holy fucking shit

it's being reported that the university of st. thomas (the one in st. paul, minnesota) cancelled a talk by archbishop desmond tutu in response to false allegations of anti-semitism. if this is true, it is consistent with an accelerated trend of attacks on the leftist presence in academia and academic fora by the extreme right. here's a recap of some of the latest.

- erwin chemerinsky, one of the leading constitutional scholars in the US, was offered the deanship of the new law school at UC irvine, and accepted about a week before the offer was revoked. the evidence strongly suggests that it was behind-the-scenes campaigning by right-wing lawyers not affiliated with the university that led to the offer being withdrawn. it now appears likely, in part to to the outrage expressed by law faculty of all political stripes, that the offer will be reinstated and the chancellor of the irvine campus might have to leave instead.

- norman finkelstein was denied tenure at depaul, despite being unquestionably qualified. he had been the target of a campaign led by alan dershowitz, an academic of much fame but no distinction, whose writings in finkelstein's field - the history and politics of the israel-palestine conflict - are utterly idiotic. the evidence suggests that it was political pressure from outsiders that led to depaul's decision. mehrene larudee, another depaul faculty member considered for tenure (and a umass alum), was denied tenure as well. She, too, was considered a strong academic and a slam-dunk for tenure, but as a strong supporter of finkelstein she too was undoubtedly targeted for denial of tenure for reasons other than merit. finkelstein was later denied the customary year of teaching that follows tenure denial, ostensibly - but not especially plausibly - for conduct issues. He recently reached a settlement with the depaul administration and resigned.

- ward churchill, a leading native american scholar and a tenured professor at the university of
colorado boulder, was fired, ostensibly for academic misconduct. it is well-understood, however, that he was in reality fired because of a fascist campaign.

- andrew card, a man closely associated with the war crimes of the bush regime was awarded an honorary degree at the umass amherst commencement last may. there is no direct evidence of this being the result of a right-wing campaign, but it is a plausible hypothesis, given that he has no accomplishments to speak of, and umass leaders would have understood very well the loss of credibility that comes with honoring terrorists like card.

- brandeis university invited jimmy carter to speak about israeli apartheid - but only if torture enthusiast alan dershowitz was allowed a rebuttal. eventually, they relented somewhat, allowing separate but consecutive talks.

UPDATE (Oct. 10): st. thomas reversed its earlier decision. apparently the attack on tutu was too much even for the extremists at the ADL.


the politics of america

a compilation of poll results summarizing what attentive people already know: liberal values enjoy strong majority support in the united states; and many people who subscribe to these values describe themselves as "moderates" rather than "liberals." probably makes sense, because liberalism is basically a compromise approach between the semi-fascist views that pass as "conservative" in this country, and socialism, a sensible political position.


funny video of the month

this schoolhouse rock-style version of pirates and emperors is really well-done. i have just one complaint, and that's that they use "thug" too much.

R.I.P. raul hilberg

raul hilberg, who pioneered the academic study of the nazi holocaust, has died of lung cancer at 81.

hilberg, whose family fled vienna in advance of the nazis, was studying the holocaust before it became cool in the late '60's - before Holocaust studies became an ideology and an industry. hilberg always supported norman finkelstein, the best-known and hardest-hitting critic of the holocaust industry, against his extraordinarily nasty opposition.

hilberg was legit.


exceptives: the mystery deepens

larry horn points out a further problem for the hypothesis that exceptives are licensed by universals, from imperative sentences with free choice any.
pick any card from the deck, except the joker.
it is hard to see how this sentence can be paraphrased as a universal. the best that i can come up with is:

for every x, x a card, x is such that i give you the option of picking it, except for x = the joker.
this interpretation seems forced. it interprets the imperative as giving options rather than giving an order, and moreover it involves a quantifier (any, no less) taking wide scope over the imperative force, which is generally seen as a no-no.

the tentative conclusion: exceptives appear to be licenseable by any any, regardless of its universality.


first crack at the exceptives problem

i suggested in a previous blog post that my earlier view that only universals license exceptives may be wrong, because a range of determiners and combinations of determiners and either cardinals or certain adjectives appear to license exceptives as well. now i'm going to suggest once again that it may just be universals. i will suggest that every construction that licenses exceptives falls into one of the following categories:

1. a quantifier that is a universal on its face (ex. every)
2. a quantifier that is not universal on its face, but is logically equivalent to a universal quantifier (ex. no)
3. a non-quantificational construction that can nonetheless assert a universal (ex. the tallest)
4. a construction that admits of a presupposed partition, with (implied) universal quantification over the partition's elements.

the first category is mostly obvious. what i take it to include which may be not obvious is generics, which are arguably not universal on their face because they have no face - i.e. they are invisible. i am talking about sentences like the following:

bears are godless killing machines
mary takes aspirin in the morning
i take these to be universal statements over typical instances of bears, in the first example, and mary's mornings, in the second. i won't defend this view here; i may defend it elsewhere.

the second category - of quantifiers logically equivalent to universals - is mostly there to capture negation. negative quantifiers are usually translated as negated existential quantifiers, but they are logically equivalent to universally negated sentences. for example, nobody loves you is typically translated as it is not the case that for some x, x loves you. but it can also be translated as for every x, it is not the case that x loves you. given this translation, we have a universal for the exceptive to leech off of.

sentential negation also admits exceptives, as in mary hasn't kissed john, except last new year's. in davidsonian semantics and its neo- and semi- varieties, sentential negation can be seen as negative quantification over the sentence's event argument. so the last sentence can be translated for every past event e, e is not an event of mary kissing john, except event e' last new year's. so sentential negation falls in this category too. negative polarity any falls in this category as well. free choice any can fall in this category or the last one, depending on how you look at it - you can consider it facially a universal or just translatable as one, as you fancy.

the third category consists of non-quantificational structures that can carry quantificational meanings, like the five, the tallest, and the only. i will suggest that this is where zamparelli's analysis starts to become relevant. it's also where i start to go out on a limb. what i'm going to claim here is that unlike ordinary the, the in these cases includes a universal component. zamparelli's analysis makes this somewhat plausible, because it allows us to associate universal quantification with the strong DP syntax rather than making it a purely lexical phenomenon. what i'll suppose is that inherently quantificational determiners like every are necessarily found in SDP, the strong determiner phrase; some determiners, like some, can never be universal for semantic reasons, and they must appear in the predicative determiner phrase, PDP; and others, like the and perhaps few and many, can appear either in SDP or PDP, and receive an interpretation accordingly.

zamparelli noted that the possessive can be predicative or non-predicative, depending on whether it is followed by a cardinal or not:

these are my toys. those are my toys too.
*these are my three toys. those are my three toys too.
in the first sentence, the possessor my is in PDP, which allows an empty SDP (or allows SDP not to project), so there is no uniqueness requirement on the possessive. in the second sentence, the possessor is forced to SDP by the presence of the cardinal, which imposes the uniqueness requirement, shown by the unacceptability of adding the second sentence. the same would be true if "three" was replaced by "only" or any superlative.

i'm suggesting that the same happens with the. it is located in PDP unless there is something like a cardinal, a superlative or only to force it into SDP. as a consequence, the is not universal in the boys, but is universal in the three boys or the tallest boys, allowing these phrases to license exceptives.

two problems arise: first, what is the if not universal? presumably it is a group. the collective/distributive analysis of definites is well known. i suggest that when the is in PDP, it has a collective, group, interpretation, which does not require asserting something of all the members of the group. in PDP, the has a distributive, universal, interpretation. i wish i could say i have independent evidence for this analysis. maybe i'll get some for christmas.

second, there's the fact that the in SDP is not downward entailing in its first argument, casting doubt on the analysis that it is universal.

the five high schoolers helped out
the five tenth graders helped out
this might be rescued by a von fintel-style strawsonian condition on entailment; or maybe we'll have to refine how we talk about universals and entailment in order to make this work.

