Thursday, March 31, 2005

I exist!

My article in a real scholarly journal is online! You can reach it through project muse if your institution subscribes! You can reach it here if it doesn't! I think I'm allowed to post a copy to my personal website, but I have to check my contract!

My existence as a scholar and an ethicist has been affirmed!

Officially the most tasteless thing I have seen all year.

Terri Schiavo's Blog

And it has a little "blog this" button above it, to make linking *so* convenient.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bush names fox henhouse guard

from the Humane Society via Dale Jamieson on the ISEE mailing list

WASHINGTON Today, The HSUS expressed its strong disappointment that Interior Secretary Gale Norton has named Matthew J. Hogan to be acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Norton announced the appointment yesterday, following last week's resignation of Director Steve Williams. Hogan was formerly the chief lobbyist for Safari Club International (SCI), an extreme trophy hunting organization that advocates the killing of rare species around the world.

"Having a Safari Club lobbyist in charge, even temporarily, of the federal agency that is supposed to protect endangered species is precisely the wrong course to pursue for any Administration," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Someone with a true wildlife conservation ethic, not an allegiance to the trophy hunting industry, should be nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the permanent director position as soon as possible."

The Arizona-based SCI has made a name for itself as one of the most extreme and elite trophy hunting organizations, representing some 40,000 wealthy trophy collectors, fostering and promoting competitive trophy hunting of exotic animals on five continents. SCI members shoot prescribed lists of animals to win so-called Grand Slam and Inner Circle titles. There's the Africa Big Five (leopard, elephant, lion, rhino, and buffalo), the North American Twenty Nine (all species of bear, bison, sheep, moose, caribou, and deer), Big Cats of the World, Antlered Game of the Americas, and many other contests.

To complete all 29 award categories, a hunter must kill a minimum of 322 separate species and sub-species enough to populate a large zoo. This is an extremely expensive and lengthy task, and many SCI members take the quick and easy route to see their names in the record books. They shoot captive animals in canned hunts, both in the United States and overseas, and some engage in other unethical conduct like shooting animals over bait, from vehicles, with spotlights, or on the periphery of national parks.

SCI members have even tried to circumvent federal laws to import their rare trophies from other countries. Prominent SCI hunter Kenneth E. Behring donated $100 million to the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum and, according to published reports, tried to get the museum's help in importing a rare Kara Tau argali sheep which he shot in Kazakhstan and had shipped to a Canadian taxidermist one of only 100 Kara Tau argali sheep remaining in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, now under Hogan's watch, is the agency charged with granting or denying such trophy import permits.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service should police trophy hunters and others who seek to harm wildlife," added Pacelle. "They should not act as a procurement agency for people who simply wish to shoot rare animals as a means of improving their standing in the competitive world of trophy hunting."

I just can't imagine the psychology of these people. Everyone likes to have trophies, but normal people reserve awards for worthwhile goals that take real talent to acheive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Insane, Hyperactive Midget

Here’s the thing: We live with an insane, hyperactive midget. And this midget, she goes to this thing, it’s like a support group for insane hyperactive midgets. Normal people also go to this group. They’re called “parents” or “childcare providers,” and…I guess I’m one of those too, but I’ve only gone to the insane hyperactive midget support group a few times. In any case, the normal people at the insane hyperactive midget support group periodically say things like “Who wants to go to the playground!” or “who wants to play with blocks!”

So our insane hyperactive midget doesn’t sleep much. (That’s where the hyperactive part comes from.) And when she pops awake in the middle of the night, she generally exclaims something. She generally sleeps in the same bed with us, the insane hyperactive midget, although we want to move her to her own room. For now when she pops awake, we are generally right there. Recently, she’s picked up this phrase from her insane hyperactive midget support group, so when she pops awake at 1:30, like she did this morning, she is given to exclaim “Who wants to read a story!”

“Who wants to read a story!” We’ve been hearing it every morning for a while now. Whenever she says it, though, no one in the bed is in the mood to read a story. Molly doesn’t want to. I don’t want to. There are two other people in the bed, the dog and a 29 week old fetus, but neither of them know how to read.

I guess I’m just saying that I’m tired of hearing “Who wants to read a story!” at 1:30 in the morning.

