Monday, January 29, 2007

The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman

Worth Watching:

Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman
Monday, January 29, 2007, 10pm (AZ time) on PBS, Channel 8.

"A documentary on the life and ideas of Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006), with comments from former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan; economists Gary Becker and Paul Samuelson, and former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar."

Sad News

Some sad news to report. I heard today that Professor Fitch, of the ASU Philosophy Department, passed away this weekend. He had been on leave this semester and last to battle the illness he had, but succumbed on Saturday morning. I never took a course with Prof. Fitch and didn't know him well, but he was very popular among the students (undergrad and grad alike) and was deeply respected by the faculty.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Proper Grad Student Etiquette

For all those who ask this of me regularly:

From PHD Comics. (click on image to see it in full resolution)


I've begun writing a short monthly column for the Or Adam newsletter. Each month, I'll briefly discuss an important thinker in Jewish history or in secular humanist thought. The following was the first "Scholarly Notes" with a focus on Maimonides.

One of the greatest scholars of medieval Jewish history, and arguably of any period, was the Spanish born Moses ben Maimon, better known by his Greek name: Maimonides. Born in Córdoba in 1135, Maimonides eventually settles in Cairo after moving around to escape Muslim persecution and forced conversions of Jews. In Cairo, he rises to prominence as an influential physician and philosopher. He was an expert in Greek philosophy and wrote many secular medical treatises, but his two most famous works are religious in focus: the Mishneh Torah and The Guide to Perplexed. The Mishneh Torah was the Jewish world's first comprehensive law code, integrating laws and rulings from the Tanakh, the Talmuds, Midrashic literature, contemporary rabbinic writings, and even non-Jewish sources like Aristotle. The Guide to the Perplexed seeks to put Jewish law and beliefs on a solid rational basis; that is, he argues that the beliefs were not just the dictates of the Torah or rabbis, but were deduced and proven by reason. In doing so, Maimonides attempts a synthesis of Jewish thinking and Aristotelian philosophy. Although Maimonides' rationalism met much opposition in the Jewish world, many of his views are today taken, at least by the Orthodox, to be defining elements of Judaism. Maimonides also had a profound influence the non-Jewish world. He set the ground for much of later Christian Medieval philosophy: including Thomas Aquinas who attempts, similar to Maimonides' synthesis of Judaism and Aristotelianism, a synthesis of Christianity and Aristotelianism. With Maimonides' attempt to put Jewish thought and beliefs on a rational basis, we should also see him, though quite unintentionally, as setting the stage for later secular Jewish thinking.

Sources: The Teaching Company's Introduction to Judaism by Shai Cherry; A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson; and Wikipedia.

Some changes

In the last month or so, I've started blogging regularly (and simultaneously with Philosophy Blog) at my myspace blog. I've decided that instead of posting the same things on each blog, I want to differentiate the purpose of each. Philosophy Blog will return to its initial purpose: a place for me to blog about philosophically related topics, issues, and questions. All the personal, quirky, silly blogging will go on Myspace Blog, which will also automatically feed into my Facebook profile. There will be occasional crossover blogs, but I will try to keep to this division.

I haven't decided yet if I am going to clean out the non-philosophy related blogs at Philosophy Blog or not. I most likely will keep the older, pre-myspace blogs, but will delete the posts that are duplicated at myspace.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Comic Censorship

My loyal and valued readers will have noticed that I posted a Get Fuzzy comic strip earlier in the week. This strip started a story line of Bucky running for president and sharing his campaign signs with Rob (aka Pinkie) and Satchel. The gag was that Bucky was inadvertently referencing marijuana in his ads. Today's comic, for instance, shows Bucky trying to get the Christian vote with a biblical reference: "Bucky Katt: More Fun than Being Stoned".

I bring this up again because I noticed that the Arizona Republic was running a different set of Get Fuzzy strips. I also spoke to my mother in Boston and the Boston Globe is also not running the Bucky For President story line.

I am outraged at this ridiculous censorship. There is no notice that this strip is different. What else is being censored in the paper without our knowledge? I am going to write the AZ Republic and may even cancel my subscription.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

For my fellow Sports Guy fans

From The Onion:

Confused Bill Simmons Picks The Departed To Win Super Bowl

LOS ANGELES—Pop-culture enthusiast and sportswriter Bill Simmons, a regular columnist for ESPN's Page 2, was evidently suffering from genre confusion earlier this week when he picked Martin Scorsese's The Departed to win Super Bowl XLI.

Read the rest...

Read Bill Simmons "The Sports Guy".

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

More good news on coffee

Study: Coffee May Slow Balding

Just 60 cups a day...

Object lesson: Dose makes the poison (or in this case the cure)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bucky For President

Finally, a candidate to put my support behind:

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I'm crushed

Nothing to say. Just emotional drained and crushed.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Review is published!

My review, referred to in several earlier posts, of Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-perfectionist Politics by Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl has been published in the The Independent Review. I've been a fan of 'the Dougs' work for a long time and so it was a great honor and privilege to review their latest work. And Norms of Liberty is a very good and worthwhile book. So, as I do in the review, I recommend it here as well.

Read the review...

Patriots to the AFC Championship Game

I must admit that I think that being a Patriots and Red Sox fan has easily taken 5 years off my life. The level of stress in watching playoff games can't be healthy. But with the Pats returning to the AFC Championship game, it's worth it.

The Pats beat the Chargers yesterday in a hard fought, down in the trenches kind of game. Neither team seemed to be able to get a sustained rhythm going. The Chargers got something going in the first half and got two touchdowns; but the Patriots scored right before the half to keep the game with in 4 and then in the second half the Patriots just seemed to be building while the Chargers seemed to fade: they started to make more mistakes and panic a little. I was surprised to see them move away from the run as much as they did. LT wasn't breaking too many big runs, but he was doing a good job of wearing things down. The Patriots, supremely confident in their ability to win, just kept coming and eventually evened the score and then went ahead on the young rookie kicker's leg.

