Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Public Ethics Radio

Two far more charismatic ethicists than the writers, Christian Barry and Matthew Peterson, have now launched Public Ethics Radio, in conjunction with the CAPPE and The Carnegie Council. Their first podcast interviews Thomas Pogge on his pharmaceutical incentivisation project.

Check it out.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

You learn something new every day.

Apparently dinosaurs helped to build the pyramids!

More stupid:

“When man landed on the moon (in 1969), they expected the landing module to sink in a deep layer of dust. But the layer was only a few inches deep. This proves that the universe is still young!”

Actually the best bit is that the Maltese education director is named "Dr. Borg".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Hacking" the Olympics: an exercise in censorship & fraud

A very interesting article came to the fore today: the "hacker" (I use this term loosely, for all he really did was come up with some specific search queries for various search engines) Stryde went through some search engines to discover that the gold medal winning gymnast, He Kexin, is potentially underage for competing in the Olympic games. The official age requirement is 16 years, where the evidence uncovered by Stryde has shown that she was in fact only 14. You can read his initial discovery here, with a follow-up here.

Now the interesting part for me isn't so much the fraud, which is yet to be commented on by anyone official, but that there is something at work busily taking these sites and documents referring to the girl's theoretical real age down, which is most likely the Chinese government. This annoys me particularly because it's just the most recent development in a line of information-barring moves they have made over the Olympics, such as blocking journalists from various Websites after saying that journalists would have unrestricted access to the Internet, cancelling press conferences because hard questions were being asked, and general restrictions on things to be reported about (no Tibet, no protesters, etc.). This worries me because of China being such an increasingly influential nation that the world is essentially tiptoeing around, wanting to get in on the opening markets, not wanting to offend anyone by mentioning dreadful human rights records, for example. And the Chinese are getting away with pressing it on us because they know they hold the balance of power (for example, China owns about 502 billion US dollars of the US national debt, the second highest foreign owner after Japan). Does this mean that China can essentially start to force its crazy censorship and other oppressive acts, such as sentencing elderly women to "re-education through labour" because they wanted a protest permit?

As a society we give up more and more of our freedom every day, through surveillance and personal information sharing, bit by bit these are whittled away by our own governments and corporations, and yet we are generally apathetic about this sort of "lack of freedom creep", as long as it doesn't upset our daily lives (and may even welcome it if it seems to improve our lives!). Perhaps we will start to see the fastest growing economy's influence increase in our own society due to our own apathy.

I hope for one that the Olympics will open the Chinese people up to the outside world and see that there are ways they can keep their unique culture but become free from oppression through access and distribution of information, and put pressure on their government to change.

(yeah, sorry about the rant, this just annoys me!)

Emo Brings Down The Russian Bear

Supposedly, according to the Blogosphere Russia is banning Emos, because they might kill themselves or bring down the Russian Government.

Well, it looks like I might have to ditch the Heavy Metal/Punk stuff that I have been holding onto for so long, and get with the real winners, Emos.

To paraphrase Bill Hicks:

A guy says, “I hate Emos,” and I said, “Why?” He goes, “Because they killed Russia.” They believe that. If I believed that the Emos killed Russia, I’d worship the Emos, ’cause shit, there’s some badasses on that team, man. I haven’t seen Russia ever, I see Emos all the time – go figure.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ethics And Politics?

Yes, though strange befellows they may be, it looks like some people are trying to arrange a marriage between the most unlikely of partners: Ethics and politics.

This brings to mind the old joke - How do you know if a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.
Also bings up a new joke - How do you know if a politician is acting ethically? Their lips are moving, but no forks are involved, and they are standing.


In the U.S. the 2007 'Honest Leadership and Open Government Act' has had what some would consider a strange effect on the current electioneering process. As reported in the NY Times article "Corporations and convention party planners are scrambling to comply with sweeping ethics rules in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 that prohibit lobbyists from paying for gifts, including meals and music, for members of Congress and their staffs." Some lobbyists are finding it so hard to work out what is allowed (hence ethical) that they are having to resort to talking to lawyers to find loopholes to exploit. And in the worse case scenario, the poor lobbyists have had to cancel events.

