Friday, April 19, 2013


Simply a matter of opportunity?  Cocking & van den Hoven use as an example of "our offline social lives ... being changed for the worse by the predominance of social life online." the "explosion of various kinds of bullying online." (in "One Thousand Friends", (2012) Ethics & Information Technology 14:179-184)  I'm not sure that this is fair to the online world.  Cyber-bullies may well not engage in bullying in the physical world, but I would argue that the difference in approach is not due to desire or intent, but more likely due to opportunity.  Put simply, there is more of it online, and, importantly, acting online favours or promotes a different set of characteristics than does acting offline.  This means that people who lacked the opportunity to engage in bullying in the physical world, whether because they had no easy targets, or were not physically capable of playing the bully role, are able to play the role online, as there are both more targets, and a different set of relevant characteristics.  This explanation seems borne out by the people who are caught being cyber-bullies.  Not all, but many of them, are not those whom bullying is traditionally associated with.  Opportunity, then, looks like a good explanation for the 'explosion'.  People aren't getting any worse, they are just getting opportunities to be bad which did not exist for them before.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Keep the conflict going.

Instructions for contributors:
Theoretical & Applied Ethics does not publish papers written in the "Continental" style; all papers should present a readable, clear, and concise philosophical argument.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The World Bank talks Global Warming

The World Bank recently published a delightful report called Turn Down the Heat in which they laid out the case for taking seriously the threat posed to our civilisation by Global warming.  In it they detail the consequences of a 4 degree centigrade global average temperature rise.  This, by the way, is what an overwhelming majority of scientists are predicting will occur if we don't change a lot of our practices very drastically, very quickly.  The numbers, you will not be surprised to learn, rise from 'an overwhelming majority' to 'near unanimity' once you filter the set [scientists] to exclude creationists/religious fundamentalists and corporate shills.

The forward sets the tone:
It is my hope that this report shocks us into action. Even for those of us already committed to fighting climate change, I hope it causes us to work with much more urgency
The data which follows is as depressing as it is obvious to anyone who is willing to pay attention to what is happening.  But the solutions are harder.  A high priority has to go to discrediting those groups who try to maintain, for their own selfish ends, the illusion that this is a two-sided issue.  Who comprise these groups?  I think there is a coarse grained division to be made amongst them, into the greedy and the religious.  The greedy are those who stand to profit from the maintenance of the status quo.  In particular, big businesses working within greenhouse-emitting industries, such as oil companies, but also industrial capitalists more generally.  The religious are those for whom the idea that we can cause or prevent these harms strikes at the foundation of their belief systems.  So not all religious people are at fault, only those who are willing to deny the evidence of the world in favour of the evidence of their [interpretation of their] sacred texts.

Attacking greed/growth is probably the easier of the two.  We at least have a template in place by which governments can (although they seldom, and more seldom effectively do) restrict the activities of industry, and enforce standards for emissions which will reduce the harm caused by these actors.  But our society as a whole is reluctant to criticise religion and religious beliefs, even when the maintenance and acceptance of these positions creates actual, identifiable harms.  We see this reluctance in the continued respect paid to, for example, the Catholic Church, even as the evidence mounts that, from Ireland to the USA to Australia, the Church has systematically aided and abetted sexual abusers in evading justice.  We see it further in the ideological acceptance of climate change denial as a legitimate position, backed by evidence.  It is not.  Religiously motivated climate change denial is a deliberate evil, which governments, the media, and the general public should stop dignifying with attention, and begin to more actively oppose.


Because of course, that is likely to happen.


Friday, October 26, 2012

"Kids have good Instincts"

There is a pretty awesome profile of Obama in Rolling Stone at the moment. (Well, permanently, because internet).  It includes the following passage:

I was reminded of this incident when our interview with the president ended. As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. After a thoughtful pause, she said, "Tell him: You can do it." 
Obama grinned. "That's the only advice I need," he said. "I do very well, by the way, in that demographic. Ages six to 12? I'm a killer." 
"Thought about lowering the voting age?" Bates joked. 
"You know, kids have good instincts," Obama offered. "They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bullshitter, I can tell.'"

One of those policies which there is never going to be political consensus in favour of, but which would actually be quite useful. I am biased towards the idea of lowering the voting age, of course. It just makes me happy to see it getting some play, even as a joke.

I have mentioned it before, but US journalism is messed up. Rolling Stone magazine is actually one of the better sources for good long form political coverage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



I post more there than here.

