March 31, 2006

Halo 3, Etc.

Rumor is that Halo 3 will launch roughly a year from now. What's that you say? The PS3 is launching this holiday season and you thought Microsoft was going to bring out Halo 3 to deflate the launch of Sony's machine? An interesting theory I heard over on the message boards of Evil Avatar is that because the launch is almost certain to have supply shortages, especially since it's a worldwide launch like the 360 was, there's no way to stop the machines from selling out. There are enough hardcore early adopters that are going to buy the machine regardless of the competition that the first batch of machines is certain to sell out. Where MS may be thinking Halo 3 can make the difference is a few months after launch where, again like the 360, the early adopter demand has been satiated and machines are available to the people with money to spend on a console but no strong opinions about which one to get. With Halo 3 launching right when maybe a couple post launch games have come out it may just convince the consumer on the fence to buy into the 360.

Moving on, the demo for Galactic Civilizations 2 is out. I haven't tried it yet, but the first one is one of my all time favorite empire building space sims. Worth a try...

The Resurected Friday Random Ten

You know how we do, play some of your mp3s but set the player to random. Write up the first ten songs that come up in the comments so we all can see them, and don't go editing the list so that you won't be embarrassed by that Ace of Base (Bass?) song you've got there. We all have our own guilty pleasures.

(Song - Artist)
1. Up In The Sky - Joe Satriani
2. Angel of Music - The Phantom of the Opera Soundtrack (I know, I know...sigh)
3. Guardian Angel - Mullmuzzler
4. Such Great Heights - Iron & Wine
5. Makeshift Patriot - Sage Francis
6. China Grove - The Doobie Brothers
7. A Pleasant Shade of Grey XII - Fates Warning
8. Dry Bones - Odd Jobs
9. I'm Alive - Electric Light Orchestra
10. The Trees - Rush

What a twist, er, mix! Real grab bag there, with no real theme emerging. Truth be told, the songs on the list that I really love are somewhat sparse, but there's nothing that I don't at least like. Yeah, I know the implications of that, and it shames me.

While we're on the subject of music, everyone should check out Pandora. Here's how it works, you enter a song or artist that you really love and it creates a database of songs and artists that are like the song or artist that you gave them. As your newly created radio station plays songs you can tell them whether you liked the song or not and the program further refines the database to play songs that better match your taste. This isn't just like on Amazon, where it links you to products based on what other people that bought it also bought, it actually tries to match musical characteristics of the songs you like. I'm not entirely sure how this "Musical Genome", as they call it, works, but it's pretty interesting and I've already found several badass songs that I didn't know about before. Also, this would be an interesting to do your Random 10s if you wanted to, though it might take a little longer.

A note on the function of religious belief

Amanda says the following in a short post on the prevalence of openly atheistic bloggers:

Godlessness and liberalism generally do go together, though, because I think that once you embrace a view of equality, you stop needing a god around to justify hierarchies. That said, it’s obvious that a minority of atheists start off as pro-hierarchy and simply try to find replacement religions to justify their arguments from authority–the Raving Atheist, for instance, is on that list....

Scanning the comments, quite a few people also have a problem with this. But, of course, I'm going to just run off immediately to philosophyland, rather than making some empirical point about how there are plenty of religious lefty folks around.

I think it's fair to say that a lot of atheists see a strong conflict between faith/belief/religion and reason/logic/science, and their atheism comes out of identifying very strongly with the latter camp. This is why so many atheists have the nasty habit of chunkling to themselves in their self-satisfaction about new believing in the magic en-bearded Ward Cleaver in the sky: any list of propositions, they think, that science doesn't sign off on is wishful thinking and superstition and should've been abandoned back in the Dark Ages.

But notice the implicit assumption: belief is a list of propositions, just like the content of a scientific theory. Over the past four years, I've come to the understanding that this is extraordinarily disingenuous, or at best an extreme oversimplification of the nature of belief. And atheists need to shake that view if we're ever going to get along with our lefty and progressive religious sisters and brothers.

Religious belief, particularly the form it takes among evangelicals, is the basic way the believer structures and represents her relation to the world as a whole. The belief that God loves and cares about you personally is a source of immense comfort and self-esteem for the believer: whatever else happens, you know that you're still important and loved, and that someone powerful is going to (help you) make things right. Belief is the way the believer situates herself in her community and organizes her life and values. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, faith is the way the self relates itself to itself and to the power which constituted it: for the believer, her belief and her self-identity are the same thing. (I serious think that any atheist who wants to truly understand Christianity needs to read Kierkegaard.)

March 30, 2006

Fun With Maps

Thanks to Ezra, I found this site that has all kinds of world maps sized to different variables such as land area, total population, immigration, etc. Super big West Wing nerds will recognize the default land area map as the Peters Projection map (as opposed to the Mercator map that many of us grew up on) from the Season 2 episode "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going To Jail" (and yes, I had to look up the episode name).

March 29, 2006

Blog Dump

The rumor mill is reporting that Lucas Arts may be stripping Sony Online Entertainment (makers of the much maligned Star Wars Galaxies) of the Star Wars license. Internet conjecture conects that to the known fact that Bioware (makers of the well received Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic offline RPGs) has opened up a new studio exclusively for producing online RPGs. Still very much a rumor, but the nerds are atwitter with the possibilities for an online Star Wars RPG that doesn't suck balls.

Nintendo is saying that not only will their console be cheaper than other consoles, but the games will be cheaper too. Now, hardware can be cheaper for a few reasons, primarily because 1) The hardware manufacturer takes a larger loss on the hardware in hopes of selling more machines and making up the difference in increased game sales to those extra users, 2) the hardware manufacturer cuts out frills that the other machines include, like a hard drive or network adapter, or 3) the hardware manufacturer uses less cutting edge technology in their machine. Nintendo has said that they're not trying to compete with the cutting edge graphics of the PS3 or Xbox 360, but also that the graphics will still look good. Producing games, however, as far as my knowledge goes at least, is a bit different. It's all man hours; the better you want the graphics to be, the bigger you want your game world to be, the better you want the online component to be, all these depend on putting more people on the job. You can also increase the game's quality without increasing the cost through better management, but I doubt that's something Nintendo can guarantee enough to remark about.

Now the difference between PS2 games and Xbox games, graphically speaking, was noticible this generation, yet the games cost the same. So if companies are going to charge less for Nintendo Revolution games than they are for the 360 or PS3 that tells me that the margin between the work it takes to make a Revolution game and a PS3 game is bigger than the margin between the PS2 and the Xbox. We'll see, but I can't help but think that either A) Revolution games will look significantly worse that PS3 and 360 games or 2) Revolution games will generally cost the same as those other systems. As always, we'll see for sure when they show games at this year's E3, coming up in May.

Supposedly Microsoft changed from shipping Xbox 360s by airplane to ship recently, which means that though they've been producing lots of systems lately there's a gap of time between when the last plane left and the first ship, uh, shipped ahoy or whatever they do. Supposedly in the next couple weeks there should be massive amounts of systems in stores. The link also talks about some mysterious event when this first ship shipment arrives. It's from the MS PR guy, so I guess take it for what you will.

The 360 has shown up Down Under and evidently has sold rather well.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is an awesome single player game for the 360. A wide open world to explore and nearly limitless possibilities of things for your character to do, this game should be on most owner's lists of must haves. Don't just take my word for it though, the paper of record agrees!

Review - Dream Theater: Philadelphia March 29, 2006

Dream Theater is the best band ever. Hooray! More fanboy gushing after the fold.

Well, disagree with that as you may, but they put on an awsome show. Clocking in at almost three hours, with no opening act, the tickets may have been a little on the expensive side but there's a lot of value there. The show took place at The Tower Theater, which is a brilliant old vaudville theater converted first to a movie theater, in the 50's, and then to a music venue in the 70's. It's very ornately decorated, which generally makes for a more interesting experience than a grass lawn or a characterless club.

This is the fourth time I've seen DT in concert. Twice it was on tours where they co-headlined with another act (the first time with Joe Satriani and the second with Queensryche) and now twice in what they call "An Evening With..." shows where the band plays two sets with a short intermission and capped off by an encore. DT has been, in my experience, universally superb live. They perfectly balance the benefits of playing the songs like they sound on the album with altering them enough for the live show to give you a reason not to just sit home and listen to their albums. Dream Theater can actually play their songs live, unlike too many bands who sound great when they're in the studio and can tweak everything until it's perfect, but sound sloppy live. Though they don't have all the pyrotechnic excitment of some shows, the band had three nice and big video displays behind them showing all kinds of interesting videos and lighting effects.

