Monday, July 31, 2006


I'm still kinda wondering about the lyrics to the Pussycat Dolls song, "Buttons." The relevant portion goes something like this:
I'm a make you loosen up my buttons babe
Loosen up my buttons babe
Why don't you loosen up my buttons babe
Loosen up my buttons babe

I don't know, I always had the idea - well, since kindergarten, I guess - that clothing buttons exist in one of two states, buttoned or unbuttoned. I'm not really sure how one would go about loosening a button. And actually, the only loose buttons you hear of are those that need to be fastened more securely to the garment they are attached to. Could this song actually represent a plea to the local dry cleaner? I guess that would explain the urgency. Or perhaps buttons in the hip-hop community have unusual properties? Unclear.

Gotta run. My shoelaces came unzipped.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Stem-cells, abortion, etc.

President Bush has been roundly condemned or opposed by virtually everyone (scientists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, media) for his recent veto of a bill that would have lifted the ban on government-funded research of embryonic stem-cells. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Bush's decision is of a kind with similar decisions of religious conservatives who have stifled scientific research throughout history. Indeed, in a Senate hearing on the matter, Republican Senator Arlen Specter predicted that Bush's opposition to government-funded stem-cell research would one day be considered as ridiculous as the Church's (since-renounced) opposition to Galileo's astronomical theories.

Well, I'm here to tell you that...I have absolutely no idea whether the conventional wisdom is right or wrong, though my inclination is to support the research. And while we're on the topic of divisive moral issues, perhaps a discussion of abortion and other moral matters is in order as well.

You see, the problem with stem-cell research, abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and a whole host of other morality-related public-policy issues is that - when it comes right down to it - the rightness of all of these policies essentially depends upon the gut-instinct of the people who either oppose or support it, and scientific data has very little to say about such judgments. Should a convicted mass-murderer be executed? Well, I think so, but if you disagree, it is highly unlikely that sociological studies and/or other accumulation of data will convince either of us to change our view.

Philosophers have long-noticed that ethical issues are decided in a sort of fact-averse vacuum. David Hume famously noted a sort of "is-ought gap"- in other words, that there is no simple way to proceed from fact-based premises (i.e. the way the world is) to moral conclusions (i.e. the way the world ought to be). One (terrific) philosophy professor of mine, David Johnson, claimed that "Ethics" is a sort of the black-hole of philosophy; basically, all moral arguments fail. [Incidentally, Johnson insisted on speaking of the "apparent is-ought gap" because the gap has not been proven to exist. It's just that no one thus far has been able to bridge it. Philosophy professors are often crazy. Johnson also believes that he has proven (something like) "either God exists or there is an infinite number of alternate universes in which conditions do not permit the existence of human life." Nice.]

Now, before we go overboard and start cohabiting with animals, it seems worth mentioning that, happily, the United States and other functional societies manage to traverse the morass of ethical dilemma by enshrining as law almost-universally-agreed-upon ethical norms. Murder for instance, is outlawed and punished. Same goes for stealing, rape, assault, and countless other behaviors. Indeed, theorists have even found common ground in various outlawed behaviors and have established principles that underlie them. So, for instance, many societies have codified a respect for "individual rights." Given the assumption that the rights of an individual may not be violated, it does in fact follow that murder or theft, say, is a violation of the principle. Now all this is good - great, in fact, I would say.

But what is perhaps glossed over is the fact that whether or not to resepect "individual rights" is itself a moral decision. Of course, it may seem like an easy moral decision, but that actually is my point. There is no controversy over "individual rights" because the public overwhelmingly (by which I mean, almost everyone in the society) believes that "individual rights" should be respected. Decisions about moral issues are easy to reach when they reflect a consensus.

But, needless to say, issues like stem-cell research and abortion (and the death penalty, and euthanasia, and polygamy, and war, etc., etc., etc.) generate what can only be considered the opposite of a consensus. Not only do people disagree about the morality of the issue; often, they believe that the opposite side advocates serious moral crimes. But, as we have seen, factual data often contribute very little to these arguments. Gut instinct (individual or collective - in the case of church-inspired opinion) lies at the heart of all these matters.