what about few and many? if we follow partee's 1986 paper many quantifiers, these are ambiguous between a cardinal interpretation and a quantificational one. maybe the cardinals are in PDP and the quantifiers in SDP; or maybe paolo acquaviva's breakdown of quantifiers like few into negation + many engages the SDP layer through negation. it seems like i'm grasping at straws here, but ultimately i don't think these analyses are as implausible as they seem from my presentation. i'm a little ill and i've been writing all day, so give me a break.

the last category is of quantifiers that admit of presupposed partitions with implied universal quantification over the partition's elements. if you don't know what i'm talking about, refer to my previous posts here and here. what i suggest is that SDP licenses such presuppositions, so that quantifiers that appear in SDP can admit of these interpretations, and license exceptives, even though their semantics are not universal. this applies to most, as well as many and few when these are interpreted with non-cardinal meaning. cardinals, some, and a(n) can't appear in SDP so they never admit the presupposition interpretation.

this approach predicts that many and few can only allow the presupposed meaning on their proportional interpretations and not the cardinal ones. i contend this is true. care to contradict me?

many scandinavians have won the nobel prize, except finns
this should mean that for every scandinavian country, relatively many, but not necessarily absolutely many, nationals of that country won the nobel prize.

this approach raises the question of why the presupposition interpretation is not available with universals. i claim that it is, but you'd never notice it because it's logically entailed by the universal interpretation. for example, every high schooler helped out logically entails [presupposing a partition P of the set of high schoolers, for every element Q of P,] every x, x an element of Q, helped out. this is true for every partition P, so the presupposition is always utterly redundant, hence undetectable.

actually, i wonder if the universal interpretation of the can be brought in under this category, thereby eliminating the problems mentioned above. maybe the best interpretation of the tallest boys helped out is [given a partition P on the tallest boys, for every element Q of P] the boys x, x an element of Q, helped out. this seems to get the semantics right.

also, now that i think of it, aren't exceptives pretty okay with the when the sentence's predicate is highly distributive, but not when when it tends to admit of a collective reading?

the boys have blue eyes, except jimmy
*the boys lifted the table, except jimmy

having blue eyes is very individual, which highly favors the distributive reading which i'm arguing is associated with the universal interpretation and SDP, while lifting the table strongly suggests a collective reading, which is associated with a non-universal interpretation and PDP. maybe this whole analysis can be made plausible yet.

now what accounts for the Det friend that i have pattern? i hope it's not restrictions on movement, cause goddamn, i don't understand that stuff.

humiliating work and the law

i'm trying to think through some issues raised by wilson v. monarch paper co., 939 f.2d 1138 (5th cir. 1991) and similar cases. in this case, a jury found, and the court system upheld, that a vice president of a company was entitled to millions of dollars in compensation for intentional infliction of emotional distress after being demoted to warehouse janitor. this raises many questions and thoughts that i'd like to explore in this post, and presumably return to as i think about it more. i guess for now i'll put things in point form, since my thoughts are scattered.

- intentional infliction of emotional distress is not an easy kind of case to win, because the standards for abuse are pretty high. in wilson, the required standard was that the offending conduct be so outrageous that civilized society should not tolerate it.

- how widespread is the attitude that it is humiliating to be a janitor? do janitors think so? if not, are they simply in denial, or was the jury wrong?

- or is it a situation where the jury believed that the former vice president would have mistakenly believed that it is humiliating to be a janitor, either because of his idiosyncratic personal beliefs or because of the beliefs prevalent in his social class? it seems unlikely that a jury would find IIED and a judge would uphold it based on beliefs particular to an individual or class, unless it is a class belief shared by the judge and the majority of the jury.

- just what is it, anyway, that makes it humiliating for someone to be a janitor? are the factors purely social or is there something innate to humans that makes such work inherently humiliating?

- if, as i assume, the humiliation of being a janitor is entirely or primarily a social fact, why is such a social fact constructed? and why is a remedy for this humiliation offered in the narrow circumstances of executive demotion, but not in the broader setting of a society that assigns some people humiliating jobs on a career basis? in other words, how does the view that civilized society cannot tolerate the demotion of an executive to janitor reconcile with the fact that the same (presumably) civilized society assigns many people to be career janitors? what does this tell us about the relationship between law and society?

- all this assumes that what the jury found to be humiliating was the job itself, not, say, the fact that the person was forcibly transferred from one job to another, or the fact that someone was removed from a lucrative job. this seems to be borne out: we can safely assume that no jury would find emotional distress for someone who was transferred from janitor to VP, if the judge even allowed the case to proceed to a jury; and the law makes it perfectly permissible to fire a high-level employee for no good reason - certainly it's not considered outrageous conduct.

- one conclusion that can be drawn is that in the eyes of the law, it is much better for a vice president to be fired than to be forced to choose between working as a janitor and quitting, which is always an option. can the conclusion also be drawn that it is better for people in general to not work at all than to work as a janitor? advocates of "welfare reform" suggest that it is more dignified to do any work than to do no work at all. but if this is true, why is it abusive to make a vice president choose between working as a janitor or quitting, but not abusive to simply fire him?

- one possible answer is that we believe in meritocracy: it is not unconscionable to have a society in which some people are forced to have humiliating jobs, because our society allows the individual some agency in determining his or her ultimate circumstances: people who are meritorious (by some definition that we need not look into right now) are rewarded with non-humiliating jobs, while those who are not meritorious must accept humiliating jobs. what is abusive is to improperly assign a meritorious person like wilson to a humiliating job.

- the problem with this is that it is very widely recognized that whatever role merit plays in determining one's job prospects, it is far from the only factor, and circumstances of birth are a major determinant of whether or not one will end up in a humiliating job. and while this fact is lamented among liberals, it is tolerated by them, while illiberals seem to have no problem with it. would such illiberals on a jury not have found for wilson? or is this further confirmation that reactionaries lack analytical and/or moral intelligence?

in praise of cleveland and case

i encourage law-students-to-be to give cleveland, and particularly case western, a good look, on grounds such as the following:

- cleveland is a large legal market that is comparatively underserved by regional law schools; it's also not considered a choice destination by graduates of the national schools. in other words, graduates of cleveland-area law schools face less competition for local jobs than do graduates of comparable schools in comparable legal markets.

- salaries for legal jobs in cleveland are not much lower than in large markets like new york, washington or LA, but the cost of living is much lower.

- scholarships at case western have some of the most generous conditions on renewability that i've encountered. they are typically renewable if your grades are over 2.33 - in other words, if you're not at the very bottom of the class. this is on a curve with a roughly 3.10 median and 2.70 75% percentile in 1st year (and presumably somewhat higher in upper years).

this article talks about how cleveland is an awesome city to live in. the basic arguments are valid, but it overstates the case by not including some of cleveland's drawbacks, such as: it's the poorest big city in the U.S. by one popular measure.

this other article supports my case too.


funny/cute video of the month #2


music: outkast
animation: charles schultz

check it out - it's pretty cute.

the reason i'm posting so much i that i'm kind of sick, and bedridden.

test your linguistic acuity (or vacuity)

... with a problem from last year's linguistics olympiad, here.

the racism of the wizard national fund

the magnus zionist does what i surmise is a good parody of racist billionaire ronald "esteeseon" lauder here.


U.S. labor unions fight for apartheid

a recent story in the forward reports that leaders of american labor unions are stepping up to support israeli apartheid by undermining opposition to it by british unions.

many union leaders have signed on to a letter by the jewish labor committee bashing* the growing movement for anti-apartheid divestment, boycotts and sanctions by british labor unions. these signatories unfortunately include ron gettelfinger, the head of my old union, the UAW. it also includes major unions like the AFL-CIO, right-wing unions like the IBEW and the teamsters, and some allegedly progressive unions like UNITE-HERE. notably absent are the SEIU and the left-wing unions such as UE, who tend not to join the frenzied mob when israel gets challenged.

my old local, by the way, UAW local 2322 in western mass, overwhelmingly - in fact, unanimously, if i recall correctly - approved a resolution to support divestment back in 2003. unfortunately, in the UAW the wishes of the rank-and-file bear little resemblance to what's expressed by the leadership.

in britain, the attitude of unions is quite different. a number of them have passed resolutions calling for private sanctions against israel or for encouraging their branches to consider sanctions. in canada, a major public-sector union in ontario, CUPE, voted unanimously for sanctions. and of course, south african trade unions, whose membership has directly experienced apartheid and remembers the solidarity of international unions, is far in the lead in opposing israeli apartheid. as willie madisha, president of COSATU, south africa's congress of trade unions, says:

As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. ... workers and democrats of the world ... heeded our call when we struggled against apartheid. Boycotts, disinvestments, and sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa hastened our march to democracy. Why should it be different for Palestinians?

