Friday, August 31, 2012

Wealth, Hard Work, and Virtue

Listening to Mitt Romney's speech from last night, a constant strain in conservative rhetoric really stood out, the conflation of wealth, success, and virtue. The idea is that if you have a lot of money, it means that you worked harder than those who did not and thereby you deserve it because you have chosen to make yourself a better person than those others. Part of the move assuages the conscience of those who do not want to help the less fortunate -- they are that way not because of larger social forces that can be changed, but because they are inferior human beings who need to learn their lesson. Part of the move is to make one feel better about oneself. You have something others don't, it isn't because of larger social forces that you were given this fortunate accident, it is because of your hard work and proper decisions. If you have it, you deserve it, after all if you didn't deserve it you wouldn't have it -- after all you built it.

This line of reasoning has always rubbed me the wrong way because I find myself much less sympathetic towards the wealthy than others, probably for biographical reasons. I grew up surrounded by rich people. Some of them are among the people I most admire in the world -- good, caring folks who are smart and work incredibly hard, people to whom I would trust my life. But others, many others, a whole lot of others, were lazy, stupid, arrogant jerks whose money insulated them from the real world, the actual suffering in it, any sense of empathetic connectedness to others, and any sense of responsibility for making the world a better place for anyone other than themselves. These obnoxious and nasty people knew that they would maintain their status, they would need only to be who they are and do what was expected of them to maintain their undeserved privileged place. They knew they would be -- and I have no doubt that they are now -- rich. This expectation leads to a sense of entitlement. They have always had it, so they should always have it because that is just the way things are. It means that the rules that apply to the rest of us, don't apply to them. It is their birthright to get what they want when they want it.

This, of course, is the opposite of virtue. The worldview of many wealthy folks is not that of a healthy adult who will leave the world a better place than they found it and create themselves in a fashion that actualized their potential for a well-lived life.

There are lots of hard working people who are not rich. There are a lot of hard working people who are not good. There are a lot of rich people who do not work hard. There are a lot of good people who are not rich. And believe it or not, there are a lot of good people who do not work hard. The three are completely independent of each other. I know it politically expedient to conflate these ideas, but they really have nothing to do with each other.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is Language a Technology?

Came across this sentence in Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: "Language itself is not a technology." his argument is that because it is "native to our species" that it is not an artifact and anything that is not an artifact cannot be a technology. Is this correct?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's the Difference: Eat, Dine, and Sup

A little food for thought today with another edition of "What's the Difference?" What is the difference between eat, dine, and sup?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Admitting and Guilt

I've been interested in the claim widely made during the last week that by failing to fight the doping allegations against him, Lance Armstrong is implicitly admitting to cheating. There are two questions that are raised here. The first is whether you can implicitly admit something. Admitting is what philosophers of language call a speech act -- it is something you do by saying something. We often distinguish between saying and doing. We say things like "walk it like you talk it" or "actions speak louder than words." These cliches imply that there is a difference here. But there are some cases in which saying is doing. If you promise something or enter into a bet, it is the saying that is the doing. Marrying someone is another example -- recall the scene in The Princess Bride, "If you didn't say it, you didn't do it." Admitting something seems to be such an act, to admit to doing something seems to require a positive act, saying words like "I did it." Is the lack of a vigorous defense logically equivalent to such a statement? It does seem that we can make some sort of inference. Knowing how the person generally reacts to similar charges -- which is the case with Armstrong, a change in behavior is an interesting fact of the world and it does seem a legitimate basis for wondering why things are different this time. But it is weaker evidence than the explicit statement. And it is this notion of evidence that gives us our second question. Can you admit to something everyone already knows you've done? Peter Achinstein argues that proof of x is not evidence of x. He contends that evidence is an inductive notion that is connected with good reason to believe. Proof is something deductive and stronger. If you have proof, you don't need evidence. Similarly, an admission is evidence. It is someone making a statement that is designed to be very strong evidence that the person did indeed do it. It is not proof, since the admission could be false or coerced, but it is strong reason to believe the person did in fact do it. But suppose we already have extremely strong reason or even proof that he did. If we already have a rational belief in the person's guilt, then is there room for the admission to do what admissions are supposed to do? Is there a point to admitting to having done what we already know you did?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Has Digital Photography Removed the Art?

