Archive for September, 2010



September 13, 2010

Tom Yulsman posts some nice video is of the Reservoir Road fire.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Destruction, posted with vodpod

Crazy Bear

September 11, 2010


Vodpod videos no longer available.


Philosophy and Policy

September 9, 2010

Roger has a nice post this morning about the conflict and pushback he’s gotten from political scientists by working on policy issues. The same could be said for those working in philosophy and policy.

Curiously, many philosophers will insist that they’re interested in public policy issues. They will tell you that they focus on abstract philosophical questions associated with broad-reaching public policy concerns: moral status, personal identity, doing and allowing, the nature of value. These are all  interesting questions, of course, and I work on some of them too. When push comes to shove, however, many philosophers often refuse to go further. They’ll insist that many of the more pressing public policy issues aren’t philosophically interesting enough, that there’s no sense in dissecting the details. Doing so will certainly come off as scholastic and picayune.

Meh. Policy is messy, gritty stuff. The targets are moving. The questions are changing. Philosophers need to step up and get a little dirty. It ain’t as pure as all the beautiful as the M&E or metaethics stuff; it’s not as fun as the normative or even the applied ethics work; but it’s just as damned important.

Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretirt; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern. Or something like that.


Akan Concept of the Person

September 8, 2010

 ()Here’s friend, colleague, and Cameroonian philosopher Ajume Wingo on ABC Radio talking about the Akan concept of the person.


Veganism, People, and Nature

September 7, 2010

George Monbiot has a fascinating column today. I’ll try to pick up the book he mentions, Simon Fairlie’s Meat: A Benign Extravagance, sometime in the near future. Here’s the upshot of Monbiot’s piece:

In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world’s livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism “is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue”. I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I’m about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

Screech! Say what? In some circles, this is heresy.

What’s fascinating is that, if true, utilitarians should be the first to capitulate. I’ve just posted this article to my facebook page. We’ll see what the responses are, but before I get any feedback, I anticipate an outcry from the serpent crowd. Still, if they stick to their doctrine, some amount of suffering should offset the suffering of any individual animal.


Philosophy TV

September 2, 2010

Plato would be so proud. Check it out.

Bookmark and wile your hours away listening to two nerds battle it out over issues you have to bend your mind around to persuade yourself to think you know what they’re saying.


A World of Discovery

September 2, 2010

Dead crazyperson and one-time eco-crusader James Lee has stirred up a veritable shitstorm of political opportunism with his recent hostage-taking at the Discovery Network. Here, you can see all the fun posts about the political associations of nutcrackers by travelling to Wonkette.

The Washington Post begins the thread by calling Lee an “environmental militant”. Think Progress then says one thing. Anthony Watts anotherJoe Romm another. Whee! This is fun.

No, but seriously. This event, like most of these events, is the result of a person who is seriously out of psychological balance. He was not sorting the world into goods and bads, as the Washington Post seems to assert. He was not sorting out good and bad ideologies. He was having difficulty identifying goods and bads, rights and wrongs, full stop. He was exercising exceptionally poor judgment, and we have evidence of this in his actions today. In effect, he had a problem with reasoning.

The lesson here, I think, apart from the truism that mental illness is a serious problem and that we need to provide help to those who aren’t capable of finding that help for themselves, is that it is incredibly easy to use crazy people for political gain, to ignore the serious burdens that reason places on us by appealing instead to all of the nutty dumdums who pepper our nightly news broadcasts.

Much as I believe that there are many unreasonable people — even completely nutty people — who disagree with me politically, it does nobody any good to focus on the nutty. To say that some position X will cause other people to Y, or that some position A is the consequence of derangement or disorder, is to psychologize reason away. Far better to focus on the reasonable, to hone in on an argument by deploying the principle of charity, to find the best representative of a given position and dismantle that position on its own terms.

In this respect, Stanley Fish’s column this week is incredibly prescient:

The formula is simple and foolproof (although those who deploy it so facilely seem to think we are all fools): If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.

The only thing more breathtaking than the effrontery of the move is the ease with which so many fall in with it. I guess it’s because both those who perform it and those who eagerly consume it save themselves the trouble of serious thought.


Adaptation, IPCC Style

September 1, 2010

Nature has a nice piece on the recent report on the IPCC process:

Founded in 1988, the IPCC’s task of providing climate information to the UN has grown in complexity — along with the overall size of its annual budget, which is underwritten by member nations (see chart). The IPCC’s chairman,Rajendra Pachauri, says that the review bolsters the IPCC’s reputation and demonstrates that the science it provides is fundamentally sound. “My hope is that the accumulation of so many investigations into climate science in such a short period of time will strengthen public confidence so that we can move forward,” he says.

Harold Shapiro, a former president of Prince ton University, New Jersey, who chaired the review panel, credited the IPCC with enormous successes, both in terms of assessing the science of climate change and garnering support from governments around the world. “But fundamental changes are necessary to ensure its continued success,” Shapiro says.


The report recommended that the IPCC strengthen its science-review process by encouraging review editors to use their existing authority to ensure that comments from reviewers are “adequately considered” when drafting assessments. The panel suggested that editors and authors could work together to rank reviewer’s comments on the assessments to help manage the huge workload (drafts of the last assessment received 90,000 comments). Procedures must also be clarified for using and labelling ‘grey literature’ that has not been peer reviewed, such as reports by government agencies and advocacy groups.

It will be interesting to see how these standards of judgment–“adequately considered,” for instance–play out in the broader political scene. As an academic, I don’t have a huge problem with them. It is clear that we must all use our judgment, and where the line of adequate consideration falls seems to me both about the best one can ask for and also a standard that is ripe for spitting on.

In other news, watermelons have seeds?? Who knew?