Friday, February 25, 2005


I crashed early last night, and didn't get to post on the other things I wanted to post on. Ah, well -- I needed the sleep. I'm off to New Jersey this afternoon (wish me luck driving in the snow). But first, I'll share with you one of the more unsettling things I've read lately. A column in the New York Times Wednesday makes reference to a Sudanese internal memo:
The archive also includes an extraordinary document seized from a janjaweed official that apparently outlines genocidal policies. Dated last August, the document calls for the "execution of all directives from the president of the republic" and is directed to regional commanders and security officials. "Change the demography of Darfur and make it void of African tribes," the document urges. It encourages "killing, burning villages and farms, terrorizing people, confiscating property from members of African tribes and forcing them from Darfur."
And it includes horrific pictures and worse descriptions:
Last is the skeleton of a man or woman whose wrists are still bound. The attackers pulled the person's clothes down to the knees, presumably so the victim could be sexually abused before being killed. If the victim was a man, he was probably castrated; if a woman, she was probably raped. There are thousands more of these photos. Many of them show attacks on children and are too horrific for a newspaper. One wrenching photo in the archive shows the manacled hands of a teenager from the girls' school in Suleia who was burned alive. It's been common for the Sudanese militias to gang-rape teenage girls and then mutilate or kill them. Another photo shows the body of a young girl, perhaps 10 years old, staring up from the ground where she was killed. Still another shows a man who was castrated and shot in the head.
Not many people in the U.S. are hearing about Darfur these days, and that's something of an outrage.
What will really stop this genocide is indignation. Senator Paul Simon, who died in 2003, said after the Rwandan genocide, "If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different." The same is true this time. Web sites like and are trying to galvanize Americans, but the response has been pathetic.
One more website, for refugee camp relief efforts (not the same as stopping the genocide, but also critically important): Oxfam America: Crisis in Sudan. Those pages will tell you how you can help.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tivo and Sociology

Wow, has it really been a whole week since I've written? It's gone *fast*. Midsouth was fun, and my paper was well-received (although I might've wished for a larger audience). I'm off to Princeton-Rutgers tomorrow afternoon, so don't expect to see a lot of me between now and Monday. But I do have a few things I wanted to draw attention to, if I get a chance tonight. The first is this, from the New York Times on obscenity in America.
Hollywood can read the numbers. Once the feds vowed to smite future "wardrobe malfunctions," the customers started bolting the annual TV franchises where those malfunctions and their verbal counterparts are apt to occur. An award show sanitized of vulgarity and encased in the prophylactic of tape delay is an oxymoron. And so the Golden Globes lost 40 percent of its audience in January on NBC, the Grammys lost 28 percent of its audience this month on CBS. The viewers turned up instead at the competing "Desperate Housewives" on ABC, where S-and-M is the latest item on the carnal menu. Though this year's Super Bowl didn't have to go up against that runaway hit, its born-again family-friendliness also took a ratings toll; the audience in the all-important 18-to-49 demographic fell to an all-time low. The viewers perked up only for a commercial parodying a Washington "Broadcast Censorship Hearing": TiVo reported that the spot's utterly unrevealing "wardrobe malfunction" gag was the most replayed moment from any of the game's ads, much as the Jackson-Timberlake pas de deux that inspired it was the TiVo sensation of the year before.
I didn't know that Tivo did that. That's sort of cool. I'm off to Yeomen rehearsal now -- I hope that later tonight I'll write about sex education, Focus on the Family's recent conference in Houston, and homosexuals in the military.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Midsouth Bound

