December 19, 2006


I had some requests for a link to the "Naughty Little Mermaid" video. Well, there you go.

Call me a nerd, but I like Leonard Nimoy and Bill Shatner better.

Also, the latest from Andy Samberg and the crew at SNL.

December 17, 2006


I've been sitting on this link for a while now, thanks to Mr. Brottman for that, without blogging it. I think it's fair to say I'll see this movie.

December 15, 2006

Child's Play

I haven't mentioned Child's Play yet this year, so it's damn time I do. Now in its fourth year, Child's Play is the brainchild of the Penny Arcade boys. It occurred to them in 2003 that with all the bad press games and gamers get, it'd be nice to point to to say, "See, we're decent sorts of folks too. Games didn't make us killers." This isn't to say this is a purely mercenary affair; doing good deeds to be lauded. The targets of the yearly fundraiser are Children's Hospitals. In the first year they ran the charity out of their garage and supported one hospital in Seattle. Now they run everything online and have the gifts and money sent directly to the hospitals, which increasingly are spread over the globe. Donations of video games, money, and miscellaneous toys have increased every year since its inception and they're currently shooting for $800,000 raised this year and over $2 million since the first year. Another neat facet of the charity is that they take absolutely no administrative fees or charges from the donations; every dollar goes to the hospitals. If you're thinking of making a donation this year, there are worse places to send your money to.

Incidentally, they just had a dinner/auction and there are pictures up.

December 13, 2006

Link dump

Before I take off for my desperately needed month-long break (during which time I will write a paper on infinitesimals, because that's just how much fun my life is), I thought I'd clear out my rather large `To blog' folder. Evidently it's been a couple of months since I've done this, because the first post is dated September 20.
  1. Pandagon on Gore's proposal to eliminate payroll taxes and replace them with pollution taxes. The idea is that this would be revenue-neutral for workers and most businesses, and would encourage the largest businesses to reduce their pollution output.

  2. sinister girl argues that prostitution is anything but a victimless crime.

  3. Barry Lynn argues that Wal-Mart's most pernicious aspect is the power it enjoys as a monopsonist. For more on monopsony, check out Alan Manning's recent book, Monopsony in motion: Imperfect competition in labor markets.

  4. Jenn: The GOP is the real party of death.

  5. Feministing with a link to a report arguing that, rather than `opting out', many of those homemakers with the $120k educations the NYT periodically gets all breathless over aren't actually so traditional after all.

  6. sinister girl, with some great advice on how to prevent rape: by not raping people.

  7. Elayne Riggs gives a great table of contents of the series Goodbye to comics. Comic fans who haven't read this yet really should.

  8. Amanda thinks about lefty guilt and what the world would be like if, somehow, we actually managed to win.

  9. Jenn surveys the racist reactions to Rosie O'Donnell's racist non-joke last week. All six reactions make for excellent illustrations of the same point: through the eyes of privilege, `the problem with racism is not about the victim of the racist action, but the perpetrator and their intent.'

See you all in a month!

Sony Is Sneaky

Sony just can't get a leg up. The PS3 is having supply problems on top of not having a great launch lineup and being mega expensive. The PSP is getting trounced by the Nintendo DS. A year ago they tried to drum up support for the PSP by hiring graffiti artists to do tags supporting the machine. Now they've hired a company to make, among other things, fake You Tube videos from "fans" pledging their love of it.

December 10, 2006

This past Monday was the swearing in ceremony for the New Jersey Bar. I'm a real lawyer now! Hire me! Posted by Picasa

Jonathan Coulton

I'm not sure if you all know about Jonathan Coulton, but if you don't, check out Code Monkey and the video for Flicker. He's got lots of free songs to download, but I'm honestly considering buying some stuff from him just to throw some support his way. Here's his main page.

Yeah, I'm pretty much posting this so I can find it at some later date, but you really all should check his stuff out.

Edit: Some lyrics for the holidays:

"Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime, where we’re working in a mine for our robot overlords. Did I say overlords? I meant protectors. Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime."

Good To Know

There have been scattered reports of faulty straps on the Wiimote since its release. Evidently these strap failures have been responsible for more than a few broken TVs as the Wiimote flies from the sweaty hand of a gamer not used to moving quite so much. Seriously, people have accidentally broken their expensive HDTVs by essentially throwing the Wiimote at the screen.

Anyhow, whethere there's a design flaw or not, here are some more things to avoid when using your fancy new Wii.

December 06, 2006

Next-Gen Wars!

Here's a new Halo 3 trailer. Not a ton of gameplay, but it's enough to get me excited.

Also, NextGen Wars is finally a useful site to watch the battle for console supremacy develope.

December 04, 2006

End of the semester hell

is, well, hell. I should've made this official weeks ago, but my blogging will be on hiatus until I get back from California mid-January. Unless I give you a blog dump sometime in the next few days, which is quite likely.

Happy holidays, everyone!

December 02, 2006

Shorter NYT: We love us some gender essentialism!

A fascinating article this morning in the NYT on positive changes in the attitudes of parents, educators, and child psychologists towards very young transgender kids. Unfortunately, the writer seems completely ignorant of the issues surrounding transgender, and spend the first third of the piece forcing the entire issue into a cisnormative framework. Here are some highlights:

`Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.'

How could anyone display a predispostion to wear certain clothes over others? That's like having an predisposition to speak Italian instead of English, or a predisposition to be an atheist.

`The prospect of cross-dressing kindergartners has sparked a deep philosophical divide among professionals over how best to counsel families.'

Transgender people are not cross-dressers. The whole point is that they aren't easily classified as either gender. The first part of this sentence is as fundamentally mistaken as saying intersex people have the wrong genitals.

`Is it healthier for families to follow the child’s lead, or to spare children potential humiliation and isolation by steering them toward accepting their biological gender until they are older?'

That is, is it better to enforce strict dichotomies of sex and gender just so we don't have to challenge them?

The latter two thirds is much better. It's probably no coincidence that this part is almost entirely composed of quotations from parents and progressive educators and the like.

November 30, 2006

An Untackleable American Hero

I'm sure most of us have seen that Madden '07 commercial with the guy getting tackled (in the game) over and over and over again. Well, the guy getting tackled is Dallas Clark and he didn't take too kindly to being destroyed over and over and over again in a nationally syndicated commercial. Fearing the wrath of a gynormous pissed off pro football player, the guys over at Rooster Teeth (the funny lads behind Red vs. Blue) decided to make amends with an apology and "director's cut" of the commercial to show Mr. Clark's true skillz. Funny stuff.

It's like a post, only easier

First read Hugo on Peter Singer (the professional philosopher most prominently associated in the contemporary imagination with the animal rights movement) coming out in favour of certain kinds of research on non-human animals. Then scroll down to my comment on the post, on Singer's consequentialism.

November 29, 2006

A Match Made In Heaven

Don't get me wrong, I *loves* me some Spiderman. The comics, the movies, it's all great, fun, comic book stuff. While I still love those classic characters of the Marvel and DC universii, it was more artsy stuff that got me back into comics after a decade sabatical brought on by the mediocrity of mainstream comics in the 90s. And, as any fan of Watchmen, Y: The Last Man, or Sleeper will tell you, a major motion picture just really isn't the best vehicle for the more serious dramatic series. Watching Supes punch guys can be fun for a couple hours, but you're not really going to get much of Sandman's depth without a series of Peter Jackson proportions and few, other than perhaps myself and a few other uber nerds, want to watch a 3-4 hour talkey movie.

So really, the announcement that Garth Ennis' landmark Preacher series will be coming to HBO as an original show was something of an inevitability. Hopefully the more serious, more adult comics on the Vertigo line (as well as those on Wildstorm, Mavel's Max, Image, etc.) will get the HBO treatment down the road. Yorrick Brown on the small screen. My fingers might break, I'm crossing them so hard.

November 28, 2006

Terminally In Iraq

Terminus is back kids! Well, those of us who knew Drew knew that it was only a matter of time, but it's still nice to see him back at his own place, under the old moniker.

His most recent post is his attempt to get back into the political side of things and, well, it seems like as good a time for me to wade back in as ever. He's talking about Iraq and what the hell we're supposed to do with the debacle that it's become. As he's said for a while now, he thinks we should pull out immediately. He dismisses the moral argument that we owe it to the Iraqi people to fix the mess we've made and dismisses even more readily, and rightly so, the President's argument that we can only lose if we leave. The latter is utter foolishness that wouldn't even be considered a serious position if it weren't the official position of the President. At this point I'm pretty sure he thinks the country is Ed Norton in Fight Club and he's scarring our hand with lye to show us how awesome pain is.

