Sunday, July 31, 2005

Can I, Dare I, Go on a Real Vacation?

Looking at the goals I gave myself this summer is horribly embarrassing. I can give myself no check marks. I have accomplished none of my major goals satisfactorily. The main ones I wound up working on were

1.1.1 Write the paper: “Teaching Abortion Ethics to the Conservative Christian Student”


1.4. Prepare for next years teaching.

I accomplished some of the sub-jobs for these, but I don't have a completed essay for 1.1.1, and I've only finished 1.4 to the extent that if classes started tomorrow, I could hand out syllabi and bluff my way through the first part of the term until I'm up to speed.

And on Tuesday, I'm supposed to go to the beach. For, like, two weeks. With stops at my parents house so they can meet their new grandson. Plus we're meeting Pippy. (Does it count as a blogger meet-up if you used to share an apartment?)

I could bring work with me. I know as well as anyone how hard it is to get stuff done at the beach. But bringing work related reading would at least help. But I don't really want to. I want to leave all academic stuff behind. Molly gave me two Coetzee books last Christmas that I haven't touched. I want to read them. I want to bring the mohawk back and paint my toenails.

Should I? Dare I?

More self-centered deliberations on how to improve my work habits under the fold.

So this is how the sub-project scorecard looks

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. about half done. I still need to collect more examples of the responsibility argument.

The failure to produce a complete paper this summer is most embarrassing. I need to rethink my writing process because it is clear to me that I have trouble finishing writing projects. Notice how long it is taking me to answer the book meme. Molly said I am "Zenoing" my way to the end of it, and thus will never get there. This problem finishing is also part of the reason why the things I have published tend to be too long. (The KEIJ paper, before editing by the journal was over 10,000 words.)

Perhaps I should read that *Getting things done* book the internets are talking about.

1.4. Prepare for next years teaching.

1.4.1 design env ethics e/w class. 3/4ths done
1.4.2 Sequence of writing exercises, including in class stuff and synching up with first year program. the sequence was done, but not the connection to the FYP
1.4.3. Organize the power points, sequence them on Angel half done
1.4.4. Course web pages/angel pages.half done
1.4.5 Arsenal of in class exercises.

Basically jobs 1.4.2, 1.4.3 and 1.4.5 blurred together into a new job: "craft the schedule of in class activities as carefully as you craft the schedule of readings, tests, and papers." Philosophically, I'm still convinced this is the right thing to do. In fact, I'm hoping that this proposition is also true: "If you plan the course carefully enough, no one will notice how much your ass is dragging during the semester." Nevertheless, I've found that the combined goal of 1.4.2,3 & 5 is a pain in the neck. 1.4.1 was also a time suck. I can potentially read for ever to prepare for that class.

Of course, attempts to get anything on these lists done was eclipsed by the birth of my second child.

So can I go on a real vacation?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Amazing, Thrilling Tale of Planet X!

So they've found a Kuiper Belt object larger than Pluto. For those not in the know, the Kuiper Belt is a swath of planatoids outside the orbit of Neptune. Pluto is part of it, leading astronomers to suggest that Pluto shouldn't really be a planet, but merely one rock in a belt of rocks, like Ceres in the astroid belt between Mars and Juipiter.

SLU astronomer Aileen A. O'Donoghue told me that she supports keeping Pluto a planet, largely on grounds of tradition. The good nerds at /. have suggested naming the new planet Pluto and giving the old Pluto some boring name like 2003EL61.

I'd like to go a step further, and simply declare that "Pluto" refers to the largest known object in the Kuiper belt at the time of utterance. Periodically, then, we could have celebrations of the discovery of a new Pluto.

Seuss links

SH sent me his property-rights-help-the-environment reading of the Lorax here. A strained reading of the text, to be sure. But my reading is in the same boat: I have the Lorax literally speak for the brown bar-ba-loots, but only metaphorically speak for the trees.

Also entertaining is this free market parody of the Lorax, which includes this line:
"You fool!" he berated. "Can't you just understand?
Your supply is too high, it exceeds your demand.
It makes no fiscal sense to deforest this land!
I am, I should say, always in favor of measures that will align economic self interest with environmental good sense. I just don't think these things happen on their own.

William Clifford

I just got done reading William Clifford's "The Ethics of Belief" (1877), my previous knowledge of which was limited to the famous quote “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”.

All I wanted to say here is that it is very good. Inspiring. I technical philosopher might quibble some of his larger statements, and he waffles annoyingly between consequentialism and deontology, but somehow that all seems beside the point. I'm going to make the undergraduates all read it.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Rock Star U turn on ag. subsidies.

After years of following Neil Young and Willie Nelson and singing for an incoherent, subsidies-based agricultural system, rock stars are now helping Oxfam fight against farm subsidies. (So says the NYT right here.)

Oxfam is in this fight because farm subsidies in the industrial world hurt third world farmers, because US farmers dump cheap products in developing world markets. There are other reasons to be opposed to ag subsidies as well. The Environmental Working Group has been keeping track of who gets farm subsidies. All of their information up to 2003 is available here. Bottom line: the top 10% of farmers received 72% of the subsidies. A disproportionate amount of aid goes to farmers in the district of Larry Combest (R-Texas), chair of the house ag committee.

Combest's district includes my former home, Lubbock, TX. The lion's share of these are cotton subsidies to support a suicidal farming system dependent on heavy irrigation and other inputs. As I understand it, the soil there has about 20 years left before it can't even support subsidized agriculture. The fact is, you shouldn't be growing cotton in Lubbock. People shouldn't even be living there. It is not really habitable land.

An easy policy that any liberal could get behind is to tie subsidies to environmentally sound behavior. That is already what Europe and Japan do. This should satisfy Oxfam as well, since export based ag is rarely environmentally sustainable. Libertarians will push to eliminate subsidies altogether, and I would settle for that.

Snake eats kangaroo

Pictures completely documenting the process here. The picture where you can see the blank expressionless face of the snake (second to last) is especially creepy.

Via BC in Pharyngula comments.



Judge John C. Coughenour in sentencing terrorism Ahmed Ressum.
"We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant or deny the defendant the right to counsel," he said Wednesday. "The message to the world from today's sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart."
Read the full story to see the superiority of open courts and rule of law in action.