A local paper is doing a piece on Einstein's Jewish Science and they sent a photographer to my office yesterday. Nice guy, I'm sure he's good at what he does. Put me in a few places in different settings and poses and laid on the shutter taking what seemed like thousands of pictures. TheWife was a photojournalist back in the days of film (look it up on Wikipedia kids if you don't know what film is) and thinks of folks like that as hacks. The art of photography, she argues, is in setting up and getting the shot. Timing is part of the art. This guy is using an automatic weapon in a skeet shooting contest. There's no skill, just luck. The art of being a photographer has been removed from photography, she claims. There is no doubt that photoshop and such have allowed photography to grow in ways that were inconceivable when you had to develop in darkrooms, but has the growth from the back end removed the artistry on the front end? Is photography still the same art form? Is it a different art form? Has it ceased to be an art form because of the technological changes?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pit Bulls and Landlords

Maryland has declared pit bulls to be inherently dangerous and places liability for damages from pit bull attacks not only on the dogs' owners, but also on landlords. It is this last claim that I find interesting. Set aside the question of pit bull as a natural kind term (whether there is a well-defined type of dog picked out by the term "pit bull") and set aside whether there is, in fact, an inherent danger posed by all members of the group if well-defined. For the sake of argument, let's grant these points. Surely, the owner should be responsible. But why the landlord? On the one hand, it is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain a safe space in public areas that s/he owns. If pit bulls are inherently dangerous, then allowing them in their properties is creating a public hazard and for that we should hold the landlord responsible for any mishaps that could have been foreseen and prevented. On the other hand, it is not the possession of the landlord, but of the tenant that is at fault. If the landlord does not choose to own the dog, why should s/he be held responsible for the ramifications of something that s/he does not possess? If a tenant's child attacks someone, we would not hold the landlord responsible, even if there was reason to consider the child an inherent threat. Is there really a difference here? So, should landlords be party to this responsibility?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

RIP Phyllis Diller

We lost a giant yesterday. Phyllis Diller passed away at 95. She was the Moms Mabley of the post-Borsht Belt set. Where the standard role for women in comedy was the blonde ditsy wife, Phyllis Diller didn't need a male partner to play off of. She was so big a presence that she didn't need anything. The wig, the outfits, the gravelly voice, all of it part of a comic who was always in control and always seeming to have a good time. Her jokes were self-deprecating, but unlike Woody Allen or Richard Lewis, she was always the first person to laugh at them. There was a cheerful, devil may care attitude to her stand-up that was trademark. She consciously played away from type, mocking fashion and everything a woman in the 50s and 60s was supposed to be. But the rejection was not one of bitterness and anger, just straight up don't give a damn. She was her own person at a time when women weren't supposed to be. What Sid Caesar did to lampoon the post-World War II suburban man, Diller did for the women of that time being very, very funny illustrating her own failures as a housewife, but shedding light on the failures of life for the mid-20th century housewife in general. Betty Friedan may have spoken to the intellectual set, but Phyllis Diller said it better for everyone else.Rest in peace, Phyllis Diller and thank you for all the laughs.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Reprise for Ryan and Rand

With all the talk about Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand over the last week, it seems a good time to repost this -- the post that has received more comments than any other post ever at the Playground.

Last week's Chronicle of Higher Ed featured a trio of articles on followers of Ayn Rand. In one of them, an organization fronted by the bank BB&T's CEO is bribing philosophy departments with large barrels of cash if they will add a position for a pro-Rand member. It has set me to thinking.

You see, when you get on an airplane for a cross-country flight as a philosopher, you would much rather be seated next to the person who suffers from intense airsickness the entire way than the white guy who turns and says, "Oh, I'm kind of a philosopher, too. I LOVE Ayn Rand." Turns out that those little headphones they sell to listen to the in-flight movie are insufficient to strangle such an individual and the airline magazines do not produce papercuts deep enough to slice your wrists.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you take the writings of Nietzsche and remove everything insightful, interesting, and funny, what's left are the writings of Ayn Rand. These works are a narcotic to the upper-middle class white male of above average means and intelligence because it simultaneously meets two needs:

(1) Ego-stroking

Your comfortable place in society is a result of your being a more fit human who is the model of what the species should look like. You can sublimate the insecurity you feel about whether you will remain in your little bubble of contentment because the mere fact that you are there now is (unfalsifiable and tautological) proof that you are a superior human specimen who is realizing the excellence that the rest could achieve if they were not dragged down by those inferior welfare cases. You are where others want to be because you are who they strive to be...even if you can't get laid.

