Wednesday, March 30, 2005


So here's something that utterly, utterly confounds me.

I enjoyed Easter dinner with some very earnest, friendly, nice people over in Lansing. I met them through theater stuff, and I'm trying to do the whole big-brother thing for their daughter, who reminds me of myself at age 12 (bright, but in desperate need of a social skills transplant). The mother of the family is a geology grad student here, and was firmly opposed to the recent job action undertaken by the grad student union. She seemed to think that the grad students were being whiny (which is arguable), but more importantly she said that her husband and family had recently had their healthcare costs raised appreciably by her husband's employer (something like $5 per prescription to $25 per, for instance), and that this invalidated grad student agitation here. I asked why she didn't try to do something about it and she said, for the second time, "I'm just anti-labor."

This is something I absolutely do not get. I understand why one might be opposed to a particular union and its demands, for reasons running a gigantic gamut from outright corruption through to owning the company employing the labor, but none of these objections have any connection to an objection to labor in the abstract. You might suppose that labor is really communism, but despite communitarian impulses universal to labor this view isn't supportable anymore. You might suppose that labor undercuts individualism, but the same objection would carry over to all forms of collective action, so is unworkable. Even rabid free-marketers shouldn't object to labor -- every individual should, in their worldview, be allowed to try to get the most profit on their labor that they can, however they can. So where is the principled objection to labor as labor? I'm genuinely curious...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Quickie

Since I'm actually doing something this Easter without getting paid for it, time to be a good little heathen and post about the Left Behind novels, about which I'm sure all three readers already know. I just caught a review (horrible, politicized, missing the point, and elsewise generally crappy) which sparked an interesting thought.

Current best speculation about how the Book of Revelation came to be (and what its authors intended it to be) suggest that it was essentially a political allegory, satire dressed up as prophecy; the analysis even goes far enough to venture fairly specific mappings onto then-current trends and events. The idea that the current series of novels whose entire premise is to take everything in the Book of Revelation completely literally ends up being political allegory anyhow tickles my irony bone.

More later on being good, including the luscious pie theory!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Ethics and Emotional Distance

So this is one of those posts where I solicit my three readers, none of whom know anything about the given field and of whom at least one (the wolf fashioned from straw, for anyone wondering) is unlikely to remotely support the view being presupposed, to give me input on something bothering me recently: to what extent can I ignore the problems of the far away and still be a more or less "good" person? That is to say, if a friend appears in front of me and needs taking care of in some way I feel like I would be a bad person if I failed to supply that care; if my buddy needs a hand, I think I would be remiss in some way if I didn't supply my buddy with it. On the other hand, it's not as though there aren't many many people all over the world requiring of equal hands, so why shouldn't I help them too? While sometimes convenience is a factor, money certainly moves fast, so it's not as though I couldn't offer comparable assistance to anybody out there. At the same time, I feel (in my horrible, flawed, moral intuition kind of way) like it's okay to neglect at least minor needs of people "farther" from me in some emotional sense; equivalently, I think it's not a problem that I'm more inclined to be helpful to people I know/am closer to, at least not in a way that imperils my standing as a decent human being. Then there ought to be some criterion capturing people it's okay to not help -- but I have no idea what it could possibly be.

Anybody with insight on this?

In a life update, it looks like I'll be participating in my first picket line on Thursday. Time to take part in the labor negotiations process for a job I'm not yet (but will soon be) doing!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

When it rains

It would appear to pour. Maybe if Tony's still linking me every other day I'll actually get some visitors to appreciate it, but eh.

This time, I'm thinking about (inevitably) Terry Schiavo. I don't want to jump into the huge moral quandry, but something small to think about: her husband is being prevented from carrying out her will because her parents are trying to intervene. That is to say that the wingnuts are trampling all over traditional marriage. So I ask, how much does this threaten marriage relative to the right to marry for gay people? The state taking away marital rights versus men kissing in public.

I'm just waiting for our side to learn to use unapologetically definitive rhetoric about things we feel nuanced about.


So I promised to come through on MacGyver; I figured I'd best do it now.

The basic ID complaint about evolution is based in "irreducible complexity," a slightly-updated and technobabbled version of the "what good is half an eye" argument (for the record, half an eye is quite useful: computer simulations have evolved eyes from light-sensitive membranes selecting only for goodness of seeing); on the molecular level, it says that because some protein chains and messenger paths break if you remove any part (beware though, since this argument isn't actually formalized in any way), they could not have evolved. Since the parts are useless, so it goes, the idea that the whole could evolve is making something from nothing.

However, there is an obvious flaw here: there isn't nothing. Any organism has a bunch of stuff around already (limbs, organs, proteins, etc.) before a feature evolves, so the proper analogy, rather than to making something from nothing, is to making something from whatever you happen to have on hand (gum, needles, jam, bottles, baking soda, etc.). And now everything should be clear: evolution says "Hey! Whatcha got? Input/output channels, mitochondria, some control of the cell membrane? Presto, flagellum!"

Also, of course, this is appropriate because evolution is Canadian, a pacifist, and looks oddly like that guy who used to be on Stargate...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Memely memes

So I started this a while back, and it no longer really applies to the very moment, but here it is anyhow.

Wow. Spring break over already (that is to say a week and a half later) and I'm still not quite back in the swing of things. Fine.

I'm simultaneously glad and chagrined that so many people (i.e. Diana and Tse-Wei) discovered my blog while I was spring-breaking and thus paying absolutely no attention to it; rest assured that I saw the comments and extend hearty welcomes. For now, I'm still post-birthday (not mine), which means little intelligent thought, but a few new memes. And of course, by memes here I genuinely mean memes, not the specialized blogospheric variety; spread these, for lo they are good and fruitful!

First, Jon Chait over at TPM (for the moment) compares private accounts to a plan to save social security by creating statues of W in every town square in America. While this is a great and important idea (that is that a plan doesn't count as doing something if it only does it barely better than doing nothing), I must in my Buffy fandom ask that this concept be relabeled (rememed?): the canonical null plan is, as we all know, "we attack the mayor with hummus!" It could even be summarized by the word hummus alone so as to be invokable more conveniently; we do need the concept. (So, what do you think of the Bush plan? Hummus!).

Second (and third), I wanted to say a little bit about intelligent design. At Tales from the Culture Wars, there's a great post about doubting evolution in an ID-kinda way being akin to doubting gravity because of the procession of Mercury, Lastly, evolution is like MacGyver, a point which maybe I'll elaborate in a later post...

I suppose that ended up being a very little about intelligent design, but eh.