07 July 2016

Gun Control

I’ve got a short piece. "Are Gun Control Laws Constitutional?," in the Washington Monthly's online edition. The URL is http://washingtonmonthly.com/2016/07/07/are-gun-control-laws-constitutional/

17 May 2016

Race Report

On Sunday, May 15, I rode in the Connecticut Masters Games 20 and 40 kilometer cycling races. I finished second in the 75-79 age group in both races. (I’m 74 now, but for these purposes, your age is your age on the last day of the year.)
The CT Masters Games are held every May, in a wide range of sports. For the last five years or more, the cycling races have been held in New Britain on a fairly flat 0.98 mile loop in Walnut Hill Park.
There are separate award for women and men for each 5-year age group from 40 up, although some of the groups race together. I raced with the 65+ men, and we started one minute after the 40+ women.
When I first did CT Masters way back in 2004, it was somewhat amateurish and the competition wasn’t all that stiff. It’s still amateurish (in the best way), but in the last few years the Games have developed some sort of affiliation with USA Cycling, the country’s main amateur cycling group. That, combined with the Games being open to non-CT residents, means that a better (than me) class of riders has been showing up. This year, the 70-74 group featured two national champions. As a result, I and quite a few other oldsters got dropped before the two-mile mark, something that’s never happened to me in past years.
I rode by myself for a few miles and then gradually picked up or was picked up by a few other stragglers, and we worked together, though not very well. For those of you who don’t know much about cycling, riders in a group can go much faster than a lone rider, and the bigger the group, the faster you can go. That’s because air resistance plays such a big role that the rider at the front ends up doing 20-30% work than the riders behind (though that 30% figure may only applies to professionals, who go really fast). Still, at any level, you go faster if you can rotate the lead. It was even more important yesterday, where the wind was averaging 19mph, with the only mild uphill on the course facing right into the blast.
Our own rotation was helter-skelter, with some riders contributing more than others, and the pulls being longer than optimal. Plus, at about 10 miles we got lapped by the women’s lead group, followed closely by the men’s leaders. (In the process some rather unladylike things were said to me for not getting out of the way fast enough.) The rule is that the women aren’t supposed to ride with the men and vice-versa, so our little group got split up and it took some time to reform.
The 20K and 40K races are run as a single race: Your time and placement are recorded at 20K (actually 12 laps, or 11.76 miles) and then you continue on to 40K (24 laps, or 23.52 miles). But everybody finishes on the same lap, so when we were lapped, our races became 11 and (if we didn’t get lapped again, which we didn’t) 23 laps. In the confusion I lost track of when our 20K race finished, and I never heard the bell that is rung to signal the start of the final lap, so I was never aware of the 20K finish.
There were never more than six in our group, but eventually that number got whittled down to three as riders fell off the pace. We also rode with two women who had been separated from their lead pack. We weren’t supposed to work with them, and didn’t for the most part, but they were there, yo-yoing as much as 25 yards behind or ahead.
I sprinted for the 40K line, finishing second in our troika. I didn’t know then what age groups my companions were in, but the guy who beat me was the 75-79 winner; the third 75-79 rider was a few minutes behind us. It turned out that all the 75-79 riders (there were four of us at the start) had been dropped more-or-less when I got dropped.
The results are posted here. I averaged 19.4 mph for the 20K and 19.2 for the 40K. This is about what I did last year, but somewhat slower than in prior years. On the other hand, I did a lot of pulling (which I never had to do in past years), and there was a lot of wind, so it wasn’t all that bad. I’ll get ‘em next year.

10 April 2016

Philosophy paper

I’ve just published a philosophy paper, “Relativism Defended,” in Cogent Arts & Humanities, an online journal. The URL is http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311983.2016.1166685.
Here’s the “Public Interest Statement” (a Cogent requirement) for the article:
Relativism—the view that different people can have conflicting accurate representations of (i.e. beliefs about) the world—is a position with few friends in the philosophical establishment. But the argument for such relativism is straightforward, proceeding in easy steps from premises about human psychology that have widespread acceptance. Moreover, the standard arguments deployed against relativism—that it is internally inconsistent, that it doesn’t distinguish between accurate and inaccurate representations, or that it doesn’t allow us to question other people’s views—seem wrongheaded. Being a relativist does not mean that you get to believe whatever you like. Rather, relativism gives us a way to understand why we often don’t agree, and how we might resolve belief conflict.

19 January 2016

New article

I’ve just published a long (6,000+ words) article on media bias, “The Times and General Motors: What Went Wrong?”, in Cogent Arts & Humanities, an online journal. Here’s the public interest statement that Cogent requires authors to submit:
The New York Times’ coverage of General Motors’ recall of defective ignition switches in over 2.6 million cars was badly distorted. The reporters ignored the only detailed independent study of the problem, instead filling the vacuum with stories that reflected their own preconceptions. These biases are not unique to The Times or the particular story, but can be expected to warp media coverage of much organizational decision-making, especially where complex technical issues are involved.

18 November 2015

Our Constitution, happily mangled

In May of 2014, I inadvertently placed an unpublished 6,300-word paper, “How to Think About the Constitution,” on ExpressO. The paper’s basic thrust is summarized on page 3:
“The most important fact about our written Constitution is that it is an inadequate framework for the modern American polity: Few of us would want to live under the government it describes. That the Constitution still works at all is due to a long history of the courts reading that document in ways its authors never contemplated.”
It’s customary to criticize such mangling of the Framers’ intentions, but I argued that such mangling is necessary if we are to have a functioning government. The Constitution is so difficult to amend that needed changes can only be forced through via textual misreading; the governmental machinery is thus greased with regular applications of hypocrisy. It’s an inescapable situation, but hardly optimal, as the courts (a) aren’t elected, and (b) can get things wrong.
If all this whets your interest, you can get the full story by going to http://works.bepress.com/howard_darmstadter/1/ and downloading a pdf.
—Howard Darmstadter