Intention v. intension

I was amused by Matt Yglesias's post on his confusion between intention and intension, which was a confusion I shared when I first started up with philosophy. I was more amused, however, by his suggestion that a professional association in philosophy might be able to do something like this. The main professional association, the APA, is not in the habit of weighing on definitions of terms of art. Also, just try to get a roomful of philosophers to agree on a) what any given term of art really means, and b) what some delineated concept should be called. Best of luck with that one!


Is belief in God a disqualification for heading the NIH?

Sam Harris has an op-ed in today's New York Times arguing against the appointment of Francis Collins as the new head of the NIH. While I agree with some of Harris's beefs with some of Dr. Collins's statements, I don't see how they should prevent his appointment.

Many things Collins have said, cited in the op-ed, vary from inconsistent to arguable to seriously mistaken. His statements on free will are at best unsupported. I don't think Collins is correct (and most scientists and philosophers are with me on this) that the weight of scientific evidence more plausibly points to the existence of God -- although, as I've said, I believe that belief in God may yet be perfectly rational.

Another of Collins's statements is a particular bugaboo of mine. In a PowerPoint presentation, he claimed:
If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?
I don't have the space or time to explain exactly why this claim, so common among believers, is so wrong-headed. Just a few points. 1) It's actually been noted for thousands of years that saying moral law is what it is because God says so is extremely problematic. 2) Most philosophers (including me!) believe there is such a thing as right and wrong, and yet don't believe in God. And yes, we have really thought about this stuff. And we do really live our lives with that worldview (happily, in my case). 3) There are other options for saying what constitutes right and wrong other than God or evolution. 4) I believe my love for my husband and son spring from evolutionary urges to mate and reproduce and ensure the success of my genetic material. Yet my love for them is the deepest, most profound thing I've known, and I'd be hard-pressed to say I'm "hoodwinked" and my love for them is illusory. It's actually quite real.

But anyway, Harris concludes that his beliefs render him unfit to head NIH:
Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?

I think Collins is quite mistaken in some of his philosophical claims. But it doesn't seem as if anyone has a beef with any of his scientific claims. Indeed, he seems extremely well-respected and willing to take scientific data on face value. His beliefs about God have not seemed to hinder his ability to do science and trust science. The belief that evolution must be an entirely natural process and the belief that evolution might be sparked by a supernatural process will not necessarily lead to different funding decisions for medical studies.

If it turns out that Collins denies funding to some group studying, say, how brain lesions affect moral reasoning, as Harris seems to worry he will, then maybe his removal would be warranted. But just because he believes in God, and also has some mistaken (and very common) philosophical beliefs, does not warrant denying him the post to begin with.


Too attached to attachment parenting

I don't have the animus for attachment parenting (the crunchy new style of parenting that encourages natural childbirth, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, breast-feeding on demand for a long time, etc) that Skeptical OB has. Yes, moms who practice such techniques by the letter tend to be somewhat sanctimonious. But most manage to keep it to themselves. Within my son's playgroup, there are a variety of parenting styles, and we all manage to get along without overt criticism of one another.

Like Obama, I'm more pragmatic and non-ideological. On the crunchy side, baby-wearing kept my baby from crying and kept my hands free, so I wore my baby. Making organic baby foods from scratch I found to be no big deal, and he liked them better than jarred, so I made his baby food. I am a strong believer in positive discipline (with a few personalized adjustments), and have managed to discipline my toddler without any hitting or yelling or saying "no" very often at all. On the un-crunchy side, if I don't sleep, I'm a frazzled mess, and I value time alone with my husband. So co-sleeping was definitely out, my child slept in his own room from two weeks old, and I have let him cry it out the few times he's gotten off schedule once he started sleeping through the night at 2.5 months. Far from preventing me from really experiencing the birth, I feel my epidural let me focus on what was actually going on with less pain and exhaustion, and my long and short of my "birthplan" this time around is basically to get my husband to give me backrubs during labor, to ask for an epidural at 5 cm, and then push when the doc says "push."

