Friday, June 30, 2006
"E-commerce giants want to compete in communications but don't want communications companies to compete with them," said Scott Cleland, chairman of Netcompetition.org. "Net neutrality isn't neutral; it's a form of corporate welfare for dot-com billionaires. Net neutrality would kill the goose that laid the golden egg, and the goose that laid the golden egg is competition."This is the most insane series of bad arguments. The first is a clear straw-man -- no one (worth listening to) who supports net neutrality cares about access to Google and Yahoo!. The problem is with access to little sites and small competitors to the giants. The fact that the giants don't want to see their competition get an advantage is a bonus, because it puts some heavy hitters on the side of the little guys; but, ultimately, the danger is that corporations who already control huge amounts of internet traffic will be able to leverage their position into even greater, nigh-monopolistic advantage.
The second is a non sequitur. Competition did indeed help grow the internet. But now, as with all (relatively) mature industries, there are a few extremely rich and powerful companies sitting at the top of the heap. Without regulation, there's a great danger that these companies will form a cartel/trust/whatever you want to call it and keep potential competitors from entering the marketplace. There's nothing more anti-competitive than the winner of a free competition being allowed the same freedom that got them where they are. After all, free competition ultimately changes the competitors to the point where continued free competition would be disadvantageous (indeed, disastrous). Hence, progressive taxation, regulation of mature markets, etc.
There were protests last week when Ryerson University gave an honorary degree to "ethicist" Margaret Somerville. I insert quotation marks since I dislike adding syllables to a simple, rich term such as ethics. It's like calling starvation, racism and murder in Darfur, “humanitarian,” and not just human, issues.I agree that the word "ethicist" is quite ugly. But what else do you call someone who studies ethics, thinks about ethics, and writes on ethics? The old word is "moralist", actually, but that's got a very negative connotation now. ("Moralistic" is a pejorative.)
The protesters may have assumed that an expert in ethics should be particularly ethical herself and that Dr. Somerville's restrictive views on marriage, child-raising and abortion, didn't meet that test. Personally I think the problem lies in the assumption.The assumption is indeed false. Being an ethicist doesn't make one ethical -- although it does tend to make one better at justifying what one does ethically. However, I note that there's consideration as to whether Somerville's views are actually wrong -- that is, whether her claims that marriage is all about child-rearing actually are "unethical". That assumption is clearly up for grabs, and that assumption is what Somerville's work challenges, and challenging that assumption is why she received a doctorate. Talk about missing the point.
During my lengthy adolescent religious quest, I had a Bible teacher in Israel named Nehama Labovitz. I once asked her if she thought a person lacking faith could understand the Bible. "I think it is like a blind person could be the world expert in optics," she mused. "He would know everything about it. He just wouldn't know what he was talking about."The example is nonsense. Firstly, the analogy doesn't fly. Having faith isn't a pre-requisite for understanding the Bible, in that anyone can read the words and the commentaries and come to some sort of understanding of it. Having faith is a pre-requisite for being Christian. Secondly, a blind person could indeed be a world expert in optics, in that optics is the science that explores the workings of light. To say that you have to be sighted in order to understand optics is rather like saying that a human being can't understand how creatures "see" with sonar. Of course we can -- we have to use analogies to do it, but we can. I'd imagine the same applies to the blind man's understanding of optics. Thirdly, it's pretty clear Salutin doesn't have a clue what optics actually is -- he thinks it's got something to do with seeing things, and that's only a small part of the story.
That's how I'd feel about ethicists, if I thought their discipline actually existed.Need I point out how stupid this is? Well, I will, in just one more paragraph.
But I'm inclined to think it doesn't. It has no established body of knowledge or technique — unlike neurosurgery or auto repair.Bullshit. Ethics has an established body of knowledge -- the number of works written on ethics is vast. Ethics has its own techniques (indeed, they are special applications of the general techniques of philosophy). I also note that his comparisons are to practical disciplines -- neurosurgery and auto repair both involve manipulating the world, somehow. Better comparisons would be to pure theory -- say, pure mathematics. Does Salutin think there's no "established body of knowledge or technique" to N-space vector algebra?
By its nature, ethics belongs to each person; all claims to expertise diminish that broad application.Also bullshit. I don't know where he's gotten this "definition" from, but I get the feeling this is an argumentum ad dictionarium. The idea that the existence of experts diminishes the application of ethics to everyone is sheer nonsense. There are experts in dynamic forces, which govern the basic physical interactions of all physical objects. That there are experts doesn't mean that dynamic forces don't apply to all physical objects. It's a total non sequitur.