Monday, March 28, 2005

More On TBOC

Steve Horwitz posted this in the comments section, but I thought it deserved wider exposure

Let it be known that this member of the "administration" finds the blocking of the blog to be ethically objectionable on exactly the grounds you name, and that this member of the administration also thinks the university's choice to go after the blog by a lawsuit was also a misguided idea.

As for administrators being targets - yup, we're adults and we're supposed to be able to take it. They can hammer my Rush page all they want. After all, the Dean hammered it in a very public way at Convocation 18 months ago, and did so with much more class and humor than those guys could muster.

No one should be surprised that Steve is not siding with the president on this one: He's a libertarian, and libertarians are right about half the time.

I'm also glad he doesn't mind if you make fun of his Rush page. More people should. The problem is the Dean already has done the funniest thing possible to make fun of it. He simply read some from the page and played a Rush song at a public event.

On the other hand, I found out that the nice lady at the coffee shop who keeps me cafinated is the Carla TBOC like to make fun of. Come on guys, why do you want to make the nice coffee shop lady cry?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ian sings with his inside voice, and I imitate a rock critic

It has been a good week for punk in my tiny little world. First the music department brought this tour of Japanese girl punk bands to our campus. You gotta love the tour dates: NYC, Boston, Chicago, LA, SF, Seattle...and Canton, NY. Second, the CD for The Evens, the new band of former Fugazi member Ian Mackay, arrived at my door. Third, I discovered that The Slits final album, Return of the Giant Slits, has been reissued on CD in Japan and is available for import, so I promptly ordered it.

Ian's new album is probably the most exciting development. In some ways he is clearly making a break with his past work. He plays an undistorted baritone guitar (did you know there was such a thing?) and sings mostly with his inside voice. His splits the vocal duties with Amy Farina, who can actually sing melodies. (Former bandmate Guy Picciotto was very expressive, but face it, he had a three note range.) There are places on the album where they actually harmonize. The arrangements are minimal. Amy plays drums. Ian plays guitar. Both sing. There are a few overdubs.

In other ways the album is an extension of the direction Ian was heading with Fugazi. He mostly uses the baritone guitar to switch between playing the kind of basslines Joe Lally played with Fugazi and the kind of strumming patterns he played in that band. The lyrics continue to emphasize local Washington DC settings. "All These Governors" is an anti-establishment call to arms, akin to "Burning Too," "KYEO" "Blueprint", etc.

Farina is a creative drummer who can easily handle the prominence the arrangments give her. She reminds me of one of my favorite drummers, David Narcizo of the Throwing Muses. Both use the toms for more than just fills and like vaguely martial patterns with 16th note rolls on the snare and accents on the kick drum. Both go against the trend of punk drummers in our generation to use deliberately restricted drum kits, as seen in people like Steve Shelly or Victor De Lorenzo of the Violent Femmes.

So, yeah, I like the album a lot.

I'm also going to blog about the japanese girl punk bands, but this is all the rock crticism anyone should have to read in one sitting.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Spreading our disease

Some news on philosophers entering grad school:

Recent SLU grad John Milanese has been accepted into the Ph.D program at SUNY albany. Yay!

Shieva Kleinschmidt, who blogs at Emiratio and is an undergrad at Wester Washington University, has just received a conditional acceptance for her paper "Some Things About Stuff" from the jounral Philosophical Studies. She will no doubt get accepted to a good grad school, with that on her resume.

I'd also congratulate Shieva, but I was too busy looking up what Aristotle says about envy. Somewhere, I swear, he says that right envy is a mean between having too much pain at other's success and having no pain at other's success. I can't find it in book IV of the N-ethics, and the passage on envy from the Rhetoric doesn't seem right either. In any case, Ms. Kleinschmidt done something that I was unable to do until several years after grad school: get a decent publication in a respectable journal. grrr.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Is the Central Dogma Dead Yet?