I'm glad for the suggestions put forward by AP followers, such as babywearing, but think AP can be harmful if adhered to religiously. There are two main problems with following attachment parenting by the letter, as I see it. One is that it makes all sorts of claims about what is best for the child with no good controlled studies to back it up. AP practitioners will tell parents that feeding on demand creates a sense of lasting trust between parent and child. Have they really done a controlled study between children who were fed on demand v. children on a schedule, eliminated every other possible factor, quantified the level of trust, and determined that children fed on demand experienced significantly more trust? Please. So stop making mothers feel guilty when there is no evidence to back up claims you believe really ought to be true, but have not proven.

The other problem is how much the interests of the child are valued over those of the parent. Of course, when you are a parent, your child's needs come first. But that needn't lead to the complete abnegation of the parent's interests. Once in a while, family life demands the balancing of everyone's interests.

It seems to me from talking to informally that AP has led to much stress. I have talked to many parent friends in near tears (or actual tears) over their lack of ability to get their child to sleep through the night on her own, or their inability to wean her, or because they are broken down exhausted from pumping constantly at work. But they are too frightened at not doing the right thing for their child, or of damaging their relationship with their child, to put their foot down. There is also a species of resentment that seems to come along with diehard AP practicers, evident in this article by a woman complaining that her toddler prefers her husband:
I ask myself if I'm not, on a certain level, reveling in the old Mommy Martyr Syndrome. I've got loads of fodder. I did Dr. Sears proud, after all. Natural childbirth. Exclusive breastfeeding. Forsaking the stroller for the sling despite aching shoulders and back. Plus I'm home with her full-time. So where's my attachment parenting pay-off? I'm attached; why isn't she?

Okay, I know it's not that. I stand by my decisions as the best for our little family unit. But feeling like a third wheel within my own family actually has me wistfully recasting those early, sleep-deprived days as simpler, easier times.

So why can't I just rise above it? Is this simply a game of hard-to-get, where I should work that much more earnestly for her affection? Am I laying the groundwork for latent mama trauma because I don't? That instead I walk away, leaving her to her beloved Dada? Finding myself alone, sulking over a glass of wine, I wonder if I've become the real baby of the house.

One hears this refrain, too. One did everything by the AP book, yet one does not have a special absolutely amazing bond that non-AP parents only wish they had. One almost gets the sense that the mom here, and some of my parent friends, are blaming the children for not appreciating all that their parents did.

My son sometimes prefers me above all others. Then, for days on end, he will literally push me aside to get to his father. And then he will eschew both of us and weep when his babysitter leaves for the day. I really don't feel anything like what the writer of this article feels - I don't feel hurt or resentful. I really feel able to shrug it off as the vagaries of toddlerhood. Maybe that has nothing to do with AP, and more to do with our respective personalities. But I feel like the fact that I would not carry him in a sling if my shoulders started to ache, that I did not have natural childbirth, that I sometimes choose sleep over comforting him -- basically, that I did not suffer (or ignore my own needs) with the expectation that it would create a bond that was better than it is for other kinds of parents, helps me keep some perspective when a toddler acts like a toddler.

Familiarity breeds compassion

Conor Friedersdorf, writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog, thinks that we should not focus on the Henry Louis Gates case, when there are much cases of much greater injustice to fret about. Jason Zengerle agrees. Why should we worry about an Ivy League prof, who has not been seriously harmed, as opposed to someone of a lower social class, wrongly imprisoned for years and years?

Perhaps we should feel injustice only to the degree that there is injustice. The greater the injustice, the greater our outrage. That would make Peter Singer happy, I know. But frankly, that's not how people work. We tend to respond with greater outrage when an injustice happens to someone we know (or, in the case of Gates, know of) or we take to be similar to us or we take to be generally a sympathetic person. Writers and artists who wish to awaken the world to injustices have capitalized on this for some time - it's why, for example, Oliver Twist speaks the King's English, and not a lower class dialect. The more details we know about a specific case, the more sympathy we are likely to feel. Hearing about one wrongful imprisonment is more moving than hearing that there are 10,000 people wrongly incarcerated. We are even more moved when it is someone we know. Rather than bemoaning this fact, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of it to raise awareness.