So do attempts to squeeze it into academic compartments such as bioethics, medical ethics (the Somerville niche) or journalistic ethics, in which I once held a “chair” at, come to think of it, Ryerson.And now an appeal to personal experience, as if that's supposed to be significant. The baseless attack on academic comparmentalization (which is actually not as hard and fast as non-academics seem to believe) exposes the actual problem, which is that Salutin doesn't seem to like experts telling him he's doing things wrong. Rather than admit that he might be wrong, he's attacking the expertise and the institutional structure that supports it. Not terribly ethical, really, nor intellectually respectable.
The best writers on ethics are notably vague. Immanuel Kant, my fave, never tried to prove right and wrong exist; he said each of us knows that from "the moral voice within." Any rules he offered were dead simple: The only unambiguously good thing is the will to do good. Act as if your conduct could be a guideline for everyone. Treat others as ends, never as means.To go back to the idea that there is indeed a body of knowledge for ethics, if Salutin was familiar with it, he'd know that Kant's ideas of the "good will" and the two formulations of the Categorical Imperative are notoriously slippery. There is an embarrassment of counter-examples to all Kant's claims. Furthermore, to claim that Kant didn't try to prove right and wrong exist is to misunderstand the place of the arguments in the The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals , and pretend those in the Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Pure Reason do not exist. Kant didn't try to "prove" right and wrong exist, in the sense Salutin seems worried about, because Kant didn't think you could prove anything existed in that sense. The confusion, says Kant, lies in overlooking the distinction between things as they appear (phenomena) and things as they are in themselves (noumena). Nothing can be known about noumena, for we cannot ever experience them; all we ever experience are phenomena. In that sense, we end up with a strong bifurcation of the world: pure reason tells us that the world consists of physical objects obeying laws of science and in strict cause-effect relations; practical reason, on the other hand, tells us that the world consists of many rational beings obeying laws they choose for themselves and who are free (autonomous). (More on Kant here, at the excellent online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)
I don't mean you can't explore ethical topics or speak usefully about them.Yes, you do. You just denied there's any body of knowledge about it.
Dostoevsky wrote brilliantly on moral issues, but I don't think anyone would call him an ethicist or go to him for advice.Well, the fact that he's dead makes it hard to go to him for advice. If you mean "go to his writings", then, in fact, people do, just as people turn to the Bible, or to Kant, or to whomever, for moral advice. As to being an "ethicist", well, probably not, because he was in the first instance a writer and not a philosopher; his thinking was not systematic. He may have had good insights, but they hardly form a rigorous system of thought.
When I held that comfy chair at Ryerson, I took it on the understanding that I felt there was no such thing as journalistic ethics. I didn't mean that in a snarky way.Doubtful. Although it's nice to know one can be paid to hold a chair at a public university and think that the money one is earning is for doing jack shit. I note that Salutin just takes it as given that there's no "journalistic ethics" -- I wonder what, if any, academic papers he wrote to justify this. (This is why professionals should have to prove their academic chops before being allowed into universities. Often, even if they know how to do something, they don't know that.)
Just: Ethics is ethics, here, there and everywhere; we are all our own ethicists because that is our moral duty.I find it funny that he can think ethics is personal and subjective, has no body of knowledge, and yet also think that the concept of "moral duty" is coherent.
The Tories said there is no such rule and claimed that Elections Canada had already audited the 2005 convention in Montreal.Of course, as the very next sentence points out:
"Elections Canada has not audited the books of the Conservative Party regarding this convention," said the release from [Jean-Pierre] Kingsley [chief electoral officer with Elections Canada], adding Elections Canada has no legal authority to compel such an audit.It's amazing to me that people who played such a canny political game in the last election are blowing it now. Don't they get that continuing to deny this, instead of shutting up and letting it die down, is all that's keeping the story brewing?
On the other hand, if this person is serious, then it seems they should be arrested for uttering a death threat. Shouldn't they?
In general, it seems to me that any insurance which serves a public interest shouldn't be run by market forces, for the simple reason that the profit-motive is incompatible with achieving other socially valuable goods. For example, if the aim is to make sure that people hurt in car accidents are compensated fairly for their injuries, then it seems the private sector should have nothing to do with it. (After all, private insurers will be trying to make as much money as possible, which is not compatible with the concept of fair compensation.) Same holds for health insurance, insurance against work injuries, disability insurance generally, and probably also for life insurance. It won't hold for property insurance, though, because protecting anything other than minimal personal property (what you need to live and work) just doesn't seem like a social good.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
But, then I see crap like this (1, 2), and realize they're just fruitcakes (hence, "loony left", eh?). The "argument", such as it is, is that air conditioning is an "unsustainable" technology (uses too much fuel, etc.) and that people shouldn't live in hot places. I'm shocked that there's no companion article arguing people shouldn't live in Scandinavia because it's too cold in winter and they'll just waste fuel heating their homes. It's really the same argument.