Item 2:

If you live in the Philadelphia area, please be on the lookout for Latoyia Figueroa, who dissappeared July 18th. She is five months pregnant and has a 7 year old daughter. This story started in blogistan and has been picked up by the mainstream press.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Making Women, Making Robots, Making People

Auntie has a story about a Japanese team that has constructed a realistic looking female android (via /.). This looks like the long expected convergence between Sony's Aibo and the uber creepy Real Doll. (link not safe for work.) If you want to see a real shitty attitude to women in action, check out the slashdot discussion.

Discussion question: Why did the engineers first make an android that looks like a 5 year old girl, and then make an android that looks like an attractive woman?

I have been playing around with lego robots, in an effort to develop some good classroom demonstrations to accompany Leiber's *Can Animals and Machines Be Persons.* (I've mentioned this before.)


My main goal is to stop students from saying "Computers can only do what you program them to do" by demonstrating a wide variety of machine learning, starting with robots simply recording information about the world around them, moving on to hypothesis testing and Bayesian algorithms, and finally full fledged evolutionary algorithms. I'm spending two weeks on the dialogue, so I'm not aiming to make them proficient in any kind of programming. I just want them to have a sense of what AIs can do, a vague sense how they do it, and how it relates to what we do.

And I want them to stop saying "Computers can only do what you program them to do." Sometimes I think that I will be a successful teacher simply if I can disabuse my students of a few simple statements that they repeat like they are truisms, when really they are false. Some other examples:

* A theory is an unconfirmed fact (corollary: evolution is just a theory)
* The only one-hundred percent effective way to prevent pregnancy is through abstinence (Yes, but the failure rate of vows of abstinence is between 61% and 79%)
* Animals can only act from instinct.

Some other persistent myths that I deal with in talking politics, but I don't have to deal with in teaching:

* Anarchists advocate chaos and everyone doing what they want.
* Pacifists advocate letting people walk all over you.

Creating AIs poses all sorts of ethical difficulties. Most of which are right at the surface in the decision by Hiroshi Ishiguro and colleagues to make an attractive female android. Unfortunately, we can't even begin to talk about these issues until we acknowledge the possibility that robots may one day deserve moral status.

The flipside of granting machines moral status is holding them morally responsible. In 1998 I met a woman named Cari who was working on a dissertation on how we can tell when to hold a machine responsible for its actions. (Christ, was that 7 years ago?) Google lets me know that she finished her dissertation, and has been publishing. I'm adding her stuff to the list of resources for the unit in the course.

I'm also going to use the Beeb story and my discussion question in the course next term, I think.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Roberts' memos

The NYT has an article on the memos Judge Roberts wrote while at the justice department. The article emphasizes Roberts' belief in "judicial restraint", but the phrase is ambiguous.

Sometimes it is a warning against finding rights for individuals in the constitution that aren't there, thus increasing the power of government to control individuals. Thus Roberts finds that there is no "right to travel between states" in discussing residency restrictions on welfare. This version of "judicial restraint" is no doubt responsible for his comment about the "the unprincipled jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade."

On the other hand, sometimes "judicial restraint" is a warning against finding powers for the government that aren't there, thus increasing the power of individuals (at least some individuals) to resist government. Thus he says that title IX does not give the government the right to set overall priorities in school's budgets.

The simple fact is "judicial restraint" is not a coherent category. Judicial restraint implies that you should simply view the constitution as not saying things beyond what it apparently says or has traditionally been viewed as saying. But this enforced silence on the constitution changes meaning depending on what you are claiming the constitution is silent about. Is it reading into the constitution to say that the government has the ability to manage universities budgets, or is it reading into the constitution to say that universities have the right to manage their own budgets?

The general pattern in Roberts vision of "judicial restraint" is to side with the individual when the individual is a wealthy person or large corporation, but to say one is "reading rights into the constitution" when the rights are most relevant to the poor and politically weak.

The real test will be the Endangered Species Act. The right is going to ask that the new court declare the Endangered Species Act unconstitutional. So, at the same time that they want to invalidate Roe because it was "legislating from the bench", they will be engaging their own version of legislating from the bench. This is because they think the expansion of personal rights is obviously reading into the constitution, where as the expansion of property rights is obviously not.

I know work is done in the philosophy of interpretation comparing the incoherence strict constructionism about the constitution with the incoherence of Biblical fundamentalism. I should look into that.

nature pouring forth her maimed and abortive children

Over at The Panda's Thumb there is a story about house mice, carried by whaling ships to an island in the South Atlantic, where they rapidly evolved into vicious carnivores three times the size of ordinary mice, and are now endangering a species of albatross which is not adapted to recognize the mice as predators. Nature has provided the internet with a video of the mice devouring a flightless albatross chick.

Some quotes on the wonders of nature:

From the east:

Buddhist conceptions of natural suffering were thrown into sharp relief on a visit to Wat Bowonniwet, the headquarters of the Thammayut sect of the Thai sangha. Although it was situated in the centre of Bangkok, the temple was a place of striking natural beauty, a pocket of rainforest as it seemed, encircle by the bustle and exhaust of one of the largest cities on earth. Wildlife was everywhere. Lizards darting to and fro across the paths connecting the temple buildings; turtles, paddling in the streams and ponds, or else blissfully sunning themselves at the water's edge. The whole complex was alive with birdsong. Yet our interviewee, a monk and long-term resident of the temple, was no romantic nature lover. Upon being complimented on how wonderful it must be to live so close to so much wildlife, he politely demurred. 'All this is suffering' he said.

Cooper, David Edward, and Simon P. James. 2005. Buddhism, virtue and environment, Ashgate world philosophies series. Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT.: Ashgate. Page 119.

From the West:

Look around the universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organized, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living creatures, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their on happiness. How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children.

Philo, in Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, bk. XI.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

To the Editors:

The post I wrote right before this (below) is happier and has hope. Then I read some links on Bitch, and got sad. Read the earlier post for more happy

The Editors
The New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, New York 10036-3959

To the Editors:

Please devote as much of your investigative resources as possible to uncovering the remaining Abu Ghraib photographs and videos. These videos show American soldiers committing rape and murder, according to a statement by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, as quoted in by Greg Mitchell in Editor and Publisher. Seymour Hersh has told the ACLU that some of the victims are children. Most likely the faces of the perpetrators are visible in the photographs and videos. By hiding the videos, the Pentagon is sheltering the worst sort of criminals. By leaking them, your paper would be helping to bring the worst sort of criminals to justice.