* otherwise normal people often go crazy when israeli racism is challenged. at some point i may tell the instructive story of the hysterical reaction to the umass divestment campaign, including by many people who are considered respectable and who consider themselves progressive.


degree relations: a puzzle

i've noticed a pattern among degree relations that calls for explanation. when i originally wrote this up for a term paper some five years ago, i came up with an unsatisfactory solution that was of little explanatory value. now, in the spirit of bertrand russell's words about it being a wholesome plan to stock one's mind with puzzles, i hereby record and publicly stock my puzzle. actually, there appears to be a theory of vector space semantics, applied to prepositions (of all things) that might present a solution to the puzzle. but i don't understand the formalism, so i'll leave it as a puzzle.

first question: what is a degree relation? well, it's the semantics corresponding to things like comparatives, which take two degrees and compare them. in english, these include the comparatives -er, more and less, as well as function words like so, such, too, and enough, as in john is too tall to operate an airplane, or mary is so tall that she bumps her head on lampposts. what degree relations do semantically is compare two degrees. for example, in the sentence above too compares the degree of john's height with the degree of height appropriate or permissible for operating airplanes, finding that the former exceeds the latter, or, more appropriate to the common view that degrees are extents on a scale and not merely points, that the maximum of john's height is greater than the maximum appropriate or permissible for operating airplanes. mathematically, degree relations can be characterized as functions from pairs of degrees to a truth value.

naturally, to be compared the degrees must be along the same scale. however, since chris kennedy's santa cruz dissertation, we speak of positive and negative degrees. john's height can be equivalently expressed with the adjectives short or tall.

john is taller than mary
mary is shorter than john
these sentences are logically equivalent, and both do the same thing: compare the degree of john's height with the degree of mary's height. they just do it from the perspectives of different sides of the height scale. tall starts from the low end of the scale and extends upward, making it a positive degree. short starts from the high end and extends downward, making it a negative degree.

with this distinction in mind, we can characterize the degree relations in terms of whether the two degrees they compare are of the same polarity or not.

consider the comparative:

john is taller than mary
john is shorter than mary

here two degrees of the same polarity are being compared. they can both be positive or both be negative. it doesn't matter, as long as they're the same. we can see this by the fact that we are either comparing the maximum degree, in the case of tall, or the minimum degree, in the case of short.

the same is true of comparatives more and less. and it's true of too. consider:

mary is too tall to play basketball
this compares two positive degrees. it says the maximum of mary's height exceeds the maximum of the height appropriate to basketball-playing. if we substituted short, then we would compare the minimums.

other degree relations require opposite polarities.

john is tall enough to play basketball
john is so tall that he can play basketball
both of these sentences compare the maximum of john's height with the minimum height appropriate for basketball. if we used short instead, both polarities would reverse and we would compare the minimum of john's height and the maximum height appropriate to basketball.

now that we have defined degree relations and classified them by whether they compare degrees of identical or opposite polarity, we arrive at the observation that forms the puzzle: same-polarity degree relations can be specified by an extent phrase consisting of a number and a measure, like three feet. opposite-polarity degree relations cannot.

john is three feet taller/less tall than mary
john is three feet too tall to play basketball
*john is three feet tall enough to play basketball
*john is three feet so tall that he can play basketball

these facts appear intuitively to be nonaccidentally related. there is no obvious semantic problem: if a minimum and a maximum can be determined on the same scale, we are able to find the difference between them. in fact, we can syntactically circumlocute, thus:

john is tall enough by three feet to play basketball
?john is so tall that he can play basketball, by three feet
okay, the latter is kind of awkward, but the point seems valid. what appears to be the problem is placing the measure phrase in the syntactically privileged specifier position in front of the degree phrase. and yet our intuition is that it is the semantics of degree relations that allows or disallows the measure phrase specifier.

good puzzle, no? chris kennedy liked it. i may one day read zwarts and winter's vector space semantics well enough to check for its applicability to the present puzzle. or perhaps someone else will come up with a solution.

or maybe someone has - i really don't keep up with the literature.


investigation of the plagiarism charges against ward churchill

tom mayer, a sociologist at the university of colorado boulder, has investigated the plagiarism allegations against ward churchill and found them to be "superannuated, unproven, substantively inconsequential, and either wrongheaded or misdirected."

the conclusion to his report is worth reading for its exposition of the moral cowardice of liberals - at least most of the liberals who prof. mayer has discussed the churchill affair with. those who observe the political scene will not be surprised. nor will they be surprised that the fascists who support the witch hunt deluged mayer with vulgar and inarticulate hate mail. as liberals are cowards, so are fascists idiots. the full text of the conclusion is below.

Procedural fairness in modern jurisprudence requires that accusation, formal charging, decisions about evidence, and imposition of penalties should be clearly separated. This has not happened in the case of Ward Churchill. The CU administration, usually in the person of Provost Philip DiStefano, has functioned as Churchill’s accuser, grand jury, tribunal selector, and sentencing judge. This concatenation of roles makes it easy for political motivations to penetrate the process of adjudication. While a charade of academic due process has been maintained, the treatment of Ward Churchill strongly resembles a political lynching. The plagiarism charges against Professor Churchill are superannuated, unproven, substantively inconsequential, and either wrongheaded or misdirected. His reputation as a scholar has suffered egregiously and unjustifiably as a consequence.

Due to my own involvement in his defense, I have talked to many people about the Ward Churchill affair. Most of these interactions have been disheartening to say the least. Among other things, I have received a considerable number of hate letters and e-mails characterized mainly by inarticulate rage and vulgarity. More discouraging, however, is the response of many purported liberals who claim to support academic freedom and who know something about the history of McCarthyism. Usually these individuals are completely unfamiliar with Churchill’s work and misunderstand the “little Eichmanns” phrase that is reiterated ad nauseam in the media. Knowing that a panel of reputable academics has found him guilty of plagiarism, all concern for academic freedom vanishes and my liberal interlocutors often express contempt for Churchill and support draconian penalties. They fear that the reputation of liberalism might suffer from support of a proven plagiarizer. They recoil from thinking that a panel of reputable academics could be swayed by private animosity or the prevailing political climate. Only with the greatest reluctance do these purported liberals consider contrary arguments or evidence. During these interactions I become painfully aware of how profoundly both Professor Churchill and freedom of critical thought have been wounded by this politically inspired inquisition. A just monetary compensation for Ward Churchill would be very expensive indeed. The damage to freedom of thought may be irreparable in the near future.

funny video of the... i don't know. month?

wetherole does a video to moskau by the german band dschinghis khan, surely the best disco group ever. my sister characterizes it as a bunch of idiots mugging for the camera. true, but it's awesome.

placeholder: lombardi to LSU

umass's chancellor john lombardi is leaving and going to head the LSU. good riddance to bad bullshit, i say. but doesn't louisiana have enough problems?

this is a placeholder to remind me to expand on this entry later.

