Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I got a meme!

Mona passed a meme on to me! no one ever passes memes to me!

Total Volume of Music Files on My Computer: 9 gigs. Currently it lives on my work computer, which is a silly place for it, because I've lost my ability to work and listen to music at the same time. In fact, I've lost the ability to multitask anything with reading and writing that is not another form of reading and writing.

The Last CD I Bought Was: The one I've been blathering about, Sleater-Kinney's The Woods. And look, my girlfriend is interviewed in The Onion.

Song Playing Right Now: Nothing. Like I said, I cannot multitask anything with writing that is not another form of writing.

Five Songs I Listen To a Lot, Or That Mean a Lot To Me:

"Your Mother Wants to Know" Scrawl.
It's a song about not getting along with your mother, but its not sung from a teenage perspective. This isn't one of those songs that makes me say "this song is so about me." I dont' trust people who only like songs they see themselves in. I actually have a good relationship with my mother, and trust I will always have a good relationship with my children. Scrawl seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth, and have probably returned to their day jobs in Columbus Ohio. I post their music in hopes that renewed interest will bring them back.

"Love Vigilantes," New Order. (or as covered by Poi Dog Pondering, Superchunk, etc.) The song can make me cry, and runs through my head whenever there is a war on, which seems to be every 10 or 15 years.

"Slack Motherfucker," by Superchunk, as covered by fIREHOSE. Is it ok to like the cover better? I know superchunk was being hip when they burried their vocal tracks in the mix, but I like the fact that Ed Fromohio just got all in your face with his off keyness. Also, this song runs through my head whenever I am angry at my employer, which happens quite often.

"Reno Dakota" The Magnetic Fields. This song is here because Stephin Merritt rhymes "dakota" "iota" "quota" "Nino Rota." Also, he rhymes "enthrall me" and "call me." Oh fuck it, here are the lyrics.

Reno Dakota
there's not an iota
of kindness in you

You know you enthrall me
and yet you don't call me
It's making me blue
Pantone 292

Reno Dakota
I'm reaching my quota
of tears for the year
Alas and alack
you just don't call me back
You have just disappeared
It makes me drink beer

I know you're a recluse
You know that's no excuse
Reno that's just a ruse
Do not play fast and loose
with my heart

Reno Dakota
I'm no Nino Rota
I don't know the score
Have I annoyed you
or is there a boy who
Well he's just a whore
I've had him before

It makes me drink more

"The World Turned Upside Down" words and music by Leon Rosselson, as recorded by Billy Bragg.
This site gives the history of the events told in the song. I have never heard the original version, but I have heard an additional cover by an a capella woman's group called something like "clandestine"

Who will you tag? Pippy, because I know she does memes, and Thomas, because even if he doesn't do memes, he has good taste in music.

More new haircut photos

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

and the womb agitated, there occurs in it a sort of tickling sensation (CFO, pt. 6)

So you were wondering, were Baker and Bellis the first to propose that orgasm aided fertilization? In fact, the Hippocratic school agreed with them, at least according to McLaren (1990). A Hippocratic medical text called On Generation also includes this charming description of the orgasm.
I assert that when the genitals are rubbed and the womb agitated, there occurs in it a sort of tickling sensation, and the rest of the body derives pleasure and warmth from it. The woman also has a discharge that flows into the womb so that the womb becomes moist, sometimes the outside of the womb too when the opening of the womb.[From Lonie (1981) as quoted by McLaren]
Unfortunately, McLaren does not quote the part of the text that describes increased likelihood of fertilization directly, and I can’t find an online version of the treatise.


Lonie, Iain M., ed. 1981. The Hippocratic treatises, "On generation," "On the nature of the child," "Diseases IV". Berlin; New York: De Gruyter.

McLaren, Angus. 1990. A history of contraception: from antiquity to the present day, Family, sexuality, and social relations in past times. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass., USA: B. Blackwell.

Who else has a new haircut

Here are some people who put "newhaircut" as a tag on their flikr photos.

selfportrait new haircut
Originally uploaded by antmoose.

Here's the whole folder

Monday, May 30, 2005

Another Haircut Picture

Picture 014
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

In this one, I am the only person who looks like shit

Summers off for research ridiculous haircuts

[Photo redacted because molly said "Caroline looks like crap"]

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I'm not teaching this summer--so why not?

Caroline looks a little dazed. I picked her up suddenly to be in the picture.

I'm not sure how long this haircut will live. On friday I'm going to a meeting where members of the Canton Rotary Club will be present. If I'm going to cross over into the Bedford Falls side of our fair village, I may want to be appropriately coiffed.

Corporate Cuteness

So this post was originally a test post from Flickr. This is the message they sent:
This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Here are some other things from their sign in process

"singleness: __ Single, __ Taken, __ Open"

"Our hatred of spam is difficult to articulate. We will never share your..."

"I am over 13 years of age and have read the fascinating terms of use agreement"

I don't know how I feel about coporate cuteness. One the one hand, its cute. On the other hand, it is corporate. It feels kinda like when you were a teenager, and some magazine written by adults but marketed to teenagers actually did a pretty good job of capturing the lingo you and your friends used. What do you do now? Change your lingo? But I liked our lingo!

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Case of the Female Orgasm, Part 65

Some More Lloyd links

And Then There's Mona

Crucial to Lloyd's thesis is that women rare climax from vaginal intercourse alone, but almost always require clitorial stimulation. And then there's Mona:
Right as I was falling asleep last night (the first time, pre-oh-baby-oh-baby-sex), I tried to narrow down the types of female orgasm I knew just from personal experience: vaginal, clitoral, anal (yes, really), back and neck and arms and shoulders (separate? same? not sure?), and a little ditty I call 'hands-free fantasy' orgasm. (With a good fantasy, and a little Kegel-inspired cooter fluttering, I can create an orgasm whilst driving, typing, sitting in boring meetings...all hands free. The orgasm has a stifling aspect, natch, and I have to wipe the chair off afterwards, but....) So exploration is definitely necessary.

Lloyd on SNL

From Lloyd's publicist at HUP, this recap of the two liner on SNL

It was very quick-- Amy Pohler said something like "In other news, a book called The Case of the Female Orgasm has been stirring up a controversy by arguing that there is no evolutionary component (or something like that) to the female orgasm." And then (showing an edited cover of an old "Hardy Boys" book!) "it's certainly proved to be the most interesting case in years for the Hardy Boys," or, again, something like that.

You forget when you walk around repeating SNL catchphrases that most of the time the show isn't funny, not with the original cast, not with eddie murphy, and not under Tina Fey.

Lloyd in Slate

Amanda Schaffer has a nice article in Slate about the history of Lloyd's research. She also says that Lloyd was on The View. She also gives us a link to the current Technorati list on Lloyd, which makes me realize I can't keep up with the popular discussion at all. I don't want to drop the story though. I'll focus on the philosophical discusison.

I fell asleep while having a cavity filled

I've long had the ability to fall asleep in unusual circumstances. Its one of my talents. But this is a whole new level: On Wednesday, I fell asleep at the dentist, while having a cavity filled.

Do you think that means I'm overworked?

But here's more sleep disruption: I woke up an hour and a half ago, at 4:00 AM, after finally falling asleep around midnight. Part of the reason is my lower back really hurts, and has for some reason since last week when I had the vasectomy.

Maybe it's too much blogging.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On the Current Global Relious War, part 5

The NYT has a report on new evidence, based on documents obtained by the ACLU, of Koran abuse, including flushing it down the toilet.

The Pentagon's reply:
Bryan Whitman, the deputy Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday that the newly released document, a summary of an interrogation, "does not include any new allegations, nor does it include any new sources for previous allegations." Mr. Whitman said the source of the accusation "is an enemy combatant."

Jeanne D'arc on the reply
Many of the "terrorists" America has seized in recent years have turned out to be innocent bystanders and even victims of vendettas. Some, like Dilawar, the young man who was beaten to death at Bagram in Afghanistan, were imprisoned for crimes that may have been committed by the people who turned them in. Others -- Omar Deghayes and Khaled el-Masri, for instance -- were victims of mistaken identity.

But you've got to admit Who do you believe -- us or the terrorists? is a pretty effective framing device, even if it is built on a blatant lie.

Under the new household financial agreement, I can include the ACLU on my monthly charities list if I can hold my credit card spending to $358.88 through June 11. Wish me luck: This may mean no beer.

