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.