I'm not completely convinced that the former argument is as easy to dismiss. I know this is close to what so many self-important "serious centrists" have been saying for a while now, but what if we pull out and it gets much much worse. Darfur worse. It's entirely possible that the country could turn into, if it isn't already, a massive human rights disaster. Will we go back in then to stop an ethnic cleansing? Will the global community be willing to help? Putting aside whether we would be able to muster the political will to send troops back, is that something we'd be morally obligated to do? It's certainly hard for me to argue that we wouldn't. I've certainly condemned our lack of involvement in Darfur and I don't think I'd be able to weasel my thinking out of finding an obligation to get involved in a similar situation in Iraq, even if we just left. That being the case, is it better to stay if we would just have to come back?

All that being said, at this point it's mostly guilt talking. I never supported the war, but hey, we're all in this mess together and nobody should be above the guilt over what we've done. Still, it certainly doesn't look like we're making any headway on this problem and staying forever just isn't an option. An important issue in "sticking around" is the fact that we have, last I heard, built several large, permanent military bases in Iraq. Now, I didn't pay much attention to it at the time because it was just one ridiculous idea among a sea of ridiculous ideas, but I was under the impression that the US had closed down its bases in Saudi Arabia amid pressure from their citizenry and opted to make Iraq the military staging ground for US troops in the future.
Does pulling out mean eliminating those bases? If so, pulling out seems increadibly unlikely if that would leave us with no strategic outpost in the region.

If, on the other hand, we're just talking about troops patrolling Iraq it's also important to not that leaving "immediately" doesn't mean people drop what they're doing and run for the nearest chopper. It takes quite a while for a force the size of ours to pull out of the country; it just meanse we start preparing to leave now and do so as quickly as possible.

This has been an awfully rambly post, but hey, I'm just getting back into the swing of things. I've also been pulled away from writing this post at least four times which tends to unfocus things. I don't think the guilt over what we've done will ever go away, which increasinly makes me feel that my guilt is a bad basis for letting President Bush dump lye on us.

November 22, 2006

Oh, the Angst!

 Posted by Picasa

A Bit Late

It seems like everyone's gotten over the election hoopla pretty fast, but I'm still feeling that warm sunny glow from finally winning a major election. In that spirit of ass kickery, here are two posts:

1) Found through Dan Brottman, a promise from Michael Moore to discouraged conservatives.

2) Found through Atrios, a band who seems to have completely missed the election. Granted, this was probably filmed and possibly released before the election, but these guys don't even seem to realize that Bush is on his way to having the least popular presidency of all time. I'd love to think this was satire, but it just doesn't have any moments of winking at the camera to let me know it's all a wonderful joke. Still, a catchy, if simple, tune.

Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of justice

You can read my review of Martha Nussbaum's latest book, Frontiers of justice, here (PDF).

November 18, 2006

Thinking about property -- Aquinas

I've been thinking about private property and moral obligation lately. We (by which I mean Americans, or possibly citizens of affluent countries in general, but not philosophers) tend to think that our moral theory needs to keep fixed the system of private property at the bottom of our system of production -- helping out the poor is all well and good, but unjustified taxation is theft, and so on. (Yes, your socialism alert should have just gone off.) Some Libertarians -- Nozick is a good example of this -- actually try to base a theory of political justice on our property system quite explicitly, talking about how every individual owns themselves. (Though doesn't Nozick also say that you're not allowed to sell yourself? It seems like nonfungible property is a contradiction of terms in our system of private property.)

But, of course, our private property system -- like our system of production -- is a relatively recent development. And it certainly wasn't taken for granted throughout most of the last century. If we (ethicists and political philosophers now) purport to give more-or-less universal standards of justice, it seems weird to think that we have to take the economic system of one particular historical epoch as fixed.

Here's a nice quotation from Aquinas, via Peter Singer:

Now, according to the natural order instituted by divine providence, material goods are provided for the satisfaction of human needs. Therefore the division and appropriation of property, which proceeds from human law, must not hinder the satisfaction of man's necessity from such goods. Equally, whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance. So Ambrosius says, and it is also to be found in the Decretum Gratiani: ``The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you buy in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.

That's ST II-II, q 68, art 7, trans by Dawson.

November 17, 2006

Friday Random Ten!!!!!!!!

Wow, it's been a looooong time since I did one of these, especially actually doing one on a Friday. So to refresh our memories, here's the deal: Load up itunes or your Rio MP3 player or whatever it is you use to listen to MP3s, set the thing to shuffle, random or whatever randomizes the songs, and then post the first ten songs it plays in the comments to this post. The only real rule is that your list be truly random and therefore you're not allowed to omit songs your embarrassed of or artists who inexplicably turn up more than they should. Most of the fun is seeing what weird tastes we all have and how crazy obsessed our computers are with Abba.

(Artist - Song)
1. Pink Floyd - Run Like Hell
2. Maker - Counter Earth
3. B.B. King - You Upset Me Baby
4. Colin Hay - Beautiful World
5. MC Chris - MC Number 2000
6. John Williams -Return of the Jedi Finale (editor: Whoo hoo! Vvvvvrrrrooowww vrrrrrrrwwoooooow...Fffffkkwwwiissshhhh!)
7. Quasimoto - Real Eyes
8. Prefuse 73 - Storm Returns
9. The Beatles - Come Together
10. The Allman Brothers Band - Jessica

Feel free to offer commentary on either my list, your own, or someone else's. I'm pretty stoked about my list. I mean, it's got Star Wars in it. Given the huge Library this is pulling from, it's weird that half the list is actually singles. Let's see your stuff!

November 14, 2006

Women: The only way to save your marriage is by being a fawning twit and good consumer!

Oh, the MSN Lifestyle site. It has all the eye-rolling ridiculousness of the supermarket checkout magazine display, but it's free! This time around, one Lisa Lombardi has decided women need to be incredibly anxious about their perfectly comfortable and healthy long-term relationships. Let's see what important tips she's suggesting!

1. Praise him like a kindergartener for doing simple household chores. You know, the stuff he wouldn't notice you doing.

Maybe you always say thanks when he does something huge, like backs up your computer files or cleans out the basement. But most days, we're guessing the ordinary contributions he makes barely register. "Over time, we stop noticing what our partner gives. His nice gestures become like wallpaper," says Levine. "We think, Of course he'll take the trash out. So we don't bother to say, 'Thank you.'"

2. Exploit underpaid Mexican immigrants to get some extra alone time.

"Buy some time together — literally," suggests Sanby. "Hire someone to take care of onerous tasks, like mowing the lawn."

3. Take two minutes every day to worship and adore him, and question whether you're being obsequitous enough.

Spend the time giving your man one good compliment ("Your new haircut makes you look hot") or sharing a moment that made you smile ("It was so sweet when you took Ethan out for a bike ride after dinner"). You can also use it as check in time: Ask him, "Anything you wish I were doing more of?"

4. If you don't spend lots of money trying to live up to a standard of beauty only achieved by anorexic teenagers with the help of Photoshop, you forfeit your sexuality.

By touching up those roots or slathering on a rich body lotion, "you stay connected to your sensual side" — meaning you'll stay connected to your sexual side, too, helping to keep up the intimacy and romance that makes love fun.

5. Women who criticize their men are unlovable shrews.

Viewing your love through a soft-focus lens, rather than one that plays up every last flaw, can have a magical effect on your relationship.

6. More fawning. I mean, really, go out of your way to give him everything he could possibly want, even if he doesn't actually want it.

We're talking really easy stuff: Buy his favorite kind of ice cream instead of the compromise flavor you usually drop in the cart. Offer him the extra pillow he always chivalrously gives you (yep, yank it out from under your head). Or, if you want to be even more generous, invite his crazy Aunt Maude over, because you know he loves the old nut.

7. Focus on what you would lose if you broke up. The answer is everything, because you're a helpless girl. While you're at it, evaluate your relationship in strictly utilitarian terms.

Just having a partner has so many perks — from the profound ones, like having someone to talk to late at night, to the practical ones, like having someone else to kill those water bugs late at night. By valuing those fringe benefits, you can't help but feel good about him.

