Friday, July 29, 2005

Should I buy this tripe?

Jonas wonders whether a utilitarian who opposes factory farming is permitted to eat low-demand organ meats -- intestines, brains, and such -- on the grounds that these foods don't exert any demand pressure on the meat-packing industry. (A year ago, in what's probably my most-cited post, I defined categories of Normal, Weird, and Fallen meat. I don't eat factory-farmed Normal meat, but non-factory-farmed Weird meat is still okay. Also edible is Fallen meat, which would exert no demand pressure to promote factory farming.)

I was just looking at a list of appealing offal in a taqueria yesterday -- beef intestines, brains, and other unusual parts -- and wondering about this. First, there's an empirical question to ask about the economics of the meat-packing industry. In the terms of my distinctions, does factory-farmed offal count as Fallen because it exerts no economic demand that can cause additional cow misery? I can see how this would be the case -- if 10% of the factory-farmed cow intestines in the world are eaten, and that number doubles to 20%, no more cows need be slaughtered to decrease the demand. So "Fallen parts" of factory farmed animals still would be fair game.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Of dogs and ducks

I see Fafnir's latest on the duck, and I'm moved to tell you about a duck-related occurrence I witnessed a few years ago.

I was wandering around the banks of the Charles River when I saw a man playing with his dog. He'd throw a ball, and the plump red dog would amble over to it, fetch it, and return it to him. At one point, a mother duck and her ducklings passed by on the river.

The man threw the ball into the river near them, and the dog jumped into the water to retrieve it. "Quack! Quack! Quack!" said the mother duck, and she continued in a forceful rhythm. The dog simply picked up the ball and took it back to the man, taking no interest in the mother duck or her progeny, and the duck stopped quacking as the dog went away.

Then the man threw the ball towards the mother duck again. The dog approached, the duck quacked at him, the dog dutifully fetched the ball, and the mother duck quieted down as the dog left. And again, the man threw the ball at the mother duck, and the scene repeated itself.

What struck me about the whole scene was the general reasonableness of the nonhuman animals -- the mother duck in protecting her offspring, and especially the dog in peacefully retrieving the ball -- compared with the wanton behavior of the human. Looking back, I feel that this whole scene must be an excellent metaphor for something fairly complicated, but I don't know what that something is.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I am giving Paul Hackett money

For winning Republican House districts, this guy seems like the best candidate ever.

“He’s Paul Hackett,” the local Democrats tell the crowd. “He’s just back from Iraq and he’s running for Congress.”

...On economic issues, Hackett is solidly progressive. The corporate-friendly bankruptcy bill, which passed the House with a fair number of Democratic votes, Hackett calls “garbage.” And he’s appalled that Democrats have let the GOP define the debate on the “death tax.” “We should call it the ‘anti-aristocracy tax,’” he insists.

On questions of values, Hackett’s libertarian tendencies take over. “When I elect someone to go to Washington, D.C.,” he says, “I don’t elect a spiritual leader. I get that from my minister on Sundays when I go to church. Congress isn’t invited into my personal life; they’re not invited into the decisions my wife makes with her doctor any more than they’re invited in to check out what guns I’ve got in my gun cabinet.”

Tasty! Hackett deftly positions himself as a multiple-gun-owning, churchgoing family man, and uses that as the background to express support for abortion rights and separation of church and state. If there's any way to win support from the people who vote against us on cultural identification, this looks like it. And can you imagine how awesome it'd be for Democrats to have the first Iraq War veteran in Congress? Paul Hackett would be uniquely positioned to express our views on national security issues.

Of course, this is a very hard district for Democrats. It's a district that Bush won 2-1 in the fall, so most likely the Republicans will still win the August 2 special election. But even if we don't win, we get a charismatic war veteran expressing the Democratic message in Ohio. So I am giving Paul Hackett money. Feel free to chip in if you like the guy too.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sunday's song: Black Cab

Some folks I know are into the Friday Random Ten thing. I like how it gives you a view of the musical preferences of your blogosphere acquaintances, but I often find that I don't have enough of a feel for many of the songs or bands they name. Ezra is posting on Sundays about the music he's listening to, though, and I think that's probably a better model for me to follow. So on Sundays I'm going to post about a song or two that I've become particularly excited about. Thanks to the influence of Supriya and other good people, I've musically progressed to the point that I don't feel nervous doing this.

