Saturday, October 15, 2005


At the risk of letting everyone know what a nerd I am: I attended my first big-name rock concert last night. I went to see the Eagles down in San Jose. I wasn't looking forward to the crowds, but it wasn't too bad.

Most of the audience was middle-aged white folks, which wouldn't have surprised me when I lived in Tucson, but after four years in the Bay Area I've become accustomed to younger, more diverse crowds. San Jose is only 32% white, and only 44% of people even speak English at home. I expected that that a group as famous as the Eagles would have a wider appeal even if they are ancient.

I was there by invitation, in one of those private booths. They served food and drinks, but nothing as good as the hotdogs I bought down on the third floor with all the peons.

The Eagles put on a good, long show. There was no opening band. They sang mostly old music, with a few new songs that were frankly not up to the best of the old stuff. Their voices still sound the same as they did twenty years ago, which kind of surprise me.

The quality of the singing was good, but not quite up to what is on their recordings. I don't know if that is because they are older or because on the recordings they could keep trying until they got it perfect.

My favorite Eagle's songs are pretty typical: "Desperado", "Hotel California", "Tequila Sunrise", "Life in the Fast Lane", "Lyin' Eyes", "Take it to the Limit", "Peaceful Easy Feeling". Never cared for "New Kid in Town".

The Eagles walked off the stage without singing either "Hotel California" or "Desperado". No, this isn't begging the audience to call for a double encore. For all I know, that could be the tradition in rock concerts, though.

There were several songs I recognized from the radio that I never suspected were the Eagles. Most notable is "Life's Been Good To Me So Far". I'm not really what you'd call a serious fan...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

on identity

I proposed the following argument over at Maverick Philosopher:
How's this for an example of two things that are one? Abe walks into the lunch room and asks Bart, "Where is the cookie that was sitting here?"

Bart answers, "It no longer exists."

Craig says, "It is in Bart's stomach."

Isn't it the case that both Bart and Craig made true statements about the same object and that the statements contradict each other? One way of resolving this is to say that the original cookie was two individuals in one.
Bill Vallicella answers
... What is in Bart's stomach is not K, but K's matter. K is not identical to its matter but is a composite of form and matter. There is no contradiction since the predicates 'nonexistent' and 'existent' are true of different things, K and K's matter....
I think that he can only get away with this answer because my example was so simple, so I decided to brush up and post a note that I wrote several years ago, one that contains some more sophisticated examples.

There is a house on the beach with a large pile of sand in the yard. One day a guest visits the house to find the pile gone and asks the owner what happened to it. Consider the two following scenarios:

1. The owner says, "a bulldozer pushed the pile against that wall." implying that the pile against the wall is the same as the pile that was in the middle of the yard.

2. The owner says, "the wind last night blew it away and built up the pile against that wall." implying that the pile against the wall is not the same as the pile that was in the middle of the yard.

Now in both cases the pile against the wall contains the same grains of sand, and the same form, the only difference is in how it came to be there. There are several possible responses to this story. First, we could say that the owner was simply mistaken in one or another of the scenarios ‑‑the pile against the wall was the same in both scenarios, either it was or it wasn't the same as the one in the yard. Another possibility is to simply accept that the identity of a pile of sand actually depends on how it was constructed. A third possibility is to suggest that the identity of the pile of sand is a relative matter, that there is no objective truth of the matter, it just depends on how the observer chooses to construe the situation.

I build a toy robot out of legos, with claws for hands. Call the toy A. Now I remove the left claw and call the resulting toy B. Is A=B? There are two possible answers:

1. Yes. The toy is an enduring perceptual whole according to our physical intuitions, and removing the claw does not undo the physical identity of the remainder.

2. No. The toy consists of its parts, and when the parts change the identity of the toy changes.

Answer 1 is the most natural because if you take 2 seriously it has odd consequences such as the fact that when you change a tire on your car, you have a different car. However, 1 has the problem that because it relies on an intuition of physical wholeness, its application is limited by our intuitions. What happens when you take off the whole left arm? What about when you take off both arms and both legs? What happens if you take away everything except one block? At some point you no longer have the same toy, but it is not clear when this happens.

Each answer is true in some sense, but there is no single sense in which both are true. I'm not suggesting that we can simply believe what we want. If you construe the toy as in 1, then it is an objective fact that A=B. If you construe the toy as in 2, then it is an objective falsehood that A=B. The only subjective element is in how you construe the identity of the toy.

Since it is impossible for A=B and A=/=B both to be true at the same time and in the same way, it must be the case that there are actually multiple identities for A. Just by saying that A is "the toy" you do not unambiguously describe A. I claim that there are at least two individuals involved here: construing A as in 1, we get A1 which is numerically the same as B. Construing A as in 2, we get A2 which is numerically distinct from A1 (and B).

The consequence of this is we have two different objects occupying the same space, and both objects are physical. Now what do we say about A? Is A=A1 or A=A2? Apparently not, because if one of those numerical identities held, then the original question (A=B?) would be objectively settled.