(2) Rationalization for Not Being an Empathetic Individual

Not caring about the less-fortunate when you have so much more than you need might be thought to be morally problematic. Those gosh darn bleeding hearts are always prattling on about how we should consider the needy and help those who are less fortunate. But I don't want to. Yet, holding my hands over my ears and loudly proclaiming, "LALALALALALALA," somehow seems insufficiently intellectual. I don't just want "I can't hear you," I need "I shouldn't hear you." But if I mix two parts social Darwinism with one part attacks on strawmen of Communism, I have the solution. I'm left with the idea that caring about others is actually going to harm others. If only I think about nothing but myself, I'm doing the best for everyone else because the rest will become better. My selfishness is the tide that raises all boats, so it would be immoral of me to be moral. Hence, I can relax and be a jerk who never helps anyone because only jerks never help anyone truly help anyone.

But while this may be a psychological explanation for the appeal, there is still the central doctrine itself which stands apart from its proponents. The view contends that human society ought to be oriented in such a way as to maximize the production of great individuals and that concern for all only causes, in a zero-sum game, the weak to be elevated at the expense of the great, an effect that evolutionarily has disastrous consequences for the species as a whole. The pivot of this view, of course, is this notion of great individuals of human excellence.

The notion is reminiscent of Aristotle who held that within each member of a species is a potentiality, the ultimate figure of that species, and through its lifespan each individual is acting to actualize that potential. The great ones are those who come closest to full actualization, who come closest to becoming the embodiment of the perfect being. Excellence, the line goes, is a mark of attaining a higher level of human perfection and the more people we have of higher levels of perfection, the more they will serve as models for even higher perfection to follow.

But the fly in the ointment here is whether it actually is true that excellent people are, in fact, better people. Let me put forward the possibility that those who achieve excellence are the last ones we would want to serve as models of lives well-lived.

Let me posit that humans are multi-faceted and that all people will have a range of projects and relationships. We are all being pulled in many directions at the same time. Excellence in any of these areas requires focus that will necessarily detract from our excellence in other areas. There is example after example of great political leaders who are terrible parents, great athletes who are horrible spouses, great academics who are pathetic teachers, great figure skaters and tennis players who are sorry excuses for teenagers. Excellence, rising above the crowd, requires a mixture of talent and determination. The determination means that there will be other parts of life that fail to receive the attention they need to help the individual flourish. Excellence in one area seems to have deleterious effects in others, meaning that this naive picture of human excellence that the Randians hold is worrisome. Indeed, it seems not to be evolutionary at all, but rather harken back to the old religious pre-Darwinian notion of the Great Chain of Being. Could it be that these objectivists are much more religious than they let on?

This leads to the next question, which is where this single-minded drive to excel in an area of life comes from. What would lead you to neglect central parts of your life in the name of excellence? I wonder how much of this disregard on the part of those we consider truly great is actually the result of mental illness or at least extremely deep-seated insecurity. I remember an interview with Lance Alworth, the hall of fame wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers, who said that the thing that always drove him was a memory of his father advising him with the old chestnut, "No matter how good you are, there's always someone better." Apparently missing the point that the lesson to be learned from the aphorism is to always be humble, Alworth was so irritated by his father's insistence that he would never be the absolute best that he was constantly driven to make sure he was. At all times, it was of paramount importance to him that he prove his father wrong. Maybe it's me, but this seems more than a little pathological...and, I would contend, not particularly unusual. Those who are so driven often have something that is driving them.

To be more than good, but truly great requires sacrifice that would make most normal (and I would argue, rational) people say, "No, thank you." I posit that "love of the game," whether the game is football, academic scholarship, attaining political power, seeking social change, or whatever else one might engage in, will only get you to really good. To become great requires more and that more requires the willingness to step away from that which would make your life, writ large, well lived.

Am I glad that there are those who have made such irrational choices -- doctors who work all night and day to develop life-saving measures, civil rights activists who gave their bodies and lives in leading the charge for equality, artists who suffered to create great beauty? Yeah, I am. But while I am glad there are such people, I am also glad I am not one. Their works should be admired, but I am not sure they should be. Let me argue from a cliche...I'll assert as a premise, "jack of all trades, master of none," and conclude that the masters don't know jack.