The problem is not the basic idea of regulating temperature. Humans have been doing that for years. The problem is twofold: first, our homes are not designed to retain heat in winter but also lose heat in summer; and, second, the technologies we use to heat and cool our homes are wasteful. So, two obvious solutions: first, build homes better (instead of cookie-cutter townhouses dumped in the middle of a previously open field, with no regard for where the sun will hit them and such); and, second, develop more efficient technologies for regulating temperature (instead of burning natural gas and running a pump while pushing air through a refrigerated region, respectively). Simple.
But the idea that air conditioning is inherently bad is part of this loony left idea that we should all eat vegan organic foods and walk to work and so on and so forth. There's no good principled arguments for these sorts of views, and, practically, they're a nightmare (largely because they will never be accepted by the average person). Instead of pretending we can create some environmentalist utopia, I humbly suggest we simply try to improve the way our world actually operates.
Unfortunately, though, the Canadian Supremes have put more bullets in the plaintiffs' guns than the defense's. First is as follows. The claim was for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome which are, basically, bullshit. Chronic pain is real. Chronic fatigue is real. That is, both are symptoms of genuine pathologies. But fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are as real as railway spine. (Shocking note: I tried to Google some skeptical sites on FMS and CFS and couldn't find anything. The Web really is a home for altie bullshit.) There is no single pathological process you can point to an label fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. The idea that one can claim damages for being denied benefits for these "diseases" is disturbing.
Ordinarily, to call something a "disease", we need a process that is, in some way, deviant from the body's "normal" processes. Simple enough: things like colds pass this definition, as do things like cancer. (Injuries may as well; but, since I'm not trying to rule out injuries, this doesn't bother me.) So, the question is: what "process" underlies FMS or CFS? If one can be found, then it's not FMS or CFS! For example, fatigue is often a symptom of hypoglycemia. The deviant process that is hypoglycemia can be found; and, since it can be found, the patient would be diagnosed with hypoglycemia, not CFS. The same holds for FMS.
Secondly, plaintiffs can now dump in a "mental distress" claim if their benefits are denied. Which is insane. While it might be "distressing" to be denied benefits, I cannot for the life of me see how (1) this can be a pathology for which one deserves compensation and (2) how it's the insurance company's problem that, basically, you're a wuss.
Insurance companies' purpose is not to pay you what you "deserve". They enter into a contract with a consumer to provide a certain level of payment if certain conditions are met. For example, life insurance pays out if the consumer dies. So, unless the insurance contract is very badly worded, I'd think that disability insurance will only pay out if one has an actual pathology which disables one (usually from working). "Mental distress" due to denial of benefits is hardly enough to disable one, unless one is exceptionally fragile -- in which case, surely one would not have been insurable. (Interesting side-note: if you turn out to be a fragile sort of person who can't handle being denied benefits, are you as liable to have your insurance cancelled as someone who, even unknowingly, concealed osteoporosis and then suffered a fracture partially due to the underlying condition?) So, to allow claims for mental distress exposes insurance companies in an unacceptable way, and may (I would think) lead to a refusal to cover any mental illnesses.
Edit: Fixed link.
Finally. Look, everyone knew Gitmo was illegal. The whole "enemy combatants" (as distinct from PoWs) was always nonsense on stilts (with apologies to Bentham). The interesting thing about this is not that Dubya is going to close Gitmo -- he won't -- but that the Supremes have finally woken up to the fact that they are the third branch of the US government, and, if the legislature is asleep at the wheel, then it's up to them to check executive power. It also seems that this may have a negative effect on Dubya's ability to find laws that superficially justify his illegal wiretapping program (again, he won't stop doing it, he'll just look like more of a power-hungery idiot). My hope, of course, is that Bush will continue to defy the law, and will expose his party to utter defeat in mid-terms and in 2008.
The worrisome thing about the decision, of course, is that Thomas, Scalia, and Alito were the dissenting opinions. Roberts recused himself; even if he had weighed in, it still would, at worst, have been 5-4 (and, at best, 6-3). This means that conservative appointees think that the President of the US can do whatever he wants, as long as he follows his declarations with "Yah, boo, scary, terrorists under the bed!" Hence, the next vacancy must be filled by someone sane -- it's as simple as that.
Edit: As this makes clear, Gitmo itself is not illegal. It's the military commissions that Bush was trying to use instead of real trials. Fair enough -- but, if Gitmo detainees must be tried (as they must) and kangaroo courts are no longer legal, then Gitmo comes closer to being an actual (acceptable because necessary) prison instead of a gulag. Again, I expect Bush et al. to try to use military commissions anyway, or simply give up on even mock trials, but at least the Supremes are in the ballpark of doing their job.