This is the band's 20th Anniversary tour, so as you would imagine the first half of the show and part of the second was comprised of songs off each of their previous seven albums with the bulk of the second half taken up by playing more than half of their newest album, Octavarium. The videos playing behind the band during their tour through the years showed behind the scenes pictures and video from the era of the song they were playing.

One interesting surprise was a song written in the mid-nineties that never made it onto an album. I'm afraid I can't remember the song title off the top of my head, but it's almost guaranteed that they're going to play it at the upcoming show at Radio City Music Hall, which will be recorded and released as both a CD set and DVD, so I'll know it then I suppose.

The one small flaw to the show which has been true every time I see them and probably will always be there is that when you have a singer who plays no instrument and frequent instrumental sections it's going to be impossible for him to find something interesting to do while he waits. Fortunately James LaBrie has learned over the years to just leave the stage altogether for the longer instrumentals, but for the shorter ones he does seem a bit silly with nothing really to do. Still, that's not his fault and he does his best to keep the crowd's energy up in his down time.

All in all, what do you look for in a show? They had a great set list which included both fan favorites and some deeper cuts/unknowns. They played crisply, flawlessly. At the same time they added in some clever alterations, such as two interludes in "Peruvian Skies" where they broke into "Wish You Where Here" by Pink Floyd and "Wherever I May Roam" by Metallica, to make the listening experience somewhat exciting and new. Oh, and at two times during the show I got members of the band to look at me and wave/point/thumbs up/etc. Yeah, I'm not above fanboy gushing, what of it?! Despite not being quite as close to the stage as I would have liked, that was super sweet.

To close, Dream Theater is awesome.

Here's the set list for my show as I remember it. When the official setlist is online I'll try to update here.

1. The Root of All Evil
2. Another Won
3. Afterlife
4. Take the Time
5. Caught In a Web
6. Peruvian Skies
7. ?
8. Home
9. War Inside My Head / The Test That Stumped Them All
14. Endless Sacrifice
15. I Walk Beside You
16. Sacrificed Sons
17. Octavarium
18. Wait for Sleep
19. Learning To Live

Jeebus said sit down and shut up!

Ah, a virtual treasure trove of shaming those nasty young women who think they have the right to be sexual or have opinions -- and, of course, it's a shaming in the name of Jeebus. Everyone knows there's nothing he hates more than the female orgasm! Be sure to check out the rest of the site; that 'letter' from 'Christian Guys' complaining about having to (the horror!) be attracted to women is really funny. You see, men are physiologically determined to treat women as nothing more than objects of desire whenever they can see any of the skin between their neck and knees (or ankles ... or below the neck ... or something). This is why it's not a guy's fault when he's addressing your cleavage rather than your face. You put it there, he HAD to stare! (That rhymes, so it must be true.)

Note to self: Write post explaining what is so fucking mysterious about cleavage that it causes men to stare and even drool a little.

Note to self II: Figure out what is so fucking mysterious about cleavage that it causes men to stare and even drool a little.

Anyways: it's blockquote time!

A real woman ...

…does not wallow in self-pity or make a habit of voicing complaints, but radiates cheerfulness and joy. (Proverbs 15:15, Proverbs 17:22)

…appreciates her father’s protection, and respects and submits to his authority. In so doing, she is preparing herself to exercise the Biblical role in her relationship with a possible future husband. (Ephesians 5:33-6:3, 1 Peter 3:1-2)

…does not have a nagging, contentious or manipulative manner in which she deals with others. (Judges 16:16, Proverbs 21:9, 19, 26:21)

…is not boisterous or loud in her speech or actions but is characterized by a gentle and quiet spirit. (Proverbs 9:13, 1 Peter 3:4)

…is not offended by respect shown her through gentlemanly courtesies (opening doors, etc.) but cultivates the differences between the sexes that make her worthy of this deference. (1 Peter 3:7, Mark 10:6)

I never knew the Bible forbade women from opening doors. You learn something new every day.

…seeks to make God her number one desire and the Lover of her soul, knowing that only He can fully satisfy. (Psalm 73:25, Psalm 63:1)

Go ahead, snicker like you're 12. I did. "Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh Jeeeeeebussss".

…does not relate to members of the opposite sex in a flirtatious or forward manner, but instead saves all her passion for her future husband. (Thessalonians 4:3-8, Proverbs 6:25, 1 Corinthians 7:1)

…holds her virginity before marriage sacred and will not compromise it for anything. (This one goes for guys too)
(1 Timothy 5:22)

Guys, of course, are still allowed to flirt, stare at cleavage, and receive blowjobs. It's just girls who aren't allowed to have orgasms.

And the best part ... check out the writer's interests (on her blogger profile): "Learning to run a household and be a helpmeet".

Excelsior! (Poll: Should I sign all of my posts with 'Excelsior!'?)

March 28, 2006

Living off $15,000 sucks

but is certainly doable, especially if you're a single person sharing a house in Indiana.

Also having to pay $200 on your tax return sucks.

And anticipating having to pay $700 (if not much, much more) in medical expenses to keep your teeth from falling out sucks a lot. Though, admittedly, not as badly as when you have to actually pay it.

Plus, in the next five weeks, I will have to have written approximately 16,000 words in philosophy papers.

You might say I'm a little stressed right now.

March 26, 2006

Home-cooked meals ... kind of

The NYT talks about 'meal preparation centers', where customers assemble precut and semi-cooked ingredients into what are, essentially, frozen dinners, then take them home to heat and serve to their families over the following week. Customers are, apparently, encouraged to adjust the meals to their families' needs -- less salt, or vegetarian options, etc. But the ingredients are almost the same as you'll find in college dining halls, fast food, or frozen dinners -- even supplied by the same companies -- making the nutritional and culinary value of these meals just as questionable.

So what value do these meals have? The cookbook author the writers talked to has one theory: "People basically don't want to cook but they don't want to be told they are not cooking". This certainly isn't a charitable hypothesis; is there a more appealing alternative? Nutrition has already been ruled out. The article seems to suggest two other possibilities: these meals offer more variety than a fast-food rotation without taking much time, and the centers themselves have a relaxing, communal environment.

The problem with the first possibility is that it doesn't take much cooking skill to be able to prepare a healthy meal in less than an hour; Rachael Ray has built an entire career at Food Network on '30 Minute Meals', and I have at least one other cookbook that delivers on a promise of fast, easy, healthy food. Yes, it will probably be a little more involved, and take a little more time, but will definitely be less expensive and the meals will be significantly better.

The additional time commitment isn't even all that significant, so long as the entire family gets involved -- now that my step-sisters are 13 and 17, for example, no-one should be fixing dinner more than twice during the weeks they're staying with my dad and his wife. Not to mention informal dinner parties and potlucks, which make dinner into a far more communal affair than trading jokes with the overworked mom at the next assembly station.

Beyond creating the illusion of cooking for people who think actually learning to cook is too hard or too time-consuming, I don't see anything good about these centers that a decent kitchen and cookbook can't do better.

Hit parade

Well, it appears we have a number of guests via Ampersand's link to my '20 questions' post below (our visit count for the day is roughly triple the usual). Welcome, everyone; we hope you leave a comment and drop by again soon.

People have also stumbled upon us via teh search engine; sadly, it appears some of them have been potential plagiarists, and anti-choice ones at that. Others, however, were just looking for candy and the theme to Outlaws, a fine old game. We hope they found what they were looking for, even though we couldn't help them. Search hits from the last 48 hours or so:

"cuban missile" thesis argument
funny milkway commercial
free papers on morally impermissible abortions
Indentured Servant philosophy student blog
ultrasound thumb sucking
Abortion: An Argument in Ethics consequentialism
lucasarts Outlaws Theme guitar tabs

Two short stories

I. The great professor stood in front of the class, stroking his beard in self-satisfaction. Slowly the girl in the third row raised her hand, and just as slowly all eyes turned back to look at her.
II. He's gone now, taken away by the cops, but she doesn't cry. The sting of his hand on her face was the sound of the key in the prison door lock.

And one that's not mine:
On September 3rd 1973, at 6:28pm and 32 seconds, a bluebottle fly capable of 14,670 wing beats a minute landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre. At the same moment, on a restaurant terrace nearby, the wind magically made two glasses dance unseen on a tablecloth. Meanwhile, in a 5th-floor flat, 28 Avenue Trudaine, Paris 9, returning from his best friend's funeral, Eugène Colère erased his name from his address book. At the same moment, a sperm with one X chromosome, belonging to Raphaël Poulain, made a dash for an egg in his wife Amandine. Nine months later, Amélie Poulain was born.