Right now the Pentagon is refusing to comply with a judge's order to release the material to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. Even if the rule of law is defeated in this case, and the Pentagon is allowed to remain in contempt of court, you can advance the cause of justice by getting the truth out. At the very least, you can put the pentagon's recalcitrance on the front page, to shame them into coming clean.

You may feel that the damage to our nation's reputation would outweigh any good that would come from prosecuting criminals, but the damage to the nation was done when the crime was committed. Admitting the truth is the only way to begin to heal that damage.


J. Robert Loftis

Book meme, not forgotten!

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I know that I haven't finished the book meme. It's really too much for me to think about, but here's another dribble.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

Number 1: The Lorax, By Dr. Seuss

I got the Lorax tattooed on my arm my junior year of college (1989-1990). I decided first that I wanted a tattoo, and then to have a Dr. Seuss tattoo. I wanted a tattoo because all of my more punk rock friends had tattoos. Elaborate, expensive tatoos. But I never liked most tattoo designs--the skulls, hearts, and Celtic gee-gaws. My friend Robert Carpenter got a Felix the Cat tattoo, which made me like the idea of getting a cartoon character. Since the character had to mean something to me personally and philosophically, I chose the Lorax. Plus, I figured the bright colors would age better: black tattoos always end up looking like bruises.

Pundits like to say that liberal parenting imparts no values, because the children are allowed to do whatever they want. However I have never seen a want among liberal parents for one of the most powerful tools for inculcating values: the children's fable. My childhood was stocked with Dr. Seuss's fables: The Sneetches, The Lorax, Yertle the Turtle.

"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees
I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues
And I'm asking you sir at the top of my lungs"--
He was very upset as he shouted and puffed--
"What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?"

I've used The Lorax to introduce basic problems in environmental philosophy: How exactly does one speak for the trees? Trees have no desires, so a tree can't want to say anything. You can also use the Lorax to illustrate the contrast between environmental ethics and animal rights ethics, the question of economic growth and human well being, etc.

Reading the Lorax again to my daughter, I'm struck by the language. Here are my favorite words from the Lorax:


(I believe the last is a case of English Homeric Infixation) And of course, there are the names for individuals and species: Once-ler, (so forlorn!) humming fish (I want one!), Thneeds (which everyone everyone everyone needs.)

And the use of repetition!

And with great skillful skill and with great speedy speed
I took the soft tuft and I knitted a Thneed!

And the way the Once-ler talks!

business is business!
And business must grow
Regardless of crummies in tummies you know

And then I got mad
I got terribly mad.
I yelled at the Lorax, "Now Listen here, Dad
All you do is yap-yap and say 'Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!'
Well I have my rights sir, and I'm telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do!"

People say you shouldn’t get tattoos of lovers' names or political stances, but I think this one has aged well. The details of my environmental philosophy have grown up (I'm pretty sure that you can speak for brown bar-ba-loots, swomme swans, and humming fish, but not Truffula trees), but my core values can still be passed on to children.

unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better
It's not.

Next time: The Tractatus Logico Philosophicus!

Web Cam Camp

Saw this a while ago and meant to share it with y'all.

Monday, July 25, 2005

uh-huh, heh heh, huh

Family of faggot fans fly the flag
The Doody family from Wolverhampton has been crowned The Faggot Family in a national competition, and to kick off their reign they will launch National Faggot Week.
This story is from 2003, but I bet it is still one of the most linked to stories on the BBC website, enjoying an extended afterlife as it is passed from blog to blog, email to email.

For the record, I too count myself as a faggot fan, but do not in any way condone the eating of pork, because pigs are such sensitive creatures.

Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes

Trouble is already starting for John Roberts: documents are being withheld, the nominee is saying he "doesn't remember" key portions of his past. This is fun.

I'm pursuing a "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" strategy. If you fire off letters now, before much is known about the nominee, people will say you are a knee jerk leftie who would oppose any Bush nominee. Wait till the nasty stories, the old, unfortunately worded statement before a conservative body. Then fire.

Of course, pursing this strategy with intellectual honesty means that I must be open to the idea that I will never get a clean shot. If Roberts comes through the nomination process smelling like a rose then I have to say with all honesty that Bush made a reasonable appointment. The early signs, though, are that he didn't.

Really Ugly Fish

I mean really ugly.

Via Pharyngula , viaDeep Sea News comes FishBase! A big database of fish!

The posts in Pharyngula and Deep Sea News are about this Seattle Post Intelligencer profile of a specialist in deep sea angler fish, who among other things practice sexual parasitism. But wait, hold all the jokes about people you know who might qualify as sexual parasites until you see just how ugly these fish are. Fishbase has some wonderful photographs.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Seeing Sooey and Saints/ at the Fair

We again crossed over into the Bedford Falls half of our tiny hamlet to go to the county fair.

Update: added expandable post, because I was concerned that all the pictures made the page take to long to load. Also added a link in the part of the post about sustainable farming in these parts.


There were rides.


And facepainting. Caroline suggested the spider all on her own. I think I’ve passed on a bit of goth to her.


The Republicans were there, but not the Democrats. You’d think in a heavily Democratic state, we’d have the coordination and resources to make a showing. Have we just written off this vote?


In the 4H tent, there was a display of posters from kids being home schooled, which included this gem. The placard just says “The Dangers of Evolution” and has a nice drawing of a baby orangutan. I’m not sure what the dangers of evolution are, but lame, inscrutable graphic design is clearly a danger of creationism.

What do get along with your Republicans and creationists? Drug dealers!


The Skoal tent featured four tattooed youths sitting in front hawking “free chew.” The first hit is always free. The only thing I could see inside the tent was a box that looked like it was for raffle slips.

The best parts of any county fair, though are the animals. And this fair had some lovely critters


But there was no sign of any organic agriculture or animal agriculture with a concern for animal welfare or preservation of domestic animal biodiversity or, well, any sign that there might be something wrong with the current agricultural system.

update: here is an NCPR story about a recent effor by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service to get dairy farmers to let their cows out into the sunshine, where they can eat real grass and return their waste to the soil and all that good stuff.



The only sign of environmental consciousness was this display from the Cornell Cooperative Extension service


Of course, wherever you have dysfunctional agriculture, you also have advertisements for obesity.


If Morgan Spurlock had spent 30 days eating only at county fairs, he’d have died before day 15.

My favorite was the circus act. Boys and girls! Welcome the aerobatic Miss Alejandra!


Are you ready for the motorcycle in the steel cage! From Columbia! The Amazing Alajandro!


And puppies!