I would make one more point, which is subtle but should clarify my argument in one important respect. When I say that these arguments are not influenced by fact, I don't mean that people don't cite facts in order to convince the other side (and themselves) of their righteousness. Death-penalty proponents, for instance, attempt to bolster their view with data proving that the death-penalty acts as a crime deterrent. Neo-cons attempt to foster support for their view that Saddam must be deposed by alleging that Saddam's WMDs constitute an existential threat to the United States. But these facts, while related to the issues at hand, do not really address the moral core of either issue. Even if the death penalty is a deterrent, that does not prove (or even address, really) the question of whether it is moral to put a person to death under any circumstances. Even if Saddam is known to have WMDs which constitute an existential threat to the US, that does not prove (or address) whether it is moral to depose a leader who is an existential threat to a particular country. You see, what people are doing by citing these facts is to change the perception of the situation from one in which the morally advisable course of action is murky to a situation in which a consensus exists about the morally advisable course of action.

Now, sometimes these arguments are at least partially effective. For many people, the procedure known as "partial-birth abortion" seems so similar to murder that the practice appears obviously immoral (I am one of those people). But in many more cases, the issue being debated is not comparable enough to a different situation (in which a moral consensus exists) that any sort of consensus on the new issue can be reached.

And that, it seems to me, is where we stand on abortion. America does not see abortion as murder, but neither does it see it as nothing - as a morally neutral act. As there is no obvious moral comparison to make, we should not be surprised that public opinion is conflicted and essentially deadlocked.

Stem-cell research appears to be a bit different. It seems like a solid majority of Americans find it similar enough to a morally neutral act (or, at least, to the discarding of the embryos that would have happened anyway) that the potential benefits offered by the research far outweigh any squeamishness inspired by the prospect of fiddling with human embryos.

I admit that my gut instinct lies with the public on this one. Upon deeper reflection, I confused myself, but I still incline towards supporting government-funded research. Here are my thoughts:

1) I accept as fact (for the sake of argument) that stem-cell research might provide valuable medical knowledge that can save lives. But does that justify destroying human embryos?
2) The closest analogue I can think of to live-saving human embryos is life-saving human corpses. All things being equal, we would rather not cut up human corpses and we would rather not cut up human embryos.
3) But, there are cases in which it makes sense to cut up at least some human corpses. Organ donation seems like the most obvious case in which it is morally obvious that a corpse should be cut up. The attempt to immediately save a living human being seems worth the sacrifice of cutting up the body of what was once a living human being but is now not alive and never will be.
4) Aside from organ donation, other cases exist in which it seems morally correct to cut up corpses. Medical research (in medical schools and elsewhere) is done on corpses, and autopsies provide important data on communicable diseases and other areas of medical knowledge.
5) The government has no problem funding research that is based on the cutting up of corpses.
6) I can't really think of a good reason that messing with embryos that will never be human beings is worse than messing with corpses that once were human beings.
7) So fund the research.

But again, who really knows?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Oops. Lawsuit, anyone?

Check out this quote in the Washington Post from a Motorola executive. Tracy Koziol, from the company's handset division, is really excited about Moto's latest phone, the KRZR - which has a narrower frame than the popular RAZR model:
"For people with smaller hands, it does probably fit better than the Razr, especially for Asian customers and ladies," said Koziol, adding that most cellphone carriers around the world have shown interest in the product.
Unfortunately, the paper didn't print the remainder of the statement, in which Koziol trumpeted the angular design of the KRZR's display module - ideal for the slanty eyes of Asian customers.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

People like me suck

Certain phenomena are ruined by publicity. It's a special kind of situation and not all that common, but it happens. Like Ali G, for instance. The more popular he gets, the more difficult it becomes to find oblivious people who will sit for his satirical interviews.

Well, over the past month or so, a similar sort of development has occurred on what was once probably the funniest site on the web. I am speaking, of course, of the message board on ("Kallah" is the Hebrew word for "bride").