We think it admirable when a celebrity starts raising money for a charity once they are personally touched by a particular affliction (e.g., Michael J. Fox and stem cell research). We're not angry at them that they were not raising money for the cause before it touched their lives, because it is a recognized fact that being personally acquainted with a harm makes one generally more aware of it.

Part of the reason it is so helpful for gays to come out of the closet is that it awakens the awareness of those who know that person. When your good friend cannot visit a loved one in the hospital, it may strike you with greater force than a greater injustice that happened to a stranger, such as the murder of Matthew Shepard. Then, as one is aware of the smaller injustices that befell someone one knows, one is gradually awakened to the greater injustices that exist.

Seems perfectly human, then, to dwell on Gates. And I bet you good money that the Gates case will make more people realize how hard it is to be a minority in relation to the police than any of the cases that Friedersdorf linked to.


More on cognitive overconfidence

I've written about our (i.e., human beings') tendency to have too much confidence in our own conscious control. Apparently, another way in which we have such overconfidence is in our ability to manage talking on a cell phone while driving. I have had such overconfidence, myself.

Sadly, I think this is never going to change solely as a result of top-down legislation. Top-down legislation may help, but if it is unpopular, it will not come close ot adequately reducing the problem. Too many people do it with bravado. The police could not possibly stop them all, even if they were motivated to do so.

What we need is a concerted grass-roots campaign, as MADD did a couple of decades ago, to enhance the social stigma against cell chats and to make people more aware of the risks. Have an ad campaign showing children who have died when killed by a cell chatter. Have the commercials answer the most usual rationalizations - it is indeed different from chatting with a passenger, hands-free does not appear to be all that much safer, etc. Hit the schools with the message early and often. William Saletan has some good suggestions on how the government might then capitalize on the beginnings of such a social stigma.

As a related aside, people often talk about mother love as a tender, gentle, beautiful thing. Ahem. I have never been a violent person, in thought or deed. Now that I am a mom, I have never had such vicious violent murderous impulses as I've had when I am driving with my child and fetus in tow, and I see another driver engaged in reckless and/or aggressive driving behavior. That, and the cruel fact that I'd much rather save my child's life than the lives of a thousand strangers, suggests to me that feminist philosophers might want to rethink that whole ethics of care business.


Objectivism: the movie

For anyone whose heart has ever sank when realizing the person with whom you are chatting is a glaze-eyed Ayn Rand fanatic, this article about the upcoming movie version of Atlas Shrugged is for you.

I, for one, will not be checking local listings.


Lee Siegel makes little sense...in a new way!

Usually I can't stand reading Lee Siegel for his pseudo-profundities and pretentious meaninglessness. This piece on Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke contains blessedly little over-dramatized over-generalizations about the State of American Culture Today. (He managed to limit himself to "In the inflation-deflation machine known as American celebrity, they provided the deflations to over-the-top luxury and privilege that kept those inflated lives viable and popular. The American public loves to help power up off the floor.") However, it is instead a strained, inaccurate analogy.
Finke has been described as a “digital-age Walter Winchell” by The New York Times, but she brings to mind not so much Winchell—who threw his steel net far wider than Hollywood into politics, crime, sports, and journalism itself—than those earlier queens of Wilshire Boulevard and Hollywood Hills: Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and Rona Barrett.

Reasonable enough thesis. So how is she like them?
All three came from humble circumstances. Parsons was born in the small town of Freeport, Illinois, lived unhappily as a housewife in Iowa until her divorce, and then worked hard to make it as a single mother and screenwriter in Chicago before getting her first gossip column in 1914, when she was in her mid-30s. Hopper, from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, was one of nine children and the daughter of a butcher. She also married badly and struggled for many years as a character actor on Broadway and in Hollywood before landing her column in 1937, at the age of 52. Born in Queens, Rona Barrett was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when she was 9.

At first glance, Finke, a debutante from Manhattan, is a rarity in this wicked pantheon of secret-sharers. Her three predecessors were social and economic outsiders, who used gossip and schadenfreude as dubious levers of equality.

