Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mock The Ethicist: 3/25/2007

Honestly, is he trying to make my head explode?

Legal concerns aside, you may ethically report this. Doing so would simply restore matters to what they would have been had the police done their job to begin with: that off-duty officer should have been cited for D.W.I., which is a matter of public record.
Hey Randy, ever heard of the phrase "two wrongs don't make a right"?

In the above analysis Mr. Cohen assumes that, had the cops not neglected their duty, the off-duty officer's intoxicated state would have inevitably become a matter of public record. This is not necessarily the case; drivers can undergo diversion/counseling to prevent such citations from appearing on their driving records. Its not inevitable that such information would become public, so the MD's dilemma isn't so cut-and-dried as Randy would make it out to be.

Randy's response to the question is, in fact, a sterling example of how not to do ethics. He's asking the MD to base his behavior on the outcome of a counterfactual thought experiment; the outcome of such an experiment is absolutely meaningless, since there's no way to check its accuracy. Ethics is not an elaborate game of "let's pretend"; it has to make reference to things that exist and/or actually happened.

Moving on, I'm not really going to bother with the substance of this week's second question. Whether or not the use of the wheelchair was unethical just doesn't strike me as all that interesting. However, I immediately picked up on the following in Randy's answer:

You also erred by, in effect, telling a lie on wheels — implying through your conduct that you required a wheelchair and then exploiting those who sought to make your life easier.
I happen to agree with Randy; the woman engaged in a lie-by-action. But, Mr. Cohen, how do you square your advice this week with last week's advice? If Mr. Kramer doesn't believe in keeping kosher, isn't he committing a similar lie-by-action by maintaining kosher kitchen implements for his in-laws? In both cases a person asserts, through their actions, a set of facts which they know/believe not to be true. If its a lie in one case its a lie in the other. Which is it?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I'm Actually Qualified To Comment On This One

Mention "computer" and "scan" and "brain" in the same sentence and people tend to get a little nervous. I suppose that they're worried about some sort of Orwellian scenario where the government will start stealing their thoughts. How else to explain this recent post by Roxanne at Pandagon?

This is legitimate research, and its pretty cool research at that. The brain doesn't have a global pool of computational power. Rather, it has a bunch of areas that are (to a first approximation) specialized for different tasks. You can only see so much, hear so much, feel so much, etc. at any given time, even if other areas of your brain are sitting around doing nothing. So trying to even out the workload by changing the format of the data (text to picture or text to sound, for instance) can realistically be expected to improve performance.

What Roxanne fails to grasp is that they're not "reading your thoughts" or anything close to that. From the article:

Boeing's prototype controller uses an fMRI to check just how overloaded a pilot's visual and verbal memories are. Then the system adjusts its interface -- popping the most important radar images up on the middle of the screen, suggesting what targets should be hit next and, eventually, taking over for the human entirely, once his brain becomes completely overwhelmed.
The brain's visual memory centers fire about 250 to 400 milliseconds after someone spots a target -- even if he doesn't realize what he's seen. Using infrared, magnetic and electrical sensors, researchers at Honeywell and the Oregon Health and Science University were able to use those unwitting neural spikes to pick likely "hot spots" in a satellite picture, where targets might be.
In the first case it looks like they're using fMRI to measure increased blood flow (corresponding to increased activity). In the second case they're looking for a specific firing pattern that correlates with a particular cognitive event. Nothing sinister going on here.

So why "mind-fuck"? Why "ostensibly"? Does Roxanne think that this is some secret project designed to allow the government to pick our brains? That's science fiction; there isn't one iota of evidence to support that contention.

As far as commercial applications go, this approach would be valid in any environment where the user needs to process large amounts of data quickly. Civilian pilots could certainly benefit from this, and probably civilian drivers as well. IT operations, where you have to keep an eye on a lot of things simultaneously, might also benefit. And I can see this being applied, somewhere far down the road, to immersive video game technology. Those are just the applications I've been able to think of off the top of my head; there's probably a slew of others with which I'm not familiar.

What's A Banana Company To Do?

It appears that I'm more sympathetic than most with regards to Chiquita Bananas' problems in Columbia. It seems to me that this is really a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

My issue is that a lot of people are taking them to task without suggesting alternatives. It's very easy to tell them not to give money to the AUC, but the other possibilities don't seem very reasonable either:

  1. Suck it up and hope that too many people don't get killed.
  2. Rely on Columbia's government to enforce law and order.
  3. Form their own paramilitary force.
  4. Withdraw from business in Columbia.

How should a company conduct business in country, such as Columbia, that has fundamental problems with maintaining law and order? In a perfect world Option 2 would be sufficient; that's the way things work in other places. But I feel safe in asserting that the Columbian government isn't capable of maintaining order; we wouldn't be having this discussion (or we'd be having a different one) if they were.

Which leaves the remaining options. Option number 1 is generally unacceptable on the grounds that people dying is something to be avoided. If Chiquita wants to remain in Columbia it needs the ability to protect its employees. The government isn't up to the task, and paying off the AUC is definitely morally sketchy, which leaves self-defense by means of a company police force. But private militias have their own set of problems; I suspect that if Chiquita were to raise a private police force they'd soon run into criticism from that angle.

It's questionable whether there's any legitimate way for Chiquita to do business in Columbia. It would be irresponsible to leave their employees vulnerable to the depredations of the various local paramilitaries, but there doesn't seem to be any way to protect them that doesn't also expose the company to criticism. Which leaves withdrawal as the remaining option.

From a moral standpoint withdrawal is surely the safest option; there is no harm direct harm done in pulling out of the country1. That raises the bar for doing business fairly high; if applied uniformly the list of companies where an American company could do business would be much shorter. But this rule is only applied to those entities who have been defined as "terrorist organizations" (a definition which may be overly broad); companies are free to continue to do business with "legitimate" regimes whose civil rights abuses are just as heinous as those of the AUC.

In summary, the people who are criticizing Chiquita need to suggest an alternative which allows them to continue to do business in Columbia. If they cannot do so they must be prepared to call for American businesses to withdraw from every morally unacceptable business arrangement, regardless of whether such arrangements involved "designated terrorist organizations" or recognized state actors.

1 Though there could be a lot of indirect harm. Withdrawing large amounts of foreign capital from Columbia certainly runs the risk exacerbating regional instability.