If these Rand lovers want idols, they should not look at excellence, but at well-rounded competence. Of course, that would mean their heroes would not be heroic and so they couldn't set themselves up as superior, and that they would have to care about folks other than themselves since success in inter-personal relationships would become one measure of human achievement. But then, what do I know? I'm just a bleeding heart, mediocre philosopher who will never achieve greatness because he has too much fun playing around.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What's the Difference: Singer, Vocalist, and Song Stylist

Another edition of "What's the difference." What is the difference between a singer, a vocalist, and a song stylist?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Race and Ethnicity

I am reading a fascinating manuscript tracing the science and politics behind the concept of race. The typological approach to biology that gave us the notion of race was shown to be deeply flawed by genetics research that clearly demonstrated that if you pick any given heritable trait such as skin color, the genetic variability within the group is at least as great if not greater than genetic variability across groups so defined. The result in science (evolutionary biology and anthropology) was to move from a typological approach that created groups based on essential properties to a statistical approach in which you can talk about distributions of traits across populations, but you cannot reasonably speak of races as entities unto themselves. Anthropologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (aside from having one of the coolest names in the entire history of science) proposed that the term "race" be removed from scientific discourse and be replaced with ethic group or ethnicity. The notion of race, he argued, was contaminated with the sort of biological essentialism that would only feed racism and seem to provide it with a scientific foundation it does not have. Ethnicity implies belonging to a group that is defined in terms of culture and not genes and thus allows anthropologists to do what they do without the false biological connotations. Is there the distinction between race and ethnicity that Dobzhansky contends? Is there reason to keep the term race around? Does it have the effect of necessarily bringing racist categories to the conversation intentionally or unintentionally?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Superluminal Neutrinos and Observable Quantum Effects

Koukouji asks,

"Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement?"
This is, in fact, the title of a recent article by Berry, Brunner, Popescu, and Shukla and has the world's greatest abstract, two words -- Probably not.

Here's why it seemed like it might be:
"The idea, following analogous theory and experiment involving light in a birefringent optical fibre, is based on the fact that the vacuum is birefringent for neutrinos. We consider the initial choice of neutrino flavour as a preselected polarization state, together with a spatially localized initial wavepacket. Since a given flavour is a superposition of mass eigenstates, which travel at different speeds, the polarization state will change during propagation, evolving into a superposition of flavours. The detection procedure postselects a polarization state, and this distorts the wavepacket and can shift its centre of mass from that expected from the mean of the neutrino velocities corresponding to the different masses. This shift can be large enough to correspond to an apparent superluminal velocity (though not one that violates relativistic causality: it cannot be employed to send signals)."
The idea is that when you measure something, you are selecting a particular property state to measure, but if the system itself is in a superposed state which evolves into that particular property state, you are going to induce an error with the assumption that it maintained the property state throughout the time period. A promising explanatory candidate. But, they argue, that when you run the numbers, it doesn't work out.

Gwydion asks,
"Quantum entanglement in bird navigation: amazing, huh? Any other examples of macro-level effects of quantum mechanics?"
Well, radioactivity, I suppose, would be number one. Lasers in everything from our dvd players to supermarkets also rely on quantized energy for their extremely coherent light.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fricking Fracking Fixtures

Two questions from Michael Schmidt.  First,

"Frack" a suitable substitute for the expletive "fuck," and "frickin'" (or "frikkin'") is a suitable substitute for the participle "fuckin'". Why, then, is "frick" rarely used as a substitute for "fuck" and "frackin'" hardly ever heard in place of "fuckin'"?
"Frack" is not merely a non-offensive version of the f-word, but historically was derived from the irregular German verb "fricken" which means to benefit (as with a friend).  It is conjugated:

ich frack             wir fricken
du fracksts          ihr fricket
er/sie/es frack     sie fricken
            Sie fricken

The "frack"/"frikken" distinction thus traces back to the first person singular/third person plural difference in the present tense of the etymologically prior formulation.  The past participle, of course, is "gefruckt" which coincidentally was Herman Goering's dying word.

Why are all the so-called "bathroom vanity light fixtures" offered for sale, both at the local home center and online, so frickin' ugly?
They are not only ugly but ugly in the same way -- bulbous and clunky.  Fashion trends in clothing change very quickly, architectural fashion not so much.  In the great McMansion build-up of the 1990s, mass produced status homes were pressed out of cookie cutters quickly and cheaply (in terms of quality, not price) and the standard builders grade fixtures became the standard image of what a bathroom would look like.  As such, it is what people expect and thus all we get to "choose" from.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Revisions and Performance

 Two questions from JB. First,

"Since your Einstein book was published, what would you go back and change/update?"
I would add a chapter concerned with the relation between politics in the 20s-30s, the history of anthropology, and eugenics.  There was a split between the genetics community and the eugenics community and the relation between the biologists, the anthropologists, and the policy makers seems a very interesting story that is connected to the one I told.  It seems an important part of the history to see how science influenced the politics of race and the politics of race influenced science in that context.  There is a short discussion of eugenics, embryology, and serology before and under the Nazis, but there is more to be said there.