Today's song is "Black Cab", by Jens Lekman. I like how it expresses the feeling of being tired and drunk, but unsatisfied with the progress of the night. You're sleepy enough to go home, but something else -- anything -- needs to happen so the story won't end there.

and I've heard all the stories
'bout the black cabs and the way they drive
but if you take a ride with them
you may not come back alive

they might be psycho killers
but tonight I really don't care
so I say turn up the music
take me home or take me anywhere

The melody is hard to express in blog format, so I won't try. I will, however, post the opening lyrics to Lekman's "You are the light (by which I travel into this and that)":

Yeah I got busted
So I used my one phone call
To dedicate
A song to you on the radio

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Framing the lawyers

From Ezra:

The total cost of malpractice is thus 6.5 billion -- 0.46% of health care costs, or less than one half of one percent. They're just not a significant factor in rising health prices

Ezra's guestblogger Nick Beaudrot has more on the issue.

I can see two motivations for insurance companies' attacks on public protection lawyers. First, there's the obvious fact that while lawsuits may not significantly raise health care costs, they're a cost that insurance companies have to deal with, and which they want to reduce as much as possible.

This probably isn't the biggest way that attacking trial lawyers helps the insurance industry, though. Many good proposals for health care reform would hit the insurance industry very hard. Unlike malpractice lawsuits, the huge load of redundant bureaucracy imposed by private insurers really is one of the major factors in driving up health care costs today. If people paid attention to what insurance corporations have done, there would be a lot more support for changes in the health care system that could really hurt the insurers. By framing the lawyers for their own misdeeds, the insurers deflect attention from the real problem.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Robert "Gold Bars" Luskin

This is an old story, but it's just too funny not to link to. It concerns Karl Rove's current lawyer, Robert Luskin, back when he was representing Stephen Saccoccia.

Saccoccia and his wife Donna were eventually convicted of laundering more than a hundred million dollars for various Colombian drug kingpins. Stephen is currently serving a 660 year sentence. Their racket was laundering drug money through companies which traded in precious metals.

Saccoccia was convicted in 1993. And Luskin took up his case on appeal.

Eventually the Feds got the idea that the money Saccoccia had paid Luskin and his other attorneys for their services was itself part of the $137 million in drug money he was ordered to forfeit. Now, on the face of it this seems a bit unfair since under our system everyone is entitled to good representation and how was Luskin to know it was tainted money.

Well, the prosecutors thought he should have gotten some inkling when Saccoccia started paying Luskin's attorney's fees in gold bars.

Yep, you heard that right. Luskin got paid more than $500,000 of his attorney's fees in gold bars from his client who was trying to appeal his conviction on charges that he laundered drug money through precious metals dealers. Who woulda thought that was drug money?

Via Josh Marshall.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Ask a Werewolf: John Roberts

Dear Werewolf,
I don't know what to say when asked about the John Roberts Supreme Court nomination. What should I say?

--Senator from somewhere (D-somewhere)

Dear Senator,

It's kind of hard to say, since we really don't know what to make of John Roberts. Under these circumstances, the best thing to do is probably to make it clear that we don't know what to make of John Roberts. You could say something like this:

"John Roberts has only spent two years as a judge. Before that, he was a lawyer for Republican administrations, special interest groups, and partisan causes. There's no doubt that he's a smart guy. But given that his actual views are a total mystery at this point, there's no telling whether he'd be a good Supreme Court justice. We'll hope to find that out in the hearings. It's possible that he'll be an excellent judge, so it's possible that I'll vote for him. But if he doesn't answer questions honestly, or if we find that he has a bunch of extreme views, I and other Democrats are going to do whatever we can to stop him."

Now, back to the Karl Rove scandal.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Off to philosophy

Realizing that I can't say anything useful about Roberts -- and who has but Ezra and a few smart Kossacks? -- I'm going to be defending Humean views of action against radical Kantian extremist Patrick Smith, over at Richard's place. All good Humeans are encouraged to write their senators. Christine Korsgaard must be stopped!

*note* - this post originally identified Jonathan Ichikawa as the Kantian extremist, despite the fact that I hadn't seen evidence of such views from him before. Goes to show you how bad I am at determining whether a particular nominee is actually worth a filibuster.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The battle begins

So it's Roberts. Perhaps it'll be time to see what we got in the filibuster deal. Harry Reid, work your magic.

Update: So, I slapped a post up pretty early on. But who actually said useful things? At this point, not many people.

