Saturday, July 22, 2017

Halloween costume: Russia

If you want to dress up as Russia this Halloween, all you need is a bear costume and a Donald Trump hand puppet.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Doing metaethics like Judit Polgar

Judit Polgar's swashbuckling chess style is sort of a philosophical inspiration to me. I watch more chess than I play, because I'd rather see great players make beautiful moves than make mediocre ones myself. Her game against Alexey Shirov, narrated here by friendly chess uncle Mato Jelic, is a perfect example.

On move 10, Polgar makes a pawn sacrifice that looks bad at first glance. But there's a whole world of possibility behind it that nobody else had previously explored. She plunges into that world, and makes a bunch of other weird-looking awesome moves. Eventually she emerges into a conventional endgame with a massive advantage, and Shirov resigns.

My feeling about the philosophical literature in metaethics today is that a bunch of smart people are carefully mapping out a narrow subset of options. There are moves out of this literature that are dismissed because they initially look bad. And it's true that lots of the initially bad-looking moves are just bad.

But there are a few bad-looking moves that open up awesome new opportunities. People stop exploring these moves too quickly because the path to victory really is hard to see. But if you do see the precise weird moves to follow up with, you could come out far ahead of the possibilities discovered in the existing literature.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Ingber on executive power creep

Friends wondering why executive power continued to expand under Obama might appreciate this excellent paper from Rebecca Ingber. One reason is that career civil servants who staff executive agencies and believe in their missions are interested in expanding their power over time.

The paper described another factor that I wouldn't have guessed. Lawyers tend to orally tell executive agency people "No, we can't do this." They write memos that might be useful in later in legal proceedings defending the decision to say "Yes, we can do this." So when the next administration shows up, it inherits a lot of "Yes, we can do this" memos and nothing to the contrary.

A bit of good news Rebecca mentioned when I emailed her is that some dangerous agenda items of the Trump Administration are about curtailing executive power rather than increasing it. Even if Trump tries to stop the State Department from doing its diplomatic thing or stop the EPA from doing its environmental thing, the career civil servants will keep plugging along. Things might be more diplomatic and environmental than the Trump Administration wants.