Friday Random Ten

  1. Color Me Once - Violent Femmes
  2. The Wake-Up Bomb - REM
  3. Preaching To The Perverted - Pop Will Eat Itself
  4. Jana - Killing Joke
  5. Me & My Old Lday - The Offspring
  6. Eat Me, Drink Me, Love Me, Kill Me - Pop Will Eat Itself
  7. Star Spangled Banner & Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix
  8. Freaks - Live
  9. Pomme Fritz (Orb Remix) - The Orb
  10. Plateau - Nirvana

Always kind of a downer that Kurt Cobain decided to kill himself. But at least we don't have to debate whether the "fat Kurt" or the "thin Kurt" should go on the commemorative postage stamp.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Not Terribly Thoughtful

I'm going to disagree with Ed's characterization of Leonard Pitts' comments on DADT; I don't find them to be particularly thoughtful. Specifically:

I have never understood how a people -- meaning individuals bonded by some racial, sexual, religious or geographical commonality -- can be immoral. Is it immoral to be Jewish? Immoral to be male? Is it immoral to hail from Idaho? How, then, can it be immoral to be gay?...
This statement overlooks a fundamental distinction: some of the traits that Leonard singles out are accidents of geography or biology over which the individual has little or no control, while others represent volitional behavior. The failure to recognize this distinction represents willful obtuseness in the very least.

I can think of no moral system that would condemn males for being male. The capacity for moral action requires the ability to choose alternatives; there is no way for a person to choose to have not been born male. Its an absolutely immutable fact which lies outside the realm of moral discourse.

There is a large element of choice, on the other hand, to the practice of religion. People can, and do, change their religion and their professed beliefs all the time. This places religion and religious affiliation within the realm of moral discourse; its a perfectly legitimate activity to question the morality of a particular set of beliefs.

If one believes that homosexuality is, in part, a matter of choice, that then brings it into the sphere of personal morality. Leonard has mis-characterized his disagreement with General Pace; his concern lies not with the fact that General Pace has examined homosexuality through a moral lens, but rather that General Pace has examined it and found it lacking. Overlooking this distinction essentially calls into question General Pace's right to have an opinion at all, a practice which should certainly be avoided. He's entitled to form an opinion, even if its one with which Leonard might disagree.

DC Scraps: Performance Art, "The Secret" Redux, And The ADA

I happened to be walking The Mall in DC yesterday with some friends when we encountered a group of soldiers in what looked to be full combat gear. They looked like they were conducting some sort of a sweep of The Mall, crouching behind trash can and the like and miming like they were holding guns. While we were trying to figure out what was going on I said, largely in jest, that it was "performance art". Turns out I was right:

The folks at were conducting a little bit of street theater. I admire what they're doing, but they really need to work on their message a little bit; if they want to be effective peoples' first reaction shouldn't be puzzlement. We didn't grok what was going on until one of them handed us the flyer and explained what was going on.

In other DC news I had the chance to talk with the pro-Secret couple I mentioned awhile back. This was actually the first time I'd seen them since I found out about the whole thing, and it seems like they're not quite as far gone as I'd originally speculated. They seem to appreciate The Secret more for its motivational aspects than for any of the "law of attraction" crap. Which is more reasonable; if The Secret gets them off of their asses then more power to 'em.

I also got into an interesting discussion with them about their small business and the ADA. In a nutshell they've spent, and continue to spend, a bunch of money to outfit and maintain ADA-compliant restrooms that go virtually unused by any disabled individuals. Given the line of work they're in (which I'll not define because they'd be pretty identifiable) its unlikely that these restrooms will ever be used by a disabled individual. Its not apparent that any public good is being furthered by this application of the ADA and the square-footage could be put to more productive use. If there are any disability activists out there reading this blog (still) I'd be interested in your take on the issue.

Mock The Ethicist: 3/18/2007

I'm going to go easy on Randy because he doesn't screw up too badly this week. I actually like his analysis of the tuition problem, or at least I would if it wasn't padded out with his usually barrage of filler material (".. Hawaii! And how will he get there? A brand new car! That drives underwater!"). But he shows an utter lack of intellectual curiosity with respect to the whole "kosher pot" question.

That may be my fundamental problem with everything that he writes; there doesn't seem to be any inclination on his part to examine issues in any depth. Its not like he's pressed for space, what with the "Hawaii" comments and that sort of thing. So why not expound a little on some of the genuinely interesting questions that cross his desk?

If he's going to abdicate then I'll rise to the challenge. The second question from this week's column is as follows:

My wife’s sister and her husband keep kosher, so we have a special pot for their visits. Recently my wife caught me using the pot for my traif soup. She insists we must buy another pot, but I say as long as my in-laws believe it’s kosher, they won’t violate their faith by using it. Would I be unethical to keep this secret or simply cheap? — Paul Kramer, Montclair, N.J.
As Randy rightfully notes, its not a good idea to sign your name to a question that you want to keep secret. But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Kramer hadn't disclosed his identity and let the cat out of the bag. How do you go about answering this one?

Let's select, as our frame for this discussion, the following definition: An act is unethical if it can reasonably be foreseen to causes someone unnecessary harm. That seems like a reasonable enough definition, so how do we apply it here? This is where it gets interesting since this determination hinges, in part, on Mr. Kramer's attitude towards keeping kosher.

If Mr. Kramer believes in the importance of keeping kosher then this question doesn't require very detailed analysis. Both he, and his in-laws, would agree that using the non-kosher pot would constitute a small, but avoidable, harm. That being the case there's really no question that Mr. Kramer would be acting unethically to use the pot.

It's apparent, however, that Mr. Kramer and his in-laws have different opinions about the importance of keeping kosher. The subtext of Mr. Kramer's question, and this is why I'm accusing Mr. Cohen of a lack of intellectual curiosity, is whether its OK to disregard someone else's beliefs if such beliefs fall outside the realm of testability. More plainly spoken, he wants to know if he's actually doing them any harm by allowing them to eat out of a pot they would consider tainted, even though he himself doesn't agree with that assessment.

Here I will part ways with Mr. Cohen, though I recognize that my views on this subject probably put me squarely in the minority. I believe that using the pot, provided that Mr. Kramer's in-laws remain convinced that it's still kosher, doesn't represent an ethical violation. I say this because I can't, from Mr. Kramer's assumed vantage point, identify any harm that would be done to his in-laws through the use of the pot.

