2006-05-31

Not just any hole in the ground

This seems to be the most detailed article to appear on this so far:
Scientists discover prehistoric cave with eight new species in Ramle

2006-05-30

Good times for classical music?

The NYT thinks so: Check the Numbers: Rumors of Classical Music's Demise Are Dead Wrong

As a fan of classical music, this is news I am happy to hear. The article, though it cites national statistics, is understandably New York centric: not only is the Times published here, but New York is undoubtedly the center for classical music in North America. I would have appreciated greater attention to how classical music has fared elsewhere in comparison to New York.

In addition, the encouraging numbers cited in the article make one wonder how many of the business decisions against classical music that have been made were based on little more than ill-founded rumors of its demise.

Walking to Riverdale / Spuyten Duyvil from the Heights

Just a quick note for those who might be interested in making the walk: Most are probably aware that one can walk up Broadway, over the Broadway Bridge to the mainland, and past the Marble Hill section of Manhattan (yes, that’s still Manhattan), before hanging a left to head up the hill and into Riverdale. While this route will get you there, it’s not terribly direct as it sends you well east, requiring you to swing back west to get to Riverdale.

Luckily there’s a better way! Here’s the route:
1. Get yourself to the intersection of Broadway and Dyckman (either by walking along Broadway, or by your favorite path through Ft. Tryon Park).
2. Hang a left on Dyckman, and walk until you’ve passed under the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Amtrak rail tracks. The Dyckman Marina will be in front of you.
3. Turn right into Dyckman Fields, walking past the ball fields and picnic areas until you come to a footbridge over the rail tracks.
4. Cross the bridge in Inwood Hill Park, and follow the path.
5. Take the second unmarked right you come to. The path forks with one fork going to the left, downhill and looping under the Henry Hudson Bridge, while the right fork heads up to the bridge. (The first unmarked right leads immediately to a somewhat shady tunnel under the Henry Hudson Parkway and up into the park.)
6. Follow the path up until it meets the Henry Hudson Parkway.
7. Follow the roadside path across the Henry Hudson Bridge and over Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Harlem River Ship Canal. Enjoy the view of the Spuyten Duyvil Swing Bridge.
8. The path ends just north of Kappock St (roughly where 226th St. would be, were it to exist here).

This route takes me 45 minutes or so at a leisurely pace. It is perhaps another 10 minutes walk to main synagogues (RJC and HIR), if that’s where you’re headed. I think that beats the Broadway route handily. The return is just these steps in reverse.

The reason I mention this route now is that the path through Inwood Hill Park has been dramatically improved since I last walked it. Then it was at best partially paved (and even then cracked and broken) and overgrown — not a route I would have recommended to someone looking to walk to Riverdale on Shabbat and be presentable upon arrival. Now the path is beautifully repaved and widened, and is a pleasure to walk. It remains quite isolated, however, so some (particularly women) might not want to venture it alone.

2006-05-24

Free Culture

After sitting in my stuff-to-read folder on my hard drive for over a year, I finally got around to reading Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, which is available for free download under a Creative Commons license (as is this blog, though I’m sure that’s less exciting to most of you... or should be!). Well, ‘read’ isn’t exactly the right term, since I listened to the free audiobook on my iPod thanks to these folks. The chapters were recorded by different people, and were of varying quality, but were certainly good enough that I didn’t have to revert to the PDF version. The book (and the audiobook version) get my recommendation.