I imagine the puppies are all named Alejandro or Alejandra, but they didn’t say.

Of course the real highlight of any fair is the people watching

"It's a lot of face
A lot of crank air"

I don't feel comfortable taking pictures of strangers without their permission, so you will just have to imagine that part.

"Summer is ready when you are"

Friday, July 22, 2005

My arbitrary but fun judgment

Cross posted from the comments at Majikthise:

By the way, I have officially declared that the difference between a cult and a religion is not number of followers or wackiness of views, but longevity. To be a religion, you must survive 100 years past the death of your founder, thus ensuring that you are not just coasting on his charisma.

By this rule, the Mormons ceased to be a cult in 1944. The scientologists will have to last until 2086.

My wife’s people, the Quakers, have never been very numerous, and always had out of the mainstream views, but they have been a religion since 1791.

The Island (with links to spoilers)

So I'm reading the Stephanie Zacharek review of The Island in Salon and thinking, "what movie is being remade here?" Stephanie hints at Soylent Green but it sounds like Logans Run to me. The NYT review opens with a comparison to THX 1138 (a more film-schoolish, highbrow move by the old gray lady.) But then the NYT gives away the premise, and it turns out that the movie is...


If only they'd release it simultaneously with an MST3K version.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Via Collision Detection, an article in the Times about Danica McKellar, an actress seen all over TV who also is responsible for a published mathematical theorem (Chayes et al. 1997). I have one quibble with the NYT article. It says
She may also be the only actress, now or ever, to prove a new mathematical theorem, one that bears her name. Certainly, she is the only theorem prover who appears wearing black lingerie in the July issue of Stuff magazine.
Perhaps, but classic hollywood babe Hedy Lamarr did patent the first frequency hopping guidance system. She and a collaborator (a movie composer) designed a torpedo guidance system that escaped jamming by using a piano roll to continuously change the frequency of the guiding signal.

Also my friend Grey is an accomplished actress with an MS in oceanographic physics who worked for NASA for a time.

So, shout outs to all the actresses/scientists (or mathematicians or engineers)


L Chayes, D McKellar and B Winn (1997) J. Phys. A: Math. Gen. 31 (1998) 9055–9063.

Londoners React to Another Tube Bombing

From Tom P, in the comments at Making Light:
Speaking as a Londoner: this is possibly the lamest terrorist attack ever. On a scale of terror, this comes just above a small child shouting "Boo!", and somewhere below the fearsome bowling attack that Glenn McGrath is currently subjecting the England cricket team to.
Some people know how to deal with terrorism. The message from the Bushies since 9-11 has been "Be very afraid--but go about your regular business." London just skips the fear part and goes about its regular business.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Geeky Mom's work and the literature on teaching

Geeky Mom has a good post on teaching with social software, including blogging. She begins with a very important point about teaching research skills: really what one is teaching students is how to evaluate sources and information. Often lip service is given to this idea, but little thought is given to what it really means or how best to do it. You would think, for instance, that evaluating sources of information would be taught in critical thinking texts. But the most the typical critical thinking texts give you is a paragraph discussion on the fallacy of the appeal to inappropriate authority (oh yes, and a test question where you have to see that an electrical engineer is not a legitimate authority on evolutionary theory). Geeky Mom at least offers up a nice exercise for actually teaching how to work with sources
So, the activity I have in mind is to have students search using the same keywords in about 5 different places. The keywords need to be unique enough not to generate millions of results, but general enough to have some results to choose from. I envision that they would search a library database that they think (based on the information given on the library web site) is most appropriate, a search engine, google scholar, technorati, and perhaps a social bookmarking site like CiteULike or furl. They will blog this whole process. ... I can envision setting students loose like this, blogging their experience of reading a book, attending a lecture, participating in an online discussion, reporting it on their blog.
One of the things I have been doing this summer is looking into the scholarship on teaching. Basically, I've become much more serious about using ethics and critical thinking courses to make students more ethical and better thinkers. The main things I am looking for are techniques for teaching that can be proven to impart skills that students will transfer to other environments. As a part of this, I have been studying community based learning; Michael Scriven's work on evaluation, both as a skill we impart to students and as something we have to do to students (Scriven 1991); and the research on critical thinking (mostly Scriven and Fisher 1997 and Fisher 2001). I'm very interested in exercises like GM's. I'm even more interested in learning if they work.

The problem is most educational research is overpoliticized shit. And for once both left and right manage to dumb things down by bringing out the political dimension. What isn't infected with simplistic politics is infected (infected, I say) with the language of managers. Here is a rough approximation of a slide I saw in a power point demonstration recently. (Click through to flickr to see the bigger version.)


Honestly, I have no idea how you can expect to teach reasoning and language skills unless you have some respect for reasoning and language yourself.

As I was writing this, I thought, "I'd like to see some evidence-based education, along the lines of evidence based medicine." Turns out there is such a thing, but if this site is any indicator, "evidence based" is just being used as a term to bash Dewey-style progressive education. In other words, it is a political slogan, and has as much to do with evidence as the "sound science" approach to environmental precaution has to do with science. The most telling thing is that there isn't much discussion of actual evidence on the web site. (This is, however, merely the first site on evidence based education I came upon.)

The thing is, before we could have evidence based education, we need to agree on what will count as good evidence. This is an epistimological discussion that needs philosophers, but has mostly been given over to psychologists who design standardized tests.

Philosophically, I am inclined towards teaching approaches like GM's. I like the idea of turning over a lot of control to students, at least at the college level, and I think social software is a good way to do this. Another of the books I'm reading this summer is Fink (2003), which definitely reflects how I am thinking about course design now, although it, too, is *infected* with the language of managers. So I'm hoping GM will post more on her research, because I need to learn more, and the summer is waning.


Fink, L. Dee. 2003. Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses. 1st ed, Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Fisher, Alec. 2001. Critical thinking: an introduction. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Scriven, Michael. 1991. Evaluation thesaurus. 4th ed. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Scriven, Michael, and Alec Fisher. 1997. Critical Thinking: Its Definition and Assessment. Norwich, UK: Center for Research in Critical Thinking.

Don't forget Rove

Of course the Supreme Court nomination is important, but since it was timed to make us forget that Rove is a vindictive liar and possibly a criminal, we should do everything we can to keep that ball in the air as well.