Now here, of course, someone will raise the issue of misrepresentation (or "lying", as it used to be called). If Mr. Kramer were to represent the pot as kosher to his in-laws wouldn't he basically be lying to them? Yes, undoubtedly, but consider the following:

  • The lie does no identifiable harm.
  • The use of a genuinely kosher pot also involves a misrepresentation since it validates a belief that Mr. Kramer himself apparently doesn't hold. It essentially constitutes a lie by action.
To hold that a lie is always unethical leads to a lot of practical problems; that's why Western folk morality has the concept of "white lies" i.e. lies which do no harm. I contend that the claiming the pot is kosher represents an instance of a white lie. The alternative, holding that a lie is always unethical, calls into question the entirety of Mr. Kramer's interactions with his in-laws. I tend to think that if Mr. Kramer doesn't believe in keeping kosher he shouldn't pander to his in-laws, but I believe that the majority of society would hold that its more important to get along instead.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Random Ten: It's Raining Ponies Edition

  1. Porcelain - Better Than Ezra
  2. New Life - Blind Melon
  3. Demonoid Phenomenon - Rob Zombie
  4. Scoff - Nirvana
  5. Perpetual Dawn (Ultrabass II) - The Orb
  6. Engine No. 9 - Deftones
  7. We Close Our Eyes - Oingo Boingo
  8. Empty Arms - Joe Satriani
  9. Evenflow - Pearl Jam
  10. Ruby Tuesday - The London Symphony Orchestra

For some reason iTunes thinks that The Extremist is by Stevie Ray Vaughan, not Joe Satriani.

It Just Gets Better And Better

And now Rove's been implicated too. Oh goody!

It's really quite remarkable, the change in tone on CNN over the past couple of days. Governor Richardson was on this morning and pointed out that the Attorney General isn't supposed to be colluding with the President. I heard those words and it was like waking up from a long, bad dream. "Wait a minute", I said to myself, "that's right!". We've become so used to the incestuous squalor that is Washington DC that we've totally forgotten that it hasn't always been like that. There was a time when people would have gotten really cranky if it was revealed that the AG was the President's personal butt-boy, never mind any allegations of wrongdoing.

And now Valerie Plame is getting ready to testify before Congress. Oh glorious day!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

C'mon guys...

Leading the CNN website right now: 9/11 Plotter: I beheaded American reporter. Talk about undue credulity; even Time is questioning whether we can believe everything that Khalid Sheik Mohammed is saying.

You know, you think it would have tipped them off when he said that he knew where Jimmy Hoffa was...

It's Going To Be A Good Day

You know what makes me happy? Waking up, turning on CNN, and seeing Sununu calling for Alberto's head on a pike. Please, oh please, let there be no honor among thieves. Let Alberto crash hard and take everyone else with him.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Unnoticed Complication In The "Great Housework Debate"

It's been awhile since I commented on the ongoing "Great Housework Debate", but Amanda's recent post on the subject at Pandagon sparked a little more thought on the issue. My question, and I don't know that I've ever seen this addressed before, is how do differing definitions of "housework" contribute to the overall imbalance in hours spent doing housework?

Consider the following: In a household where the woman does all of the housework she, in general, is solely responsible for defining the scope of the household's "housework practice". She defines what tasks need to be done, when they need to be done, and what constitutes "completion" for any particular task. Enter man and the non-gendered division of labor; now that there are two people doing the housework there are two competing views of what constitutes "the housework". I know that in my own marriage we disagree of what things should be done, what takes precedence over what, etc.

Now here's a deeper question: Is there an objective definition of what constitutes "reasonable housework"? There might be, but I'm fairly certain that there's no consensus definition. If that's the case then how are the woman and the man going to reconcile their differences of opinion?

Here I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, in general, the woman's view wins. Why? Because everyone knows that women are clean and men are slobs1. In all seriousness I suspect that, in contemporary society, a woman's view of what constitutes necessary housework is likely to receive more consideration than a man's. If that's the case it could contribute to the observed imbalance: a man who disagrees with the prevailing definition is likely to be regarded as a shirker.

On a related topic, it would be interesting to see whether there is a similar imbalance among homosexual couples. I suspect that, in any relationship, there's one person who is going to have a lower tolerance for dirt and disorder. This "neat member" of the relationship may very well spend more time with household chores due to personal predilection. If there is uneven division of housework among homosexual couples it would tend to back up this thesis. If you posit that in heterosexual couples the woman is more likely to be the neat member than the man then the narrative changes somewhat. The housework imbalance is then not necessarily the result of shirking on the part of men or overcompensation on the part of women, but rather is a side effect of subtle social conditioning vis-a-vis each gender's cleanliness requirements.

As a side note, I'd like to see a cite for the "experts" that Frieswick is quoted as citing. The contention that "Men largely define their maleness by rejecting femaleness" seems to be to be, at best, a gross simplification. It neglects the traditional male-defining factors of "agency" and "autonomy" entirely; I don't think its controversial to say that men have traditionally been regarded as "agentic". If the experts are correct then "agency" isn't regarded as a fundamental virtue but is instead derived from perceived female "non-agency", which just doesn't seem as plausible to me.

1 Irony!, Will Robinson, irony!

What is this shit?

Shorter Preznit Bush: I have complete confidence in fuckups!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

D.C. Handgun Decision

So the D.C. Circuit Court has struck down the D.C. handgun ban. The rationale behind the decision seems to revolve around the interpretation of the word 'militia', which to me seems a little bit off:

The court reached this conclusion in large part by noting that founding-era militias often required the mandatory service of all, or virtually all, able-bodied, white males. Given that the militias had such broad membership, the court reasoned a broad individual right which protected all persons who participated in those militias at the time of the founding was most consistent with the historic understanding of the text.

It looks to me like they're going through some contortions to map the founding-era understanding of 'militia' to some present-day entity; I'm not convinced that such a thing currently exists. The reasoning seems to proceed along these lines:

  1. We can't use the founding-era definition of militia membership, since it was limited to White males.
  2. Assume instead that the Second Amendment applies, in general, to those people who form a militia, and protects their right to bear arms.
  3. Project forward in time, try to find a present day analogue to founding-era militias.
  4. 'Militia' was understood to exist prior to congressional enactment, and comprise a large swath of people, therefore everyone today has a right to bear arms.

The problem seems to be in step 4; I can't see how the justices went from a broad understanding of the term 'militia' to 'everyone'. I've read the relevant portion of the decision, and maybe I missed something, but based on their discussion of the meaning of 'militia' it still looks like gun ownership would have to be restricted to anyone eligible to serve in the armed forces. Specifically:

The current congressional definition of the “Militia” accords with original usage: “The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and . . . under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.” 10 U.S.C. § 311
Seems to indicate that membership in the modern day militia is tied to specific eligibility criteria. How can this definition of 'militia' be used to justify gun ownership by, say, a 46 year old?

