Author Archives: Dana McCourt

October 5, 2010, 8:56 am

The work of friendship in the age of mechanical status updates.

On Facebook, you can hide friends so that their status updates won’t show in your feed.  Rob Walker is worried:  what kind of friend are you if you decide that your friend’s half of the conversation isn’t valuable?  Wouldn’t it be better just not to friend them? I am less concerned, for two reasons, one serious, and one legendary:

  1. “Friending” someone on Facebook is acknowledging a weak tie.  Yes, you sat behind me in concert band in high school.  You emptied your spit valve. I therefore acknowledge you as an acquaintance and accept your request to be a friend.  I will look at your pictures.  I will look at the pictures of your child in a bumblebee costume.  I will see that you finished college.  I will see that you have a new car.  I will see that you crashed your bicycle.  I will see that you need a sheep, cow, and pig for your Farmville.  I will see that you like your…

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September 29, 2010, 3:08 pm

On the trivia banks of atheists.

So you’ve seen the Pew survey, that shows that, among other things, atheists and agnostics tend to know a lot about religious doctrines and practices.  Of particular interest to me in the ensuing discussions was Larison’s distinction between academic religious knowledge and lived religious experience.  It’s simply not all that surprising that a religious believer who grew up with her faith culturally would not have high-level academic knowledge of the particulars of it.  High-level academic knowledge is for Jesuits and converts.  (Mutatis mutandis, natch.)

But it also speaks to a broader puzzle, especially regarding the recent games in the press and in blogs concerning Islam.  Any fool can Google up a copy of a religious text and pull out verses to prove almost anything; the connection between disinterested academic discourse about the interpretation of a passage, breezy bloggy…

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September 25, 2010, 10:31 am

Farce becomes us.

As much as I like Colbert, I am pretty sure that this means we are probably about due for some Visigoths to sack Washington.!

But at least it’s funny.

September 23, 2010, 6:52 pm

A probably unfair post but some of us had to pay for college.

It would be really nice if this topic were discussed by someone who had paid for her degree. Sorry, this talk of cutting funding for BAs because some people wind up with lots of loans burns me up.  They ain’t in better shape with *more* loans, pretend economist, and whatever merits the critique of mindless credentialism has it doesn’t go away by paying only for engineers.  (And to think that engineers don’t benefit from social signaling of degree-granting institutions is unbelievably  naive. )

August 27, 2010, 6:46 am

A prologomena to all future blathering about gender on the Internet

It’s striking, when one reads female philosophers from the early modern period, how little the arguments that a given trait belongs solely to women or to men have changed over the years.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, no one used the term “genetic” or “evolutionary” or “long end of the tail” or “back on Ye Olde Veldte”, but instead argued in terms of “natural” or “innate” differences.  What particular traits belong in the set “innate to women” or “innate to men” have changed according to social fashion, but what’s curious is that the form of the argument hasn’t:

Girls are from their earliest infancy fond of dress.  Not content with being pretty, they are desirous of being thought so; we see, by all their little airs, that this thought engages their attention; and they are hardly capable of understanding what is said to them, before they are to be governed by talking to them of what …

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August 26, 2010, 8:44 am

Here lies poophead.

You won’t learn anything!

August 22, 2010, 8:36 am

Who are you callin' unassimilated?

Douthat gets some pushback on his earlier post concerning assimilation.   His argument was simply that he thinks that bigotry can be justified because it, like procedural liberalism, helps immigrants assimilate.  It looks bad when you state it like that without running it through the pomposity generator, so he’s stepped back a bit.  He wants to draw a distinction between ugly bigotry and positive nativist sentiment, but he concedes that such a distinction is fuzzy and in practice hard to draw, and because he thinks the alternative is European-style assimilation, where no one says anything politically incorrect and immigrants fail to assimilate, better to err on the side of nativist sentiment, which he admits is going to be occasionally indistinguishable from bigotry.


August 21, 2010, 8:33 am

Quick hits.

1.  I think The Last Psychiatrist is reading my blog.  If I start explaining everything in terms of narcissism, send help.
2. Interesting article suggesting that biological differences do not explain cognitive and intellectual differences in boys and girls; the differences are too small, and brains are too plastic, for differences in the brain to explain large differences in achievement or preference.

What does explain it?  Culture, specifically parents’ expectations, which is why I thought this was interesting.  Often in informal discussions people assume that the culture must affect the child’s expectations directly, and so there’s a type of argument that points to a child’s preference for princess costumes or trucks, notes that the child is too young (and too well-parented) to know that those toys are gendered, and concludes therefore that preferences for princess costumes or…

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August 18, 2010, 9:55 am

A homework project.