The Central Dogma of Genetics is the belief, formulated by Francis Crick, that information flows from DNA strand to DNA strand in replication, and from DNA to proteins in transcription and translation, but that it never flows from the environment into DNA or from protein to protein. Explanations of the central dogma are always accompanied by illustrations like this. These explanations are also accompanied by assurances like this one, from the textbook by Hartl and Jones (1998)

"The term 'dogma' means a set of beliefs. The term dates from when the idea was first advanced as a theory; since then, the 'dogma' has been confirmed experimentally, but the term persists"

Above all else, we are assured, the central dogma is not a dogma in the religious sense. It is very well confirmed...

except it isn't at all. Well, proponents of the central dogma admit, we know retrovirus rewrite DNA. And the cell has all sorts of mechanisms to correct mutations. And prions allow information to flow from protein to protein.

Now from the journal Nature is a report of a new mechanism for mutation correction. This one does not require a copy of the normal gene to be present in the cell. Here is the NYT report. This is the write up from Nature's website. This is where you can access the full article if you subscibe. (Not working for me.) So there we have it, another big way that information flows into the genome.

Actually, the central dogma functions very much like a dogma. For starters, people cling to it, even though the exceptions mount. Also, like any good dogma, it reinforces a hierarchical idea of authority. The central dogma is all about keeping the DNA in charge. The fact that in reality information flows every which way shouldn't upset the idea of DNA as paterfamilias.

To be fair, when Hartl and Jones describe the central dogma, they don't mention the "and this is the only way information flows" part. They simply discuss the processes of replication, transcription and translation. The other genetic textbook I have in my office (Klug and Cummings 2003) doesn't use the term central dogma at all, it only talks about the processes of replciation, transcription and translation.


Hartl, Daniel L., and Elizabeth W. Jones. 1998. Genetics: principles and analysis. 4th ed. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 076370489X. QH430.H3733 1998

Klug, William S., and Michael R. Cummings. 2003. Concepts of genetics. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall. 0130929980. QH430.K574 2003

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Crocheting Esoteric Geometrica

Via Making Light is this interview with a mathemetician named daina taimina who has crocheted a model of the hyperbolic plane. The really cool thing, though, is that she and her husband just gave a talk at a place called The Institute for Figuring, which in addition to having a cool name, sponsors study at the intersection of geometry and decorative arts. The couple also have a textbook on geometry aimed at undergraduate math majors going into math education. It looks like a nice way into a lot of the more esoteric geometries.

I love geometry, and geometer is one of the many careers I would have if I had many lifetimes. At St. John's we read Euclid, and I did my undergraduate thesis on Kantian responces to the development of noneuclidean geometry, including Russell's first book. In graduate school I took a course on Friedman's book on Kant's philosophy of geometry and mathematics, which I heartily recommend.

The thing that attracts me to geometry, particularly post 19th century, is the weird feeling these hard-to-visualize and impossible-to-visualize shapes give me. I added the henderson and taimina textbook to my amazon wish list just because it emphasizes the experiential. The only time I have become hooked on a video game as an adult was when I encountered one that required you to fly around oddly shaped 3d mazes.

Although I would like to be a geometer, I know I'd be a terrible one. I have almost no spatial sense. I get disoriented if I make two left turns. I'm wretched at standardized tests that involve spatial tasks. I rotate 3d objects in my head like a girl. The only way I could do actual geometry is if I stuck to the totally algebraic and set theoretic stuff that doesn't invole visualizeation. (I guess this is still most of higher level geometry.) But then I would be avoiding the stuff I was attracted to in the first place.

The other important question, since I'm sitting here not working is this: Which would be the better way to have all of the intellectual careers I am intersted in, living several lifetimes sequentially or having multiple contemporaneous instantiations pursuing several careers all at once.

Back with promisory notes and links

I've been away: I went home to help my mother sort through g-father's affects. I could have posted before, but I started to develop elaborate plans for how I would blog the experience of sorting through a dead man's things, and once I develop elaborate plans, it becomes hard to post anything but the big finished product.

Well, in leiu of the full story I wanted to tell, I will give you a list:

6 tuxedoes, including 1 with tails.
4 white linen suits
3 extremely garish smoking jackets
2 full length men's fur coats, one new and one from the era when men who weren't pimps wore fur.
6 sear sucker suits.
1 box marked "ties, wide"
1 box marked "ties, narrow"
1 jillion Hawiian shirts
1 skidillion indonesian-style shirts
1 pair of bright green suit pants with little whales on them.

