Tuesday, December 7, 2010

CFP: The Walking Dead and Philosophy

Call For Papers
The Walking Dead and Philosophy
Currently we are accepting proposals for a volume to be published by Open Court press (currently under negotiation) on The Walking Dead and Philosophy.  Proposals can be on either the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, or the AMC television series.  Please send your 300-500 word length proposal and CV to Wayne Yuen via e-mail at: philosophyforthedeadATgmailDOTcom
The volume is planned to be released with the start of the next season of The Walking Dead on AMC, so authors will need to be able to quickly deliver their proposed chapter.    Deadline for proposals will be Jan 1, 2011. 
Possible topics chapter topics include:
“Maybe we’ll steal another one.” Should we still be ethical in a world ruled by the dead?;  Is it ever morally acceptable to engage in looting?;  Not so dead, Rick, Laurie, and Shane.;  Losing innocence: Why is it more tragic for Carl to wrong others?; Fear the Hunters:  The ethics of cannibalism; “He deserves better.” Do we have an obligation to kill zombies?; Why should we care? Ethics of care in a world of dead; Are Zombies animals? Are they morally valuable?; Is it wrong for Rick to value Carl more than others?;  Can we keep it? Please?  Pet zombies and the governor’s son.; Left for dead: Merle Dixon and our obligations; Should people have children in a world of the dead?; Justice and vengeance: Michonne and the Govenor. Zombies and sounds:  Do they know something?; Rick’s phone: Hallucination or self-conversation?; Zombies, P-zombies and Zimboes: philosophy for the dead; Kill the dead! What does it mean to be dead?; Personal identity and zombies; Is the Governor’s son his son?; Are zombies determined beings?; Which Shane is Shane? The identity of characters between the comic and the show.; “We are the walking dead!” Facing death and life after death.; Zombies and intentionality; Is Rick being authentic? Kinds of life and leadership.; Andrea and feminism: Is kicking ass enough to be a feminist?; Machiavelli and The Governor: Rule of justice or tyranny?; Gabriel and the place of religion.
Other topics will also be happily considered.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm too busy being distracted by papers..

But if you're interested, you can read this great little article on our attention span.
What was once normal, has become a problem....  Because we said so.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A couple of links

First a video about the Westboro Baptist Church protest being undermined.
For those of you who don't know about the WBC, they're a rather fanatical group that protests anything having to do with homosexuality....  They protest soldier funerals regularly, because they believe that the deaths of our soldiers is God's punishment for our acceptance of a homosexuality.

Next, a link to a recent headline...  A 10 year old girl in Spain recently gave birth to a baby.  She's not the youngest person to give to a baby.  She's almost twice as old as the youngest person to ever give birth...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Choosing a Disability

Sharon Duchesneau and Candace McCullough are a lesbian couple that also happen to be deaf.  In 2001, they decided that they wanted to have a baby.  Instead of going to a sperm bank, they approached a deaf friend for a donation of sperm.  What they were hoping was that their child would be deaf.  In December of that year, they had a baby boy, healthy in all respects, except that he had total hearing loss in one ear, and mostly deaf in the other ear.  The parents couldn't be more happy.

Sharon and Candace wanted their child to be deaf so that he could be part of the community/culture that they belong to, the deaf community.  Part of being fully accepted in the deaf community is being deaf.  This isn't to say that the hearing cannot participate in this community, but they would never really be apart of it in the same way that a deaf person is.

Did they do anything wrong?  It seems like that they brought into existence, purposely, a child that has a disability by most accounts.  However, the deaf community doesn't view deafness as a disability.  In fact, the very existence of the culture is under assault, or at least that's how many view it, because of cochlear implants that can help deaf children hear to a certain extent.  Usually these children are not allowed to learn sign language, so that they can more fully develop their hearing and speaking abilities.

Imagine that you had a child, but the child that you had was not a normal child. Your child gave off a strange pheromone that most people would find quite unattractive, with the exception of a few people who could not smell it.  The people who could not smell it also give off the same pheromone.  Your child finds solace and community within this subset of people, but you can't stand going to social gatherings with these people, because as much as you love your child, the aroma is overpowering.  You can tolerate your child's aroma, but only because there is one of her.  A group would simply be too much.  Would it sadden you to know that you will never be part of the community that your child finds significant solace in, that this community would be doing more to instill values and teaching her how to navigate through life than you as her parent would?  If so, then perhaps you have an understanding of why Candace and Sharon wanted a deaf child. 

This case has a lot of nuances to it.  Whats a disability?  Is designing a child like how Sharon and Candace did wrong?  Was there harm done to the child?

On the other hand, would there be any significant difference if Sharon and Candace, after their perfectly hearing baby was born, simply put the baby's crib next to the stereo and played incredibly loud music to ensure that it would lose their hearing?  (I think there would be.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A general message to Anonymous

So the last few days I've been getting comments on my blog that I've been deleting as trolling comments.  I've enabled registration, so you can't comment anonymously anymore.

But I just wanted to respond in general to some of the accusations that this person has been making about me.

1.  I'm a sad person.
True.  I am.  I've never admitted to being a very happy person.  Nor do I get a lot of traffic on my blog.  Most blogs in the world don't.  If yours gets a lot of traffic, consider yourself lucky.  But the traffic on my blog does not make me sad.  I'm generally indifferent to it.

2.  I have poor reasoning/ utilize naive reasoning.
Argue with me then!  Tell me where I'm wrong!  But Ad hominem attacks aren't exactly the hallmark of good reasoning either. 

And finally, if you don't like my blog, you're not compelled to read it.  I'm sure you can find plenty of other blogs out there that will suit your needs.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What would Plato listen to?

So I'm lecturing on Plato's Republic tonight, and it just occurred to me, that I could make it a music appreciation night.... Well at least partly.