For my part, I hereby raise the google rank of this article at the American Prospect about Rove's dissembling. (via the War Room @ Salon)

White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed CIA officer Valerie Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper during Rove’s first interview with the FBI, according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

More Sarah V

(I will go on the record as being against snowmobiles in Yellowstone - not because I'm an environmentalist but because I am not "fun.")

That's an aside in an article about the electorial college, here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Green Cities in China

So a huge chunk of my reading this summer has been about how abysmal China's environmental record has been, both in the Mao years and in the new capitalist years.

Yet everything I read in the papers says that the government has a clear eyed view of the environmental future, and has long term strategies to deal with the problems ahead. Here's another example. Over at the Beeb, there is an article about an ecologically minded design firm that has been given quite a mandate by the Chinese government. (Via /.)
Mr McDonough's ideas for the Next City are about to be played out in China where his company has been charged with building seven entirely new cities.
McDonnogh's plans sound good at the newspaper level, to be sure.
Waste is energy in Mr McDonough's Next City vision; methane is used to cook food. A quarter of the city's cooking will be done with gas from sewerage.

"The energy systems will be solar energy. China will be largest solar manufacturer in the world," says McDonough.

The link /. provided to the project page doesn't work, though. Navigating from the firm's homepage, I can find a list of projects, but the work in China is not on it. On Tuesday, when I finally get back to the office, I will try to see if this is all greenwashing. The book McDonough co-authored looks good.

Combine this move in city design with China's move to buy Unocal and we start to see a government that is aware of peak oil and preparing to weather it. Krugman also had an article recently where he suggested that the Chinese were pursuing a more rational strategy of buying US assets than the Japanese did when their economy was booming.

Foresight. I wonder what it would be like to have a government with foresight.

Judith Shapiro has argued that the aspects of civil society generally associated with democracy--things like free speech and responsive government--make for better environmental policy. Is this a counter example to her thesis? Is the greening of China not real? Or is the Bush administration so undemocractic that they can be outstripped on environmental issues by China?

PS: Someone at Auntie is not doing their copyediting:
The buildings and all around it work like biological, growing beings, photosynthesising and producing and re-using their own energy.

Baby detonate for me

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I'm a street walking cheetah
With a heart full of napalm


I'm the runaway son
of the nuclear a-bomb.


I am the world's forgotten boy


The one who searches aching to destroy

NYT Article on Zach

Read about the gay teenager sent to a Christian re-education camp Here.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I made some science

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Woman grows penis: a case of 5-Alpha-Reductase Deficiency?

This is via Butch Stroll, and cross posted with his comment board.

Here is the report from a news agency called AFP on an apparant woman in Burma who apparantly grew a penis at age 21, after praying to be reincarnated as a male.

It looks like a case of 5-Alpha-Reductase Deficiency, a recessive genetic condition that leads to ambigious genitalia at birth that can sometimes develop into full male genitals at puberty. Officially such people are male pseudohermaphrodites.

There has been a lot of anthropological work on a villiage in the Dominican Republic where this condition is sufficiently common that it has been accepted in the the folk conception of gender under the name "guevedoce": balls at twelve. Children born with ambigious genitalia are considered female until puberty's rush of testosterone allows them to complete genital development, at which point they are reclassified as male.

It is a little odd that her penis didn't appear until 21. Perhaps she was exposed to something in the environment that triggered the release of testosterone.

A taste of why I don't want to leave Canton

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Here are a few shots from the river a block and a half from my house. (click through for the rest) For some reason I can't find the ones I actually wanted to post, but this gives you a sense of the place. It makes for a fine evening walk.

More Sarah Vowell

Vowell is so much better than Dowd. Here she is, pining for Carter.
Of course, my favorite is the famous "malaise" speech of 1979 (it deals with the energy crisis - but never actually uses the word malaise). Considered by some to be the worst presidential speech in history, the address asserted that our problems are "deeper than gasoline lines." And: "This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning." Then: "There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice."
We really need someone who will sacrifice their political career to tell us the truth.

Does everyone else hear Sarah's squeaky voice in their head while reading her in print? Doesn't it seem rather incongruous with the other voices the old gray lady offers up? Isn't that refreshing?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Quote of the day

from Heading Out at The Oil Drum

"...but as we have discussed before, you can’t have a baby in a month by making 9 women pregnant"

...and lord knows I've tried!

Question of the Day

True or false: Meaningful democracy in China is a necessary condition for the salvation of humanity, and must be a short term goal for all those who seek to save the human species.

Some Video

Mostly for the extended family, here are two short, silent clips of Caroline:

Caroline running.

Daddy, Daddy, Pick Me Up.

I'll learn about embedding video later.

Quick thought on stereotypes and liberation movements

There is a nasty flame war going on at Majikthise mostly between John Emerson and Nancy, two people whose comments I have appreciated greatly in the past. I haven't read the whole thing because I don't like seeing people I like lay into each other, but I did have a thought I wanted to share.

Basically, Emerson asserted that there really were women out there who sought relationships with abusive bad-boy types. Several people accused him of perpetuating a negative stereotype about women. One person (not Nancy) compared it to the "drunk Indian" stereotype.

Here's the thing: as far as I know, alcoholism really is a problem on the rez. Sure, conquest and genocide are ultimately to blame, but right now the alcoholism is a self-perpetuating phenomenon. That means that it would be a mistake for Native American activists to pretend it doesn't exist in the name of combating negative stereotypes. And to my knowledge, Native American activists do acknowledge the problem and fight against it.

Now for the analogy to feminism: it would be foolish for feminists to deny the existence of a problem because it makes women look bad. Since everyone engages in self-sabotaging behaviors, I am certain that women engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. It makes perfect sense to say that for some women, this includes seeking out abusive partners. I don't have data here, but I'd like to see it.

Some men also seem to seek out hurtful relationships, although the harm typically takes a different form. The sociologist down the hall from me has argued based on her fieldwork that the men who go to strip clubs are actively seeking to have their heart broken by strippers, a thesis I find fascinating.

In general, feminist thought has followed two paths which are sometimes in tension. On the one hand, we investigate the ways that women's power and agency has gone unacknowledged. On the other hand, we investigate the ways that women have had their power taken away. These two endeavors can only be reconciled by a commitment to realism. Good standards of evidence, scientific thinking, and a belief that the world will always outstrip our interpretations of the world must guide us in deciding women women's agency has been effective and when women (or anyone else) have undercut themselves. In general, we need a commitment to being a reality-based knowledge-seeking community.

