Monday, September 24, 2007

She'll slice them with Occam's razor

Lindsay Beyerstein describes her cooking style as empiricist . If the dish photographed above the post is any indication, Lindsay's cooking is remarkable for its parsimony. In keeping with the Quinean emphasis on ontological simplicity, very few objects are involved.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The wheel weaves as the wheel wills

I was a fan of the Wheel of Time series back in my high school days, though I stopped reading after about book 8, in part because of my concern that Robert Jordan would die before completing the series and leave his readers stranded. Today I heard news of his untimely passing, just as he was working on the 12th book. Many of the books run 500+ pages, so what you basically have here is an immensely long fantasy epic, full of foreshadowing and stagesetting for a climactic final battle... and no ending. Yikes.

I don't even have an intuitive sense of what to say about truth and falsity about incomplete fictional works. Will Rand al'Thor die in the final battle? Before, we thought that question had a correct answer, though we didn't know for sure what it was. Were we right to think it did have a correct answer, or does Jordan's death make it the case that we were wrong? If it did have a correct answer, does it still?

Monday, September 03, 2007


I eventually got fed up with the fact that half the blogs on my 'roll hadn't been updated in 2007, so I switched a lot of stuff out. (Fafblog? dadahead? where have you gone?) And in keeping with an interest in making this the philosophy / funny dancing space, while the politics stays at my weekend Ezra Klein gig, I've promoted the philosophers to the top of the blogroll. I expect that more philosophy links will appear...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Small Steps To Happier Pigs And Chickens

After eating a nice veggie burger with extra pickles (for the low price of $2.26; thank you Burger King) I feel moved to address the posts by Matt, Tia, Scott [dead link], and Matt again about how we should respond to the cruelty of factory farming. Says Tia, addressing the response to Michael Vick's crimes:
I, too, find silly the spectacle of someone who is not in any discernible way opposed to factory farming practices fulminating about dogfighting, and there's just as much a cultural diversity argument against a prohibition of dogfighting as there is against a prohibition of any kind of law against animal cruelty. It's much easier to justify encroachments on someone else's cultural practices if they're based on some kind of gesture towards a coherent ethical scheme; "factory farmed meat for me, but no dogfighting for thee" strikes me as the most baseless sort of imperialism.
As a statement about the badness of the practices involved, that seems right. And as Tia says, the mere fact that we have entrenched social practices of treating different animals differently doesn't make any moral difference -- entrenched social practices of treating different races or genders differently, for example, don't justify themselves. There's some difference in the way we should regard the agents, though. One has to be quite cruel to make a leisure activity out of watching animals suffer terribly. By contrast, the distance between a diner and the sow that spent her entire life squeezed into a gestation crate is large enough that one can understand how kind-hearted people ignore the suffering and order the pork chops.
Matt and Scott concede the wrongness of factory farming, despite continuing to enjoy its fleshy fruits. And so do many people, including, I'm sure, many readers of this blog. I often think that animals would be better off if people were comfortable with taking smaller steps to reduce their meat consumption. Avoiding factory-farmed meat need not be all-or-nothing -- it's something that's fully half as good if done halfway.
And there are a bunch of ways to do it halfway. You can avoid factory-farmed meat for the meals where you least enjoy the meat portion of your diet. If you're concerned about messing up other people's plans when you go to eat their cooking, you can have a policy of never choosing factory-farmed meat, but eating it when it's placed in front of you without your requesting it. Or if you're the sort of person who likes action more than abstention, you can make a project of exploring the various interesting foods that the veggie world has to offer. When you find something you like, eat it more often, and let it displace some of your meat intake. There's plenty of different ways to go about this, and if there's some meat or egg dish (the situation of egg-laying hens is pretty terrible) that you're absolutely unwilling to give up, don't let that stop you from giving up a lot of things that you like less.
If you only go halfway, there may still be something deeply inconsistent about your practices. You understand the badness of factory farming, but aren't willing to move as fully against it as you know you ought to. But it's far better to be inconsistently kind than consistently unkind, and being a vegetarian with exceptions is far better than causing great animal suffering. All of us fall short of doing everything we could to make the world a better place, but we're worse for doing less, and better for doing more.
My own practices regarding meat are often seen as amusing, and you can read about them here. I enjoy meat as much as most people do, and in a city like Austin I've been pretty successful in finding ways to satisfy myself while not contributing to factory farming. (The Chipotle across the street with its excellent free-range pork plays a big role.) And I've found plenty of yummy things to eat that I might not have tried if my refusal to eat Normal Meat hadn't steered me to them. May you be so fortunate.