"if i wanted black students, i would buy them like i buy basketball players"

- john v. lombardi

academy fights: round 2 to the fascists

in june, professor norman finkelstein was denied tenure by depaul university thanks to a concerted effort by alan dershowitz. today, the university of colorado fired tenured professor ward churchill thanks to an effort by the horowitz-ACTA crowd.

i remember long ago reading an essay by stephen king in which he instructed his readers how to act when they've heard of a case of censorship: to immediately get the censored material and read it. censorship usually targets interesting and relevant ideas. finkelstein and churchill have not been censored, but they have been punished for their political views by a system that is supposed to reward intellectual accomplishment and protect the academy from political intimidation. for the enemies of critical thought, actual censorship is not a viable short-term goal, so they are instead making inroads into a more manageable goal: distorting academic debate by intimidating faculty who are independent-minded and critical in tone.

in the case of finkelstein and churchill, i happen to have read extensively of both of their works, and i recommend them without reservation. they are two of the sharpest analytical minds that i've ever read, and they both write clearly and engagingly on important topics. it is partly for these reasons that they are being targeted by the enemies of intellect. for these reasons i suggest that the appropriate response to this particular attack on critical thinking is to read these authors.

neither decision was plausible on its merits. in finkelstein's case, there was no pretense of applying the universal standards for tenure - quality of teaching and research. he was denied tenure for his "tone". if this seems like a subjective non-standard, that's because it is. he was denied tenure because conservatives don't like what he writes, and because twice he's made the conservative intellectual establishment look very, very foolish. first as a graduate student, by exposing joan peters' anti-palestinian propaganda tome "from time immemorial" as a fraud; then by demonstrating the extraordinary stupidity and absence of merit in alan dershowitz's anti-palestinian book "the case for israel".

in churchill's case, there was a pretense of applying a reasonable standard - he was accused of research misconduct. but the pretense is transparent. the president of the university who recommended his termination is a right-wing ideologue who belongs to ACTA, a highly ideological group, founded by lynne cheney and joe lieberman, dedicated to opposing critical thinking in the academy about history and politics. when it became public knowledge a few years ago that churchill had written a highly inflammatory essay about 9-11, the university president promised to subject churchill's writings to an extraordinary level of scrutiny, and convened a committee that did so. in a report that is itself subject to complaints of misconduct (but has not been investigated), the committee concluded that churchill had plagiarized and falsified information relating to native american history, though not in any scholarly writing. the faculty panel charged with making a recommendation recommended against dismissing prof. churchill. as prof. gary leupp has suggested, if "boards of regents in this country were to investigate and punish the falsification of Native American history by scholars, or if society in general were to investigate such falsification in the media, popular culture and political discourse, we’d all be in for a very time-consuming process resulting in a whole lot of people out of jobs." the president, however, overruled the faculty's recommendation and recommended dismissal to the university's board of regents, which rubber-stamped his recommendation 8-1, with no public debate.

these attacks on the academy can't be seen separately from the ascendancy of fascism generally, including the bush administration's war on civil liberties, the erosion of institutions and laws intended to protect us from centralized power, and the increasing concentration of wealth and centralization of power, in this country and worldwide. follow my recommendation, do yourself and the world a favor, and read finkelstein and churchill.


breaking news

fascists win the day. exemplary native american scholar ward churchill has been fired from his job as tenured professor at the university of colorado for his political views.


impeach the president; and impeach the president

impeach the president
impeach the president

beating a retreat on exceptives

i’ve been emphasizing, including in this blog, that exceptives can only be licensed by universals. that’s what i believed until less than an hour ago. i now think that exceptives are licensed by members of a semantic class that corresponds to roberto zamparelli’s strong determiners (see his 1995 rochester dissertation). interestingly, membership in this class, as zamparelli pointed out, has a syntactic correlate, since strong determiners appear to occur in a DP shell that encompasses the phrase projected by the other class of determiners, predicative determiners. this is evidenced in the general possibility of cooccurrence of strong and predicative determiners, with the strong determiner always linearly preceding the predicative one in english. membership in the class seems to correspond to the acceptability of phrases like the following, with “Det” standing in for the determiner:

Det friend that i have

strong determiners are acceptable stand-ins for Det; predicative ones are not.

i’ll suggest that the following are strong determiners:

the five
the first n/the last n
the only n
the tallest
my five
any (including free choice any)

some of these, of course, are not a single determiner but a combination of a determiner and another determiner (five), superlative adjective (tallest, arguably most/least), or uniquely identifying adjective (only). also possible are combinations of three elements when the third is a cardinal, like the tallest three or the only five.

here are some predicative determiners:


notice how they fare with respect to licensing exceptives.

every/each president was protestant, except kennedy
all the presidents were protestant, except kennedy
no president was protestant, except kennedy
the forty-three presidents so far have been protestant, except kennedy
the first three/last three presidents were protestant, except kennedy
the only four presidents to have presided over the vietnam war were protestant, except kennedy
the tallest presidents have been protestant, except kennedy.
most of the high schoolers helped out, except the tenth graders
my five rabbits are herbivorous, except fluffy.
i don’t eat any vegetables except kale (negative polarity any)
i would eat any vegetable except kale (free choice any)

the predicative determiners fare considerably worse.

*some presidents are protestant, except kennedy
*a president is protestant, except kennedy
*five presidents have been protestant, except kennedy
*many presidents have been protestant, except kennedy
*few presidents have been protestant, except kennedy

(i’m fudging a bit here; few and maybe many seem to fall in the same category as most:
few of the high schoolers helped out, except the tenth graders
many of the high schoolers helped out, except the tenth graders)

what about the “Det friend that i have” construction? here are the strong determiners

every friend that i have is a mensch
all the friends that i have are mensches
?each friend that i have is a mensch
no friend that i have is a mensch
the five friends that i have are mensches
the first three/the last friends that i’ve had were mensches
the only friend that i have is a mensch
the tallest friend that i have is a mensch
most friends that i have are mensches
*my five friends that i have are mensches
?don’t insult any friend that i have (negative polarity any)
any friend that i have is a mensch (free choice any)

a couple are somewhat odd, and “my five” is ungrammatical, presumably for the independent reason that “my N “ doesn’t combine well with restrictive relatives. as a whole, the class of strong determiners does well in this construction.

predicative determiners do less well:

*some friends that i have are mensches
*a friend that i have is a mensch
*five friends that i have are mensches
*many friends that i have are mensches
?few friends that i have are mensches

there's more to be said. but that's it for now.


a startling discovery

i just realized that law school and loss-cool are homonyms (homophones? i'm not good with these terms).

stay tuned for further developments on this story.


against induction

some of you who know me know that one of my charming quirks is that i don't believe in empirical induction. i don't mean in hume's sense - it's not just that i don't think induction leads to weaker inferences than deduction. my skepticism is this: i don't believe that induction exists as an independent mode of reasoning. i believe that there is nothing gained by adding induction to our reasoning toolbox, because anything that it does is already covered by abduction. since there are things covered by abduction that are not covered by induction, it is induction that is redundant.

my initial formulation of induction is as follows:

for every individual P and attribute X, frequent observation that an instance of P has attribute X, with no observation that P lacks attribute X, licenses the inference that every P has attribute X.
i don't think much of the critique is contingent on this particular formulation; i welcome feedback on it.

i can think of four arguments against induction, but i don't have good names for them at the present. i'm aware from personal experience and from reading feyerabend that good marketing is essential to philosophical and scientific progress, so i will start trying to think up some good names - maybe get burson-marsteller to do some pro bono work on my behalf. in the meantime, here are the names of the arguments.

1. the raven paradox argument
2. the argument from the structure of logic
3. the unvarying datum argument
4. the clash with theory argument

in this post i'll give very quick summaries. i'll plan to elaborate in the future.

1. the raven paradox argument

take the following proposition:

(p) every raven is black

(p) is logically equivalent to (p')

(p') every non-black thing is not a raven

if induction is valid, then observing many black ravens lets us infer (p) (and (p')). so far, so good. but observing many non-black non-ravens also lets us infer (p) (and (p')), and this goes against our understanding of what good evidence is. right now i can see an orange curtain, a greyish ceiling fan and white walls. they are not good evidence that all ravens are black, but induction suggests that they are.

this argument, due to hempel, has generated a number of solutions intended to rescue induction. i don't think they're very good, and i hope to address them in the future. i believe my approach - to dump induction in the harbor - makes more sense.

2. the argument from the structure of logic

logic is about drawing conclusions from premises using formal rules. the rules are rigid, while the premises and conclusions vary. i suggest that this restricts the modes of reasoning to two: given premises, reasoning to conclusions - this is deduction; and given conclusions, hypothesizing premises - this is abduction. there is no room for other modes of reasoning like induction. it is possible, of course, that induction is a submode of abduction; but if induction is to not be redundant, then the burden is on its advocates to show that it has interesting properties that set it apart from ordinary abduction.