I accept that campaign finance laws may be hard to understand. I accept that they may require interpretation. What's funny, though, is that the Cons' lawyer isn't saying: "Okay, look, maybe we did something wrong, we're not sure" or even "That's not our interpretation of the law, but we'll puruse it in court". Instead, we get a superlative claim that there has "never" been such an interpretation of the finance law. Given that this lawyer has probably not read the case law, I find that hard to believe.
Moreover, I find it hard to believe that the Cons would have let the Libs get away with that sort of a response.
Moreover still, it strikes me as pretty evident moral weakness. The lawyer is not claiming that the Cons didn't do it. The lawyer is not claiming that it isn't illegal. He's disputing whether the interpretation of the law can be stretched to cover this particular action. This is not a declaration of innocence, or that the law should be changed (perhaps to sharpen the interpretation), or anything of that nature. If the Cons didn't do anything wrong, why don't they just say so?
The answer that seems most plausible is that they did do something wrong, they know they did something wrong, and they're frantically trying to control the fallout instead of standing up and admitting it.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
I have to say, I don't get it. Why hang on to something that isn't working? I mean, yes, it's your leg or arm or whatever, but it doesn't work and it doesn't feel -- it's basically just a lump of useless flesh -- so why not replace it with something that might actually help you get your life back together?
In Canada's parliamentary system, if a party has a majority, then they are a de facto and de jure dictatorship. They can, literally, do anything -- except what the Constitution forbids. (And, since I'm not sure what the notwithstanding clause doesn't apply to, even that limit may be relatively flaccid.) How can the citizenry respond to a government that is no longer, they feel, governing in their interests? If the government is a minority, it's easy -- the opposition parties aren't stupid, and, smelling blood in the water, they will circle and attack. If necessary, they will force a vote of non-confidence and trigger a general election.
However, if the government is not a minority, then it becomes harder to see what the citizens can do. Civil disobedience is a possibility, to be sure, but a dicey one. And political protests can simply be ignored (Dubya has demonstrated that aptly, through both his terms). This is where recall legislation comes in.
Politicians, professional though they have become, need to remember that in a democratic country, the authority to govern is passed upwards from the citizenry. Each citizens has the right to govern him or herself, and each citizen, through the mechanism of an election, passes that right temporarily to a parlimentary representative. There is no "divine right" to rule (even of the federal Liberal party). Now, since the right to rule is passed up to the representatives, surely the citizens should have the right to take their right to rule back and, potentially, pass it to someone they feel is more deserving?
Given that, then the following practical problems must be dealt with (to ensure fair attempts at recall, and to block nuisances):
- establish a time within a term past which an MP/MPP/MLA cannot be recalled
- establish a "grace period" at the start of a term within which an MP/MPP/MLA cannot be recalled
- establish a proportion of the citizenry considered fairly representative of dissatisfaction (say, a representative supermajority)
- establish a mechanism by which the citizenry can express their dissatisfaction (e.g., signing a standard petition form)
- put all this in the Constitution, so future governments can dick around with it at will.
With regard to the first, generally, improvement is to be encouraged. So, a student who started out with a D and ends up with a B on the last assignment should, overall, have a final grade that tends towards the B -- but, only insofar as there can be things found in the last assignment to justify a slight grade inflation.
With regard to the second, if students are taking an accelerated course (5 weeks vs. 10 weeks), then it's likely that there's only two or three assignments (instead of five or six). This means that early assignments will probably get disproportionately weighted. In a regular-length course, grades for early assignments will be weighted less than later ones, because it's expected that students take a little time to get into a course and really reach their actual level of ability. In an accelerated course, though, this is not possible because there are fewer assignments. So, to compensate, a little grade inflation on later assignments is necessary.
So, despite initial misgivings, overall I'm happy with how the grades turned out. I think those who deserved to be rewarded were rewarded deservedly, and the disproportionality was at least somewhat corrected for. And all this without sacrificing standards.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
7:20pm: Okay, if the question says "critically evaluate", wouldn't one expect some, I don't know, critical evaluation? I would, but apparently I'm crazy.
8:08pm: Wow. That took forever. And, I note that the next question was done by... 1 person. Jeez. And the question after that was done by... apparently about thirty people again. What the hell, eh?
8:29pm: Okay, here we go. Question #9.
9:26pm: I'm clearly slowing down here. These are taking longer. However, it seems that the remaining four questions after I get done with this one don't have nearly as many fans. Hence, each question should go faster. (What's shocking is that I haven't yet got a final grade for anyone -- means no one just did the first five short-answer questions. Bizarre.)
9:47pm: Okay, #9 is done. Final marks thus far are looking all right -- I've already got 16% over the C+ hump, and only one exam is completely marked. I need to get half the class over the hump before I'm done. There's a number of C's and D+'s that I suspect will bump upwards.
10:31pm: Okay, Q#10 is done, and I realized a problem. I need to get them over the B hump, not the C+! I may have to bump up the essay grades to get things better. Crap.