 "Why do colleges allow performers of the fine arts variety to hold majors specifically devoted to performance, such as "Vocal Performance," but not have similar options for athletes? Is there something purely non-academic in sports? or is there something more there?"
There seems to be three similarities here between sport and art: (1) both sorts of performance are bodily and not mental.  Dancers, actors, and musicians use their bodies as the basis of their work, just as athletes do.  (2) While writing papers and solving problems are actions that we associate with disciplines in the academy, it is the product of the action and not the act itself that gets judged, whereas in sport and the arts, we judge the doing, not what has been done.(3) Sport and the arts are performed for audiences, they are acts in themselves, but they are also acts for the sake of viewers who are not necessarily themselves artists or athletes.  Based on these congruent elements, one might think that athletics therefore belongs in the curriculum and not beside it as co-curricular.

The distinction in part comes from our elevation of the mind above the body according to the classical dualism we inherited from the Greeks and the arts are thought to be both physical and mental whereas sport is merely physical.  The performance of music, dance, or drama requires developed intellectual capacities in addition to the physical whereas sport requires only the physical.  Of course, this is not true.  Strategy and rule-following in sport can be incredibly complex and can create beauty on different levels just as much as art -- I would contend that the extra-man offense that Dartmouth ran against us when I was a lacrosse player in college was a thing of beauty, and I do not mean that metaphorically. 

But the decisive difference, I believe, is that art points beyond itself where sport does not.  The purpose of sport is contained within the sport itself.  It posits an artificial goal that achieves nothing but itself (when you score a goal or a run or a touchdown, that is all you have done) and artificial rules to make the accomplishing of the goal more difficult for no reason other than to create a challenging game (why should you have to dribble the ball in basketball, no reason except that that is how the game is played).  Art, on the other hand, aims -- or at least can aim -- at more than itself.  The audience for an artistic performance can be engaged on issues of the day, timeless questions of beauty and justice, or have their central concepts challenged.  Sport occurs between the lines in an artificial world of its creation that is purely self-referring, but art creates an artificial world that can say something about the world beyond itself.  And for that reason, we privilege it in the academy above sport.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Auto Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics: Any Question

With this coming semester looming or, perhaps, here, it's a good time to do this one again. I have a schtick that I do before every class where I let students ask any question at all, auto mechanics to quantum mechanics. When I started the Playground years ago, some former students asked if I'd bring the exercise on-line, so here it is. If there is a question you've always wanted to ask, here's your chance. We'll discuss as many as possible next week. Fire away.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

What Is Classic Rock?

I was flipping around the radio channel and when I got to the classic rock station, they were playing some late 90s hair band and it immediately made me think "hey, that's not classic rock." But then I started thinking about the referent of that vague term. Oldies is fairly well-defined -- from doo-wop up to but not including the Beatles. After oldies is classic rock which then would be Beatles and Stones up to...?

It could be like "oldies" a definite transition. Punk and grunge were reactions to the corporatized nature of rock and roll that came out of the baby boom generation, so we could draw the line at anything released post-Sex Pistols. But a new album by Tom Petty, Van Morrison, or Bruce Springsteen still seems to be classic rock even though it is contemporary. We could say, anyone who started making music before the Pistols.

It could be a portable line like the way we determine when a car is an antique. Any rock older than 25 years is deemed classic. In this way, we constantly accumulate music in the category. The problem here seems to be that it would mean that there would be no identifiable essential properties that makes something classic rock. Would They Might Be Giants or XTC be classic rock? Would we then include punk? That doesn't seem right either.

So, what do we mean by classic rock and how do we determine what belongs in and what belongs out of the category?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Edge of Identity

Today is the birthday of David Howell Evans, the guitarist of the band U2 better known simply as "The Edge." I've been thinking about pseudonyms lately because it was noted in a conversation recently how many fewer actors are taking stage names. It was a much more common practice in the 30s and 40s when performers with immigrant backgrounds wanted to hide them in order to seem more accessible to mainstream American audiences who would have negative associations with Jewish, Italian, Eastern European, or any other sort of name that seemed "hard to pronounce." But we've become much more accepting of celebrities from a wide range of backgrounds and so the use of a pseudonym to deceive audiences about cultural heritage or for privacy reasons has faded to almost nothing.