3. the unvarying datum argument

suppose P has two subtypes: P' and P''. and suppose we observe, frequently and unvaryingly, that instances of P' have attribute X. does this license an inference that all P have attribute X? by induction, it does. and then it follows that all instances P'', about which we've observed nothing, have attribute X. this is preposterous.

the same situation arises with respect to a P with no subtypes, but which could in principle be observed under different conditions but is observed in only one kind of condition. suppose that in all the observations, P has attribute X. induction would lead us to believe that every P has attribute X, without accounting for the possibility that it is an artifact of the conditions of observation.

4. the clash with theory argument

induction allows us to infer that the sun will rise tomorrow. suppose we have a very good theory of the cosmos which predicts with certainty that before tomorrow, the earth will stop rotating, or else that the sun will explode. it is rational to believe the theory rather than our past experience. but induction allows us to infer that the sun will rise tomorrow. so induction licenses an irrational inference.

feedback welcome.

EDIT: how could i forget the grue argument of nelson goodman?

5. the grue argument

define the attribute grue as follows.

for some time t and all P, P is grue iff it is green if observed before t and blue if not observed before t.
if some P has been observed before t, then induction allows us to infer with equal probability at t that P is green and that P is grue. this means that it predicts with equal force that P will appear green and that P will appear blue next time it is observed.



no, not me. some of my friends and colleagues at case are starting to announce that they're transferring. i have two kinds of reaction to this.

1 . i hope enough people above me transfer that i grade on to law review.
2. why are so many people anxious to leave? cleveland rocks! see 30 rock.

EDIT: how could i forget sloopy? i looked for a youtube vid with the O-H-I-O but they all sucked.


happy 89th to nelson mandela!

here's a few music videos in his honor. reportedly mr. mandela is a great admirer of paul robeson; so are the manics. i hope he likes them too.

manic street preachers: let robeson sing

DAM: born here

immortal technique: the 4th branch


more on most

earlier i raised the following challenge to the generalization that only universals admit of exceptions:

most of the students helped out, except the tenth graders

the challenge is that exceptive phrases are pretty well established as applying to universals, and most is not a universal.

i suggested a solution: that there should be understood a presupposed partition on the set of students, based on grade. so that the sentence can be restated as follows:

given a partition of the students into equivalence classes based on grades, every equivalence class except the one consisting of the tenth graders is such that most of its members helped out.

this solves the problem of the universal by introducing one, albeit an invisible one, to license the exceptive. it also gets the truth conditions of the sentence right. but it is a challenging approach, because in the absence of independent justification for an invisible presupposed partition and universal quantifier, it is a rather ad hoc solution. in this post i try to support the analysis by bringing one source of independent evidence for an invisible universal, from negative polarity item licensing.

i noted in my previous post that most differs from other quantifiers, such as some.

*some of the students helped out, except the tenth graders

recently i remembered the fact, discussed in the literature on polarity items*, that some and most have different properties as far as licensing any. most licenses it sort of, while some doesn't.

most (of the) people with any self-respect abhor imperialism
*some (of the) people with any self-respect abhor imperialism

i'm generally a believer in semantic and pragmatic licensing of polarity items (as opposed to, say, syntactic licensing), though not a firm believer. i don't see pragmatics as being a licenser in this case, so let's assume it's semantics. usually, negative polarity items (which we'll assume any is here. why? cause fuck free choice any, that's why) are assumed to be licensed in downward-entailing contexts. the first argument of most is not generally seen as a downward-entailing context, because of facts like the following.

most high school students are evil
most tenth-graders are evil

but what if these sentences were interpreted as i've suggested, as universal statements ranging over equivalence classes of a presupposed partition? and what if the set expressed in the consequent was one of the equivalence classes presupposed in the antecedent? in that case, there would be an entailment.
given a partition of the set of high schoolers by grade, for every equivalence class E, for most x, x a high school student in E, x is evil.


given a partition of the set of high schoolers by grade, for every equivalence class E, for most x, x a tenth-grader in E, x is evil.
if this universal interpretation is available, it helps us solve the puzzle of why most is a sort-of licenser of any. It's because most is sort of downward-entailing in its first argument, because it is sort of a universal quantifier.

now, the same would be true of some. If it was susceptible to a universal interpretation, it would be as downward-entailing as most is in the example just given. We would then expect it to license both an exceptive and any in its first argument. but it does neither, which we can attribute to its inability to accommodate to a universal interpretation.

the larger mystery, of why most can do what other quantifiers can't, still exists. but at least we've suggested a connection between two properties: licensing of any and support for exceptives.

this approach is surely wrong. and you know what? that doesn't bother me, because i don't have to publish in linguistics anymore.

* i would guess this is in myriam uribe-echebarria's dissertation, for instance.


the first step is understanding

chomsky's summary of iran, iraq and neoliberalism here. it's from a year ago but perfectly timely, as far as i can tell.


"the less they know, the less they know it"

a classic leiter post on obsession with civility and tone can be read here.


israeli-palestinian actor might be imprisoned; settler accused of selling weapons to palestinians

i saw two stories yesterday about the israeli "justice" system.

first, democracy now reports that famous israeli actor mohammed bakri may face jail time for making a documentary about israeli terrorism. he went to jenin during the massacre in 2002 and filmed footage, releasing it as jenin, jenin. it was originally banned in israel, "the only democracy in the middle east," until the supreme court removed the ban. now he's being sued by unknown people. so he's facing prison time for speech and will not be able to confront his accusers, but he can take comfort in the fact that he's living in a democracy.

the second story hasn't been reported by any english-language media that i've seen, but it can be read here in hebrew. an israeli settler living in qiryat arba is accused of selling guns to palestinians. apparently he presented himself as a collector and bought over 100 decommissioned rifles, which he then recommissioned and sold to palestinians. this is a crime because, you see, while israeli colonists may own private weapons, palestinians, who have pressing self-defense needs, may not.


a summary of legal reasoning, on one leg

this is for entering students who want to know what this mysterious "legal reasoning" thing is all about. it's not, in fact, very mysterious. veterans of law schools just mystify it to boost their own self-esteems. it can be summarized on one leg*, as follows.

1. "issue spotting" is an important part of the process. armed with knowledge of the law, you have to figure out what facts in the fact pattern raise what issues.
2. issues are usually stated as a mixture of factual and legal concepts. e.g. "does Arbuthnot's pocketing the money violate a larceny statute?"
3. once you've identified the issue, you have to apply the law to the facts. sometimes the application is very obvious and straightforward and the conclusion can be neatly deduced. there are very few points on exams for these simple conclusions, and almost everyone gets the points.
4. usually, a general issue has several subparts, each of which must be treated as an issue in itself. e.g. a criminal law issue will require a showing whether a certain action was committed, whether the person who committed the action had a culpable state of mind, and whether the circumstances were appropriate for a conviction. for each of these, the relevant law needs to be stated and applied to the relevant facts.
5. applying the law to the facts usually involves making the best possible case for both sides. there may be two (or more) different legal principles that could in principle apply. in such a case, you apply both to the relevant facts, and show the outcome for each. usually, these will conflict with each other, and you resolve the issue by arguing that one principle should apply rather than the other - possibly for general philosophical reasons, but preferably because it's more pertinent to the issue at hand.
6. other times there's just one legal principle, but the facts don't straightforwardly support a conclusion. this can be because the facts are a mixture of those that support a conclusion and those that support a different conclusion; or it can be because there are some facts that favor a conclusion, but there are possibly not enough, or they are not strong enough, to meet a burden of proof. again, you argue both sides.

and that's just about it. if you found this post useful, you should buy me a drink. i'm at la luna cafe in central square, cambridge, MA right now. if you read this at some future time, shoot me an e-mail to find out where i am. if i'm dead, just pour the drink over my grave. peace.


