Author Archives: Neddy Merrill

November 17, 2010, 11:24 am

Everyone hates the APA

At least a lot of people do.

I think there’s near-universal agreement among philosophers (!?) that the online job postings could be much, much better, e.g. easily searched by areas of specialization and competence. As Geoff Pynn snarks in comments: “But how ever could it be done? What great Secrets must Nature yield before we can harness her Powers to such wondrous ends?”

Does anyone have a lot of experience with teleconference-style interviews? Phone interviews are terrible, I think, but we’ve never done video interviews, and if it’s even close to as good, and if we do them uniformly (i.e., all candidates do their interviews this way, rather than only some), it could save everyone an undesired hassle. It really would be a great thing, especially for candidates, if the trip were no longer necessary.

November 16, 2010, 11:14 am

But what about the Frege-Geach problem?!

Am I understanding this right? A teacher starts talking to a guy in a bar, tells him a story about how another teacher used the word “nigger,” and this results in the storyteller getting into trouble?

The intuitive sense of unfairness comes from the fact that we all understand the difference between genuinely asserting and using the same language in a way that doesn’t assert. You might overhear me utter the phrase “Ari is so handsome” as I’m in the midst of saying “Only Mrs. Kelman could think that Ari is so handsome,” for example. While the phrase itself retains its meaning in the two contexts, the sentences mean very different things.

As I recall, Frege’s general point about this is that there’s no operator that indicates what follows is being asserted. Phrases like “I’m genuinely asserting that….” are themselves subject to the same problem– they can be put in contexts where…

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November 15, 2010, 10:02 am

Writing for a living

The Chronicle has an interesting story about a guy who ghost-writes term papers.

You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.

You know whose fault it is? The system, man. (I was hoping he’d turn out to make incredible money this way, but he says this is his best year yet and he’ll get about $66k.)

November 11, 2010, 12:25 pm


Tom Levenson:

Those final six hours of the war were surreal. The news of the cease-fire order passed swiftly down the line, but the fighting did not stop. U.S. Army captain Harry Truman, commanding an artillery battery, fired under orders until 10:45 a.m. British troops were ordered forward, with instructions to achieve their objectives by eleven. German fire persisted too. Among those killed were British soldiers wearing the Mons star, veterans of the first battle of the war. Within the German lines, troops waited for news of the negotiations in the midst of preparations for a last battle. Early that morning Georg Bucher went to his company commander to beg for more machine gun ammunition. At 7:15, an attack came; Bucher’s machine guns broke it up before the Americans facing him reached his barbed wire. His company’s casualties were light. One new recruit went down with a…

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October 22, 2010, 6:00 pm

When I hear Juan Williams on my radio, I get nervous…

…because something stupid is surely heading my way. First, Williams is probably right to say that NPR was looking for a reason to fire him, though he is wrong about why; it’s not so much that he appears on Fox as it is that he says inane things, e.g. Michelle Obama is like Stokely Carmichael in a dress. (The halfway serious point here is that it’s a mistake to take Williams’ firing out of the context of his general lousiness.)

Second, the people in “muslim dress” on your flight are probably the least likely to be jihadists, unless their nefarious plot involves making everyone very aware of, and suspicious of, their presence.

Third, the phrase “muslim dress” annoys me because it conflates religion and culture. There’s no religious reason to wear salwar kameez instead of a suit. Everyone knows what he meant and it’s not a big thing, but still, irritating. Oh look, someone made t

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October 19, 2010, 10:13 am

It’s a living, breathing document

Via Farley at LGM:

October 4, 2010, 10:07 am

Philippa Foot has died

Sad news.

Two papers I love: “Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives” and “Moral beliefs.”