10:42pm: Q#11 done.
11:00pm: Q#12 done. I'm really thinking that this isn't going to turn around as I need it to, which means I'm going to have to revisit Q#2 and #3 and try to bump the marks up. These are the questions with the lowest averages, hence the ones that can make the most difference to my overall balances.
11:20pm: Q#13 done.
12:30am: Q#14 done. Adjusted the grades a little, but I've become confused about how the distribution should be falling. Will call prof in the morning to check, then adjust and enter final grades. Wahoo!
Bunning later added that those who leaked the story, plus journalists involved in earlier stories revealing the existence of a National Security Agency program involving eavesdropping on telephone calls also should be looked at for prosecution.So, to recap: if a free press reports on (a) an illegal program (wire-tapping), and (b) a questionable program, at best, both are acts of treason and the reporters should be prosecuted. The guys who actually instituted the programs should get off scot-free.
Really, at this point, it seems all they need is some version of the SS, beating people up in the streets....
Edit 8:24pm: Glenn Greenwald is on the case.
5:00pm: First short answer done. Onto the next.
5:33pm:And that one's done. Average grade on it was a B -- not bad. Onto the next.
6:22pm:And that's that one. Average was a C -- not so great, but, generally, it was sloppily done. If you're asked to define two concepts, make sure you define them! Onto the next one... after a little break.
I'm not quite sure what the source of the problem is, but I would suggest that it lies in the fact that one can have a career as a politician. Political parties are massive, power-hungry and monied machines that are largely unregulated (and, really, who would regulate them?) -- which is unlike any other massive, power-hungry and monied machine I can think of. (Even large corporations are subject to independent regulation.) If there were constant turnover of the higher-ups, then this would act as a check on their institutional ossification; but, there is no such turnover. Hence, we see the interests of the populace ignored in favour of the ongoing power interests of an elite -- and, worse, an elite whose claims to being elite are only grounded in their own self-interest.
1:05pm: Okay, these are almost universally mediocre. I still haven't seen an answer that really knocks my socks off vis-a-vis either Aristotle or Hume (or both).
2:35pm: Mediocre, mediocre, mediocre. On the whole, I'm mostly seeing the broad outlines of getting the virtue ethics line, but not the actual details.
2:55pm: That was far too much like work. But, 'tis done! At least, that question is. Although the marks were generally mediocre, the average worked out okay. I guess I lost both the high and low ends.
Monday, June 26, 2006
11:48pm: Yeah, I'm completely crashing here. I've marked three and then sat and stared for about eight minutes. So, I'll have to finish these in a mad rush tomorrow. (Why is it always in a mad rush tomorrow?)
- Global warming is happening.
- It's our fault.
- It's going to change the way we live, if not destroy any hope for our continued civilization.
10:51pm: These are actually pretty good so far. I figured they would be. The question's not terribly difficult, particularly because it just follows a dialectic. The only problem I can foresee is failing to recognize the central question, namely whether we prioritize the individual or the community. (Which is a problem I happen to find very interesting in another context, namely on the question of the origin of normativity.)
11:14pm: Okay, so, second question done. Most people avoided it, oddly. Third question on a new post....
(Ack! Now my eyes are stinging! I have no idea why, they just are for some reason.)
"Today the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin," he said. ... It said: "Despite early claims to the contrary, cannabis dependence is a reality. Many people who use cannabis find it difficult to stop, even when it interferes with other aspects of their lives, and more than a million people from all over the world enter treatment for cannabis dependence each year."If you replace "cannabis" with "tobacco", you still get true statements; the same if you replace it with "alcohol". The point is, illegality is only one way to deal with harmful substances. Social approbation and disapproval is another. The question really is which is more effective. Clearly, we're dumping millions into the "war" against cannabis/marijuana, and just as clearly usage rates are going up. So, we really should try something else, even if cannabis is getting more dangerous. Talking about the potential health effects of the drug is really beside the point.
I suspect that one of the characters will be Snape. Frankly, given what he did in the 6th book, I don't see any other way out. If it turns out he really did betray Dumbledore, then that means Dumbledore was wrong and Harry right from the very first book -- which makes no sense, as Dumbledore is always right. So, Snape has to be a good guy. However, since he's now walked into a figurative lion's den, he's probably not going to make it out alive. I suspect a heroic sacrifice to finally redeem himself in Harry's eyes and pay back whatever debt he feels he owes to Harry's mother from their own schooldays.
As for the other, it's a tough call. I thought maybe Draco, but his archetype seems to me to be more the redeemed traitor -- rather like Snape, but his redemption hasn't yet come. So, to have Draco redeem himself and then die would be fairly cheap. Thus, I doubt it's Draco.
