Friday, March 30, 2007

Showdown for property rights at a Chongqing nailhouse

Wu Ping and Yang Wu own a restaurant, which is also their home, in Chongqing. A development company, Chongqing Zhengsheng Real Estate, backed by the government, wants to put an apartment and shopping complex on the same spot. Ms. Wu and her family refuse to move, even as the development firm excavate all the land around them. The building is now what the Chinese call a "nailhouse" (dingzihu, 钉子户), a house that sticks out in resistance to development.

(Picture from Virtual China)

The story, along with its dramatic photos has been running wild in the Chinese blogosphere, and has now broken into the English language mainstream press, with articles at CNN ,and Time,and Annanova.

The battle started in 2004. Reports about the negotiation are conflicting. CNN says the couple was offered 20 million yuan ($2.6 million) or two higher floors in the new building, but are holding out for space on the ground floor of the new building, where their restaurant will presumably get foot traffic. Time, on the other hand, says the couple are holding out for 2.5 million dollars. (Then again, Time also says that Chongqing is a part of Sichuan province.) Ananova says the householders are demanding 20 million yuan. The blog Peering into the Interior says they are holding out for space in the new building, and have only been offered a small sum of money. There is also disagreement about whether the woman taking a stand should be called Ms. Wu or Ms. Wuping.

The important thing about this case though, is that it is a high profile test of China's evolving property laws. The right to private property was written into the Chinese constitution in 2003, and in October of this year, a law allowing the sale and transfer of land is supposed to go into effect. The situation remains vague, however, because the constitution still asserts that the state owns all the land.

(Picture from Peering into the Interior)

In an effort to acquaint myself with the English-language Chinese blogosphere, I'm posting some links to this story as it appears in other blogs. I'll also update the China resource box on the right to include blogs.

Peering into the Interior has a translation of an interview with Ms.Wu along with video links.

Danwei has an overview of the internet conversation with links.

Virtual China has also been blogging this.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Passing Aesthetic Judgment on a Species

Environmental Philosophy has a call for papers for an upcoming issue which includes environmental aesthetics. I'm thinking about sending them something about passing aesthetic judgments on species. I'm not really sure what I want to say on the subject, other than that people do it, and that it is kind of a weird thing to do.

In some ways the aesthetic evaluation of species is like dog-show aesthetics. You are after all, judging the beauty of an animal. But in a dog show, you judge an individual animal for how well it realizes the type. But when you judge whole species, you don't look at how they realize the higher taxon they belong to. Carlson says you judge whale you have to know it is a mammal, but you don't judge it for how well it realizes mammalness.

On a related note, this is the best video for TMBG's Mammal I have bumped into so far. A lot of people seem to try them, because the song lends itself to stock images so easily. I still haven't found one I'm perfectly in love with yet.

screaming car crash zombie boobs

This review is the result of a perfect match of artwork and a critic. The opening:
Remember, when George W. Bush was elected, and he said that thing about how, by 2008, we’d have “movies that would explode in our balls like a shotgun filled with handjobs”?

Well, that promise came true two days ago when I saw GRINDHOUSE in Hollywood. Except not only was it a shotgun full of handjobs exploding in my balls, but also my balls suddenly knew how to make fire using karate. All from seeing GRINDHOUSE, a movie that’s made of screaming car crash zombie boobs.
Via unfogged. If all goes well, this is the second in a series of trash and pop culture posts for today.

It's raining 300 men

Friday, March 23, 2007

Random Crito point.

Whenever I teach the Crito (which is most semesters) my students interpret Socrates as advocating some strong sort of pacificsm when he says that one should never return a wrong for a wrong in 49c. They are aided in this interpretation by the Grube translation, which goes like this
Socrates: Nor must one, when wronged, inflict wrong in return, as the majority believe, since one must never do worng.

Crito: That seems to be the case.

Socrates: Come now, should one injure anyone or not, Crito?

Crito: One must never do so.

Socrates: Well then, if one is oneself injured, is it right, as the majority say, to inflict an injury in return, or is it not?

Crito: It is never right.

Socrates: Injuring people is no different from wrongdoing.

Crito: That is true
I always steer my students away from the strong pacifist interpretation suggested by this translation, mostly because it doesn't fit with anything else Socrates says, or his brave record as a soldier. So I am troubled to see now that most of my students are using the Grube translation. The key sentence here is "Injuring people is no different from wrongdoing." Unless I am reading things wrong, "injuring" is κακῶς ποιεῖν and "wrongdoing" is ἀδικεῖν. Now κακῶς in the firs phrase is an incredibly general term for all things bad and ἀδικεῖν is basically injustice. So literally this sentence reads "making bad on someone is the same thing as doing an injustice to them." (I'm actually rather partial to "don't make bad on people" as a moral principle.) The point is that at no point in this passage does Socrates refer to violence in purely physical terms. When he condemns something, he always uses a moral word for it. He doesn't condemn hitting people or hurting them per se; he condemns doing something immoral to them.