March 24, 2006

Esoteric philosophy musing of the day

Both Kierkegaard's 'teacher-god' in the Preface to Philosophical fragments and Nietzsche's eponymous Zarathustra are, quite deliberately, characters resembling both Socrates and Christ. While we're fairly certain (or, we know) that Nietzsche didn't read Kierkegaard, Zarathustra is almost an inversion of the teacher-god -- the same kind of inversion that Kierkegaard is using against Hegel with the teacher-god itself. Is this accidental? Or perhaps there's some historical subtlety here that could tell us interesting things about the proto-existentialists of the nineteenth century.

March 23, 2006

20 Questions For Pro-Choice People

Some anti-choice ethicist put together a list of 'Questions for pro-choice people'. The list is more than just the questions -- each includes a couple paragraphs of exposition and a quick defence -- but I'm only going to quote the questions themselves.

1. At what point do you think that a human being, with human rights, comes into existence? Is it at birth, or earlier?
Personally, I believe this happens at birth, when a foetus becomes an infant. Some pro-choice people, such as David Boonin, argue that the foetus develops rights when it has a brain capable of having interests, or when it becomes viable, which are both around the 23rd week. But, more to the point, having human rights doesn't entitle the foetus to live as a parasite off the mother -- at least, not without further argument.

2. What keeps us from legalizing infanticide?
The answer to this question depends on the answer to the previous one. I would say that infanticide is impermissible and ought to remain illegal because the care for a (typical, healthy) infant is externalizable, while the care for a foetus is not -- the only person who can provide the foetus the life support it needs prior to viability is the pregnant woman, while anyone can care for an infant. Hence, the infant's right to life doesn't conflict with anyone's right to bodily integrity.

3. Suppose someone were to argue as follows: "There is a lack of consensus about when human life begins; therefore, abortion should be prohibited throughout pregnancy." Why is this argument any more, or less, reasonable than the argument that:"There is a lack of consensus about when human life begins; therefore, abortion should be allowed throughout pregnancy?"
I've used something like the latter argument as a call for tolerance, but I don't think anyone has put it forward as a serious argument that abortion is permissible that's supposed to stand on its own. If anyone does, I'm ready to say that's a bad argument.

4. What do you think about cases where the woman's conscience tells her that abortion is not a good thing--because she thinks she is killing her baby--but she wants an abortion anyway. Why should these abortions be allowed?
We should also ask why she wants the abortion anyway. If motivations are salient, then the motivation that's particularly salient is the motivation for following a course of action. If she wants the abortion simply for because she wants to destroy another living being, then that's probably impermissible. But I have problems with resting morality on motivations; for me, the important question is how to untangle the conflict of rights, especially when the question is one of law (as opposed to morality). This leads me to argue that her motivations don't matter: whatever her motivations are, she's entitled to deny the use of her body to another being.

5. Did Roe v. Wade merely open up a space for a view that had no standing before--the view that abortion is in some circumstances permissible--or did it completely replace one view, the pro-life view, with some other view opposed to it--so that pro-life people could complain, with justice, that some alien and unjustified view has been imposed upon them?
Abortion opponents are legally permitted to do almost anything short of harassment and physical obstruction to articulate their views. I would also say that acts of nonviolent civil disobedience are morally permissible, even though they are not legally permissible. What other courses of action ought to be considered morally permissible for abortion opponents, and other critics of the status quo? Threats of violence and verbal assault?

6. How should we regard a forced abortion of a pro-life woman's fetus?
As a violation of her right to bodily integrity, and hence on a par with a prohibition of abortion.

7. Why is it only the female parent's opinion which determines the status of the child?
Because the foetus is physiologically dependent on the use of her body, and only her body, for its survival until birth.
NB: Check out this patriarchal bullshit (my emphasis):

Yet surely to be a parent, a generator of the fetus, a procreator, is to have a closer relationship to the fetus than merely to contain the child physically. And we can raise the question, again, of whether in fact such a husband is allowed to live out his pro-life convictions in our society. It is not even clear that the husband is "free not to have an abortion", as the bumper sticker alleges, if his wife wants to have one. What if his wife is set on aborting every one of his children?

8. Suppose a woman who wanted an abortion were first to observe her unborn child through ultrasound technology. In such images, the hands and feet of the child are typically discernible, and even within the first trimester, it is common to see the unborn child sucking his or her thumb. I ask the pro-choice person: why aren't such images shown to woman, as part of informed consent preceding abortion?
If this proposal is motivated by informing the pregnant woman, then presumably these images convey some salient information. But it's hard to see what is salient about a superficial resemblance to humanity in regards to the issue of balancing competing rights claims.

9. If you think abortion should be allowed, can you consistently maintain that there any human rights at all?

10. [Draws an analogy between 'states rights' apologists for slavery and the bodily integrity position of the pro-choicer.]
There are numerous problems with this analogy. Perhaps the most blatant is drawing an analogy between, on the one hand, the rights claims made by women to bodily integrity, and on the other, the rights claims made by the slavery states to a certain amount of sovereignty. The latter is, essentially, a claim that the state has the authority to deny the personhood of certain human beings living within its boundaries. The former has several variations, such as the following: (a) the claim that the foetus, prior to developing a neocortex or becoming viable, does not have rights, as it does not have interests; and (b) the claim that, even if the foetus does have a right to life prior to the times in (a), the right to bodily integrity still trumps the right to life. One might challenge claim (a), arguing that it is too dependent on our current science, just as apologists for slavery turned to the science of their day to vindicate their racism. But (b) does not seem to have an analogous counterpart in the context of slavery.

11. Does anyone wish that his mother had chosen abortion for him? And, if not, then how can he consistently wish that any mother choose abortion for anyone else?
Boonin discusses this 'golden rule' argument in some detail. The version presented here is so vague that addressing it would require first developing it; in the interest of space, I direct the reader to Boonin's book.

12. Developing the analogy with slavery, we might wonder how abortion is at all compatible with the idea that all human beings are equal. After all, it is inconsistent with equality that one person have his fundamental rights conferred upon him by someone else.
Strawfeminist; does anyone argue that the foetus "has rights only if they are granted by the mother"?

13. Why isn't legal abortion outright discrimination? I think "discrimination" occurs in its clearest form when someone bases a decision about another person's rights, privileges, or position, on some arbitrary and irrelevant feature of that other person.
The 'irrelevant feature' here is "whether one is living inside or outside one's mother's womb". This is entirely salient to the question of whether its continued existence depends on the use of exactly one other person's body, which is the locus of the conflicting rights claims.

14. Isn't legal abortion be contrary to responsible principles of decision under uncertainty? If it were true that we "don't know when human life begins," it would follow, of course, that we don't know that the fetus is not a living human being; that is, we don't know that abortion is not morally equivalent to murder. But isn't that precisely what we ought to know, before allowing abortion?
The issue is one of conflicting rights claims, and I argue this clearly goes in the direction of the permissibility of abortion whatever the status of the foetus' right to life.

15. In every abortion the fetus is cut into pieces, ripped or torn apart, or poisoned. No one would want to treat a small kitten or puppy in that manner, nor does the law allow to do so, so why should we allow anyone to treat immature human beings in that way?
Because, if the foetus has a right to life, the unfortunate fact is that this right is in conflict with, and trumped by, the pregnant woman's right to bodily integrity. It is entirely consistent for defenders of abortion to argue that it is impermissible so long as the viable foetus can be safely delivered.

16. Why is an abortion traumatic, but an appendectomy is not? If the fetus really is just a clump of tissue, why should there be any fuss about abortion? Indeed, if an abortion were in reality just like an appendectomy, how would it be possible for pro-life people to get others agitated about it? The very fact that there is a dispute at all about abortion seems to show that the pro-life view is correct and that abortions should not be performed.
'I believe X is true' does not imply 'X is true'. This reasoning would easily be transformed into an argument that the pro-choice position is correct.

17. Why is it that doctors are allowed to do abortions? Even if abortions should be legal, shouldn't they be performed by some other sort of agent? Just as we do not allow doctors to administer injections for capital punishment, shouldn't we also bar doctors from doing abortions?
I simply don't understand this question.

18. Suppose a genetic marker for homosexuality is found, and a test is devised for this, and couples begin to abort fetuses with this marker. Should this practice be made illegal?
Clearly this practice is of questionable morality. But that does not mean it ought to be illegal. See my answer to question 4.

19. Suppose that, in decided [sic] some case, the Supreme Court decides to dispense with argument and legal reasoning and instead rolls dice to decide whether a laws is unconstitutional. Would its decision in that case have had any authority? But what if the Court doesn't role dice but also gives no constitutional reasons for its conclusion? In fact it gave no reasons in Roe v. Wade: the substance of the decision can be summed up in the bald assertions: the right to privacy contains the right to an abortion; the state has no legitimate interest in fetal life until viability.
The lawyers/law students here can probably explain things better, but my understanding is that the Roe decision draws heavily on the decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which does give an argument that the Constitution guarantees a right to privacy. Hence, Roe did not need to argue for a Constitutional right to privacy, merely reference Griswold. Furthermore, even if the legal reasoning in the Roe decision was suspect, that only means that there is not yet an accepted argument that abortion is legally permissible; it does not imply that no such argument can be found, much less that abortion is morally impermissible.