I'm also ruling out the remaining teachers -- I mean, really, why kill them? So, it's really down to our two remaining central figures: Hermione and Ron. I kind of like the dramatic symmetry of the best friend sacrificing himself to save his friends, so, I'm voting for Ron as number two.
8:28pm: And now I have one that didn't answer (3). Augh!
8:57pm: Okay, I just marked an 18/20 and a 19/20. I feel better about this now. (At least the average will be better than on the midterm. Or so I hope -- this is only the first essay question, after all!)
9:58pm: They're getting much better. And, I'm finally almost done the first essay question! This is the problem with having a required question -- I have to mark thirty of them!
10:15pm: Okay, that's the first question. New post for the second.
I take exception to evolutionary explanations of moral or moralistic (proto-moral) behaviour. Not because I don't think they work -- they do. But because they're explaining the behaviour, but not the moral. Let me unpack this: behaviour is, minimally, one's doing something rather than having something happen to one. Further, behaviour seems to be something of a process -- it's not the moving of my arm, the pressing on the light switch, and the electrical current surging along the wires to the lightbulb; my behaviour is, instead, turning on the light, a process which is constituted by these physical events.
So far, so good. Clearly, we can explain the contitutive parts of behaviour in an evolutionary-type fashion (either selectionist or developmental -- I'll gloss both as "evolutionary"). I move my arm when turning on the light because it's a very efficient way to turn on the light and, through my life, I have come to associate moving my arm with the most efficient way of turning on the light. I'll even buy that we can explaining the whole process in an evolutionary fashion -- that is, all these constituents came together because, collectively, they are the most efficient way, etc, etc.
What we can't so explain, though, is why the behaviour is moral: that is, why it receives praise or blame. (And, indeed, I note from the post I linked to that the praising/blaming is being presumed and not explained.) There have been heroic attempts, but I don't buy any that I've read. (More on that in the dissertation!) The only way I know to account for the fact that value -- particularly, morality -- is not amenable to evolutionary explanation is that value is not natural. That is, it is a supernatural property.
It's well-known that our system coldly leaves more than 46 million of us without any health coverage.Yeah, that's 46 million. According to the 2001 Canadian Census, the population of Canada was 30,007,094. So, about 150% of the population of Canada has no health coverage in the US.
I seriously can't believe any right-thinking person would ever look to the US as a model of healthcare delivery.
THERE'LL BE WAITING LISTS. Hello! Have you ever tried to get a quick appointment with your family doctor -- especially at night or on weekends? Only a third of Americans have same-day access to their own doctor. It takes days, even if you have insurance -- ask an uninsured American about waiting lists! And forget about trying to see a specialist within a month of calling. No country with SPS has a waiting list for emergency care and few have them for primary care. Waits for other procedures are almost always for elective surgeries (liposuction, face lifts, tennis elbow, nonessential MRIs, etc.).Look. Everyone, in every country, has problems with their healthcare system. Largely due to lack of technologies and lack of practitioners where they are needed. There are institutional changes that need to be made in Canada's healthcare system to try to make it run more efficiently and effectively for our current social context. That's beyond question. What's not beyond question, though, and has been demonstrated time and time again is that introducing market-based healthcare is utterly back-asswards. It doesn't help: costs go up, coverage decreases, and the essential problems don't get changed.
For one, the idea that there is some biological (and that is not the same as "genetic") basis to sexual orientation just seems obvious to me. It's nice to have some proof of it, but it's not surprising.
For two, the idea that it could be due to conditions in the womb is possibly a problem. If the conditions in the womb just increase the chances of adult homosexuality, then there may be no (serious) issue; however, if the idea is that conditions in the womb determine sexuality, then it suggests to me that the anti-homosexual lobby has a perfect avenue to pursue for a homosexuality "cure": genes are hard to manipulate, but conditions in the womb are not. So, change the conditions in the womb and ensure that your kid will grow up "normal".
I'm not for a moment suggesting that scientific research into the origins of sexual orientation should be avoided or refrained from, but I am concerned that the way it's starting to seem like sexuality works -- genes are not determinate one way or the other, womb conditions plus later (non-utero) environmental effects "steer" one's orientation -- is a way that can be mucked around with. And, as with everything we're capable of mucking around with, this raises the inevitable question of whether we should. It's one thing to say that a fully autonomous adult can make decisions about his or her (consenting, adult, etc.) sexual partners without interference, but why not interfere with the development conditions that shape the future sexual orientation of current neonates, infants and children? (I should note that this could cut both ways: parents might want to intervene to ensure that their child is homosexual.)
After all, it's not as if we don't interfere with childrens' developments pretty much constantly -- that's what child-rearing is all about. On the whole, I don't really have a good answer about "why not". It seems like there's no social benefit or detriment one way or the other, which would leave the decision entirely in the hands of the parents.