* this is an anglicization of a useful hebrew idiom referring to a quick summary; the idea being, you do the summary while the other person stands on one leg. there's an old shamai and hillel story about it.

your daily dose of humility

i am aware that nobody reads this blog.

it follows that nobody reads this blog.

it follows that you are not reading this blog.

in other words, if you are reading this, you don't exist.

next time you're thinking you're better than me, meditate on your non-existence for a moment. kind of puts my shortcomings into perspective, doesn't it?


the finkelstein/larudee affair

depaul's denial of tenure to profs. finkelstein and larudee is becoming a cause beyond just middle eastern studies and political science circles. many academics are questioning the motivations behind depaul's decision, connecting it not just to the traditional suppression of points of view critical of israel, but to the right-wing attack on academic inquiry more generally.


many have pointed out that depaul's decision meshes with the level of intolerance in the western mainstream for those taking a critical approach to the israel-palestine conflict. less remarked upon is the factor that noam chomsky emphasized in "the fate of an honest intellectual." chomsky describes how twenty years ago, when finkelstein was a graduate student at princeton, he exposed the large segment of american intelligentsia which had been very publicly enamoured of joan peters' "from time immemorial" as being very foolish for being so uncritically accepting of a massive fraud. since chomsky's interview, finkelstein publicly outed dershowitz as a dreadfully bad propagandist.

underlying the whole issue of "tone of scholarship" seems to be the disturbing idea that dissident scholarship can be tolerated to an extent, as long as it's polite; if your work, however, doesn't just argue that the conventional view is wrong, but that the conventional view is idiotic and not worth serious consideration, the guardians of the idiot convention will come gunning for you and the merits of your scholarship will not protect you. it might be a useful study to check up on the "tone" of academics who criticize literature at the scholarly and moral level of dershowitz's writings on israel, but less politically popular, like maybe holocaust denial or apologetics for al-qaeda.

another suspicion i have is that there's funny business going on behind the scenes. a university doesn't just deny tenure to an world-renowned and unquestionably qualified scholar based on discredited accusations made by an outsider, even if the outsider is a celebrity and the scholar is a lightning rod for controversy. it even more certainly does not deny tenure to another qualified scholar who is not especially controversial but stands up and supports a controversial professor against the university. presumably the leadership of depaul is not stupid, and knows that its decisions would lead to a serious loss of reputation in the academic world. based on this i'm guessing that depaul was secretly promised some large amount of money, perhaps by a right-wing foundation, to get rid of finkelstein and larudee.

good to outstanding movies i've seen in the last couple of months

all of these are available on netflix.

1. the battle of algiers

phenomenal movie about the struggle between algerian revolutionaries and french colonists in the city of algiers in 1957. many of the actors were veterans of the revolutionary fight. the movie is a good strategic study of anti-colonial struggle. i found it very helpful to read eqbal ahmad's writings about algeria right before watching the movie.

2. sima the witch (hebrew title: sima vaknin machshefa)

this recent israeli film is not very well-known, but it's very funny. lots of crass humor but well-executed. it's about a widow who just wants love discovering that she has the powers of a witch, causing everyone around her to get greedy. it's a commentary on the degeneration of morals, and also has lots of ashkenazi-mizrahi stuff.

3. the dinner game

pretty good french movie about a group of wealthy friends who invite unwitting stupid/boring people to dinner parties and compete over who can bring the "best" guests. predictably, it ends up that the wealthy hosts are the real stupid ones; but the execution is good, and so is the acting.

4. catch a fire

the tim robbins movie about a south african anti-apartheid militant and the anti-terrorism official trying to catch him. interesting subject matter and pretty good acting.

5. stranger than fiction

y'all know about this will ferrell movie. it's surprisingly crisp and clever.

6. upstairs, downstairs

not a movie, but a very good british TV show from the early 70's. it's about a patrician family and its servants in the early 1900. the acting is fantastic and the writing is very good. no melodrama, no cheap attempts at humor. very theater-like.

7. the sweet hereafter

a 1997 film by atom egoyan about a community in western canada that's torn apart by litigation after a deadly schoolbus accident. to be honest, i thought this film was good but not great; but it's worth seeing just for sarah polley. yeah, i have a bit of a celebrity crush.


well, it's been a couple of months. i'm a damn slacker, i am.

i'm living in boston now. dorchester, to be precise. it's much better than living in cleveland, i'll tell you what. there's public transportation, attractive women, and left-wing people - sometimes all in close proximity. the main disadvantage is that liquor is much more expensive. even in the lower-income area where i live, it's hard to find a drink for under $6.

working for legal aid is great. much of the work is over-the-phone intakes, which is designed to get the basics of the person's situation, but it also helps to lend a sympathetic ear to people who are either distraught or very angry. i also get research projects, lobbying calls and assorted other duties. last week i wrote an appeal of an administrative ruling in an unemployment insurance case. this past week i researched massachusetts tax law. my co-student-interns are lovely people, but have two flaws. one, they never want to go drinking; two, they're goddamn liberals.

i have a new nephew, who's almost two months old. his name is "adin", which means "delicate" or "gentle" in hebrew. i guess my brother and his wife decided to go with the "boy named sue" theory of child-rearing. they're all moving to maale edumim, an israeli colony, next month.

grades are in, and if i may be immodest, i did very well. i'm hoping that my performance this semester pulled me up to the top 15% or so. i decided not to try out for journal or mock trial. instead i'll occupy myself with the national lawyers guild and hopefully street law. maybe i'll sleep more or get a girlfriend, if i stop being so unloveable.


petras and finkelstein debate american support for israel

there's a great discussion over here regarding the causes of american "support for israel". no raving zionist loons, just two leftist intellectuals having a serious conversation. if one had to characterize the sides, petras takes the position that the influence of the israeli lobby is decisive, while finkelstein maintains that coincidence of american and israeli elite interests is more significant. hagit borer, kickass linguist and member of KPFA's SWANA collective, attempts to moderate.


americans murder 19-year-old girl on dialysis

the U.S. embargo on the palestinians, combined with existing palestinian poverty attributable in significant part to american foreign policy, caused the death of 19-year-old olfat, a girl with a kidney disorder. the embargo has kept the necessary dialysis supplies out of palestinian hospitals for the last year, and when olfat's dextrose concentration started running out in february, her parents started diluting the remaining concentration to make it last longer. the diluted solution was insufficient, and she died shortly afterwards as a result.

the embargo was placed on palestinians last year after the U.S. and israel forced them, at gunpoint, to cut short the democratic mandate of the ruling fatah party and hold new elections. the palestinians elected hamas, a party militantly committed to ending israel's brutal and illegal occupation of palestine, which had occasionally reponded to israeli terrorism in kind. analysts attribute hamas's election in significant part to the widespread perception that fatah, had been bought off by the U.S. and israel, and had become ineffective at opposing israel's crimes against humanity.

the illegal occupation of palestine, carried on since 1967 for the purpose of preventing palestinian independence, has greatly impoverished palestinians, as israel, the occupying power, has plundered palestinian resources and has severely restricted economic activity, along with restricting the rights of palestinians more generally. israel has been censured repeatedly by the united nations for its crimes against humanity, as well as by civil society organizations such as human rights groups, unions and churches. however, israel has the full support of the republicans and democrats, and there is no hope that economically robust israel will be embargoed for its enormous crimes the way the destitute palestinians have been sanctioned for electing the political party of their preference.

israelis bear much of the responsibility for olfat's death. it is a supporter of the murderous embargo on medicine. the village of qira, where olfat is from, is forced to drink stagnant water provided by the israeli occupiers (palestinian fresh water is stolen by the israelis). this is probably the reason for the disproportionately high rate of kidney disease in the village. the nearest hospital could not be reached in time because israeli soldiers blocked access.

but americans bear responsibility as well. we keep electing republicans and democrats, both of which support the foreign policy goal of imperialism, and employ the means of terrorism to reach that end. in particular, both parties support israel's occupation of palestine and its attendant criminal brutality. besides offering moral support, americans give billions of dollars every year to israel, without which its crimes would be much more difficult, maybe impossible, to commit. it also exercises its veto to block peace agreements in the united nations security council, without which israel would have to allow palestinian independence.