Yet there is more to marginality than material origins. When Finke’s detractors describe her many stints as a journalist at various magazines and newspapers, and her brief marriage, they may want to imply some type of instability or inner turmoil, but the effect is to make her as much as an outsider as Parsons, Hopper, and Barrett.

Really? Someone questioning a rich person's dilettantism and the tenor of his or her personal relationships renders them just as socially outcast as someone who grew up poor? I'll have to let biographers of JFK, Jr know.

The only other direct comparison of Finke with the earlier gossip queens was this:
Enter Nikki Finke, who writes about the studio executives and other Hollywood wheelers and dealers and never about celebrities. Unlike her precursors, Finke is a specialist whose densely written, narrowly focused blog lacks any kind of popular appeal—it is read, relished, and brooded over by the machers and their minions. She has nothing like the mass influence of Parsons, Hopper, and Barrett. What she has is power over a small group of people who influence the masses.

Finke doesn’t bother herself with people’s private lives. The spectacle of money coupling with power is sufficient. Watching money at work is the new pornography; greed or the merest hint of dishonesty in business is the new infidelity. (Adultery nowadays causes outrage in Washington, not Hollywood. The large sensationalism of pregnant Ingrid Bergman has given way to the micro-sensationalism of pregnant Rielle Hunter.)

The politics of personal destruction that Parsons and Hopper trafficked in doesn’t seem to interest Finke. Instead, she insults, and that, in this anxious, image-fretting, nuclearly competitive age seems to suffice. In fact, Finke seems just as anxious and fragilely egoed as her targets. Whereas Parsons and Hopper got sued, Finke is the one who sues anyone who she believes has insulted or cheated her. But her victims, in court and out, should take the long, historic view. This too shall pass.

So wait. How exactly is she like Parsons, et al.?


In which I defend Tom Coburn

I am no great fan of Tom Coburn's. I find his particular brand of social conservatism unpalatable, to say the very least, and I have not found myself on his side very often. However, I am going to rouse myself from my nesting to post a defense of him.

I was listening to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me yesterday with the Critter. (For the record, while I am probably doomed to be one of "Those Parents" [I really hope I won't be, but who am I kidding?], I was listening for my own enjoyment, and not for the sake of molding his little brain into NPR-listener erudition. Well... not entirely.) And they made a lot of hay over this exchange in the Sotomayor confirmation hearings between Judge Sotomayor and Sen. Coburn:

SOTOMAYOR: “If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law because you would have alternative ways to defend...”

COBURN: “You'll have lots of 'splainin' to do.”

SOTOMAYOR: “I'd be in a lot of trouble then.”

Now, when I heard that Coburn had told Sotomayor that she'd have some "'splainin'" to do, a la Ricky Ricardo, I was horrified that anyone could be so tone-deaf and insensitive. What did he do next, I wondered, ask if she lived la vida loca? Hilariously awful, thought I.

But then, I actually watched the video (available via the above link), and it's not as bad as I would have thought. "You've got some 'splainin' to do" is a well-worn pop culture reference, and one that is used without racial connotation by most people. I think it was, perhaps, inadvisable for Coburn to address the first Latina Supreme Court nominee using the mispronounced formulation of the famously Cuban Ricardo, but the exchange appears to have been good-humored and I don't think Coburn intended any racial inflection.

So, much as I dislike Coburn, I think Wait, Wait was being unfair, and I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. This once.

Aging gracefully

I took advantage of my husband's being out of town this weekend to watch to 2005 BBC adaptation of Bleak House. Excellent adaptation - it even makes Esther Summerson likable and human without doing violence to the story.

I never watched X-files, nor do I recall seeing anything else Gillian Anderson was in. In college, all my nerd male friends were in love with her, and that's about all I know about her. She was excellent in this. What was most interesting to me, however, was her looks. Unlike most actresses her age, she appears not to have resorted line fillers, botox, plastic surgery, or lip plumping. Rarely does one get to see a beautiful woman who has not altered her looks this way. Not only did it change the quality of her acting, as her facial expressions were undistorted, but she looked beautiful. A beautiful, natural older woman. I have no ethical objection to attempting to alter one's looks through such means. But she served as a lovely aesthetic objection to doing so.