Ed Kilgore says that things may not be as bad as they seem.

Ezra Klein has a bunch of links to older articles that give you a sense of who Roberts is.

The Alliance for Justice has a fairly long list of Roberts' right-wing arguments and decisions.

Prime time

President Bush is going to unveil his Supreme Court choice at 9:00 PM, and at a time like this, one can only speak in conditionals. So here goes:

If the pick is Edith Clement, and if Josh Marshall is right that Clement sees Roe as "settled law", the theocrats will have been gypped again. But if the pick is someone more conservative, Bush will have positioned his nominee outside the mainstream by dangling a more moderate option and yanking it away. That was probably not a good idea.

In three hours, this message will self-destruct.

So much for "flypaper"

Now the Saudi government, an Israeli think tank, and the CIA have weighed in to say that the Iraq War helped out the terrorists. (Thanks, Brandon, for the first two.)

"The vast majority of them had nothing to do with Al Qaeda before Sept. 11th and have nothing to do with Al Qaeda today," said Reuven Paz, author of the Israeli study. "I am not sure the American public is really aware of the enormous influence of the war in Iraq, not just on Islamists but the entire Arab world."

Case studies of foreign fighters indicated they considered the Iraq war an attack on the Muslim religion and Arab culture, Paz said.

For example, while the unprovoked attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were largely condemned by clerics as violations of Muslim law, many religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations have promulgated fatwas, or religious edicts, saying that waging jihad in Iraq is justified by the Koran because it is defensive in nature. Last October, 26 clerics in Saudi Arabia said it was the duty of every Muslim to go and fight in Iraq.

"These are people who did not get training in Pakistan or Chechnya, [and they] ended up going to Iraq because they considered defending Iraq a must for every Muslim to go and fight," said Rita Katz, director of the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute in Washington and an Iraq native.

The studies also explained something I'd been wondering about for a while. Why do foreign fighters commit so many terrorist acts to undermine the new Iraqi government, like blowing up police stations? One part of the explanation, at least, is the Sunni-Shiite divide. Seeing the new Iraqi government as a Shiite government allows Sunnis from other parts of the world to feel no compunction about undermining it.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Judicial activists! Where? Where?

When it came out, I didn't see this old NYT piece on how often the various Supreme Court justices strike down laws. Kate has the results though, and they might surprise you.


A poster on Tacitus' site had an piece on Cuba that I thought was very good.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Now I have a favicon -- a little picture that appears in bookmarks or at the top of a Firefox tab. You can make one here. I thought a full moon was appropriate for a werewolf blog. Of course, it gives people the chance to call me a moonbat, but Democrats need to worry a bit less about what Republicans will say about them.

Update: Actually, it's only appearing in address bars as far as I can tell. I guess that's okay.

The Experience Machine

Battlepanda brings up Nozick's Experience Machine case, which led Julian Sanchez to believe that happiness was not the only rational thing to pursue. (If you're not familiar with the case, follow the link to Battlepanda's site -- she has it there.) I agree with Julian on this. But I'm still a utilitarian, like Battlepanda. How can this be? It depends on a distinction between rationality and what contributes to well-being. I shall explain.

When people are presented with the opportunity to enter the Experience Machine, they often don't, because they don't desire the experiences it offers with any great intensity. Their most intense desire is, perhaps, to write a great novel. This is different from a desire to have the experience of writing a great novel, or to have the pleasure of writing a great novel. The Experience Machine offers the second and third, but not the first. While pleasure shows up whenever our desires achieve satisfaction, this isn't because pleasure is the object of desire. The objects of our desires are many and varied. It's just a fact about desiring that when you attain the object of your desire, you feel some pleasure, but this is different from pleasure being the object of desire. What it's rational to do, on my view, is what maximizes expected desire-satisfaction. Since people don't desire what the Experience Machine offers, it's rational for them to not plug in to it. (It's possible to read Battlepanda's dialogue as making this point, but I doubt that's how she intended it.)

Well-being, or what's good for someone, is different from what it's rational for them to pursue. While expected desire-satisfaction is at the core of my views about rationality, I think pleasure is the currency of well-being. Suppose you met a person who felt intensely guilty about what he'd done in the past, and wanted to kill himself in some painful way as a punishment. Assuming that this was his most powerful desire, and that the sum of his other desires didn't go against it, it'd be rational for him to buy implements of torture for use against himself. But if you wanted to do what was good for him, you might kidnap him on the way to the torture store and inject him full of a euphoria-inducing drug that would also eliminate the memory of his past bad deeds.