But then I was stumped.  I didn't know what kind of music would correspond to the Lydian, Ionian, Phrygian or Dorian modes.

See, Plato thought that the Ionian, and Lydian modes were to energetic, and may cause the guardians of the Republic to become frenzied and turn on the citizens.  They had to be censored for safety.  Funeral dirges would also need to be censored, since the guardians can't think death is a bad thing.

But on the other hand, the Dorian and Phrygian modes seemed to be good for military purposes.  It could help coordinate marching and such.  These would not be censored.

So... What kinds of music would Plato listen to today?  I haven't a clue since most of this talk about musical modes is completely alien to me.  But with a little Googling, I came up with a few things that I think Plato would not approve of, and some things that Plato would approve of.

Banned music:
Gin Blossom's Hey Jealousy  It's lydian
Anything by Flogging Molly  Irish music is predominantly Ionian
Wish you were here by Pink Floyd or Rasputina  Its a funeral dirge.

Allowed music:
Another Brick in the Wall Part II by Pink Floyd  Its Dorian
Sweet Dreams by the eurythmics  I'm not sure if this is Phrygian....  Google says its either phrygian or Aeolian.  Plato doesn't say anything about the Aeolian mode in the Republic.  If it isn't Phrygian, then I don't have any examples of a Phrygian song.

Anyone out there with a better grasp of music theory, willing to lend me a hand here?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everyday ethics: The Smartphone

So I had the recent fortune of being at a forum for candidates running for a public office.  I'm not going to be any more specific than that, so as not to publicly make any kind of spectacle or anything.

One of the candidates during the forum was using their smartphone to look up statistics on the internet while answering questions.  This struck me as unprofessional.  Here's someone looking unprepared, googling things on his/her phone DURING the forum.

But then I asked myself, "Am I just being a stogy old guy?"  I admit that I'm not very old (32) and I'm by no means a technophobe (although I don't have a cell phone because I don't think it would be very useful to me, but on the flip side, I've been using the internet since it was all text based and the best search engine around was the world wide web worm). 

So was I being silly?  Lets imagine that in the minds of today's youths, or in this case this particular candidate, they think, "Why research in advance?  I have the ability to research on the fly, so I'll do that, which will probably yield me better results than researching beforehand and trying to remember it all."  Which isn't to say is false.  It probably is true.  I know I've made arguments that I couldn't exactly back up with facts, but knew to be true, and challenged people to google it.  They do, and I'm right.  Is that much different?

So lets say this is the case.  Can I really knock him/her down for not being prepared in advance, when that was his/her plan?  His/her preparedness is at the tips of his/her fingers.

Its entirely possible that what s/he gets from his/her phone contradicts what s/he was going to say. S/he would have to come up with an argument on the fly to make his/her position match the data.  Of course many candidates have to do that when faced with questions.  But without being prepared, his/her argument might suffer.  But what if s/he's a fantastic arguer?  Then this really wouldn't be a "weakness" for this candidate.  Heck it might be something to encourage.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I can't find a legitimate reason to devalue this person's decision, yet I found it extremely off-putting.

Am I judging this person purely on social convention, or is there really something wrong with what this person did?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NPR Fires Juan Williams

Hmm...  I find the firing of Juan Williams an overreaction.

I statements are what people are supposed to use in counseling and in heated discussions, and an I statement is indeed what Juan Williams used.  He says,
"Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
This seems like the second firing for "bigoted" statements that strikes me as terribly unjust this year.

What worries me more is that this helps stifle real discussion about racial tensions in America.  If we can't honestly express how we feel when confronted with certain minorities, then we can make no progress in solving the problem, only progress in pretending that the problem doesn't exist.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Surrogacy and abortion

This is an interesting case.  A surrogate pregnancy, and the parents find out that the fetus is most likely going to be born with Down's syndrome.  They wanted the surrogate to have an abortion, the surrogate didn't want to.

I'm not sure she was obligated to have an abortion, but the parents were not legally (by contract) required to raise the child if they didn't want it.  So the surrogate would have to care for the child, or she would have to give it up for adoption.

There's something to be said about personal autonomy, and the limits of it.  I hate to put limits on personal autonomy, and this case doesn't seem to push me into limiting it.  The surrogate gets to decide whether or not she should have an abortion, because it is her body, but its not her baby.  To an extent she's limited part of her autonomy in accepting someone else's baby in her body.  She can't just have an abortion without their permission, but they can't compel her to have an abortion. 

In the end, she had an abortion.  Probably, for the best.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Gulf Spill

It was a disaster.  Hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.  Miles of coast line.  Uncountable number of animals affected.

Was it morally bad?

Seems like an easy answer right?  But why is it morally bad?  It was after all, unintentional.  It was an accident.  It wasn't a malicious act, or an act that was done out of pure recklessness (I'll address this in a second).

Typically speaking, we don't call accidents something that is morally blameworthy.  BP didn't do anything morally wrong, if it was an accident (lets set aside the moral questionability of drilling for oil in general).

But we could call the spill a reckless act, if it people weren't taking proper precautions and being generally reckless with their actions.  Reckless behavior is something we can hold someone, or in this case some entity, morally accountable for.  But there's good reason to think that this was not a reckless action.  They were following the law.  Sure companies can always go beyond the law in terms of safety, and lets imagine that they did, and the spill still happened.  People would still blame BP for being not safe enough. Hindsight is 20/20 right?  Its no wonder that none of the other major oil companies would admit a mea culpa on drilling without blowout preventers or a working plan to solve oil spills.  So in that regard they are all equally morally culpable, since no one had such a working plan.