The value of the Ivy League

This article, on snake oily counselors with few credentials who charge a fortune promising to help kids get into top colleges, is disheartening. I'm glad the article portrays these people as preying on the insecure because either a) if it doesn't work, it was a waste of money; or b) if it does work, one gained an unethical advantage over those who are equally qualified, but who could not afford to pay such a counselor.

One assumption that is left unquestioned: is it worth a huge amount of money to get into one of these schools? Is an Ivy education that much more valuable?

I attended an Ivy League as an undergrad, and the main advantage I feel it has given me is the authority to say (without sounding as if I am defensive) that there really is not much of an advantage going to an Ivy League. You can get an excellent education not only at the Ivies, but at many major research universities and small liberal arts colleges. Look at the rankings of graduate programs in different disciplines, which is a more reliable indicator of faculty quality in those fields, and you'll see that it is often middling state universities that are on top (here's philosophy's rankings). A philosophy major would actually be much better off at University of Pittsburgh or Rutgers than at Dartmouth, at least in terms of having access to the best minds of her generation.

There are a few jobs where having gone to Harvard is a huge help (apparently, working in the Obama administration or TV comedy writing). Those are few and far between. Most career paths and graduate programs are perfectly accessible to those who excel at, say, state universities. Parents and juniors in high school: just calm down, and please don't give these scam artists any more of your money.

Dennett gets atheist defenders of religion wrong

I myself am not religious. I absolutely agree with the vast majority of philosophers that the arguments for the existence of God are unsuccessful, and I have never felt the sort of presence or comfort that believers claim to feel that could not be more aptly attributed to a mere emotion on my part. I stop short of calling myself an atheist out of respect for my limited cognitive powers, but there is a lack of evidence for God. However, I think belief in God is defensible, and I resent the snide tone of atheists such as Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.

Dennett can apparently think of only one reason why an atheist would defend belief in God from Dennett's smugness, and that is he thinks we must think that believing in God is useful, psychologically or socially. (h/t Patrick Appel)
Today one of the most insistent forces arrayed in opposition to us vocal atheists is the "I'm an atheist but" crowd, who publicly deplore our "hostility", our "rudeness" (which is actually just candour), while privately admitting that we're right...I am confident that those who believe in belief are wrong. That is, we no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the Gold Standard to keep our currency sound.

As it happens, I think a secular society can be just as successful, and most likely more successful, than a religious one. One does not need God to ground moral beliefs. One also does not need God to be psychologically healthy. So this is not why I defend the religious.

The question is whether evidentialism is true, that is, the position that one should not believe something for which one has no evidence. Of course, in general one should probably not. I should not insist, on pain of irrationality, that an invisible blue elephant is in the corner of my room softly singing inaudible jazz standards just because no one can prove that there isn't one. One would hope, too, that in the sciences one would not take on beliefs without evidence. However, it does seem to me rationally permissible to believe certain propositions without evidence. I've been persuaded by William James (although plenty have not) on this. In cases where there is no evidence or arguments one way or the other about a hypothesis AND the hypothesis is a live option (meaning one I could believe - it's easier for me to take on a belief in a monotheistic God than it is for me to believe in the tooth fairy) AND it is a hypothesis of consequence (if we have no evidence whether tiger moths can jam bat sonar, we can wait until the evidence comes in, since it is not of psychological moment to people that this be true or not) AND the decision is a forced (that is, by waiting for more evidence you are effectively choosing one side) -- in these, and only these cases one may rationally believe something for which one does not have evidence.

For example, I believe my husband will make me happy for the rest of my life. I do not have enough evidence to conclude this is true. But for me, this hypothesis is a live option, of some considerable consequence, and it is forced - if I do not believe that my husband will make me happy until I have enough evidence that he will do so, I am effectively creating a situation such that he cannot make me happy. I do not think it is irrational under these circumstances to believe that my husband will make me happy.