Another item, one which doesn't seem to have been taken up at all in this decision, is the predicate "being necessary to the security of a free State". What if this predicate is no longer true, would that render the Second Amendment inactive? Per Wikipedia:

When the war began, the Americans did not have a professional army or navy. Each colony provided for its own defenses through the use of local militia.
One can see how, under these conditions, the existence of militias was absolutely vital to the defense of the state. However, we've since then developed a whopping great Federal military which can beat the pants off of anything that the individual states can field. This would seem to indicate that "being necessary to the security of a free State" is no longer true with respect to militias.

Quit Yer Bitchin'

"Wah wah wah... it's 45 degrees out and I'm cold". It got up to 45 degrees here in Rochester yesterday and we were all exclaiming about the beautiful weather. Thank your sweet Jesus that you get to enjoy SoCal weather, you goddam ungrateful dirty hippy.

Mock The Ethicist: 3/11/2007

After reading this week's column I unmderstand why Randy's advice always seems so off-base: he's filing these columns from Bizarro World. Just look at the evidence:

Given recent trends I suspect that next week he'll have a column dealing with the ethical implications of your neighbor's barking cat.

Seriously, though, his whole answer this week is predicated on the assumption that high school students don't know that people can Google them. That's a load of crap... its nothing more than adults projecting their own ignorance onto the students. A high school senior with a blog knows very well that ey can be Googled; ey're just gambling that people won't bother to search or that the "needle in a haystack" effect will protect them. Yeah, sure, students who get caught writing something the probably shouldn't have will say "But I didn't know...", but they're just trying to cover their asses.

So I say go ahead and call eir bluff; its public information, do with it what you will. However, and this is where Randy really falls down, you should treat material found online in the same fashion as any other material. If students are allowed to comment on their transcripts, or their portfolios, or any other part of the application package then they should be allowed to comment on information excavated from the Web as well. Just putting the URL into a report without comment is about the worst thing you can do; it robs whatever material might be at that URL of its context. I needn't remind the reader that decontextualizing documents just leads to badness all around.

Dense Much?

Reading Peggy Noonan's latest missive1 in the Wall Street Journal I was reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer inadvertently attempts to jump Springfield Gorge on a skateboard:

Here is what has been said the past week or so that sparked argument: Bill Maher, on HBO, said a lot of lives would be saved if Vice President Cheny had died, and Ann Couler, at a conservative political meeting, suggested John Edwards is a "faggot."

She was trying to be funny and get a laugh. He was trying to startle and get applause.

Looking good so far. Can she make it?

What followed was the predictable kabuki in which politically active groups and individuals feigned dismay as opposed to what many of them really felt, which was grim delight.

She's going to make it...

The truth is many liberals were dismayed by Mr. Maher because he made them look bad, and many conservatives were made at Ms. Coulter for the same reason.

She's going to make it...

One of the clearest statements ever about the implied limits of legitimate political discourse was made by the imprisoned Socrates in his first dialogue with Crito, when he said, "That's not nice." Actually, it was your grandmother who said "That's not nice." She's the one who probably taught you the wince. It is her wisdom, encapsulated in those three simple words, that is missing from the current debate.

She's not going to make it... oh look at the mess... someone's going to have to clean that up.

"Be nice"? That's Peggy Noonan's sage advice, that if your grandmother wouldn't have thought it was nice you shouldn't say it? My god, the WSJ pays for this tripe?

Her grandmother probably also thought it wasn't nice to point out that husbands beat their wives, but that doesn't mean we should brush that conversation under the rug. Important political truths are often unpleasant; it's more or less a statement of fact that Dick Cheney is personally responsible for a war that's caused the deaths of so many people. What's so hard about this distinction? There's substantive discourse, dealing with things like the policy decisions of the Vice President, and then there's non-substantive discourse... say... calling John Edwards a faggot. Peggy Noonan and her ilk seem to be unable to tell the two apart. One of them is necessary for the proper operation of the state while the other is a totally unwarranted distraction from actual discourse. Deciding which is which is left as an exercise for the reader.

1 'That's Not Nice', WSJ, 2/10/2007. Apologies for the lack of link, but the WSJ bastard's keep all of their content behind a paywall, even for us poor stiffs who have a print subscription.

Friday Random Ten: Daylight Savings Time Edition

  1. Auto-Suggestion - Joy Division
  2. Slide Away - Oasis
  3. How Many More Times - Led Zepplin
  4. The CROSS of Changes - Enigma
  5. Helpless - Oingo Boingo
  6. Prettiest Start - Aladdin Sane
  7. Perfectly Still - Gin Blossoms
  8. Silence - Korn
  9. The Passion of Lovers - Bauhaus
  10. Rocketpop - Tripping Daisy

Ok, that's more like it... good stuff this week.

I picked up Joy Division's Substance when it showed up in the bargain bin at Altitunes; I'd heard people mention them in passing a number of times, but really didn't know what to expect. Imagine my surprise when I put it on and hear Dead Souls... I'd heard a version of the song before, on the soundtrack to The Crow, but I'd assumed it was a Trent Reznor original. Listening to the CD I realized that Joy Division represents the UR source for a lot of the music I like; I really had no idea that anyone was even creating music like this in the 70's.

I'm always surprised that more people haven't heard of Oingo Boingo... they were huge (huuugggeee, even) when I was in high school. I remember how put off a lot of people were when they broke up. Anyway, after leaving SoCal I found out that Oingo Boingo was really a regional phenomena; they didn't have so much of a following outside of the SoCal beach cities. Y'all may be more familiar with Oingo Boingo's frontman, Danny Elfman; Oingo Boingo is what he did before he started devoting so much time to composing. My own personal pet theory, and you can take this for what its worth, is that Mr. Elfman is probably responsible for the ska genre. You look at all the ska and ska-ish bands that came out of that part of the world and then you look at what they were listening to when they were growing up; I went to high school with a couple of the guys from Reel Big Fish and I know they were big Boingo fans. Boingo is about the only band I can think of from that time period that made heavy use of a brass section; you gotta think that ska's characteristic use of brass was, in the very least, heavily influenced by Boingo.