The site, run by an Orthodox Jewish woman called Marla, is a forum in which devout Jewish women discuss, well, basically everything they can think of about their sex lives. No topic is too pedestrian or risque for the avant-garde ladies who post on the board; indeed, topics discussed on the site include mundance concerns like "going off birth control" and "husband's back hair," as well as more interesting offerings such as " how to orgasm", "anal sex", and "Dildos and Strapons." All this, from women who cover their hair when they leave the house and abstain from sex for about two weeks out of the month because of menstrual "impurity." I would describe the site as a cross between "Sex for Dummies" and "Girls Gone Wild." For Amish people.

The comingling on the site of repression and horniness, of religious traditionalism and carnal curiosity, makes for a hilarious read. Who can be unsympathetic to the anguished plea of Malki (technical note - "dh" ="dear husband," and "assur"= "prohibited by Jewish Law"):

i really want to give my dh a "handjob"...what should i do???? i wanna give him a handjob and he really wants me to give him one, we know its assur. what do we do?

You can really appreciate the dilemma faced by these women as they strive to reconcile their religious beliefs with their irreligous libidos. And that's what made the site so enjoyable - the genuine, ridiculous questions and emotions that these women were willing to expose. Almost too good to be true.

And, alas, now it is. Because, you see, there is no verification process to post on this site, and the target is just too tempting (I have succumbed to the temptation for mischief myself). Whereas, only a few weeks ago, there was an air of integrity about the issues and posts aired on the site, the situation has since changed considerably. Now, you're more likely to see something like this ("Frum" means "strictly Orthodox"):

Miss Frum: DH has asked me to dress up like a bee-keeper...should i be worried?Anyone else ever experience something strange like this...

Now, granted, this post is funny as hell (though, I'm sad to say, I didn't write it). And, in truth, it occasioned even more hilarity, as a number of ostensibly earnest readers offered these responses to it:

Malki: that IS a bit odd - but in fetish/fantasy world NOTHING is too weird. you might wanna try and figure out what about it turns him on - did he once see a really hot girl dressed as a beekeeper?

Guest: maybe he likes the danger involved and the fearlessness involved in doing something like that. i wouldn't worry about it as long as you both have fun.... and i WOULDN"T ask if it is because he once saw a hot girl as a bee keeper and then asking you to dress up like one. that would upset me if it were my husband, I am not hot enough for him that he wants to use me to replay some fantasy of his??? i wouldnt' go there at all. i would like to assume that if my husband asked me something like that it is because it is something dnagerous and having the guts to do something like that turns himon. as long as you both play safe, have fun!! (maybe come up with something else that you want him to do, you never know, this may open sexual doors for you guys!!)

Like I said, this is priceless stuff in its own right. (I mean, a question doesn't get any more Jewish than "I am not hot enough for him that he wants to use me to replay some fantasy of his?") But it's a different kind of stuff. While the site once represented a place to laugh at Orthodox women, it now presents a sort of ongoing challenge in which the reader must try to determine which questions are seriously asked and which are the musings of (other) juvenile males with nothing better to do.

Don't get me wrong. The site is still a terrific source of entertainment. But I feel like it's lost some of the refreshing naivete that contributed to its original luster. People like me suck.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Keep it truthful

You really hate to nitpick about these kinds of things, because the destruction and suffering in both Lebanon and Israel are serious and real. But if it really wants to be honest, the NYT either has to avoid this claim or substantiate it:

In Srifa, a neighborhood was wiped out — 15 houses flattened; 21 people killed and 30 wounded — in an Israeli airstrike. The town’s mayor, Afif Najdi, called it a massacre.
Ok, I understand the massacre claim. It's a statement made by the mayor of a town that has experienced an aerial attack. Now, I don't think it was a "massacre," and many (if not most) fair-minded people would agree that it was not a massacre. But the question of what constitutes a massacre is subjective and tricky, and the paper isn't making the claim - it's simply reporting the claim made by someone who witnessed the attack.