When designing public policy, our goal isn't to give people what it'd be rational for them to pursue. It's to set things up in the way that maximizes overall well-being. (Of course, keeping in mind that a pretty large amount of freedom is useful in generating well-being.)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Honey, I'm home

The guestblogging at Ezra's went very well! Here's what I wrote:

Prado Optimality: People pushing Ed Prado for the Supreme Court have the right idea.
Dilemma of the Nice Guy: I explain why nice guys can't get laid, ask for feminist advice on how to behave appropriately, and get 70+ comments!
Who is Alberto Gonzales?: What will he do when he has no Bush to shill for? Nobody knows.
Wheel of Regime Change: There are big problems that can occur when you go around invading countries.
Lambert!: I make more people aware of the awesomeness of our favorite Aussie computer scientist.
Pronunciation: How do you pronounce "Iraq"? And what explains the changes in pronunciation over the years?
Good Work Harry: A smart move by the Senate Democrats.
Returning Islam to Greatness: Viewing our relations with Islam as a war between civilizations only helps Osama. There's a better way.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Here today, gone tomorrow

No sooner had I settled back in than I got an email from Ezra Klein, announcing that he'd be going to DC tomorrow and he needed a guestblogger. This being a family specialty, I told him that I'd be happy to fill in. So that's where I'll be for the next three days or so. Come on by!

Return of the Werewolf

It's been a great week and a half -- I hung out with good folk in College Park MD, explored an abandoned insane asylum, twisty-leg-danced to the beat of a street MC, and developed a secret plan for DC statehood with Matt Yglesias and Kriston Capps. But now I'm back, and ready to do my usual blogging thing.

Big thanks to brother Robin and sister Supriya for blogging in my absence.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A cohesive theory of musical communication

Hard as I tried to write one, it is just not working out. So I will simply point out that when I was five years old, Neil Sinhababu told me that water was a good source of protein, and I believed him for years.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Double your fun

Hi, I’m Robin. I think I’ll write something about binary systems. Other than the two-sentence description on my blog “1 or 2” and occasional comments there, this will be the first thing I’ve written about binary systems on the internet.

I’m attached to the 1 or 2 blog’s structure. Though the comments pages have elaborated on the ratings and discussed 1 or 2 a few times, the front pages are clean and skeletal. So I’m more comfortable editorializing on 1 or 2 here, where it is less relevant.

The 1 or 2 system originated as a fast way to get someone’s opinion on a difficult subject. Movies and people were commonly 1 or 2ed. It was and is most useful, I think, when asking someone their opinion of a mutual acquaintance. Giving someone a 1 might be harsh, but then, if the evaluator’s opinion of the person isn’t glowing, it’s hard for him to give a 2, too. If you just asked for an open-ended opinion, you would too often hear “he’s interesting, I guess” or “she’s nice.” Similarly, a request for a rating on the 10-point scale would often get you a 5. Though 1 or 2 is, due to the huge ground each rating covers, inherently vague and crude, it can provide a richer assessment than an open-ended or finer-scaled answer.

Before long, other, sillier binary systems developed around 1 or 2. We could ask whether someone or something was a lover or fighter, a man’s man or ladies’ man, or, my favorite, a steer or a queer. My friend Chase (right) would reinvent the quintessential public policy approach of “carrot or stick” as a binary system, posing questions like “You’re hungry. Carrot or stick?” or “You’re trying to start a fire. Carrot or stick?” or “Your pen pal is in the hospital. Carrot or stick?” and so on.

I’m not sure that 1 or 2 has the same entertainment value online as it has in real life. On a blog, the most exciting entries tend to be the controversial ones, those likely falling between the 40th and 60th percentiles. When people are hanging out and merrily 1 or 2ing the night away (we don’t do this anymore, but we used to), those close ones are tense and exciting, but the most fun ones are the most obvious ones: those that would get a 1 or 10 on a 10-point scale, but with 1 or 2, just get a loud or enunciated 1 or 2 to emphasize their deficit or abundance of merit.

So 1 or 2 the blog might be near or at its end. It might be more sustainable if tied to my personal goings-on, as I tried on March 18, but then I’ve always tried to keep it random. It may have simply run its course. C’est la blogs.