Monday, March 31, 2008

putting the internet to good use

John Holbo is using public domain etexts and the print-on-demand service lulu to create new editions of 19th century science fiction. Right now he is just offering the versions available as etexts, but his plan is to created better edited scholarly editions.

Speaking of hundred-plus-year-old fantastic literature, Caroline and I have been reading Little Nemo in Slumberland and it's been really fun for both of us.

We have been reading this edition, because it is the one we happened to own. It's complete, but the reprinting is lousy: the image has been reduced in size and the text frequently has bits of letters missing. Also, it is difficult to lie down next to a five year old, and hold up a five and a half pound book so that both you and she can see the pictures and you can read the small type. Purchasing this edition, which is incomplete, but looks better, might be in order. On the other hand, maybe we should go with one of the multi volume volume editions of the complete set. (Free e-version of some of the comics are available here.)

I'm also not sure what to say to Caroline when the character of The Imp is introduced.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Means, ends, and the critique of pure superheroes

Article Proposal.
Rob Loftis

Means, ends, and the critique of pure superheroes

The most prominent theme of The Watchmen—the one alluded to in the title, the one most clearly signaled by the development of the characters and the history of the alternative universe the comic takes place in—is the easy corruptibility of the guardians of society. This easy corruption is shown to transcend political lines: it afflicts both the cosmopolitan liberal Ozymandias and the right-wing loon Rorschach. For different characters, this corruption is enabled by the abuse of different ethical theories. Ozymandias, with his grand, murderous scheme to end the cold war, represents consequentialism, the belief that all action should be judged by their consequences, so that the ends will sometimes justify the means. Rorschach, with his unbending principles in the face of apocalypse, represents the contrasting idea, deontology. The deontologist says that we should not think of morality in terms of ends and means at all, and instead only act in ways that express moral rules.

The comic contains a clear critique of consequentialism, indicting Ozymandias’s worldview not just for corrupting him, but for being ultimately futile. This critique is embedded in the structure of the story and in the perspective and explicit statements of Doctor Manhattan. It is significant that this critique does not come from the deontologist, Rorschach, as The Watchmen has a less obvious but still real critique of deontology. Rorschach’s actions are not just futile, they are genuinely counter-productive, especially his potentially world ending act of sending the details of Ozymandias’s plan to the New Frontiersman magazine. Rorschach, too, is a corrupted figure.

The ultimate target of the comic’s critique is authoritarianism, the idea that anyone should set themselves up as a guardian of society, an idea captured by image of the superhero. The critiques of consequentialism and deontology, and indeed of liberalism and conservatism, are supports this anti-authoritarianism, which is a more central theme throughout Moore’s work. The comic is not a purely negative work, however. It provides a positive moral image in the person of Hollis Mason, a rather ordinary man who used to dress up in a very corny costume and, when the book opens, is running a car repair shop (“Obsolete models a specialty!”)

This essay will highlight the critiques of consequentialism and deontology in the comic, focusing on the parallels to the classical philosophical arguments from people like Mill and Kant. I will also touch on the possible relationships between normative ethical theories like consequentialism and deontology and political theories like liberalism and conservatism. I will finally suggest virtue theory as a way to understand the positive moral images of the comic and its underlying anti-authoritarianism. This framework is probably not explicitly intended by either Moore or Gibbons, but provides the best philosophical understanding of their deepest themes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Philosophy and the Interpretation of Popular Culture

Bill Irwin, the major force in the recent explosition of philosophy and popular culture books, has edited, along with Jorge Gracia, a book about the topic aimed primarily at scholars and academic philosophers. It's called of Philosophy and the Interpretation of Popular Culture. My review is up at Metapsychology Online.

(Do me a favor and click through, I was late with the review and I want to get back on the editor's good side by generating lots of traffic.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Panexa: Ask your doctor for a reason to take it.


Friday, March 21, 2008

The Great Self-So

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Molly took some nice pictures of the ice in the backyard this morning. More on Flickr

Where am I wasting time today?

Rescue time is now measuring the amount of time I spend at non-work websites accurately, and sending me reminders when I dally too long. Even better, I have actually closed time-wasting sites as a result of these reminders.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It burns a hole in the radio...

...where it hasn't sounded good all week!