Let's face it: barring a major realignment in the nature of provincial elections in this country, there's always going to be more hay to be made by playing to the sticks than to the cities. The rural regions represent more seats for fewer people, so fewer must be convinced to vote for one's party in order to get into government. Moreover, you can't get into government, at least in Ontario, by just winning the cities. You can (although not majority) by winning the rural areas.
So, what impetus is there on Tory to try to win Toronto? Well, he may be looking for a majority. That's one. But, why else should he care? Mike Harris won, if memory serves, two back-to-back majorities by bashing Toronto and the other cities throughout southwestern Ontario, and successfully ruined them for at least a decade. Dalton McGuinty has, as far as I can see, done jack-squat to improve matters, but is that really any reason to shift focus to John Tory?
It strikes me that the Toronto media are playing the same game with the Ontario PC Party that the national media played with the federal Cons -- namely, bash the Liberals, ignore the NDP, and pretend that the far-right tendencies infecting Canada's conservative parties are really the historical centre-right tendencies that we're all used to.
The question I wonder about, though, is why it works that way. Allegedly, professors run universities -- deans and other administrators all have advanced degrees, after all, and proved themselves as academics before becoming administrators. So, shouldn't the bean-counters have to dance to our tune, rather than the other way around? Or is it just a matter of the historical antecedents -- i.e., prior schooling -- having a heavy reliance on grades as markers of success, and this carrying over into university? Or some combination thereof?
I should point out that this year, in three seperate classes, I've had about six students complain about getting B's (70-79%).
Sunday, June 25, 2006
This raised a question in my mind about the extent and nature of property rights. I've never bought the Lockean story about property rights -- as Susan Okin has argued (against Nozick), it seems that if you take this far enough, then our mothers (and possibly our fathers), since they make us, thereby own us, and can transfer us to whomever they choose like any other piece of property.1But this then leaves property rights quite hard to understand.
My general sense at this point is that my private property rights only exist in a very weak way -- that is, whenever there is no stronger right or duty to override them. And the (mild) public health concerns and (much stronger) environmental concerns which seem attendant on chronic, long-term use of weedkiller and lawnfeed seem like just such overriding forces. Hence, the incoherence of the argument on this little notice: no one has an indefeasible private property right to dump chemicals on their lawn (and, consequently, into the groundwater and into the rain, and thus the water supply generally). Unless, of course, our mothers can buy and sell us like any other piece of property.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
To amend the Revised Statutes of the United States to eliminate the chilling effect on the constitutionally protected expression of religion by State and local officials that results from the threat that potential litigants may seek damages and attorney's fees.
This is particularly weird to an English-born Canadian (both the British and Canadian civil courts routinely include fees as part of the damages awarded to successful litigants). And I don't know what to make of the attempted connection with religious freedom -- collecting attorney's fees doesn't just apply to religious groups.
It's been pointed out that, should this law not die in committee (as most do), it may tend to favour groups -- such as the religious right -- that routinely violate the Constitution and get called to task by other groups -- such as the ACLU. And that's true, but it misses the point. The central point is that if I sue someone successfully, then that means the person I sued did something wrong. Which means that I should not only get something above the amount of money/goods I started with, but I should not have had to outlay anything in the first place (after all, I'm the one wronged; why should I pay when I'm in the right?). That is the reason why I should get my lawyer's fees paid for. And that is what's wrong with this law. If the person I sue is a religious group, that doesn't give them a get-out-of-jail-free card, any more than being a religious leader gives one amnesty from being jailed for child abuse.
(Maybe that's why it's getting connected to religious freedom? Because, once the civil courts have excused religious groups from culpability, then the criminal courts are next? Why not just reinstate ecclesiastical courts and be done with it?)
If public broadcasting's mission is to produce good television (which, plausibly, it is), it should not be beholden to any particular master -- neither the market, nor the public, nor pay-TV subscribers, nor advertisers. Instead, (1) its funding should be guaranteed. Also, in order to ensure that the CBC doesn't become entirely insulated from any evaluation,(2)it should be overseen by a board of people who are competent judges of good television. For example, The Canada Council for the Arts.
Of course, I'm not surprised to see the National Disgrace trying to covertly shove the CBC out the door, under the guise of cutting a reasonable middle course. Turning the CBC into a pay-TV channel would get it out from under the mandate of the federal government, and leave it free to fail to attract any sort of an audience, thus slowly failing and fading. The fact is, despite the patina of vague plausibility to the argument, there is no reasonable middle course. Either Canada is serious about having a public broadcaster which produces quality television -- television that needs to be made, regardless of how many people immediately want to watch it -- or Canada is not. If it is, then this broadcaster needs funding not tied to fluctuations in preference and money, it needs to be accessible to everyone with a TV set, and it needs to be held to reasonable standards (i.e., standards of quality not standards of popularity). On the other hand, if Canada is not, then we should not pretend otherwise, and just get rid of the CBC now.