In “Moral Beliefs” she argues, among other things, that there are conceptual limits on the use of moral vocabulary, that is, moral terms have some sort of fixed content, rather than being terms for the expression of noncognitive states akin to boo or hurray. In her famous example– forgive me, my memory of this is unclear and the book is packed away– she says that a man clasping his hands three times in an hour simply cannot be splendid or brave or whatever unless there’s some story tying those actions to some recognizable good (e.g. if he’s signaling in code or overcoming a stroke or something).

This paper is in opposition to views like RM Hare’s, which say that moral judgments are such because of their formal features, e.g. they endorse or command; they have no fixed content.

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October 3, 2010, 1:08 pm

Human Nature: the top ten

Kevin Drum is looking for a “Human Nature Top Ten” — well-established but underappreciated aspects of human psychology that illuminate behavior. His opening gambits are loss aversion and regression to the mean. I’d add adaptation effects, e.g. the hedonic treadmill: people adapt to changes in levels of (many) goods so that over time the additional good adds nothing to their levels of satisfaction. However, people tend to underestimate the strength of these effects on themselves and others. (E.g. Midwestern college students think that West Coast college students are happier because the weather is nicer; people think they’d be miserable in prison or in a wheelchair.)

Other candidates?

October 2, 2010, 8:38 pm

Two thoughts on Clementi

Some musings on Tyler Clementi’s suicide.

September 29, 2010, 6:59 pm

Student government was never this interesting when I was in college

Assistant DA [oops] AG Andrew Shirvell takes to AC360 to defend his interest in UMichigan student government president Chris Armstrong. Shirvell’s not-at-all obsessive blog.

Shirvell has published blog posts that accuse Armstrong of…sexually seducing and influencing “a previously conservative [male] student” so much so that the student, according to Shirvell, “morphed into a proponent of the radical homosexual agenda;”

Is anyone else reminded of that scene in Rocky Horror where Frank shows up in Brad’s room?

September 21, 2010, 4:02 pm

You have no halal

James Fallows posts about a minor UK scandal over restaurants serving halal meat to unsuspecting customers. Since halal meat is basically kosher meat, here’s a time where substituting another religion’s parallel term is a useful heuristic.

(I once read that a lot more meat is slaughtered kosher than is sold as kosher; if so, then if you eat meat regularly you’ve eaten a bunch of kosher-slaughtered meat. Sneaky Jews!)

Of course, this is just another example of picking out some commonplace activity, calling it by its Arabic name, and holding up the result as an example of the inscrutable Muslim form of life. Another nice example is the fuss over taqiyya, which certainly is utterly alien to Christian thought and also to ordinary moral reasoning.

September 21, 2010, 1:14 pm


“Air hair lair.”
“Sir, good news! One of our men has discovered that semen is an excellent invisible ink.”
“Who the devil is responsible for this?”
“Cumming, sir. Mansfield Cumming.”

September 21, 2010, 11:56 am

Whose incriminating n00dz are on Kaus's hard drive?

Seriously, Newsweek picked up Kausfiles?

September 20, 2010, 5:19 am

Worst undergraduate utterance of the week?

Ole Miss senior Levi West on his school’s unofficial mascot:

“There’s no more of a noble cause than continuing the tradition of Colonel Reb,” said Mr. West, standing in the baking Mississippi heat in a giant stuffed mask and foam shoes. “Everyone loves the guy.”

It’s only Monday but Mr West has set the bar high.

September 19, 2010, 12:01 pm

Bell on Taylor's Crisis on Campus

David Bell reviews Mark Taylor’s new book in TNR.

Mark C. Taylor’s unbelievably misguided book provides an almost textbook example. In April, 2009, he published an incendiary New York Times op-ed entitled “End the University as We Know It,” which denounced graduate education as the “Detroit of higher learning,” demanded the abolition of tenure, and called for the replacement of traditional academic departments by flexible, short-lived “problem-focused programs.” Widely criticized (by me, too, in this magazine), the piece stayed at the top of the Times’s “most e-mailed” list for a cyber-eternity of four days. Enter Alfred A. Knopf.

It gets worse. Via Leiter.