US Presidential Election

This electoral cycle has been interesting.  Before the debates, I was happily watching the trainwreck that was the Romney campaign, as it staggered towards electoral annihilation.  This impression was backed up by the polling data collected by Nate Silver at 538, who showed Obama becoming steadily more likely to win, peaking over 80% probability just before the first debate.  Then the first debate happened.  Obama dropped 17% or so in chance to win rates, everything looked bad.  Andrew Sullivan was inches away from committing ritual suicide live on webcam.  People began taking seriously the possibility of a Romney/Ryan comeback (oh, those alliterative tickets, will they ever be defeated?)

Things got better.

It began, really, with the vice-presidential debate. Well, with the cheesy exercise photos (cast-offs from a Time magazine shoot, I gather) which were released just prior to the debate.  These were... prime candidates for memeification.  Also for tumblr's. Then there is @PaulRyanGosling on twitter.  Oh, and there was the fact that Biden mopped the floor with Ryan, sending him screaming home in abject terror at the fact that he was expected to know things about stuff.  Apparently that hadn't been in the job description.

But that was only a VP debate.  The numbers didn't change much.

Then came debate 2.  Romney decided to put some women in binders.  He decided, in fact, to claim that his binders were filled with them.  Turns out, when you do something like that, people will make fun of you for it. (If you thought the tumblr was good, check out the google image search results)  Of course, it isn't all just photoshopping women into binders.  There are serious issues arising from blunders like this.  What does Romney think about the role of women in the workforce? (He doesn't) Is he aware of the difficulties still faced by women in contemporary society (No), and does he have a plan to alleviate these difficulties? (No). Look at what the Atlantic had to say about it.  Or Jezebel.

This was better.  Romney looked like a muppet. Obama looked good.  The polls started to come back around.

It also made for good television.  The mainstream media was immensely excited.  Underdog challenger narrows the race after first debate. Incumbent gamely fights back in the second, with an invaluable assist from his Veep.  Going into the third, the momentum is poised to tip either way.  A Romney return to form could doom Team O.  Similarly, if Obama keeps up with what he did in the second, all the RR gains from the first will be for naught.  Oh, the suspense.

Debate 3.  Nominally a foreign policy debate, it turns out to feature as much discussion of teachers unions as of Palestine.  More debate of each of these than of climate change. (Marking the first time since 1988 that the issue didn't get a mention in *any* of the debates).  Romney looked cool, calm and collected. Obama did too.  Maybe it would go down to the wire! (Oh, the excitement).  Then Romney wound up for a knockout blow.  Military spending. Naval spending.  The Navy, he claims, is "smaller now than at any time since 1917."  Oh no! crushing blow!  How will Obama recover?  He plays to twitter, opening up with a smile to note that "we also have fewer horses and bayonets." Yes, that last link is to a tumblr.  Of course it is to a tumblr.  That is how politics works these days.  It should be mentioned that this was evidently not as catchy as was #bindersfullofwomen.  As the Atlantic notes, it took 9 minutes to go from Obama's mouth to a parody tumblr account.  Compared to the speed at which the binders full of women tumblr appeared, that is glacial.  I should mention that the headline in the Atlantic originally said 'under half an hour' ... they have revised their estimate down.

This exchange did it for Team O.  From then on in, Willard was rattled.  He stumbled, he sweated (this is a big deal!  Remember what happens once people can see you. They judge you on your appearance). Obama took control.  All told, he won this one by more than he won the second (if not by as much as Mitt won the first).

Where to from here?  I'm not sure. I hope this translates into a comfortable Obama run to victory, but there is time yet for some things to get messed up.  And there is always the risk of Republican initiated voter intimidation/profiling to make things interesting.

Twitter, however, is the clear winner for coverage.  The idea of watching on television, isolated from real time updates of how the electorate is reacting to the claims made, seems archaic and inefficient by comparison.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Myth Watch: Arts vs. Sciences

Press Release claims - "Professor of Agribusiness at the University of Waikato, Jacqueline Rowarth says if students are looking for lucrative careers, then they should study science."

(US) Statistics Show!

Mid career median income for philosophy majors: $81,200.  Strangely enough, this is higher than the salaries for people in:

Agriculture ($71900)
Chemistry ($79900)
Biology ($64800)
Business Management ($72100)

(It is also higher than for many other fields, but these seem like a good sample of those who will be getting 'Agribusiness' degrees).

Of course, if graduates really wanted to make as much money as possible, they should do degrees in...

Chemical Engineering ($107,000)
Computer Engineering ($105,000)
Electrical Engineering ($103,000)
Aerospace Engineering ($101,000)
Economics ($98,600)

These being the top rated 5 professions on the above list.  Or, our graduates could move to Australia, where they can work in the mines in Western Australia and earn a comfortable 6 figure salary.  But then, they would not even need a degree to do that.

Maybe the salary isn't the only important thing?  Crazy idea, I know.