I'm off to Midsouth this weekend, so don't expect me to blog after tonight until Sunday, at least. I'm presenting my paper on dreaming and imagination. (Side note: I've just discovered Colin McGinn's new book on imagination, which I find to be *extremely* exciting. He's apparently been working on a lot of the issues I've been thinking about over the past year or so. It even has two chapters on dreaming! I hadn't even heard about the book until Andrew mentioned it at the bar last night, and I rushed to the bookstore today to pick it up. Look for my thoughts on it soon on FBC.) But yeah, about this conference. It looks fun! It's my first "big" conference, where "big" means big enough to have parallel sessions, such that I have to choose which ones to go listen to (and I also have to compete with other speakers for my audience). Here's what I'm thinking about so far. This is more for me than for anybody else, so don't blame me if you read it and get bored. Session 1. Keynote Address. Henry Rosemont, "Individual Freedom versus Social Justice: A Confucian Meditation" Session 2. Gregory Gilson, "A Disjunctive Theory of Acting for a Reason". (I figure I may come away with something John might be interested in.) Session 3. Dina Garmong, "Virtue Ethics: a Building Without a Foundation?". (In addition to my general interest in ethics, I'm studying some virtue epistemology in Ernie Sosa's seminar this semester, so I'll be looking for points of relevance.) Session 4. Daniel Goldberg, "I Want My Beef! A Response to Singer". (I've actually never heard a philosophical defense of eating meat.) Session 5. Jonathan Ichikawa, "Fire and the Cogito: Dreams and Imaginings". (It'll probably be lame, but I guess I'll go anyway.) Session 6. Here's one I haven't made up my mind about. I'm looking at Robert Tapley, "Death Management: Physician Responsibility in Dealing with Dying Patients" and James Montmarquet, "Epistemic Virtue and Religious Experience". I'm leaning toward the latter, because of my current exploration of virtue epistemology, but we'll see. Session 7. This one I don't know about either. I'm going to have to read all these abstracts again, because none of the titles *really* seem to jump out as particular interests of mine. Session 8. Jonathan Weinberg, "Can Intuition Be Attacked Without Risking Skepticism?". Session 9. Garret Merriam, "Locke and Intellectual Property Rights". Session 10. Alastair Norcross, "Intentions, Character, and Consequentialism". (I've seen a lot of this material before, by taking Alastair's class at Rice. I'm pretty well convinced of his view, but I figure I'll give things another whirl, and hear comments and discussion.) Session 11. David Wiens, "Moral Selfhood, Moral Uncertainty, and Moral Inquiry". All subject to change, etc. Not that I'd expect anyone to particularly care.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Here's a really easy way to make the world slightly better. Every time someone clicks on the appropriate little button at between now and March 31, the website sponsors will contribute 25 cents to micro-credit poverty relief programs worldwide. It's way easy, and you can click twice a day. It's also and less importantly a college competition; you can register with your school and participate in the competition. If you don't have any particular school loyalties, you can do me a favor and register with Brown. But whatever -- the important thing is those loans. More information here.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A law above all laws

So the U.S. House passed HR 418 last week. And they voted against an amendment that would strip it of §102. The bill is about keeping illegal immigrants out of the country, and fighting terrorism, and instituting a national ID card. And §102 allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to break literally any laws he wants to while enforcing the legislation. Yes, you read that right. It also exempts itself from judicial review. No, I'm serious. Here's the text:
SEC. 102. WAIVER OF LAWS NECESSARY FOR IMPROVEMENT OF BARRIERS AT BORDERS. Section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (8 U.S.C. 1103 note) is amended to read as follows: (c) Waiver- (1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section. (2) NO JUDICIAL REVIEW- Notwithstanding any other provision of law (statutory or nonstatutory), no court shall have jurisdiction-- (A) to hear any cause or claim arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1); or (B) to order compensatory, declaratory, injunctive, equitable, or any other relief for damage alleged to arise from any such action or decision.'.
This text was just approved by 261 congressmen. Was yours one of them? Here are the 243 who voted "nay" on an amendment to strip the bill of the clause in question. And here are the 261 who voted "yea" on the bill, even though the clause in question was still attached. And here's the place to write your congressman to express your disapproval if he's on those lists. Here's a statement about the bill from J. Robert Shull, Senior Regulatory Policy Analyst with OMB Watch:
"America is a nation founded on the rule of law, but apparently not when homeland security is involved. This is a license to waive any law, for any reason - or for no reason at all. "If enacted, this bill would grant the Homeland Security Secretary unbridled authority to act however he sees fit, without consequence. His actions also would be exempt from judicial review, making him unaccountable to any authority. "Laws that protect the environment, safeguard public health, ensure consumer and workplace safety, prevent unfair business practices, and ban discrimination - none of these laws, or any others, would apply to the Department of Homeland Security. "No government agency should be above the laws that preserve America's democracy."
The bill goes to the Senate now. More background information is here. Hat tip: fafblog.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Forced Prostitution in Germany?

My friend Elise called my attention to this story from the British Telegraph:
A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year. Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners - who must pay tax and employee health insurance - were granted access to official databases of jobseekers. ... Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job - including in the sex industry - or lose her unemployment benefit.
This looks to me to be a really sticky issue. There's no denying that forcing someone to work in the sex industry against her will is morally reprehensible. But I think it'd be morally reprehensible in just the same way to force someone to work in some other industry against which she had moral objections: it'd be wrong to force me to work in the factory farming industry, or the United States military. I'm not sure what a truly fair policy would look like. One option, which I don't find very attractive at first glance, is to just emphasize that this isn't an issue of force; no one is making anyone work these jobs, they're just offering money to those who would be willing to take them. That's a response, but like I say, I don't particularly like it, because it's still a government pressuring people to do things they oughtn't to be pressured to do. Maybe a better system would be somewhat parallel to the idea behind conscientious objector status to the U.S. draft? If people can prove that they have a moral objection to a certain job, then they're allowed to refuse it without losing unemployment benefits? It sounds like a giant mess to administrate, but maybe that's the best option? I'm curious what others think. EDIT: Snopes calls this story false!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