And lastly, what ever happened to Tripping Daisy? They had one radio hit and then sort of disappeared. Which is a shame, because they had such a unique sound.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Happening Right Here, Right Now

This is just messed up, and frankly borders on incomprehensible. That someone might be coerced into censoring themselves... no, this is more than self-censorship. That someone might choose to remain entirely silent, rather than risk delivering a philosophy paper, is an absolutely horrible indicator of some kind of deep pathology within contemporary society.

What's doubly troubling, however, is that its difficult, if not impossible, to understand why this happened at a fundamental level. We can understand the chain of cause-and-effect at a superficial level: Some people looked at a piece of copy on a poster, got worked up, then created an propagated a meme that Peter French is virulently anti-Serb. Chaos ensued, leading to threats and ultimately the decision to cancel his appearance. But in order to go beyond the superficial we need to understand the reasoning behind the getting worked up.

Most of the time when I'm writing about some conflict its pretty easy to see why something happened. You may have to work at it a little bit, dig to expose the rationale underlying public statements, but usually the reasoning can be found if you care to look for it. But Dr. French's detractors, the Serbianna web site and Ms. Illevski, don't seem to have any obvious motivation. The Serbianna article in particular lacks any sort of substance; we're left positing that they were just looking to start a fight.

Such an assumption, however, is totally unsatisfying; people's motivations are more complex than that. But such information about their underlying motivations is simply not to be had. Which is a sorry state of affairs; until such a time as we can understand why they chose to get all riled up we can't address their grievances (if legitimate), which means that crap like this is likely to happen again in the future.

Update 1

Reading some of the comments at the Volokh Conspiracy, it seems that some non-negligible subset of people feel that Dr. French should have expected this sort of thing. To which I'll reply: It's certainly reasonable to expect criticism, but veiled threats of violence (being "told to expect a very unpleasant experience") are totally illegitimate.

Update 2

Sweet Jesus... the Serbian Consulate apparently got into the act as well. Some wonder he decided to cancel the damn thing.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mock The Ethicist: 3/4/2007

Bah... some days I wonder why I even bother? The lead question in this week's column is someone asking if its OK to jam cell phones because cell phone users are "brazen and rude". What did I say last week? "The Ethicist" is an advice column; we're lucky if Randy deigns to run a question with ethical implications. I'm not even going to bother analyzing this one; rest assured that Randy's reply is just as inane as the question itself.

Randy manages to salvage things somewhat with the second question, which essentially asks whether its ethically permissible to provide products to competing companies. Well, let's see what Randy has to say about that:

Unless you promised your first customer an exclusive on this item, there is no legal barrier to selling to the second.
so far so good...
But ethics sets a more stringent standard. If the first customer believed that you would not sell to a direct competitor, you should honor that unspoken — indeed, unmade — agreement. It is good ethics and good business not to deceive a customer, even passively.
'Scuse me while I go throw up...

Let me get this straight: If I sell a product to someone its reasonable for them to expect, without any additional communication whatsoever on the subject, that I'm not going to sell to a competitor? Exactly what planet are you doing business on?

The ability of a producer to sell products to all willing buyers is such a fundamental assumption that I'm having a hard time coming up with a justification other than "proof by 'duh'". In your world

  • A farmer can't sell to Kraft and General Mills
  • A rancher can't sell to McDonald's and Burger King
  • That trendy little boutique can't sell to Beyonce and Christina Aguilera.
What a monkey-wrench you've thrown into things. As soon as you sell to one person you have to get their permission before you can sell to competitors? Why do 'exclusivity agreements' exist in the first place? If, as you claim, there's an unwritten assumption of exclusivity, then why don't people sign 'non-exclusivity' agreements instead?

So yeah, Randy's gone and messed up the answer to this one by pulling a totally unwarranted assumption out of his ass. The correct answer is that there is no assumption of exclusivity; exclusivity is a non-default state that has to be negotiated, in which case the person who sent in the question should feel free to sell to eir heart's content to whomever is willing to pay.

Travelogue: To Camp Slayer, And Back Again

As I intimated in a previous post my job has recently taken me to Kuwait and thence on to Iraq. It has definitely been an interesting experience, seeing the machinery of war from the inside for once. It's also been a little bit depressing, because unrest in the Mid East seems to have been normalized; people are used to things going badly, indeed expect them to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

In retrospect I saw the signs of this state of affairs the first night I was in Kuwait. Kuwait has been quicker to Westernize, and to embrace Western institutions, in comparison to others parts of the region. This process may have been on the way to happening naturally anyway, but the influx of Westerners, from the first Gulf War to the present, has certainly accelerated the process. As a result Kuwait is now probably the most comfortable place for a Western company with interests in the region to do business.

Consider the apartment that I stayed in my first night, and in which I am composing this post now. It's leased by General Dynamics, a company which supplies contract IT staff to the armed forces. But GD didn't go out and find the apartment itself. Rather, they purchased the services of another company, Middle East Business Solutions, to set them up with living quarters, vehicles, maids service, a business center... all the things that GD's contractors need whether they're living in Kuwait or just passing through. I suspect that MEBS isn't unique; there are undoubtedly a lot of businesses which exist to supply the needs of contractors/contracting companies in the region.

There's an entire ecosystem of contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors out here, most of whom appear to ultimately derive their income from various Western governments. I'm not trying to peddle conspiracy theories, but there are a lot of businesses out here who have a vested interest in the continued activity of Western powers in the region. Keep that thought in the back of your mind as I tell my tale; there are a lot of people associated with the war who're just doing their jobs.

So, after arriving in Kuwait and killing a little time at the apartment, my next step was to get myself to Ali Al Salem, a Kuwaiti airbase way out in the hinterlands of Kuwait City. As you can see from the picture, its a decent distance outside of the city, so the drive gave me a chance to have a good conversation with the gentleman who drove me out.

Funny thing... this trip took me out into a war zone, but the time when I was most likely to get killed was driving back and forth between the apartment and Ali Al Salem. Driving in Kuwait is exciting, especially on the ring roads, a set of concentric highways centered on Kuwait City. People drive very fast and have only a cursory notion of things like lanes or right-of-way. On the way back from Ali Al Salem we blew by a police car on the right, but guy who was driving didn't seem to have the least bit of worry that we might get pulled over.

So anyway, on the way out to Al Salem I got a chance to talk with my driver, a GD contractor who does system administration for the US Embassy in Kuwait. He was a little bummed when he got to the apartment; if he hadn't had to drive me out to the airbase he would have been at a party at the Embassy. This is actually a bigger deal than it sounds like: Kuwait is dry in both the "desert" and "no booze" senses of the word1, but activities on Embassy property aren't subject to these rules. One of the big perks of being an Embassy employee is getting to drink, a lot, in an otherwise dry country. The Embassy has a weekly happy hour, but the serious business of drinking and networking takes place at the more exclusive after-parties. My driver had just scored his first after-party invite, so I was duly sympathetic. At least he got overtime for driving me out.