8. As his live-in sexbot, your most important obligation is to make sure he gets laid every single night. Why else would he put up with your incredibly servile female inferiority?

If you want to show your guy how much you appreciate him, get hands on, advises marriage therapist Betsy Sanby. "Being touched makes men feel loved in a way that words can't," she explains.

Oh, I suppose I should've mentioned that those are my titles for the entries on the list.

There are actually some good bits here and there, but I guess "maintain intimacy, both physically and emotionally" is a little short, and doesn't put enough pressure on women to carefully compare themselves to the patriarchy-approved fawning sexbot and good consumer standard.

November 10, 2006

Oh, South Bend!

And here I was worried you weren't going to provide me with the entertaining, mid-grade mass insanity that so characterized the small town in which I grew up.

Fortunately, today you vomited one Edward G. Sara onto your local daily's op-ed page. Ladies and gentlemen, watch in amazement as Mr. Sara argues that Roe v. Wade -- and not misogynists with guns -- is directly responsible for the recent rash of tragic shootings. Then oooh and ahhh as he follows up by proposing that the solution is more guns and more patriarchy. It's a spectacle not to be missed!

This one is pretty cool, though. And not in the 'Wow. Seriously? He said that?' way.

November 09, 2006

Pasta With Greens

[No picture because I ate it too fast. Maybe tomorrow!]

The guiding theme behind these recipes is (usually, at least) to find things pretty much anyone can make if they have a minimally-equipped kitchen. This time, that's especially true: this recipe requires no culinary skills whatsoever. If you can boil water and use a timer, you can impress a date with Pasta With Greens. Plus, it's totally vegan.

Pick something long and stringy -- spaghetti, thin spaghetti, or linguine are all good. Angel hair is a bit too sticky for my taste, but it would also work. To make enough for two people, make an O with your thumb and first finger, and fill the O with pasta. (Use a little more for linguine.) Japanese soba or buckwheat noodles would also work; note that buckwheat noodles only cook for about three minutes, so you'll have to fiddle with the precisely order and times given below.

Bagged, precleaned, fresh greens are certainly more convenient than the unwashed sort. Avoid frozen! Spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip greens all work really well in Pasta With Greens. Avoid hard greens, like kale -- as much as I love kale, it doesn't wilt when cooked, and won't mix with the pasta when tossed. For two people, you'll want about 6 cups of roughly chopped greens, which is about 1/3 of a bag.

Olive oil: go for the expensive extra-virgin stuff here. A quarter cup of oil, for two people, will be just a little bit too greasy.

Garlic: 3-6 cloves of garlic, to taste and depending on size.

Seriously, that's all there is to the "sauce". Marinara's actually pretty easy, but remember, we're going for water-boiling level of skill here.

These are all optional. For a little touch of extra colour and flavour, consider roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes (check the "ethnic" aisle), coriander or sesame seeds (spice aisle), or a little grated lemon or orange zest.

Time: 20-30 minutes, depending on how fast the water heats up.

  1. Fill a large (6 quart or so) pot 2/3rds up with cold tap water. (For those of you keeping track, that's about a gallon of water. Seriously, you want this much water for cooking pasta. And cold tap water because it contains less lead than water that's gone through your water heater, always a good thing.) Put it on your largest burner, and crank the heat up as high as it goes.
  2. While the water is heating, put about an inch of water in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan with a lid. Put in a steamer basket and the greens. Cover and set on a medium-sized burner. Leave the heat off for now.

    If you don't have a steamer basket, you can either boil and strain the greens (messy but simple; fill the saucepan halfway and wait to add the greens until after the water's boiling, in a couple of steps) or braise (only a little more advanced than boiling water, I promise, and nowhere near as messy as boiling) with half a cup of vegetarian vegetable stock (check the soup aisle) in a non-stick pan (borrow a large lid from a saucepan). Or just go buy a steamer basket. They're cheap, and steaming is a great, fast way to cook all kinds of veggies. (Just don't run out and buy it while the water's heating.)
  3. Put the olive oil in your smallest pan, and let it sit on the smallest burner. Again, leave the heat off for now. Peel the garlic and put it through a press or smash with the side of a chef's knife and finely mince.
  4. Once the pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and several shakes from your salt shaker. Stir the pasta into the water and half-cover; leave the heat on full blast. Turn the heat under the greens to high, and the the heat under the oil to medium. Set a timer for five minutes.
  5. The oil should be hot after 60-90 seconds, depending on your burner. Add the garlic and cook, stirring every few seconds, until the smallest pieces are lightly browned, about 30-60 seconds. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Turn the heat under the oil off completely. Set the table, pour the wine, &c.
  6. When the timer goes off, turn the heat under the greens off completely and pull their lid off halfway. The greens should be wilted and fragrant, but not smell unpleasant. Reset the timer for two minutes.
  7. When the time goes off again, check the pasta. It's done when it's al dente -- that's Italian for "to the tooth", and means the pasta is cooked through, but not mushy. (Linguine will take a bit longer than spaghetti. Ignore the times on the pasta box; they're never remotely accurately.) Drain the pasta.
  8. To avoid a small puddle of oil creepy across the plate, I prefer to serve this in large bowls. Add pasta, then greens, and top with the oil, trying not to let too much of the cooked garlic end up in the bowl. Top with whatever garnish you're using and serve immediately.
  9. Unless you're terribly formal about such things, this goes well with both white and red table wines. (Chianti and merlot are always good choices, in my opinion.) Serve with a slice or two of French or Italian bread (since dinner itself was cheap, non-vegans could even splurge and get some of that heat-and-serve garlic bread at the supermarket), and to avoid garlic breath, I'd recommend a citrus sorbet for dessert.

The Results Are In

I passed the New Jersey Bar Exam. That's 2 for 2, baby. Watch out Stephen Hawking, there's a new brain on the block and he's writing "A Brief History of Kicking Your Ass." I leave you all now to party...perhaps to the extreme.

November 08, 2006

Send the freshman Dems a little reminder

One important reason many of them them were elected is their pro-choice views. Take thirty seconds and remind them.

Via Feministing.

And then it's business as usual, on the streets and highways that God built!

Via PZ.

By the way, this is an entirely accurate representation of academic philosophy. All the formal logic and plaid is just a facade to keep the job market open. Suckers!


I'm nowhere near as wonky as many of my friends and associates, but what a night! I was up way past my usual insomniac's bed-but-not-sleeping time, updating the NYT election thingy. And what did I see?
  1. Almost a complete reversal of power in the House; Republicans had 232, and now Democrats have 230.
  2. The Senate hangs in the balance, dependent upon recounts in Montana and Virginia. Both have a Republican incumbent who lost to their Democratic challenger by less than half a percentage point. If the results stick and Lieberman doesn't defect and caucus with the Republicans, Democrats will control both houses of Congress for the first time in I can't remember how long.
  3. And if, on top of that, Democrats finally get their act together, they should be able to wrest a lot of power back away from Bush in his final two years in office. Sadly, I still think this is the biggest if.
  4. More broadly, Amanda identifies signs of some very positive cultural trends: the South Dakota abortion ban lost, as did a weird parental notification (not consent) proposition in California; Virginia Senator George Allen's campaign was seriously harmed (though perhaps not irretrievably) by gross racism. Check out the full list!

November 06, 2006

Another one to sell to the alumni


Washington Hall, in the foreground, is actually a theater building of some sort; the ND Basilica is on the other side of the Golden Dome, and you can't see it in this shot. Still, this is the sort of schmaltzy crap alumni pay out the nose for at the Bookstore.

I forgot to make a note of the date, but based on the leaves, this was probably taken in mid-September, 20006. Posted by Picasa

November 02, 2006

In honor of the first Lake Effect snow of the year

Two shots from last December. The internet says less than an inch of accumulation this time, which is pretty typical for Lake Effect snow (the flakes are big and fluffy and pack down pretty tightly once they're on the ground), so we probably won't see anything this dramatic for a little while longer. But still, SNOW!

I honestly have no idea where exactly this is; I can't tell which building that is.


Very Cold Jesus. (It's a weird statue in the first place, because it's like 3/4 of life size: Jesus is only about 4 feet tall.)

  Posted by Picasa

De facto campaign promises

Big-D Democrats, take note!

A substantial majority of Americans expect Democrats to reduce or end American military involvement in Iraq if they win control of Congress next Tuesday and say Republicans will maintain or increase troop levels to try to win the war if they hold on to power on Capitol Hill, according to the final New York Times/CBS News poll before the midterm election.