The woods = holy fuck

Janet Weiss has moved to a much looser drumming style, like john bonham or the guy who drummed for the Jimmy Hendrix experience. It totally works in this context.

Look, more pictures of my girlfiend:

The easiest way to play rock critic is to draw analogies to other music, which works if your audience shares the same frame of reference. I hear this as a grunge album, which makes sense given the band's Olympia heritage. The don't sound like Pearl Jam grunge, the grunge that made it to the radio in the ealy 90s. It sounds like the fuzzy grunge that didn't get that far out of Seattle. The Melvins. Mudhoney. Given the amount of guitar heroism, another good comparison would be Neil Young in his live electric mode. Of course, that was the exact sound that the rock critics declared retroactively grunge. The 11 minute fuzz jam sounds very Velvet Underground or recent Sonic Youth. In other words, this sounds like a lot of music I already like.

So much stuff has drawn me away from work this week. Now this. Ok, I'm going to the library, which will prevent me from listening to S-K and blogging.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

My copy of Sleater Kinney's The Woods has arrived! This interrupts all other plans for the day.

Carrie Brownstein, left. Corin Tucker, right.

Yes, I know I am married. Yes, i know she was gay the last time she discussed her sexuality in public.

Nevertheless, Carrie Brownstein is my girlfriend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Case of the Female Orgasm, part 4

Below the fold is my response to the NYT article on Lloyd and a link to Pharyngula

(No really, honey, this is work. I am not slacking off at the office blogging. This is academic work. At the very least, the book review that will come out in Metapsychology Online will be listed on my CV)

(Note expandable posts have been hinky of late. If anyone actually tries to click through, and can't see the full post, let me know.)

(Expandable post removed, for the benefit of the anxious masses. Hopefully you won't be dissappointed by the fact that this is really just a post about biology. At least I use the phrase "spree fucking" in it.)

The NY Times Article

For those of you who are new to the story, Lisa Lloyd's new book argues that research into the evolution of the human female orgasm has been marred by androcentric and adaptationist biases. The Times' Dinitia Smith interviewed Lloyd and got replies from four of the people she criticized, Alcock, Thornhill, Baker and Hrdy. (The article is now behind the pay wall.) In this post I simply want to reply to these four on behalf of Lloyd.

The article does a nice job of explaining Lloyd's on prefered, developmental explanation of female orgasm, from Donald Symons.

That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts -- a byproduct of the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or nine weeks of life.

In that early period, the nerve and tissue pathways are laid down for various reflexes, including the orgasm, Dr. Lloyd said. As development progresses, male hormones saturate the embryo, and sexuality is defined.

In boys, the penis develops, along with the potential to have orgasms and ejaculate, while ''females get the nerve pathways for orgasm by initially having the same body plan.''

Nipples in men are similarly vestigial, Dr. Lloyd pointed out.

However, Smith oversimplifies her account of Lloyd's criticisms of the adaptationist accounts, and as a result, screws up the communication between Lloyd and her critics.

Central to her thesis is the fact that women do not routinely have orgasms during sexual intercourse.

She analyzed 32 studies, conducted over 74 years, of the frequency of female orgasm during intercourse.

When intercourse was ''unassisted,'' that is not accompanied by stimulation of the clitoris, just a quarter of the women studied experienced orgasms often or very often during intercourse, she found.

Five to 10 percent never had orgasms. Yet many of the women became pregnant.


Dr. Lloyd said there was no doubt in her mind that the clitoris was an evolutionary adaptation, selected to create excitement, leading to sexual intercourse and then reproduction.

But, ''without a link to fertility or reproduction,'' Dr. Lloyd said, ''orgasm cannot be an adaptation.''

Lloyd's argument does hinge on the fact that women rarely orgasm from vaginal intercourse, but you need to (1) explain why this is a problem for the competing accounts and (2) emphasize that Lloyd is not demanding a perfect correlation of orgasm with intercourse . Otherwise, the adaptationists will simply say "my account does not require that orgasm always occur with intercourse," which is exactly what Thornhil and Alcock did.

Here's Alcock's response: "orgasm doesn't occur every time a woman has intercourse is not evidence that it's not adaptive...I'm flabbergasted by the notion that orgasm has to happen every time to be adaptive."

Thornhill: In a phone interview, Dr. Thornhill said that he had not read Dr. Lloyd's book but the fact that not all women have orgasms during intercourse supports his theory. There will be patterns in orgasm with preferred and not preferred men," he said.

Both Alcock and Thornhill advocate mate-choice explanations of the human female orgasm. Basically, the idea is that women use orgasm to judge whether their partners would make good mates. Men who give women more orgasms will be mated with more often. According to Alcock, women are judging whether the man will be a good caregiver for their children. Thornhill's picture is more unconscious. He and his colleagues speculate that the main variables in determining whether a woman orgasms are markers for genetic fitness, like facial symmetry. They further claim that in orgasm, the uterus "sucks up" sperm, making fertilization more likely. In fact, they imagine that this would occur in situations where the female has had sex with two different males in a short period of time, and that the increased facial symmetry of the more genetically fit male will cause more of his sperm to be sucked up into the uterus.

Now both Alcock and Thornhill's accounts predict that there will be variability in rates of orgasm with intercourse. Lloyd acknolwedges this and even praises Alcock's for getting that part right. However, neither can account for the way in which orgasm and intercourse are partially linked. On their accounts, we should expect most women to sometimes have orgasm sometimes with intercourse--specifically those times when they have a good mate. But this is only 42% of women at best. It says nothing about all the women out there who *never* have orgasm with intercourse or all the women out there who *always* have orgasm with intercourse. (Unless, for some reason, there are women out there who have *never* chosen a fit partner and other women who *always* choose them.) And this is exactly the point Lloyd makes. She makes it on page 75 in responding to Alcock and 212 in responding to Thornhill et al. The idea the Lloyd was insisting on 100% correlation between orgasm and intercourse seems to be a flaw in the way Smith represented Lloyd's work to Alcock and Thornhill. There are other problems with Alcock and Thornhill's accounts as well. For instance, why does Alcock assume that men who are good lovers will also be good with children? Thornhill's work has an even bigger problem huge problem, because it is based on the sperm upsuck hypothesis from Baker and Bellis, which brings us to Baker's reply to Lloyd.

Baker, together with Mark Bellis, proposed the sperm upsuck theory. Their argument was marred by use of really small sample sizes (like one), screwy reasoning around the timing of orgams, and a generally watering down of the hypothesis to the point where it could explain anything. By the time Lloyd is finished with Baker and Bellis, she is wondering "how the Baker and Bellis paper ever got published in Animal Behavior the flagship journal in the field" (232). In light of that remark, Baker's defense to the Times seems quite weak

In an e-mail message recently, Dr. Baker wrote that his and Dr. Bellis's manuscript had ''received intense peer review appraisal'' before publication. Statisticians were among the reviewers, he said, and they noted that some sample sizes were small, ''but considered that none of these were fatal to our paper.''

The most adaptive hypothesis on the evolution of the human female orgasm comes from Hrdy. While every other evolutionary psychologist studying sexuality is obsessed with male jealousy and the mechanisms males use to confirm the paternity of their children, Hrdy emphasizes the methods females have used to confuse paternity. In other primates like chimps, the most common cause of infant death is infanticide by newly dominant males killing the offspring of their rivals and sending the females into heat. Hrdy points out that females can save their children if they can keep males in the dark about parentage.

Hence, spree fucking. Hrdy imagines that in some point in hominid evolution, females would have bouts where they mate with large numbers of adult males in rapid succession, as some contemporary primates do. (I much prefer the term "spree fucking" here to the porno term "gang bang".) Orgasm might facilitate such behavior if females required long periods of penetration to achieve orgasm, durations that could only be achieved by mating with many males in rapid succession.

The problem with this theory is that in fact most human women do not increase their chance of orgasm by increasing duration of vaginal penetration. Certainly after 15 minutes, if you haven't arrived yet, you aren't going to. This is due to a simple fact known to any sensitive lover: the clitoris is king. Women orgasm as quickly as men given clitoral stimulation, and vaginal stimulation, no matter how sustained, simply won't do the trick.

In the Times, Hrdy replies that she is not talking about human sexuality. She is imagining that one of our common primate ancestors, perhaps seven million years ago, engaged in this kind of spree fucking. But now the account has become totally speculative. If you are ruling out evidence from current sexuality as relevant, you really have left the realm of testable hypotheses.