I heard the new White Stripes tune on the way to the office just now, and it made life substantially better.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Resources for 5 years of war

  • Twenty seven percent of women in the military are reported raped. Actual rates must be much higher. The slogan "join the army, get raped" should be repeated more often. Baring that visit Stop Military Rape
  • “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” The Iraq war now has its own Winter Soldier event. Some video is up, more is coming. See additional coverage by Spencer Ackerman.
  • Knit for peace (.pdf). "Our military amputees need stump socks. Iraqi babies need blankets." Brought to you by The Granny Peace Brigade. (h.t. pippy)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Misc Tibet Resources

Boing boing (Now blocked in China!) has some nice resources on the Tibet uprising. Some things I want to mark for future use:

Global Voices has been aggregating and translating Chinese language blog posts on Tibet. Unsurprisingly, many Han are hostile to the Tibetans.
"But if you just think about it, just who was it that made Tibet the developed place it is today? Who set up the bridge between Tibet and the whole world? And who is it that sends qualified people each year from every sector to educate the children of Tibet with knowledge and culture? AND who is it that sends aid from every developed city in the motherland each year to assist Tibet? I think you seem to have forgotten all this……"

The main Tibetan solidarity sites:

Students for a Free Tibet
Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy

I'll keep this updated.

Mass Arrests and House to House Searches in Tibet

The only mainstream US outlet on this story seems to be the Washinton Post. They are reporting that police in Tibet are going house to house demanding identity cards. The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy estimates 600 have been arrested. The Dalai Lama's government in exile is claiming that 80 protesters were killed. The Chinese Communist Party is reporting 13 bystanders killed by Tibetans. CCP news outlets are also talking about the need to strike back hard. According to the Post, the government publication in Tibet said "We must give them tit for tat and firmly counterattack."

The Washington Post headline has a definite pro-china slant, calling the crackdown a response to "anti-Chinese violence." On the other hand, the photos they are running focus on violence by police against unarmed demonstrators in Nepal, India, and France. I bet a lot of people don't read the captions which explain where the photos were taken, and therefore walk away associating those images with the protests in Tibet itself.

The CCP's Xinhua news service is reporting that the fighting in Tibet has ended. But the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy continues to report clashes between police and Tibetans. They are also running pictures of dead protesters.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tianamen in Tibet

The past week has seen a uprising by Tibetans against the Chinese followed by a massive and violent crackdown by the occupying Chinese forces. The Western media are just now starting to give these events serious attention. (Forgive them, they were distracted by a hooker scandal.)

This article in the times covers the start of the uprising in the beginning of the week. The unrest began Monday at Drepung Loseling Monastery, where monks staged a sit down strike to protest Chinese regulations forcing them to take "reeducation" courses and write essays denouncing the Dalai Lama. On Tuesday, Monks at the Sera Monestary in Lhasa and the Ganden Monastery nearby staged separate pro-independences rally and waved the Tibetan flag to commemorate the failed 1959 uprising against the Chinese that forced the Dalai Lama to flee his homeland. The Sera protest was broken up by tear gas.

The initial protests were completely peaceful.

By Friday, however, things had turned violent. Yesterday the Times reported one account of how the escalation occurred. Monks from the Ramoche Temple marched to protest the rough treatment of the monks in the earlier protests. Police publicly beat the Ramoche monks. This sparked rioting and violent reprisals from lay Tibetans. Chinese sources report that the lay Tibetans began attacking Chinese shopkeepers without provocation. However the Chinese sources do not seem to be denying that the police used extreme force on the monks. And it would not be surprising that lay Tibetans, who lack the discipline and training in nonviolence of monks and nuns would respond violently to seeing monks beaten.

Now the fighting has spread to areas which were traditionally a part of tibet, but which are not recognized by the Chinese Communist Party as part of the Tibet Autonomous region, including Qinghai, Gansu, and parts of Sichuan. H.H. the Dalia Lama has refused to issue a call for the protests to end. The Dalai Lama does not advocate complete independence for Tibet, merely more autonomy within the Chinese system.

Chinese President Hu Jintao owes his rise in the CCP to his role in orchestrating the violent crackdown on the nonviolent Tianamen Square protesters in 1989. I spent a portion of last summer listening to people argue for the Confucian thesis (shared by Plato) that the key to a good society is to have virtuous rulers. I remain steadfast in my (very democratic) belief that virtuous rulers are too hard to come by, and that the key to a good society is using the rule of law to restrain the rulers. China routinely confirms that belief.

Ok, I need to enter some grades, but I'm also going to go look for alternative sources for information on the uprising.

Update: Good Tibet coverage at Radio Free Asia

This the the blog of Tibet Uprising, a protest movement based in India which has attempted to march to Lhasa to commemorate the 1959 uprising.

Images of protests on youtube. Some peaceful, some not

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Battlestar Galactica Last Supper

Battlestar Galactica Last supper
Originally uploaded by kidddrunkadelic14.

I really enjoy this photo. It is actually a publicity shot from Entertainment Weekly. The article there has teasers about the final season, which are enticing, but I think detract from the overall fun of the picture.

Fortunately the photographer has put the original in his Flickr photostream. One of the things I really like about Flickr is that you get pros posting stuff there.