(Even though the title is '20 Questions', there are only nineteen in this document.)


March 20, 2006

We're all monsters

so we dance

Foucault: You can't fight the system, not really. But you can carve out your own little space, and that's the closest we come to freedom.

Kant: There are two duties. To improve yourself, and to make other better able to improve themselves. Both are equally important. Being lucky enough to be white and middle class doesn't mean you're required to be miserable and hate your privilege 24-7. If you're going to stay sane, and do what little you can, you've got to try being happy once in a while.

Nietzsche: Life is shit. Unless you dance. Then the dance is life, and life, for that one little moment, is glorious. And that is the moment life is for.

Review: V For Vendetta

The previews of V for Vendetta may be one of the more deceptive ad campaigns in recent memory. Based on the preview you'd think V was about explosions, guns, and Matrix style martial arts, but if I had to guess I'd say that out of the 2 1/4 hours that the movie runs the action scenes only account for fifteen minutes; twenty at a maximum. Now, some of the negative reviews that you'll find out there take this as a major criticism, but while I certainly think the studio could have promoted the film a bit more...accurately I guess, I certainly don't have a problem with movies that have lots of talking. This is a movie about ideas, both literally and figuratively, and sometimes if you're making and idea movie you just need to have a lot of talking. Heaven forbid we take a break from the admittedly cool fight scenes to think a bit. This is likely to turn into a long and rambling review, so if you'd like to get off the train here just know that I liked the film and I think you should all go see it, just don't expect non-stop action. It's also worth noting that as far as film adaptations of graphic novels go, particularly those based on the works of Alan Moore, this is among the most true to the source material. If you'd like to see me ramble on a bit more, check below the fold.

These lengthy talking scenes are carried off by a wonderful cast of both characters and the actors portraying them. Most, if not all, of the characters are conflicted in some way, and there's only one character that I would really consider a "bad guy" in the sense that they are irredeemably evil. Even John Hurt's Adam Sutler, the dictator of V's dystopic England, who commits atrocities but who, I believe it's implied, genuinly believes he's best for the country, even if we think he's rather misguided. The task of moving most of the movie forward is carried admirably by Hugo Weaving as the eponymic V. It's actually reletively amazing how Weaving, with I'm sure help from the direciton and editing, manages to make the masked V emote in one scene and become the indecipherable blank slate you would expect from a masked man in the next. Natalie Portman carries of Evey very well, which is all the more difficult considering the extreme emotional shift her character goes through. Yeah, she botches a couple lines with an imperfect accent, but it didn't bother me and I've always thought that the people that latch onto that sort of thing are really nitpicking.

The film is extremely political for a supposed action adventure and as you will surely read in some of the negative reviews, it comes down smashingly hard on the more facistic elements of the conservative movement. It doesn't hide the message and it's not embarrassed by its condemnations. My view is that if that turns some people off, well that's their problem. V is not fighting fiscal responsibility, nor is he debating the propriety of a free market or other conservative philosophy. V is fighting the tyrannical elements present in the modern conservative movement taken to their logical extreme. If some of the elements of their society look shockingly like ours, for instance the "Voice of London" Lewis Prothero who will immediately bring to mind any number of conservative pundits, that should just bring into relief how out of control some elements of modern conservatism are.

That said, there are some reviews out there that make the claim that the film endorses terrorism, and it's simply not true. What is true is that the film makes a statement that terrorism *can* be used for noble ends and that sometimes violence can bring about positive change. V himself, though generally treated positively, is also quite obviously a madman and a monster, but we see his goals as noble so we forgive him. As Obiwan taught us all, it's all a matter of perspective.

Ok, so this isn't my finest review. I've rambled on quite a bit now and the overall structure of this thing is horrible. I've highlighted the entirety of this text a number of times thinking that I'd start over, but then I sit here and try to think of some more concise way to sum up the film and I can't discover one. This is a film that will get you thinking and get a group talking, and much as I ramble on here mulling over my thoughts as they unravel bit by bit, you're just as likely to sit around with people bringing up various aspects of the film and talking about or debating them. I can't think of a better sign of the film's success.

Incidentally, here's the Wikipedia link for Guy Fawkes, since he and his plot figure so prominently in the film and comic.

March 19, 2006

Bulghur burgers

This is an extremely easy and relatively quick (an hour from walking into the kitchen to eating) veggie burger that I think tastes much better than store-bought patties. As-written it's vegan, but also somewhat sticky; if you're sure your guests can eat it, you might try adding a quarter cup of mayonnaise or an egg. Be sure to check the ingredients list for your buns -- they're often glazed with eggs.

Based on a recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant. Makes 6-8 burgers, and keeps nicely in the fridge for 3 days if covered.

This is easiest if you have a food processor: the carrots can be grated directly into the bowl, and combining everything is easier if the processor's doing the work. But it should still be pretty easy by hand.

3 cups water
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 cups bulghur (a grain; check near the oatmeal or flour)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, or 2 tbsp dried
1/4 cup tahini (check the 'international' or 'ethnic' aisle)
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 8-oz can of chick peas or garbanzo beans
dash of ground black pepper
bread cups (Japanese or panko are preferable, but ordinary crumbs will do fine)

Bring the water to a boil. While it is heating use a heavy pan or skillet to saute the garlic and bulghur in the oil on medium-high heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the boiling water carefully -- it will steam. Return to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 or 20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the bulghur is soft but still chewy.

While the bulghur is cooking, combine all the other ingredients except the bread crumbs in a large bowl and stir or process in 2-second bursts about 5 times to combine. Add the bulghur and stir process for 15-30 seconds to combine. Add crumbs in 1/2 cup batches until the burgers can be firmed into patties.

To cook: Bake on 375* for 20 minutes on a lightly-greased or nonstick sheetpan, or a sheetpan lined with parchment paper. Or cook in a small amount of oil on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, flipping as each side is done. Grilling is not recommended, unless you're sure the burgers still stay together on the grill.

Women In Refrigerators

I've been reading and thinking about Women in Refrigerators Syndrome (WiRS) the last couple days, after I ran across it on Wikipedia. I'd heard about it before but never really spent much time on it.

The long and short of WiRS is that in comic books, though people have pointed out this is relevent to other forms of fiction as well, a surprising amount of female characters are killed, maimed, raped, de-powered, or otherwise injured and this injury is used as a way to push the male character forward. Often this establishes the villain who inflicted the injury as the heroes primary nemesis, though there are other uses as well.

Here's the website that chronicles the female characters affected by WiRS, several responses from prominent comic book writers, and several reader responses. I think this is pretty interesting stuff. Hopefully you will too and we'll have a lively discussion.

The glass ceiling: law edition

When the New York Times talks about the issue of women and the workplace, it's usually in the form of patronizing articles about the supposed "opt-out" revolution, or some piece of sexist idiocy on the op-ed page. But today they actually have an interesting and relevant
piece on the under-representation of women at the highest levels of prestigious law firms:

Although the nation's law schools for years have been graduating classes that are almost evenly split between men and women, and although firms are absorbing new associates in numbers that largely reflect that balance, something unusual happens to most women after they begin to climb into the upper tiers of law firms. They disappear.

Their attention is still fixed firmly on the upper-middle-class and wealthy, but at least they acknowledge the reality of discrimination. Or something; you try to parse the following quotation:

"Firms want women to stay. Men at the firms want women to stay, and women want to stay. So why aren't they?" asks Karen M. Lockwood, a partner at Howrey in Washington. "Law firms are way beyond discrimination — this is about advancement and retention. Problems with advancement and retention are grounded in biases, not discrimination."

March 18, 2006


Right now, the feminist blogosphere is undergoing one of those panoptic moments where everyone is hypercritical over whether everyone else is really and truly, deep down, a feminist. In particular, there's a lot of argument over whether Hugo has done some moderate to highly shitty things. The biggest grievance seems to be that he lets anti-feminists say very stupid and often sexist things in the comments, but there's also concern over whether he's more lenient in letting anti-feminists say rude and insulting things about other commentators than feminists. In my experience, Hugo doesn't come back to his comments much -- maybe welcoming a de-lurker or appreciating a particularly insightful point, or telling people to get the discussion back to the topic of the original post, but little in the way of actually participating in the dialogue.