Alright, that's all for now. I've got more thoughts on Lloyd to post, and then it will all be assembled into my review. Perhaps I should also get a paper out of this. For the PSA, perhaps? If I push the Bonobo line from my first post I might have an interesting thesis.

In other news
PZ Myers demonlishes a writer who tries to use Lloyd's book to push the "teach the controversy" approach to creationism in the schools.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On the Current Global Religious War, Part 4

The story, here, via Wonkette.

From the story

Lovelace said he felt it was the work of God to display the sign and that no one in the church has spoken up against it to him.

He said the church has 55 members on the roster and he has only received one angry phone call since the sign was posted.

"We have a good group of people," said Lovelace.

Lovelace said the sign changes every week.

"About Friday or Saturday we will have a new sign," he said. "It should state to some effect 'Where are your treasures? Are they at the flea market or are they in heaven?'"

Lovelace said that he does not have anything against the flea market that recently opened up down the street from the church.

Lisa Lloyd on SNL?

According to my informant, the SNL's Weekend Update for May 21 featured a joke about Lisa Lloyd's book. Something called "Footnote TV" explains the reference for viewers here. But the question I have is "What was the joke? and Where can I see it." I will be emailing my informant Dr. Lloyd for further information.

Also, I will be reviewing the book for metapsychology online. I will probably do at least one more post on this theme before the review goes up.

SLU-Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief

I finally got a note back from Natalia about SLU-Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief. It turns out the money is goes to the Canton Rotary Club, which forwards it to the Colombo, Sri Lanka Rotary Club via the father of an SLU student, Tahire Edirinsinge. This sort of low level community to community contact is the coolest.

Now I just need to find out if they are still accepting donations, and what the status of the project is. Their blog has not been updated.

Dear Senator Schumer,

Oxfam has a quick email you can send urging more action on Darfur. The text of their boilerplate email is below the fold.

Dear Senator Schumer,

I have serious concerns about the ongoing crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan which has forced more than two million people from their homes and left untold others dead.

I believe the United States government needs to appoint a special envoy to help defuse this crisis.

In the past, the US has played a critical, and successful, role in bringing peace to north and south Sudan by appointing such an envoy. Now, a similar, high-level diplomatic investment is needed to help secure that peace and extend it to Darfur.

Please urge the Bush administration to appoint this envoy so the peace process can begin.

Child Soldiers

I went to Amnesty.org, picked a cause and wrote a letter. It made me feel a lot better. I bet it would help you, too.

Next up: jury duty!

Your Excellency,

Laurent Gbagbo
Président de la République
Présidence de la République
01 BP 1354 Abidjan 01
Côte d'Ivoire

Your Excellency,

I urgently ask to you to demobilize all children under the age of 18 from your armed forces, and stop all further recruitment of children including re-recruitment of demobilized children. I appeal to you on the grounds of international law, and of a common humanity that loves all children. I know that as a man of dignity and conscience, you do not want to see the most vulnerable of your people destroyed by war. I urge you to remove all officers suspected of recruiting and using child soldiers from their command. The use of child soldiers must be investigated by independent, credible officials, and perpetrators must be brought to justice according to international standards. Support must be provided to re-integrate child soldiers into civilian life.

Perhaps I should say a word about myself: I am a Professor of Ethics at an American university. As such, I am a part of a global community of philosophy teachers that is concerned with the just and compassionate treatment of children. I know that your government is trapped in a struggle against the Forces Nouvelles, but I also know that you prize your international reputation for decency and respect for human rights. To strengthen that reputation, I ask you to ratify both the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Yours sincerely,

Professor J. Robert Loftis IV

Monday, May 23, 2005

Torture 2; also Right Livelihood

The NYT has another story up about the deaths at Bagram (via Body and Soul, who accompanies her link with a discusison of the value of the big daily papers).

Why doesn't the NYT just put the full 2,000 page pentagon report online, and let the world sort out the facts of the case? By publishing the leak, they are saying "this is a secret the world should know." So why not let us know it? The argument for protecting US national interest is feeble. Plato argued well in the Republic that the best thing that can happen to an unjust person is for their crimes to become known. Only then can they begin to restore balance to their souls.

Below the fold: rambling thoughts on children and what I am and am not doing to save the world.

I've been thinking about torture a lot for the past few days. I've been really busy, but I've been thinking about torture. I've had surgery, and then a *lot* of childcare. My house has become more like the house of my bloggy hero, Jo(e). I have extras in the house! Our neighbor, Kung Fu Coffee Mamma, sent her children Ballerina Child and Informant Child to us, while she went to Colorado to meet her husband, who is coming home from Iraq. Well, in addition to the two extras, I and some other daddies ran day care at our house for 12 children yesterday while Molly and all the women in her mommy circle had a babyshower/wimmin's power ritual. Then today I took Molly's shift and the day care co-op while Molly finished a job.

But listen, all I have been thinking about while I was surrounded by all these adorable moppets is torture. (D. Boon, circa 1983: "I try to talk girls, and I keep thinking of World War III! I've got a pile of numbers and a ton of stats! Of warheads! of millions and piles of warheads!) Chomsky is fond of saying, when anyone asks "what can I do?" that the answer is obvious. "Obvious. There are hundreds groups working on these issues." I don't think Noam understands the question, though. The question isn't "What can be done" but "what can I do given the structure of my life?" How can I help dismantle the empire and hold down a job and take care of kids?

Here's a little platonic dialogue Molly and I had today:

Me: I want to add Amnesty to our list of charities. Can I sign up for $15 a month if we promise to never buy overpriced food on campus ever again?

MollY: I don't believe you.

Me: Please

Molly: This is not a good time. I'm quitting work when the baby comes, and we owe a thousand to the insulation people and four hundred to Organic Farmer Lady.

(She picked good debt examples here. These are all very high minded expenses: we are having additional insulation put in the house because the energy audit we purchased said we could be more energy efficient. We have also purchased a subscription from a local organic farmer for a summer's worth of produce.)

Me: But a taxi driver in Kabul...

Molly: I can't bear to hear it.


Molly: I'm trying to save the world by populating it with reasonable people.

Me: I just had a vasectomy.

OK, so then I'm thinking that what I really need to do is get a job in activism, then I wouldn't have to balance saving the world with work and family. Since I've been thinking about the death of Mr. Dilawar, I'm thinking about going to law school in international human rights law. Molly is excited about anything that smells like a change of career, because it might mean we will move to a real city. But the ugly truth is international human rights lawyers are less employable than philophers. Philosophers are generally to worried about abstractions to cause real trouble. International human rights lawyer just means trouble maker.

The other think is that I actually believe in what I do currently. The first day of my intro class uses a trick I learned from a woman at the last AAPT conference. I write "The unexamined life is not for a human being" on the board. Then I distrubite dry earase pens and leave the classroom. I don't return until the students have filled the board with responses. I teach ethics and critical thinking. I believe I can make the world better by filling it with people who are more ethical and think more critically. I guess Molly and I are a lot alike

Ok, so what I've been thinking about is what the Buddhists call Right Livelhood. I could type more about the things I have been thinking on this topic, but I'm just spinning my wheels. I'm going to the Amnesty site and seeing if they have any petitions to sign or letters to write. It's late (in my world) so I'm not going to be able to do serious work until tomorrow.

On the Current Global Religious War, pt. 3

Body and Soul. Full story at AMERICAblog.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Blogger Secret Identity Revealed!

Jo(e) is really The Woman Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You, from Sylvia.

More Cartoons about the real Jo(e) here.

Friday, May 20, 2005


from the Times

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

Read it.

Jeanne D'arc at Body and Soul seems to be covering the torture beat well. I should read her more.

Another Korean Breakthrough

Dr. Woo Suk Hwang and his team have announced that they can reliably generate cloned stem cell lines for a wide variety of patients. Hwang's team was the group that produced the first stem cell line from a cloned embryo last year. These guys are going great guns.

The links:

1. The official report is published in Science. Science also has two other articles on the breakthrough, all free with registration, accessible from here. Hey did you know Hwang was trained as a vet?

