May 2008

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Out of Town 

I'm off to Orlando for Tech·Ed 2008 next week.

I won't be doing any blogging while I'm gone.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Repugnance of Stupidity 

I've complained about Leon Kass and his "Wisdom of Repugnance" before.

Recently, several bloggers have noted Steven Pinker's "ice cream" quote from Kass that shows pretty clearly that his repugnance shouldn't be considered by anybody to be wise or a justification for limiting other people's options.

Here's Pinker's quote:

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone--a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. ... Eating on the street--even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat--displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. ... Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.

Here's an even longer version:

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone --a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive.
I fear I may by this remark lose the sympathy of many reader, people who will condescendingly regard as quaint or even priggish the view that eating in the street is for dogs. Modern America's rising tide of informality has already washed out many long-standing traditions -- their reasons long before forgotten -- that served well to regulate the boundary between public and private; and in many quarters complete shamelessness is treated as proof of genuine liberation from the allegedly arbitrary constraints of manners. To cite one small example: yawning with uncovered mouth. Not just the uneducated rustic but children of the cultural elite are now regularly seen yawning openly in public (not so much brazenly or forgetfully as indifferently and "naturally"), unaware that it is an embarrassment to human self-command to be caught in the grip of involuntary bodily movements (like sneezing, belching, and hiccuping and even the involuntary bodily display of embarrassment itself, blushing). But eating on the street -- even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat -- displays in fact precisely such lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. Hunger must be sated now; it cannot wait. Though the walking street eater still moves in the direction of his vision, he shows himself as a being led by his appetites. Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. Eating on the run does not even allow the human way of enjoying one's food, for it is more like simple fueling; it is hard to savor or even to know what one is eating when the main point is to hurriedly fill the belly, now running on empty. This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if WE feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior."
Kass, Leon: The Hungry Soul at 148-149. (University of Chicago Press, 1994, 1999)

Amazing. It's sad and scary that this guy, and many others, think that their internalization of eternal truths like these, revealed to them by their parents, teachers, and clergy, should be taken seriously as arguments to guide public policy and oppose promising research.

By the way, I agree with almost all of what Pinker has to say in the article, and I think it's worth a read if you have the time.

Here's the embarassing report on Human Dignity and Bioethics. It's largely stupid, but I enjoyed Dennett's article and his commentary on Kraynak.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bad Sign for Democrats 

It seems to me that Hillary Clinton's continued competitiveness in these late primary elections (she just won big in West Virginia) may be a very bad sign for the Democrats' chances in November.

It's been very clear for quite a while that 1) the delegate math is such that Obama is a huge favorite to eventually win the nomination, and 2) the longer the primary goes on, the more damage it does to the eventual nominee's chances of winning (more money wasted, more weaknesses exposed, more bad feelings of the losing faction, etc.).

If I were a Democratic voter in one of these primaries, and had a moderate preference for Clinton over Obama, but a strong preference for a Democrat victory in November, and I thought my single vote mattered, I'd probably vote for Obama to help stop the bleeding for the good of the party. I'm sure some of Clinton's supporters have done just that.

So, the fact that there are so many voters who are still voting for Clinton in these primaries indicates (to me) that there are many, many, Democrats who have such a strong preference for Clinton and/or dislike of Obama that they are willing to risk helping the Republicans in November in order to express their preference now.

I don't know how many of these people will fail to vote for Obama in the general election, but if I were a Democrat I'd be concerned about it.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Gas Tax Holiday 

Megan explains it all.

It's just a stupid gimmick that will do nothing to make most people better off.

While I don't like any taxes, I see the gas tax as a better way to raise money for government highway construction than others, because the costs are borne by the beneficiaries.

But, this proposal doesn't do any good. Good would be to reduce spending.

It's hard (impossible) to believe that Clinton and McCain don't know this (or have advisors who know this). It's just further evidence that politicians care less about the truth than about what will help them get elected. They'd much rather cause further damage and cater to the mistaken biases of voters, than advocate genuine improvements.

Obama may be against this particular example, but he's got plenty of his own.


Friday, May 02, 2008

May Day 

May 1 always makes me contemplate the tragic legacy of communism, and the stupidity of those who continue to romanticize the awful totalitarian ideas behind it.

I urge you all to review the great collection of articles in the May Day tradition at The Distributed Republic.

Here are some more of their collections from 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

Note: It seems that many of the links in these pages can be fixed by replacing "catallarchy.net/blog" with "distributedrepublic.net"