Your job’s so easy a robot could do it!

Luckily that applies to my job very rarely. But there are a few aggregation tasks that a computer can do better. Like writing “The Election in Numbers.” So I wrote a Python script to do TEIN for me. It’s progressed in fits and starts but now it’s good enough that I can just copy the HTML it spits out, add tags and assorted other metadata, and post away. The last two components to come together were the party IDs for Senate and gubernatorial candidates (accomplished by manually entering info into a dictionary, because I couldn’t think of a better way) and the screenshot at top (which is a YouTube URL hack).

Anyway, the script runs off of ScraperWiki here, where you can also see the code. There are points where it could be more sophisticated. For example, I’m sure there’s a better way to read JSON than what I use for scraping Nate Silver’s predictions, and I fiddled with raw HTML on YouTube user pages rather than spending the time to learn the site’s REST API. I also considered and rejected using HuffPo’s Pollster API in place of the RealClearPolitics scrape for the same reason. But it does the job and writing it was more fun (and faster) than manually copying poll results every day, so I’ll take the win.

Joyce on Skepticism

I must confess that I grow weary of attacking moral naturalism. Speaking as both a moral skeptic and an atheist, I find myself classifying defenders of moral realism along with apologists for theism (and I have never bothered to argue against theists). Both, to my mind, have about them an air of slightly desperate conservatism: an anxious determination to ensure that popular belief systems turn out as true. I do not accept as a general rule the orthodox methodological principles underlying such an approach; I do not think it the job of the philosopher to leave ordinary beliefs and attitudes as unruffled as he or she can. How much more invigorating philosophy might be if it ruffled us; how much more intriguing life might be if we opened our minds to the possibility that we’ve all been dramatically mistaken about the nature of the world.

Rest here. See also Guy Kahane’s response here.

2012, so far

Because why not.

Albums

  1. Death Grips – The Money Store
  2. Grimes – Visions
  3. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
  4. Sharon van Etten – Tramp
  5. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
  6. The Shins – Port of Morrow
  7. Twin Shadow – Confess
  8. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
  9. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
  10. Chairlift – Something
  11. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
  12. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
  13. The Men – Open Your Heart
  14. Kishi Bashi – 151a
  15. The Walkmen – Heaven
  16. King Tuff – King Tuff
  17. of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
  18. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
  19. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
  20. Best Coast – The Only Place
  21. Beach House – Bloom
  22. Metric – Synthetica
  23. Regina Spektor – What We Saw from the Cheap Seats

Songs

  1. Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night”
  2. Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”
  3. Cloud Nothings – “Stay Useless”
  4. Grimes – “Oblivion”
  5. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”
  6. Twin Shadows – “Golden Light”
  7. The Shins – “The Rifle’s Spiral”
  8. Death Grips – “Hacker”
  9. Sleigh Bells – “Comeback Kid”
  10. Chairlift – “I Belong in Your Arms”
  11. Dirty Projectors – “Impregnable Question”
  12. Sharon van Etten – “Serpents”
  13. Japandroids – “The Night of Wine and Roses”
  14. The Men – “Open Your Heart”
  15. King Tuff – “Bad Thing”
  16. Fun. – “Some Nights”
  17. Metric – “Youth Without Youth”
  18. of Montreal – “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff”
  19. Beach House – “Myth”
  20. Kishi Bashi – “Manchester”
  21. The Walkmen – “Heaven”
  22. Killer Mike – “Big Beast”
  23. Best Coast – “The Only Place”

Stuart Butler is a very good writer

A conservative libertarian does not believe that a
truly free society will result from some Götterdämmerung of government, in which the shackles of the state are finally thrown off, and that any compromise will only postpone the day of freedom. The conservative libertarian would probably not differ too much in his vision of utopia, but he believes that freedom is a comparative situation, and that we may need to compromise, horse-trade, and sometimes travel by an indirect route to bring society closer to the final but unattainable goal.

Heritage’s Stuart Butler, defending his “enterprise zones” idea in 1982. I think a lot of left-leaning folks underestimate the extent to which the exact same arguments about the virtues of compromise take place, or at the very least took place, on the right.