But the contention of the first sentence seems to be almost self-contradictory. A neighborhood was supposedly "wiped out." Wiped out. That's pretty bad. Sounds like everything in the neighborhood was destroyed, right? Well, not unless it's a really small neighborhood; as the sentence continues, "15 houses flattened; 21 people killed and 30 wounded." I suppose it's theoretically possible that there were only 15 houses and 51 people in the neighborhood prior to the Israeli assault, but if that's the case, the paper is dutybound to report this fact. What seems more likely is that there were scores, (probably hundreds, if not thousands,) of homes and people in Srifa and the claim is exaggerated - Srifa was not "wiped out" The problem is that, this time, it is the NYT itself that makes the claim.

Yeah, I know, it's still bad, and for the people who lost their homes, there is little solace that only a small percentage of the town (rather than the whole) has been destroyed. But the Times and the media are supposed to report facts, not exaggerate them. Words have meaning, and "wiped out" means something far more serious than damage of fifteen homes and fifty people. Merriam Webster Online, for instance, defines it, "to destroy completely" or "annihilate."

I'm not alleging any sort of anti-Semitic conspiracy, but it is interesting to note that the same sort of exaggerated claims were popularized by Palestinian spokesmen back in 2002, when Israel struck the Jenin refugee camp:

A. Jenin – what was destroyed?
One of the false contentions repeated by Palestinian spokesmen between March 29 and April 21, 2002, concerned the extent of the damage to the Jenin refugee camp that resulted from the battle in the camp between Israeli soldiers and armed Palestinian forces. During and immediately following the battle at Jenin, Palestinian spokesmen stated, again and again – falsely, each time – that Israel was about to destroy or had already destroyed the entire refugee camp:
a. At a meeting of the Arab League, Nabil Sha'ath declared that Israeli “soldiers had received orders from the Israeli army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz for the complete destruction of Jenin…”(Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 6)
b. Also on April 6, Hassan Abdel Rahman told CNN that Israel was performing “blanket bombing today of the cities of Nablus and Jenin, and it is on television.” [The U.S. Department of Defense defines “carpet bombing” (synonymous with “blanket bombing”) as “The progressive distribution of a mass bomb load upon an area defined by designated boundaries, in such manner as to inflict damage to all portions thereof.”]
c. A few days later, Saeb Erekat told CNN’s Jim Clancy, “You know, the Jenin refugee camp is no longer in existence…”
d. Erekat repeated the charge one week later to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, stating: “There is no longer a refugee camp there. And maybe the [Israeli] defense minister and the prime minister of Israel want to deny what CNN is showing, that the camp was totally destroyed.” (April 17)

In response to these Palestinian allegations, Israeli officials contended that only a small percentage of the Jenin refugee camp had been destroyed. The Israelis later backed up their claim with a set of “before-and-after” satellite photographs of Jenin, which clearly demonstrated that only about ten percent of the refugee camp had been destroyed during Operation Defensive Shield. Since that time, Palestinian spokesmen have ceased their proclamations of Jenin’s total destruction, but they have yet to publicly acknowledge the falsity of their previous statements.

Fed Chief Cannibalism?

Forget interest rates. Apparently the NYTimes is after a bigger story. In its report on the fed chief Bernanke's remarks, the paper notes:
Boiled down, Mr. Bernanke conveyed a twofold message.
Yeah, the job is tough, but this seems a bit harsh, no?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

How stupid can a politician be?

It would take a lot to top this, it seems to me. Fresh off the horrible tunnel collapse in Boston that killed a local woman headed to Logan Airport, Massachusetts Turnpike Chairman Matthew Amorello was still insisting on Wednesday, “these tunnels are safe.”

"Safe" for whom, people who stay home? A woman is already dead, you nitwit.

He added, "we will get to the bottom of what happened." Well, if you don't know what happened, isn't it just possible, maybe, possibly, that the FREAKING TUNNELS AREN'T SAFE?

Shocking, really, to find out:

Inspectors on Thursday quadrupled to 240(!!) the number of possible ceiling bolt problems in a Big Dig tunnel where a woman was crushed by falling concrete... inspectors found 68 suspect bolt assemblies over the westbound lanes of a connector tunnel providing the main route to Logan Airport. Forty-five more were discovered in a lane carrying carpool traffic, as well as 69 in ramps connecting two interstate highways.