There was a piece in Harper's a few weeks ago outlining a concrete and nuanced plan to end the occupation of Iraq. The core notion was that the money we're pouring into mercenaries armed escorts and cronyism no-bid contracts would be much more efficiently spent rebuilding the Iraqi police force and utility infrastructure. Marshall Plan-esque grants to Iraq over the next year would achieve a lot for less than the occupation is costing us now.

The key assumption here is that much of the momentum driving the country into civil war is over the American military presence, so that, if we withdraw in the right way, much of the conflict will simply evaporate. I don't know enough about the situation in Iraq, but assumption could be a dangerous one -- certainly the ethnic conflict stirred up by the British in Rwanda didn't just evaporate in the decades after decolonialization.

I suspect we really are doing far more harm than good in Iraq, and wasting lots of money and lives in the process. But, as bad as things are now, any plan for withdrawal must look seriously at the possibility that they would only get worse.

November 01, 2006

Bad philosophy still makes my head hurt

This is what happens when smartass atheists who've read too much analytic philosophy try to talk religion. Only analytic philosophers could misunderstand pantheism this spectacularly:

So if God = Everything then Everything = God. If I am a ‘thing’ and ‘every | thing’ is God, then I am God. Now, if you are saying that ‘Everything’ is the sum total of ‘every | thing’, then I’m a part of God, sure, but that then brings up this question: Did God create himself?

The only answers are ‘yes’, in which case explain to me how that’s logically possible, or ‘no, God has always existed’, in which case you’re first assertion falls apart:

1Premise: God is Everything
2Premise: God has always existed
Conclusion: Everything has always existed.

1Premise: Everything has always existed.
2Premise: If something has always existed, it’s infinite.
Conclusion: Everything is infinite.

1Premise: Everything is infinite.
2Premise: I am a part of Everything.
Conclusion: I am infinite.

So if God is Everything, then I am infinite.

The metaphysics here is just terrible (bad philosophy of time, worse philosophy of causation), but metaphysics is pretty much always terrible IMO. The fact that someone with a BA in philosophy equivocates on "everything" so egregiously is downright embarrassing. (For the equivocator, and for the faculty that actually let him get away with a BA.)

Bad philosophy of science is also embarrassing:

In order to accurately define God, one must not believe in the existance of God. This gives what scientists call “objectivity.”

Anyone who is a scientist and asks a theist what God is and then denies or challenges the answer is no scientist. This is because scientific thought looks at a differant perspective than do theistic thoughts. From the perspective of a theist (not all apply to all beliefs), god is. God is the creator, the magical everything and nothing that binds us. God is life after death and a meaning to it all. That’s a fact of a perspective. Trying to turn that into science is illogical just like taking a metaphore litterally is illogical.

Anyways, here's the thing. When trying to argue with theism (or pantheism or what have you; anything, really), you can't throw a smarmy little syllogism at the particular definition that's offered up. Good philosophy has to start with charitable interpretation of one's interlocutors. And charitable interpretation means giving them the benefit of the doubt: assume they're reasonable people doing their best to articulate a difficult idea. Once you have a good, solid understanding of, eg, what Aquinas means when he says that God is the being whose essence is identical with its existence -- including why this definition is supposed to be a good one -- then it's time to tear it to pieces.

What we see in this thread isn't philosophia or dialektikos; it's eristikos.

More evil

[T]o be sure, it was the act of penetration that was the essence of the crime of rape; after this initial infringement upon the responsible male’s interest in a woman’s sexual and reproductive functions, any further injury was considered to be less consequential. The damage was done. It was this view that the moment of penetration was the point in time, after which a woman could never be “re-flowered,” that gave rise to the principle that, if a woman consents prior to penetration and withdraws consent following penetration, there is no rape. Maryland adheres to this tenet, having adopted the common law, which remains the law of the Land until and unless changed by the State’s highest court or by statute.

So, according to a Maryland appellate court, rape is bad because it's a form of property damage -- and once your property isn't a virgin anymore, it's basically too worthless to be damageable. When was this appalling opinion handed down?
(a) 1794
(b) 1877
(c) 1942
(c) The day before yesterday
Answer below the fold!

Of course the answer is the day before yesterday (pg 32).

I think I'm saving this one; it's a fantastic example of how some really nasty notions about sexuality are incredibly pervasive, and it would be good to have students read this along with some radfem material from a couple decades ago.

Via Amanda, who has links to discussions at feministing, feministe, and Broadsheet.

October 31, 2006

Implications of Plan B availability

Yes, fisking is the second-lowest form of blogging, and yes, I really ought to write this as a letter to the editor, but I'm worn out, so you're lucky you're not getting a link dump. It's long, so meet me below the fold.

Charles Rice, entirely representative of the ND law faculty, had the following op-ed in the Observer today.

The Food and Drug Administration's approval of over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill deserves more attention than it received.

Well, the feminist blogosphere raised one collective cry of "about damn time!", but I suppose that's little comfort to Prof. Rice.

Plan B is a higher dose of the birth control pill which can be sold only by prescription. Plan B is marketed as an "emergency contraceptive," but that is a misnomer. Like most oral "contraceptives," Plan B operates in three ways: it prevents ovulation; it prevents fertilization, the union of the sperm and the ovum; or, if fertilization occurs, it alters the lining of the womb so as to prevent the embryo (i.e., the new human being) from implanting in the womb. Implantation, five to seven days after fertilization, is necessary for the embryo to draw nutrition and survive.

Uh-oh. Except, of course, Plan B (and hormone contraceptives in general) only does the first one. Think about it: assuming Rice, non-MD, is right, and implantation takes place five to seven days after fertilization (that is, seven to ten days after intercourse), Plan B wouldn't have an effectiveness window of only 3 days after intercourse.

Let me say that again, with a strong tag: Plan B is only effective in the period of time before fertilization is likely. If Prof. Rice was right, it would be effective for almost twice as long.

Maybe Prof. Rice is a liar. Maybe he's just a bullshitter. Either way, this sort of behavior is entirely inappropriate.

That embryo is a human being. Beyond any rational doubt, the life of each human being begins at fertilization. When Louise Brown, the world's first "test-tube baby," was born in 1978, the whole world knew when her life began - at the in vitro fertilization. Even with identical twins, we know there is at least one life present at fertilization.

First of all, not to play asshole-with-a-dictionary, but it's not an embryo until after implantation. Second, "beyond any rational doubt" isn't an argument; it's begging the question and bullying impressionable undergrads into intellectual submission. If it wasn't already obvious, Prof. Rice is nothing more than a sophist and propagandist, with no respect for his audience.

I'm just a few column inches away from calling him evil. For now, I'll stick with douchebag. Charles Rice, professor of law emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, is a giant douchebag.

Since the mid-1960s, "pregnancy" has been widely redefined so as to begin not at fertilization but at implantation. That made it possible to market birth control pills as contraceptives despite the fact that most of them prevent implantation and are therefore abortifacients. Plan B, in preventing the implantation of the new human being in the womb, perpetrates a homicide.

No, he's getting around to the point of the column. Wait for it ...

Proponents claim that easy access to Plan B will reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Recent studies from Washington State and Scotland, however, draw that assumption into question. The security blanket of the "morning after pill" can reduce barriers to a girl's consent to sexual relations.

Plan B lets people women girls have teh SEX!!!!! And once those sacred barriers girls have to consent -- you know, the fear of getting pregnant and having to drop out of college, quite possibly ruining her life -- are gone, civilization is doomed, DOOMED!

Because of the plague of paedophiliacs that inevitably results.

The authorization for over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill can also facilitate sexual relations between minors and adults. A girl under 18 cannot go to a pharmacist and get the morning-after pill. But her over-18 male "partner" can get it. In 2002 the California Center for Health Statistics reported that a "slight majority" of pregnancies of girls ages 10 to 14 resulted from sex with an adult. And, of course, the morning-after pill can provide an added means to induce the consent to sexual relations of a female of any child-bearing age.

(1) Of course, since Plan B is just another abortifacient according to Dr. Rice, non-MD, it really doesn't offer anything, does it?

(2) One might think the obvious solution to the paedophilia plague is to follow through on the original recommendations of the FDA committee and authorize sale of Plan B to women as young as 14 or 15. Ironically, it's the anti-birth control fundamentalist crowd that pushed the age of sale up to 18.