I found many aspects of Free Culture enlightening. I had expected to find many of the historical example of how intellectual property law developed and responded (through legislation and the courts) to technological and social change, and I was not disappointed. I hadn’t expected to learn that the emphasis placed on fair use by advocates of against DRM, etc., is misplaced:
In real space, then, the possible uses of a book are divided into three sorts:(1) unregulated uses, (2) regulated uses, and (3) regulated uses that are nonetheless deemed “fair” regardless of the copyright owner’s views.
        Enter the Internet—a distributed, digital network where every use of a copyrighted work produces a copy. And because of this single, arbitrary feature of the design of a digital network, the scope of category 1 changes dramatically. Uses that before were presumptively unregulated are now presumptively regulated. No longer is there a set of presumptively unregulated uses that define a freedom associated with a copyrighted work. Instead, each use is now subject to the copyright, because each use also makes a copy—category 1 gets sucked into category 2. And those who would defend the unregulated uses of copyrighted work must look exclusively to category 3, fair uses, to bear the burden of this shift.
        So let’s be very specific to make this general point clear. Before the Internet, if you purchased a book and read it ten times, there would be no plausible copyright-related argument that the copyright owner could make to control that use of her book. Copyright law would have nothing to say about whether you read the book once, ten times, or every night before you went to bed. None of those instances of use—reading—could be regulated by copyright law because none of those uses produced a copy.
        But the same book as an e-book is effectively governed by a different set of rules. Now if the copyright owner says you may read the book only once or only once a month, then copyright law would aid the copyright owner in exercising this degree of control, because of the accidental feature of copyright law that triggers its application upon there being a copy. Now if you read the book ten times and the license says you may read it only five times, then whenever you read the book (or any portion of it) beyond the fifth time, you are making a copy of the book contrary to the copyright owner’s wish.
        There are some people who think this makes perfect sense. My aim just now is not to argue about whether it makes sense or not. My aim is only to make clear the change. Once you see this point, a few other points also become clear:
        First, making category 1 disappear is not anything any policy maker ever intended. Congress did not think through the collapse of the presumptively unregulated uses of copyrighted works. There is no evidence at all that policy makers had this idea in mind when they allowed our policy here to shift. Unregulated uses were an important part of free culture before the Internet.
        Second, this shift is especially troubling in the context of transformative uses of creative content. Again, we can all understand the wrong in commercial piracy. But the law now purports to regulate anytransformation you make of creative work using a machine. “Copy and paste” and “cut and paste”become crimes. Tinkering with a story and releasing it to others exposes the tinkerer to at least a requirement of justification. However troubling the expansion with respect to copying a particular work, it is extraordinarily troubling with respect to transformative uses of creative work.
        Third, this shift from category 1 to category 2 puts an extraordinary burden on category 3 (“fair use”) that fair use never before had to bear. If a copyright owner now tried to control how many times I could read a book on-line, the natural response would be to argue that this is a violation of my fair use rights. But there has never been any litigation about whether I have a fair use right to read, because before the Internet, reading did not trigger the application of copyright law and hence the need for a fair use defense. The right to read was effectively protected before because reading was not regulated.
        This point about fair use is totally ignored, even by advocates for free culture. We have been cornered into arguing that our rights depend upon fair use—never even addressing the earlier question about the expansion in effective regulation. A thin protection grounded in fair use makes sense when the vast majority of uses are unregulated. But when everything becomes presumptively regulated, then the protections of fair use are not enough. (p.143–45)

Lessig is also pleasingly upfront about the limitations of the law, and hence the limited value of fair use as a legal exception within an otherwise regulated domain:
[F]air use in America simply means the right to hire a lawyer to defend your right to create. And as lawyers love to forget, our system for defending rights such as fair use is astonishingly bad—in practically every context, but especially here. It costs too much, it delivers too slowly,and what it delivers often has little connection to the justice underlying the claim. The legal system may be tolerable for the very rich. For everyone else, it is an embarrassment to a tradition that prides itself on the rule of law.
        Judges and lawyers can tell themselves that fair use provides adequate “breathing room” between regulation by the law and the access the law should allow. But it is a measure of how out of touch our legal system has become that anyone actually believes this. The rules that publishers impose upon writers,the rules that film distributors impose upon filmmakers,the rules that newspapers impose upon journalists—these are the real laws governing creativity. And these rules have little relationship to the “law”with which judges comfort themselves.
        For in a world that threatens $150,000 for a single willful infringement of a copyright,and which demands tens of thousands of dollars to even defend against a copyright infringement claim,and which would never return to the wrongfully accused defendant anything of the costs she suffered to defend her right to speak—in that world,the astonishingly broad regulations that pass under the name “copyright” silence speech and creativity. And in that world,it takes a studied blindness for people to continue to believe they live in a culture that is free. (p.187)

