the other side, Bin Laden represents the same tendency-whatever initial proximal causes led him to declare enmity towards the West, he has now reached a point at which provoking war between the Muslim world and the West is his goal. These people, who are thankfully fewer in number than the group of people who will support any given war, are our real enemies. Here's what I wrote elsewhere:
It's almost impossible to overstate how bad the reaction in the Muslim world is. It is seriously scary that such a large number of people in these various countries are capable of reacting in this way, and certainly when it comes down to it, it is necessary to defend ourselves against people whose actions follow this pattern.

But characterizing this as a simple case of free speech vs. ignorant heathens is missing the point by a long-shot. Muslims in the EU are subject to pretty vicious racism. These cartoons are just another episode in a dominant group doing everything it can to remind others that they are seen as inferior. There's an analogy with spoiled children who provoke an animal until it lashes out (usually in a more violent fashion than what the children were doing) and then the parents respond by putting the animal down, because it's hurt their poor innocent child.

Put this in a context where thousands of muslims (many of whom we have found out were innocent) are being abused in detainment camps, with religious humiliation being one of the primary tools used. Then consider that the same paper refused to publish cartoons of christ a few years ago on the grounds that they would offend people, and this looks less like an issue of free speech, and more about people who are interested in furthering a war between Christianity and Islam. Note that Andrew Sullivan is using a commentator who advocates deporting Muslims from Europe as an encouraging sign about the hard thought that people on the left are engaging in. The people who wrote these cartoons are in the business of ensuring that we spend the next 50 years at War with the Muslim world. They're no better than any other political leader who uses war as a convenient tool. If they get that war, yes, we better hope that our nations win, but for those of us who are atheists, apatheists, or just uninterested in having our politics governed by religion, there's more than one reason to be scared of what's going on here.
The other thing to add is that taking the long view, the retribution which will be enacted against the Islamic world for this incident will dwarf the damage that the rioting has done.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


While watching the game, it occured to me that most everyone complains about overpaid juvenile athletes, whereas no one complains about the announcers except for the occasional intelligent fan. This is in spite of the fact that announcers obviously are much less skilled and do much less work than the athletes(*). Announcers do three things:
1. Recite statistics
2. Make inane non-mathematical statements about the players
(2a. Make homoerotic comments about Sean May's "big soft hands")
3. Reminisce about when they played basketball
They do a pretty good job of two(three) of those things. But would it really kill us to require our sportscasters to have some notion that the law of small numbers doesn't exist? I'm not asking that they be doing 2-way-anovas before every statement they make, and I'm fine if the vast majority of the things they say have little to no statistical significance, but can we please not try to make predictions based on the free throw percentage of a kid who has taken 12 free-throws during the entire season?
Absolute statistical genius: "Wes Miller is 10 for 15 from the line this year, so he's not very good, but that's probably because he's been to the line so rarely."
Within a single comment, the announcer asserts that these 15 shots are enough to verify a stable level of free throw shooting ability, which is also so ephemeral that another 20 trips to the line or so could've erased it. Rarely have "p" and "not-p" been so rapidly asserted by the same person.

(*) Yes, the athletes eventually become sportscasters, but they're good at their first job and horrible at the second.


It's everyone's favorite game wherein I talk about things I want to get done in the medium to long term instead of actually contributing to the academic work which I need to get done today or this week.

1. I need to get a general familiarity with the major issues in metaphysics. The things I'm familiar with, I tend to know quite well, but I have huge holes. I think I'll read
Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Michael Loux. This should mostly provoke the response that I've seen this before, and I'm just jogging my memory.
Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings by Michael Loux. This should be a bit more novel.
The Bible by David Lewis.
After those, I'll probably hit up Jason for suggestions, and possibly look at the syllabus for his summer course.

2. Talking to one of the best prospective students this weekend in WashU, I realized that I'll probably have to shelve my thoughts about the Special Composition Question for a while (see Quotidiens). He didn't have any devastating objections, but spending a little bit of time fleshing the idea out with him led me to think that there are too many things I don't know to make a serious attempt at articulating my proposal at this point. Taking it as a conjecture that I'm aiming to prove might be a good way to focus my studies.

3. Study some logic. I realized on the plane ride home from St. Louis that I didn't remember the rules of passage (and correlatively the process of prenexing quantified statements). I also never really got anywhere in studying modal logic. If I don't want to take logic during my first semester in grad school, I might could need to do something about all this.