Personally, the value of public broadcasting as a bastion against the onslaught of privately-funded, ratings-hungry pablum is almost self-evident. So, I favour (1) and (2) above. Both could be guaranteed by Act of Parliament, or simply dropped into the Constitution by amendment. (The Constitution already guarantees Catholic school boards (see s.93, if I read it correctly), so why not the CBC? Or universal health care, for that matter -- but that's another post.)
The point is, there's really no good argument for the CBC to chase ratings. But there's also no good argument to keep it dependent on pleasing people for its funds. It serves a valuable social purpose, regardless of how much money it makes.
I suspect that this is also responsible for the more cutthroat office politics that seems to be arising as well. If all I can control is the paper supply cabinet, then everyone who wants into it will have to sign their life away and promise me their first-born child.
The solution, of course, would require significant government intervention through an activated and engaged citizenry demanding the right to live and work where they choose, and thus to form communities as they need to. This would be expensive but, given that we seem to be running out of the resources (particularly oil) necessary to sustain our current socioeconomic cultural structures, we may as well get started now.
What's disturbing, of course, is that it might actually work, which will screw us all over for four years. Majority governments in Canada can be elected with around 40% of the popular vote, and they can strongarm anything they want through Parliament by whipping the caucus. Thus, majority governments are profoundly antidemocratic and tend to become ossified in their political values, as well as dictatorial in their policy procedures. It happened to the Chretien Liberals, it happened to the Mulroney Tories, and it will happen to the Harper Cons. Remaining in a state of constant minority governments, forcing parties of different ideologies with differing constituencies to negotiate and work together to produce policy compromise, will, overall, be best for Canada. I only hope that Harper et al. will lose their blind ambition for power and come to this realization (or that Hell will freeze over and Jack Layton will figure out how to win an NDP majority for the first time in Canadian electoral history).
It seems that rules of courtesy are intended to bridge this gap. The problem is that, unlike many other rules (laws and morals), rules of courtesy are very hard to justify and vary quite widely. For example, it seems that people of my generation consider spitting in public basically rude, but excusable, while people of the generation after mine consider spitting in public basically permissible. (From the perspective of courtesy, that is; putting aside prudence and public health and such.) It's not at all clear to me how one would argue for either rule.
So, if courtesy is supposed to help us out with these superficial relationships, it's a very poor, crude tool. Which suggests to me that it should be abandoned; but this then leads back to the original problem: what do we owe to people to whom we seem to have more than a duty of non-interference, but less than the special duties attached to closer and deeper personal relationships?
As a more insightful possibility, I would suggest "enough to defeat the reasons against". This then requires an account of how one can have reasons against doing something. Presuming such an account exists, it then follows that one is sufficiently motivated to do something if and only if one has some combination of more numerous and more weighty reasons in favour of doing it than reasons against doing it.
The problem remaining, of course, is in the presumption at the head of the previous paragraph: namely, how can one unpack an account of "having reasons against doing something" that (a) doesn't squarely beg the question of having enough reasons to do something (i.e., the problem that was under consideration in the first place) and (b) doesn't just define reasons against in terms of reasons for (which would move the argument in a vicious circle).
I tend to think that one has a reason against doing something when either (and these are not meant to be exhaustive) (1) doing it is impossible, (2) doing it is imprudent, (3) doing it is illegal, (4) doing it is immoral, (5) one would prefer not to do it.
So, if one can do it, it is not a bad idea to do it, it is legal and moral (at least permissible, it not required) to do it, and one has the preference to do it -- and all these reasons sum, with weighting, to more than the reasons against -- then one would be motivated to do it.
The money quote is this:
"Ultimately, negative perceptions of candidates could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls," they wrote.
What amuses me is that this is supposed to be Stewart's fault. It seems American politics is the only place where the maxim, "If people judge you as x, it's their fault" is considered a universal law. (Kant is spinning in his grave.
(Counter-example to this putative "universal law": if I steal your wallet and you judge me as a bad person for doing so, it's really your fault -- after all, you left your wallet where it could be stolen. While it may be true that you bear some responsibility, it's grievous moral error to think that my fault is thereby eliminated.)
So, things like this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/5081286.stm just bug the hell out of me.
The issue, as I understand it, is that, since anti-vaccination hysteria in the UK began a few decades ago, immunizations with the MMR vaccine have gone down. Consequently, herd immunity has now been lost, and thus the conditions for a potential epidemic are in place. Of measles.
It simply makes no sense to me. Denying the proven efficacy of vaccines is tantamount to saying that science does not rule when it comes to proving physical propositions.