(3) WOMEN HAVE SEXUAL AGENCY YOU MISOGYNIST DOUCHEBAG. They do not sit around waiting for men to trick them into spreading their legs with chocolate and birth control. Astoundingly, they will express sexual desire and even have unprotected sex when they don't want children.

Plan B, incidentally, is not free from its own complications. The package insert notes the following possible reactions: nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, tiredness, diarrhea, dizziness, heart pain, headache and menstrual changes.

You know what else is dangerous, gross, and usually involves a period of great discomfort? Pretty much every kind of medical treatment known to humanity. And here I assumed Prof. Rice was a Catholic, not a Christian Scientist.

So why is the over-the-counter sale of Plan B an important cultural indicator? The over-the-counter approval of Plan B reflects the decadence of a culture in which the intentional infliction of death upon the innocent as an optional problem-solving technique. Legalized surgical abortion, of course, provides the primary example. Another is the acceptance of the killing of some kinds of patients by starvation or excessive sedation, when the family and caregivers agree that the patient would want, or perhaps ought to want, to depart. The Schiavo case moved this allowance of homicide to a new and compulsory level - Judge George Greer ordered, rather than merely authorized, Michael Schiavo to remove all "nutrition and dehydration" from his wife, Terri.

Ideas have consequences. The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 was the first of many comparable incidents. If one has a personal problem, homicide is now on the table as a culturally, if not always legally, acceptable solution.

The over-the-counter sale of Plan B brings us down to a new level. You can buy an instrument of homicide, such as a knife or a hammer, in any hardware store. But Plan B is different. To use Plan B, like a hammer, according to the manufacturer's directions, necessarily involves a conditionally homicidal intent. The intent is to "prevent pregnancy," including by homicide if the life of the child has already begun. The message is that innocent life is so cheap that its termination can be included in your shopping list, over-the-counter. We can predict the expansion of providers beyond pharmacies to convenience stores, gas stations, mail order, etc. And we can hardly expect that this cultural and legal verdict that innocent life is so cheap will be confined to the unborn.

As Mother Teresa said at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, "[I]f we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" Especially if the potential mother can buy the murder weapon over-the-counter at CVS or Wal-Mart.

This goes beyond intellectual dishonesty, beyond disrespect for one's audience, beyond sophistry, beyond propaganda, beyond misogyny, and beyond ad hominems. How else to describe the end of this column but simply spewing spectacularly vile rhetoric? How else to describe Prof. Rice but ... evil?

October 28, 2006

Bizarrissimo email du jour

Yes, I'm mixing bastardized Italian with French. I also don't care.

Anyways, make of this what you will:

[Subject:] Hi, I'm searching the Truth

[Body:] Hi, my name is Emanuele and I study philosophy in Milan. This mail only to inform you that you are really a beautiful boy. You know, I'm gay as Socrates and Wittgenstein. All the best, my friend. Hi,


My ex choosing to harass me in the most obscure and confusing way possible? Completely random internet admirer? Hell if I know.

In other news, Battlestar Galactica (the recent version, not the old one) totally kicks ass. No, seriously. It's not as good as Firefly (how could it be?) but it comes damn close, and I've spent the past four hours watching it instead of getting my reading done.

October 27, 2006

Yeah, ND brings in some GREAT speakers

Tonight, Amy McInerny gave a talk sponsored by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. This is a talk she's given at several other venues around Indiana, including last semester, at the Edith Stein Project conference. She is, as the advertisements stated, the founder of an organization that calls itself Women's Injury Network. A Google search doesn't turn up much other than this:

"Represented by attorney Joseph P. Stanton, a Pennsylvania teenager had sued abortionist Charles Benjamin and the Cherry Hill Women's Center. She successfully settled her medical malpractice case on October 17, the eve of trial, in a Philadelphia County Court," announced the Women's Injury Network (WIN). "Her case is the first medical malpractice lawsuit in the United States to reap a settlement based on a claim over the failure of an abortionist and/or clinic to inform a woman of the increased risk of breast cancer due to abortion. The clinic required that the settlement amount be kept confidential."

This piece is dated November 17, 2003. They provide this quotation from the executive director of Women's Injury Network:

Asked whether abortion directly increases a woman's risk of suffering from breast cancer, Gertz said, "That is much more controversial but there is a lot of evidence."

The problem is that the scientific consensus in February of 2003 -- months before the settlement -- was precisely the opposite:

Several studies have provided very strong data that induced abortions have no overall effect on the risk of breast cancer. Also, there is no evidence of a direct relationship between breast cancer and spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) in most of the studies that have been published. Scientists invited to participate in a conference on abortion and breast cancer by the National Cancer Institute (February 2003) concluded that there was no relationship. A recent [relative to 2006] report of 83,000 women with breast cancer found no link to a previous abortion, either spontaneous (stillbirth) or induced.

I don't like to casually accuse people of lying. In order to lie, you must (at least) know that the falsehood you're telling is not true. So it may very well be the case, for example, that the conservatives Amanda of Pandagon calls liars are, in fact, just spectacularly ignorant -- quite plausibly so ignorant that they fail to even realize how ignorant they are -- and are making shit up. That is, rather than liars, it may very well be the case that they're just bullshitters. Likewise, Gertz may be lying, or she may be bullshitting.

But both lying and bullshitting are (or really should be) utterly contemptible acts in the context of an intellectual forum. Even if McInerny herself presented nothing but facts firmly accepted by the mainstream medical community, her continued association with this organization, even if in name only, tarnishes her reputation.

October 25, 2006

Yes, I know only like half of the four of you who will read this know who Charles Mudede is

He's a pretentious jerkwad and a terrible film critic, but this is still `no, seriously, what the fuck was he thinking?' funny:

And if a woman’s pregnancy is far along the way, having sex with her must mean having sex with the baby. Is this acceptable? Here is my personal answer: Sex with a pregnant women is not right or wrong but dishonest. It’s an act that is close to pity. One does it because one is trying to be nice, and not being honest about how much their partner’s body has changed.

The body that had the sex that resulted in the pregnancy is not the same as the body that is in the process of producing a whole new life. The first body was attractive (like a flower is attractive); the pregnant body, on the other hand, is used up by the function of the pregnancy. What a woman loses in the long process of a pregnancy is precisely what made the pregnancy possible, the flower of her body.

October 24, 2006

I'm honestly not sure why I find memorial statues and grave markers such intriguing subjects. (Well, besides the subversive pleasure of giggling at the 10 foot tall phallic symbols.) Perhaps it's just the way carved marble gives light and shadow a chance to play.  Posted by Picasa

The triumphant return of Separate but Equal

It turns out segregation is a-okay, so long as it's `voluntary' and based on gender instead of race:

The Bush administration is giving public school districts broad new latitude to expand the number of single-sex classes, and even schools, in what is widely considered the most significant policy change on the issue since a landmark federal law barring sex discrimination in education more than 30 years ago.

Two years in the making, the new rules, announced today by the Education Department, will allow school districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of ``substantially equal'' quality available for members of the excluded sex.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but isn't the reasoning behind Brown v Board of Education that segregation in and of itself is a grave injustice? Pragmatic arguments -- ``girls are intimidated by boys'', ``boys develop self-esteem problems if they're shown up by girls'' -- identify problems, but segregation just ignores (and even reinforces) the sexism that's their underlying cause.

More at Stone Court.

October 23, 2006

In Case You Didn't Know

Heroes and Studio 60 make up one of the sweetest evening lineups I've watched in a good long while. If they're not on your current TV schedule, or Tivo program list or whatever the damn thing is called, they should be. That's it.

October 22, 2006

Me All Over

I can't remember who mentioned to me that they hadn't seen Weird Al's new video "White & Nerdy", but here it is for you poor unfortunate few.

Also, another great Special Comment from Keith Olberman on the death of Habeas Corpus.

October 21, 2006

$11.72 per hour

As a Ph.D student, I'm supported pretty much exclusively by the stipend I receive from my university, which is right around $15k before taxes. That covers rent and utilities, food, transportation, books, health insurance, everything. When I have the time, I can teach at a local CC for an extra couple thousand, and summer support is an additional few thousand. But those are extremely contingent -- they depend upon whether my department decides to give me support over the summer, and whether or not any nearby CCs need someone to teach a math class. The $15k is the only reliable form of income I have.