I'm not seriously suggesting that BP didn't have any moral wrong on their hands, but the more I think about it, the more it seems difficult to pin some kind of serious moral wrong onto BP.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Phillipa Foot

I just found out that Phillipa Foot passed away on October 3rd.  We've lost a great philosopher, one of the few who can say that they've created a whole new sub-discipline in philosophy, completely unintentionally.  Trolleyology.  Yes, Phillipa Foot came up with the Trolley Problem, and Judith Jarvis Thompson added to it the fat man. 

I would turn the Trolley to kill 5 random people, if it meant saving Phillipa Foot.

So in her honor, I open up her infamous question to everyone.... What would you do, if faced with the decision of killing 5 random strangers on a runaway trolley, or turning the trolley to kill 1 random stranger.  What about a doctor who has 5 dying patient and 1 healthy patient whom he can kill to make the other 5 live?  And what exactly is the moral difference between the two?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sex acts and Nuclear Waste

So the gist of the argument for those of you who have forgotten, or didn't read it,  having sex with someone while you knowingly are infected with HIV or something similar, without disclosure, is like burying nuclear waste in someone's backyard that will slowly cause them to get cancer and die.

First I think non-disclosure of most STDs is not a big deal.  Most STDs are not life threatening, and at most mildly inconvenient.  There are others that are most definitely not benign, but the more benign ones get lumped into the STD category, and people have an incredible fear of STDs, mostly born out of misinformation, ignorance, and lack of understanding.  The prejudicial status of these STDs might prevent people from entering into a relationship, or might end an existing relationship.  If steps can be taken to prevent transmission, then they should be, without thereby sacrificing the intimate relationship.

But non-disclosure of HIV status and similar life-altering STDs can be very harmful, and I think a person has an obligation to disclose. 

But I have a problem with the analogy.  Burying nuclear waste in someone's backyard requires them not to know about it.  This is more akin to a kind of rape, rather than sex with consent.  And when people do consent to sex, most people are well aware that there is a risk of being transmitted an STD, benign or life-threatening.  Anyone not aware of this is hopelessly naive, and consequently could never truly give their consent to sexual intercourse, since they are not informed of the risks.  (I think there is a moral principle that can be drawn from this... Don't have sex with dumb people, since it would amount to some kind of statutory rape.  There might be exceptions to this rule [I'm thinking of the mentally handicapped] but they would be few and far between.)

We don't typically think that people digging in our yard comes with the risk of radiation exposure.  Even if we make this example closer to sex, by having say a treasure hunter knock on the person's door, and ask if they could dig up their yard, and with permission, they dig up the yard, leaving behind nuclear waste... etc.  it would not be expected that this would happen. 

So does this weaken the analogy any?  I think it does.  I accept his conclusions for the most part, but maybe not to the same degree (see above with the talk about benign STDs), but that doesn't mean the argument is a good one. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Don't Ask Don't Tell

I'll come back to the STDs being compared to nuclear waste.  I promise.

It really irritates me to see how Republicans are currently threatening a filibuster of a bill that will repeal don't ask don't tell.  Now there might be a dozen and a half reasons to filibuster the bill, since its attached to other legislation etc.  But McCain was waving the flag for why DADT shouldn't be repealed yet yesterday.

He's worried about our troop morale.  He's worried that openly gay service members would affect troop morale to the extent that they wouldn't be able to do their jobs as well.

McCain clearly doesn't think very highly of our enlisted.  To degrade our troops in saying that they're training isn't sufficient for them to stand next to a gay man or woman without being distracted from their job because they're too worried somebody is going to hit on them is insulting to our armed forces.  We have the best trained military in the world.  These men and women are disciplined, intelligent, and brave.  But of course they all turn into Junior high kids when there is a queer near by right?

To be fair, McCain didn't say that.  But I'm pretty confident that what he did say has similar implications, if not so hyperbolic.  DADT never should have been in existence.  And its about time we get rid of it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Criminalizing sexual behaviors

I just want to share the link with you....  I'll comment on the subject later.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Apparently 79% of Americans believe in miracles.  This isn't anything new.  In fact the number itself is staggeringly persistent.  Be it 2010, or 1990 its usually around 80-90 percent. 

I think there is something wrong here.  I think the problem, isn't with the belief itself, because if you talked to the average American about this particular belief, you'll quickly find that miracles turn out to be rather mundane things.  People surviving a hurricane or an earthquake is a miracle.  Someone gets a kidney transplant, its a miracle.  Someone wins the lottery, its a miracle.  Someone finds a parking space in San Francisco, its a miracle.

The concept of the miraculous itself has degraded from something that circumvents the very laws of nature and logic (Jesus walking on water, resurrecting from the dead, pulling an infinite amount of food from a finite basket, etc.) to something that is improbable.... 

And sometimes not even to that degree.  Its not improbable to die in an earthquake.  The reverse is true.  It's highly improbable that ANYONE will die in an earthquake.  Move to California, the probability will no doubt increase.  But the last big earthquake, Loma Prieta, caused 58 people to die, in an area where there was approx 2 million people (estimating here... San Jose has a pop of about a million now, and SF the same).  58 out 2 million isn't exactly highly probable. 

So whats the point?  The point is that when we adopt the use of a term, in a figurative sense, like miracle, to every day occurrences, we start changing the way we perceive the world.  No longer is it figurative after a while.  It really is a miracle when I find a parking space,  God guided my steering wheel towards the area of the park where I would find a vacant parking space, which then reinforces my idea of God.

"Miracle" isn't the only term that this is happening to.  "Hero," especially after 9/11 is being degraded into something below what was or is heroic.  "Evil" is another term I think that is being thrown around without much attention.  But both of these, I think don't have the same ramifications as miracle does, since it directly reinforces a questionable ontological belief.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Mosque

I can't get away from this issue.  Its on the daily show, its on the front page of google news, its on the news every other day.  So lets think about it some.