Boo hoo. In a system where there are more lobbyists than congresspeople and where almost US$3,000,000,000 was spent on lobbying politicians in one year, perhaps these parasites, predators and vermin can do with a little less food, and a little more self reflection.

Whether legislating 'ethics' will actually work or not, is a different question. As we all know, basing laws on good intentions can have some horrible results. As the old saying goes, if you outlaw ethics, only the outlaws will have ethics. Spooky eh?

Monday, August 18, 2008

A dark and cynical ray of hope

I was reading this little article on Jon Stewart.

It was quite refreshing (or distressing) to read that he is seen by Americans as the fourth most admired journalist in America. Now, to give this a bit of context, he is a satirist, presenting a farcical and absurdist view of American/Global politics. Taking the piss out of politicians in a humerous and gifted way, whilst exposing the hipocricy and idiocy of modern politics and world affairs.
I think our old mate Freud once spoke about laughter and black humour as a way of cleansing us of the darkness that builds up, and given the dark times that are kicking about at the moment, an abusrd voice of reason is like cool water to the parched desert traveller.
An alternate view is that when the journalism and the media are so perverted and corrupted that a comedy show is seen as one of the most important voices of truth in a country, we know that something is horribly horribly wrong.

Anyways, check out Stewart's Bush - Bush debate for one example of his comedic stylings. OR, if you have nothing better to do, trawl your way through the Daily Show's website. Its a nice.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Psychologists and torture -- the APA saga

When the US government started using psychologists in interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, the members of the American Psychological Association expected some sort of condemnation from their professional organisation. Instead they argued about whether psychologists had actually been present and essentially avoided discussing the issue. Eventually a task force of members was set up to investigate the ethics of psychology and interrogation, but it turned out that most of the members of the task force were part of the military. The report was denounced by the non-military members and since then some anti-torture resolutions have been established, but they are full of exploitable legal holes, not to mention the fact that they haven't applied these to a single case, even though there have been some high-profile obvious cases of psychologists being involved in interrogation.

This month a lot is happening in the APA, as general elections are being called. It'll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

More info from The Boston Globe and Mind Hacks.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The apocalypse


I read in the paper today about a robot controlled by brain cells.

"A multidisciplinary team at the University of Reading has developed a robot which is controlled by a biological brain formed from cultured neurons."

Looks like humans are soon to be outdated. I for one hail our new robo-rat cyborgs as gods and masters, and renounce all humans as egotistical meat-bags.


One final postscript: The scientists used rat neurons on this one. Perhaps to prevent our imminent collapse, in the future they could use puppy neurons?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics and the Two Child Policy

Yes. What a joy to behold, the world together as one, capitalist, communist, hedonist, all united as sportists under a banner of corporate sponsorship and nationalism. Finally, we all come to believe in peace as determined by gold medals. Joy.

Despite this glowing sense of hope and unity springing from corporatised nationalistic sporting fervour, a little cynicism creeps in. I don't know if China are telling the truth or not. What? No, this is not some violent Tibetan media conspiracy.

First, there was the digital footprints left by the opening ceremony. And now I am thinking more of the One Child Policy being enacted by the nonahe(a)dral politburo in China. That vision of sweetness in the little red dress who sang so beautifully, turns out to be chimeric construct of voice and face. As the Spice Girls once sang, 'Two become one.' Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a moral travesty of the level of Milli Vanilli, (but that's just because Germans are evil.)

Perhaps the truth of the Chinese agenda is being uncovered in ways that the politburo could not forsee. Oh well. All we can do is hope, like the Dalai Lama that Chinese Democracy will come soon.


Friday, August 8, 2008

No ranting this morning.