As a Ph.D student, I study a lot, and TA for a couple of sections of Intro to Philosophy. I would estimate that I've averaged 60 hours a week in studying and TAing for all but a few of the last 30 weeks; but perhaps this is a bit exaggerated, and it's more like 40 hours a week. If you think that's too high, consider this: I did not take a single day off between 21 August and 13 October. Some days I was only putting in, say, four hours; but most of those days I was working more or less continuously between 10 am and 10 pm.

Put this all together, and I earn about $11.72 per hour. With the 60 hour per week estimate, it drops down to $7.81.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on average hourly wage for a wide variety of jobs. Airplane pilots (because of their low weekly hours) are at the top, followed closely by university-level instructors, engineers, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals. This means I can compare that $11.72 with averages in other jobs.

In particular, my hourly wage is comparable with that of "Guides", "Bill and account collectors", "Supervisors, food preparation and service occupations", "Furniture and wood finishers", "Production inspectors, checkers and examiners", "Automobile mechanic apprentices", and "Animal caretakers except farm".

October 20, 2006

October 18, 2006

Oh Yeah

The Jersey kids already know this, but last week I found out that I passed the Pennsylvania Bar Exam, thus making me a real lawyer. I'm still waiting on the New Jersey results, which don't come out until November. I *also* need to sign up for the Washington State Bar Exam, but that's not on till February.

October 17, 2006

How bad is the state of civil liberties in the US?

Well, this guy has been held for five years. He is `not charged with a crime, not suspected of a crime, not considered a danger to society.'

Oh yeah, and he was `abused'. Remember: in this context, `abuse' means `torture'.

But it's not just one guy. Today habeas corpus was repealed. Lindsay highlights some rather appaling subtleties.

Last but not least: being a citizen doesn't matter a bit to this lot.

To answer the question, then, the state of civil liberties in the US is terrible.

I think it would be absolutely unconscionable for any eligible voter not to make throwing out the officials responsible for this travesty of justice a high priority over the next two elections. I'm not a fan of the Democratic party, but given the political context, there seems to be a clear moral imperative for Greens, Libertarians, and even sane conservative Republicans: the Republican party must be removed from power, and the Democrats put into their place.

October 16, 2006

Indiana Green Party platform

Link! It makes me a little homesick for the Green Party back in California. No money, no real chance at the polls, just a list of good ideas and a strong sense of justice and the social good.

I've been mulling over a post on Joe Donnelly, the Democrat running against incumbent Chris Chocola in this part of Indiana. That may be forthcoming later this week (though the one or two long-term readers should realize how flimsy that promise is). In the meantime, they're running a write-in candidate for Indiana Secretary of State, so you could busy yourself reading about him.

Fall colours of Notre Dame

9 October, 2006, in front of the Morris Inn. Posted by Picasa

Just in case you forgot

Bob Herbert takes us on a whirlwind tour of the pervasiveness of misogyny and the objectification of women in our society. Even for someone like me, someone who takes the time every day to read about the injustices suffered by women both here and around the world, it really is shocking to step back and see how much continuity there is between `risque' ads in mainstream magazines and hate crimes targetting women.

At the bottom of it all is pornography. I should stop and clarify that. Pornography is not the root cause of misogyny in our culture; it's the primary symptom. In that respect, my analysis runs in precisely the opposite direction from Dworkin, MacKinnon, and plenty of other prominent, contemporary feminists (though certainly nowhere near all of them). Furthermore, I don't think banning or restricting the sale of pornography (as though that were even feasible) is any solution.

I should also say that I don't mean all pornography. Like prostitution or lap dances, I see nothing wrong with an exchange of money for sexual tittilation per se. Nor do I think that, in these exchanges, an attitude of disrespect and objectification is necessarily transmitted or supported. However, such an attitude can be transmitted and supported, and we have to question how much consent is really involved in each case (eg, is she doing that because it's part of a career she enjoys, or is there a kid at home who'd starve if she didn't?). Clearly the sex industry as it exists today is in an appalling state, and that alone ought to cause us pause before consuming any of its `products'.

But even if the sex industry was cleaned up overnight, it seems that the pervasiveness of pornography through our society is still of some concern. And now that I've explained what I don't mean, I'll explain what I do mean, though still indirectly.

Perhaps using the term `pornography' is misleading, because it seems this term refers to two distinct types of media. On the one hand, pornography is media designed to tittilate the viewer/consumer sexually or erotically. My claim (not really argued for) above was that pornography in this sense is not necessary morally problematic per se, and yes, you should still take note of the qualifiers. On the other hand, pornography is media that portrays persons as objects for sexual use.

There are two things to note here: the second kind of pornography is morally objectionable, and is logically independent of the first kind. Contra Kant, one can be tittilated or sexually aroused while still regarding the object of arousal as a person in her own right, even if she's a stranger and you know nothing about her other than the acts she's performing in front of the camera. And contra Dworkin, I would suggest that this distinction between the two uses of pornography is even viable in our present cultural climate.

The problem, then, with pornography is that this distinction is almost never made, and the overwhelming majority of pornography is quite explicitly designed to tittilate by annihilating the agency of the women it portrays. It next seems to immediately follow that the vast majority of pornography is actually rape -- at least, rape according to the feminist understanding, as a sexual act symbolizing the annihilation of the victim's agency.

Combine that realization with the realization that so many of our media portrayals of women are designed to tittilate by removing their agency -- by portraying them as sexual objects for men's use -- and the conclusion seems as inevitable as it is horrifying: we live in a culture where the portrayal of rape is as mundane and unremarkable as this week's specials at the supermarket.

And, remember, I said this was a symptom. How much more disturbing must the underlying pathology be?

October 14, 2006

Photoblogging II: Electric boogaloo

Yes, some actual vacation time means I get to take pictures again. And getting to take pictures again means the son of return of photoblogging! Hooray! Posted by Picasa

October 13, 2006

The strange intersection of He-Man and philosophy

I'm speechless.

Via Lindsay. By the way, she's been all over the "critiques" of the Lancet study reporting 665,000 excess deaths amongst Iraqis since the beginning of our little sandbox adventure began in 2003.

Cooking with feminists!

Wednesday night's episode of the Colbert Report was probably the most surreal episode he's done so far. And below the fold is the most surreal six minutes of that episode.

When quote-mining bites you in the ass

Like proponents of Intelligent Design, the anti-abortion psueodfeminist org Feminists For Life tries to use quote-mining appeals to authority to prop up their position.

There's just one little problem:

What is generally not mentioned is that the essay [by Anthony, at the top of that FFL list] argues against an anti-abortion law; its author did not believe legislation would resolve the issue of unwanted pregnancy. Also not mentioned is the vaporous textual trail. According to the editors of Anthony’s papers, the article is not hers.

There's a bigger point, of course:

The bottom line is that we cannot possibly know what Anthony would make of today’s debate. Unwanted pregnancy was for her bundled up with a different set of issues, of which only one truly mattered: rescuing women from “the Dead Sea of disfranchisement.” In the 19th century, abortion often was life-threatening, contraception primitive, and a woman as little in control of her reproductive life as of her political one. The terms do not translate, one reason time travel is a risky proposition. No amount of parsing the founding fathers will reveal what they think of the war in Iraq, just as no modern chorus of mea culpas will explain away their slave-holding. To suggest otherwise is to wind up with history worthy of those classic commercial duos, Fred Astaire and his Dirt Devil, Paula Abdul and Groucho Marx.

Also, this Anthony quote is great:

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.

Via Amanda, whose take on this is also worth your time.

October 12, 2006

The Pathology Of Gilbert Arenas

I know next to nothing about professional basketball, especially the last five years or so, but Gilbert Arenas has got to be the most interesting and bizarre sports player I've heard about in a long time. Well, other than that guy that thinks he can talk to lizards.

I Not Read All The Time

Thanks to Matty Y I read this great piece on "How Not To Read."

Actually, I get a lot of flack from friends about about the fact that I don't read many books these days. There's a great episode of "The Show with Ze Frank" that deals with the concept of the increasing tradeoff of more information at a lower quality. I'll find a link to the specific show when I get home. In the mean time, the basic concept is that we're increasingly exposed to massive amounts of information and that in order to absorb this information we're willing to accept a bit less detail or a bit more noise in the signal. In order to cram thousands of songs on our computers and ipods so that they're just a click away we accept lower sound fidelity. Or, as is partially dealt with in "How Not To Read," we're willing to take a Cliff's Notes version of a book to avoid reading it. Frankly, it's not that I don't read. I spend the majority of my free time reading, but I rarely read books and when I do I frequently skim. Why *should* I read Bob Woodward's new book if I can get the key information through a handfull of websites and television appearances. There are so many concepts out there that I feel like I want/need to absorb that I just don't have time to read everyone's book.

