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Showing posts from April, 2016

A Lewinsky Reference? That's dirty pool now?

I find this odd.

Rosario Dawson has been taking heat for even mentioning the name "Monica Lewinsky" in the course of making a case for voting for Bernie Sanders. Jeez, do these Clintonistas have a thin skin, or what?

On Saturday, April 23, Rosario said, "We are literally under attack for not just supporting the other candidate. Now I'm with Monica Lewinsky with this: bullying is bad. She's actually dedicated her life now to talking about that." She said that bullying is still bullying when it is a "campaign strategy."

First, obvious, point. One doesn't need to invoke Monica Lewinsky's name to make the point that bullying (however actually defined) is bad. In American politics, in a campaign with someone named Clinton  in it, there is a natural suspicion that the name has been introduced for other purposes -- to remind us of a once-juicy sex scandal.

Second point: so what? One's impression is that politicians used to be made of stern…

Zombie banks

A member of the board of the Bundesbank in Germany said recently that the European Central Bank should crack down on a political practice engaged in by many of the member states, that of keeping private banks that are effectively insolvent artificially alive on whatever is their available means of life support. 

The issue has become known in Europe as that of "zombie banks." 

I say "Europe" but sense at once that I am guilty of presentism. The term "zombie bank" got its start in the United States in the late 1980s. Remember the days of the "Savings and Loan" scandal? Ah, they seem innocent now. Or ... not. 

But recently the zombie's are a specter haunting Europe. (Gee, somebody once said that about communism, did he not?) 

If a bank has a negative asset value, then depositors will have reason to fear frozen accounts and even notwithstanding national insurance systems the banks may well empty out. If they are still kept alive despite both insolv…

Pragmatism on one foot

Assuming you have respectably good balance, you can stand on just one foot long enough to say this:

Regard ideas as candidates for your belief and distrust them unless they have clear practical consequences. Then once you have come to understand beliefs by their consequences, believe what is in the line of your needs.

That'll do it.

Of course, the implication is that pragmatism isn't so much a belief as a meta-belief. Which is accurate. Recall James' comments about the corridor. James always saw pragmatism as the corridor itself, not as consisting of any of the rooms one might reach by that means.

How Much Planned, How Much Not?

I'll treat you today, dear reader, to another blog post inspired by shenanigans over at Yahoo!Answers.

Someone asked, "Can anyone philosophically justify the existence of private property?" Some further explanation indicated that he had titles to land especially in mind.

For the record, my answer was what regular readers of this blog would likely expect.  

The pragmatic answer is surely best: those social institutions are right which work, over time and on the whole. Private title to land is justified, if at all, only on that basis. Whether it IS justified by practical consequences is a fascinating empirical question. Consider Richard Pipes' book on this question, for example. That is much more interesting than trying to parse the differences between Locke

The FBI and Apple

The two contending forces resolved their dispute arising out of the San Bernardino terrorist attack. It turns out the FBI didn't need Apple. The US government can hire hackers who can get into the phone. That was bad news for Apple's brand (unhackability is part of the mystique), but good news for what remains of the fourth amendment. It is an awful business having courts order private companies to help the government open doors to their products, especially when those products have an intimate character for so many of their buyers.

Yet the FBI doesn't want that much to remain of the fourth amendment. So it, and the D of J, have re-started the fight, this time over another phone. The Justice Department said on April 8th that it is going to seek a court order to force Apple to help it unlock an iPhone that was seized as part of a New York drug-traffic investigation.

This was a front page story in the weekend Wall Street Journal. Still, it faded from public attention quic…

Why DAPA Violates APA

The Supreme Court, earlier this term extended the time that would normally have been slated for arguments on the immigration case this term, US v. Texas. This Monday, it heard those arguments.

Some background: the Obama administration has sought to implement a program it calls Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), effectively allowing people in the US illegally to remain here, work lawfully, and receive other benefits that would otherwise be withheld from them by law.

