Saturday, June 07, 2008

Phew, It's Hot

Took the Orange line out to the Dunn-Loring stop, wandered around through the heat for awhile, found the Red Cross, was quizzed, stuck and drained. When she pricked my middle finger, it geysered for a while and made a mess of everything. We all laughed at this and then I fainted.

I got an umbrella this time for my efforts.

I'm afraid of needles. Now I go all the same, and I've never fainted looking at one, and I even watch it pop into the vein at my elbow crook. Nonetheless, I've got a feeling of unease when I know I have to give blood--my mind will race for excuses to go do something else. So I push harder and make myself do it. I don't like being afraid of things.

I swayed on home, then collapsed into bed and slept. Woke up at 5 and spent the rest of the day sending out job applications.

It was, all in all, one of my more productive.

I'm Enjoying the Volokhs' Rum

You know, since I gave blood three years ago or so, the Red Cross has called me twice a day. They want my blood so bad. They want it even though it's swimming with antidepressants and Bacardi Gold--hell, maybe that's why they want it. And yet, I haven't been back since.

I was thinking of a way they could incentivize me to return. Here's what I came up with. They should tell people who receive blood whose blood they're getting. Now of course, this should be an opt-in program: I can choose whether or not I want recipients of my blood to be able to find out who donated for them. If I do choose so, the recipient gets my name and address. Maybe they'll mail me a Thank You card, and I, seeing the concrete productions of my charity, will be encouraged.

Or perhaps they can just tell me what happens with my blood. They don't need to give me a name--they can redact all the details they need to. I'd just like some idea of what my blood's being used for. I think most people would. I think seeing one's blood in action would give a lot of incentive for donation.

This is on my mind because I'm giving blood tomorrow. I'm not a good person (do I really have to stress that?). I just like cookies and free T-shirts.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Writing Group

ME: Do you mind if I hang up this flier?

What's it for?

ME: A writing group I'm going to start.

I have lots of friends who like to write about sex.


Yeah, if they joined, you probably wouldn't get much done. But I bet you'd get laid.

Well that's the only reason I'm starting this group anyway.

CLERK: Sure, same as any writing group.

ME: Here's my email.

The Irrelevance of the Status of Oughts

What I'm about to say strikes me as obvious, but no less illustrious a personage as a coblogger had to have the point explained to him, so I'll spell it out.

Much is made of whether morality is objective or subjective. While it's an interesting ontological question, when it comes down to the question of which moral system is right or preferable, the question is entirely irrelevant.

To wit, some seem to think that if they can prove morality subjective, then utilitarianism wins over rights theories. This is bullshit. If morality is subjective, then even the basic axioms of utilitarianism are subjective. There is no objective command: Thou shalt increase utility. Rather, there is only the preference of the individual for a world with more utility, which is just as subjective as the preference of an individual for a world with strong property rights, or no capital punishment, etc. By the same token, if morality is objective, then one can equally well believe that it is objectively right to increase utility or that it is objectively right to respect deontological rights.

Some also seem to think that believing morality subjective leads to moral relativism. This is just as wrong. To be sure, my subjective moral preference may be for a world where right or wrong is decided by community standards. But my subjective preference may just as well be otherwise. And by the same token, moral relativism could easily be true, if morality is objective. It would be a fact of the matter that whatever the community standards are, they fix right and wrong. Or not.

There is a tendency for some to pass off a particular morality as objective, while others are just baseless opinions. Economists love this. It gives one side a rhetorical punch--they can claim to be the one who doesn't believe in spooky disembodied moral commands. Rather they believe in cold hard scientific fact--that is, of course, they believe in their personal moral preferences. This leads to the same conversation again and again, where the other side has to point out that the ontological status of morality cuts both ways. This game of More Materialist Than Thou is tired, and it's time to move on.

In sum, the question of whether morality is subjective or objective, like the blogosphere, has theoretical but no practical import.

Crossposted at Distributed Republic.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Works Cited

"It seems to me," said Sancho, "that the knights who did these things were provoked and had a reason to do senseless things and penances; but what reason does your grace have for going crazy? What lady has scorned you, and what signs have you found to tell you that my lady Dulcinea of Toboso has done anything foolish with Moor or Christian?"

"Therein lies the virtue," responded Don Quixote, "and the excellence of my enterprise, for a knight errant deserves neither glory nor thanks if he goes mad for a reason. The great achievement is to lose one's reason for no reason, and to let my lady know that if I can do this without cause, what should I not do if there were cause?"

Cervantes, Don Quixote. Trans. Edith Grossman.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Comments Elsewhere: On Foundations

This was a comment on a post on Philosophy, Etc. (Slightly edited.)

From Barry's post:

According to our putatively final metaphysics, the world is one big chunk of matter. I think this leaves us with two questions, which the naturalist lacks the resources to answer. (1) Why is the world made of this stuff, and not some other stuff? (2) Why is there this stuff and not nothing at all?

Our explanans must always be explanatorily broader than our explanandum. You cannot explain alpha with alpha; you must explain it with some beta that may include alpha. (The fact that the girl crossed the road does not explain the fact that the girl crossed the road, but it might explain the fact that the girl crossed some part of the road.) As the Aristotelians say, explanations must involve not just the 'that' but also some 'because.'

My response:

In Nozick's Philosophical Explanations, he says something like: "What did philosophers expect? Of course if they keep investigating things they're going to reach something that can't be explained, an intractable problem: why is there something rather than nothing?"