The building of a permission culture, rather than a free culture, is the first important way in which the changes I have described will burden innovation. A permission culture means a lawyer’s culture—a culture in which the ability to create requires a call to your lawyer. Again, I am not antilawyer, at least when they’re kept in their proper place. I am certainly not antilaw. But our profession has lost the sense of its limits. And leaders in our profession have lost an appreciation of the high costs that our profession imposes upon others. The inefficiency of the law is an embarrassment to our tradition. And while I believe our profession should therefore do everything it can to make the law more efficient, it should at least do everything it can to limit the reach of the law where the law is not doing any good. The transaction costs buried within a permission culture are enough to bury a wide range of creativity. Someone needs to do a lot of justifying to justify that result. (p.192–93)

[T]he legal system doesn’t work. Or more accurately, it doesn’t work for anyone except those with the most resources. Not because the system is corrupt. I don’t think our legal system (at the federal level, at least) is at all corrupt. I mean simply because the costs of our legal system are so astonishingly high that justice can practically never be done.
        These costs distort free culture in many ways. A lawyer’s time is billed at the largest firms at more than $400 per hour. How much time should such a lawyer spend reading cases carefully, or researching obscure strands of authority? The answer is the increasing reality: very little. The law depended upon the careful articulation and development of doctrine, but the careful articulation and development of legal doctrine depends upon careful work. Yet that careful work costs too much, except in the most high-profile and costly cases.
        The costliness and clumsiness and randomness of this system mock our tradition. And lawyers, as well as academics, should consider it their duty to change the way the law works—or better, to change the law so that it works. It is wrong that the system works well only for the top 1 percent of the clients. It could be made radically more efficient, and inexpensive,and hence radically more just.
        But until that reform is complete, we as a society should keep the law away from areas that we know it will only harm. And that is precisely what the law will too often do if too much of our culture is left to its review. (p.305)

Lessig’s point about the limitations of the legal system is well taken. I think that the failings of the legal system in this country raise serious questions about the ability of the judiciary to function as an effective remedy for citizens against acts of the other branches of government. While the judiciary may be no less powerful as a check against the other branches formally, it may still be a much less powerful check in practice. Lessig’s point about changing technology having an impact on the protections afforded by the law would seem to apply as well to increasing costs, declining care by practitioners of the law, and the ever increasing scope of government regulation: they alter the protections afforded by the law. In the latter case, these protections would seem to have waned.

2006-05-21

No, no: sometimes violence is the answer

New Iranian law to require Jews to wear yellow band

Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think there won’t be another way...

UPDATE:
Or perhaps not: Iran denies drafting Jewish dress code
Having looked over some of the other coverage as well, it's somewhat unclear exactly what is going on here.

FURTHER UPDATE:
Here's how Haaretz assesses what went on with this story:
Canada's National Post retracts report that Iranian Jews will be forced to wear yellow patches

2006-05-19

My, how sane!

Fair use strengthened in court decision

I’m really quite shocked as to how reasonable this ruling is. So many egregious attacks on fair use have lowered my expectations, I guess.

NB: It's worth reading the summary linked by Ars. Hint: make sure you read to the end.