On the drive out we got to chatting about his job (system administrator, not terribly interesting) and what its like living in Kuwait. He wasn't very complementary of the native Kuwaitis, describing them as racists and rich idlers. It seems that most of the actual useful work in Kuwait is done by third country nationals (TCNs), people who have come to Kuwait from elsewhere to work. There are a lot of Phillipinos and Somalis working in the service industries, and many of the lower-end white collar jobs are held by Indians. Paraphrasing the contractor: Kuwaitis think white people are OK, but really look down on the TCNs. He described the Kuwaiti Army as a joke; they look upon their Army as a social club of sorts. The contractor supports the people who sell weapons to the Kuwaitis, so I expect he has pretty good insight into the matter. He said there's no chance that they'll ever actually go to war; apparently we keep selling them crap at a discount just so they'll keep letting the US use Kuwait as a base of operations.

He wasn't too keen on the current conflict either, a view that's apparently shared by a lot of the Embassy staff. They all think its very important to support the troops, but they've been able to separate supporting the troops from supporting the execution of the war. I would encounter variations on this theme throughout my stay: some people agreed with the decision to go to war, some people thought it was a bad idea to start with, but I can't remember meeting a single person, in favor or not, who thought that the current state of affairs was anything other than a clusterfuck. This is what I meant when I said at the beginning of this post that the war has become normalized. There are so many people with direct exposure to the war, people who see that things are going badly and who are conceivably in the position to do something about it, and yet the war continues to run its course. This is the kind of behavior I would expect if people saw the war as part of the status quo rather than as an ongoing exception situation. Or maybe they interpret the current war as exceptional, but see unrest in general as just a feature of this part of the world. I don't claim to have a definitive answer, but it does seem like everyone is standing around saying "we should do something".

Eventually we got to Ali Al Salem; from there I would catch a flight to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). Everyone, military and civilian, who needs to go to Iraq or Afghanistan passes through Al Salem. Unfortunately, if you're a contractor, like me, you can spend a long time waiting for a flight. I ended up spending ~40 mostly sleepless hours waiting to get on a plane. I won't try to synthesize that experience; you'll get a better flavor reading the raw snippets that I recorded during that time:

Flushing The Cache: 2/22/2007

Quote Of The Day
Conversation between two anonymous soldiers, in reference to returning 
home for R&R:

Soldier 1: I getting tired of people telling me how much they 
           appreciate what I'm doing. The next time I hear it I'm 
           going to smack someone.

Soldier 2: That's why I'm not wearing my uniform.

I'm paraphrasing from memory, but that was the gist of it.

Scrawlings observed in various places:
+ I hate this place
+ The 25th is being extended
+ Chuck Norris is never late; time waits in fear of him.

Vatican To Sell 'Limbo' To Army
As of the time of this writing I've spent the better part of 24 hours 
at a place called Ali Al Salem, a "temporary" camp outside of the big 
military airfield on the outskirts (actually the out-out-BFE-skirts) of 
Kuwait City. Most, if not all, of the traffic going in and out of Iraq 
and Afghanistan passes through this camp at one point or another. Right 
now its home to, in addition to the usual masses of soldiery shipping 
in and out, a bunch of cranky contractors who are desperately trying to 
Baghdad, referred to around here as BIAP ("Baghdad International 
Airport" I assume).

The limbo part comes in because, since I've arrived here, there haven't 
been any empty seats on any flights to BIAP. In order to get a seat 
you have to be present for "roll calls" for each flight where, if 
you're lucky, the powers that be will dole out a couple of "Space-R" 
seats to the awaiting swarm of contractors. That's where things get 
annoying: Al Salem is actually pretty nice for being out in the middle 
of the desert. They've got a PX, a 24 hour McDonald's (always busy), a 
mess hall, billeting, etc., all of which are available for use by 
contractors. However, the aforementioned role calls happen at all hours 
of the day and night; its not like you can go get 8 hours of sleep and 
then get up and try the next day. The best you can really do is hope 
that the role calls are spaced far enough apart that you have a chance 
to catch a few hours sleep in between.

Though, really, you're better off not leaving the waiting area at all. 
You can get scheduled for a flight and not even know it. Then, when you
miss the flight you don't know you're on, it causes all sorts of havoc 
and badness.

Flushing The Cache: 2/23/2007

Sleep Dep
What does it mean that Thomas Pynchon makes more sense to me after 36 
hours traveling?

Stop Marginalizing My People
The PX at Al Salem has a really impressive selection of tobacco products; it
seems like smoking is one of the few vices that the armed forces are 
willing to put up with. Goddammit though, why is it that I can get 
peach-flavored cigarillos if I want but I can't get cloves? 

The ubiquity of McDonald's at LSA is a little bit alarming. They've got 
a mess hall, but that's only open during normal mealtimes. Given that 
a large percentage of the people here at Al Saleem seem to be on anything 
but a normal schedule, the only place available for them to get food is 
the 24/7 McDonald's. Bleh... the smell of McDonald's at 6AM is really 
stomach churning. I don't even like McDonald's, but that's all I've had 
for breakfast and dinner recently. Man, I could really go for something 
not fried right now.

Joke of the day: Why do marines ride in Navy ships? they're easier to 
hide than sheep.

I stick out like a sore thumb. I'm obviously a contractor, but all of 
the other contractors look to have at least 10 or 20 years on me.

If its not immediately obvious from the above, I was pretty incoherent by the time I finally got off the ground.

A lot of people, both at home and in Kuwait/Iraq, asked me why I'd decided to take the job. Some of it was work-related: I like training people, it looks good on a resume, gets me brownie points with the folks upstairs, etc. But the real reason, though, was the story value of the whole experience. I tell this to some people and they look at me like they don't quite get it, and then there's another group that nods and goes "yeah".