This game was one of the most stressful games I've ever watched. I swear it was more gut-wrenching than the Super Bowls--but that's probably just because of proximity.

So on to Indy. This will be another battle. The Colts have been, surprisingly, winning with their D the last few games. But this game will be a real test for the Colts. The Ravens had little offensive power and the Chiefs, backing into the playoffs because of Denver's lost, were just not a very good football team this year. They were basically one-dimensionally on offense and so a team like that is going to be stopped in the playoffs. The Patriots are not one dimensional. They can score on the ground or in the air. (Dillion and Maroney combined for 23 yards and the Pats put up 24 points). Manning is always a powerful offensive weapon -- even when he's not playing well. It'll be an exciting, heart-pounding, hair-pulling out game; but I like the Pats chances for a fourth Super Bowl appearance in the Double-O Decade.

I'm also going to go with Saints in the NFC Championship game. I continue to be under-impressed by the Bears; though kudos to Grossman for playing well yesterday.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Patriots Advance

My New England Patriots beat the Jets on Sunday 37-16 to advance to the next round of the AFC playoffs. They'll face the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

The Jets presented a tough challenge for the Pats--the score belies a contested game until the fourth quarter. The Jets have a lot of talent and, now, with Mangini (a former Patriots assistant coach) they are very well coached.

San Diego presents an entirely different challenge. They are so talented on both sides of the ball, they will be tough to stop. Belichick is a master of game planning to stop one player; so I'll imagine they'll scheme to make Rivers beat them rather than their MVP, offensive player of the year running back. Of course, even if they beat the Chargers, the Pats would then have to play either the Ravens or the Colts: neither one a picnic in the park.

On Saturday, I watched the last quarter of the Dallas-Seattle match-up. Dallas had a chance to win but their young quarterback miffed the hold for a field goal and then failed to make the first down or a TD after recovering the ball. A very tough and heart-wrenching way to lose. I had no dog in this race, but I'd hate to be a Dallas fan: my Cowboy fan friend Joe Duarte's response to the game. I do give Romo some credit for immediately picking up the ball on running for the end zone, that was quick thinking and a few inches more and he might have made it. That's what is so great about football: a few inches either way and you can be a hero or a goat.

Divisional Playoffs:
Eagles @ Saints. I'll go with the Saints in this game. They are at home, and the Eagles just barely escaped from the Giants.

Colts @ Ravens. This is tough; a lot of drama to this game. Colts return to Baltimore. Manning against the Ravens D. I'll go with the home team again.

Seattle @ da Bears. Kind of depends on the weather. If it's a typical January in Chicago, no way Seattle wins. Otherwise it could be close, especially if Rex Grossman doesn't control himself. I'll have to go with the home team again.

Pats @ Chargers. I can't be objective here. It'll be tough, but Pats will pull it out in a classic Pats fashion.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Puzzle of Mystery

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink! and The Tipping Point, has a very interesting article over at The New Yorker.

Drawing on a distinction, attributed to national-security expert Gregory Treverton, between a puzzle and a mystery, Gladwell offers an analysis of Enron and the Iraqi war. The distinction is essentially this: A puzzle is a problem that is solved by finding more information. When the information is in place, the puzzle is solved (or the solution is clear). A mystery is something different. It's not a matter of missing information, it's a matter of how one puts the information together.

So Enron and Iraq were (are) mysteries; there was no clear cut solution that was only out of reach because we lacked information. The information was there, it was how the information was understood that mattered.

Gladwell describes how Enron's business model and accounting procedures were out there to be seen. In fact, he refers to a 1998 Cornell business school project where six students correctly identified that Enron's practices were risky, dubious, and possibly manipulative. Other financial reports found similar things. Both found this information in public documents.

So the 'problem of Enron' was not a puzzle. It was a mystery: figuring out what was going on and what was going to happen required complicated and thorough analysis of the information already available (we didn't need more disclosure, we needed better understanding of what was disclosed). Getting the right conclusion was an exercise in good judgment, require experience and sometimes specialized knowledge.

Iraq is similar in that understanding what was going on prior to invasion as well as predicting the consequences required analyzing countless bits of information and putting them together in the appropriate ways. This in part explains the great divergence of viewpoints and visions on pre-invasion and post-invasion Iraq: People are looking at the information and seeing different things.

Gladwell doesn't offer any solutions or proposals, just an interesting analysis of how the way one looks at a problem (is it a puzzle or a mystery) is deeply relevant to one's success. In a puzzle, one needed more information. In a mystery, one needs comprehension of the information one already has. So looking at a problem as one or the other will counsel different courses of action.

A few thoughts:
  • One wonders after reading Gladwell, exactly what Enron did that was explicitly criminal? I am not apologizing (I know little about the facts of the case, so this is just speculation) for Enron, but it seems like, according to Gladwell, they followed the accounting and reporting rules pretty much as they should but got caught in their own complicated web of financial tools (that they barely understood themselves) and collapsed. They may have been deceptive but did they violate state or federal laws? It strikes me, at least following Gladwell's account, that they got into some shady areas that was just enough to hang them on, but had they not been as big or caused so much financial disruption, they would have gotten off with some fines or more minor sentences.
  • The puzzle/mystery distinction might be interesting as a way of distinguishing science and philosophy. Science is about puzzles: finding the facts and collecting information. Problem-solving is largely a matter of getting better information. Philosophy is about mysteries: taking the information and conceptualizing; putting it together in a way that makes the best sense of the information. Problem-solving here is a matter of honing one's judgment.