Now we might be inclined to say that A does not exist at all as an object, but rather that "A" is just an ambiguous name for A1 or A2.
But then we have similar arguments for showing that "A1" and "A2" are ambiguous. Suppose that I take the pieces of the toy apart and put them in a bag, and call the contents of the bag C. Is A1=C or A2=C? There are two choices for the question if A1=C:

3. Yes. The material of A1 is the dominating criterion, so A1=C.

4. No. The structure of A1 is the dominating criterion, so A1=/=C.

There are also two choices for the question of A2=C:

5. Yes. The collection of objects is a set, so A2=C.

6. No. The collection of objects is a structured set, so A2=/=C.

If any of these answers is rejected, I claim that I can come up with an analogous situation where many, if not most speakers would choose that answer. If I'm right, then all answers are equally valid, and we have four more objects to consider: A3, A4, A5, and A6. Furthermore, I believe this process can be continued indefinitely, if not with this particular example, then with other examples. So I claim that A, A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, and A6 are all legitimate physical objects.

It is not that the name "A" is ambiguous, it is that A is an indeterminate concept. This should not surprise us since we deal with indeterminate concepts all the time in normal thought. When I get hungry, I sometimes get in my car and just start driving (I often eat out). I'm thinking that I want to get something to eat, but I don't have anything particular in mind. The concept of something to eat is indeterminate. And since I am neither producing nor thinking the words "something to eat", there is no possibility of linguistic ambiguity.

Does this mean that physical objects are just concepts? Am I an idealist?

As I pointed out a previous post, logicism as reductionism, the only things that can be present to our minds are concepts. I cannot import the Golden Gate Bridge into my head to think about it. The only thing that is immediately present to my mind is a concept of the bridge. Since I can't immediately access anything besides concepts, does it make any sense to postulate the existence of anything besides concepts?

I'm just askin' is all.

what's so bad about intra-party fighting?

A lot of Harriet Miers's supporters have been arguing that her opponents should shut up because the fighting is damaging the Republican party. I'd like to know why.

The fighting over Harriet Miers is less vitriolic than the fighting over Terri Schiavo was and the issue is far less fundamental, yet the Schiavo issue did not split the party. The fight over Schiavo was about fundamental issues of life and death and the role of the courts and the federal government in deciding these issues. The fight over Miers is mostly just about strategy. We all want the same thing, we just disagree on whether we are getting it or whether Bush is going about it in the right way. If Schiavo didn't split the party, I don't see why Miers would.

So, yes, there is some danger of people saying things they shouldn't have said and making enemies and creating fractures. But is that really more of a risk for the party than is the idea that supporters of Bush aren't allowed to tell him when they think he is shafting them? Would the party really be better off if people who were crushingly disappointed with Bush's actions would just keep the disappointment to themselves, get discouraged and not bother to vote in the next election?

Isn't the whole purpose of supporting someone for political office that you expect the person to carry out your wishes? If you can't express your wishes and argue for them, what is the point of voting? Don't the people who supported George Bush for president have a right to expect that they will have some influence over his decisions? What kind of influence can anyone expect if they are told to shut up whenever they disagree with him? Why would anyone support the Republican candidate for president if he is just going to become an unapproachable icon who makes decisions from on high, decisions that may not be questioned?

No, this intra-party fight is not the problem. The problem is that Bush failed to heed the wishes of his supporters. And the best possible outcome is for Bush to prove that he listens to his supporters by rethinking the nomination. That is what would make people want to vote Republican --evidence that the Republican leadership will listen to them.

artificial intelligence and the law

Michael Williams points to a California law that seems intended to protect the rights of artificial inteligences. The law makes it illegal to sell video games where the player physically or mentally abuses a virtual victim. But there is a restriction. Quoting from the law:
... the virtual victim must be conscious of the abuse at the time it is inflicted;

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rita and Cajun

Shoot. I kept meaning to write something about the Trials of a Cajun Storm Survivor, but never got around to it and now the time has pretty much passed. Anyway, if you haven't been keeping up with Mostly Cajun's adventures in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, you should go read it. Just start here and scroll up.

A couple of posts up is where he tells about his house burning down and all his cats dying in the fire. Part of the reason I haven't posted before is because that kind of thing is so hard to respond to and I didn't know what to say. In fact, one day I started to write about this, but I had just written a post in favor of shooting dogs, so it didn't really seem like a good time to talk about a friend who had just lost four cats.

Anyway, he seems to be bouncing back like I knew he would. Keep on keeping on, Cajun.

bad arguments by Hugh Hewitt

I really hate to pick on Hugh Hewitt, but he is letting his politics triumph over his good sense. First he says
I asked Justice Hecht if there is any chance of Harriet Miers withdrawing her nomination. "None," replied the justice with absolute certainty. He repeated the point. He has talked at length with her since the nomination, and she's not for turning.
So the question is, "What is the advantage of carrying on the attack from the right?" Answer: None.
But this clearly doesn't follow. We don't have to defeat Miers by getting her to withdraw. We could get the president to withdraw the nomination or we could get the Senate to reject her. And we don't have to defeat her at all to make the fight worthwhile. I think it would be a positive good if Bush were as timid about picking fights with conservatives as he is about picking fights with liberals. When he angers liberals, he gets trashed in the entire MSM for weeks. There are calls for impeachment. He is said to hate black people or want to starve old people and bomb children. And it keeps coming back to haunt him for years.