Since the 80s, we've seen it more prevalent in popular music -- The Edge, Sting, Flea, Prince, and Madonna are examples from rock music and the practice is almost ubiquitous in hip hop. Here, though, it is a nickname and not a pseudonym. No one thinks Mr. and Mrs. D decided to name their bouncing baby boy "Heavy." The name used is not meant to be thought of as an actual name. "Lady Gaga" is not the name of a person, but of a persona.

We use names to refer. The move from stage names to nicknames seems to indicate that we are not even supposed to think of the performer as a full person in any way. We are not naming the individual, but the stage role the individual plays.

But unlike actors who are explicitly portraying a fictional character, musicians try to lay claim in their art to a sense of authenticity. The music is supposed to come from someplace real and lived. Does the use of the nickname then undermine this or is it a further statement that the culture in some way has robbed the artist of his given identity and replaced it with a new one. It is our friends who usually call us by our nickname. It is only the people who really know us well that know how to refer to us informally. By using the nickname as a stage name is the artist trying to lay claim to an honesty usually only reserved for those intimately associated with us? Has the pseudonym therefore become its opposite, moving from a false image to hide one's actual identity behind to a door to the actual identity?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Nerd Heroes

I love science, but I am not a knee-jerk defender of the space program. In some cases, we overspend for the public relations of space-based research that takes away real resources from working scientists who could have done more science with it. But then there are times when the pr is worth it. At the exact midpoint of the Olympics, when we worship the feats of the body, here suddenly we are celebrating a tremendous accomplishment of the human mind. We have been lauding Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, watching them cry joyfully at their achievements, but it was just as moving to see the NASA engineers in triumphant ecstasy as Curiosity landed safely. They did it, they really did it. We have for a brief moment new nerd heroes. It is always cool to be a jock, but we need to step back and truly appreciate these moments when we rally around our geeks. Well done, NASA folks, well done.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Einstein's Jewish Science in The New York Times

Einstein's Jewish Science got a very nice review by George Johnson in The New York Times.

Gimbel is an engaging writer. In demonstrating the obvious, he takes readers on enlightening excursions through the nature of Judaism, Hegelian philosophy, wherever his curiosity leads.
It is a thoughtful piece by someone who writes very thoughtful books. I am thrilled and humbled to have such an accomplished science writer reading and commenting on EJS, even more so to have him saying nice things. Wish I had something deep to say about it, but right now I'm just too busy doing the happy dance.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Cheating and Elections

If you cheat in a game and are caught, you lose.  In forfeiting, your opponent wins.  But in elections, it is different.  If you break election laws, even ones that would have had a decisive effect on the election results, you pay a fine, go to jail, have to resign your post, or suffer some other penalty, but the candidate who suffered the harm as a result of the cheating is left out in the cold.  If it is, say, a governor who is removed, it is his personally selected lieutenant governor who takes over.  It may be a penalty for the person himself, but not for his agenda.  The crime was a person and a political one, but there is only a personal and not necessarily a political price to be paid.

One possible solution is to appoint the loser from the last election if the office holder is removed for election fraud, but what if it is somewhere like the district of Columbia where the general election is a foregone conclusion, but the primary is the big fight?  Do you go back and hold a new general election with the candidate who was cheated in the primaries getting his turn?

Can this be done fairly?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Without Comment

Losing to Win and the Ethics of Competition

Four teams have been disqualified from the women's badminton competition in London for throwing matches. The teams had looked at the seeding and realized that by winning the matches, they would face a tougher road to the finals than offered by the pairs they would face if they lost the matches. So, in order to win the war, they forfeited the battle. On the one hand, the social contract in sport requires both sides to try to win. It was the violation of this that led to the disqualification. But unlike cases of point shaving or a boxer taking a dive in order to get a big payoff from gamblers, in this case the lack of effort was in the service of winning, just in the larger context. Marathon runners do not sprint the entire race. There will be long stretches where they pull back to save energy for the final sprint. Bike racers let someone else lead so they can use the aerodynamic advantage of being pulled along by the leader's effort to lessen their own thereby giving them an advantage at the end. Is the throwing of badminton matches in order to get a more favorable match-up the same sort of thing? Is it a difference of degree or of kind? If they did it with the goal of winning, did they indeed violate the spirit of sport?