New bin Laden tape

This is one of the funniest Onion stories ever:
"This Feb. 14th on the Western infidels' calendar, may all Americans receive no valentines from their beloved ones," bin Laden said. "May the homemade construction-paper mailboxes taped to the desks of the American schoolchildren remain empty, as well. May whomever you ask to 'bee yours' tell you to 'buzz off.'" Bin Laden called for "romantic humiliation for all Americans of courting and betrothal age." "Allah willing, embarrassment and tearful rejection shall rule this day," bin Laden said. "Paper hearts shall be rent and trod upon, and dreams of love delivered stillborn. Body language shall be misinterpreted, crushes unrequited, and sincere expressions of affection mocked. Invitations to dinner will be rejected, just as Americans have rejected Allah, the one true God."
Hat tip: Savannah.

More on "black genocide" and abortion

So I've been thinking more about the charge of "black genocide" against the abortion industry. Here's the relevant empirical fact: American black women have abortions disproportionately more than other American women. Certain elements on the Right want to use this fact to characterize the abortion industry as committing a genocide against black people -- after all, every fetus that is aborted by a black woman would turn into a black person if it survied. If abortion involves killing people, then abortion kills a disproportionate number of black people. (Even if it doesn't, it still leads to a disproportionate decrease in the black population.) Here's a question: why characterize black people as victims of abortion in a case like this? If you believe that abortion is murder, then why aren't you condemning the black women who are more likely than other women to murder their unborn babies? It seems to me that the data in question does suggest that abortion can be thought of a civil rights issue, but in the opposite direction than the one the "black genocide" crowd is pushing. Here's an utterly uncontroversial claim: an outlaw of abortion would limit the freedom of women. The position of the Right is that such an outlaw would only limit women from murdering children, which is a perfectly appropriate thing to limit them from doing. But it should be agreed to by all half-reasonable parties that a ban on an abortion would limit women's freedom, recognizing that it may still be an open question whether that's appropriate or not. Black women choose to have abortions more than other women do. So a ban on abortion would disproportionately limit the freedom of black women. (Maybe instead of victimizing black infants, the Right should be enquiring into why so many black mothers are murdering their babies.) Seriously, if I were the Right, I would want to downplay the high incidence of black abortion, not emphasize it. Weird.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Black Genocide!

I can't adequately express my shock at this: Who is alleged with performing genocide against black people? Planned Parenthood. The Family Research Council today carries the headline, "Abortion Disproportionately Targets African Americans"
Abortion has many dirty secrets. Particularly relevant during Black History Month is the fact that the abortion industry disproportionately targets blacks. African Americans represent 12 percent of the population but endure 32 percent of the abortions in our country. Often we hear mention of the fact that the black community has been hit much harder by HIV/AIDS than the general American population. Sadly, it's true. Consider, then, the Life Education And Resource Network's (LEARN) findings that, since 1973, more than twice as many blacks have died from abortion than from heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crimes, and AIDS combined. Given the extremely political nature of abortion, jarring findings like this are kept secret. Black History Month shouldn't be the only time that we expose them and commit ourselves to pro-life renewal.
For more, see here. Rhetoric like this more than cancells out the joy and excitement expressed in my previous entry.

Giblits on Bush on Bigotry

Nobody says it better than Giblits. I'm quoting him in full:
So George Bush is talking about casting off "the baggage of bigotry." Giblets was furious! Bush campaigned on a clear pro-bigotry platform including a ban on gay marriage and an apparently sensible-yet-strict "containment policy" regarding lesbian maple farmers. But now Bush is reneging on bigotry, disenfranchisng all the bigots who voted for him in good conscience! "Anti-bigotry" is too much like "pro-tolerance," and you know where tolerance gets you: hordes of gay men in SpongeBob suits raiding kindergartens to pervert the young and the Giblets! Dudes kissin' each other! Man on dog! Spock with a beard! Then someone told Giblets it was just Black History Month. Whew! Gays don't count this time around. But Giblets must still keep an eye on those shifty minorities to make sure they do not convert him to blackness.
Read Fafblog. Every day. Several times. on abortion

Savannah sent me today to a really amazing feature on abortion rights and a changing attitude among some pro-choice advocates. It articulates lots of things I've thought for a long, long time. I was physically excited as I read it. Must-read. on abortion

Savannah sent me today to a really amazing feature on abortion rights and a changing attitude among some pro-choice advocates. It articulates lots of things I've thought for a long, long time. I was physically excited as I read it. Must-read.