While I don't feel the same way about God, it certainly seems that belief in God for many meets these criteria, too. Therefore, it should not be considered stupid or irrational to believe in God. So I wish to defend the religious, and it is not because I think religion is instrumentally valuable. Believers do not deserve scorn because their beliefs are not necessarily irrational. So: quit the smugness!

Personal thoughts on affirmative action

The Sotomayor hearings have got me thinking about my personal experiences with affirmative action. In many situations, I think affirmative action can be very beneficial both to the recipient and to society, and Sotomayor (at least, her earlier life) is a prime example. She got into Princeton on affirmative action, and once there she thrived. Now she has the benefit of a Princeton education, and society has the benefit of both her sharpened intellect and her life experience. Win-win. I've seen that happen with many of my undergraduate students, too. Some affirmative action kids thrive, and go places they would not have gone. Some flounder, but I'd be hard-pressed to say they were worse off than if they never got in.

My own experience with affirmative action is that I feel it has been harmful. Unlike most other disciplines in the humanities, philosophy is extremely male-dominated. In my own department, which is quite typical, women make up 25% of faculty (17% of tenured faculty) and 18% of grad students. There are also practically no African-Americans. There is also a sub-discipline difference - women make up a good number of ethicists, and a tiny number of logicians. I have sat in several seminars where I am the only female, and not a single female philosopher was assigned for reading.

Philosophy is also quite competitive, contrary to the image people have of philosophers rejecting real world concerns and seeking only truth, or at least spending most of our time lazily smoking Gauloises. In our program (which is good, but not top-ranked), we have 150 applicants or so per year for five funded positions in the graduate program. A 3.7+ GPA from your undergraduate university is expected, and a good number of entrants have scored 800 on one or more sections of the GRE. Once there, one is constantly being ranked and evaluated compared to other students for funding and teaching opportunities. I mean this quite literally; it is not a casual sort of competitiveness. Faculty have a meeting once per semester where we are all ranked and re-ranked. On receipt of a PhD (which not everyone does, by any means), one has a only 66% chance of getting a job at all -- this is probably worse in the last two years. And then there's achieving tenure.

I think in most fields, both blue and white collar, as well as at undergraduate positions in a university, one looks for a certain level of competence. Once one meets that level of competence, one is accepted as good enough to be in that profession (or university), and that's about it. There are some standouts who clearly excel, but no one begrudges the plenty-good-enough people their positions. I think it is under these circumstances (probably the majority) where affirmative action can be beneficial.

I am, however, in a field where the tiniest gradations in ability end up being determinative of one's career path. Affirmative action is only used to decide when all else is equal, they tell us (also, women get preference for teaching classes, as opposed to TA-ing, on the theory that women instructors encourage women majors). I feel I am perfectly competitive with my male colleagues without such a preference. But the fact that that preference exists leads to male graduate students assuming any recognition I receive that they did not is because I am a woman. I think there is a general, perhaps not-entirely-conscious assumption that a woman who has achieved in the field is not quite as good as a male who has achieved the same status. I don't feel affirmative action has helped me much at all, and I do feel it has slightly tarnished my achievements.

While it is valuable to have women in the field (both for the sake of the women and the sake of the field), it is under these sorts of competitive circumstances where fine-grained differences in talent matter so much that affirmative action might actually be more harmful than beneficial.


Random observation

When, at 2 AM, one cannot hear one's baby breathing or see him moving, being a pediatrician counts for squat when one is trying to resist the urge to poke him and make sure he's OK.

(By the way, I don't have any intention of turning Bleakonomy into the Dooce of gay parenting. I promise to get back to snarky amateur punditry in due time. But, for the time being, I'm willing to assume that the Sotomayor nomination is moving along without any scrutiny from me.)

Thanks again, CNN!

I've recently been impressed with CNN's hard-hitting coverage of important news. I would like to congratulate them for keeping up the good work. This is their current lead story.

My favorite part:
Sibrel may seem crazy, but he has company. A 1999 Gallup poll found that a scant 6 percent of Americans doubted the Apollo 11 moon landing happened, and there is anecdotal evidence that the ranks of such conspiracy theorists, fueled by innuendo-filled documentaries and the Internet, are growing.