Am I right here? Is the Grube translation just misleading?

Update: It looks like I am getting wronger. ACW points out that I have swapped the glosses of κακῶς ποιεῖν and ἀδικεῖν. The former is wrongdoing. The latter is "injury" according to Grube, and injure "esp in medical sense" is definition 2 in the LSJ. Also, Tredennick uses "injure" in the Penguin translation. Harold North Fowler has "do evil" though.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My new favorite dinosaur

Check this out: it flew, but was a filter feeder. It would scoop up water in its mouth, and then filter it through the hairbrush attached to its lower bill.

Caroline is now into dinosaurs. At long last, something we can deeply bond over. We've been reading this book, recommended by the redoubtable PZ Myers. Our game works like this: We open the book and sit down in a comfy chair. Caroline then whines "Index! Index!" I say, "How would a nice person ask--some hypothetical nice person?" Caroline says "Dada please can we have the index." So we open to the index. Caroline then picks a word at random. I say, "That's not a dinosaur with a picture. You need to pick a boldface number, the numbers that are darker, like one of these." Caroline points to another random spot in the book, and I pick the boldface number nearest that spot. We turn to that page and look at the dinosaur. It's great.

(The lower scull is from Tropeognathus.)

In any case, my new favorite dinosaur is the pterodaustro. It is known from a few individuals found in the '70s in what is now Argentina and Chile. I guess this was too recent a discovery to make it into the children's books of my youth. When I was Caroline's age, my favorite dinosaur was the triceratops. I had decided that all the herbivores were good guys and the carnivores were bad guys, and the triceratops was the toughest herbivore I knew of.

Of course, we adults laugh at the unsophisticated tastes in dinosaurs of small children. The Onion can mock this guy for his rubish preference for T-Rex, obviously the most overrated of dinosaurs. (While quietly giving him credit for his deep appreciation of the stegosaurus, showing his respect for the mysterious plates and his conventional understanding of their purpose. Never say The Onion is only base humor.) I doubt that I would appreciate pterodaustro had I been exposed to it as a child. But now that I am an adult, I am quite confident that it is the coolest dinosaur.*

* According to Caroline's book, none of the pterosaurs are technically dinosaurs. This is not relevant for my present thesis.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

guy sings stairway to heaven backwards.


And here is the video in reverse, so it sounds like he's singing stairway to heaven forwards, when really he's singing it backwards.

Via unfogged

update: according to the comments, his name is Jeroen Offerman.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Making the world a better place

I was in graduate school when I was first introduced to the idea that there might be different kinds of value. (Mind you, I was not technically a philosophy major as an undergraduate.) My teacher, Connie Rosati, gave me what she clearly thought was a n easy case for kinds of value: we can distinguish aesthetic and moral value. I said I still don't get it. When I hear good music, I think the world is just a better place for the music being there. She suggested that I was just being a good consequentialist when I said that. I denied this, because I the time I had this delusion that I was a deontologist (and a continental philosopher, natch).

This video, which again making it hard for me to believe in kinds of value, is split into two parts, for some reason. Click though to youtube for the second part.

Why are his hands crossed for most of the last minute of the video? I've heard him play similar riffs a lot, especially the punctuational "dan-dan-dan", but I never realized he was crossing his hands like that.

In 2005, US forces arrested and abused US mercenaries

This was reported at the time, but I missed it. In 2005 a group of mercenaries working for Zapata Engineering, a reconstruction firm, apparently were involved with a friendly fire incident with US troops. The troops responded by arresting the mercenaries and abusing them while in custody, using tactics familiar to those who followed Abu Ghraib. Here are parts of the account from Corpwatch
All 19 of the Zapata convoy were imprisoned in small, 6 ft. by 8 ft. cells dressed in orange prison garb for three days without charges or legal counsel....
One of the contractors, Rick Blanchard whose home is in Shelbyville, Tenn., said a Marine put a knee to his neck and applied his full body weight as another cut his boots off and stripped him of his wedding ring and religious ornaments.