Don't get me wrong, I'll read a small handful of novels in a given year, but frequently I find out the main plots and important details of a story and just avoid the book altogether. The bottom line is that I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I can sleep on a train, I can sleep on a plane. Anywhere Samiam might want to take me, I could ease the travel with a nap. That being the case, if you put me in a comfortable chair or bed and it's relatively warm and quiet, I'm going to fall asleep really quick. I just don't take enough pleasure out of the ritual of reading to do it all that often and it takes way too long for me to do it that often.

Hell, I Cliff Notes movies too. Basically, whether we're talking about Shakespeare, Scorcese, or political science, I'm interested in the knowledge I can get from them and apply in life. I want to be able to drop a quote from Hamlet or Mean Streets (which I haven't seen, by the way) in conversation or an internet post. I want to be able to use Rawls' philosophy in a debate. I want to be able to answer a question about American history if somebody asks. I want to be able to do all these things and I don't really care how I get the information that allows me to do that, but I know that I don't have time to take the long route to all that information.

What do you guys think? Are we better off reading 100 Wikipedia articles on 100 different subjects or should we spend the time plowing through a 400 page book instead? What is the value of the activities that traditionally have been the source of information? If we can get the information in a way faster than those traditional means, is there some reason why the traditional means is still relevant?

October 10, 2006

Final Guitar Hero 2 Tracklist

Evidently they don't want to talk about the bonus tracks to keep something a secret for release, but this is a very interesting set list. Looking over the lists for the the two games, I think the first game has more songs that I was immediately excited about playing, even though the second game has more tracks overall. Who knows, maybe a lot of these songs will grow on me and maybe the bonus songs will be a bit more playable than in the first game.

October 05, 2006

Easy activism

I have a splitting headache, so I'll let Amp do the explaining:

Eteraz has written a post outlining some easy actions (emails) that can be taken to object to, and hopefully help prevent, the executions of Iranian women who have been convicted of adultery, or of defending themselves against abusers.

According to Eteraz’s post, international pressure has been helpful in similar cases in the past, so this seems like an action worth taking.

You don't even need to think, just cut-and-paste and fill in some forms. It'll take all of five minutes.

Speaking Of Heroes

Here are some clips from the pilot for the 1997 Justice League live action TV show. Wow. You know, I'm not sure anybody told The Atom what to do, so he just wandered around helping cats and stuff.

October 03, 2006

So, last night's episode of Heroes

No spoilers, but: wow, when did NBC get that graphic?

Also: each episode is associated with an online comic. Rather unimpressive, actually, but a way to kill fifteen minutes.

October 02, 2006

Technically, this shouldn't qualify as food


And I'm not just saying that because I'm an obnoxious vegetarian. Via SLOGPosted by Picasa

October 01, 2006

Trojan's sexual health report card

Trojan (as in Trojan Condoms) sponsored a survey of 100 colleges and universities across the country, evaluating them in terms of their support for students' sexual health:

Criteria included: Informative and helpful Web site; condom advice and availability; contraception advice and availability; HIV & STD testing; sexual assault counseling and services; advice column or Q&A feature for sexual issues or relationships; counseling services, peer counseling, campus events, and other outreach.

Note that the criteria mean a school can still get a decent score while, eg, not providing condoms and not condoning sexual activity in general. Notre Dame came in tied for last with BYU; these two schools were the only ones to rank an F in every single category.

The conservative Weltanschauung

Whenever we get around to redesigning SoR and including some categories, I definitely need one like that. Though perhaps it's a bit too Freudean?

Anyways, Amanda has an incredible post up on ... well, the fundamentalist Christian Weltanschauung. There's way too much going on for me to summarize, but there are bits on the psychology of fear, social hierarchies (wealthy white male Christians on top, everyone else strictly organized beneath them), embodiment and transcendence, torture, and so much more. Well worth a read.

Calling All Nerds

World of Warcraft in Southpark.

September 30, 2006

Guitar Hero 2

There was some doubt as to whether it would make it to the Xbox 360, but it sure is and with a sweet new controller.


Feministing has an excellent interview up with a woman fighting gentrification in Brooklyn. I find this opening quotation quite powerful:

Basically, at one point I was reading Patrice Lumumba [a former Congolese anti-colonial leader], and it just came down to this ... even if I am able to move these young people, if their parents don’t have a place to live, or an affordable place to live, then they won’t be able to live as healthy, conscious human beings. And so people have to start thinking about each other and their communities. They can’t wait for their government or someone in office to. They have to start taking care of each other.

Gentrification isn't just about an aesthetic preference for the bohemian over the Gap, or knee-jerk class resentment. On a fundamental economic level, gentrification involves pricing housing and retail space beyond the poor and working class so that upper middle class whites can enjoy a version of the city that's as `safe' (read: homogeneous and unchallenging) as a suburb. Or, put the other way around, it's deliberately denying `undesirables' (in senses of both race and class) access to economic resources they need to flourish for the benefit of the privileged. That makes it an issue of justice.

I'm not denying (and neither is McFarlane) that improving the economy, reducing the violent crime rate, replacing unsafe buildings, etc., in a struggling neighbourhood are goods. But these goods can be achieved by and for the current citizens of the neighbourhood, not by removing them.

Anscombe on contraception and abortion

Elizabeth Anscombe is best known as the editor and translator of the English editions of Wittgenstein's most significant works, but in her day she was a prominent philosopher in her own right. She was also a devout Roman Catholic. In this piece, Anscombe meditates on the `contraceptive mentality'. I've only had time to read the first section, but this bit really stood out:

The only objection, then, to the new heathen, contraceptive morality will be that the second condition I mentioned - near-universality of contraception where there ought not to be begetting - simply won't be fulfilled. Against the background of a society with that morality, more and more people will have intercourse with little feeling of responsibility, little restraint, and yet they just won't be so careful about always using contraceptives. And so the widespread use of contraceptives naturally leads to more and more rather than less and less abortion.

Except that, as this report by the Guttmacher Institute shows, that's precisely the opposite of what happens. Anscombe does throw in a qualifier, granting the possibility of a strictly short-term decline in abortion rates, but then claims the long-term result will be a net increase in abortion rates. She's simply empirically wrong about that claim, as well:

Initially, rapid fertility decline in South Korea was accompanied by increases in both contraceptive use and abortion; over time [ie, 40 years], abortion rates turned downward while contraceptive use continued to climb.

But the reason why Anscombe makes this assertion is also interesting. Prima facie, `contraceptive morality' (as Anscrombe calls it here) or the `contraceptive mindset' (as some contemporary opponents of contraception call it) is nothing more or less than the view that the use of contraception is entirely permissible, morally speaking. But this is, strictly speaking, only a proper part of what these opponents of contraception mean; they also seem to think that this mindset or morality involves a sort of firm resolution to avoid taking responsibility for one's actions. That is, using contraception is supposed to be a denial of responsibility, roughly on a par with the (supposed) denial of responsibility that is abortion, and since the former is less convenient than the latter (or something), an acceptance of contraception will lead to an increase in the number of abortions. This isn't just a strawfeminist and astonishingly (given that Anscombe is an influential analytic philosopher) vague line of argument; it's a downright bizarre inversion of the core notion, motivating those of us who believe strongly in access to and education about contraception, that the use of contraception is actually one responsible way to engage in intercourse.

September 29, 2006

Robert Downey Jr. Is Tony Stark

And really, other than being an actor and not, in fact, a billionaire techology based industrialist, they are indeed the same person.

This could actually be a good movie...

Opportunity costs

Selections from Rox Populi: What Can You Do With $2 Billion a Week?*:

Send 2 million Iraqi students to Harvard

Purchase a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in Atlanta for all 330,000 families displaced by Hurricane Katrina

Enable Habitat for Humanity to build new homes for every Israeli man, woman and child living in poverty

Enroll every uninsured American in a private health insurance plan, with spare bucks to burn

Provide 25% of the world's population with the full six-dose regimen of the anthrax vaccine

Or sacrifice a few tens of thousands of lives to establish yet another violent sectarian-ethnic conflict that will take decades to settle.