review of tom roeper, "the prism of grammar"

tom roeper's "the prism of grammar", about child language acquisition and the insights into the nature of children and humans more generally that it reveals, has recently been published to rave blurbs by the likes of noam chomsky, steven pinker and marc hauser. i only received it a few days ago, and haven't had time to read it. so this is not really a review - i'm only blogging so i can brag that my research is cited in it several times. just go to the index and look up goat, disgruntled, and there i am.

or did he use my real name? i don't remember.


exceptions to non-universals?

thinking about my possible note has got me thinking about the semantics of exceptives. sentences like the following are bothering me:
most of the boys helped out with the chores, except the pre-schoolers
it troubles me because there's an exceptive phrase without an obvious semantic universal to support it. it's generally, and very sensibly, assumed that only contexts of semantic universality admit of exceptives. semantic universality can be expressed through overt quantificational words like every, all, each, and always. the following sentences illustrate.
every boy/all the boys/each boy did his chores, except alvin
alvin always did his chores, except once when he was sick
it can also be expressed in adjectives and adverbs of totality/completion.
the weasel was completely submerged, except for its head.
it also appears with modals that have universal force, like should:
alvin should work hard, except on the sabbath
and in generic sentences, which can be analyzed as universal (or so i claim):
alvin works hard, except on the sabbath
alvin hates potatoes, except blue potatoes
other cases are not straightforwardly universal but are amenable to analysis as universals. for example, negatives sentences are normally analyzed as negated existentials. but as everybody knows, "not some" is logically equivalent to "all not". it is therefore not surprising that negatives admit of exceptives.
nobody likes alvin, except alvin
i don't eat pork, except on passover
larry horn has a paper on exceptives with any, in which (if memory serves) he shows that not only negative polarity any, but also free choice any supports exceptives. negative polarity any is not a surprise, because it's normally taken to be a negative, hence should support exceptives like all good negatives do. but free choice any has properties of an existential, which should by no means tolerate exceptives.
few people saw anyone except alvin
anyone except alvin can see the logic of that!
i don't remember how horn deals with the free choice items, but having read a bit of his work, i'd be shocked if it didn't involve using scalar pragmatics to show that free choice any is in fact a universal in some sense.

now we come to the sentence that is puzzling me.
most of the boys helped out with the chores, except the pre-schoolers
there is no explicit universal in the sentence; nor is there there any discernible negative, generic, or free choice item. nor does there seem to be any discernible universal meaning. the best i can do is offer the following universal paraphrase:
[given a partition B of the set of boys, of which one element is the set of pre-schoolers P,] in every element X of B, except P, most elements of X helped out with the chores.
i bracketed off the first part of the sentence, which might be treated as a presupposition. this paraphrase seems to give the correct truth condition for the puzzle sentence. notice that this requires that it is not the case that most pre-schoolers helped out with the chores, which seems to be the correct meaning.

i like this fix, but it's got problems. two kinds of problems that i can see.

1. it calls for a reanalysis of an apparently not universal sentence for no apparent reason, and with no independent motivation that i'm aware of.

2. it works for most, but not for plenty of other options. the following all seem like bad sentences to me, yet all of them could in principle be reanalyzed as universals just like the sentence with most.
three quarters of the boys helped out with the chores, except the pre-schoolers
some of the boys helped out with the chores, except the pre-schoolers
three of the boys helped out with the chores, except the pre-schoolers
these ought to be good sentences, and paraphrasable as follows:
[given a partition B of the set of boys, of which one element is the set of pre-schoolers P,] in every element X of B, except P, three quarters/some/three of the elements of X helped out with the chores.
as marvin gaye would say, let's get it on. i mean, what's going on?!


disgruntled goat has a paper due at 9:10 am...

... and it's nowhere near done. must be time for a song parody.

this one is of "everybody knows", one of my favorite leonard cohen songs, and one of my favorite rhyme schemes.

everybody knows not to mess with magic
everybody knows not to anger god
everybody heeds the cautionary examples
of bathsheba and the wife of lot
everybody knows not to strike the boulder
everybody touches their head and their shoulders
and their knees and their toes
everybody knows

in praise of case western

the new US news rankings are out, and case law school is down a couple of spots to 53, still tied with (ugh) baylor, but now behind cardozo, which has still not sent me a decision (i'm *this* close to giving up on you, cardozo!).

if you're one of those neurosis-plagued cro-magnons like the folks who hang out at XOXO, this will make you less inclined to go to case. but i always encourage people who can stomach living in cleveland to come here. it's a good school and it's getting better.

now, i'm not big at all on school loyalty. for example, i'm a umass amherst alum who owns the domain name umass-sucks.com, and plans to use it. i've referred in public to various umass executives as con artists, thugs, liars, hypocrites, racists, classists, troglodytes, ogres, and neanderthals, and i continue to stand by all of those characterizations. i've drawn not necessarily favorable comparisons between vice chancellors and adolf eichmann, and exposed their intellectual shortcomings by shining a spotlight on their dreadfully-written doctoral dissertations.

but case is not umass, and i've been pleasantly surprised since i got here. the administration is so decent that the biggest controversies this year have been over whether paying for the use of printing paper and rented laptops for exams should be on an individual basis or spread out and charged as part of tuition.

and positive changes are coming. dean simson has been putting together a new center for social justice, details of which are still trickling out. this goes a good way towards alleviating one of my two main concerns about case, the lack of a social justice focus. the center kicks off in the fall.

the teachers are mostly good, the staff is good, the resources are good, the building is decent (it's no stata center, but at least it's not the lewis building). the school has an excellent reputation in the region. the cleveland legal community is bigger and better than you might expect. and the living is cheap.

palestinian woman invents "checkpoint socks"

ripped this off kabobfest.

a palestinian woman has invented socks that make apartheid a little less uncomfortable.


notes on my note

so the law school has this crazy rule that you have to do a serious piece of writing in order to graduate.

i say, if i wanted to do a serious piece of writing, i would have gone to grad school instead of law school.

oh yeah, i did go to grad school.


and i failed to do a serious piece of writing either time.

but anyway, i've been nursing this idea for a note that would allow me to combine my ability to pass myself off as competent in semantics with my need to write something involving law, and also allows me to indulge in my favorite fiction, which is that international law has relevance to the conflict in the middle east.

basically, the idea goes like this: resolution 242 of the united nations security council was passed in the aftermath of the june 1967 war in which israel attacked (deal with it, zionists) egypt, syria and some other countries, and conquered the palestinian territories that it's been occupying illegally ever since (see above, zionists).

the resolution contains disputed language*. it calls for israeli withdrawal from "territories occupied in the recent conflict". the absence of a universal quantifier like "all", and a maximizer/totalizer like "the" before "territories" has engendered a debate over whether israel is required to withdraw from all of the occupied territories, or whether withdrawal from one dunam would be sufficient. it is a credit to the inventiveness of apologists for israeli hideosities, and a discredit to the notion that man is a rational animal, that many people actually take the second position seriously.

my goal would be to present a semantic analysis of the resolution. my present belief is that the text is ambiguous between a semantic universal and existential, while the anti-israel "pro-israel" position seems to be that it is unambiguously an existential. my arguments so far are from the compatibility of the sentence with an exceptive phrase like "except hilltops", and from the possible distribution of polarity-sensitive items, or whatever the pros are calling negative polarity items these days. the sentences (1) and (2), to which i added the diagnostic words in red, suggest a universal interpretation.

(peace should include)
1. withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict, except hilltops
2. withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories of any significance occupied in the recent conflict

to see that these are characteristics of sentences with universal interpretations, add "all" in front of "territories", and observe that the sentences sound right. to see that they're not compatible with existential interpretations, add "some" in front of "territories", and observe that they sound wrong. this does not show that these sentences lack an existential interpretation - only that they have a universal interpretation.

there is much more to be said on the subject, including an exploration of whether this fact has any legal significance, and a discussion of where the universal force of the sentence comes from. but i have two years to write this note, and only one day to write a memorandum in opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss, so i believe i'll go focus on that for just a bit.
* speaking of law, language, the occupation of palestine and "disputed": some ziotards try to dispute that "occupied territories" is accurate, and prefer "disputed territories", pointing to the fact that israel disputes that it legally belongs to the palestinians. this conflation of the adjectivalized participial form of the verb "dispute" with the sho nuff adjective "disputed" can be multiplied. observe: i hereby lay claim to all of england. therefore all of england is disputed territory, like palestine.