There seems to be a two groups of people talking past each other, and then there's President Obama.  One group, wants to emphasize that this is insensitive to New Yorkers, Americans, and survivors of the 9/11 attack.  The other group wants to emphasize that there is a right to freedom of religion, and that to deny the building of the Mosque/cultural center would be in violation of the Constitution, which New Yorkers, Americans, and the survivors of 9/11 attack think make America so great in the first place. 

President Obama recently came out and said... well... Both.  In one press conference he said that he supports the legal right to build the cultural center/mosque, but in another interview, he said that it wasn't terribly well thought out. 

Now this might sound like political double-talk to save face, minimize the impact it might have on future elections for Democrats, etc.  but I actually think it may encapsulate the issue quite nicely.

Neither group are holding a position that is mutually exclusive.  I can believe that group X has a right Y, but the exercise of right Y in instance Z would be offensive.    A right doesn't mean that the exercise of the right wouldn't be offensive. 

I might have every right to speak my mind, but doing so may offend some people that I care about very dearly.  So I might hold my tongue, and doing so, doesn't destroy my right, or weaken my right to free speech, but rather emphasizes my care and sensitivity towards others. 

I think there is a secondary concern here.  Islam and Muslim culture in general has already been demonized in American culture, since 9/11.  Generally, Muslims are treated with suspicion and caution, or at least it seems like it.  They're the new Communist.  Undeservedly, of course, since this is a broad generalization of a particular group, based upon the most extreme members of that group.  Every group is filled with lunatics, but to paint all Christians as abortion clinic bombers or invading crusaders, would be unfair. 

Marginalized groups in a sense, need to work extra hard to be accepted.  This isn't fair, but its the way it is.  We've seen this before with racially oppressed groups, particularly African Americans.  For an African American to participate in the normal walks of life, initially, they had to be head and shoulders better than everyone else.  They needed to be Jackie Robinson, instead of some very good baseball player.  They had to go above and beyond the "minimum qualifications" to be able to participate.  Fair?  No. 

So either we can change the culture of America (unlikely), and make it more fair for Muslim and those of the Islamic faith, or they have to tread more carefully than others.    Personally, I wish we could change the culture of America.  Reiterate equality, tolerance, and understanding.  But I also have a practical side of me too.  I think the Mosque should be built, and nobody would complain about it at all.  Of course, that won't happen.

I think Feisal Abdul Rauf should really think carefully about how this would impact how Americans view Muslim and Islamic culture.  There is a risk that they may become more marginalized because of the perceived insensitivity of the act of building the Mosque/cultural center, which wouldn't be beneficial for anyone really.  But on the other hand, it may bring to the forefront the real Muslim and Islamic culture.  It may force people to reconsider their prejudices.  But I have a feeling that would be wishful thinking.  Those who are vehemently against the project, are unlikely to visit the Mosque/cultural center with an open mind, trying to learn about the those that they have already made a private demonizing judgment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Euthanasia's terrible reputation

I find it odd that people have serious reservations about euthanasia still.  This isn't to say that there aren't serious considerations that need to be taken into consideration about whether it should be performed in this instance or that instance.  But the act, generally, is hard to deny. 

Perhaps, its because of its association with the Nazi party that really made things difficult for euthanasia to gain a foothold in the public consciousness.  I think, though, this is a product of the unfortunately powerful Nazi propaganda machine more than anything.  To say that the Nazi's engaged in euthanasia is like saying a straight man is being discriminatory towards males.  Its a misuse of the term.

When the Nazi's utilized "euthanasia" the state determined when it was acceptable for a person to live or die, not based on any particular medical condition, patient desire, or quality of life issue, but rather based on a perceived inferiority of a particular group.  We properly call this genocide, and although many today call it that, its hard to shake the synonymous relationship that history made between genocidal acts and euthanasia. 

When I speak about euthanasia, I'm referring to a medical practice of terminating a life because the person is terminally ill.  The least controversial form of euthanasia, is voluntary euthanasia, where the person to be euthanize is terminally ill and requests euthanasia.  There are cases that fall in-between these definitions, and although they are very difficult, I wouldn't call them euthanasia.  I'm thinking of cases in which a person is not terminally ill, but requests to be killed because of quality of life issues and their inability to terminate their own lives.  The film "Million Dollar Baby" is a good example of such a case. 

Surely, we can see the moral differences between the Nazi genocide program, and euthanasia.  The Nazis murdered people who wanted to continue to live.  If they did want to die, it is most likely because of the conditions that the Nazi's forced them to endure within concentration camps.  Causing a person to suffer from a terminal illness is just as bad as murdering them.  In the case of euthanasia, assumedly, the doctor or the government did not cause directly their current afflictions, nor is their choice for living out the remainder of their life taken away from them. 

Old associations die hard though.  (This is by no means a full account of why euthanasia is acceptable.  This is simply an account of why a very common objection to euthanasia is not a powerful objection.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jeff McMahn on Vegetarianism

Philosophy Bites did a pretty good interview with Jeff McMahn on vegetarianism.  I think he's a bit wrong about his comments on fish (the pain aspect and how less objectionable it is because of it).   I'll say more about it after I think about the interview a bit more.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


A NYtimes article on a group of squatters living a freegan life.  Although I'm not going to advocate freeganism or an entire freegan lifestyle (free houses, really?), I can't really say that I find it wrong.  

Synthetic life

I'm watching the science channel's "Creating Synthetic Life" discussion panel on TV right now....  and Paula Zahn  makes me want to cry.  Her toughest ethical questions for the panel are "Are we playing god?" and "It scares me."