I was reflecting this morning on the character of some of the responses to 9/11 back in 2001 and early 2002, specifically those that responded with defiance and naughty words to the idea that the attack could cow Americans.  Things like comedians joking that instead of the Twin Towers, we’ll put up three, with “Go. Fuck. Yourself.” emblazoned on the sides, or that instead of the Twin Towers, we’ll put up five, two short ones on the ends, two slightly taller ones in from that, and one big one in the middle, to give terrorists the finger.   I seem to recall a comic book with panels depicting a memorial that made no mention of the ideology of the attackers, because, it was clear, those ignorant assholes would not be worth the time of future Americans in their futuristic memorial.   The message was clear:  these clowns can knock down a building but they can’t knock down us.

We all…

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August 16, 2010, 7:08 am

It's not nutpicking if it's in the NYT, I swear.

I wish I could get paid to peddle ignorance.  (Hush, you.)  Seriously.  Douthat wants American Muslims to recognize that to fit into the American Protestant religious model,  they must reject radicalism in favor of bland assimilationist piety consonant with Western values.

I have an idea!  Maybe one of those moderate imams, you know, the trusted sort that Bush’s administration could consult with after 9/11, one of the good guys, should start a, what should we call it, maybe a Muslim Knights of Columbus or YMMA, a-a-a cultural center!  and put it in a modest, nondescript building in a major metropolitan area.  That would be a good way to show willing.  And they shouldn’t name it something foreign-sounding, but maybe pick an easy-to-pronounce Western name that evokes a place where scholars from all religions could come and work and learn together.

(I wonder where Opus Dei’s NYC…

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August 12, 2010, 12:48 pm

My birthright goes for quite a bit higher than a mess of pottage, thanks.

Will Wilkinson presents what can be described fairly as a non-xenophobic argument for the repeal of the fourteenth Amendment.  He paints a reasonably attractive vision of an economically unified Canada, America, and Mexico, where workers could move about freely, but who would have access to social services and other goodies based on their citizenship.  In such a world, he concludes, it would be very important for other political reasons that citizenship be tied to more than mere perinatal location, and so birthright citizenship would need to be replaced by something else, and he suggests that the various laws employed by various European nations might be good alternatives.  After all, giving someone special rights just because they were born somewhere is the height of moral luck, and hardly cosmopolitan.  Thus, we should work to repeal the 14th Amendment, on liberal cosmopolitan…

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July 26, 2010, 8:51 pm

On beginnings

I agree and disagree with Scott; were Inception properly a movie interested in answering “is it a dream within a dream?”,  or even a film that tried to get us to guess, I would agree that it fails.  But I thought the movie succeeded, though it was good, but not great.   There will be spoilers after the jump, though nothing I think that would rob one’s enjoyment of the film.   Nor will there be a defense of Nolan himself after the jump; it would not surprise me that the man’s intentions could be defended, but the only other work of his I’ve seen is the Batman reboot, which was notable mostly for Heath Ledger’s performance, the disappearing pencil trick, and Batman flipping the truck.

What can I say?  I enjoyed it, and as a curmudgeon-in-training, I have a low tolerance for entertainment that purports to be about something big and philosophical but is really about the authors putting…

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July 23, 2010, 1:47 pm

In conformity with the best and most complete…

I’ve been enjoying the NYT series The Stone, but not primarily for the quality of its articles, which both have been good introductory nibbles  and have in general satisfied my selfish requirement: if my mother reads this, will she be assured that it is still unlikely that my discipline requires hallucinogenic drugs?

Rather, I have enjoyed the comments to the articles, for amidst the gloaming where philosophy and philosophers are condemned as of little interest, reasons glimmer like fireflies.  But the writer didn’t think of… What about this?… You’ve overlooked…. Maybe this shows that instead we should…

It makes me smile.  Thou art the man, thou art the man.

July 22, 2010, 6:48 am

Consent by the dashboard light.

I had the same reaction that many did to the report of the Israeli rape-by-deception case, which is that even if the guy lied, he’s not guilty of rape.  Over at feministphilosophers, there has been some pushback on that, and I’ll formulate the pushback argument like this.  As enlightened folk, we believe that lack of consent characterizes rape.   Consent is a notorious pain in the patootie (forgive the technical term), because someone can fail to consent even when appearances suggest that they didn’t object.   A 12-year-old is too young to consent; someone who fails to resist out of fear of physical harm hasn’t consented; someone who is incapacitated by a date-rape drug hasn’t consented.

Another way that apparent consent can be invalid is if the person has been deceived.  If a prankster serves you a delicious brownie telling you that it’s made of chocolate, and neglects to tell…

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July 7, 2010, 4:45 am


In keeping with the theme of the blog, would Tom Buchanan want a Germany-Netherlands final or a Spain-Netherlands final?