Friday, May 27, 2016

      "Trial by Internet" and the Presumption of Innocence

      Only a couple of weeks ago, I noted on this blog (in "Philosophy's Gatekeepers") that it had been 190 days since the last major breaking-news story about sexual harassment or assault in professional Philosophy. That was a noteworthy fact,

      And then, last Friday, the Thomas Pogge story broke.

      I'll just direct readers to the news coverage already out there on the Pogge scandal (here, here, here, and here) to learn the details of it. This post is not about Pogge.  I will not (directly) address the specific allegations against Pogge here. Rather, I want to look at the assumptions at work in (and implications of) one particular passage in Pogge's "Response to the Allegations by Fernanda Lopez Aguilar," in which Pogge cautions against what he calls "trial by Internet."

      Thursday, May 26, 2016

      #30DaySongChallenge 2016

      Each summer, I participate in the #30DaySongChallenge. As regular readers of this blog already know, what that entails is my posting a song in response to a daily prompt for each of the 30 days of June, accompanied with some (long or short) post that accounts for why I chose that song for that day's prompt.  June 1 is next Wednesday, so this year's challenge is just around the corner!

      This year, I've decided to return to the the "original" list of #30DaySongChallenge prompts, copied below. I've experimented with several iterations of that prompt-list over the last few years and none of them have worked out to be as generative and satisfying as the original list, so back to the basics it is. You know what they say: if it ain't broke....

      As I've done in the past, I will post a link to my picks each day on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. And, also as I've done in the past, I invite everyone to play along. You don't have to write an explanation of your picks (like I will) and you don't need a blog (like this one) to participate.  You can just add your pick in the comments here each day, or you can post your pick on your own Facebook or Twitter feeds.

      If you're interested, you can see my selections for the previous years by clicking on the following links:
      2011 #30DaySongChallenge
      2013 #30DaySongChallenge
      2014 #30DaySongChallenge
      2015 #30DaySongChallenge

      What follows is the #30DaySongChallenge prompt-list for June 2016 that I will be using.  I invite all of you with blogs, Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter to join me in posting one song per day in response to the following prompts throughout the month of June. As in previous years, I'll use this page as an "anchor" page for my #30DaySongChallenge, which means that I will continually update this list with a link to my pick for each day as the month progresses.

      Tuesday, May 24, 2016

      Twitter: Now With More Characters, Less Character

      Twitter has changed a lot over the last few years, but until recently there was one inviolable rule to which all users were obliged: tweets must be limited to 140 characters or less. Because a computer "character" is a unit of information that roughly corresponds to a grapheme-- letter, number, punctuation mark, or whitespace-- the challenge of saying what one means in 140 characters or less is colossal.  So, Twitter users adapted their communications to their medium, producing a number of compressions, modifications, mutations, and (some would say) perversions of language that must be genuinely fascinating to linguists, curious and strange (but eminently useful) to the rest of us.

      .The new changes that Twitter announced today are, basically, "workarounds" for the longstanding 140-characters-or-less limit.  Twitter says that it's still maintaining that rule, but their announced changes allow for at least two significant exemptions to what counts as "included" in that 140 count.  First, in both tweets and replies, @names will no longer count and, second, media attachments won't be counted as used characters.  As regular Twitter users know, both those exemptions make a huge difference.

      I, for one, am sad to see these changes, The three great virtues of Twitter, to my mind, have always been (1) hashtags, (2) real-time access to developing news and events, and (3) the very unique character of wit and insight produced by the requirement to be concise.

      Thursday, May 19, 2016

      "Grace and Frankie" and the Right to Die

      There are so many things about Netflix's original comedy series Grace and Frankie (now in its second season) to recommend it, not least of which is its pitch-perfect gallows humor.  Orbiting around the decidedly 21st century lives of four septuagenarians-- the eponymous Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and their now ex-husbands, Saul (Sam Waterston) and Robert (Martin Sheen), who came out as gay men, divorced their wives, and married each other very late in life-- Grace and Frankie never has to reach to far for a joke, whether of the garden-variety old folks' ilk (Viagra jokes, menopause jokes, hip replacement jokes, old people doing technology jokes) or the more story-specific sort (infidelity jokes, divorce jokes, coming out of the closet jokes). For a show with all the trappings of a situation comedy, Grace and Frankie is anything but formulaic. Its humor is brutally honest, impressively thoughtful, shockingly politically progressive, equal parts probative and revelatory. And, for a series that draws the bulk of its subject matter from trials and tribulations that attend only those very near the end of life, it is also surprisingly, refreshingly smart and tender-hearted.