I promise pictures to come. I also promise to follow through on the tractatus comics.

Also of note:

Campus politics
The Nation has articles on the right's assult on liberal professors. This is an overview, this addresses the way Horowitz et al are turning the left's tools against us, and this deals with the situation at Columbia.

Good quote from the lead article

Mumper's comments to the press illustrate how unprepared he was for attention. He explained to the Columbus Dispatch that "80 percent or so" of professors "are Democrats, liberals or socialists or card-carrying Communists," as if for a moment he forgot what decade he lived in. When a journalist asked him if he had ever met a communist, Mumper explained the term was a euphemism for "people who try to over-regulate and try to bring in a lot of issues we don't agree with." At the same time, he admitted that "we're going to put in some ways to monitor classrooms" to enforce the academic bill of rights. The irony of this was noted by numerous commentators.

Yesterday I said in class that I knew of no secular bioethicist who supports keeping Terri Shiavo alive. I wounder if I'll be ratted out to Horowitz.

PZ Meyers a kinda freaky dude.

...has the best ongoing coverage of the Shiavo case and its implications

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Tiny Caroline Spits Frogs

Recently tiny Caroline jumped into the imaginative play thing with both feet. It began with her first imaginary friend, a frog which she would periodically announce rested on the back of her hand, between her thumb and forefinger.

After about the third time she did this, she popped the imaginary amphibian in her mouth and announced "I eata froggie."

"Oh, that's not nice," I said, because I am trying hard to impress on her that eating animals is wrong, no matter what other grown ups say. So I put my hand up to her mouth and said, "Can you spit out the froggie?"

She complied, and I put the imaginary froggie down on the kitchen floor, saying "hop hop" to indicate that he had hopped away.

Later, when I went to put a dish in the sink, Caroline warned, "Don'ta step on the froggie!"

Well, ever since then, Caroline has had this amazing ability to produce animals from her mouth. Genereally she holds her hand up to her mouth and announces that she has spat out a frog. Some times she produces doggies, and once she even rendered a horse.

She's a remakable child.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Past Teachable Moments

Now that I have invested energy in the TBOC thing, I should take advantage of the chance to use the issue in the classroom. Fortunately, the ethics text I'm using has sections both on tolerance and courtesy, so we will have plenty to bring to the table.

Well, in preparation, I've hauled out some power points from the past times I've used local issues to teach free speech on campus. This deals with a nasty incident at Auburn University involving racially explicit halloween costumes, and includes this especially creepy picture, which I have hidden after the break to shield sensitive eyes.

By the way, the Auburn University apparantly decided that this next photo was not evidence that the fraternity had violated the campus firearms policy.

I mean, a mock lynching is bad enough, but how can taking guns to a frat party not be a violation of a university alcohol policy. Drunks. With Guns. What the hell.

In any case, this is the picture that I think went beyond the bounds of acceptable speech

The shirts have the letters of a black fraternity on the auburn campus. Outfits like this can only constitute a hostile learning environment. Although, oddly, that is not what the president of Auburn University felt.

Added: oh yeah, this is the next teachable moment in the series of teachable moment power points. It is less exciting than the Auburn one. I'll post the TBOC ppt when it is done.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

SLU-Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief

SLU alum Charlotte Boulay and the lovely and talented Natalia Rachel Singer have set up a relief fund for tsunami victims in sri lanka as a part of a larger effort to develop a relationship with a sister village in Sri Lanka. Donations can be made through the blog SLU-Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief which will also keep you updated on the efforts.

I was just about to write "in other news, I have completely emptied my email inbox," but just as I got to typing, a new email came in from a student wondering about the test tomorrow. Damn.

A Correction and a Clarification from TBOC

Christian Evangelist of Take Back Our Campus wrote to correct a few points in my previous post, endorsing his right to free speech and taking his side in the lawsuit by the administration.

I wrote that TBOC had posted what appeared to me to be a fake gay personal ad for a SLU staff member. It turns out the ad was a real profile and the staff member was already out of the closet. Christian also noted that he didn't care whether outing was protected speech. More importantly, the thrust of TBOCs post wasn't that the staff member was gay, but that he implied in his personal ad that he didn't want to date blacks or asians. Christian included the original personals ad, and indeed the list of ethnicities he is seeking does not include blacks or asians.