So here's what I see: a busy man who lets people use his blog as a Jeffersonian marketplace of ideas. So long as flinging rhetoric doesn't turn into flinging invective, he wants his blog to be a space where people can come together to compare and contrast their different points of view. Ideally, this would be done rationally and charitably, but of course that's not the way it goes, so sometimes he'll have to ban someone or close a thread, though he'll be very reluctant to do that.
If he has been giving anti-feminists more latitude than feminists, then that's a problem, and it's good that people are pointing this out. If he needs a stricter moderation policy to keep the discussion from degenerating to the same shit within the first half-dozen comments on every post, and it's just a waste of time and aesther otherwise, then it's good that people are pointing this out.

But then we have things like this (not work-safe):

It seems like two of the male "feminist" big boys have taken to chastising wimmin and attempting to define the parameters of their rage as these wimmin head-on engage with some not even perpetrating "feminist", actual dyed in the wool anti-feminist males. It seems that the male "feminists" don't think the wimmin are playing nice. :)

Sound familiar? Some of the "big girl club" feminists, those higher on the blogosphere food chain than yours truly are outraged and surprised that their male "feminist" comrades in the struggle would attempt to dominate them rather than deal effectively with other men by curtailing their oppressive advances into what are supposed to be safe spaces set up for "feminist" men. :)

To which I can only say "wha?" Let's suppose that Hugo has been chastising his feminist commentators, telling them they have to be polite and civil while letting the anti-feminists get away with all variety of personal insults; I haven't seen any evidence of this, but let's just suppose.

Does this mean that Hugo has done this out of a patriarchal motivation -- to control his women commentators? If my sense of the situation is right, then the answer is no, and Hugo simply wants everyone to be civil, but needs it pointed out that he's not been moderating fairly. Or that a random spot-check method of weeding out the nastiest commentators isn't working.

Does this mean that Hugo has chosen not to "deal effectively" with anti-feminists, where that means chasing them away from "safe spaces set up for wimmin"? This question seems ill-posed, as Hugo's blog is not intended to be a place where feminists can talk amongst themselves without worrying about anti-feminists; I'm sure Hugo would agree that feminist-only spaces are valuable, but that's not what he's trying to create. You can't have a totally safe, for-feminists-only space that welcomes anti-feminists; that's just absurd. (I'm also unclear why it's Hugo's job to debunk all the sexist crap coming from the anti-feminists, as some commentators have said he should be doing.)

It's one thing to insist on equal treatment. It's another to insist that other people privilege your point of view over others (in fact, it's probably the opposite). While it's true that "courtesy is a mask and an evil, deadly weapon [when] wielded by some", this does not mean that it is always brought forth as a patriarchal cudgel. Nor does courtesy require stifling emotion. It's simply one way folks with diametrically opposed points of view can interact -- and for the purpose of sharing ideas (*not* bringing about justice), it's probably the most effective.

Should feminists always be civil, polite, and suppress the bile that rises at the recognition of injustice? Fuck no. But is rage always the best and most productive means of destroying injustice? Fuck no. Unless you really do want the totalitarian matriarchy anti-feminists are always worrying about, you are going to have to learn to get along with people who disagree with you at least some of the time.

March 17, 2006

Oh nooes! White kids acting like black kids!

Certainly there's a lot not to like about hip-hop and gangsta culture, most prominently the ostentatious materialism, glorification of violence, and rampant sexism of the rappers and groups promoted by the mainstream music industry. But, except for the choice of words, you can find all that in every other genre remotely popular among teenagers today. So, of course, white parents in upper-middle-class Bay Area towns are all upset over the kids and the hip-hop. The most offensive items? Freaking (the sexually suggestive dancing style du jour), metal teeth ornaments, and the word "back" (as in "baby got back").

I say, the PTAs of these communities shouldn't hide their racism behind a genre that, at its best, is one of the most authentic artistic forms around these days. Just come out with simpler, more direct rules that penalize anyone for acting black. Be sure to include differential punishments, of course -- a white kid acting black gets suspended for the rest of the day, or has a couple of afternoons' of detention, while a black kid acting black gets expelled. After all, if the white kids are mimicing the idiots in music videos, well, they're still white, it's just a youthful indiscretion on the part of the future members of the ruling class; but when black kids start actually expressing themselves artistically, you know the racist power structure is under direct attack, and things have to be stomped out fast before that pesky Civil Rights Movement returns.

March 14, 2006

Enjoying commercials because they're funny

is like admiring the cinematography in Triumph of the Will.

PS3 Delayed

Evidently the official announcement isn't until tomorrow, but the Japanese launch of the much anticipated Sony Play Station 3 has been delayed from this Spring until November. While there's no word on the US release date, usually North American releases are between three and six months behind the Japanese launch. The reason stated for the delay is a problem with the copy protection on the device's Blu Ray disc drive.

Obviously, much of the discussion relating to this announcement has been overwhelmingly interpreting this as a positive for Microsoft's competing Xbox 360. The machine now has potentially another year before the North American launch of the PS3 to get more systems sold and a wider game liberary available. Also, it's possible that this could give Microsoft the ability to line up some extremely anticipated games, like Halo 3, for the PS3 launch as well as a price drop in the 360's hardware. People have also pointed out that Blu Ray players from other manufacturers, which will only play movies, have not had any significant delays and are expected this summer, leading to the conclusion that the real reason for the delay is that there simply aren't enough games that will be ready for a PS3 launch this spring.

Update: The official announcement is out: Sony will release the PS3 worldwide in November, as Microsoft did last November. Of course, Microsoft had trouble producing enough machines to meet world wide demand, leading to shortages pretty much everywhere. Sony had trouble with shortages of the PS2 when it launched, and that machine had a staggered launch worldwide. Long story short; if you want a PS3 at launch, preorder the machine early or expect to either pay through the nose on Ebay or wait several months until production can ramp up to meet demand.

Teleological thinking

Think SoR has suddenly turned a corner, and our average .75 posts a day has quadrupled overnight? Hate to disappoint, but this really is just the Spring Break fluke.

Now, we have a fascinating essay on the way we seem to be psychologically predisposed to misunderstand evolution:

The objects to which children will attribute a purpose range from animal parts (e.g., legs are for walking) to whole animals (lions exist 'to go in the zoo'), and even non-biological kinds (clouds exist to make rain). In addition, when asked whether someone created the first of a particular item, children are likely to answer yes for all three kinds of objects (artifacts, biological kinds, and non-biological natural kinds)4. It's understandable, then, why evolution should be difficult to teach to children: it is counterintuitive. Both the non-teleological aspects of evolutionary explanations of the origins of biological kinds, and the lack of a need for an intelligent designer go against children's natural view of things.

There's more, but I want to focus on teleology in particular, as I follow Nietzsche in taking teleological thinking to be some of the most pernicious in our species. As he puts it in The gay science (this bit will be long):

109. Let us beware --
Let us beware of thinking that the world is a living being. Where should it expand? On what should it feed? How could it grow and multiply? We have some notion of the nature of the organic; and we should not reinterpret the exceedingly derivative, late, rare, accidental, that we perceive only on the crust of the earth and make of it something essential, universal, and eternal, which is what those people do who call the universe an organism. This nauseats me. Let us even beware of believing that the universe is a machine: it is certainly not constructed for one purpose, and calling it a `machine' does it far too much honor.

Let us beware of positing generally and everywhere anything as elegant as the cyclical movements of our neighboring stars; even a glance into the Milky Way raises doubts whether there are not far coarser and more contradictory movement there as well as stars with eternally linear paths, etc. The astral order in which we live is an exception; this order and the relative duration that depends on it have again made possible an exception of exceptions: the formation of the organic. The total character of the world, however, is in all eternity chaos -- in the sense not of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms. Judged from the point of view of our reason, unsuccessful attempts are by all odds the rule, the exceptions are not the secret aim, and the whole musical box repeats eternally its tune which may never be called a melody -- and ultimately even the phrase `unsuccessful attempt' is too anthropomorphic and repraochful. But how could we reproach or praise the universe? Let us beware of attributing to it heartlessness and unreason or their opposites: it is neither perfect nor beautiful, nor noble, nor does it wish to become any of these things; it does not by any means strive to imitate man. None of our aesthetic and moral judgements apply to it. Nor does it have any instinct for self-preservation or any other instinct; and it does not observe any laws either. Let us beware of saying there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses. Once you know that there are no purposes, you also know that there is no accident; for it is only beside a world of purposes that the word 'accident' has meaning. Let us beware of saying that death is opposed to life. The living is merely a type of what is dead, and a very rare type.

Let us beware of thinking that the world eternally creates new things. There are no eternally enduring substances; matter is as much of an error as the God of the Eleatics. But when shall we ever be done with our caution and care? When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our de-deification of nature? When may we being to `naturalize' humanity in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?