      Those last two merits are perhaps nowhere more evident than in one of the sub-plots that emerges near the conclusion of Season 2, focusing on Babe (played the inimitable Estelle Parsons), who has decided to relinquish her "fight" with cancer and has enlisted her old friends, Grace and Frankie, to assist her suicide. The show's writers never accord Babe's story anything other than subplot status. And that decision is a credit to the show.

      Thursday, May 12, 2016

      Philosophy's Gatekeepers

      Yesterday's piece by Jay Garfield and Bryan Van Norden's in NYT's The Stone ("If Philosophy Won't Diversify, Let's Call It What It Really Is") has already generated some of the most interesting online discussion about the discipline and profession of Philosophy that I've seen since our last salacious exposé. (What are we at now, philosophers? 190 days since the last major breaking-news story about sexual harassment or assault in our discipline?  That must be a record!) Anyway, Garfield and Van Norden's central thesis is that what gets called "philosophy" in the United States is, in fact, an "area study" with a decidedly limited Euro-American focus.  If departments are going to continue only teaching courses in what Garfield and Van Norden call "Western" philosophy, they argue that we ought rename those departments in a manner that is more descriptively accurate. Garfield and Van Norden recommend "Department(s) of European and American Philosophy" and, in doing so, imply a number of complicated presumptions about philosophy, about "Western" philosophy, and about what counts as better or worse ways to "diversify" the discipline.

      There are a number of excellent critical engagements with Garfield and Van Norden's piece already out there in cyberspace --see in particular the response essays by John Drabinski ("Diversity, Neutrality, Philosophy"), Eric Schliesser ("On the Very Idea of Non-Western Philosophy"), and Justin Smith ("Garfield and Van Norden on 'Non-European' Philosophy")-- so what follows is just a few passing thoughts on this very interesting discussion.

      Tuesday, May 03, 2016

      Not Every Idea Needs a Tool, But Every Tool Needs an Idea

      Last semester, I conducted a test-run on a new assignment I had devised for my courses-- the "Technology and Human Values" project-- and I was, quite frankly, floored by the work that students did for it. The basic assignment is for students to work in groups of four or fewer to devise a merely-possible technological solution to a real-world "value-laden" (social, political, or moral) problem. Each group is required give a 50-minute presentation of their project and each individual group member must write a 2-page analysis of the project. After last semester's experiment, I made a few minor adjustments to the Technology and Human Values Project assignment and, this semester, I unleashed it on all three sections of my Contemporary Moral Issues classes (which is the gen-ed requirement, intro-level Ethics course at my home institution, Christian Brothers University.) And, again, I have been absolutely astonished at the sophistication, innovation, and genuine thoughtfulness of students' work this semester.

      So, I thought I'd share the details of this assignment for anyone out there interested in mixing things up a bit in their classrooms.  Consider this Open-Source pedagogy.  If you like this idea, feel free to take it and use it. If you want to tweak it, no problem. (But please do send me your suggestions for improvement!)  I'm only a couple of terms into using this assignment, but it has already had a major impact on my courses, so for whatever it's worth, I highly recommend giving it a try,

      [NOTE: This is a long post, most of which includes details of the actual assignment.  If you want to see examples of the best of last year's student projects, here are the 2015 Standout Projects.  If you want to skip all the hullabaloo and just get to examples of this year's best projects, just scroll on down until you see the "2016 Standout Projects" section waaayyyy below.. If you want to download a copy of my "Technology and Human Values Final Project" explanation and instructions to read later, just click here. For the rest of you dear, patient folks, what immediately follows is the blow-by-blow account of this assignment.]