Now that I have some background, I'm not at all troubled by TBOC's post. Like I told Sergei in another context, you can't stop people from talking about you using publically accessible information. I also figure I can't complain about the TBOC post, because I thought it was really funny when someone found Andrew Sullivan's personal ad, which said "no man is too hairy." Whenever I read Sullivan, I still think to myself "No man is too hairy for Andrew Sullivan."

Where was I? oh yeah...

Mr. Evangelist also wanted to clarify that although they are frequently accused of deleting comments on the blog, the only time they have actually done it was to remove an accusation that a leftist professor had raped a student. I would have deleted that comment as well.

I still see plenty of things to comlain about on TBOC, but I'm not going to bother. They say they are aspiring to be muckraking journalists. May the ghosts of Upton Sinclair and I.F. Stone shine on them.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Am I Qualified to Sit on the President's Committee for Bioethics?

The President's Council on Bioethics (PCB) is an advisory group that canvases expert opinion on technical issues in biomedical ethics and issues recommendations that objective in that they are based on a neutral and broadly reliable method for gathering and assessing ideas and information.

...or are they just a bunch of partisan hacks?

The Washington Post reports that Leon Kass, the chair of the commission, is leading an unnamed group of strategists in divising the President's congressional agenda on bioethics, especially cloning. Apparantly, Kass has decided to ignore the deliberations of the committee, since he knows what is right anyway, and skip right to figuring out how to sell the right answer to Congress. (via

Meanwhile, is also reporting (here, here and here) on an idea by PCB member William Hurlbut for gathering embryonic stem cells that is supposed to circumvent ethical objections. Apparantly, if you turn off certain genes for making the placenta, the embryo no longer counts as an embryo, and you can destroy it. complains that no argument has been made for this moral transformation, and that the idea isn't really Hurlbut's anyway. They also say it won't work, but don't provide links to the technical details.

What is more fascinating to me, though, is Hurlbut's resume. points out that he calls himself a Stanford biologist when really he simply teaches a few bioethics courses for them. Also, look at his publications. They are almost all in partisan conservative journals like The New Atlantis or are conference proceedings for events he hosted.

Hey, I'm an adjuct professor of bioethics too. Can I have a job on the President's Committee?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Take back our campus

For those of you who come here from outside of St. Larwence University. Take Back Our Campus is a blog run by ill-behaved young people, who say rude things about their teachers and peers, take credit for policy changes that were long in the works before they came along, and seem to think it is cute when they correct other people's grammar, rather than just annoying.

They also have some important issues to protest, such as the end to SLU support of Upward Bound, a program for local underpriviledge highschool students. They have defended campus programs on global studies from right wing attacksers who claim that the whole discipline has a liberal bias.

The university has responded by blocking access to the TBOC website from the campus network, and launched a lawsuit to reveal the identify of the students. The university's moral case rests ultimately on their duty to provide a comfortable learning environment for all students, including conservative ones. This is a duty I take seriously. The faculty and administration can take verbal abuse. (Honestly, if you can't mock a grown man for liking Rush a chilling effect has descended over free speech.) However attacking other students is wrong. I have criticized faculty in the past for not treating conservative students fairly, and I will in the future.

Still, I must publically state that blocking the TBOC website and suing the students is an unjust restriction on free speech. This is not a "first amendment" issue--SLU is a private institution. It is not even really a legal issue. It is a moral issue, based in the duty of the university to promote free inquiry.

The idea that drove me to this conclusion is the fact that the TBOC blog isn't a part of SLU. SLU has a duty to create a decent learning environment, but it cannot police every comment made by for and about community members. SLU has boundaries. Once you realize that SLU is blocking an outside website, the rest of the argument comes easily. How could you block every website that uses impolite language? Poor manners are the bread and butter of the internet.

It is also important that TBOC is overtly political speech. Unlike the fraternaties that engaged in racial hazing at my former place of employment, they do not claim to be "just kidding around." Political speech is the most protected class of speech. Understandig the life of the human polity is one of the goals of the unviversity. This is not like cross burning, or some other thing that stradles the boundary between speech and action. This is simply speech.