I've got some, y'know, work to do. However, for those interested in how to change the world, I think that this demonstration by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, is just phenomenal. Some linkies below.

The Dalai Lama on the Beijing Olympics

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why we (or I) fight.

So I've been reading a bit lately on the imminent launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the latest and certainly most ambitious project by CERN, at the French-Swiss border. It reminds me of why I do what I do (or at least how I can justify why I do what I do, which may be as good as I can get). Now, one question is "but Nick, you work in Ethics. How does a big-ass atom smasher give you pause about why you do what you do?"

Well, it is partly because of my science background, but also at the sheer scale of this project that CERN is attempting. I mean, in my romantic vision of the function of the philosopher, it is the uncovering of some deeper truths in our world that enlighten the philosopher, the colleagues they work with, and (at least I sincerely hope and my be deluded as a result of this belief) the world at large. Yes, continentals, I hear you sneering and muttering dark saying about the crimes of Descartes. But I sincerely believe that you also have made a very positive contribution to my life, even if only because I spend so much time scratching my head about things you've said.

But, as usual, I digress. While I'm doing so, take a look at some funkay pictures

If philosophy is the seeking out of truths for the noble purpose of raising humanity up, and not merely the sitting about ranting about minor problems with semantic content in papers written by those long dead (although that is also, in some respects, important in its own way), then the women and men who have worked on the LHC are philosophers without compare. Far be it to merely talk about what the deeper structure of the universe might be like, they have instead decided that they'll try and actually find out, by smashing together a set of particles together at such a speed that space and time itself are sundered, and hopefully a bunch of particles will be seen that every individual in the world who has studied particle physics up to (and of course beyond) a postgrad level is hoping exists. And if they don't, so much is the better because unlike (it seems) many aspects of philosophy, physics can be concisely disproved, torn asunder, and left to die. And physicists in general seem to be pretty okay with this. Don't mistake me: they aren't all, and nor is this typical of most sciences. Physics, in many ways, has it easy.

And no, this isn't going to solve world hunger, the energy crisis, global warming, extreme antibiotic resistant tuberculosis, corporate paedophilia, the rampant injustices of the free-market economic rationalist state, vertical power structures, retributive justice and all its worries (good luck to Chuck on his impending thesis submission!), or any of the plethora of terrible problems that plague our world.

But it is, in its own way, very beautiful, and enthralling to those who have seen what has been written on it. And why else is the world worth being in to the point that there are a growing number of philosophers trying to get out of the ivory tower, hit the streets and get some change happening? not that we are doing so very fast, but this is a growth period for the movement, I feel. Still, Clive does it well.

More than people might think, the LHC is the magnum opus of much of current science. It is one of the projects that those who practice, study, or merely dabble in the hard sciences are so keen to see happen. And I think a world where there is less of the above problems, less affluenza, and more experiments that might not even occur because the experiment itself will go back in time to stop itself happening. This thing pushes the edges of human understanding about the limits of our collective power over the universe, the strangeness of the world we live in, and (to this writer), gives me more faith in the wondrous aspects of science enriching our lives than anything Richard Dawkins had to say on the subject. It is my hope that the more of my world will be able to see and appreciate these wonders, and not just the rich white folk like myself (ha, I called myself rich). And that, at least, is one of the many reasons why I do what I do.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Getting back to old school.

I'm not a huge fan of graffiti as the vernacular conception of it is portrayed. That is, the graffiti that is synonymous with vandalism. Random, indecipherable tags, or crude and poorly drawn images being sprayed on any surface just doesn't do it for me. Sure, if someone manages to tag somewhere that makes me go "holy ****, how did they manage to get there, much less have a hand free to spray?" then that's kinda cool. But generally, not a fan.

However, some graffiti can be beautiful. And (see the famous "Romans go home" sketch from ye olde Monty Python) some of ti can be highly political, which has been one of the functions of such street art since time out of mind. So, without further a do, take a look at this.

Friday, August 1, 2008