Cheating

The New York Times ran an article today discussing the growing problem of cheating among college students, particularly through the use of various electronic devices:
Colleges Chase as Cheats Shift to Higher Tech
One portion of the article jumped out at me:
In a survey of nearly 62,000 undergraduates on 96 campuses over the past four years, two-thirds of the students admitted to cheating. The survey was conducted by Don McCabe, a Rutgers professor who has studied academic misconduct and helped found the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke.
David Callahan, author of "The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead" (Harcourt, 2004), suggested that students today feel more pressure to do well in order to get into graduate or professional school and secure a job.
"The rational incentives to cheat for college students have grown dramatically, even as the strength of character needed to resist those temptations has weakened somewhat," Mr. Callahan said.
Now, I don’t want to justify cheating, but I think the increasing “rational incentives to cheat” Callahan points to, while real, mask a much more serious problem of which they are (largely) a symptom, namely that the selection mechanisms which determine who gets into graduate or professional schools or secures desirable jobs operate to a significant extent on the basis of known poor predictors for future achievement in those activities. Moreover, I have the impression that as applicant pools rise this problem is growing: schools must extend offers to only a small number of students out of (the much larger) 1/5 or 1/4 of the applicant pool they would be happy to have; employers publicly advertise fewer positions, recruit from fewer schools, etc. While I doubt most students recognize these developments as such, I believe they are experiencing increasing frustration at a perceived disconnect between the amount of effort they invest in their education and the payoffs from that effort. If I am correct that this is more than a mere perception of the part of students, then it is not merely that (as the article suggests) the advantages of apparent educational achievement have increased, but that the value of putting in the effort for actual educational achievement has decreased relative to the advantages to be gained by (and the risks incurred by) cheating. To put it briefly, if graduate or professional schools and employers select on the basis of poor predictors for future achievement (and hence being admitted or hired is to that degree arbitrary), then students have every incentive to subvert those poor predictors (to that degree) by cheating. This isn’t so when selection occurs on the basis of strong predictors, for then a student who cheats will not actually have the knowledge or skills which lead to future achievement, and thus will be less likely to actually achieve. But where poor predictors are used, a cheater’s deficit in knowledge or skill is unlikely to undo his achievement in this way.

To the extent that the use of poor predictors in some area is unavoidable (or only avoidable at impractically high cost), it should come as little surprise that cheating occurs. This analysis predicts that, for a given activity (occupation, profession or discipline) rates of cheating should be positively correlated with the use of poor predictors for selection. It would be interesting to know if this is the case. Even if it is not, it would be interesting to know if rates of cheating were positively correlated with the belief that selection is based upon poor predictors (or at least the belief that success in that activity is to a significant degree arbitrary).

If anyone is aware of any research on these topics, I would be interested to know.

2006-05-14

Just what I've been looking for?

For a while I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to commute to school by bicycle. I wouldn’t dare subject my Bianchi to that in NYC, so I would need to buy something suitable, either new or used, but the time investment and expense involved has put me off of doing anything much more than daydream about it. Today, however, I happened across a bike which is almost exactly what I had imagined would be most suitable:
The Redline 9•2•5.
The price is very reasonable (though I wonder whether I’ll be able to find it priced so well in my area), if not exactly pocket change. My only concern is trying to manage the hills here in Washington Heights on a singlespeed, but perhaps between lowering the gearing slightly and getting into shape I can handle it.

2006-05-11

Philosophy of Language Comp...

...passed.

Now, only incompletes stand between me and starting work on a dissertation.

2006-05-09

Updates

1. I gave my Graduate Student Colloquium talk, which didn’t go very well nor even badly in the ways I expected. My talk was titled “Belief and Practical Interests” and I began by trying to recap some recent developments in the epistemology literature, including the encroachment of practical interests into the analysis of core epistemic notions like knowledge and justification. In the encroachment literature, the intuitive clarity of the distinction between epistemic facts and practical facts (or a variant thereof) is taken almost for granted. I myself didn’t find anything mysterious about it. My audience, on the other hand, balked. This seriously derailed the remainder (i.e. the bulk) of my presentation. No doubt I am to blame for some of their difficulties, but I don’t think I am entirely at fault. I was quite disappointing.
        Nonetheless, I did gain something from working on the presentation, namely that I need to reconsider the approach I wanted to take in my paper. My plan was simply too ambitious to accomplish with any degree of rigor. Accordingly, I decided to work from Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath’s paper (which relates practical interests to justification) rather than Jason Stanley’s book (which relates practical interests to knowledge). This should make the connection to belief much more direct, and I will explore what consequences allowing encroachment has on the transparency of belief and the norm of full belief.

2. Before I get to that, however, I’m working on a paper for David Rosenthal’s Quine / Sellars course on Quine’s treatment of opacity and propositional attitudes. I’ll have more to say on that soon, I hope. The course has also given rise to a substantial interest in Sellars on my part, which I’m only just beginning to explore.