Twenty or 30 other Marineswatched and laughed, he added, as a uniformed woman with a military dog snapped photographs.
Eric Westervelt at NPR reported similar abuse:
While in Marine custody for three days, Raiche and some of the other contractors say they were abused and humiliated. One Marine derided the group as rich contractors, Raiche says, and another Marine slammed a contractor to a cement floor and crushed his testicles. Raiche says a Marine sergeant pushed him to the ground with a knee to his back while other Marines mocked him.
I learned about this incident from The Weave, a blog run by John Collins' students covering the global media. Weaver Derek Tracy has been covering military contractors in particular. Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

whinging and blegging

Why is the "burn CD" button in Rhapsody permanently gray for me? Why does "update you music licenses" lead to "update your Media Player" which leads to the computer "hanging"? Why to the later message boxes in this sequence spread wider than my monitor, so that I can't really see all the text?

So far I've tried to make my CD with itunes, rhapsody, and emusic. Will I have any better luck with the new Napster?

Does someone want to loan me a copy of Paranoid?

Hypothetically speaking, if someone were frustrated with the methods for buying music legally on the internet, and wanted to return to the more convenient stealing, what would be the best way to do it?

Itunes complaint post

I rarely try to use itunes, but whenever I do, something doesn't work. Last time this happened, I had decided at the last minute that I wanted to use some audio for a class. Both my office computer and the classroom computer were "authorized" for my itunes account. I downloaded the audio. But I couldn't burn a CD or play the file from the classroom computer, even though these are supposedly possible with Apple's DRM system. This time I want to make a mix cd of the songs I promised to Karaoke as a part of the fundraiser for the biology club. The first several songs I look for are unavailable, and the program keeps hanging.

I used to think these problems were products of my ignorance, but now I am blaming Apple. The software keeps hanging. Images sometimes display and sometimes don't. For some reason, it makes me sign a EULA every time I open it. Fuck them. People are going to keep stealing music as long as getting it legally is such a goddamn pain.

Update: Rhapsody is also designed by people who hate customers. Installation brings these messages: "DRM install failed" "You must have Media Player 10! Why don't you have media player 10?!" (I do have Media Player 10.) "You will not be able to download music until you complete this install procedure that always makes your computer hang."

Recent resources on Blackwater USA

The Nation's Jeremy Scahill has done a lot of reporting on the mercenary army Blackwater USA, including a new book* and a series of articles at The Nation. This is how Blackwater is described in the in the books's promotional material
Meet BLACKWATER USA, the world's most secretive and powerful mercenary firm. Based in the wilderness of North Carolina, it is the fastest-growing private army on the planet with forces capable of carrying out regime change throughout the world. Blackwater protects the top US officials in Iraq and yet we know almost nothing about the firm's quasi-military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and inside the US. Blackwater was founded by an extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian mega-millionaire ex- Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the scion of a wealthy conservative family that bankrolls far-right-wing causes.
Secretive is right. Blackwater has a lot of soldiers in Iraq right now, but what are they doing? Do you remember when four American "private contractors" were ambushed, set on fire, and hung from a bridge in Falluja? Most Americans were appalled that something like that could happen to our boys, but almost no one asked who had hired those people or what there mission was. Almost no one. Henry Waxman did and it took him three years to find out, as detailed in this article. Turns out they were Blackwater ops hired by Halliburton subsidiary KBR as a part of a 400 million dollar program to provide for KPR employees. This was a big secret because it is illegal for KBR to hire paramilitary security. KBR are there as civilians, and the pentagon is supposed to provide their security. Scahill asks some good questions about this secret contract:
If the Army was responsible for providing security for KBR's 50,000 employees, why didn't it do so? Is the command and control in Iraq in such disarray that $400 million in private security services that should have been provided by the Army was not, and no one noticed? Did no one realize that tens of thousands of private soldiers were performing the Army's security duties?
Here's another good question: What rules govern the behavior of Blackwater mercenaries? If they pick someone up and torture them, can anyone stop them? There is some excellent reporting here. You should check it out. I also like this quote from one of the books reader reviews at Amazon
I'd like to start by saying that I was a Republican once, when that meant smaller government, staying out of your neighbor's business and taking care of yourself. The level of outright corruption by the Bush Administration has been exposed before, but this is an excellent exposition on the very successful attempts by Christian Fundamentalists to privatize war. While our Constitution says that it's the job of government to "provide for the common defense," the neoconservatives and the military-industrial complex have clearly conspired to bleed our treasury at the expense of our liberty. The author has carefully documented his case and many of the accounts of the individual Blackwater mercenaries themselves are sympathetic.
So should I form a new punk band and call it Blackwater USA, just to antagonize these fuckers?