One of the articles in Science is a policy piece that deals with international oversight, the ethics of oocyte donation, and creating unreasonable expectations. The oocyte donation issue is very difficult. There are a lot of medical problems associated with harvasting your eggs, and the donor receives no theraputic benefit from the procedure. What's more, paying the donor is generally frowned upon, because we do not want to create a market for eggs or create a situation where poor women become egg factories for wealthy ones. The authors of the Science policy piece point out that right now stem cell researchers are envisioning relying on women to donate their eggs to strangers for purely altruistic reasons. However, we don't allow altruistic live organ donation to strangers because it is seen as asking to much of people.

2. Here's the NYT story. Note the Old Gray Lady gave their top gun, Gina Kolata, the headline for the story, but working dog Sheryl Gay Stolberg did the footwork. (Also, has anyone noticed that the NYT Stable Link Generator just isn't working anymore?)

3. PZ Myers has a post on the science piece. He seems to think that the main ethical problem with oocyte donation is that younger donors (under 30) give the best eggs. I'm not sure this is an issue. My instinct is to treat young adults just like adults.

4. Bioethics.net has three pieces up so far. Here is a piece by David Magnus, who wrote the policy article in Science with Mildred Cho, explaining why this isn't a step forward for reproductive cloning.Here is a piece on other aspects of the research, which includes a suggestion that we should pay people for eggs. Here is note about our dear leader's response to the Korean announcement. ("I plan to propel the United States into the Dark Ages, to promote witch hunts and supress science")

5. Magnus and Cho have a op ed in the San Jose Mercury News which recaps in ordinary language the concerns they raised in the science policy piece.

Treatments from this research are still a long way off. Still, one can imagine that in my lifetime, or at least Caroline's lifetime, sick wealthy people will be flying off to South Korea for treatment that the US couldn't develop, because of moral concern for an embryo with the mental life of c. elegans.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Teaching abortion ethics part 4

James C. Mohr. 1978. Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy, 1800-1900. New York: Oxford University Press

I just finished reading a book on the history of abortion law in 19th century America. This is a part of a general project promoting the usefulness of history for teaching abortion ethics. Right now, though, I just want to blog my impressions of the book. The discussion of its pedagogical importance will be reserved for the forthcoming article itself.

I was drawn to Mohr’s book because it focuses on a question that I had been asking. This is the opening passage of the book:

In 1800 no jurisdiction in the United States had enacted any statues whatsoever on the subject of abortion; most forms of abortion were not illegal and those American women who wished to practice abortion did so. Yet by 1900 virtually every jurisdiction in the United States had laws upon its books that proscribed the practice and declared most abortions to be criminal offences. What follows is an attempt to understand how this dramatic and still intensely debated shift in social policy came about in the United States during the nineteenth century.

Americans typically have a two act understanding of this history of abortion: there are the pre-Roe days, where abortion was taboo and performed only in back alleys, and the post-Roe days, where Planned Parenthood clinics stand off against protestors. Depending on your political persuasion, this is either a story of moral progress or moral decline.

During my minor surgery the other day, I mentioned to the primary doctor that I would be reading this book during my convalescence. The nurse piped in, "Were there abortion laws prior to the 1970s?" I’ve found that most students also have this level of ignorance. (The lead doctor, on the other hand, knew the history of his profession well. The med student was quiet during this part of the conversation, so I couldn’t tell if she was getting any of the history of medicine in her schoolin'.)

In any case, the first step in undoing this historical ignorance is to see how the “pre-Roe” days came to be. As an era, they really only last from 1900 to the 1960s, when state abortion laws began to change again. They are not some historical bedrock, beneath which one cannot dig. Mohr tells a great story about the creation of the pre-Roe era. It has a clear arc, characters that are both familiar and strange, and rich web of actions and reactions, causes and effects.

The story opens, as Mohr said at the outset, in a country with no abortion laws. There is a tradition from British common law that says that the fetus gains legal status at quickening. Indeed, the quickening doctrine is a reflection of an almost universal understanding of when the fetus gains moral status. However prior to quickening, abortion was considered a safe and moral procedure. Indeed, it wasn’t even called abortion, it was called "restoring blocked menses," and Mohr provides generous evidence that women had broad access to methods for unblocking their menstruation.

If I can simply Mohr’s story a bit, I would say that it comes in three acts. The first act is an unsuccessful attempt by the emergent medical profession to ban abortion and reveal the incoherence of the quickening doctrine. (This is chapters one and two of Mohr.) The second act is a massive shift in abortion practice in the United States (chapters three and four of Mohr). The final act is a second, successful attempt by the physicians to change abortion policy, a campaign that created the pre-Roe world we have heard about. (This is the remainder of Mohr’s book, chapters five through nine.)

My driving question in reading this book was causal: what forces created the pre-Roe world. The framework of Mohr’s story lets us split the question in two: (1) what were the motivations of the physicians and (2) what changed in the middle of the century to make the second campaign successful. Mohr answers both these questions with skill and equanimity. Pro-life people will find in the physicians motivations they have themselves, including a reverence for human life. Pro-choice people will also see misogyny and a backlash against feminism in the physicians movement. Both sides will see a lot of factors that we don’t think of much today, including the drive of the doctors to professionalize, and worries about falling birthrates in native born, protestant women.

I have more of an agenda than Mohr does, however. My big historical theory is that the pre-Roe world arose as a backlash to the first wave of feminism, or at least to the social changes that the first wave of feminism brought. Mohr gives me evidence for this. While the doctors may have a complicated set of motivations, both noble and base, the social changes in the middle of the century that made their second campaign successful almost all revolve around women taking charge of their own reproductive lives.

I don’t want to commit the New York Review of Books sin of book reviewing, where the review consists of a chapter by chapter summary of the book. But I do want to show you Mohr’s evidence on two points. First, the physicians had a sincere pro-life outlook driving their campaign. It wasn’t all a desire to stomp out professional rivals. Second, the big shift in the middle of the century that made the success of the second campaign possible was all about women’s emancipation.

Mohr has two discussions of the motivations of the physicians, once in the context of the first campaign (34-37) and once in the context of the second campaign (160-70). In each case the professional motivations of the physicians is emphasized. In the 19th century, scientific practitioners of modern medicine (called "regular physicians" at the time) competed against an array of homeopaths, midwives and folk practitioners in an unregulated arena. The irregulars drew far more of their profits form abortion than the regulars. Banning the practice was a part of a general drive toward establishing legal control over medical practice in America.

But the regulars also had genuine moral motivations for what they were doing. First of all, Mohr emphasizes that they were in a position to see that the quickening doctrine was incoherent. The quickening doctrine depended on a crappy inference. Prior to quickening, there was no way to know for sure you were pregnant, so people decided to act like you weren’t. Thus abortion was just "unblocking menstruation" (4). An epistemological line gets metaphysical significance by sheer will for the conclusion to be true. The regulars, who had begun to learn a lot about development, saw that this was bogus (35). Second, the regulars simply had what we now call a culture of life: "the nations regular doctors, probably more than any other identifiable group in American society in the 19th century, including the clergy, defended the value of human life as an absolute" (36)

The regulars had other motivations. They were openly opposed to women playing social roles other than childrearing (169). After the shift in the middle of the century in who was having abortions, regulars were very concerned that native-born protestant women were not reproducing enough (167). But let’s grant for a second that the doctors had a good faith commitment to a culture of life: is that commitment what changed abortion policy in the 19th century.

Mohr is not an ideologue, and does not attempt to answer that question directly. Nevertheless, the conclusion I get from his story is that the answer is no. When the doctors were campaigning on moral grounds alone, they lost. Their second campaign was only successful because the public became concerned about uppity women. According to Mohr, the mid-century shift I have been alluding to has three main components: first, the perception of the American public that abortion rates were shooting up dramatically (47-50); second, the fact that abortion rates were indeed shooting up dramatically (50-85); and third, the very accurate perception that the women now seeking abortion were married, wealthy, protestant and native born (86-118). The first two factors made sure that abortion would be seen as a significant issue. The third factor made it possible to vilify the women seeking abortion. Because these women were married, they did not have the excuse that they were unable to raise the children. These women were limiting family size not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Why did they want to? Because they had other opportunities. They typically already had a couple children, and wanted to now do other things with their lives. Here is an extract given by Mohr of the writings of an anti-abortion doctor named Montrose Pallen (the material outside the quotations is Mohr’s interpolation):

He considered "the whole country" to be "in an abnormal state" and believe that “the tendency to force women into men’s places" was creating insidious "new ideas of women’s duties" such ideas, which including the notion "that her ministrations in the formation of character as a mother should be abandoned for the sterner rights of voting and law making" were acting and reaction according to Pallen "on the public sentiment, until the public conscience becomes blunted, and duties necessary to women’s organization [i.e. childbearing] are shirked, neglected or criminally prevented" (105)

Most of the time, though, women were accused not of neglecting childrearing duties for politics, but for "fashion", which included any sort of leisure or entertainment typically enjoyed by men as well as the desire to attain higher social standing (107-108).