Daniel Tosh, Concepts, and Categories

The insane misogynists who have invaded Alyssa’s comment section to defend Daniel Tosh’s right to tell women it’d be funny if they were gang-raped (a right that only exists as a limit on government action and does not actually seem to be in question here but whatever) make a variety of stupid points, perhaps the dumbest of which is the following:

1. Some say rape jokes aren’t funny.

2. Comedian X told Joke Y about rape which is funny.

3. People who say rape jokes aren’t funny are wrong.

There are so many things wrong this it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, Alyssa has never said that rape jokes can’t be funny and has written as much. For another, the statement that a certain joke or category of joke is or isn’t funny (or that a food is/isn’t delicious, a novel/song/film is/isn’t good) isn’t a proposition capable of being true or false, it’s an expression of an attitude. People who say this about ethics are wrong, because statements have to be truth-capable to have normative force, but it seems clearly correct about aesthetic judgment. Parfit in On What Matters is great on this point:

It is sometimes claimed that we have reasons to enjoy, or be thrilled or in other ways moved by, great artistic works. In many cases, I believe, this claim is false. We can have reasons to want to enjoy, or be thrilled or moved by, these artistic works. But these are not reasons to enjoy, or to be thrilled or moved by, these works. We do have reasons to admire some novels, plays or poems, given the importance of some of the ideas that they express. But poetry is what gets lost in the translation, even if this translation expresses the same ideas. And we never have reasons to enjoy, or be moved by, great music. If we ask what makes some musical passage so marvelous, the answer might be ‘Three modulations to distant keys’. This answer describes a cause of our response to this music, not a reason. Modulations to distant keys are like the herbs, spices, or other ingredients that can make food delicious. When someone neither enjoys nor is moved by some great musical work, this person is not in any way less than fully rational, by failing to respond to certain reasons. In comparing music with food in this way, I am not belittling music, ranking it below novels, plays, or poems. Music is at least as great as the other arts. Without music, Nietszche plausibly (though falsely) said, life would be an error. But music is also the lost battlefield and graveyard of most general aesthetic theories.

So the jerks in the comments say “Wishing date rape upon people is hilarious!” and I say “No it isn’t!” and we’re at an impasse, because we’re not actually saying things that can be right or wrong, we’re expressing our emotional reactions to a certain stimulus. I happen to think that particular stimulus is dangerous for non-aesthetic reasons, but that’s a separate matter. Neither of us is right in the sense that their judgment that the joke was funny has any normative weight. It doesn’t mean that I ought to make myself find the joke funny. It’s not clear what that would even mean.

But the particularly startling thing about this response is the idea that everyday concepts are clearly demarcated categories such that general statements about them can be refuted with a single counterexample. When people say “rape jokes aren’t funny” or even – as the woman upon whom Tosh wished date rape said – “rape jokes are never funny,” they don’t actually mean “there exist no jokes that concern the subject of rape that I find humorous”. Similarly, when I say “Goldfish are shaped like fish” it does not constitute a refutation to point out that some are shaped like basketballs.

The term “rape joke” does not refer to every joke about rape every told, it refers to the concept of a rape joke that exists in the mind of the people talking about it, the same way “Goldfish” does not refer to every cracker Pepperidge Farm has ever marketed as such but to what we think of when we think of a Goldfish. And what we’re talking about when we’re talking about rape jokes is not this Ever Mainard bit or this Always Sunny scene. We’re talking about jokes that make women who are violently assaulted by men the target of ridicule. That’s just the meaning the term has taken on, for better or worse. So when people make statements about that term, treating it like a rigidly defined category, as Alyssa’s commenters have, is preposterous.

Anthony Gottlieb on Rorty

Rorty had urged philosophers to abandon their intellectual hubris and instead content themselves with interminably swapping enlightening tales from diverse perspectives. It was never quite clear why anyone would want to listen to such stories without endings.

Rest here. On a related note, I was talking with a friend a while back about how embarrassingly seriously Rorty takes Freudian explanations of behavior, and how it would make more sense if you subbed in (reputable, not link-baity) ev psych or behavioral genetics. But the whole postmodernist project Rorty was engaged in doesn’t make any sense if one accepts – as one should – that the way we behave and conceive of ourselves is not just a collection of societal discourses but in large measure genetically heritable. Some things vary across cultures but a whole lot don’t. You can’t overthrow a hegemonic discourse that’s in your DNA.

Jason Brennan on the Methodology of Constitutional Theory

From my perspective as an outsider, most of the field of constitutional law seems intellectually corrupt. It seems that almost everybody does the following:

1. Start with a political philosophy–a view of what you want the government to be able to do and what you want to the government to to be forbidden from doing.

2. Take the Constitution as a given.

3. Reverse engineer a theory of constitutional interpretation such that it turns out–happily!–that the Constitution forbids what you want it to forbid and allows what you want it to allow.

The rest is just as good.