They did talk about bio-terrorism, but they dismissed the objection rather quickly with something to the effect of,
"human beings are cruel to each other, but this also has the potential to be very beneficial to us as well."  This is very true, but if a terrorist group can literally manufacture any virus that they have sequenced, then a hemorrhagic virus could cause quite a lot of damage before anyone can do much about it.   She should have pressed much harder on these points.

But overall, I'm in support of this research.  I'm actually far more excited by this then stem cell research has ever excited me (which it never did much).  Whereas stem cell research might provide many medical breakthroughs, synthetic biology could allow us to create new sources of fuel, help clean up oil spills, remove carbon from the atmosphere, etc.  SCR benefits are almost exclusively medicinal, synthetic biology is affects everything from energy, to manufacturing, to medicine, to food, to well, anything that we can get living things (bacteria) to produce.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The confederate flag

So I think most of the media hoopla has died down over this.  Its kinda weird when something practically in your backyard garners national attention.

Anyways, I wasn't terribly interested in this particular story as hugely problematic issue.  I think it is just a bunch of teenagers getting upset and offended over really nothing.  "ZOMG! He's wearing a flag! He must be disrespecting >ME<" as if the world revolved around themselves.

But what >I< did find rather offensive was one particular student.  One of the "American" flags that one student was wearing was an image of multiple flags, including the American flag, on the back, and the confederate flag on the front. 

Why is the confederate flag a symbol of patriotism?  Its a symbol of a failed cessationist movement that threatened to DESTROY America in Civil War.  A cessationist movement sparked over and largely motivated by the desire to enslave people.  If you're going to pick a symbol that would represent your patriotism, then I'd humbly suggest that you pick a different symbol.

Worst yet, it doesn't even seem to give with the social rhetoric that people often tout.  Love America or leave it.  The south apparently didn't LOVE America so they tried to leave it.  So waving the confederate flag suggests that one doesn't love America.

Now, I'm sure some would say that there is a certain patriotic overtone to the the confederate flag.  The American ethos of forging ahead, doing thing differently, independent spirit.  But we don't celebrate our failures.  We don't hoist up for all to see DDT and exclaim, Forging ahead!  Independent Spirit!

Perhaps its a symbol of Southern culture?  I'm not opposed to symbolizing particular sects of the our nation by a flag.  Heck, each part of our nation has particular symbols that represent them.  The Hollywood sign, The Golden Gate Bridge, The Empire State Building all represent subcultures of our nation.  Put it on a flag, and wave it, and you've got yourself a symbol.  But to pretend that the confederate flag doesn't represent a pro-slavery movement is like pretending rainbow flags show your support for rain.

Wear a peach.  Wear a cotton ball.  Wear a plantation house.  Wear a mint julep.  Wear Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane.  But don't wear the General Lee.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why I am not a Localvore

Here is a pretty good read on the Greening up our food, and why it may be hurting the impoverished around the world.  Oddly, he doesn't make the most obvious argument for helping the impoverished world and that is simply buying food products from those that can export them.  As more people become localvores, foreign farmers lose more consumers, pushing them further into poverty.  Now Paarlberg is concentrating on those who are in much worse conditions, and I agree those are people we should assist first.

But this is where I start disagreeing with him.  First, he says that we should bring the industrial model to Africa.  Now we have tried industrial models in Africa, and they don't succeed because,  infrastructure aside, its too expensive.  In America we give farmers heavy subsidies to ensure a reliable income in times when crops fail because of weather, or whatever other reason.  These subsidies also keep food prices artificially low, making them affordable by all (at least for the staple crops like corn and wheat). 

Second, when he says that the industrial model does not create unsafe food, he seems to be focusing only on plants.  With crops, he's correct.  With livestock, he's incorrect.  In fact, most outbreaks involving crops, are usually traced back to livestock.  But he conveniently forgets this when he brings up fertilizer run-offs.  Suddenly farming includes livestock again.

So what about animal manure and fertilizers?  First, fertilizers and pesticides are already OVER used.  If there is little financial incentive to avoid over fertilizing and over spraying, other than you're wasting product, but the product is already dirt cheap as it is, and the losses are could be significant if you UNDER fertilize and spray, farmers tend to err on the side of overuse.  This is the profit first thinking that characterizes industrial food production.  So his analysis that organic farming would be worse, because the amount of livestock would increase is simply flawed.  First, if we simply had fewer livestock, we would have less need for cropland, since most of our cropland is devoted to feeding our livestock.  Second, if we utilized manure instead of petroleum based fertilizers, industrial farmers would aim to UNDER fertilize than over fertilize, since it would be more expensive, and increase the risk of E. coli which could significantly damage their brand marketability.

But Paarlberg does bring up many good points about the green revolution in food, like organic not being particularly healthier, or safer for that matter.  The industrial argiculture is becoming more green, and more efficient, as always, and in many ways this is better for the environment.

Strangely, Paarlberg doesn't suggest the easiest way that we can aid the impoverished of the world.  Donate money to them.  World poverty rates have dropped almost in half from the 60s to today, largely due to the work of NGOs.  World poverty does not have to continue to exist.  If we have been able to reduce world poverty in half in 50 years, we could eliminate it in probably 20 more years if we simply gave money, in a responsible manner, to assist them. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Believe it or not, I've never smoked pot.  Not that I'm against pot, or anything, but I'm just not the kind of person who likes to have fun by ingesting chemicals.  I don't drink very much, if ever at all either. 

I have my sympathies with people who want to legalize pot for medical purposes, and my suspicions about people who want to legalize pot for recreational purposes....  I'm not sure I'd vote for legalization for recreational purposes, but if it passed, I wouldn't be terribly upset over it.  Heck, I wouldn't be upset at all, I just might go and buy a legal joint and join in the party that would inevitably follow.

