Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Postscript to my screed on consequentialism.

I posted earlier on this topic here. Aaron tells why, if you're shot down over enemy-occupied territory, it's much better to take shelter among consequentialists than among deontologists here.

Aaron might similarly appreciate my post here.

Visit number 10,000 is rapidly approaching.

Even with slow traffic over the Thanksgiving weekend, S-AB is likely to reach the 10,000 visit mark in a few days. If I can identify my 10,000th visitor (I'll post location of origin and whatever other identifying details I can get from my Sitemeter, so that you can reply by comment to my post or by e-mail), I'll send you as a prize a practically virgin CD, Rang Tang Ding Dong, by the Cellos. They were a five man doo-wop group of the 1950s who produced a small but interesting body of work. Originally called the Marcals until someone, probably Charles Merenstein of Apollo Records, advised them that being named for a popular brand of toilet paper wasn't a great career move, they had one charted hit, "Rang Tang Ding Dong (I'm the Japanese Sandman)", but this CD collection also includes such unheralded gems as "Juicy Crocodile", "The Be-Bop Mouse", the dreamy ballad "You Took My Love" and two versions of the jumping "What's the Matter For You?"

My Sitemeter now (Tuesday, November 20, 4:00 p.m. EST), stands at 9,854. Visit early and often.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Values voting" in Australia?

According to this article in today's New York Sun, the Australian Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, holds a solid lead in the polls over the Coalition led by incumbent Prime Minister Howard, with only a few days left until the election. This lead, the article says, can be traced back to a surge of Labor support following a visit to New York by Mr. Rudd, in which he and Col Allan, the Australian Murdoch protege who edits the New York Post, went out for a night of heavy drinking, culminating in a visit to Scores, where bouncers threatened to eject Mr. Rudd for touching the dancers and other "inappropriate behavior."

There's a great animated comment on this by Nicholson in The Australian, here.

Evidently, "values voting" Down Under can have different implications than it does here.

The Bothy Band

The Bothy Band was one of my favorite traditional Irish groups. Here's an example to show why:

The Bothy Band lasted barely four years (1975-79), but made much marvelous music in their time together. After they broke up, Donal Lunny (bouzouki) returned to Planxty, and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill (keyboards and vocals) and her brother, Micheal O'Domhnaill (guitar and vocals; spoken intro on the video above), emigrated to the U.S., where they have performed in several groups. Others in the group were: Paddy Keenan on uilleann pipes; Matt Molloy (later to join the Chieftains) on flute; and either Tommy Peoples or Kevin Burke, depending on when the video was made, on fiddle.

Update: More Bothy Band here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On quantification, and keeping score (not a sports post).

The week before last, the New York City Board of Education released "A" through "F" letter grades for almost all (some were deferred for more evaluation) of the City's public schools. While something like 60% of schools received an "A" or "B", some of what are thought of as very successful or greatly improved schools received lower grades. I've already weighed in on this subject in Brooklyn Heights Blog (see comment thread under this post); however, I felt the need to say something more considered and philosophical about this issue.

Unsurprisingly, Louise Crawford beat me to the punch in OTBKB , with these astute words:
Report cards are reductive things. As [is] ... reliance on quantitative ways of assessing things. Numbers, numbers, numbers.

How high did you score? How much did you sell? How much do you make? How much? How much?

It's the American way.
But why is it the American way? Brighter people than me, like Alexis de Tocqueville, David Reisman and Philip Slater, have addressed this question. I'll recount three commonplace observations that, like most conventional wisdom, are useful if not complete explanations. Perhaps most familiar is the notion that Americans are obsessed with scorekeeping because we don't have a rigid class or caste system that simply assigns social status at birth (though anyone who thinks class is unimportant here should consult Paul Fussell). The fact that we can be both economically and socially mobile makes us keen to measure where we are with respect to our fellows.

The second notion is that Americans are attracted to quantification because we distrust subjectivity. To most Americans, subjectivity means favoritism, whether that be the favoritism in-groups employ to perpetuate their power, or the favoritism out-groups get by using the political process to obtain what in-groups see as unfair advantages. Somehow, reducing things to numbers, or to letter grades supposedly based on quantitative measurements, dispels these suspicions.

The third is that life is just too damned complicated for us to deal with all the complexity of evaluating the choices available to us in any meaningful way, so we look for shortcuts. "Experts" are happy to provide directions that will shorten our decision-making journey. Despite our inclination to distrust others' subjective judgment, we can trust these experts because they dress their conclusions in supposedly "objective", quantitative garb.