There are a lot of things that are interesting about this narrative that I can't go into here. One thing that is simply odd from a modern perspective is that the major players in the current debate were on the sidelines in the 19th century. The previous debate was between the regular physicians and their rivals. The churches, with the exception of the Catholics and the Presbyterians, were indifferent. Feminists, although they were sparking the social changes driving the whole debate, could not come out in favor of abortion. Well, if you want to learn more, read the book.

So in conclusion I would say that in sum the bottom line is this: you should read Abortion in America by James C. Mohr.

On the current global religious war, pt.2

We don't need the Newsweek story about desecration of the Koran. Harpers ran the same story long ago, and has much more credible evidence. (The story has currently been bumped to the front page of their website, I can't find a permalink for it though.)

Jay Rosen has a post complaining about the slim evidence that newsweek used to publish its story (via majikthise). Rosen points out that the newsweek reporters are five levels of unnamed sources away form the event they describe, that is, an unnamed source told an unnamed source ... to the fifth power. This means that we the readers are six degrees of separtation from the story, and can only rely on on Newsweek's say so. Rosen correctly points out that this is shitty journalism.

But who cares! Harpers reprinted the testimony of a named source, "Daniel Rothenberg, an American human-rights researcher" who interviewed an eyewitnes "a twenty-one-year-old Afghan man whose name is withheld for his protection." We, the reader, are one degree of separation away from the story. We are hearing the exact testimony of Rothenberg, who is using a source he will not name. And no one should expect Rothernberg to name his source. The poor man was tortured and might be tortured again.

It is time for all people of good conscience to denounce the crusaders who are running this country.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


I just had some minor elective surgery, and would like to share with you a little ode to my pain killer.

Diazepam, Diazepam,
So much better than ham,
Or a can of spam,
or a flim-flam
Artist on the lam
I will do what I can
Not to get hooked
On Diazepam.

Light, but possibly quite silly, blogging for the next few days.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Lisa Lloyd in the NYT

There is a piece in today's NYT on Lisa Lloyd's work on evolutionary accounts of the female orgasm.

I don't have time right now to fully blog it, so I'll just note that the times gets Alcock, Baker, Thornhil and Hrdy to reply to Lloyd. It looks like they are just replying to Lloyd as explained by the times writer, and that the times writer did not outline Lloyd's argument well.

Gotta go. I'll give a more complete review later.

Added: This is my original discussion of the book. More complete discussion forthcoming.

Monday, May 16, 2005

W v. FDR

A blog called the Cleveland Park Men's Club has a side by side comparison of FDR and our current dear leader. (via Preposterous Universe) The best part of the post is a little ways down, when he gives you a bunch of side by side quotes from FDR and W. Some highlights:

FDR: "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed.I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war." -Address at Chautauqua, NY, August 14, 1936.

GWB: “I think war is a dangerous place.” -Washington, D.C., May 7, 2003.

“I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace.” -Washington, D.C., June 18, 2002.


FDR: "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." -Second Inaugural Address, Washington, D.C., January 20, 1937.

GWB: “What an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.” -Al Smith dinner in New York, October 2000.


FDR: "We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization." -Greeting to the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, Washington, D.C., January 9, 1940.

GWB: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” -Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004.


FDR: "Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men." -Message to Congress on the Use of Our Natural Resources, Washington, D.C., January 24, 1935.

GWB: "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy. We'll be working with our allies to reduce greenhouse gases. But I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers." -June 3, 2002.


FDR: "In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope and the path of love toward our fellow men." -Campaign Address, Detroit, Michigan, October 2, 1932.

GWB: “I want to send the signal to our enemy that you have aroused a compassionate and decent and mighty nation, and we're going to hunt you down.” -Louisville, Kentucky, Sep. 5, 2002.

Teaching Abortion Ethics 3

For Frau Doktor Professor Bitch, below the fold is the bibliography for the talk so far. Most of the entries are medical ethics textsbooks and the common articles on abortion in medical ethics textbooks. Part of the reason for this is that I started to make a little chart for myself of the readings used in the top 10 textbooks.

Beauchamp, Tom L, and LeRoy Walters, eds. 2003. Contemporary Issues in Bioethics. 6th ed. New York: Wadsworth.

Brannigan, Michael C., and Judith A. Boss. 2001. Healthcare ethics in a diverse society. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Pub. Co.

Brody, Baruch. 2003. The Morality of Abortion. In Contemporary Issues in Bioethics, edited by T. L. Beauchamp and L. Walters. New York: Wadsworth.

Callahan, Daniel. 1970. Abortion Decisions: Personal Morality. In Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Callahan, Sidney. 1986. A Case for Pro-life Feminism. Commonweal 25:232-238.

Carpenter, Joan. 2000. "Partial Birth" Abortion: Lets be Reasonable. In Reflection and Intervention: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics, edited by R. Munson. New York: Wadsworth.

Feldman, David M. 1968. Birth control in Jewish law; marital relations, contraception, and abortion as set forth in the classic texts of Jewish law. New York: New York University Press.

Finnis, John. 1994. Abortion and Health Care Ethics. In Principles of Health Care Ethics, edited by R. Gillon. Chinchester: John Wiley.

Fulford, Bill, Donna Dickenson, and Thomas H Murray. 2002. Healthcare Ethics and Human Values: An Introductory Text with Readings and Case Studies. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gert, Bernard, Charles M. Culver, and K. Danner Clouser. 1997. Bioethics: a return to fundamentals. New York: Oxford University Press.

Glannon, Walter. 2005. Biomedical ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hare, R. M. 1975. Abortion and the Golden Rule. Philosophy and Public Affairs 4 (3):201-22.

Harris, John. 2001. Bioethics, Oxford readings in philosophy. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

John_Paul_II. 1995. Evangelium Vitae. Vatican City: Liberia Eritrice Vaticana: John Paul II.

———. 1995. "The Unspeakable Crime of Abortion" in Evangelium Vitae. Vatican City: Liberia Eritrice Vaticana: John Paul II.

Kuhse, Helga, and Peter Singer. 1999. Bioethics: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell.

Little, Margaret Olivia. 2003. The Morality of Abortion. In Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, edited by B. Steinbock, J. Arras and A. London. New York: McGraw Hill.

Mappes, Thomas A., and David DeGrazia. 2006. Biomedical Ethics. Sixth ed. Boston: McGraw HIll.

Marquis, Donald. 1989. Why Abortion Is Immoral. Journal of Philosophy 68:183-202.

Munson, Ronald. 2003. Intervention and Reflection. Seventh ed. New York: Wadsworth.

Noonan, John T. 1970. An Almost Absolute Value in History. In The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives, edited by J. T. Noonan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Quinn, Warren. 1984. Abortion: Identity and Loss. Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (1):24-54.

Sherwin, Susan. 1991. Abortion Through a Feminist Ethic Lens. Dialogue 30:329-39.

Steinbock, Bonnie. 1999. Why Most Abortions Are Not Wrong. Advances in Bioethics 5:245-67.

Steinbock, Bonnie, John Arras, and Alex London. 2003. Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine. 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill.

Thomson, Judith Jarvis. 1971. A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1):47-66.

Tooley, Michael. 1972. Abortion and Infanticide. Philosophy and Public Affairs 2 (1):37-65.

U.S. Supreme Court. 1973. Decision in Roe v. Wade. 410 U.S. 113; 93 S. Ct. 705

Warren, Mary Anne. 1973. On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. Monist 57 (1):43-61.

———. 1997. Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things. New York: Clarendon Oxford Pr.

On the current global religious war, pt. 1.

Newsweek has apologized for a brief item claiming that American guards at Guantanomo Bay had desecrated the Koran as a part of interrogations. The report touched off anti-american riots in Pakistan and Afganistan which killed at least 17 people.

Newsweek has not, however, retracted the story, which is good, becuase the story is very likely true.