But, I think people who advocate legalization for recreational purposes have a steep up-hill climb to face.  One of the biggest hurdles is an appearance of legitimacy.  Some may have some very good legitimate arguments for recreational legalization, (I'm not convinced though...) but the movement's face isn't a very good one.

Take a look at these pictures.    These aren't exactly representative of the movement, but this is what many people think of when people think of legalization.  In particular, look at pictures 3 and 7. 

Picture 3 shows a clearly underage kid using a bong.  Not exactly a responsible face to present, although I'm sure nobody was objecting to this around them.  Encouraging children to smoke pot, or to do any kind of recreational drug, I think is rather irresponsible.  And before supporters ask, Yes, I would say that to caffeine as well.  Utilizing a drug for recreational purposes needs to have a stronger justification than its fun, in the same way as driving a Hummer is fun.  Sure, there isn't likely going to be catastrophic effects from one person driving a hummer around for fun, but it begins to foster a kind of character that I'm not sure many, if anyone would call intrinsically valuable.  What kind of character does it foster exactly?  Look at Picture 7.

Picture 7 shows a pregnant woman at a 4/20 event.  Now, it doesn't show her smoking, but second hand smoke can have adverse effects on the health of a fetus, be it tobacco or pot.  I think it shows a kind of reckless disregard of consequences, in favor of the momentary pleasure.  Basically, a hedonistic lifestyle. 

Again, I'm not strongly against legalization for recreational use, but I think at the very least it needs a better face.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Free Speech vs. Animal Cruelty

The Supreme Court today voted 8-1 to overturn a previous ban on animal cruelty videos because it unconstitutionally restricts free speech.

I'm not sure what to think about this.  On one hand, I deeply respect the freedom of speech.  On the other hand, I think that anything that supports animal cruelty should be stopped, including videos of dog fighting, cockfighting, etc. 

Video depictions of cockfighting and dog fighting, encourage more of the same because if the videos sell well, then it is another source of revenue for dog fighting organizers.  Much like child pornography, the more of it that is consumed, the more individuals are exploited.  I would roll Bumfights  into the same category.  Similar to bumfights, when a particular dog becomes well known, or a successful fighter, that may create a stronger demand for videos of the dog. 

But on the other hand, I'm also weary about carving out swathes of untouchable areas of the world that we do not have freedom of speech over.  But, like child pornography, I think there are areas in the world that demand just that. 

I like what Justice Alito says in the dissenting opinion, "The Court strikes down in its entirety a valuable statue, that was enacted not to suppress speech, but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The social costs of being vegetarian

Here's a pretty interesting interview with Melissa McEwen on Let them Eat Meat.  I've posted my main objection with Melissa's position, but I also want to say, that I might be splitting hairs here, since her diet isn't one that I would particularly disagree with (it sounds like she is what Singer would call a conscientious omnivore).

Over here Pamela JSW writes that we ought not be vegetarians because of the harm it does to us!  In the interview above, Melissa suggests one of the wrongs of a vegetarian diet is that it affects the family dynamic.  No longer can a single dish feed the entire family, but people must bend around the individual's eating preferences.  Pamela makes the same argument in her first argument. 

These are the social costs of being a vegetarian.  Are these enough reasons not the be a vegetarian?  (I'm not suggesting here that Melissa is saying that it is.  Pamela says this problem is surmountable)  I think that these should be taken seriously as concerns, since they do affect lots of people (everyone you know and would like to eat with you essentially), and they affect particularly the people you care about (family and friends). 

Being vegetarian is more than just choosing for yourself.  Its also being accommodating of others.  I'd never dream to invite myself over to a friend's house and demand a meat free meal.  If I'm invited, I might expect that they would take my eating choices into consideration.  But when I invite friends over, I also take their eating choices into consideration as well.  That's simple politeness.  Does this mean I sometimes buy meat?  Yes.  Not much, and not very often, but I do.  Does this go counter to my personal beliefs?  Yes.

But if I were a christian, and I invited someone over to my house, I wouldn't necessarily expect them to come to church with me.  There is a line somewhere in the hazy sands that we must draw, but where that line is, I don't expect to have an easy answer.    If my friend were Muslim and asked if she could pray while she was at my home, I wouldn't object. 

Pamela's third argument however, is a little more interesting.  She says that being a vegetarian may cause me to look down on others, in a moral way.  Seeing most of my friends are not vegetarians makes me look at them as morally inferior, or with a defected character, which would harm the relationships that I hold with them.

Now, I don't think is an absolute.  If you're a veg, or vegan that you will look down on others.  I think I do it every day.  Rather, instead, I think it might be indicative of a flaw in your own character, a kind of moral judgmental-ness.  Instead of evaluating a person as a whole in their moral character, one fixates on simply a particular aspect of their character.  Now no doubt, people can be bad people because of an aspect of their character, and ignore that aspect, they're a great person.  But a wise person (since we're talking virtue theory) would be able to distinguish between acts that tarnish the whole of a person's character, versus ones that do not.  I'm not sure diet is one that is, so I don't judge people based on their eating habits.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Understanding animals, Understanding pain.

Is it really possible for us to understand an animal's experience?  I'm not sure that it is.  Clearly, there are classic arguments like Nagel's What is it like to be a bat, that shows that we will never know the subjective experience of having sonar from just looking at their brains.  I will never know the subjective experience of giving birth.  But this doesn't prevent me from understanding the pain that a woman is feeling when she is giving birth.

