Thursday, May 31, 2007

I'll to England

In less than seven hours, I'll be flying off to Chicago, and then to Southampton, England, for a job interview with these folks. So there probably won't be much blogging, here or at Ezra's place, for the next week or so.

Upon returning from the UK, I'll go to San Francisco to visit the family, and then to Washington DC around the end of June.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Was the left row full of A-theorists?

My friend Dan Korman, who works in metaphysics and is soon to become a professor at the University of Illinois, tells me that he once was on a flight with Dave Chalmers. As fate had it, Dan was in seat 2-D, and he was pleased to offer it to Chalmers. (Chalmers refused.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

There's my Johnny

Good to see him hitting back.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Three and One

This weekend I wrote three little posts on the presidential primaries:

Larry, Curly, Moe... Newt?

Family Issues Aren't Primary

The Latest From Iowa

And one big one on how I learned that the anti-abortion movement was up to no good:

What I Learned From Missouri

Monday, May 14, 2007

And kneel and squeak an Ave there for me

Apparently the dolphins of the River Shannon have an Irish accent:

As part of a research project, student Ronan Hickey digitised and analysed a total of 1,882 whistles from the Irish dolphins and those from Cardigan Bay in Wales on a computer and separated them into six fundamental whistle types and 32 different categories.

Of the categories, he found most were used by both sets of dolphins -- but eight were only heard from the Irish dolphins.


No word on whether they drink Guinness and play underwater hurling.

Pretty Pretty Polls

I've posted some nice state-by-state polls showing how Clinton, Edwards, and Obama stack up against Giuliani. Edwards dominates the Midwestern swing states that decide presidential elections. The post got linked at a lot of sites including Buzzflash and Memeorandum, and Matt Yglesias did the favor of commenting on it (though he was dubious.)

I've also got a nice post on hedge funds and why you shouldn't be scared of them.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Parfit blogging

It's always nice to be able to introduce my favorite passage from Reasons and Persons to non-philosophers.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ultrasound and the Future of Confused Wannabe Paternalists

My biggest problem with William Saletan's support for requiring women to view fetal ultrasounds before having an abortion (see Amanda, Scott, and Jessica for attacks from other angles) is that it gives women actively misleading information.  What are you going to learn from an ultrasound that you didn't know already?  Well, obviously you already knew you were pregnant, so all ultrasound adds is the visual experience of your fetus squirming inside you.  This visual experience is apparently of great moral significance to Saletan -- "Ultrasound has exposed the life in the womb to those of us who didn't want to see what abortion kills. The fetus is squirming, and so are we.

Of course, nothing is morally significant about squirming -- ours or the fetus'.  What is significant is whether the fetus has a mind like ours.  If it has no mind, or a mind of such a primitive level that it can't even feel pain, there's no reason to have attitudes of moral concern for it.  The neural hardware for pain perception only starts to show up around week 23, and isn't in place until week 30 of the pregnancy.  So having moral concern for a first-trimester fetus on the basis of the squirming you see in an ultrasound is a mistake.

It's a mistake that lots of people will easily make, though.  People are quick to attribute mental qualities like beliefs, desires, and the ability to feel pain to things that don't have them.  I imagine that lots of anti-abortion activists will be happy enough to let ultrasounds drive home the thought that women are murdering a real person inside them when they have an abortion -- when it turns out that women are doing nothing of the sort.  (As Amanda points out, ultrasounds also cost money, and another part of the anti-abortion strategy is to reduce access to abortion simply by making it more expensive.)

It's hard to see a plausible moral outlook on which ultrasound would be genuinely enlightening as to the morality of abortion.  It's not like an ultrasound is going to show you that the fetus has desires or a soul or a future capacity for having a mind like ours.  There are non-rational processes that all of us are subject to, however, that cause us to see minds in places where no minds exist.  By triggering these processes, ultrasounds promise to sow moral confusion, bad decisions, and unwarranted guilt.

Feminist commentators on Saletan's piece have played up its paternalistic elements.  To quote Jessica:
He claims to “trust women” while simultaneously making the case that women don’t understand what they’re doing when they get abortions; that we’re incapable of making an informed decision without a helping hand from the state.
For my part, I think there's room in the world for paternalism, but if you're going to be a paternalist you need to be better-informed and more rational than the people you're trying to impose your paternalistic requirements on.  By letting his own squirming get the better of him and push him to support a useless and expensive procedure, Saletan fails this test.  Instead of requiring ultrasounds before abortions, perhaps we should require him to reread the medical research on fetal pain before he does any more punditry. 

Ezrapostage

Why is the 2008 presidential election so important? I describe how the Senate calendar makes 2008-2012 the window in which progressive political change has to happen.

And if you're looking for the Democratic candidate most likely to win that election, you might want to pick the solid progressive who people mistake for a moderate. I think people tend to average out Edwards' liberal issue positions and his Southern accent, and think he's a moderate.

To link to content not created by me, I think the guy in this comic should be happy. He made the right wish.