This is, I suppose, my first post on the topic of "realism and the reality-based community," a line of thought which is mostly about how much I like the phrase "reality-based community" and all its philosophical import.

Update: I've looked more at this thread, and there seem to be a number of interesting issues being trampled over here, including:

1. Whether men are more interested in casual sex than women.
2. Whether men are less choosy in general about their partners.
3. Whether interested women have more opportunities for sexual adventurousness than men, controlling for appearance by popular standards.
4. Whether "nice guys" do worse in general on the sexual market than "bad boys".

You can make some a priori guesses here, but for the most part what is needed is data that is almost certainly not forthcoming. Point (4) strikes me, and many on Makikthise's board, as a sour grapes attitude partially bolstered by the existence of women who seek out abusive relationships. Point (3), if expressed in terms of mean numbers of partners for men and women, is simply a a mathematical impossibility. But there might be other ways of explaining it that make more sense. If the bell curve for women's numbers of partners were flatter than men's, you could have a situation where a small number of hypersexual women were supporting a lot of moderate promiscuity amongst men. If that were so, then you might say that "opportunities for sexual adventurousness" were available to any women who wanted to join the currently underpopulated hypersexual pool.

I should take a course on statistical methods in the social sciences. I should also go home to my wife and kids.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Question of the Day

True or False: Providing the highest quality education for women is a necessary and sufficient condition for the salvation of humanity, where "education" and "salvation" are read in their broadest sense.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Continuing Stories

Two quick links to NYT articles on stories I have blogged on earlier.

This is about the growing power of Evangelicals in the Chaplin Corps for the armed services, especially the air force. I have cited the dominance of religious fundamentalists in the military as evidence of the religious dimension of the current global conflict.

This is a piece about Daina Taimina whose crocheted geometric exotica I blogged earlier.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Future Post Titles

Here are some titles for posts I have been meaning to write, but currently have little content beyond the title:

Realism and the Reality Based Community
Annata, Samsara, and Reincarnation by Diktat
The Annotated "Entertainment" by Sleater-Kinney
Critter Roundup
Can My Job Be Shipped to Bangalore?
Medical Complicity in Torture
Expertise and Arrogance
Uma Thurman's Feet.

Any requests?

Friday, July 08, 2005

Krugman on Obesity


His article is in part a response to an outrageous piece of big food propaganda put out using your tax dollars by the Dept. of Agriculture. Most outrageously, the USDA publication argues in favor of continued junk food advertising to children, using a strained analogy to cigarettes to claim that such advertising either has no effect or actually decreases junk food consumption.

Krugman also points to this bit of ridiculous free marked sophistry:
"Americans' rapid weight gain may have nothing to do with market failure," the article says. "It may be a rational response to changing technology and prices. ... If consumers willingly trade off increased adiposity for working indoors and spending less time in the kitchen as well as for manageable weight-related health problems, then markets are not failing."
In other words, it is not a public health crisis if it is the product of market forces.

Also, if market forces prevent us from developing a bird flu vaccine (its just not profitable), and as a result, 2% of the Earth's population dies when the infection finally spreads to us wholesale, that will also be a good thing. After all, market forces did it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Juan Cole in Salon

Juan Cole has a good piece in Salon on the London bombings. Here is his opening
Although U.S. President George W. Bush maintains that al-Qaida strikes out at the industrialized democracies because of hatred for Western values, the statement said nothing of the sort. The attack, the terrorists proclaimed, was an act of sacred revenge for British "massacres" in "Afghanistan and Iraq," and a punishment of the United Kingdom for its "Zionism" (i.e., support of Israel). If they really are responsible, who is this group and what do they want?
It is interesting to note that although the Madrid and London bombings are not the work of al-Qaida per se, but of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group and a "secret group" of Qaida al-Jihad in Europe, respectively. While these groups pledge alegiance to al-Qaida, "It is highly unlikely that al-Qaida itself retains enough command and control to plan or order such operations" as those they carry out. Another good quote from Cole:
From the point of view of a serious counterinsurgency campaign against al-Qaida, Bush has made exactly the wrong decisions all along the line. He decided to "unleash" Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rather than pressing for Israeli-Palestinian peace and an end to Israeli occupation of the territories it captured in 1967. Rather than extinguishing this most incendiary issue for Arabs and Muslims, he poured gasoline on it. His strategy in response to Sept. 11 was to fight the Afghanistan War on the cheap. By failing to commit American ground troops in Tora Bora, he allowed bin Laden and al-Zawahiri to escape. He reneged on promises to rebuild Afghanistan and prevent the reemergence of the Taliban and al-Qaida there, thus prolonging the U.S. and NATO military presence indefinitely. He then diverted most American military and reconstruction resources into an illegal war on Iraq. That war may have been doomed from the beginning, but Bush's refusal to line up international support, and his administration's criminal lack of planning for the postwar period, made failure inevitable.
One last note: I heard about the work of U Chicago Political scientist Robert Pape on NPR and was wondering where this all would be published. Cole's article informs me that his stuff is all in a new book from Random House.

Old Photos

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I've moved the old photos of my grandfather over to Flickr, and added a few new ones, like this one from WWII. The old posts, if anyone goes back there, now link to flickr.

Both of my Grandfathers fought in WWII. JR, my father's father, saw combat. He never talked about the war. Grandfather, my mother's father, served stateside. He never shut up about it.

"We must love one another or die."

Dr. B has the right poem for the moment.

Flickr photo pool

Wider shot
Originally uploaded by Nicholas Shanks.

Flickr has a pool of photos from the London attacks.

Someone with the handle "Murky" took some of these shots, but he doesn't appear to be the blogger behind Murky Thoughts.

The Nonviolent Response to Terrorism

I have always been reluctant to embrace the label "pacifist," because for most people it implies accepting an absolute rule which one must cling to in all situations, those involving violence between states and those involving violence between individuals. This understanding is illustrated in an old anecdote about British conscientious objectors to WWI. Supposedly, to get CO status, you had to answer one question: "What would you do if a German soldier was coming to rape your sister?" The correct answer was "reason with him."

When it comes to violence, I have no time to consider background-free hypotheticals. My only concern is the vast range of real situations in which nonviolence is both the most effective and the most ethical response. I also think that we have deep defects in character and vision that keep us from seeing the power of nonviolence. In that sense I am very much a pacifist. I think we need to cultivate our wisdom to see the peaceful, powerful, alternative.