How do I understand this?  There are two ways.  1.  I can talk to her and ask her to describe what she's feeling.  This is the most obvious route, but its the less used route, strangely.  (Ma'am, you're currently screaming and there is a child coming out of your uterus, please rate on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the worst pain you've ever felt in your life, and 1 being in no pain at all, how you're feeling.  Is it a sharp pain?  Is it an ache?)  2.  The argument by analogy.  She is generally analagous to me.  She has two arms, two legs, a head, etc.  She yelps in pain like I do when I stub my toe.  She's screaming in pain, like I would if I were experiencing something quite painful and traumatic.  So she must be experiencing something quite painful and traumatic.

Both of these investigations into pain however a fundamentally flawed.  The argument by analogy doesn't give us a guarantee, or even a reasonable assurance that the experiences will be similar.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because of what my doctor told me recently.  Before my MRI, my doctor said that if he suspects that I have what he thinks I have, that he would be very surprised that I'm not in more pain.  Indeed, I did have what he thought I had, a herniated disc.  And I was in some considerable pain, but I guess I have a rather high tolerance for pain.  And so long as it isn't in my head (I use to get frequent headaches/migranes), I could deal with it.  So whereas my doctor would have been exhibiting much more pain responses (moaning groaning, complaining about the pain, or whatnot), I did not.  Did that mean I was experiencing less pain than he was thinking?  Not necessarily.

The direct route, also is flawed.  After my surgery, the nurse asked me to describe the pain that I was in, and what kind of pain I was willing to tolerate (to help gauge how much medication to give me).  I said I was probably at a 6, and could tolerate an 8.  She looked back at me, and said, "Remember, 10 is the worst pain you've ever experienced in your life."  I said, "Yeah.  This is definately not the worse pain I've experienced in life, but it definately hurts.  But I could definately tolerate it."  This was put to the test later, when I had physical therapy for the first time.  The PT made me stand up and walk around.  Its amazing how much your head weighs.  My neck is in excruciating pain (even with a pre-hit of morphine).  But I walked about 3x farther than the PT expected me to walk.  Ask me to rate that walk on a scale of 1-10, I'd say it was about an 8.  I definately didn't tolerate the walk very well, and even called my PT the "Bad Man" when he came back the next day for another round of torture (the second time included a walk all the way down the hall and back, some exercises with a fake step, and then I pushed him to let me walk up a flight of stairs). 

So what did this all mean in terms of communicating my pain?  Was I experiencing less pain than others?  Was I more tolerant of the pain that I experienced compared to others?  Both?  Neither? I haven't a clue.

So if I can't understand pain of others in any meaningful way, how can I make an argument by analogy with something that doesn't share a body deisgn like mine?  Does it hurt a cow when I poke him with a stick?  I certainly can't ask her.   

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

eww gross

So if you want to see what I look like after the operation walking around without gauze.... click here.  You don't actually see my sutures or anything, because its behind a some plastic tape and under that is blood and benzene and stuff they used to keep it from getting infected.  In a couple of days I should have a better picture for you.

The picture is pretty high resolution, so you should be able to zoom into it pretty good. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

surgery went well

recovery is estimated to be 6-8 weeks.  you use you neck for a lot more than you think you do.  sitting is very tiring.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I'll be out for a few....

I've been having arm pain since last Feburary, I got an MRI Tuesday and met with my doctor today.  On top of a herniated disc in my neck which is pressing on my nerve to my arm (hence the pain) I have a congenital defect in my spine.  Essentially, where my spine should be floating in spinal fluid, there is a severe narrowing that is putting pressure on my spinal cord.  They need to cut a door of sorts in my vertebrae to relieve the pressure.  Its really lucky I herniated my disc, otherwise if went untreated, I could be paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident quite easily.  Also if untreated, I'll slowly become paralyzed. 

I'm going into the hospital tonight, and getting surgery tomorrow.  

Wish me luck!

An aside to my students:
I'm not exactly sure when I'll be back to work.  Please show up to class as normal, instructions will be given to you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What (if Anything) Is Wrong with Bestiality

Ever since Peter Singer suggested that bestiality was morally permissible not too long ago, I've been puzzled by why its not completely obvious to most people that bestiality isn't wrong.  Sometimes it just takes someone pointing out the obvious to stir the pot. 

Neil Levy defends Singer's point that bestiality is not wrong.  He writes:
Thus, though there is nothing immoral about bestiality, it might nevertheless be irrational for us to cross this boundary.  It would be difficult to do so while yet retaining a strong grip on our identity.
So here's some context.  Levy spends most of his paper responding to possible moral objections to bestiality:  it is a perversion, there is no consent, animals have a lower cognitive ability, it wrongfully utilizes animals as a means to an end, it inculcates vices in our character.  He rejects all of these arguments.

But then, he switches gear and talks about our identity as a species.  We determine who and what we are by the limits of our abilities, upper and lower.  He writes:
In fact, both sets of limits, upper and lower, are in part definitive of humanity. My suggestion is this: The set of limits definitive of human life contains elements from many different sources. Some of them, like the limit represented by human mortality and by our physical bodies in general, are given by nature.... Others, however, are cultural limits. They are the products of the collective imagining of a people. They are, however no less identity constituting for all that. These two sets of limits are nively captured by the word "humanity."
So as a people, we can define ourselves by the natural limits on our bodies and socio-cultural limits that we impose on ourselves.  Good so far.
But our lower limits, which are largely culturally defined, are also identity constituting.... if we cross our upperbounds, we will cease to be human, becoming something different and not necessarily better.  If we cross our lower limits, a similar fate threatens.  To transgress this boundary might be to move to another form of life, in which characteristic human activities have no place or are transformed in ways unimaginable from here.  This might be a limit we cannot cross while yet retaining our sense of who we are.
This seems pretty flimsy.  If our lower boundaries, in this case, bestiality, is culturally defined, then why must this definition be the "correct" definition?  Levy says we have no real reason to think that it is.  These boundaries are flexible, like he states above.
...To the extent that someone engages in bestiality, she will find it harder to retain a grip on her identity as a full member of our community, and we will find it harder to admit her to full membership.
So if we take this position seriously, we might be able to say something like, homosexuality is outside the identity of humanity, and so we should avoid homosexuality because we might not retain our sense of "humanity."  Levy has a reply:
...We needn't be scared of the prospect of  a new communitarian homophobia.  Arguing against homosexuality that it represents a crossing of a signifcant limit places any prohibition against it precisely where it ought to be: in the open, in the realm of public and democratic discourse.  When we realize that the taboo is socially defined, we can begin to assess its costs and its benefits; Given that a taboo against homosexuality would seem to impose a major cost upon a significant minority of the population, I suspect that it would not long stand such public scrutiny.
So because social taboos against homosexuality impose a major cost (sexual and social freedomsI would imagine) on homosexuals, it wouldn't stand public scrutiny.  Wouldn't a taboo on bestiality do the same for those who wish to engage in it?  After all, Levy just finished saying that we would find it hard to admit these people full membership in what we call "humanity."  And for what?  A socially defined lower bottom floor of what makes a person part of humanity.  This sure sounds an awful lot like: "Most people really don't like it."

