Archive for June, 2010


Yes, America

June 29, 2010

Jonah Goldberg is an eediot. Not that you needed confirmation of this. (Straw men are fun. Whee!)


Lion Burgers

June 24, 2010

No, but seriously, what is wrong with people?

During one of the restaurant’s Wine-Pairing dinners, where they serve wine with other uncommon meats such as wild boar, customers heard about the availability of lion meat and seemed interested in trying it. [Owner Cameron] Selogie was inspired by the FIFA World Cup’s location and decided to serve the meat to coincide with the games.

The restaurant advertised their decision through their e-mail newsletter club to keep the attention to a minimum, but one member and animal activist, Susan Cooper, spread the word. —

Okay. Right. It’s just a large cat. But… is nothing sacred? Just because something is there doesn’t mean that we have to eat it. I’m sure it tastes different than other meat. I’m sure it’s probably quite tasty if prepared well. (Not sure that a burger meets that qualification, but that’s another story.) I’m sure some people will pay a pretty penny to eat it…

But why? Why go to such extraordinary lengths to eat a large mammal in a ground-up patty?

It must be true that there are an enormous number of things in the world that could be ingested that haven’t yet been ingested.

Suppose we find some rare krill population near the deep horizon rig. Would your first thought be, upon discovering this krill population, that we should identify some way to cook and eat it?

It’s a very strange food psychosis that gives a person to think these thoughts. It’s an even further strange food psychosis that gives a person to believe that a rare and exotic meat would certainly taste best as a hamburger.



June 22, 2010


Vodpod videos no longer available.


Sex and Obliviousness

June 20, 2010

Neil Levy has this interesting post over at Practical Ethics:

An interesting case is reported in the most recent issue of the Hastings Center Report.  Mrs Z, is a 29 year-old woman who was released into her husband’s care following a traumatic brain injury. She is in a minimally conscious state (MCI), a state of severely impaired consciousness. MCI cases cover a range of cognitive deficits; Mrs Z seems to be at the lower end of cognitive functioning. She is unable to speak and requires 24 hour care, provided by her husband (who is also the guardian of their 4 year-old twins).

Recently she was found to be suffering abdominal pain. An examination revealed that she was pregnant (the pregnancy was terminated for health reasons). Mrs Z’s brothers have now applied for guardianship of her, and have asked police to file rape charges against her husband. Mr Z has replied that she would have wanted to continue a physical relationship with him, and that he is still married to her. He seems to suggest that he will continue to have a sexual relationship with her if she remains in his care.

I really like this case. It’s deeply vexing, but I’m inclined to agree with Levy’s conclusions.

It does seem plausible that as a way of showing genuine love to his wife, Mr Z may well do exactly that by having aconsensual sex with his wife. What it seems to me he is not justified in doing, however, is in having aconsensual procreative sex with his wife. At least, I can imagine a few circumstances where this wouldn’t be nearly as problematic as it first appears.

I do think, however, that it does raise a great many questions about the nature of the sex that Mr. Z is having with his wife, where a determination of its appropriateness will have to boil down to a state of affairs that only he has access too assess. And this privateness may, ultimately, be a problem for Mr. Z. If his reasons are so private that they cannot be made available to the scrutiny of outside parties — at least those acting as proxies on his wife’s behalf — then there is some question as to whether the reasons that he has can or ought to count as reasons.

I’ll have to think a little more about this tonight and try to integrate this example into a future presentation of mine.


Happy Father’s Day

June 20, 2010

BP is ‘burning sea turtles alive.’

“They ran us out of there and then they shut us down, they would not let us get back in there,” Ellis said in an interview with conservation biologist Catherine Craig.

Part of BP’s efforts to contain the oil spill are controlled burns. Fire-resistant booms are used to corral an area of oil, then the area within the boom is lit on fire, burning off the oil and whatever marine life may have been inside.

“Once the turtles get in there they can’t get out,” Ellis said.


Candy II

June 18, 2010

Kant Was Right

June 18, 2010

…at least on one aspect of animal cruelty.

In other news, what the heck happened to Germany and England? And yes, the US was robbed.

In Portland for an environmental conference. Back soon.


Deal with the Devil

June 14, 2010

J M Bernstein’s analysis of the tea party in the New York Times, I think, is well worth reading. Unfortunately, it’s way too sophisticated for the sordid collection of nincompoops who could really benefit from it. Here’s a nice capsule:

What has gripped everyone’s attention is the exorbitant character of the anger Tea Party members express.  Where do such anger and such passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs come from?