Nietzsche's emphasis.

Embracing the idea that we are not part of anything supernatural, that the only purpose our lives have is the purpose we believe it has, is extraordinarily difficult. This, I think, is why theism is so important, and ultimately so inescapable: for whatever reason, we are driven to locate ourselves in a higher order, and most people are either unwilling or unable to make the existential and cognitive leap to embrace the chaos and anti-supernaturalism Nietzsche is calling for here.

And, of course, the theory of natural selection is not an instance of teleological thinking. Without throwing in a god to generate the right mutations at the right time, the theory has no final ends and no given destination, merely individual organisms going about their business. But even its defenders can fall back into teleological thinking -- witness Richard Dawkins' theory of the selfish gene, wherein organisms are the means by which genes pursue their purpose, the end (telos) of replication.

March 13, 2006

EC != the abortion pill


Broadsheet reader Briana Hill wrote this weekend to tell us that as she was filling out a Zogby poll, she came across a question that read, 'Do you think that the 'morning-after' abortion pill, commercially known as Plan B, should be available over the counter or should it be available only by prescription?'

My emphasis, just in case you missed it on the first pass. Mistaking Emergency Contraception for RU-486 (the pill that causes abortion) is woefully common. Friday afternoon, I was involved in a very confusing conversation due to exactly this. I was saying that EC is only known to work by prevent ovulation and fertilization, not implantation, and she was saying it causes changes in the lining of the uterus -- and this is a woman who worked at Planned Parenthood for six months!

As they move on abortion rights, anti-choicers are already making plenty of noise about the similar 'immorality' of birth control. Don't let their static mix you up. As Amanda put it,

I think that it’s just all too tempting for anti-choicers who oppose contraception in general and especially women-controlled contraception to play off the folk belief that conception happens the minute a man ejaculates.

This is not a surprise (a little Foucaultean political analysis)

The Democratic leadership doesn't want to work with grassroots partisans:

Many - if not most - national Democrats really are afraid of working with actual citizens, and are particularly afraid of having any involvement at all with the blogosphere. It’s as though they think they need to remain above and separated from the poorly behaved, embarrassing masses. They actually have been scared away from working with the very people who they are supposedly representing and who are on their side.

The author wants to think of this as a new phenomenon -- that movement conservatives have made some kind of pre-emptive strike against (progressive) bloggers as vital allies of progressive politicians.

But this assumes there are progressive politicians. Not politicians who toss off some progressive rhetoric around election time. Politicians who actually have progressive values, and fight for progressive causes. The people at the top of the Democratic party right now are not progressives. They've carved out their own little niche in the social power structure, and this position is critically dependent on being a 'Washington insider'. The grassroots progressives aren't allies of the Democratic leadership; they're objects of power and pawns to be pushed around. The only power the Democratic party leadership has right now is making progressives vote for them as 'the lesser of two evils'.

The Republican party leadership actually works in exactly the same way. Every single policy they pursue is designed to make conservatives vote for them; it's just that the Republican party's current means of expressing this power over the conservative grassroots is the state, rather than rhetoric. They can thus actually punish women for daring to have sex lives, instead of just talking about punishing women for daring to have sex lives.

The leadership of both parties aren't frightened. They're precisely where they want to be, and they're going to do everything they can to maintain the status quo, at least insofar as they stay where they are.

Pam comes close to realizing this herself:

Nothing seems to hurt these impotent folks more than having to take a stand on anything remotely progressive, heaven knows they get tagged as “outside of the mainstream” by the lazy, bought-off MSM and even worse, the GOP — why let that morally bankrupt party drive this train?

But she can't quite seem to let go of the idea that `deep down', the Democratic party `is' the progressive party. It's not, and that's why it needs to be completely rebuilt as such, or an alternative needs to supplant it entirely.


Do anyone know of a good site that archives teevee commercials? I wanted to write something about one that's been in rotation recently, but can't find a link for the benefit of those who haven't seen it.

The horror ... the horror ...

All adjectives except godsawful fail me, although I might also be able to muster a 'gaudy monstrosity'.

This is better still.


I can't recall the last time I saw a more dead-on deconstruction of Libertarianism:

The flaw in Cathy's thinking - and in the thinking of most libertarians - is that she mistakenly writes as if the government were the only possible threat to freedom. In fact, the government is only one of many threats to freedom.

'Freedom,' as libertarians use the word, never seems to mean anything other than freedom from government intrusion. Real freedom, however, means having a wide range of attractive options. When someone's options are eliminated by the marketplace, by illness, or by lack of available assistance, that is as real a threat to their freedom as government intrusion.

Who does the non-custodial parent owe child support to?

I was wondering why there's been so much noise about 'Choice for men', the idiotic idea that men ought to be allowed to refuse to pay child support because women are allowed to abort a pregnancy. Turns out the noise has been in response to a suit filed in the US District Court in Detroit to argue precisely that. Teach me to not follow the links to Yahoo News.

Here's the level of intelligent discourse coming from the guy who wants to weasel out of that burden of $500 a month:

"I don't necessarily believe that men should be able to force women to do anything either way, but I believe their input should at least be taken into consideration,"

Anyways, I do have a substantial point to make.

Despite the national attention it has garnered, even the plaintiff's camp seems aware that the case is a little half-baked. Though NCM executive director Mel Feit said by phone that 'there is no way to know' how the courts will rule in the case, many past child-support decisions have been decided on the basis that the need of a child to receive support from both parents outweighs any unfairness to a man who didn't want to be a father.

Non-custodial parents don't pay child support to their children. They pay it to the custodial parent. I think this point is best made by considering a point made by David Boonin, that an infant acquires a right to support from its parents (or, more generally, its guardians) by virtue of certain 'salient actions' on the part of the parent. The particular example he gives is of a woman who takes her newborn infant home; on Boonin's account, she is thereby understood by all concerned (including the state) as implicitly consenting to provide the infant with food, shelter, an education, &c.

Now, in the case of a non-custodial parent, it does not appear any such salient actions have been committed: all he has done (assuming the non-custodial parent is the father, since this is more common than the other way around) is consent to sex with the mother. And, of course, the pro-choicer is going to argue that she doesn't incur any obligations to the foetus simply by consenting to sex.

The problem with this analysis is, in the philosophical jargon, that child support payments are externalizable, while pregnancy is not: if he doesn't pay child support, she has to pick up the slack; but no-one else can carry the pregnancy to term if she doesn't want to. Hence, child support payments aren't owed to the child. They're owed to the person who would otherwise incur the expenses of raising the child, ie, the custodial parent. Consenting to sex is a salient action, for incurring the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of having sex, whatever those consequences happen to be. It's no violation of equal protection if he has fewer options than she does for dealing with these consequences.

And, of course, it's not hard at all for men to guarantee that an infant will never, ever be one of those consequences.

March 11, 2006

gendergeek: Raping the Slayer

An interesting feminist analysis of rape in Buffy:

Even if we don’t indict Buffy for not being sufficiently hip to feminist discourse around representations of rape, we can challenge it for keeping its female characters so unaware of the sexually violence world in which they operate. While we see Willow half-crazy with grief and anger in 1.12 “Prophecy Girl” becuase the Master’s gang have violated the sanctity of Sunnydale High, we see no reaction whatsoever to any of the threats to their own physical autonomy. Indeed, while the women of Buffy acculumate knowledge about monstors and demons, the incidents of sexualised violence perpetrated against them evoke no similar understanding of gendered violence.

Via a guest blogger at Alas, who also has some interesting things to say.

March 10, 2006

Dumb NBC

Well, evidently NBC has been cracking down on You Tube for having videos of their shows available, particularly the clips from Saturday Night Live. While that's totally lame, at least they have the most popular clips, the recent rap stuff from SNL, up on It's a much smaller video than was posted on You Tube, but it probably won't be taken down either.


It's March in philosophyland, that magical time of year when college seniors who, for some reason, actually want to go to grad school in philosophy spend time hanging out with those of us who are already doing that. The idea is that us current grad students can make being a grad student in philosophy seem fun and interesting, as opposed to fun and interesting and a spectacular demand on one's time, and thereby attract future indentured servants, er, grad students.

Last night's conversation turned, at one point, to consequentialism, an approach to ethics I usually call utilitarianism. Whatever name you give it, the idea is that all actions are to be evaluated by their outcomes or consequences (hence the first name), and the best action is the one that brings about the most happiness or utility (hence the second name), or minimizes suffering, or balances these two, etc. Our potential grad student guest put forward the following thesis: discussions about public policy in this country us consequentialist reasoning much more than any talk about rights or duties or the role the government ought to play. That is, according to this thesis, people generally don't say a certain policy is bad because it violates our innate rights or that we ought to adopt a certain policy because the proper role of the government is such-and-such, and so on. Instead, much of the reasoning boils down to 'because otherwise too many people will get hurt' or 'it will be really expensive and won't get us much'.