Numerous reliable sources have documented the widespread use of religious humiliation as a part of torture by US forces, including forcing prisoners to eat pork, drink liquor, denounce their religion, and give thanks to Jesus; tearing up the Koran [see sec. II]; and draping prisoners with the Israli flag. [in the section "treatment of prisoners"]; smearing prisoners with fake menstrual blood and not allowing them to wash, in a move explicitly aimed to break the prisoners "reliance on God."

Right now the world is in the grips of a religious war between Muslims and a fragile alliance of Christians and Jews, with the political resources of each religion under the control of it most reactionary, barbaric elements, and the systematic surpression of the wisdom and decency that could usually be found there. The war is about many things besides religion, of course, including the dwindling supplies of oil on earth. But religion is a huge motivation for all combatants. The other side of the war is well aware that they are fighting a religious war. The leadership in the U.S. is keen to deny that this is a religious war, and the sycophantic press acts as if it isn't even a reasonable hypothesis. Still, we need to be keenly aware that the world is in the grips of a religious war.

Because religious wars are incredibly stupid and tragic, even in comparison to other sorts of war.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

You know what

You know what really bugs me about the world view quiz below (besides that the borders of the table don't work with my blogger template)?

I got one of my lowest scores on "modernist"! What's up with that? I'm such a modern, I'm a utilitarian! J.S. Mill is an intellectual hero! Does anything scream "enlightement liberal" more than that?

Friday, May 13, 2005

I'm a what?

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View?
created with QuizFarm.com

Evolving robots for next semester: some links

In next semester's intro course I will be again teaching Justin Lieber's Can Animals and Machines Be Persons. In the past, this has meant spending at least two hours of class time dealing with the objection "but computers can only do what they are programmed to do." I don't know why this objection retains its popularity. I haven't seen a computer do what it was told to do in nearly a decade.

Still the objection comes up, and the only thing that seems to quiet it is a discussion of evolutionary algorithms in programming, a spiel derived from Dan Dennett's talk In Darwin's Wake, Where Am I?

For those of you who don't know, an evolutionary algorithm is a process for generating computer software that mimics evolution by natural selection. You start with a set of simple programs for a task and a mechanism by which the programs "mate" to produce offspring that resemble the two parent programs. You can also throw in mechanisms for mutations. In each generation, pick the programs that are best at the task to mate and form the subsequent generations. Given enough time, you will have software that is much much better at the task than anything you could have designed on your own.

Next semester I want to get more serious with this line of thought. I have already decided to cut the number of readings, mostly to make room for exercises in writing and reasoning. But I would also like to add some secondary sources related to the primary sources I'm working with. When we get to the 20th century, and talk about Lieber, I want to do more stuff with evolutionary algorithms. So in preperation, I generating a list of links to relevant materials, which I will share with you, the internet.

First, via /., is this page by someone who implemented evolutionary algorithms using robots made with Lego MindstormsTM. I'm thinking about just making some lego robots that are capabale of evolving and bringing them to class. I've always assumed that I would buy Caroline Lego MindstormsTM when she was old enough. But really, why wait. I already get too much fun playing with her duplos. You are saying "Heck, why not have the students build their own evolving robots?" That would take us too far afield. The issue, really, is the nature of personhood. The robots are just their to break some stereotypes. I'll leave how to build the fuckers to the people in math and CS.

The other, very striking, example I want to go into in depth is David Cope's Experiments in Musical Intelligence project, discussed in the Dennett peice. EMI uses evolutionary algorithms to write classical music. Here is Dennett's description:

When EMI is fed music by Bach, it responds by generating musical compositions in the style of Bach. When given Mozart, or Schubert, or Puccini, or Scott Joplin, it readily analyzes their styles and composes new music in their styles, better pastiches than Cope himself–or almost any human composer–can compose. When fed music by two composers, it can promptly compose pieces that eerily unite their styles, and when fed, all at once (with no clearing of the palate, you might say) all these styles at once, it proceeds to write music based on the totality of its musical experience. The compositions that result can then also be fed back into it, over and over, along with whatever other music comes along in MIDI format, and the result is EMI’s own “personal” musical style, a style that candidly reveals its debts to the masters, while being an unquestionably idiosyncratic integration of all this “experience.” EMI can now compose not just two-part inventions and art songs but whole symphonies–and has composed over a thousand, when last I heard. They are good enough to fool experts (composers and professors of music) and I can personally attest to the fact that an EMI-Puccini aria brought a lump to my throat–but then, I’m on a hair trigger when it comes to Puccini, and this was a good enough imitation to fool me.

Note that this means that you really can insert Bach and Mozart and get out a Mach piece, just like Nigel Tufnel said.

MP3's of EMI's compositions are available for free here. I like the joplin one a lot (more than most real joplin). The Bach sounds like Bach to me, but this is only because it sounds baroque, and my knowledge of music is limited enough that when I hear baroque music that doesn't suck, I guess "Bach." I'm usually right, but that is more a function of the limited repertoire of classical radio and most local ensembles. In any case, my complaint about the pseudo-Bach is actually the performance. The tempo is slow and lifeless.

I'm listening to the opera after Mahler now. It's good.

Cope has four books out based on the EMI project: Computers and Musical Style (1991), Experiments in Musical Intelligence (1996), The Algorithmic Composer (2000) and Virtual Music (2004). Well worth checking out.

During fall semester, the Alexander String Quartet generally comes to campus, performs gigs and visits classes. Last year I jammed some of Plato's ideas on art and censorship in to my intro syllabus in order to get the ASQ to play Shostakovich in my classroom. This time I may get them to talk about EMI. The only problem is that they generally come early in the semester, and the Lieber stuff is late.

Ok some other evolutionary algorithm links:

This general research page was linked to in the comments field at the hack a day site. The people who run the page have actually done some work with legos.

Here's another guy using evolutionary algorithms from the hack a day comment board.

Here's a recent Nature article on a robot that can make copies of itself. Here is the BBC write up.

I'm in the papers

Inside Higher Ed has published the piece on TBOC. The wuote they used from me is pasted below. I don't sound articulate as I would like, but it represents my views properly.

Some faculty members want the blog’s anonymity protected. “Whistle-blowing is an important public function, and you can’t have that without anonymous speech,” said a philosophy professor, Rob Loftis. “I’m not impressed with their content so far. This isn’t the Pentagon Papers,” he added of the many administrative documents posted on the site. “But if there was something big out there,” he said, “having gadfly groups like this, they might find it.”

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Tiny Caroline's Growing Sense of Justice

Episode 1

We always tell Caroline not to grab things from her playmates. "Don't grab," we say.

Sometimes, though, she picks up a knife, or tries to put antibiotic ointment in her milk, and to stop this, we have to take things from her.

"Don't grab!" she says. "You hurt my feelings! Say you're sorry!"

Epistode 2

Sometimes I quote The Stones at Caroline. She says "I want ice cream" and I say "You can't always get what you want."

Sometimes Caroline quotes The Stones at me. I say, "Put on your coat. I don't want to be late for play group." She says, "You can't always get what you want."

teaching abortion ethics paper, pt. 2

Below the fold is the next installment of my thoughts on teaching abortion, this time covering typical student arguments. Below are essentially the ideas I presented at the AAPT conference last summer. At that conference I wound up mostly talking about the scriptual abortion arguments, rather than the others, and that imbalance is reflected below. After the collected thoughts from the conference, I have some questions about ways in which I want to expand this discussion.

[update: I forgot to insert the section from my talk on rabbinic interpretations of the hebrew bible as pro choice.]

The most striking thing about the arguments given in the classic philosophical papers on abortion is how removed they are from anything students may have thought about the topic, especially religious students. In fact, this originality is exactly why philosophers value these papers. But the very thing that philosophers prize can alienate students if you drop it on them suddenly. Any class on abortion ethics must begin with student’s own ideas and inchoate arguments. It is facile to dismiss student’s arguments: they often aren’t very deep, often involve religious premises, but skipping over them guarantees that your course will not be relevant to student’s lives. They need to be given the most charitable reconstruction possible.