3. Jessica Wilson was the colloquium speaker at the Graduate Center last week. She spoke on "Is Hume's Dictum Obvious?" I was impressed by her presentation, and even more so by her philosophical honestly during the question period. Her talk gives me new appreciation for aspects of metaphysics I had hitherto regarded with all the distain of, well, metaphysics in general. Specifically, I now better understand the relations between and motivations for Hume’s dictum and arguments over physicalism, the nature of necessity and properties, and between broadly Humean versus broadly Aristotelian conceptions of nature.
        I also had the privilege of going out to dinner with the speaker after the talk, which was quite pleasant and is something I rarely get to do. Thanks to Barbara Montero for accommodating me by selecting one of the kosher veggie Indian restaurants as our venue.

4. Kripke’s last class was perhaps the best I’ve seen him give. I’m sorry Alan Berger, who usually attends, had to miss this one. Kripke discussed Strawson’s “On Referring” and particularly his mention of the uses of descriptions in anaphoric contexts. But he also gave his views on a variety of central issues in the philosophy of language: He gave a criterion for synonymy of expressions, and followed this up with his take on the semantics–pragmatics distinction, stating what he believes semantic should offer an account of and what remains to pragmatics. He then repeated in detail what he calls the “pragmatic fallacy”. Throughout, he related these general topics to proper accounts of the natural-language use of ‘and’ and ‘but’. His discussion of Strawson also verified something that Frank Pupa pointed out to me, that Kripke’s favoring of Russell over Strawson seems in large part to be based upon a view of the dialectic in which Russell gave an account first and so the burden of proof is on subsequent figures to refute him, rather than seeing later figures (including Strawson) as providing alternative, positive proposals which should be judged on their merits, regardless of whether they can be said to “refute” Russell. All in all, it was a most helpful class. I can only hope his teaching continues at such a high level this week.
        Kripke also attended Jessica Wilson’s talk, and made a comment which helped to clarify his notion of metaphysical necessity and its relation to physical necessity. He confessed that he has no definite view on whether alien worlds are metaphysically possible, or on whether water could exist in possible worlds in which the physical laws are substantially different than our own. This corroborated my reading of his discussion of essential properties in Naming and Necessity.

5. Yesterday, I finished skimming Mendelsohn and Fitting’s First Order Modal Logic, which I thought was really very accessible and was nicely attuned to philosophical issues (unsurprisingly, given the authors). Their discussion of the problems of existence and non-existence was particularly helpful, especially as it gave me some understanding of what motivated Meinong’s views. I had not known that Meinong was a student of Brentano, nor that Meinong’s doctrine unreal objects was a extension of his teacher’s notion of an intentional object. This is of some interest to me as I have harbored a suspicion for some time that much talk of abstract objects, e.g. propositions, is better recast as talk about intentional objects. Hopefully I’ll find some time to work through this.

6. My summer plans are firming up somewhat. It looks as if I’ll be spending the summer in NY devoting myself to philosophy and my girlfriend. I haven’t settled on whether I will try to work part-time or not, but I’m leaning against. Given the amount I’d like to accomplish philosophically, working would make actually accomplishing it quite challenging; and, if I actually do accomplish (at least much of) what I’d like to, I won’t really care about the dent this will put in my savings. It also looks as if there will be quite a few people sticking around over the summer, looking to meet up and to do philosophy.

7. Yesterday, I attended Bana Bashour’s Graduate Student Colloquium Series (GSCS) talk "Personal Issues: A Return to Locke's Old Problem", based on work she’s doing for her thesis, and which I thoroughly enjoyed. It prompted, I think, the best discussion of any of the GSC talks I attended. This was probably due, in part, to the presence of Michael Levin and Ellen Fridland in the audience who are both familiar with Bana’s work. I made a couple of pretty sharp comments myself — it’s always a nice feeling to have a smart day. Regardless, her talk gave my new hope that something worthwhile and well motivated can be said about personal identity.

8. Finally, I spoke with David Pereplyotchik who ran the GSCS this year, and I’ll be taking over the job from him for next year. I’m looking forward to it. Since, do to shabbat, I’m not able to really participate in running the Graduate Student Conference, I’m happy to have an opportunity to do some similar work with the GSCS. One idea I’ve had, is to try to organize a “mini-series” of talks on related themes in the fall, with papers distributed ahead of time and with designated commentators; the spring series would stay pretty much as is. We’ll see what comes of it.