My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans’ collective self-understanding.

The implicit bargain that many Americans struck with the state institutions supporting modern life is that they would be politically acceptable only to the degree to which they remained invisible, and that for all intents and purposes each citizen could continue to believe that she was sovereign over her life; she would, of course, pay taxes, use the roads and schools, receive Medicare and Social Security, but only so long as these could be perceived not as radical dependencies, but simply as the conditions for leading an autonomous and self-sufficient life.  Recent events have left that bargain in tatters.


Tea Party anger is, at bottom, metaphysical, not political: what has been undone by the economic crisis is the belief that each individual is metaphysically self-sufficient, that  one’s very standing and being as a rational agentowes nothing to other individuals or institutions.

Readers unaware of the reference here may be helped along by clicking to this article by John Rawls.

Bernstein, a professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research, cleverly weaves this upside-down take on Rawls without so much as a mention of great political theorist. Make no mistake though, Rawls is hanging around in the background. It should also be clear, I think, that Rawls’s original piece was a response to those who criticized him on metaphysical grounds. So Rawls’s position was a more-or-less a pragmatic acknowledgment that the metaphysical argument would never fly. All he needed for his conception of justice as fairness was the political argument.

Which raises the part that gets considerably more complicated, and may turn off even even the more theoretically inclined reader. Bernstein somehow manages to integrate G.W.F. Hegel into his piece, which is some serious philosophical business. When was the last time you caught reference to Hegel in the New York Times?

Descartes famously argued that self or subject, the “I think,” was metaphysically basic, while Hegel argued that we only become self-determining agents throughbeing recognized as such by others who we recognize in turn. It is by recognizing one another as autonomous subjects through the institutions of family, civil society and the state that we become such subjects; those practices are how we recognize and so bestow on one another the title and powers of being free individuals.

All the heavy lifting in Hegel’s account turns on revealing how human subjectivity only emerges through intersubjective relations, and hence how practices of independence, of freedom and autonomy, are held in place and made possible by complementary structures of dependence.   At one point in his “Philosophy of Right,” Hegel suggests love or friendship as models of freedom through recognition.  In love I regard you as of such value and importance that I spontaneously set aside my egoistic desires and interests and align them with yours: your ends are my desires, I desire that you flourish, and when you flourish I do, too.  In love, I experience you not as a limit or restriction on my freedom, but as what makes it possible: I can only be truly free and so truly independent in being harmoniously joined with you; we each recognize the other as endowing our life with meaning and value, with living freedom. Hegel’s phrase for this felicitous state is “to be with oneself in the other.”

Hegel’s thesis is that all social life is structurally akin to the conditions of love and friendship; we are all bound to one another as firmly as lovers are, with the terrible reminder that the ways of love are harsh, unpredictable and changeable.  And here is the source of the great anger: because you are the source of my being, when our love goes bad I am suddenly, absolutely dependent on someone for whom I no longer count and who I no longer know how to count; I am exposed, vulnerable, needy, unanchored and without resource.  In fury, I lash out, I deny that you are my end and my satisfaction, in rage I claim that I can manage without you, that I can be a full person, free and self-moving, without you.  I am everything and you are nothing.

In principle, I don’t object to this interpretation of the Tea Party’s anger, but it does seem an unnecessarily psychologistic application of Hegel’s position. Seems to me that he could just identify the intense frustration of those who otherwise insist upon their independence by refusing to recognize that they are, in the end, inextricably dependent upon everyone else. In that case, it’s not that their psychological rankles are up, like legions of spurned lovers, but rather that they intensely hang on to the  illusion that they are masters of their own domain, that their mastery is of their own creation.

I actually have a fair bit more to say in this Rawlsian vein, sans Hegel, and I’ve been working on a silly little opinion piece for several years now,  at least since the Bush/Kerry presidential race, but I’ve just never found the time to finish my piece. I’d disclose more, but I’d prefer to finish it first.

Off to Portland in a few days to deliver a talk on moral hazards and geoengineering. More on that in the coming hours.


Geoengineering with a Cultural Twist

June 13, 2010

Could this be the future face of geoengineering?

Thais Fire Penis-Shaped Rockets to Trigger Rain; Showers Desperately Needed

In today’s most entertaining effort to influence the local weather, farmers in rural Thailand recently completed their annual rainmaking ritual: firing phallic rockets into the skies to try to trigger downpours.

Not sure if that will work. I suggest further study.


Oh Noes

June 11, 2010