Data Obseity and Popularity: It’s Google!

Via Eurozine.  An interesting article, “The society of the query and the Googlization of our lives,” suggests we suffer from information overload and paints a rather dismal picture:

Ordinary people have hijacked strategic resources and are clogging up once carefully policed media channels. Before the Internet, the mandarin classes rested on the idea that they could separate “idle talk” from “knowledge”. With the rise of Internet search engines it is no longer possible to distinguish between patrician insights and plebeian gossip. The distinction between high and low, and their co-mingling on occasions of carnival, belong to a bygone era and should no longer concern us. Nowadays an altogether new phenomenon is causing alarm: search engines rank according to popularity, not truth. Continue reading

McCain Losing The Racist Vote.

UPDATE: Apparently McCain manages to still hold on to that important evil mastermind vote – not everything is lost then…

If you thought it couldn’t get any worse for McCain, it sort of did – McCain is apparently losing that important racist vote: it’s not really a story here, since I don’t see any statistics, but for all it’s worth:

Ben Smith: An Obama supporter, who canvassed for the candidate in the working-class, white Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown recently, sends over an account that, in various forms, I’ve heard a lot in recent weeks.

“What’s crazy is this,” he writes. “I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are f***ing undecided. They would call him a n—-r and mention how they don’t know what to do because of the economy.”

Seriously, what is happening here? If you can’t even count on the racists not to vote for the black candidate, then there is no certainty whatsoever! What’s next? Jews in Florida voting for Pat Buchanan?

In related news, are you an elitist?

Elitism Is Bad (Unless, Of Course, It Is Good)

So all the talk about elitism and arugula (which I am yet to try) in the media, especially when it comes to a kind of dismissal of elitism from the supposedly non-elitist pundits, made me think about my own high appreciation of everything elitist: I mean, let’s face it, if everyone likes their coffee with a carefully mixed combination of soy milk, a touch of cinnamon, and a pinch of crushed roasted almonds waved in the close vicinity of a burning pink Japanese dogwood branches, then why would I go through the painful process of making my magic mix every morning? The very satisfaction of being an elitist is precisely this very being of an elitist – it’s not about the actual position of belonging to the elite of any kind, it is the attitude, we are told, of regarding others as not-so-worthy of our elitist level. This, of course, is suppose to make all of us educated elitists feel bad about our societal position and think twice before we decide to express our opinions and distribute our wisdom – “who do you think you are, elitist, to teach me about politics?” Yet it is difficult not to laugh and be all mean and unfairly intrusive when something like this comes out:

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin attended five colleges in six years before graduating from the University of Idaho in 1987.

Federal privacy laws prohibit the schools from disclosing her grades, and none of the schools contacted by The Associated Press could say why she transferred. There was no indication any of them were contacted as part of the background investigation of Palin by presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign.

Ok, my first assumption is that she was not very serious about her education, Continue reading

College: A Waste of Time?

Here’s an interesting (if not misguided) article from last week’s Wall Street Journal, “For Most People, College is a Waste of Time.”

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn’t meet the goal. We will call the goal a “BA.”

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that’s the system we have in place. Continue reading

Elitism Strikes Back!

This recent turn of campaign is rather entertaining – clearly Hilary’s Wellesley College and Yale Law School have adequately prepared her to judge when someone is being an elitist and what the life of the real working person is like – many a times did she roll up her sleeves and if ever unemployed and economically depressed never did she become bitter or despaired… At the same time, Obama’s Columbia and Harvard Law School are barely a better combination to make him the judge of the common folk, but, as this video explains, he did not really make himself out to be one – what is so wrong with being an elitist?

Stanley Fish: Still Misunderstood, States the Obvious

As I’ve pointed out here and here, Stanley Fish’s recent column over at The New York Times has been generating a lot of spiteful and misguided comments. Here’s what Fish had to say in response:

Just two points in response to readers’ questions. I do read all the comments. And I do not use words like “objective” or “impartial” or “neutral” or “disinterested” to describe what I try to do in these columns. All I’m saying is that analyzing arguments is a different project than taking positions on ethical, moral or political issues. Neither is objective; both involve opinions; the opinions are, however, about different things, in one case about the best thing to do or think; in the other, about whether the case made for thinking or doing something hangs together. It would be quite possible for me, or anyone else, to fault the arguments made in behalf of a policy or agenda and still support it. I am insisting on the distinction, but no claim to objectivity is involved – Stanley Fish

Here’s Fish in the column making a similar claim:

When I find an argument incoherent, it is not because I find the argument on the other side persuasive; although that is the assumption made by those who lambaste me for being a conservative or a liberal, a hopeless fuddyduddy or a corrosive postmodernist, and address me in the confidence that they know on what end of the ideological or moral spectrum I am to be found.

But, in fact, a reader of a typical “Think Again” column will have no idea at all where I stand on the issues that catch my attention, because at least for the length of the column (as opposed to real life, which is much longer), I am agnostic on those issues and interested only in the way they are playing out in our present cultural moment.

All of this talk about dis-interest, neutrality and objective judgments has gotten me thinking about the Frankfurt School and given my ongoing attempt to be more pretentious than resident OCD fancy boy Mikhail Emelianov, I marched over to my bookshelf and dug up Horkheimer’s famous essay “Traditional and Critical Theory.”