September 28, 2006

Big Choice Videos

Colbert bullseye's all the current crap about Clinton.

Cafferty expresses exactly my frustration with the last five years.

shows why prominent liberals are better than prominent conservatives.

The value of greek life

No, not real Greeks. Greek with a small 'g', except at the beginning of sentences.

Luke's little dialogue nicely represents my own feelings on fraternities and sororities:

You didn’t bond over shit. That’s artificial bond-making right there, that’s phony. When you’re so desperate for brotherhood and friendship and “bond-making” that you’d purposefully create stressful, dangerous, sexist, homophobic situations for yourselves that isn’t bonding through anything. If me and you got stuck in an earthquake and fought ourselves out, that’d be bonding. If me and you got thrown in a Turkish prison and gotten out, that’d be bonding. If me and you went through drug or alcohol rehab at the same time, that’d be some bonding.

I think much the same applies to Notre Dame's dorm system -- an undergrad's dorm seems to define her or his social circle to a large extent, and almost all live in the same dorm all four years. Dorms will tend to sit in blocs at football games and in the dining halls, engage in fundraising and host parties, pep rallies, and community service projects. Rumours among the faculty and grad students (who generally regard all this with a sort of low-level horror) include hazing and exam and paper files. In short, pretty much exactly the sort of shit you find in the greek system at most schools -- except, instead of 30-60% of the student body participating, it's nearly 100%.

Home-based business


Nearly half of all U.S. businesses are run from home, and most companies owned by women are home-based, according to a government report released on Wednesday.

The data, showing 56 percent of female-owned businesses are run from home, illustrates how women opt to work from home for an array of family reasons, workplace experts say.

Via Feministing:

The word "opt" always makes me nervous. I mean are women *really* opting to stay at home? Or is it because a) they can't afford day care and b) it is difficult for women to advance in the corporate world?

My mom runs her own, moderately successful, business, designing homes and drafting plans thereto, out of her home. After she finished her AA when I was in junior high, she started work at the one sizable architecture firm in her small town. For almost two years, she spent 40 hours a week filling in the details of someone else's designs in AutoCAD and dealing with the mild resentment and harassment of her (nearly all male) coworkers. Eventually, she was fired, essentially for being too independent to simply draw someone else's ideas but not having the education needed to be a fully fledged architect (there's a complicated licensing process involved for future architects without a Master's degree, and her firm didn't want to pay for it). Also, she refused to go out with one of her superiors.

I was already driving, and my brother was in junior high, with a busy sports schedule; her reasons for `opt[ing] to work from home' had nothing to do with the family. It was a necessity born of simple discrimination against a housewife turned professional once her children were grown and the divorce was finalized.

(Yeah, okay, my mom as feminist parable is stretching things just a bit, but the point remains: her unusual career path and her gender made starting her own business a necessity; she didn't `opt' for anything but the career she loves instead of cutting hair or waitressing until she was 70.)

September 26, 2006


I caught the premier of Heroes last night; if you missed it, NBC will apparently be running it again tonight (while that's odd, I have no comment on it), or I'm sure you can already find it in other, less legally upright, venues.

My feelings about the premier are mixed, and I think a fair review of this show must be based on more than a single episode. A conventional film needs to establish the characters and basic plot within the first thirty minutes or so, to allow for an hour of development and fifteen to thirty minutes of denounement and conclusion, for a total running time of just under two hours; meanwhile, a conventional teevee season has upwards of fifteen hours to work with. While film as its own advantage, television is a medium that is excellent for presenting complicated plots with multiple interwoven threads that unfold very, very gradually. (Joss Whedon does this very, very well -- the best seasons of Buffy and every season of Angel have a far more complicated plot than most any film you care to think of.) In other words, good teevee can have the depth and pacing of a good novel -- and a novel shouldn't be judged on the first twenty pages. Well, okay, unless those first twenty pages are really bad. But the premier of Heroes was not really bad.

Avast, mateys! There be mild spoilers below that thar fold!

Heroes seems to be built on a number of familiar tropes in the superhero genre, and this works both in its favour and to its detriment. The basic premiss is that seemingly random individuals around the world are starting to manifest superhuman powers, and the opening voiceover (done by a geneticist character) explains this with some handwaving about `evolution', but also uses the language of pathology, talking about a `patient zero'. The array of powers is quite familiar: rapid regeneration, teleportation, hyperintelligence, flight, precognition, telepathy. This familiarity lets the writers spend most of the first episode on some character development, and suggests that this will not be a simple, mindless action series.

On the other hand, the first episode reeks of both sexism and racism, sadly pervasive problems in the comic book world. The episode presents five or six primary characters (assuming those with prominent speaking roles and screen time will be primary characters), all but two of whom are white. There is one Indian man, who seems to be positioned for the role of knowledgable yet powerless mentor a la Rupert Giles; and one Japanese man, who seems to have been written with every stereotype of the nerdy, sexless Asian in mind. The two female primary characters are both white, and both thoroughly packed as eye candy: one's a teenage cheerleader, and the other sells strip shows over the internet to support the requisite preternaturally intelligent child. I guess Standards and Practices wouldn't let them get away with a hooker with a heart of gold.

Other groanworthy tropes that rise to the level of cliche are the angsty, drug-addicted artist, the evil white guy in a suit and sunglasses (with mysterious connection to other characters), and the machiavellian politician.

However, as I said before, the series is only just establishing itself. Optimistically, we'll see more diversity in the cast as other primary characters are introduced, and the inversion of stereotypes as the characters develop. The first episode shows a lot of promise, and the show warrants at least another few episodes to really get going.

September 25, 2006

Am I On Drugs, Or Are They?!

Thanks Mr. Brottman. You realize, of course, that we all must memorize these dance moves and bust them out at parties or in bars. It's a moral imperative.

Keith Olberman Strikes Again

Telling Truth to Power. If only more of his media peers would take his lead...

And here's Jack Cafferty with some more well-deserved rancor for President Bush.

Biff! Pow!

I was completely unaware of this until today, but evidently Uwe Boll challanged several of his critics to a boxing match several months ago and the fights just happened. Among the group of Uwe haters was Rich "Lotax" Kyanka, founder of Something Awful. According to Kyanka, the critic guys were led to believe that this was a silly PR stunt and that it would all be in good fun. Evidently Uwe is something of an amateur boxer and had no intention of having fun, or at least, not having fun that was unrelated to mercilessly beating on some internet nerds.

What's really surprised me is that, barring a few exceptions, the forums over at Kotaku are coming down heavily on Uwe Boll's side. Even granting all of Kyanka's assertions that this was supposed to just be fun and that training that was promised to the critics never happened, the nerds seem to think the critics, and Kyanka in particular. I had no idea there was so much anti-SA venom out there.

September 23, 2006


That's right, I'm actually taking a day off from homework (whether this is a good idea or not, we'll see), and I've actually written a blog post that's more than just a link to something else.

But that post isn't here. It's over at Plato’s Beard. This one is just another one of those `go read it' posts. Though that post is only going to be interesting/comprehensible if you care/know about meta-ethics.

September 22, 2006

Two videos

I'm too lazy to look up the embedding codes, so go watch them at real men are not

September 21, 2006

An experiment

Staff of Ra is now being automatically syndicated to my Facebook profile, as 'Notes'. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any way to only syndicate the posts I write, so I'll be removing those MosBen writes (as well as those by Archgarth, should he reappear some day) manually.

A little reminder that oral sex is sex, too

Oral sex can cause cancer. (Via Majikthise)

How's that? HPV. You see, the viruses that cause warts (including genital warts) and cervical cancer can cause tonsil cancer.

So what to do? Basically, the same things you do to keep from getting genital warts: condoms and dental dams can help (but don't work as well as they do against the transmission of HIV), and of course avoiding hooking up with someone who has genital warts in the first place is a good idea. As the HPV vaccine becomes more widely available, immunization is also a good idea.

So why am I blogging about it? Because teenagers in abstinence-only sex ed probably won't hear about any of this, and an overwhelming majority of high school students have had oral sex, even if they've taken a virginity pledge and believe they're sticking to it. Abstinence-only sex ed isn't just a problem because it doesn't tell kids how to have safe vaginal intercourse; it systematically ignores the existence of oral sex, and thereby actively encourages unsafe behaviour that puts kids at risk for STDs, and thus cancer.