A specific example will be helpful. Let's say we're legislators, and we pass a 'three strikes' law that punishes heroin possession with fines the first two instances, but with ten years in prison for the third instance. In our debate over whether to adopt this policy, we might have said that the repeated use of heroin is so immoral that those who do it must be punished in this way; or we might have said that heroin is so deadly we have to impose controls to keep so many people from ODing on it, and this is the most cost-efficient way of doing that. The second argument is a consequentialist argument, as it's motivated by the consequences of various actions.

Now, I responded to this that I think reasons play very, very little in policy decisions, and mostly you have pols wrapping themselves in convenient rhetoric. And it's also the case that many specific policies are nominally adopted because they're the most cost-efficient way of achieving a certain end (whether or not this is actually the case). In the drug law example, we're most likely going to see arguments like the second one, but I think those are just covering up for a 'drug users are evil and must be punished!' sentiment that really hasn't been subjected to any kind of reasoned reflection and evaluation.

However, I claim that the consequentialist arguments that do get tossed around do not go all the way to the bottom. For example, we can ask questions like 'why is it bad if people are ODing on heroin?' I don't think the consequentialist can answer this except by talking about how human suffering in general is bad; but then we can ask about why human suffering in general is bad. Ultimately, when we get to the most fundamental issues, we have to leave the consequentialist arguments behind. Consequentialism is a decent tool for figuring out which of several policies to use in pursuit of a given end, but it cannot figure out which ends we ought to be pursuing.

And I think a great example of this is the way feminists defend abortion rights (you knew it was coming sooner or later). One common pro-choice argument is that, when they do not have access to safe and legal means of aborting an unwanted pregnancy, women will turn to extremely unsafe means, symbolized by the bloody hanger. This is a consequentialist argument; but notice that it takes it for granted that women will pursue abortions, even by extremely dangerous means, to end unwanted pregnancies. This just begs the question of why women would do such things (and the answer that abortion is safer than giving birth only works when abortion is safe, not when its done by your older sister using a hanger).

What makes abortion so important for women? Why are women so determined to have one, even if it is illegal, and at the risk of their own lives??

Because we are human beings....

Yep... and we have these crazy ideas that we have a right to have dreams and aspirations. We also know that manfolk are not to be counted on.

I Hate People)

So what's the more defensible pro-choice argument? The most common argument you find in the feminist blogosphere. The rights -based argument.

Cybering For Real?

Cyber sex has long been the seedy underbelly of any number of online software. From chat programs to online games people have found a way to bring sex into places where it wasn't necessarily planned to be. Enter "Spend The Night" where I'm sure we can all surmise that sex was featured prominently on the whiteboard during planning stages for the game. Though I find the concept of online adult games generally intriguing, the part that really caught my eye was that bit right at the end there where they discuss homosexuality in the game. They confirm that it will be there, but they are not sure how they're going to handle it just yet. One idea that they float is that there may be a separate area in the world for that sort of activity. While I'm glad they're thinking about sexual politics enough to have homosexuality as an option, I'm not sure if digital gay cages are exactly a win.

You Remember The Random Ten, Right?

Well, I sort of forgot to do the Random Ten last week, but it's back with a vengence now. Quick recap: Load up any mp3 playing software or hardware, set to random, and post the first 10 songs that it plays in the comments to this post. The only rule is that you don't alter the list to hide embarrassing songs or repeated artists. Here's mine to start us off:

(Song - Artist)
1. Flite - Cinematic Orchestra
2. Hoedown - Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
3. Jesus Is Just Alright - The Doobie Brothers
4. Schism - Tool
5. Tropicalia - Beck
6. Guys Like Me - Aimee Mann
7. That's What You Get (feat. The Minor League) - Blueprint
8. Soul Man - The Blues Brothers
9. Dry Bones - Oddjobs
10. Hard Rimes - Hip-Hop Wieners

Also, if you feel like offering a bit of commentary to somebody's list, including your own, that's certainly acceptable. For my part, this is kind of an odd list, with some of my favorite bands didn't make it, despite the fact that some of them are represented in my library by a ton of songs. Even genre wise hip-hop is a little underrepresented and genres like jazz aren't represented at all. Still, not bad stuff here, just not what I listen to the most.

March 08, 2006

You Tube Blog Dump

Well, I heard about a video on You Tube which leads us all to another You Tube Blog Dump. Enjoy!

First, for those of us that have played a Final Fantasy game or two, you'll appreciate this.

Yes, Andy Samberg and crew work for SNL now, and that means comedic raps. Is comedic rock played out because it's been around forever? Certainly not, and there's plenty to like in this latest work from The Dudes, which features Natalie Portman.

Taken from the same episode of SNL, here's a Jamba Juice sketch. It has it's ups and downs, but it ends with a nice long bit where the cast almost loses it, and I for one always enjoy that.

Here's a live action version of the opening of The Simpsons.

Finally, a guy doing something really stupid. Always entertaining.

Blog against sexism day

Seeing as today is International Women's Day, it is also Blog Against Sexism Day. And seeing as I am up to my eyes in work, I'm directing you, my indifferent reader, to the latest Carnival of Feminists.

March 07, 2006

Stupidest anti-choice argument ever

via Pandagon:

My family didn’t have any other male progeny. I was the sole male Schultz remaining on the family tree - as my father was in poor health and would soon pass away, never being a grandpa. The ability to father a son meant a great deal to him, and to me. However, the action of the young lady aborting our son has left an indelible scar on my soul to this day.

March 06, 2006

Bad philosophy makes my head hurt

Salon reveals what happens when journalists (albeit those with respectable backgrounds in mathematics) try to wax philosophical:

'Information is physical. Information is not just an abstract concept, and it is not just facts or figures, dates or names. It is a concrete property of matter and energy which is quantifiable and measurable. It is every bit as real as the weight of a chunk of lead or the energy stored in an atomic warhead, and just like mass and energy, information is subject to a set of physical laws that dictate how it can behave.'

Ugh. Certainly energy is used in the processes which we experience as the transmission of information. But this does not mean information is a physical thing.

Consider the example the reviewer gives, reading a thermometer. Some of the energy from the pot of sugar-water was used to raise the mercury, but this is only an instance of information transmission because there was a mind on the receiving end that was prepared to interpret the incoming photon array as information about temperature. Take away the mind, and the 'information' goes from the sugar-water to the thermometer to nothingness.

Information is a useful way to talk about energy -- you don't have to keep track of the form it takes (kinetic energy, potential energy, electrical energy, mass, &c.). But thinking of this (or, on my view, any other theory attempting to describe the empirical world) as anything more than a useful way to talk is just dumb.

March 05, 2006

All men, all women

Susan Brownmiller called rape "a conscious process by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." Maybe this is just hyperbole and misandry; but maybe there's a legitimate point here.

Twisty Faster has a suggestion:

No matter what kind of man you are, you benefit in a thousand different ways from the violent sexualization of women’s subordination. Actual rapists have got the initial shock and awe covered, but they’re only the infantry; it’s up to the rest of you to finish the job.

You do this by demonizing feminists, by renting women for lap dances, by letting rapists off the hook in court, by buying cheap crap Victoria’s Secret thongs for your woman, by congratulating your girlfriend on her boob job, by ignoring mass rapes in Rwanda, by passing along the URL to Paris Hilton’s fuck video, by ogling that girl at the bus stop, by letting your mom do your laundry, by “giving away” a bride, by voting control of women’s uteruses over to godbag politicians, by pressuring your girlfriend to take it up the ass because all your friends are doin’ it, by having an opinion on the size of human labia, by arguing that stripping is “empowering,” by claiming you’re “hardwired” to be turned on by women who emulate the ludicrous fashion practices of strippers and centerfolds, by your inability to conceive of sex without dominance, and by refusing, despite 30 years of intelligent, educated women telling you otherwise, to concede that you don’t really, truly view women as human beings in anything approaching the same light in which you view yourself.[...]

The dehumanizing groundwork laid by these rapists forms an excellent foundation upon which to build many a creatively misogynist cultural practice.

My emphasis. You should read the rest of her post.

So we have rape. And we have sexism on a broader level. And we have pornography -- although I think I left it out of that quotation, pornography is often identified by feminists as the (usually not 'a') propaganda vehicle of sexism and heavily dependent on an eroticization of power that's not far off from rape. How are these three related?