While a direct line may be drawn from some of the successors of German Idealism, the Left Hegelians, for instance, of the mid-nineteenth century (and its most famous “member” Karl Marx) to the Frankfurt School, for what it’s worth, I think it is important to keep in mind that the historical separation from Kant and Hegel is filled most significantly by Shopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dilthey, Bergson, Weber and Husserl. In many ways the concerns of the so-called Left Hegelians, for instance, the integration of philosophy and social inquiry through a recasting of Hegelian dialectics to a more immanent or material bent centered on praxis, which had been eclipsed by a more “scientific” approach (both Marxist and otherwise) up until WWI, can be tied to the Frankfurt School (although perhaps after the emigration the FS may be construed as being closer to a more “transcendent” critique, dialectical criticism is in fact a shaky tension between the two). Continue reading

Stanley Fish Is Misunderstood, Still

In my critical thinking class yesterday we discussed Stanley Fish’s recent “Think Again” column in which he has the “audacity” to tell the reader what it is he’s doing in the column, e.g making analytic judgments about the logic of disputes and arguments. So today I had another look at the comments found these two particularly strange, especially in their vitriol:

Thanks for the clarification, Prof. Fish. As many before me have pointed out to you, argument divorced from ethics, morality & politics is mere sophistry. Perhaps armed with this information you and the NYT will want to rethink your column.

stanley, finally you objectively deconstruct your own deconstruction. Now it is time to give this French baloney a rest. you made a good living tossing this drivel out to your students and fellow academics. thank you for your totally unintended self-condemnation.

What the hell are these people talking about? Or how about this:

I think the words “self delusional” fit here somewhere. If you were one of my students, I would suggest you keep it short, keep it clear, say what you mean & mean what you say.If so many of readers can’t understand what you’re trying to say, maybe they’re not to blame.

Huh? Isn’t that what Fish is doing? Continue reading

On Analytical Judgments: Stanley Fish Feels Misunderstood

In his most recent column in The New York Times, Stanley Fish talks about analytical judgments. It should certainly resonate for those of us that teach critical thinking courses. Fish writes:

Every once in a while I feel that it might be helpful to readers if I explained what it is I am trying to do in these columns. It is easier to state the negative: For the most part, it is not my purpose in this space to urge positions, or come down on one side or the other of a controversial question. Of course, I do those things occasionally and sometimes inadvertently, but more often than not I am analyzing arguments rather than making them; or, to be more precise, I am making arguments about arguments, especially ones I find incoherent or insufficiently examined.

When I find an argument incoherent, it is not because I find the argument on the other side persuasive; although that is the assumption made by those who lambaste me for being a conservative or a liberal, a hopeless fuddyduddy or a corrosive postmodernist, and address me in the confidence that they know on what end of the ideological or moral spectrum I am to be found.

But, in fact, a reader of a typical “Think Again” column will have no idea at all where I stand on the issues that catch my attention, because at least for the length of the column (as opposed to real life, which is much longer), I am agnostic on those issues and interested only in the way they are playing out in our present cultural moment. When, for example, I wrote three columns criticizing the atheist tracts written by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, I was motivated not by a belief in God — which I may or may not have, you’ll never know — but by what I took to be sloppy, schoolboy reasoning that was passing itself off as wisdom. I could have been an atheist myself, and I still would have found the so-called logic of these books weak and risible.

The difference between making arguments and analyzing them is not always recognized, and when it is missed, readers get outraged about things I never said. This is this case with two recent columns, one on identity politics, the other on the shape of a possible Obama-McCain contest in the general election. My point in the first column was that although identity politics was often a term of accusation — as in “that’s just identity politics” — at least one version of it could be considered rational. Someone who believes that the racial, ethnic, religious or gender identity of a candidate makes it more likely that he or she will support and work for certain favored policies is not performing a base or discriminatory act by voting for that candidate.

Fish continues the column by answering some objections from readers. Continue reading

Friday Morning: Spirals of Frustration


Not to be too narcissistic, but I’m extremely frustrated. All week long I’ve been working on analyzing arguments in my Critical Thinking courses. This week the students were to complete this straightforward (as I naively thought) assignment that I’ve used several times over the last couple of years: Continue reading

The Week in Review, in list form!

leibniz.jpgAt long last the first week of the semester has come to a close. My travels down to Central America are but a distant memory and I’m back– as they used to say in ‘Nam (or at least in movies about ‘Nam)–“in the shit.” By “in the shit” I mean, but of course, back in my neighborhood where the WASPs run wild. Seriously, little toe headed kids running around, half-drunk mom’s going wild with that extra olive in the martini, Dad carrying his golf clubs into the car because maybe just maybe tomorrow will be close to 60 degrees, this after the holidays in which Moms and Dads dressed in the same sweaters and attended “holiday” parties where they discussed the old house they will tear down and build in its place a monstrosity that will inevitably ruin the historical quality of the neighborhood. WASPs-always bearing the wrong kind of history. I will have to digress…for this week was also the first week of the semester. 4 sections of Logic and Critical Thinking, 1 section of the History of Philosophy. Not to mention, masochist I am, I am putting together content for an online version of Logic and Critical Thinking. Now, I think that in general that distance learning is pretty stupid and works well for only the most motivated, skilled in both reading and writing, as well as independent minded student. But hey, “it’s a living.” To mark the end of the week I’ve decided to generate “off the cuff” a short list (in no order) that highlights its most awesome, if not largely political aspects (at least that I can recall). Here is a list of five since I’m pressed for time this morning. Continue reading