I will cover three classes of arguments here: scriptural arguments, arguments from so-called “post-abortion syndrome,” and an argument I label “the responsibility argument.” Let’s start with the scriptural arguments. The ugly truth is that Bible nowhere mentions abortion. Not the Jewish Bible, or any of the Christian Bibles. To present a scriptural argument against abortion requires a great deal of interpretation. This is actually one of those much sought after teachable moments. Many religious people are not used to the idea that interpretations of text both require defense and can be defended. My anecdotal impression is that Bible study at most protestant churches is very impressionistic, consisting largely of passages being read aloud and pupils discussing how the passage makes them feel, or how it relates to an event in their lives. Requiring students to defend their interpretation of text is a wonderful chance to bring critical thinking to a place where it is rarely practiced.

But before you even begin to critically interpret text, you should ask the students, “Why doesn’t the bible mention abortion explicitly?” Why was the most divisive moral issue of our day not even on the radar of the ancient Hebrews? You might think it was because abortion simply wasn’t practiced, that it is some sort of abomination of modern technology. But abortion was practiced. [Here follows a description of ancient abortion practices from Feldman (1968)].

It is best to let the question of the Bible’s silence on abortion hang for now, and let the students present their scriptural arguments. The question “Why is abortion an issue now when it hasn’t been for most of history?” will be tackled when we come to the history of abortion.

The most obvious passage to cite as proof of the immorality of abortion is Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.” But God’s words to Moses did not mention whom one should not kill. We know from the rest of Jewish history that it was ok to kill animals, but is a fetus more like an animal or a person? Most students with some religious training will be prepared for this, and move quickly to cite a number of passages that mention both God’s will and existence prior to birth. The classic is Jeremiah 1:5, where God informs Jeremiah that he is to be a prophet.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."

This passage is generally interpreted as meaning that God had a plan for Jeremiah at conception, and therefore valued Jeremiah. Since we are all commanded to be like the prophets, we must have all been valued at conception. There are a handful of other passages like this, all of them cited by John Paul II in the Evangelium Vitae (1995).

Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day
Darkness and light are alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them. (Psalm 139: 12–16)

By You I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother's womb;
My praise is continually of You. (Psalm 71:6)

Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother's breasts.
Upon You I was cast from birth;
You have been my God from my mother's womb. (Psalm 22:10–11)

Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,
And all the remnant of the house of Israel,
You who have been borne by Me from birth
And have been carried from the womb; (Is. 46:3)

Your hands fashioned and made me altogether,
And would You destroy me?
Remember now, that You have made me as clay;
And would You turn me into dust again?
Did You not pour me out like milk
And curdle me like cheese;
Clothe me with skin and flesh,
And knit me together with bones and sinews? (Job 10:8–11)

The striking thing about these passages is that they are all descriptions of God’s omniscience and omnipotence. This raises two problems for anyone who would use them to argue a pro-life view. The first is that none of them are particularly concerned with conception as a moral boundary. Indeed, Jeremiah talks about God’s knowledge before conception: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” To make a pro-life argument, we need to somehow show that Jeremiah became valuable at conception. But attempting to make an inference from what God plans to what God values will not help here, because God’s plans are timeless. The second problem is that, although these passages talk about the way God plans the fate of humans, we are not special in this regard. God also knows the fate of a mosquito before it hatches from an egg. But we can still swat mosquitoes. In general, there just isn’t a good way to move from what God wills to what God values here.

The most problematic aspect of the Bible for the scriptural pro-life arguments is that the rabbinic tradition actually interprets the Jewish Bible as granting only limited moral status to the fetus. The key passage is Exodus 21:22:

“If men strive, and wound a pregnant woman so that her fruit be expelled, but no harm befall [her], then shall he be fined as her husband shall assess, and the matter placed before the judges. But if harm befall [her], then shalt thou give life for life” (as translated in Felman 1968)

Basically, Exodus prescribes to kinds of penalties for assaults on pregnant women, a mild one for cases where only the fetus is killed, and the full penalty for cases where the woman is killed. This is prima facie evidence that the fetus has less moral status than an adult woman. Feldman (1968) says this interpretation is further supported by: (1) places in the Talmud where the fetus is described as a part of the mother, (2) the fact that ritual mourning is only given for babies who die more than 30 days after they are born, and (3) the Talmudic tradition that before the fortieth day, the embryo is “mere liquid” [Expand, get full references].

These arguments will generally not impress committed religious students. Nevertheless, I think they should be presented in class, because it is an opportunity to at least plant the idea that the interpretation of text is not straightforward or automatic. If the instructor can get the student to state and defend with argument an interpretation of a Bible passage, progress has been made for critical thinking. [Later versions will add quotes from student papers all over this section, with the identifying features removed obviously.]

The second set of arguments that one encounters are the arguments from so-called “post-abortion syndrome” (PAS). Often students will argue that one should not have an abortion because doing so will result in “post-abortion syndrome,” a set of psychological maladies that are supposed to be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. [examples] The easiest response here is to simply note that this not a moral argument. Would abortion be acceptable for someone who knew, say because of their genetic profile, that they were unlikely to develop PAS? Even if someone knew that they were going to develop PAS, would that add to the moral wrongness of abortion?

If one simply dismisses the PAS argument as nonmoral, though, one misses a great opportunity to debunk some medical myths, and more importantly, to clarify aspects of the scientific method. [Discussion of the history of PAS here.]

The final argument I want to urge instructors to take seriously is the responsibility argument. The responsibility argument generally takes the form of a single statement: “women who have abortions are not taking responsibility for their actions.” This is a difficult argument to parse. It can be read as an argument based on the moral status of the fetus—by engaging in sex, one risks creating something with moral status, and one must take responsibility for this. This does not seem to be how many students intend it though. Many of my students insisted that the responsibility argument was independent of the moral status of the fetus. After I had been teaching abortion ethics for a while, I developed a curriculum which introduced vocabulary like “moral status” and “moral responsibility” to the students, in hopes that they would sharpen their arguments on the subject. My assumption was that the students would see that the moral status issue is prior to the responsibility issue, but they wound up using the vocabulary I gave them in unexpcted ways. [examples.]
Frankly, I think the real motivation behind the argument seems to be that premarital sex is simply immoral, and abortion is immoral because it is an attempt to cover up the sin of premarital sex. [expand with arguments from abstinence only ed., historical views on abortion, student papers.]


Is there a discussion of responsibility in virtue ethics that might be useful for dealing with the responsibility arguments?

Are there good sources for the history of attidutes towards abortion as they relate to the history of attitudes toward sex?

Is there a single good place on the web for the real science about PAS?

Can anyone confirm that lay bible study in the US uses very impressionistic methods of interpretation?

He asked me other questions; I didn't answer them.

Yes, I talked to the press.

I just repeated what I said on my blog to a reporter for Inside Higher Ed. The TBOC guys have a right to be anonymous. Their right is the same right that was exercised by great whistleblowers, like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the pentagon papers.

I said it on my blog. I said it to a reporter. (Except I blanked on Daniel Ellsberg's name, and just called him "the pentagon papers guy")

He asked me other questions, I didn't answer them.

It was a little object lesson in how reporters work, though. He called and asked if I would say something defending TBOC's anonymity. He had the space in his article where he wanted a quote, so he found someone who would say what he wanted. I also noticed that the tape recorder did not come on until I started giving him the quote he wanted.

In any case, I think I did the right thing: I defended a principle in public, without spreading a bunch of rumors about the university. I suppose you might think it was a mistake to talk to a scandal sheet like Inside Higher Ed at all. But I figure, if you have said it on a blog with your name on it, you should be willing to say it to a reporter.

We'll see how the comment looks in the context of the article. Hopefully it won't twist what I said. I don't have much experience talking to reporters. The last time I did so was as an undergraduate, when I was interviewed by an Annapolis MD paper about student protests against the first gulf war. No doubt this kind of inexperience is why public relations departments want to be the sole way the university relates to the public. Oh well.

In which I blog about efforts to be egoless

So last night at sitting practice, I was seized by the fear that if I put research in progress on my blog, someone would steal my brilliant ideas and get famous with them and I would be accused of plagiarizing them. Now this sort of theft is a legitimate issue, which people in Blogistan have been thinking about, and there are practical measures that can be taken to avoid it. But none of that is important right now. This is personal blogging.

The thing is, I was seized by the fear. My interior comment thread was hijacked.

The thing is, I felt as if theft had already happened; I was already robbed of my ideas and left in academic ignominy. The thing is this was completely silly, because I hadn’t posted much yet, and my blog has a readership of about 50. And because I don’t have any ideas worth stealing.