*Full disclosure: I've signed up as an Amazon associate, so I get a cut now if anyone follows a link from this site to Amazon and purchases a book. So the link I just gave you is an ad.

Monday, March 12, 2007

For Sale: Complete Paul Edwards' Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This splendid reference work was originally published by MacMillan in 1967 under the leadership of analytic philosopher Paul Edwards. The only major English language reference work in prior to that point was a dictionary published in 1901. The work covers all eras, schools, and traditions of philosophy, although the editor-in-chief is open about giving more a little bit more space to the sorts of issues that analytic philosophers are attracted to, with individual entries for "if" and "any and all." I am selling the 1972 compact edition, which has a slightly smaller typeface, and fits in four volumes.

The great simplification begins

Since my high paying job is ending, we will soon either be moving to a new town or to a smaller house (with lower mortgage payments) in this town. This is an excellent opportunity to disencumber myself of a few of the eighteen hundred books I own. I will probably never read many of them, and since they are all very good books, someone should read them.

So I'm selling through Amazon. Here are the first two items I'm putting up for sale

Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Eds. Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery. This is a great book that I happen to have two copies of. Right now I have the cheapest price at $18.

Moral Passages: Toward a Collectivist Moral Theory. Kathryn Addelson Some feminist moral theory for you. I'm asking $2. Someone else is asking 59 cents. It is not worth my time to walk to the post office for 59 cents.

I hope to unload at least 200 books this way. We'll see.

Update: Hey, I just made a sale! I unburdened myself of a copy of Cahn and Markie's Ethics reader for $34, of which I get $30.20.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I just had a think

And I think it is a thinky think, so I am going to think it here.

Which "nature" do we appreciate when we appreciate nature aesthetically?

"Nature" is one of the most complex nouns in the English language. The OED lists 26 definitions in 5 categories. Environmental philosophers tend to focus on two definitions, mostly "nature as a physical space unmodified by humans" and "nature as all that is," in other words, the nature that includes us and the one that doesn't. More interesting, though, are the horde of meanings of "nature" that refer to some kind of hidden order, purpose, or structure. When the hidden order is teleological, we get the sense of the word nature used to condemn various sex practices as "unnatural." When the hidden order is physical and causal, we get "nature" as in natural science.

Most of the environmental aesthetics I have read has focused on the appreciation of natural environments, meaning large physical spaces unmodified by humans. There is also some talk of appreciating natural objects, like rocks or trees. I think a more interesting kind of nature appreciation is the appreciation of natural processes, of nature as a hidden order. I know some work has been done along these lines, but mostly I think I'm just remembering seeing "natural processes" in lists of things we can appreciate, along with natural objects and environments.

Of course, appreciating natural processes was very important for nineteenth century romantics. Paintings like Cole's The Ox Bow, above, didn't just show nature, they showed parts of nature where the natural processes were visible. (I think I learned this from Allen Carlson or Gene Hargrove when I was at the Alaska NEH.)

So what happens to the aesthetic attitude when the process is the object of appreciation? Is there a way we can privilege the appreciation of processes over other things? I need to look at Carlson and Hargrove again to see if they've already covered this, along with some others. Focusing on the appreciation of processes would fit a Carlson, science based aesthetic attitude. It also fits with a modern environmentalism, a movement quite different than ancient pastoralisms. It fits with the rational for a lot of Chinese parks, which are geological rather than say wildlife preserves. It also makes sense of the Martian environmentalism of Kim Stanly Robinson's Mars books. (Not that anyone was really demanding that philosophers make sense of this obscure fictional movement.) The process aesthetic has a strange relationship to the Buddhist aesthetic I've been working on. They fit together because they are both so much about time and change. But the process aesthetic is more cognitive, more material.


Twenty songs I have agreed to karaoke

As a fund raiser for the student biology club, I have agreed to Karaoke at least one of these songs (details to follow):

1. Beatles: Help!
2. Beatles: I saw her standing there.
3. Beatles: Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da
4. Black Sabbath: Paranoid
5. Black Sabbath: War pigs
6. Bobby Darin: Mack the knife
7. Chumbawamba: Tubthumping
8. David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust
9. Drifters: On Broadway
10: Elvis Costello: Alison
11: Elvis Presley: Heartbreak Hotel
12: Elvis Presley: Hound Dog
13. Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive
14. Lou Reed: Sweet Jane
15. Nancy Sinatra: These boots are made for walkin'
16. Patsy Cline: Crazy
17. Ray Charles: Hit the Road Jack
18. Simon and Garfunkel: 59th Street Bridge Song
19. Tokens: The Lion Sleeps Tonight
20. The Troggs. Wild thing

I really wanted to do "Crazy" but that CD has apparently been stolen from their karaoke machine.