One of the arguments against DAPA is that it violates APA. Also, that's the only argument that employs rhyming acronyms, so it is presumably the important one. APA is the Administrative Procedure Act, and it created notice and comment procedures for new administrative rules. Opponents of the Obama policy contend that DAPA is a new rule within the scope of APA, yet it was initiated without the proper notice-and-comment period, thus it is invalid.

Apparently it is the Secretary of Homeland Security who sh…

Jodie Foster in Contact

I recently watched (for the first time) the movie Contact, which may seem odd since it's almost 20 years old, and not the sort of movie that anyone describes as a classic. Still, it has its moments.

I did read the book back in the day. And this is one of those instances -- hardly unique -- in which my strongest impression coming away from the movie is about how much of the book they jettisoned. There will be something of a spoiler in what follows as I explain this, by the way.

Consider the whole childhood backstory. In the novel, the protagonist had found memories of her father and a terrible memory of his death when she was nine. So far so good, that's in the movie, too. But in the novel, the character's mother then married another man, and her teenage years were filled with tensions with the step-Dad.

Here's the threatened spoiler: Near the end of the novel, the step-Dad turns out to be her biological Dad. Mom conceived with him, then they split for a reason I'…

A Life-Cycle Theory of Legal Theories II

To continue with the thoughts I was discussing last week under this heading:

Under the  view I'm discussing, a variety of prescriptive legal theories have "worked themselves impure" in the words of Kessler and Pozen. These theories have begun as a purist account of how the law ought to work given one central idea. But they then have encountered difficult facts, contending interpretations, etc. and have gradually incorporated impurities, until it becomes clear that they weren't the revolution or New Paradigm they were first sold as.

An example, cost-benefit analysis. In the incarnation that concerns the authors of this life-cycle view, CBA got a bold start in the early 1980s, but encountered difficulties before the end of that decade, in part because of an atmosphere of scandal that came to surround some of the administrative offices that had to take the point on this march.

Also, on the academic front, CBA came under criticism for being a mere pretext for a politica…

Thoughts During the Cuban Missile Crisis

JFK authorized the Attorney General, his brother, to cut the deal that the US for years thereafter would deny it had ever made, the deal agreeing that the US missiles in Turkey would be dismantled in return for a withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba.

Robert Kennedy wrote the following of the moment of the crucial contact, with Dobrynin.

"We have to have a commitment by at least tomorrow that those bases [in Cuba] would be moved. This was not an ultimatum, I said, but just a statement of fact. He should understand that if they did not remove those basis, then we would remove them. His country might take retaliatory action, but he should understand that before this was over, while there might be dead Americans, there would also be dead Russians. He then asked me about Khrushchev's other proposal dealing with removal of the missiles from Turkey. I replied that there could be no quid pro quo --- not deal of this kind could be made ... If some time elapsed --- and ... I mentio…

"Then You Get the Haze Coat"

Funny Story. SLATE recently ran an interview with Peggy Orenstein, the author of GIRLS AND SEX, a meditation on the messages young women, especially educated young women from at least relatively affluent backgrounds, receive from popular culture today.

At one point in the interview, Orenstein is commenting on how mainstream Hollywood mo

The simplest form of utilitarianism

I've heard it said that utilitarianism has this pragmatic benefit: it could constitute a plausible ethical consensus (even if we're all only pretending to believe it?) that could lessen the intensity of moral conflicts.  In other words, it is better to argue over non-fundamental things than over fundamental things, because we're more likely to go to war over the latter than the former.  

Thinking this through: reaping this benefit would require us, I suppose, to give our consent to the simplest possible form of utilitarianism, because only that one can promise to turn serious substantive moral conflicts into mere mechanical computations. 

In the spirit of Jeremy Bentham, portrayed above, then, let us suppose that pleasure could be measured in, say "positive hedons." Pain could be treated as negative hedons. Consider whether the govt should require a vaccine. Add up all the positive hedons the policy will create (discounting for uncertainties), subtract the negative…