Right now the NYT is reporting 33 dead and a thousand injured in terrorist attacks in London. Many--most--will want to respond to this injury with self destructive actions that all appear to "harden our resolve." But we will not end the current global war by rounding up more suspects or by invading another country. We've been doing that for several years now, and it should be clear to all that we are just digging a hole for ourselves.

But what is the alternative? How else can we fight terrorism?

I see, broadly, three steps to the nonviolent response. The first step in nonviolence is simply to end the violence. The surface definition of nonviolence is negative: it is not violence. And indeed, what immediately presents itself as the definition is one face of the whole of nonviolence. Currently this means we must withdraw militarily from the Middle East. We must abandon hopes for a permanent military base in Iraq. (You were wondering why Bush won't give an exit strategy? It's because leaving was never his goal.) We must pull our troops off the Arabian peninsula. Above all, we must stop regarding Israel as our military outpost and put real pressure on them to withdraw from the occupied territories.

But that’s just what they want us to do! You are saying we should give in!

Certainly many of these actions are the stated demands of terrorist groups, but I’m not sure they are what the hardcore jihadists really want. If anything, the hardcore like the occupation of Iraq because it is such a recruiting tool. By pulling out, we remove the reason most of them resent us.

If this still looks like appeasement to you, it is only because this is only the first step. Nonviolence, if you limit yourself to the negative conception of it, is simply appeasement, and is rarely effective.

The next step is inward. People resort to violence because they are afraid, and they are afraid because they are attached to something. A drunk picking fights in a bar has an image of himself as a tough guy, and he fights because he is afraid of loosing that image. What are we attached to in the Middle East? Oil. Right now a military withdrawal from the region is unthinkable to many because the US economy would be subject to the whims of hostile governments and the vicissitudes of an unstable, underdeveloped region. But of course we are fooling ourselves when we think that we can feed our oil habit forever. The oil is running out, and as it runs out, it will become more and more costly to secure. There has never been a better time to quit.

Once we are free of our economic interest and military ties in the region, we can begin to practice true nonviolence. I am not so idealistic that I think we should shower the region with love. I only ask that we shower the region with common decency. We need to assist real economic and democratic development in the region. I do not know enough about development to pontificate on how this should be done, but I know enough to say that the economic and democratic development must go hand in hand. I also know that this will seal the peace. We won’t have a reason to fight them, and they won’t have a reason to fight us.

But you can’t think that this would stop the bin Ladens, the religious fanatics, the people who hate us because they hate freedom!

No, but most people in the Middle East are not hate driven fanatics. Pacifists are always accused of underestimating how monstrous people are. I will not deny that there are monsters. But without a social movement, bin Laden is just another rich guy. Were the conditions for war not ripe, he’d be a Phil Spector or an O.J. Simpson: a wealthy psychopath who can get away with murder, for sure, but not someone who can drive the whole world to war.

You don’t really think the US will do any of this, do you?

Only on the days when I think this war might end.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Your Tax Dollars Paid to Have Holes Drilled in Hassan an-Ni'ami's Kneecaps.

Story here. Via Body and Soul.

What could possibly justify this level of inhumanity? The man who wielded the drill debased himself and all of us who are tied to him by chains of funding, planning and support. And for what? A confession that means nothing. Even if the confession did mean something, how much would this man have to know to justify treating him this way? Only Hollywood can envision the possible world where enough good comes from this: Dr. No would have to have a doomsday device.

How long would it take an electric drill to get through your kneecaps? Can you picture it? Would the drill jam? You should picture it because you helped it happen.

New Study of Epigenetic Changes

The NYT is reporting on a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the differences in the epigenome of twins as they age. For some reason I can't find the original study on the PNAS site. Either it's not up yet, or I am simply retarded.

In any case, the researchers document that as twins age, their epigenomes diverge. Further, the divergence is not random, but driven by environmental factors: twins who have lived apart longer show greater epigenetic divergence. The study looked at methylation patterns and the acetyl groups that attach to histone proteins.

I'd like to teach philosophy of biology next spring: I promised Lisa Lloyd I'd assign her book to students who would actually pay for it, rather than just receive a spiral bound xerox. One of the things I'd like to look at is the way epigenetic inheritance changes our understanding of the role of the genome in evolution. I'd really like to read Oyama *The Ontogeny of Information* and Keller *The Century of the Gene.*

Update: John Hawks has also posted on this, and links to the WaPo article on it. Rick Weiss at WaPo says in passing that epigenetic information is not inhereted, and Hawks does not contradict him. I understood that methylation patterns could be inhereted--they are passed down matrilinarly with the cytoplasm. I should read more on this.

Sarah Vowell in the NYT

Have you noticed that whenever Maureen Dowd goes on vacation, they always replace her with someone much, much cooler? Last time it was Barbara Ehrenreich. This time, Sarah Vowell. It's like they're trying to emphasize how much Dowd sucks.

They also seem to be emphasizing that they have a quota of exactly one woman on the op-ed page. No more, no less.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

More New Haircut photos

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

This one also should go straight to the blog.

New Haircut for Caroline

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I still get a lot of hits from people who google "new haircut photo." As a part of my effort to become new haircut photo central, I give you Caroline's new haircut, featuring directional, Vermeer-like lighting and domesticity.

More pictures if you click through to Flickr

Book Meme 2: Mutation! (ER 4)

This installment of the book meme is dedicated to the residents of Hamden, Mass, who just lost their public library because too few of them were willing to chip in the tax money to fund it. Of all the Republican attacks on the public sphere, I find the insults to the nation's information infrastructure the most galling. They aren't the most damaging result of the refusal to fund the public good, but they really honk me off.

In honor of those residents of Hamden, Mass, who like to read and were willing to pay to support a culture literacy in their community, I introduce this mutation to the book meme. Where once we had last book purchased, we now have:

Last Book I Checked Out of the Library
Maienschein, Jane. 2003. Whose view of life? embryos, cloning, and stem cells. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
I can't say much about this book, because I just picked it up the other day. Maienschein is one of the great historians of biology. Her book looks at current debates over reproductive and genetic technologies from the perspective of the history of embryology. I've been emailing back and forth with a grad student at Indiana University about the design of her bioethics course, which includes this book. My instinctive concern is that it will be pitched too high for her students, but we'll see.