A lot of the objections that have been raised against TBOC are simply specious. People have complained that they are anonymous, but anonmynity has been apart of American free speech since the Federalist Papers. If you can prove that this is not protected speech, then we can worry about the anomynity of it. Simply pointing to anonmynity is no argument.

People have complained that TBOC deletes comments that are hostile to them. But this simply misunderstands the way blogs work. The blog is the bloggers soapbox. If you want to reply, get your own.

Like anyone who stands up for open speech, I wish the people I defend behaved better. I don't follow undergraduate life closely enough to know about all the people they attack: the dean of students, the guy in charge of first year student residences. I can tell that they don't view their targets as people, but as imperial storm troopers whose only job is to oppress.

The most offensive thing I've seen so far is the fake homosexual dating profile of a staff member, complete with photoshopped beefcake pictures. I'm not sure how much credit you can get for defaming a residential learning coordinator. It is not like you are taking down the president of the world bank or anything. [Note added: it's fake, right? The light on the face looks different than the light on the body. This is important: genuine outing is not fully protected speech] For a correction see here

I'm also troubled by the post which looks like some sort of hit list of conservative students. When I was an undergraduate we put together shit lists. It was easy, because we were at a small school, and could go through the directory over a single case of beer. We didn't publish them.

I still have not seen anything, though, that merits this level of censorship. I invite you, the internet, to show me where I am wrong. There is still much I don't know here. I shouldn't really be doing this. When you have a 2 year old, every moment you spend away needs to be justified, if only because you are dumping the work of parenting on your spouse.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunities SLU has given me. This is easily the best place I have ever worked. I do not criticize administration policies without due consideration. I certainly do not want to alienate the people I work with. I know that resonable people of good faith can come down on any side of this issue.

Update: TBOC has sent me a correction and a clarification, which I have blogged on here.

commodify me

This blog is a publically traded commodity, and no one even told me!

I am 70% owned by verbal chameleon who doesn't even link to me from their blog. You'd think they'd want to increase traffic here. The most recent post on Verbal C begins with the quote "I am the boy who can enjoy invisibility", which is apparantly from James Joyce, and not original to Kim Gordon. My share price is B$94.38, down from a recent high of B$162.67, but still above the feb 5 price of B$11.67.

Things could be much worse. I could be owned by Lubos Motl, a right-wing string theorist who just bought Dr. B

Rock stars are dinosaurs

Dear Seagram Entertainment:

As you can see from the demo tapes linked to on the right, I too can record an incredibly shitty album, and it won't cost you 13 million dollars.

Best quote from the NYT article:

then Buckethead announced he would be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop, so one was built for him in the studio, from wood planks and chicken wire.

another question

If Take Back Our Campus is a part of the SLU learning environment is rate my professor also a part of the SLU learnign environment. Should SLU attempt to control access to Rate My Professor if it is deemed to create a hostile environment for teachers?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Distracted from grading by SLU questions

I have papers that I should be grading, but I have all these questions that I can't quell. So I'm just going to post them here, in hopes that it makes them go away.

Does the fact that a web site is run by SLU community members, addresses SLU community issues, and is accessible by SLU community members make it a part of the SLU learning environment? Does it matter that the site is not hosted or endorsed by the university and at least on the surface has no connection to university employees?

Should alleged harassment on the basis of political affiliation be judged by the same standards as sexual harassment? If you say no to this question, will you regret the choice when it is liberals who feel harassed?

Do SLU republicans count as a vulnerable group because of the amount of highly visible leftism on our campus? Does the national situation make a difference here?

Do the attacks on academics like Rashid Khalidi, Ward Churchill, and Sami al Arian amount to an environment of McCarthyism on the national level? (First they went after the communists, and I said nothing, because I was not a communist...)

Fuck, I just did a really shitty job of clearing my mind of worries so I can focus on grading. I *cannot* get sucked into this issue. I have too many commitments.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The double secret reverse difference principle

So a while back I was thinking about Kim Jung-Il, and I thought, "you know, he would actually be able to live more opulantly, and really be a more successful overlord, if he opened up his society a little." Think about it. Even low ranking members of the ruling class of the United States enjoy power and luxury that Kim doesn't, simply because the economy is not bankrupt. (Yet.)