(i think i have notes somewhere on how to distinguish the participial adjective from the sho nuff adjective. one general test is compatibility with degree modifiers of adjectives like very/mad/wicked, or degree relations like -er/more/less/so/too/enough. compatibility with the adjective is sufficient but not necessary for concluding it's a sho nuff adjective.)

two from counterpunch

time for some lazy reposting.

alan maass discusses the connection between oil and imperialist warfare in oil and empire. he first describes how

[t]he cabinet of the new Iraqi government... approved a law that would undo Iraq's nationalized system and give Western oil giants unparalleled access to the country's vast reserves.

The oil companies would be guaranteed super-profits--on a scale unknown anywhere else in the Middle East--for a period of 20 to 35 years from oil pumped out of two-thirds or more of Iraq's oilfields.
even saudi arabia is furious, with king abdullah denouncing the occupation of iraq and turning down dinner invitations from his white house buddies. (we'll see how long that lasts.) maass goes on to give an overview of the geopolitical significance of oil of the kind that ought to be familiar to politically literate people. you know, that 2% or so of americans.

elsewhere on the counterpunch website, cockburn and st. clair take apart the "antiwar" senate vote.


phony paradoxes

simpson's paradox does not deserve the appellation. in fact, it would barely deserve the appalachians. and don't get me started on the raven paradox - you'll wish you hadn't.


what i'm listening to:

"the bling-bling era was cute, but it's about to be done
i'll leave you full o' clips, like the moon blocking the sun
my metaphors are dirty like herpes, but harder to catch
like an escape tunnel in prison, i started from scratch"

ideologies i'm skeptical of

legal realism. seems dumb as hell to me. does anybody know a defense of this ideology that's brief and easy to read?

wait - does anyone even read this blog?

"language is unlearnable and unusable"

the above statement was attributed to noam chomsky by a former syntax professor of mine. as i recall, he interpreted it as hyperbole, intended to convey that language is not learnable by humans using general cognitive methods*, and that there's no evidence from the structure of language that it's particularly well-suited for what most people take to be its main function, communication. both of these are themes of chomsky's work in linguistics.

i'm not interested in an assessment of this position, because that would take effort, and i am a lazy son of a bitch. i just want to present an argument in favor of the latter proposition, that the form of language is not well-suited for communication. more particularly, i'll point out that one of joseph greenberg's universals, if in fact universal**, shows that no language tailors its morphology to a communicative function that it could do very straightforwardly.

the universal i'm talking about is # 37 in greenberg's famous "some universals of human language..." paper:

A language never has more gender categories in nonsingular numbers than in the singular.
to illustrate, greenberg mentions hausa, which distinguishes masculine from feminine gender in the singular, but not in the plural***. the universal means that the reverse is never the case: you don't get languages in which there is a masculine/feminine distinction in the plural but not the singular, for example.

there's no reason in principle that this should be, other than the architecture of language. plenty of languages distinguish masculine from feminine plurals, and plenty don't distinguish them in the singular. it is therefore surprising that no language combines these two facts.

the reason this shows that linguistic form doesn't follow function is as follows: gender distinctions have a function: they disambiguate. for example, the gender morphology in "i saw john and mary and kicked him" makes it clear who i kicked. but there are more actual "real world" genders in the plural than in the singular. in the singular, you have masculine, feminine and neuter. in the plural, you have masculine, feminine, neuter, and mixed gender to refer to a plurality consisting of both men and women. if form followed function, you might expect the universal to go in the opposite direction.

but it doesn't. and i'm out.
* to which generative linguists say "duh!"
** some of his claimed universals turn out not to be so once languages are added to his sample. for example, his universal 31 - "If either the subject or object noun agrees with the verb in gender, then the adjective always agrees with the noun in gender" - does not hold of tamil, although it does hold of closely related malayalam.
*** the universal uses "nonsingular", which encompasses plurals, as well as duals, trials and whatever other nonsingular morphology might exist.

horsie joke

i've always wanted to wrote a joke, but have never been clever enough. but today i am, so here i go.

viola was showing her horse to sebastian and bragging about how smart he is. she demonstrates by asking:

"what's three plus four?"

the horse pounds its hoof against the ground seven times.

"what's two times three?"

it pounds its hoof six times.

"what's the square root of twenty-five?"

it pounds its hoof five times.

"aha!" exclaims sebastian. "your horse isn't that smart. it forgot about the negative root!"


hillel tactics at G-dub

the forward is reporting on some sketchy tactics adopted by george washington university's hillel to prevent a discussion on israeli apartheid. this took place during a talk at the university by former president jimmy carter, who was speaking on the subject. robert fishman, GW hillel's director, admitted that he and a group of jewish students made a plan to sit near the microphone and rush to it at the end of the talk, ensuring that mostly critical questions from a pre-scripted sheet were asked. this was accomplished, with four students reading questions directly from the sheet - none of which directly addressed the issue of israeli apartheid.

is there anything wrong with this? according to one way of looking at it, not much. as a hillel activist pointed out, nobody stopped anyone from asking questions. at worst, the associated press got the false impression that the audience was mostly critical, and people who had honest questions in response to the talk didn't get to ask them because they didn't act quickly enough.

i bring up this story because it illustrates an unfortunate tendency in the "pro-israel" crowd* to want to stifle and/or avoid debate of substantive issues. this is true in general, and especially true of discussions of israeli apartheid. documentation of apartheid is generally met with substanceless attacks rather than substantive response. in fact, i don't know of any attempt to seriously reckon with the arguments of uri davis, edward herman, jeff halper, the national lawyers guild, or anyone else who has analyzed israeli apartheid**.

it's especially unfortunate that a chapter of hillel was involved in this. i'm not saying that hillel is always neutral when it comes to israel***, but it generally tries to preserve the appearance, at least, of openness to a range of political views, in keeping with its mission of increasing jewish involvement on campus in a nonsectarian way. having been involved with several hillels, i've known many jews who've been interested in "doing jewish", as hillel calls it, but were put off by its reputation as a predominantly right-wing institution. the kind of theatrics that the forward article describes doesn't help hillel overcome this reputation.

* i use scare quotes around "pro-israel" because i don't believe that supporters of/apologists for israeli violence, racism and political intransigence are genuinely pro-israel. i'll blog about it sometime.

** i'm leaving out jimmy carter because i haven't read his book. i've also seen false statements
about israeli apartheid attributed to him by the mainstream U.S. media, such as the claim that there is no racial discrimination in israel proper (i.e. israel within the 1949 armistice lines). such claims, which run contrary to the unrebutted research of some of the authors i've mentioned, cast doubts on his credibility.

*** at some point, god willing, i'll tell the story of hillel's deplorable conduct at a panel featuring jewish and israeli members of the international solidarity movement, which i helped to organize.

brief thought about merit

my constitutional law professor, in class today, used the word "meritocracy" to describe a system in which admission to law schools depended on one's grades, LSAT scores and achievements.

what in hell do these things have to do with merit?!


what i'm re-reading

i'm re-reading guns, germs and steel: the fates of human societies - one of my favorite books ever. it tries to develop a serious account of why the people of europe, asia and north africa organized themselves in complex societies and came to have a virtual monopoly over the guns, germs and steel that europeans used to subjugate the people of the rest of the world.

i'll illustrate the breadth of coverage by listing some of the chapter titles and bylines:
  • up to the starting line: what happened on all the continents before 11,000 B.C.?
  • to farm or not to farm: causes of the spread of food production
  • from egalitarian to kleptocracy: the evolution of government and religion
  • how africa became black: the history of africa
the author, jared diamond, weaves these topics together in a grand historical/social/biological/botanical/linguistic narrative, which ultimately finds the answer to his question in the geographic size and shapes of the continents. the writing is lucid and convincing, and some of the facts and ideas are fascinating. highly recommended.