Well, Maienschien's book did not come from the public library, but from my university's research library. The last book we got out of the public library was *Too Big to Dance* by Doug and Sarah Anderson. Once you have children, the public library becomes a very big deal again. First of all, its a place to take the kids that's air conditioned and has lots of fun books. Second, little kids need a lot of books. They want you to read to them constantly, and even the best children's books get old quick at the rate you chew through them. There is really no way to raise a literate child without the public library to provide a steady cycle of books.

*Too Big to Dance* is kinda lame, though. The art is passable and the verse is wretched. I can't abide crappy writing for children. So many people who put out children's art know that the kids are not discriminating and most of the adults don't care, so they don't bother to write. The focus is on licensing the right characters--Dora, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder--the characters are inoffensive, but why bother?

I say this as someone who has a Dr. Seuss character tattooed on his arm.

Last Book I Read:

Well, what do you mean by read? I have a stack of books on my desk that I'm plowing through to see what will be good for my class on "Environmental Ethics East and West." I've read little bits of each one. I start reading an essay from *Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought,* then I have a thought about the course. I type a few notes into a word doc where I am collecting notes. Then I think I should check out what is in *Buddhism and Ecology.* I surf a little. Then start on Chapter 5 of *Buddhism, Virtue and Environment.*

This isn't reading; it's text-based ADD. The whole reason I started blogging about reading was to vent my dissatisfaction with this way of relating to books. I did, though, get the chance to really read a book last week. I can't identify the book, because it might compromise the secret identity of a popular blogger. I'll call the book "A Little Book of Nature Poetry" by SwampWoman the BloggyFriend. It's short: I could read it in one sitting, on the back porch, on a sunny day. It has a narrative. It features a dialogue between two people and two landscapes. It has sensation and temptation. I wanted to read a book well that day, and the book I found was well read. But will I ever meet SwampWoman the BloggyFriend in person?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pish Tosh: The Icy Dildo: or, My Imaginary Internet Friend

Pish Tosh: The Icy Dildo: or, My Imaginary Internet Friend

B. @ Pish Tosh has a post recounting what has to be everyone's internet nightmare: she entered into a close friendship for two years with a person who turned out not to exist. You, the internet, should definitely check it out.

Before I was into blogs I was into zines, especially personal zines. I would subscribe to the xeroxed personal zines of people I didn't know because I saw them written up in the Factsheet Five. It was basically the same kind of experience I have now, except less involving because it moved at the speed of the post office.

In any case, there was a guy who's incredibly earnest, alternative yet Christian zine was popular enough to be carried in places like Barnes and Noble, until it turned out that he was also pretending to be a number of other personal zine writers and faking correspondences with people, etc.

So this sort of thing happened before blogs, but now it must happen a lot, and I still find it spooky.

So, anyone who stops by here, I ask you, who on the internet would you be freaked out to discover didn't really exist?

The Book Meme Part 1 (Ethical Reading 3)

Mona tagged me with the book meme. I started to get ambitious in my answer, which meant that I would never finish the post. So instead I'm going to do the post in instalments. Over the course of these posts, I want to argue for two theses:

T1: There is an value to reading books that is separate from reading any other sort of text, such as magazines or blogs, and superior to reading those texts. In fact, if you read the same text, once on a blog and once in a book, you have performed a more noble activity the second time.

T2: The value of reading books is rooted in, but goes beyond, the sorts of reasons we give children when we encourage them to read. The exhortations to children often talk about the "magic of reading" and emphasize escapist fiction. South Park parodied this sort of talk well:

booktasticBookDude: I drive the Booktastic Bus where magic begins. You see reading opens up whole new worlds to you. You can take a canoe down the Amazon or go back in time to Camelot or become a race car driver all by just opening a book. Just like magic, the magic of reading.

Cartman: God, shut up dude.

In that episode of South Park, BookDude fucks a chicken to get Officer Barbrady to learn to read. I don't think I would fuck a chicken, but I would wear that cape in order to get a cop to read.

How many books do you own
I did a rough count, and I got 415 in my campus office and 1285 at home. So it's safe to say I have around 1700 books. The books at home are mostly divided between fiction and nonfiction and then alphabetized to the first letter of the author's name. I'm working on organizing my office books this summer.

My first premise in arguing for my theses is that true readers develop a relationship with a book. I'm not sure of the metaphysics of this: I know the relationship isn't to a particular physical book, or even an edition, but I'm not sure it is to some abstract object either. In any case, the relationship is better when mediated by something tangible. Just as an online relationship is not as nice as a real life relationship with someone you can touch and kiss, so to a relationship with a txt file is not as nice as a relationship with a physical book.

Showing the benefits of having a physical relationship with a book is the next of my argument. Most of the inadequacies of computer texts are clear when you think of reading on a desktop computer. You are sitting upright. You are in a posture you use for work. You cannot move without abandoning your reading. This is no good. But switching to a laptop or handheld leaves some problems.

The computer can hold any content. I know, that is supposed to be the advantage, but it has drawbacks, too. The thing you hold in your hands is only accidentally the book you want to read. With real books, there is a one to one relationship between the physical object and the content. The book you hold in your hands *is* Darwin's Origin of Species, at least in the ordinary senses of those words. The book doesn't just happen to be displaying the Origin of Species right now.

Then there's this argument:

giles_3tMs Calendar: Honestly, what is it about them that bothers you so much?

Giles: The smell.

Ms Calendar: Computers don't smell, Rupert.

Giles: I know. Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell. Musty and, and, and, and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer, is, it ... it has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible, it should be, um... smelly.

Ok, that's all for now. The house is full of children.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dear Senator Schumer,

Senator Charles Schumer
United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Phone: 202-224-6542
Fax: 202-228-3027

July 2, 2005

Dear Senator Schumer,

Please fight hard to ensure that the replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor continues her legacy of reason and moderation on the high court by upholding important precedents, especially Roe v. Wade, and resisting the erosion of basic civil liberties. Please block any nominee who puts conservative ideology above fairness, compassion, and rule of law.

Your Republican colleagues will use the rhetoric of compromise and bipartisanship to pressure you to accept an unacceptable candidate. Please remember that in the long run, appointing a moderate to the Supreme Court will do more to heal the divisions in this country than simply having a courteous approval processes.


Rob Loftis

Friday, July 01, 2005

Question of the day

True or false: In a post-patriarchic society, the sex would be more varied, more frequent, and more satisfying for people of all genders than it is now.

Addendum: I tacked on the rider "for people of all genders."

bears repeating

A robust conversation about environmental philosophy requires someone to play the role of Baird Callicott, and Callicott has done an excellent job of playing that role.