Feb 26, 2007

Global Warming Causes Anxiety Among Children [LINK]

A British survey revealed that half the children it polled experienced anxiety over the effects of global warming, often losing sleep at the thought that entire countries would become submerged. From a report posted at GMTV:

Pete Williams, of Somerfield, said: "Concerns over our environment dominate the media at present and kids are exposed to the hard facts [sic] as much as anybody.

"While many adults may look the other way, this study should show that global warming is not only hurting the children of the future, it's affecting the welfare of kids now.

"By raising awareness amongst today's young, hopefully we are improving our chances of reaching a solution."

No, what is "affecting the welfare of kids now" is the widespread media coverage of the issue, not global warming itself. Do not complain about children's heightened anxiety when, by "raising awareness," that is your very goal.

All Too Convenient [LINK]

At the 79th Annual Oscar ceremonies, Vice President Al Gore's global warming polemic An Inconvenient Truth was awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary. While Gore and the filmmakers strode to the stage to accept the award, a voice-over stated that the film crew had been in New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and that seeing the storm's destruction helped convince them to go ahead with the project.

Question: If they mean to suggest that Katrina was evidence of global warming, does the following year's near absence of hurricane activity suggest the opposite? Or if they are unsure there is any connection between the two and make such decisions about which project to pursue based on evocative spectacles, are they really thinking all that clearly?

Feb 21, 2007

In Critique of Pure Whatever The Hell You're Talking About [LINK]

Via John Kekes in City Journal, a sentence from Slavoj Zizek's introduction to Virtue and Terror, the totalitarian classic by Maximilien Robespierre, in a new edition published by Verso Press:

The claim that the people does exist is the basic axiom of "totalitarianism," and the mistake of "totalitarianism" is strictly homologous to the Kantian misuse ("paralogism") of political reason: "the People exists" through a determinate political agent which acts as if it directly embodies (not only re-presents) the People, its true Will (the totalitarian Party and its Leader), i.e. in the terms of transcendental critique, as a direct phenomenal embodiment of the noumenal People.

The Odd Benefits of Group Affiliation [LINK]

My second letter to the Globe for today:

Dr. Timothy Lapham suggests that restricting insurance coverage for weight-loss surgery may violate federal law because it discriminates against fat people. I understand the law forbids discrimination based on matters of entrenched identity, such as race, gender, creed, and sexual orientation. Does being fat really fall under that category? Wouldn't it be odd to argue that being fat is such an important part of your identity if, by seeking out weight-loss surgery, you're actively trying to dispense with that group affiliation?

While Dr. Lapham complains about insurers who attempt "to practice medicine without a license," here he is offering legal analysis without a license.

Feb 20, 2007

Extended analogies are like extended sinning, which is itself an analogy of sorts. [LINK]

At any rate, here's my latest letter to the Globe:

Agreeing with a previous letter that it was inappropriate for Ellen Goodman to compare skepticism over global warming with Holocaust denial, Mark MacMillan substitutes another analogy: that of a patient unwilling to believe a doctor's diagnosis of a life-threatening disease because the symptoms haven't yet become obvious. I found this medical analogy far more compelling, but perhaps not for the intended reason.

Imagine learning that you have a slightly elevated level of something that at much higher levels might be fatal. You consult a doctor, who says it's a clear sign of dreaded Malady X, that there's no reasonable chance it could be anything else, and that one of your organs must be removed at once. You'd still be able to survive without the organ, but only with considerably depleted energy. Imagine furthermore that Malady X has never been directly observed, so instead of relying on narrow tests like biopsies and angiograms, conjectures must be based on computer models of the latest understanding of how all bodily processes work together. The doctor further offers no good reason to think that you might actually suffer from the malady anytime soon, or even that removing the organ would prevent its onset.

Now imagine getting a second opinion from another doctor who says that the instruments used to measure the substance are often inaccurate, that levels vary naturally from one person to the next, and that at any rate they are within normal range. She says that even if it were a problem, it could be due to any number of factors. Even so, the symptoms of Malady X are not as bad as once thought. Since it's a definite concern, though, she recommends a period of close observation and further tests.

While such analogies are always clumsy, I hope this helps explain how a reasonable person might be skeptical over various claims of impending catastrophe without being in thrall to quacks and shills. I'm truly sorry to learn that people close to Mr. MacMillan died because they didn't aggressively act upon their diagnoses. But then again, not every bout of heartburn is a heart attack.

The incoherence of spam [LINK]

This one started out remarkably well before descending inevitably into burfcsef vasdvdads sfvgv....

Compliments,

I got your email contact from your profile during my search on business opportunity in your great country and i believe you may like to know my kind, hence my sending this mail to you.

Feb 16, 2007

"The Activist's Creed" [LINK]

Thus Aaron labels a passage by Rousseau:

True, those who have abandoned the life of a free man do nothing but boast incessantly of the peace and repose they enjoy in their chains. But when I see the other sacrifice pleasures, repose, wealth, power and life itself for the preservation of this sole good, which is so disdained by those who have lost it, when I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword and death to preserve only their independence, I feel it does not behoove slaves to reason about freedom.
If this truly is the activist's creed, I want none of it. Rousseau arrogantly conflates slavery with adherence to custom, the latter of which probably has more to do with naked savages' rejection of European civilization than any particular reaction to its "voluptuousness." These idealized people are certainly no less "slaves," and their societies no less decadent than their European counterparts, so where does that leave us? At best, to reject any basis for upholding the sort of personal liberties Europeans championed is to be an in-activist who evidences little more than cultural estrangement.

Feb 14, 2007

No Day for Reagan? [LINK]

My inclination is to like our likable new governor and wait for evidence to the contrary. If Governor Patrick's refusal to set off a day commemorating Ronald Reagan were part of some broader effort to drive matters of insubstantial symbolism out of the legislative chambers, I'd be all for it. But it appears to be directed at Reagan in particular, which makes it rather petty. Surely there is reason to commemorate a man whose muscular foreign policy helped bring that evil empire the Soviet Union to the point of collapse, and who grew the previously stagflated American economy by roughly a third.

Feb 10, 2007

White lies [LINK]

So when I tell my daughter the tofu in her peanut noodles is really chicken, I'm doing something bad?