A good example of the latter was a trauma nurse that I met shortly before I leaving Ali Al Salem. He was maybe 55... could have been pushing 60, and was going out to Baghdad to train Iraqi medical personnel in the fine art of putting people back together again. I chatted with him for awhile, talked about what he was going to do in Baghdad and the training system they were using. They have these dummies that can simulate almost all of the major vital signs; the guy who was running the program had even hacked one so that it would squirt blood just like a person would if they'd had their leg blown off... cool stuff. It turned out that this gentleman had been to 71 countries in the course of his military career. He was a hardcore, outdoors type who was into bow hunting, so we talked about all the random places he'd seen and hunted in. I suspect that he may have been engaging in a little bit of hyperbole; its hard to imagine anyone having all the different adventures he'd claimed to have. Still, it was obvious that he'd been around; he understood that the last thing you want to do on your deathbed is worry that you played things too safe.

He's also the guy who told me the joke about the Marines. Its no secret that the armed forces have a problem with homosexuality, but listening to this guy talk you could see the pathology pretty much out in the open. He made a number of homophobic remarks, out loud with no obvious concern of reprisal, and most people seemed to be nodding along in agreement. The comments that I can remember of the top of my head had to do with the locals (some of whom wore robes) wearing "man dresses" and acting "swishy". But then, at the same time, they've got that joke about the marines and sayings like "It's not gay if it happens underway". Yeah, really, that came out of the same guy's mouth. There's this strange dichotomy where they all seem to be acknowledging that people are having teh hot, steamy buttsex, while at the same time going out of their way to prove that they're not gay themselves. Interpretation of that little factoid is left as an exercise for the reader.

But I digress... eventually I got space on a transport to BIAP and made it to Baghdad. There's a lot of "hurry up and wait" in the armed forces, but when they finally decide to do something they don't mess around. They hustled us on to buses, drove us out, and then we filed right on to the plane. I bet it was less than 20 minutes between the time we arrived at the plane and the time they were taxiing. The flight itself was uneventful, but I don't envy the military personnel who have to spend a lot of time on these cargo planes. They're loud, and cold, and there's less legroom than Southwest Airlines. The way over wasn't so bad, in part because I did have a little legroom, but the flight back was an exercise in personal discomfort. The takeoffs and landings were pretty aggressive, climbing to cruising altitude quickly and coming in just as fast; they don't want planes to be targets any more than is absolutely necessary.

So, after much sturm und drang I eventually made it to Sather AFB/BIAP; from there it was a pretty quick drive to Camp Slayer. I didn't have to go in convoy, or wear my flak vest, or anything like that. It was just me and the guy driving, and we were in a plain old SUV. The area around the airport (Camp Victory, Camp Slayer, etc.) is apparently one of the safest places in Iraq right now. Its not near any civilian infrastructure, the roads in and out are well-controlled, and there's just no reason for anyone to linger in the area. That makes it a wee bit difficult to go sniping at people or to plant IEDs. Contrast this with the Green Zone, which is right smack dab in the middle of a bunch of people who want to blow it up.

Camp Slayer itself was originally the "Perfume Palace", a big entertainment complex where Saddam kept his wimmin. Who knew he was a ladies' man? It might have been relatively nice once, but being converted to a military based and generally being beat to shit had certainly taken a toll on the grounds. The inside of the palace itself, at least the part I had access to were, was still in pretty good shape. There were some interesting decorative flourishes, Islamic-ish, non-representational frescoes for the most part. And then there were these ugly, ugly, teal faux ostrich skin draperies on the windows. Those, apparently, were original. As much of a ladies man as he might have been, Saddam had crappy taste when it came to interiors.

Apart from the official buildings there isn't that much more to the camp. They've got the necessities, a mess hall and dormitories, plus few amenities: PX, barber, movie theater. When I wasn't actually working I was generally either in my room or in the dining facility (that's "DFAC" or "chow", depending on how official you want to be); there's really just no place else to go.

The dormitories, run by everyone's old friends Kellog, Brown, and Root, can accurately be described as a "warren". Row upon row of trailers, subdivided into small compartments, utterly functional and completely disheartening. Each room is maybe 10x12 or so and, with a bunk bed and a couple of cabinets, is intended to hold two people. I got lucky and was assigned a room all to myself, sort of. Each room shares a common entry area with another; basically KBR has taken a larger space and divided it with a permanent partition. So I had a roommate, who turned out to be one of the guys I was training, but I also had a decent amount of privacy as well. The thing I really noticed on first walking into my room was that it had no desk or table; the rooms are designed for sleeping and that's about it. Overall assessment: clean, functional, spartan.

As far as the DFAC went it reminded me of nothing so much as being back in my college dining hall. Lots of food, most of it greasy and not terribly healthy, none of it really all that good. As in college I found myself eating way more than I usually would, hoping that the next item I tried would entertain my mouth enough that I'd finally feel like eating something. As has been noted elsewhere the food is "all American", with a definite Southern slant (grits, anyone?). Within a couple of days of arriving I found myself fantasizing about having a nice bowl of pho, just to wash all the fat out of my veins.

The dining hall had a bunch of TVs, all of which were tuned to the Armed Forces Network (AFN). I normally bemoan the mixing of eating and television viewing, but in this case it wasn't so bad. AFN carries various news programs at the same time they're being broadcasted stateside, so there were a couple of mornings when I was able to have my breakfast and watch The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. What's a little bit different about AFN is that, instead of commercials, they have military-oriented public service announcements which vary in quality from the amateurish up to the professionally produced. There was something about the tone of these announcements that was little weird, but whatever it was it was subtle and I could never quite put my finger on it. I was especially amused, though, by the anti-smoking adds, since the PX is so well-stocked with various smokeables. Again, it would appear that the armed forces have a love-hate relationship with tobacco.

The actual business of living and working at Camp Slayer was notable primarily for its utter lack of variation; one of the guys I was working with compared it, very accurately IMHO, to Groundhog Day. The GD IT contractors, civilians all, have one of the most monotonous existences I've ever encountered. They work 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, no breaks. Then they go home, try to distract themselves for a few hours, go to be, get up, and repeat. There wasn't even a sense of excitement or danger in the air. I felt completely safe while I was there; you wouldn't really have even known it was a zone apart from all the military folk running around with guns.

I noticed the above within a couple of days of arriving at camp, so I was especially interested to find out why these people had volunteered for the assignment. Turns out that its all about the Benjamins. They told me that the average IT contractor at Camp Slayer makes about $190k/year. Most admins are doing pretty standard Windows work, not rocket science, so that works out to between 3 and 4 times what they could make in the states. Not too shabby... I can understand their motivation. They'd volunteered for a year and were mentally prepared to buckle down and do their jobs, then get out and live better with the mountain of cash they'd managed to accumulate.