A whole six percent, and anecdotal evidence! Thanks, CNN!

Ahem...might it possibly be a correlation, and not a cause?

So apparently, grant money was spent to find the most frequent first names of criminals. Far be it from me to criticize anyone for studying a question of no discernible practical importance. But the article suggests that, since the most common criminal first names (among them Luke, Alec, Malcolm, Preston) are not all that common among babies generally, we are to conclude that having an unusual first name helped condemn them to a life of crime. The article warns:

New parents may balk at naming their newborn boys such tried-and-true but yawn-inducing names as Michael or David — but a new study shows that if they play it safe, they may be doing their babies a favor. Writing in Social Science Quarterly, Shippensburg University professor David Kalist says giving newborn males oddball, girly or strange first names may just help land them in jail.

The article speculates that having an unusual first name might subject a boy to teasing. The teased boys are then propelled into a life of crime to compensate for having an unusual name.

First of all, are these names all that uncommon? Luke, for example, is ranked #46 in the U.S. Second, and more important, it does not seem to have occurred to the author of the article or anyone quoted in it that either a) parents who give their kids unusual names might have a different parenting style than those who do not, and that that parenting style -- and not the name -- might be responsible for the criminal behavior, or b) certain names and naming habits are associated with different socioeconomic groups, and that socioeconomic groups in which these names are more popular might be those in which members are more prone to criminal behavior.

Hmmm. If all goes well in the next month and a half, I'm about to name my new baby a name that was once reasonably popular in England, and now is not even ranked in the top 1000 names. Am I condemning him to commit trespasses? The Today Show would like to reassure me that I am not. Sometimes, however, the refutation of ill-drawn conclusions is an even more ill-drawn conclusion:
TODAY looked at the list of 10 heading-for-trouble names and found an example of each that could refute the findings. Along with Baldwin and Hemingway, there’s pop singer-songwriter Garland Jeffries, film director Ivan Reitman, basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actors Luke Wilson and Luke Perry, black leader Malcolm X, legendary filmmaker Preston Sturges, Olympic gold medal boxer Tyrell Biggs, and a host of Walters — from Walter Cronkite to Walt Disney to Sir Walter Scott.

Well, then. Bless Today's crack reporting. Of course, if you find one exception to a scientific finding, the finding itself is BS. My grandmother smoked and never got lung cancer. Color me relieved, and bring on the cigs!


Insane Lindsey prevails

Sigh. I did say it was nice to see Sane Lindsey. I should have known it wouldn't last.


On kidneys and prostitution

There's been a lot of talk about selling kidneys lately (see, e.g., here and here), partially because of Virginia Postrel's Atlantic article on the issue. I know the permissibility of organ-selling has also been a hot topic in the philosophical literature, but it's not my area and I'm not up on it -- I have seen a few conference presentations on it, though.

Currently, financially compensating a kidney donor is illegal in the U.S. People who need kidneys rely on deceased donors (of whom there are not nearly enough and have less-than-prime kidneys) and on altruistic donors (also of whom there are not enough).

The most typical arguments against permitting compensation of donors is either 1) it would "cheapen the gift" made by the altruistic donors, or 2) it would be exploitative of the poor, who would be more tempted to donate for financial gain. 1) just makes no sense to me at all. Saving a life is still a wonderful thing to do for someone, even though we pay people (doctors, nurses, EMS, etc) to do it. 2) makes a bit more sense, but it is not persuasive. It is possible that a situation that is consensual and mutually advantageous is still exploitative (see: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory). But without becoming completely redistributivist, we cannot prevent the fact that riskier and less pleasant enterprises will be more tempting to those who have no money. The poor do jobs that the rich do not want to do, jobs that are more dangerous (e.g., the military), more grueling (e.g., sanitation), etc. There seems something excessively paternalistic in telling a poor person who would be willing to trade a kidney for, say, $30,000, "We're not going to let you do this because you only think you have a choice in the matter -- but because of your poverty, you are not as free to choose to take on the risk. So we'll remove the choice entirely from your hands."