The thing is, this is exactly the sort of brain seizure that I meditate in order to avoid. My fear was so egotistical, so clingy. There are these things (these objects, a bunch of ideas) that I have identified as myself (my nature, a part of my value). If these things are taken, I will be destroyed.

The thing is, ordinary ways of responding to legitimate concerns just make things worse, when I am being so clingy. Will the public record of Blogger protect intellectual claims? Perhaps I should be more careful about what I put up? These are just other ways of being defensive.

I am the sum total of the events that my life comprises. No one can take that away from me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Don' t mind the chill

again via Dr. B, this story about an adjunct professor who was canned after her blog-identity was revealed.

The Phantom Prof was accused of doing something that I have also been accused of: hurting students feelings. Among other things, she joked about bad student writing. The blog TBOC has been blocked from campus for the crime of hurting students feelings. Phantom Prof could also be summarily fired because like half of the academic workforce, she is an adjunct.

Of course, we should be concerned about protecting students from harassment. As teachers, we have an obligation to create a nurturing environemnt. If I was too harsh in my earlier comments about student writing, I apologize. In the future, I will be as civil in this forum about classroom issues as I am in the classroom itself.

That said: humanities professors are hired because they are verbal, curious, and dedicated to the truth. No one should be surprised when many of us latch on to a new written medium as a way to explore life and promulgate the truth. This is our vocation.

I am grateful for the the tolerance SLU has shown me so far. I would appreciate it if I was warned if the content of this blog is bothering someone before I get summarily canned.

teaching abortion ethics paper, pt. 1

Dr. B: D'you think you could, pretty please, do a blog post or a few blog posts about the teaching of abortion ethics thing?

This is that thing you refer to when you talk about acting all girly to get men to do what you want, isn't it. It works.

The post below the fold is adapted from the first part of the teaching abortion ethics paper I am working on. Before you read it, though, I recommend looking at Nyarly's story. I noticed it when it was posted, but coulnd never bring myself to read it, because tales of family strife are not a fun way to distract yourself from grading. But you should read it. Also read the story from Josephine in the comment thread.

(If those stories make you too sad, read Jo(e)'s summer meme, also picked up by Dr. B.)

some background for nonphilosophers

Classes on ethics ethics, especially medical ethics frequently include a section on abortion. The motivation for this is fairly simple: abortion is an ethical issue that students can relate to and that professional philosophers have written good essays on. Many teachers of ethics have given up on this, though, because they find their students can never get beyond the slogans that have been provided for them by the public debate. In worst case scenarios, classes degenerate into shouting and crying. I have never personally had that happen, though. My experience is that early in the class a few students establish the dominant view of the conversation, and dissenters simply shut up.

The failure of some classes is a pity, because abortion is a profound subject, an issue where basic modes of ethical thinking, value commitments, and even meta-ethical theories are near the surface of discussion. Taught properly, a unit on abortion in an introductory level ethics class can give students a solid grasp of important concepts such as moral status, autonomy, and privacy; introduce important ideas in feminism; and in general greatly hone their ability to reason ethically.

The problems of teaching abortion ethics are componded by the cultural difference between teachers and students. A large portion of us were raised in homes that were far more secular and liberal than most of America. Even if we weren’t, our graduate education was devoted to acculturating us to contemporary academic philosophy, which is slightly more liberal than the rest of America, and a lot more secular. To boot, we were trained to prize rigor and abstraction. This is why we often think that Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion” (1971) is incisive and deep, while our students generally find it otherworldly, callous, and bizarre. Even as undergraduates we were more likely to be pursuing education for its own sake, in contrast to the more utilitarian motivations of most college students.

So basically abortion ethics presents an incredible opportunity that teachers consistently fail. In the last smidge of this post, I will talk about the current strategies for teaching abortion ethics, and why they contribute to the failure of abortion classes. If you aren't interested in this part, you can skip to the next post, which will deal with the arguments students typically give in class regarding abortion.

The problem with current methods

The standard way to teach applied ethics in North America is to begin with a whirlwind review of ethical theory and then spend the bulk of the class studying units on different hot button issues, like abortion and euthanasia. Different instructors might alter the ratio of theory to practical issues. In medical ethics, those teaching future medical professionals might choose issues that are more important from the practitioner’s perspective than the patient’s. The basic framework remains the same, however.

I diagnose two problems. First, the ethical theory that these texts introduce—generally in a perfunctory chapter at the beginning of the book on figures like Kant and Mill with a dash of critical thinking thrown in—is too far removed from the ethical principles that are actually at stake in the abortion debate, such as moral status and autonomy. There is also a problem with the readings used in the section of the textbook that directly addresses abortion, readings like Thomson (1971) or Marquis (1989). These essays are excellent pieces of philosophy, and they address ethical principles that are directly at stake in the abortion debate, but they are so far removed from student thinking that they cannot have an impact unless one builds up to them somehow. A better design for a unit on abortion would begin where students are, and work up to ideas like those of Thomson or Marquis.


Marquis, Donald. 1989. Why Abortion Is Immoral. Journal of Philosophy 68:183-202.

Thomson, Judith Jarvis. 1971. A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1):47-66.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A future history of my summer vacation

Below the fold is my annotated to do list for the summer, divided into the academic, the quasi academic and the nonacademic. Some of the items come with pleas for help, “3.1.1 Does anyone know how to clean 78’s?” but there is at least one offer off assistance: “1.5 Kibitz others’ summer projects.” Mostly I’m just posting this because this blog as become a way to compulsively think out loud.

1. Academic

1.1 Research

1.1.1 “Teaching Abortion Ethics to the Conservative Christian Student” Write up what you have Read up on history of abortion Read Hacking on role of history in understanding concepts Review papers from old medical ethics classes.

I gave this as a talk at last summer’s AAPT conference, and I’ve been meaning to send it to the journal Teaching Philosophy In it, I offer three exhortations: First, understand and discuss the arguments students will give on their own. I cover three: scriptural arguments, arguments from so-called “post-abortion syndrome,” and an argument I label “the responsibility argument.” Second, teach the history of the abortion debate. Third, teach general theories of moral status. I could probably simply submit what I have written so far, but I am dissatisfied with my treatment of the history of abortion.

1.1.2. “Legislating minority views of moral status”

This is going to be my job talk next year. I’m also going to send it around to all the major conferences. Basically, I want to compare two groups of people who have minority views on moral status questions: pro-life people and animal rights people. The question is when can people with minority views about moral status legislate those views. I want to rule out some extreme answers (“never” and “always”) and then point out that a reasonable middle ground would give animal rights people the kind of political leverage that anti-abortion people have.

1.1.3. Something on east west environmental ethics

I’m teaching a course on environmental ethics East and West in the fall (item 1.4.1 below). While I’m designing it, I thought I would write something to send to the Building Bridges conference at SIU Carbondale.

1.2. Semester Post-mortem: prerequisite for “1.3. The assault on the job market” and “1.4 Prep next year’s teaching”

1.2.1. Crunch the numbers on last year’s teaching evaluations.
1.2.2 Look at qualitative evals, esp. w/r/t community based learning, use of computers in class, structure of assignments.
1.2.3 Review of textbooks.

1.3. The assault on the job market

1.3.1 The teaching portfolio
1.3.2 The research portfolio
1.3.3. The web page.

1.4. Prepare for next years teaching.

1.4.1 design env ethics e/w class.
1.4.2 Sequence of writing exercises, including in class stuff and synching up with first year program.
1.4.3. Organize the power points, sequence them on Angel
1.4.4. Course web pages/angel pages.
1.4.5 Arsenal of in class exercises.

1.5 Kibitz others’ summer projects

1.5.1 DiZerega's book in progess

anyone else?

2. Quasi academic stuff

2.1. The Ants
2.2. More activist work: write letters every week.
2.3 Read Real Climate and The Oil Drum regularly
2.4 This blog

3. Nonacademic stuff.

3.1. Media: I currently have music in the following formats: 78 rpm record, 12” and 7” vinyl records, CD, Cassette Tape, MP3 and WMA. All this needs to be cleaned and organized.

3.1.1 Does anyone know how to clean 78’s?
3.1.2 Get something that can play 78’s
3.1.3 Find better jukebox organizing software for MP3/WMA etc.
3.1.4 Find a way to generate bibliography entries from MP3 tags automatically.
3.1.5 Catalogue everything.

3.2 The tractatus comic