When Bush angers conservatives, there is some muted criticism, quickly smothered by respected conservatives like Hewitt. A few weeks later, all is forgotten, and Bush is the conservative president again.

Why in the world would Bush do anything to anger the liberals when it is so much less dangerous to anger their opponents? We need to change this dynamic, and if the Miers nomination serves in any small way to do that, then it will be worth it whether it succeeds or not.

Then Hewitt says
I also have to note that the demand for a paper trail proving Miers' acceptability on matters of judicial philosophy --a demand most vocally and repeatedly made by Mark Levin, as recently as yesterday on this show-- opens the door to demands by Democrats for contrary assurances. If the Democrats retreat to filibuster over future nominees, and the debate over the constitutional option unfolds before a national audience, be prepared to hear thrown back at opponents of the filibuster the Democrats charge that the GOP wants to manipulate the confirmation process so it gets the answers it must have but that Democrats may not have the answers they demand.
In general, Hewitt is arguing that anything Republicans criticize Miers for will become fair game for the Democrats to criticize future picks. But that is ridiculous. We aren't saying "Miers does not have a paper trail to confirm her judicial philosophy, therefore she is not qualified to serve on the Supreme Court." We are saying "Miers does not have a paper trail to confirm her judicial philosophy, therefore we do not believe that you, George Bush, are keeping your promise to us."

If George Bush promised the Democrats not to nominate anyone who might rule against Roe, then they would have good reason to complain about a lack of a paper trail --not because such a paper trail is required on principle, but because they need some way to verify that Bush is keeping his promise.


Don't miss the latest, greatest Storyblogging Carnival over at Tales By Sheya.

Monday, October 10, 2005

lawyers and perspective

Patterico notes that James Dobson has made a claim to some special knowledge about Miers or the nomination. Patterico wants Specter to subpoena Dobson to ask Dobson what he knows. I argued in the comments that this would be an abuse of power, Patterico disagrees. Then Angry Clam, another lawyer agreed with Patterico. And now, Xrlq, yet another lawyer, agrees with those two. All three of these guys are strong on other personal rights such as those embodied in the first and second amendments, but they just don't see a subpoena as a serious form of coercion.

I'm guessing there are two factors here. First, as lawyers, they have to go down to the courthouse all the time. They know how to get there (Xrlq has quite an extensive theory of LA freeways, don't ever ask him about how to get somewhere); they know where to park; they know the procedures for getting in. They are used to being told what to do, where to be, and when to be there by some judge. And they don't have to take time off from their other pursuits to do it, because that is their pursuit.

To those guys it is no big deal. To the rest of us it is an enormous imposition, made even more burdensome by the fact that we are being forced to do it under threat of prison. For Dobson, you can add to that the burden of travelling to another city so that it wastes a minimum of two days of his time.

In addition to not recognizing how much of a burden a subpoena is, I suspect that lawyers become so accustomed to using subpoenas that they lose a sense of the seriousness of threatening people with deadly force. They are like a butcher who kills animals without thought, or a physician who thinks nothing of sticking his fingers up someone's arse. They have lost the proper sense of grossness on this issue.

Yes, butchers, doctors, and lawyers are necessary, but it would still be wrong for a butcher to go around killing animals for no reason or for a physician to start fingering people for kicks. Likewise, a lawyer becomes a problem when he begins to see the coercive power of the law as something to be applied on a whim.

As Dwilkers pointed out in the comments, there is no reason to think that Dobson has anything to say that Congress has any right to subpoena him for. Dobson may have been lying. Rove may have been lying. Rove may have told Dobson something personal about Miers that is none of Congress's business. Or Rove may have told Dobson something serious about Miers that Congress may want to know, but that Congress has no right compelling someone to tell them. Miers does not give up her right to privacy just because she has been nominated to the Supreme Court and Dobson does not give up his right to have a private conversation just because he is talking to Rove.

When I argued that this would have a chilling effect on conversations between people and the Whitehouse, only Clam answered, and the only thing he said is that subpoenas haven't chilled other conversations. But I think he's wrong. The possibility of a subpoena does chill illegal conversations and conversations that may bear on illegal activity. I'll bet "don't tell me about it" is one of the most common phrases uttered by people who like to skate close to the edge of the law. Is that what you want people say when Karl Rove calls them?

Is this in your future?

Karl Rove: Hey, Patterico, the president wants me to call up some bloggers and tell them about our plans to ...

Patterico: Hold it, Mr. Rove. I'd love to get a story, but I'm involved in a critical prosecution right now and I just can't afford the possibility of getting yanked off to Washington to testify. Maybe another time.