But wait:
This is not to say that we must retain the taboo against bestiality.  The limits which define our humanity, in the sense here at stake, are, by nature, contingent and shifting....  If this i the case for our upper limits, which are importantly natural in origin, then how much more is it true with regard to the culturally defined lower limits?
Clearly, they would have to be MORE true right?  Surely its much harder to make someone live 110 years than it is to say that homosexuals should be respected. 
Levy finishes with:
Nevertheless, if these considerations are correct, this is not a decision to be made lightly.  To redraw the map of our limits, at the bottom as well as at the top, is to set for ourselves new boundaries within which human life will take on a new shape.  Perhaps Kant ws, at least in part, right about bestiality: nothing less than the meaning of our humanity is here at stake.
I don't think this is terribly ambiguous, although it is.  He could be saying, that there is no moral prohibition against bestiality and that because humanity is, in important ways, socio-culturally defined that we can simply decide to say that people who engage in bestiality should not be ousted from membership in humanity, in full or in part.  But I'm pretty sure what he is saying is that we shouldn't change our definitions of humanity because changing the meaning of humanity is well.... wrong?  That can't be right, since there is nothing immoral about bestiality.  Imprudent?  Just something we should think long and hard about? 

What Levy is doing here is manipulating our attachments to "humanity."  To change these definitions suggests that we are inhuman.  And metaphorically these are the lower levels of humanity.  Why aren't these taboos the upper limits of humanity?  Or off to the side somewhere?  It could be that we are busting through a ceiling rather falling through the floor.  Morally acceptable bestial sex may show an elevated concern for the suffering of animals (being careful not to harm animals while we have sex with them) and trying to share with them an intimate aspect of one our highest expressions of love, care, and devotion.

If we change our conception of humanity who knows what we'll become.  Maybe we'll just become more human, just as we did when we stopped owning slaves, made great strides in equality with women and other races, and became concerned about how we treat animals. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

induced pluripotent stem cells

iPSC are stem cells that are produced from adult stem cells.  The adult stem cell is not as plastic as embryonic stem cells, but they can be reverted back to a state of pluripotentcy, where they can act as embryonic stem cells.  This is ethically significant since there is a great amount of controversy over using embryonic stem cells since they involve the destruction of some embryo or fetus to obtain them.

In this month's (april) Scientific American, Steve Mirsky writes: "So what I don't get is why aren't people who are against using embryonic stem cells in research just as against using iPSCs?" He gets to this question by pointing out that iPSCs have the theoretical possibility of being implanted in a womb and grown as a clone.  Most who are against stem cell research are also against cloning and so consequently should be against the use of iPSCs.

Mirsky is bringing up what seems like an inconsistency in the anti-stem cell research camp.  But I don't think he's entirely right.  First, I'm totally for stem cell research, but I'm in more favor of iPSC research, although in practical terms, iPSC research will be slower research.  But back to me in a second.  What are the anti-stem cell camp against exactly?  Its isn't stem cell research strangely enough.  Very few opponents of stem cell research would actually say that the research itself is morally wrong, rather the source of the research material is questionable.  Destroying embryos are wrong and if this research promotes embryos being destroyed, then it is wrong because of that, not because of its aims or the research itself.

So since iPSC doesn't destroy embryos, then it is morally acceptable research.  But what about the possibility of cloning?  For someone to be upset by iPSC because of concerns over cloning, one would have to make a slippery slope argument.  iPSC research will lead to human cloning.  Clearly this isn't any more true than legalizing gay marriage leading to inter-species marriages. 

So why worry about iPSC when embryonic stem cells will in all likelihood produce results quicker?  Simply put, it would make more people happy.  If we could grow meat in a petri dish that is identical to real meat, without the animal cruelty, we should do it because it would make more people happy.  Wouldn't it be cheaper to just raise a cow?  Sure it would.  But if we could avoid the problematic aspects of eating meat, then we should. 

Now some might say there are no problematic aspects of embryonic stem cell research, whereas there are problematic aspects with animal husbandry.  But we could still easily imagine a world where all animals are not factory farmed, where they have pleasant lives and a Temple Grandin approved death.  People would still be unhappy to see animals dying, and whether that is reasonable or not isn't the issue, for me anyways.  I don't think we can really control how things make us feel.  If seeing cats on fire pleases the people of France, then it does, no matter how unsavory it is.  I love Survivor (Go Russell!) and I know that its terrible television.  But I love it anyways.  I can't help it!  This isn't to say that we should indulge in things that are morally bad so long as they make us happy, but rather if we can avoid making people unhappy and not do anything morally bad, then we should do so.