One possibility is Twisty's, which is much like the one Catherine MacKinnon (sp, I'm lazy this morning) and Andrea Dworkin argued for: that rape is the foundation on which patriarchy is built, the reign of terror that keeps us from having a truly just society, and that young men are taught to rape and to take advantage of their place in the hierarchy more generally by being raised on pornography.

Another possibility is that women's secondary status in society is more fundamental, and takes on different appearances in different contexts. So the power relations embodied in rape certainly share a common root with the power relations on display in a lot of porn, and both are just eroticizations of the hierarchy of gender that runs throughout our entire society. Here rape isn't a tool of oppression; it's an expression of it. Rape prevention and the regulation of pornography (and the sex industry more generally) are like painkillers -- they'll make things feel a little better, but they won't do shit about the cancer festering underneath the surface.

On the other hand, what other way is there to stomp out patriarchy?

A foreign policy built on proliferation and creating instability

Jesus, this India/Pakistan thing was a terrible idea. This administration's foreign policy has always been idiotic, but normally it's just the bully swaggering around like he owns the playground -- albeit with deadly consequences for a hundred thousand people or so. Now we have something that truly justifies soiling one's pants, as Bush seems to be actively encouraging nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

I'll grant that the government and people of India are somewhat saner than the government and people of, say, Iran and North Korea. But with nuclear power plants you get plutonium. And with plutonium you get nuclear weapons. And nuclear weapons lead in two directions: either one country becomes the local hegemon, and peace is maintained only because everyone else is too fucking scared of what might happen if they don't fall in line, or two or more countries engage in an arms race, and peace is maintained only because General Turgidson isn't the one with his hands on the button. Have these idiots never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis? Fifteen years from now, we'll have a fun repeat when India parks a battery of missiles on the Kashmir border.

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the people in this administration who do remember something about the Cuban Missile Crisis think Kennedy should've let fly on the Soviet Union. 'Pyrrhic victory' and 'civilian casualties' mean nothing to the neocons; see their Great Wars of Liberation, Iraq and Viet Nam. 'We had to destroy the village to save it' doesn't even rise to the level of tragedy (much less tragic irony) for them.

March 04, 2006

Things you don't say out loud at Notre Dame while waiting in line to get into a show unless you want the crowd to look at you like you're insane

"I don't see why anyone would think a fetus is the same thing as a baby."

This is probably about as bad as, say, "I think puppies taste good with ketchup, but kittens are better plain." Only none of my friends actually said the second one.

The shocked looks amused me immensely.

Ouch my brain

Is Kings ever a good idea?

March 03, 2006

The end of an era

In seventh grade, I was a latchkey kid. My parents had split up, and my mom had to spend most evenings either doing her part in my brother's gymnastics carpool or taking classes and working towards her Associate's in Architecture. I was usually home alone until 7 or 8 at night -- it was up to me to do my homework and, usually, fix my own dinner. But mostly I spent the long hours watching teevee.

Perhaps I was a little too old for Batman, the cartoon that debuted that Fall. Kids in junior high are starting to outgrow childhood, taking the first tentative steps into the world of maturity (granted, those being the Sturm und Drang of puberty). Maybe I should've been on a sports team, or encouraged more in music or other hobbies. Whatever. Though it wasn't the way we would've said it back then, Batman kicked ass, and it was a cartoon that Serious Adults could appreciate. Yes, sometimes the villains had stupid plans, and the plots often had holes you could drive a truck through. But this was not the insipid crap of your average toy commercial delivery mechanism: Batman offered a taste of the depth and complexity that had been smuggled into the comics by progressively superior generations of writers.

After Batman came Batman and Robin. Then Superman. By then I had grown up enough to realize how stupid most teevee is, and was off to better things. But a few years back I discovered Justice League, a marvelous continuation of the franchise (they even have the same guy doing the voice of Batman). Justice League became Justice League Unlimited. And the final few episodes of Justice League Unlimited are airing Saturday nights (10:30 Eastern) on Cartoon Network.

March 02, 2006

An Now For Something Completely Different

I love 80s nostalgia, particularly cartoons, toys, and other child culture, so when I got tipped to this discussion of Gargamel I couldn't have been more happy. Good things for those of us with far too much of our memories locked up with useless trivia.

March 01, 2006

David Boonin: A defense of abortion

This book is an exhaustive survey and criticism of the arguments levelled against the permissibility of abortion in general, and one particular classic pro-choice thought experiment in particular. While I'm not an expert, so I can't say whether Boonin has overlooked anything, I can't recall a single reasonable argument directed towards a general audience I've come across that is not completely shredded here (read: unless you're opposed to abortion on religious grounds, Boonin probably shows how your view is self-defeating).

Boonin's style is precise and direct -- even more so than my own -- and he does an excellent job of offering the abortion critic every possible charity before attacking. This actually gets somewhat annoying, as in later chapters excessively pedantic qualifications and methodological statements will be repeated several times to no real benefit. It also tends to make him sound rather dispassionate about the debate, leading to some rather unnerving moments, particularly reading from a feminist perspective. Still, this probably makes the logical strength of his arguments that much clearer to the hostile reader, and should be counted as an asset overall.

Another asset is his avoidance of jargon and the highly capsulated structure of the book -- each section deals with a single argument, or a narrow family of arguments, and thus is almost entirely self-contained. Indeed, I can recommend this as a handbook for a layperson (non-philosopher) interested in debating abortion: just look up your opponent's argument, and run through Boonin's criticisms. Of course, that's not necessary -- I would recommend it highly for anyone interested in seeing the most rigorous defense of abortion around.

David Boonin: A defense of abortion

Count the anti-feminist tropes

The subject: This stupid essay on the IWF website (via feministing).

there are some people in this country who believe that every aspect of living, dying, working, resting, and general being must be equal for men and women.

1. The kind of equality feminists want is identity.

These are the people who, as children, spent most of their waking hours complaining that every situation they were faced with "wasn't fair." These were the children who heard one too many times that "life isn't fair."

2. Feminists are whiny children.

But life isn't fair. Men and women are not treated equally and I, for one, am quite pleased with this. In fact, if I were treated like a man, in most cases, I would be quite offended. I enjoy having doors held open for me. I do not like to be spit at or addressed as "dude" or "man" or consulted when it comes to the attractiveness of other women.

3. Equality means women turn into men. (In other words: feminists want to be gross, crude men who open their own doors.)

When it comes to the matter of equal pay -- sure, I think I should get paid at the same rate if I am doing the same job as a man. The exact same job. If a man and I were hired on the same day, have been working at the company for the same number of years, came in at the same time, left at the same time, and took the same exact number of sick days. But to be realistic, that's probably not going to happen for me or for most women because we like flexible schedules that allow us to spend time with our kids and our husbands. We generally like to be in a safe, clean office rather than a dangerous and dirty construction site and we would trade higher pay for better conditions. We can't have both. You know you can't have your cake and eat it too!

4. No two people have exactly the same job, therefore equal pay for equal work is a non-starter.
5. Women take more time off work to raise the kids. (And, I guess, go visit their husbands at work, or something.)
6. Men are not interested in taking more time off work to raise the kids or go visit their wives at work.
7. Women hate dangerous and dirty jobs.
8. Dangerous and dirty jobs pay more.
9. The author is able to making sweeping declarations of what (oops, almost -- see next quotation) all women want because of reasons.
10. There's nothing unjust about the expectation that women cannot have both successful career and children, even as this is precisely the opposite expectation for men.

I realize I don't speak for all women. There are some pretty tough gals out there who love construction, service as marines, and welding work. All I have to say to you is, "You go girl!" If we want those kinds of positions and that kind of pay, we can prove our qualifications and we can earn our rewards. We definitely don't need another affirmative-action-type program or an equal-rights amendment to get us there. The government boldly proclaiming that we women can't get there on our own, now that's insulting to my sex.

11. People work in fields such as construction and the military because that's their chosen profession, not because economic and social forces held that out as the only remotely lucrative option.
12. Rampant, systematic discrimination has nothing to do with the fact that these fields are overwhelmingly male.
13. Recognition of the history of discrimination is itself a form of discrimination.

I do believe feminism has reached a peak. In this day and age to be feminist doesn't mean to stand up for one's inherent and God-given rights, it means to change the natural order, to demand more than what can be given, and to totally abandon common sense.

14. The anti-feminist backlash era we live in means feminist has 'peaked' and is dying out. Much like it did in the '30s.
15. Today's feminists never ever talk about rights.
16. Feminism is a challenge to the natural social order, and hence is futile.
17. Sexism has played no role in characterising the current social order as 'natural'.
18. All of these tropes are common-sensical.

Thus I am not a feminist; I am feminine.

19. Being a feminist and being feminine are incompatible and jointly exhaustive of the possibilities for women.

Did I miss any?