Moreover, some of Kim's failure as a martinet come not from the lack of openness but from a lack of justice. North Korea suffers from persistent famine in part because of an "army first" policy of food distribution, which basically means that the army hoards all the food. (I believe this is actually a common cause of famine, and that Sen probably says as much some place.) If N. Korea had a more just food distribution system, there wouldn't be famine, the economy would be better, and Kim could have concubines that aren't emaciated.

All this lead me to ask: "has someone ever developed the reverse difference principle?" Rawls's difference principle is a famous principle of justice. It says that we should only tolerate inequality to the extent that it benefits the worst off. Image you have two societies

Society A: Everyone is economically equal, but everyone is quite poor

Society B: There is some economic inequality, but even the poorest people are better of than the people in society A

Rawls asserts that any rational person would want to live in society B.

Now his claim is basically aimed at people who assume that equality is a good thing, and are wondering when to accept inequality. What about people like Kim, who want to be tyrants, who want to be on top of a massivily unjust system. When should someone like Kim rationally accept a little fairness. Well lets imagine two societies.

Society C: There is an astonishing amount of economic inequality, but even the God-emperor can't get reliable electrical service.

Society D: There is less inequality, but the God-emperor lives much more resplendantly than the god emperor of society C.

The reverse difference principle is a rule for particularly conniving despots. It says "accept equality only to the extent that it benefits the best off, that is, you."

The reverse difference principle, if applied, might even mean that someone will let Kim know about his hair

Has someone thought of this before? If not, can this blog count as first publication of the concept, which could then be named after me?

If it has been thought of before, please send me the citation, and I will sing its praises far and wide. I suppose it is possible that I have even read about this before, and don't remember it, in which case, I will profess total unoriginality.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

log blog

Richard zach at calgary has a blog on logic oficially, I no longer do logic and philosophy of mathematics, but I'm teaching symbolic right now, and like to browse the stuff.

I'm finding the adjustment from teaching symbolic using Forbes to using Barwise and etchemendy quite difficult. No other textbook i've used has something quite like the blocks language, or introduces you to function-generating terms quite so soon. I'm making the sort of mistakes I made when I first started teaching logic, like giving tests which ask students to prove theorems that actually have counter examples. I know other people make this sort of mistake. I TA'd for someone who did it almost every test. Still, I know I can do better.

Leon Kass

Ok, I knew that he was insane. I knew in particular that he was obsessed with denying the animal nature of us human beings in the name of some sort of "dignity." I knew that he believes that his own private aversions and phobias are sufficient justification for a universal moral system.

I just had no idea that he had come out against eating ice cream in public.

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone - a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive.

I fear I may by this remark lose the sympathy of many reader, people who will condescendingly regard as quaint or even priggish the view that eating in the street is for dogs. Modern America's rising tide of informality has already washed out many long-standing traditions - their reasons long before forgotten - that served well to regulate the boundary between public and private; and in many quarters complete shamelessness is treated as proof of genuine liberation from the allegedly arbitrary constraints of manners. To cite one small example: yawning with uncovered mouth. Not just the uneducated rustic but children of the cultural elite are now regularly seen yawning openly in public (not so much brazenly or forgetfully as indifferently and "naturally"), unaware that it is an embarrassment to human self-command to be caught in the grip of involuntary bodily movements (like sneezing, belching, and hiccuping and even the involuntary bodily display of embarrassment itself, blushing). But eating on the street - even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat - displays in fact precisely such lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. Hunger must be sated now; it cannot wait. Though the walking street eater still moves in the direction of his vision, he shows himself as a being led by his appetites. Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. Eating on the run does not even allow the human way of enjoying one's food, for it is more like simple fueling; it is hard to savor or even to know what one is eating when the main point is to hurriedly fill the belly, now running on empty. This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if WE feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.

- Kass, Leon: The Hungry Soul at 148-149 (University of Chicago Press, 1994, 1999).

Remember: He is the current administrations leading advisor on bioethics.

via molly via chez miscarriage

Ok, later this afternoon I am going to read the rest of cm's posts on Kass.