Yeah, real safe.

Amorello, just resign. You're a poor excuse for a human, and no one wants to look at you or hear from you again.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A little bugspray would have been sufficient

Recently complained to my landlord Paula about some ants in my apartment. She told me she would put me on the extermination list. I asked her if she might be over-reacting a tad, and whom did she think they would come for after the Jews?(Paula is African-American)

Monday, July 03, 2006

"An Income-eating Snooze": the new movie about Al Gore, his triumph over adversity, and - oh, yeah - global warming

Forget everything you've heard about the "new" Al Gore (like, for instance, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this). You know what I'm talking about: the reborn Gore who is suddenly authentic, engaging, folksy, funny, self-effacing, whose touch transforms dross into gold, etc. Yeah, that new Al Gore. Guess what? He doesn't exist. Or, at the very least, no such person appears in Gore's tedious, self-indulgent paeaen to environmental activism - "An Inconvenient Truth."

Though I am somewhat uncomfortable lumping in discussion of Gore's character and personality together with an assessment of Gore's arguments, the movie allows for little alternative, so tightly is Gore's godlike apprehension of the seismic dangers facing the earth interwoven with his many triumphs over personal adversity. Indeed, the film showcases no Gore characteristic so much as his boundless self-absorption. At three distinct junctures, the plot diverges from its ostensibly central concern with global warming in order to explain Gore's ongoing environmental enlightenment as he overcame his son's near-fatal car accident, his sister's death from tobacco-induced lung cancer, and his own (unfair) defeat in the 2000 presidential election.

Frankly, I think this whole tact of Gore's argument is distasteful, probably spurious, and a transparent appeal to sympathy (ad misericordiam, for those keeping score at home). But if we do accept Gore at his word - what does it say about him that the epiphanies following his son's accident and his sister's death weren't enough to push him over the environmental edge? Let's see: almost dead son, sister dead from product (tobacco) grown on the family farm...does Albert "get it" yet, how precious life on earth is and how he must make it his mission to save humanity from itself? Nope, that doesn't do it. But after losing the presidential election it finally becomes clear?! Got to respect a man with priorities.

Aright, enough of that. So how was the movie?

If it had to be boiled down to one word - "boring." Two words - "very boring." Ok, I know, it's a partisan documentary, what do I expect? Well, let's see. A couple years back, the very same media and liberal establishment that can't get enough of Gore now couldn't get enough of another left-wing flamethrower, filmmaker Michael Moore. Now, let's be clear: I detest Michael Moore, and I believe that "Fahrenheit 9-11" is both dishonest and politically wrongheaded. But you've got to hand it to Moore - he knows how to make a movie. The action moves along quickly and is suffused with humor at the expense of rightwing naysayers. Moore narrates but does not make himself the center of the story - because, well, as egotistical as he might be, Moore realizes that the story is bigger than he is. As propaganda, F911 is brilliant.

Gore's hapless effort could not be more different from Moore's effective work. There is very little action to speak of in Gore's film. The closest thing to ongoing activity is the appearance of countless before-and-after photos of various icebergs and lakes that have receded over decades or even centuries. Pass the popcorn! Somehow, some footage of 9-11 gets thrown in, as well as some Hurricane Katrina coverage. But that's about it. Honestly, as tenuous as the connections are between current weather patterns and hurricane/disease activity, the movie would be much more exciting if it had more in the way of disaster footage. If you're trying to scare, then scare us, you pussies! Instead, the most threatening image in the film is Gore plotting a line on a graph that supposedly proves that temperature is going to go up some tremendous (but indeterminate) amount right NOW. Wait, not yet. NOW. Nope, oops, sorry. Ok, NOW! No, actually, get back to us on that.

Fine, so the movie does not really reflect well upon Gore personally and is lacking from an entertainment perspective as well. But how about the nut and bolts? Does it make a good case? Basically, no. Maybe I'll get back to this another time...

Sunday, July 02, 2006


yo, do u think pedophiles are in it for the discounts? cheaper movies, kiddie meals, children stay for free at most hotels. maybe they're just trying to save a buck.

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