But the solution need not be some brute fact. Rather, I see three possibilities:

1. The series of explanations is infinite. Every explanandum has its explanans, forever.

2. There really is some starting point, some brute fact of the matter. The world just is, full stop (some sort of recursive explanation might fit here).

3. It's circular: A is explained by B, which is explained by C, which is explained... which is explained by A.

I find all of these profoundly unsatisfying, but I know of no other options. Infinity's unpalatable, a brute fact seems arbitrary, and circularity is widely considered erroneous.* This dilemma (trilemma) shows up in various areas.

Think of justification of beliefs: do we have to 1. justify every belief with some other belief, ad infinitum? Or 2. take some beliefs as brute facts? Or 3. are beliefs justified in a circular fashion?

Or think of the creation of the Universe. Was 1. God created by meta-God, who in turn was created by meta-meta-God, ad infinitum? Or is 2. God a primitive? Or 3. did God create us so we can later create him?

*I have heard that the viability of circular arguments is not logically impossible. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I do admit that I seem to be able to conceive of a circular argument proving something--whereas I certainly cannot conceive of a four-sided triangle, or the like. If so, there's nothing logically wrong with the circular argument--the problem is elsewhere. Alternatively, I simply haven't reflected enough on the problem, when, if I did so, it would become apparent that circular arguments really are necessarily invalid.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Something There is That Doesn't Love a Beer Party

Given the beating I constantly get from people (none of whom have the slightest idea what they're talking about) for my high regard for Robert Frost (just look up), I approve of this story:

Call it poetic justice: More than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost's former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.

All that's left is to cane the Tchaikovsky-haters, and I can rest easy.

Monday, June 02, 2008


I had an interesting day. Usually I don't have interesting days, because I wake up circa noon o'clock and go back to sleep at 7 PM, which leaves a very small window for interesting things to happen. But today, I got up at 6, because I like to sing loudly in the shower, and that's only fun to do if one's roommate is still sleeping.

Oh, and it's my birthday. I had forgotten about it until last week, but as soon as I found out, I managed to get a free dinner of steamed crabs out of my family. Then today, I managed to get a free lunch out of Joshana. And you, reader, have you bought me any food lately? Why not?

Anyway, a birthday is a very special time of year--for it is the time of year that people write on one's Facebook wall. Truly, I felt like a princess.

Then, tragedy struck when I was doing flies in the gym (it's an exercise with dumbbells--I know what you were thinking): I broke my iPhone. Now, usually the loss of material things doesn't bother me, but you see, when I forged my iPhone, out of mythril and silicon, I invested it with much of my own power, and, upon its destruction, so went my near omnipotence. The dwarves who helped me make it said it could only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, but apparently a thirty pound dumbbell also does the trick. So how do you say fuck in Sindarin?

At the AT&T store they were out of stock (apparently a new version's coming out soon), but they did help me out with a free substitute phone to tide me over.

Things turned up again when Drew took me out to dinner--Asian fusion! Watch out! He got some fruity drink made with Schnapps called a Peach Blossom, but I was enchanted with something called the Bloody Mao--basically a Bloody Mary plus Wasabi. Not really to my liking, but God, I loved ordering it. There was a gross miscalculation in our check, resulting in a bill thirty dollars too light, but we were both too honest to take advantage of it, plus I thought it might be a trick.

Then, on the metro home, I was attacked by an attractive blond girl. It was a bizarre experience. Near white hair, cuter than all hell, constantly smiling, she came down the platform lugging a guitar, shoved herself next to me and proceeded to talk as if we were old friends, opening me with a question about my book. Questions, confessions, all sorts of information--apparently she was born in Kenya, lived in Canada, Mexico, and now the US. She writes lyrics for songs--she now has 67. She was picked on in high school for being the only white girl there. This is all in the space of two stops. And--I kid you not--she called me cute five times. Why are you so happy, said I. You're a cute guy, said she. Aw shucks. Then she kissed my hand, nibbled on my knuckle, and popped out the door at Metro Center. And have you, reader, kissed my hand and nibbled my knuckle lately? Why not?

Now I am damn cute, I know this. I go to the gym, plus I have crazy curly hair, and my right eye's just a bit smaller than the left, which is so endearing you can barely stand it. Plus I'm funny and smell good. But seldom am I attacked by cute blond girls on the metro, let alone Kenyans. This one's name was Uda (I have no idea what the spelling is) which means crazy in Kenyan and loved by the gods or something like that in Hebrew. In retrospect I should have gotten her number--she seemed fascinating.

On the way home I realized the top button of my shirt was undone--which, duh, is just asking for strange women to hit on you. So mystery solved.

The moral is, if anybody knows or meets a blond girl in the DC area--preferably named Uda but I'm not picky--around Dupont Circle, give her my number.

I'm also thinking about starting a writing group of some sort--where people can meet regularly to exchange fiction for commentary and criticism, because, like most sub-par writers, I have a delusion of talent which I need thoroughly chastised out of me so I can get on with my life. Interested parties in the area are encouraged to contact me.

Ha, and to top if off, I got two letters in the mail. I opened one: wedding invitation. I opened the other: the same wedding invitation. For a second I thought I'd gotten two by mistake--but no, turns out two different sets of friends getting married, with similar tastes in stationary.