Hell of a role model

So that's what Jesus would do...
With Pope John Paul II ailing, Catholics are starting to think about the next pope. My choice? Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the crusty leatherneck now in trouble for saying that in war, it's fun to shoot bad guys. The Marine general told his audience: "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." Whoa! That's a real man talking.
Continued in the Dallas Morning News

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Evangelical Environmentalists

Here is a very interesting article on a growing movement in the Christian Right toward environmentalism. I find it especially noteworthy how reluctant the pro-environment Christians are to describe themselves as "environmentalists" or to ally themselves with secular environmentalist groups.
"Evangelicals feel besieged by the culture at large," Ball said. "They don't know many environmentalists, but they have the idea they are pretty weird -- with strange liberal, pantheist views."
Hopefully they'll start talking, because this is another one of those very important common grounds that ought to be recognized. The article doesn't say anything about reluctance of actual liberal environmentalist organizations to work with the Christian Right in this area -- I hope that's because there isn't such reluctance. If there is, then my message to the Left is the same as my message to the Right: get over it.

Monday, February 07, 2005

We do not condone taking pleasure from killing. Sort of.

Has everybody already heard about the U.S. general who says that killing people is fun?
Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. I like brawling. ... You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.
That's Lieutenant General James Mattis, verbatim. From what I can tell, the story has gotten a lot more foreign press than it has here in America, which is not at all surprising. But it's interesting to see how different countries spin things differently. The BBC, for instance, carries the story of the military's response to the comment with the headline, US 'war is fun' general rebuked:
The US Marine Corps has publicly upbraided one of its generals for his comments describing shooting people in Iraq as "fun". ... The Marine Corps said Lt Gen James Mattis had been "counselled" concerning his remarks, made during a panel discussion in California. The general had agreed he should have chosen his words more carefully. ... The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Mike Hagee, later issued a statement saying he had counselled Gen Mattis on his remarks. The statement praised Gen Mattis as a brave and brilliant military leader and it seems there will be no disciplinary action.
The same facts seem to be reported with a very different headline on, Pentagon defends general who said shooting insurgents is 'fun':
The Pentagon Thursday defended a Marine Corps general who was quoted as telling an audience this week that it was "fun to shoot some people," referring to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieutenant General James Mattis was "counseled" over the remarks by the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael Hagee, the marines said. But the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Peter Pace, defended Mattis when asked about the remarks at a Pentagon press conference. "I was not present when General Mattis made those specific comments so I will let him address what he said for himself," said Pace. "But, I will tell you that the last three times that that general has been in combat when he was leading marines in Afghanistan and the two times he led his division in Iraq, his actions and those of his troops clearly show that he understands the value of proper leadership and the value of human life," he said. ... In a statement, the Marine Corps commandant called Mattis "one of this country's bravest and most experienced military leaders." "While I understand that some people may take issue with the comments made by him, I also know he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war," Hagee said. "Lieutenant General Mattis often speaks with a great deal of candor." "I have counseled him concerning his remarks and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully," he said.
I have to say, it looks to me like the Turkish Press describes it right, and the BBC describes it wrong. A counselling session counts as an 'upbraiding'? If you say so...

Sunday, February 06, 2005


The Rice baseball team had its debut yesterday. The team now stands at 1-0. The most amazing thing, though, was the combined work of three new Rice Owl pitchers: Joe Savery, Josh Geer and Bryce Cox. Pitching is supposed to be the question mark for this team, who won the national championship in 2003 (my senior year at Rice) and had a surprising and disappointing early tournament loss last year. Well, yesterday three new pitchers made a pretty good case for non-worrying: they recorded twenty-one strikeouts! In nine innings, twenty-seven players are retired, and this pitching staff got twenty-one of them with strikeouts! This was a new Rice record; with a number like that, I'm almost surprised that's not an NCAA record. (I assume it isn't, or else people would be talking about it, right?). Go Rice Owls!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Church and State

The Washington Times reports:
President Bush yesterday said that affirming God's supremacy "is particularly appropriate in the heart of a capital built upon the promise of self-government" and called for "opening ourselves to God's priorities" at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Things are getting more and more clear, more and more overt, and less and less veiled. I guess that's a good thing; at least it's easier to tell where people stand.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Creation Museum

Behold, the Creation Museum, sponsored by Answers in Genesis! From the NYT article:
The virtual tour of the museum, to be built in rural Kentucky, says its exhibits will explain many such mysteries, like the claim that T. rex lurked around Adam and Eve - "That's the terror that Adam's sin unleashed!" - and how "Noah and his family survive 371 days alone on an animal-filled boat" ("a real 'Survivor' story"). The philosophy of the Creation Museum, part of the "Answers in Genesis" ministry, is summed up this way: "The imprint of the Creator is all around us. And the Bible's clear - heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Other surprises are just around the corner. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God's Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There's no room for compromise."
One might think that this is a sort of scary extreme Right fundamentalist intolerant group, but they're actually very moderate. See, for example, this page, which explains that there is no Biblical evidence that black people are the result of the curse on Ham.