South Korea to Release Robot Ethics Charter

The government of South Korea has commissioned an expert panel to produce a report on robot ethics, which will discuss not only the ethical design of robots, but the moral standing and ethical treatment of robots.

I routinely teach the question of the moral status of machines. In some parts of the country I have seen universal opposition to the idea that a machine could ever be a person. SLU students are a bit more open minded. Now, South Korea is a famously plugged in nation. (I'm told they have gotten around DRM problems with music because everyone simply pays a flat monthly fee for unlimited wireless access to every song ever recorded.) It doesn't surprise me that cultures that are more technologically developed are also more open to machine personhood. This is a very optimistic sign: the places that are most likely to develop a machine who is a person are also the most likely to recognize the machines personhood.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My new career writing copy for organic food packages

I've decided to stop doing environmental philosophy and start writing the copy that appears on the packaging of organic processed food. Here's a sample I wrote on spec:
Zombie Ed's Organic Brains(TM): Our Commitment Is in Our Quality

When Zombie Ed first told his friends about his vision for a company that sold organically grown human brains, people doubted whether a zombie could really be committed to personal health and the welfare of the planet, or even conduct a simple financial transaction. But everyone could taste how wrong they were when the first jars of Zombie Ed's Organic Brains(TM) appeared on the shelves of the local general store. Zombie Ed's Organic Brains(TM) are taken from free range victims with healthy lifestyles, and you can still taste their happy thoughts in every jar of Zombie Ed's Organic Brains(TM). Now Zombie Ed's Organic Brains(TM) are available around the world, but we still haven't forgotten our commitment to a healthier planet, and a healthier you. So when you serve a meal of Zombie Ed's Organic Brains(TM) to your family, you can feel good knowing that you aren't just eating food. You are a part of a new and better world.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

My Proposal for the volume: Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy

Gaius Baltar and the Image of the Tyrant in Plato and Boethius

Villains in popular genres like science fiction, horror, or superhero fiction are generally written to thrill the audience with their image of power and freedom from petty conventional morality. This can lead the audience to identify with them more than with the putative heroes of the story. The late character actor John Calicos, who played the evil Count Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica, specialized in playing this sort of bad guy. When Ron Moore re-envisioned the series, he gave Count Baltar a first name, Gaius, that also belonged Roman Emperor commonly known as Caligula, setting up the idea that this new Baltar would also be a larger than life villain. But the character that has evolved from the writers and the twitchy performance by James Callis is hardly likely to impress audiences with his dark power. The new Gaius Baltar is a traitor and a liar, to be sure. But he is also cowardly, vain, easily manipulated, and a prisoner of his passions.

The new Baltar shows the audience a less Manichean picture of evil, one that is more in line with classical philosophers like Plato and Boethius. Both Plato and Boethius were anxious to show that the unjust person was a miserable wreck who brought more harm to himself than he ever could bring to his victims. For Plato, this point is crucial for justification for being moral; for Boethius, the explanation of God’s ways to man. They were particularly focused on the image of the tyrant: a powerful person who gets what he wants, and who wants a lot. Many people envy this life, just as many wind up identifying with supervillains. Plato and Boethius want you to see that the tyrant is not someone we want to be, and in fact, the more apparent power they have, the less we should envy them. Plato describes the tyrant as someone who is actually himself tyrannized, because he is totally enslaved by his own lusts. And lust forces him into a truly miserable life. He is so afraid of being killed by his own slaves that he must fawn over them constantly. He lives “like a woman, confined to his own house” (Rep. 759c) for fear of assassination, and has no friends, only allies and enemies. Boethius accepts Plato’s psychological vision, and raises it to a metaphysical level. The evil person, for Boethius, has no real power and is not even really human. In fact, he doesn’t even really exist. “You could say a corpse is a dead man, but you would not call it a man pure and simple; in the same way, I grant that corrupt men are wicked, but I refuse to admit that they exist in an absolute sense” (Consolations 4.2)

This essay will illustrate the idea of the tyrant in Plato and Boethius using examples from the life of Baltar we are presented—clearly a life ruled by lust and hounded by fear. This will lead to some Platonic observations about identification and moral instruction.

"A Wounded Marine Returns Home To Wed"

Photograph by Nina Berman. More photos of the couple with some backstory here .

Via Majikthise

"A Wounded Marine Returns Home To Wed."


Via Majikthise