But then there was another contingent, some of whom had been out in Iraq and/or Afghanistan for multiple years, that I couldn't quite fathom. I was champing at the bit to leave after just one week but these folks, in contrast, seemed content to just keep on doing their thing indefinitely. Maybe I'm being elitist and/or judgmental, but I'm not sure that the ability to work in places like Camp Slayer for multiple years reflects positively on these people. The existence here is so small, both literally and figuratively, and so vanilla. Perhaps, if I got the sense that they were putting in their time and working towards some greater goal, I would be more understanding. But I don't believe that to be the case. One guy in particular was bragging about how he hadn't even gone on leave in a year or something of that nature. That means that he'd gone to work, day in and day out, for 365 days, and he was still sane. Take it away Ani:

they say goldfish have no memory
i guess their lives are much like mine
the little plastic castle
is a surprise every time

Though the isolation at Camp Slayer did have its upside as well. Until I was in the DFAC, watching AFN, I was able to totally forget that most people were still awash in Anna Nicole Smith trivia or the recent stupidity involving Al Sharpton and someone who's related to Strom Thurmond. The trivia that passes for news these days was much muted, definitely a good thing.

Tangentially, I might as well comment on the whole Al Sharpton thing while I'm at it: Its dumb, period. Whether or not someone related to Strom Thurmond once owned one of Al Sharpton's ancestors has absolutely zero bearing on anything. People who are making a big deal of this, Al Sharpton included, are perpetuating a mindset which gives undue importance to ancestry and the mists of history. Sure, if Al's ancestors had been owned by someone else, or hadn't been owned at all, things would have turned out differently... he might not be the political gadfly that he is today. But that's a trivially true statement which anyone can say that about their own ancestors: If things had been different then, then they'd also be different now. But the things which make Al Sharpton quintessentially Al Sharpton would remain unchanged if we were to find out tomorrow that his folk were owned by someone else, or weren't owned at all. So yes, its an utterly meaningless distraction.

Of the actual work that I did at Camp Slayer there's very little interesting to say. I went in and trained a bunch of IT guys on how to use some of their equipment. In that respect it was no different that anything I've done stateside. They weren't any brighter or any dimmer than other groups I've taught, nor more or less respectful; in short, it was a typical class.

So, after a few days of training, it was back to the real world again. The process going out was essentially the same as the process coming in, but I didn't have to wait for 40 hours to get on a plane out of Baghdad. On the ride from Camp Slayer to Baghdad I had a chance to talk with a contractor who thought that the war was initially a good idea; he believed that Saddam had WMDs and must have moved them to Syria or somewhere else prior to the start of the war. But he, too, thought that the current situation was a complete disaster, and said that it would take a decade of the US toughing it out in order to fix the place.

His rationale for that last statement was fairly insightful. He noted that it was all well and good for people to run around waving purple fingers in the air, but that Iraq was really still practicing a superficial form of democracy. When things go south the Iraqi people don't look to democratic institutions and/or the rule of law to protect them; they turn instead to non-democratic institutions such as tribes and militias instead. In his view the US needs to stay in Iraq until such time as Iraqis are practicing a more comprehensive form of democracy, but when I pushed him on just how the US could effect such a change he didn't really have a good answer.

Probably the person who best summed the whole situation up was a contractor who was on the flight back to the US with me. He said that the reason for the current state of things is that there's just so much inertia inherent in waging this war; I think he hit the nail on the head. None of the people I met had a hard-on for this war. Many of them had it within their power, in theory at least, to push to rectify the situation. And yet none of them were doing so. why? It's the inertia. Everyone thinks that things are going poorly, but no one has enough positive incentive to motivate themselves to action. So the war goes on, it seems mostly because its easier to stick with the status quo than change.

Here ends the lesson.

1 When I arrived I assumed that Kuwait is dry due to Islamic influences, but apparently this is not the case. Kuwait voluntarily became dry after the first Gulf War in a show of solidarity for the POWs held by the Iraqi government. Now that Iraq has been "liberated" there's a decent chance that the country will go back to being wet.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Anger Isn't The Answer

PZ Meyers is calling for the anti-creationism folks to "Get meaner, angrier, louder, fiercer", but I don't think that's going to get us anywhere.

More than anything else I was dismayed by the imagery in the quote, the "steel-toed boots" and the "brass knuckles". I realize that the quote is fabricated, but the fact that people responded positively to it is a little disturbing. It comes awfully close to what David Neiwert has termed "eliminationist rhetoric", demonizing ID supporters (rather than just their ideas) and suggesting that they are worthy targets of actual violence. I recognize that PZ is advocating metaphorical violence, but as David has pointed out such advocacy often serves as a gateway to more extreme measures. I don't really think it would ever come to that, but calling on people to "hammer on the lunatics and idiots" stinks of two minutes hate.

As far as ditching "civilized academic debate", here are some thoughts on that, in no particular order:

  • Maybe the problem is that the debate is taking place in journals. The people who vote for school board members don't, as a general rule, read those journals, so they need to be exposed to the "settled academic debate" in a more accessible forum. PZ doesn't like the idea of being more media savvy, but yelling louder and being more aggressive isn't going to do you any good if you're just preaching to the choir.
  • Yes, we're hamstrung because we follow the rules. Sure the bad guys cheat; that's what makes them bad guys. But it takes tremendous arrogance to think that the alternative, cheating for the greater good, is in any way more acceptable.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: By advocating non-rational mechanisms of persuasion (being meaner, angrier, fiercer, but offering no new information), PZ is tacitly acknowledging that he believes it will never be possible to reach the public through rational discourse. This view consigns a large segment of the population to an intellectual ghetto that logically ends with disenfranchisement and paternalism.

The answer is to just keep on keeping on. Dover shows that people are getting less stoopid; not just the ruling itself, but the fact that they tossed the idiots on the school board out on their asses afterwards. Reality has a liberal bias; unless you assume that people are totally dense you just have to keep restating your case day in and day out and, eventually, it'll get through.

Friday Random 10: Live From Kuwait

Back from Iraq, Jack, and ready to rock-n-rooolllll!

  1. Freak On A Leash - Korn
  2. Out Of Control - U2
  3. All Along - Offspring
  4. Perpetual Dawn (Ultrabass II) - The Orb
  5. A Place In My Heart - Social Distortion
  6. Introspectre - Depeche Mode
  7. Time - David Bowie
  8. Ænima - Tool
  9. Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
  10. Texarkana - REM

Introspectre is off of Playing The Angel; while not quite as good as Violator, its certainly a close second. Any Depeche Mode fans who've been holding off should grab a copy.

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