The most persuasive argument against selling kidneys is actually one that I think is also probably the best argument against prostitution. Prostitution is another case where consenting adults can negotiate a situation to their mutual benefit. Why shouldn't they? (Personally, I think a world where prostitution is legal would be a less pleasant place, but that doesn't mean it should be illegal). In both case, the commodification of human bodies in this most direct and intimate way (as opposed to hiring someone to, say, paint your house) increases our tendency to see other people as mere means, and not as ends in themselves. Even if in a single instance of prositution or kidney-selling, this was not the case, a culture's permitting it might encourage us to see people as stuff to be bought and sold.

I'm not sure that this is enough to make either one illegal. Especially in the kidney case, where the risk is so minimal and the benefits are so great. But it's the only argument against either one that I think has a real chance of getting off the ground.


Posted between burpings

So, it turns out that new babies throw up.  A lot.  While messy, this does afford one opportunities to read the news while the Better Half mops up.  (For the record, we have each taken our turns.)

Both the Better Half and I were supposed to attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, currently taking place in Anaheim.  However, Impending Critter made cross-country travel a little sketchy, so we had to resign our positions.  This doesn't mean we haven't been checking in.  And, unabashed social liberal that I am, I am delighted to see the direction that things are going.  From the Times:
The bishops of the Episcopal Church voted at the church’s convention on Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to gay men and lesbians, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention three years ago.

The resolution passed on Monday was written in a way that would allow dioceses to consider gay candidates to the episcopacy, but does not mandate that all dioceses do so.

A similar measure was passed on Sunday by the church’s other legislative body, the House of Deputies, which is made up of laypeople and clergy. On Tuesday, the bishops’ version will probably go back to the House of Deputies for reconsideration.

It would be something of an understatement to say that I am happy about this.  The moratorium, which was passed under duress three years ago, did nothing to placate the conservative elements in the Episcopal Church.  As the article goes on to say, several of the most conservative dioceses have already split off, and the most strident elements of the worldwide Anglican Communion have kept up their rhetoric of division.

I sincerely wish for unity within the Episcopal Church, and within the Communion as a whole.  But I cannot countenance unity at the expense of justice, and I am delighted to see my church moving toward full inclusion of all baptized Christians, in all orders of ministry.  I hope everyone stays at the table, but I refuse to deny my place there to make other people feel more comfortable.

Well, of course

So, in keeping with what I assume is a pretty wide-spread tradition, the Better Half and I picked up a copy of the local paper to keep so the Critter can see what was going on in the world on the day he was born.

And, because God has a highly-developed, wry sense of humor, this was the lead story in yesterday's Kennebec Journal:
Emotions likely to rise as gay-marriage vote nears
*sigh*  Welcome to the world, kiddo.

Sane Lindsey prevails

Whenever Lindsey Graham is about to appear on TV or make a public statement, my husband and I like to take bets on which Lindsey will appear. Will it be Sane, Moderate, Level-headed, Intelligent Lindsey? Or Insane, Red-Faced, Sputtering, Angry Lindsey? (The latter is much more likely to appear when called upon to defend John McCain when McCain does such clearly defensible things as picking Sarah Palin as VP nominee or suspending his campaign).

I was glad to see yesterday that it was Sane Lindsey who showed up to the opening statements in the Sotomayor hearings. Not only did he appear reasonably open-minded and willing to buck the partisan attacks on Sotomayor, I think his criticism of Obama's votes on Roberts and Alito were entirely warranted. No, I don't like the way they rule on cases. I think their rulings harm people who need the help of government. But Bush won, and Roberts and Alito clearly have the intellectual chops and work in good faith, even if I disagree with their premises and conclusions. I thought Obama's protest against them was unwarranted. And I would hope Republican senators would look at Sotomayor and realize that she, too, has the intellectual chops and works in good faith, even if they disagree with her premises and conclusions. And, of course, vote to approve.

Of course, I wish Graham had not dwelt on the "wise Latina" canard. But he does seem ready to realize that Sotomayor is not a Frothing Race Avenger, Ready to Empathize Only With Latinos and Blacks, Damning All Reason and the Law!

BTW, I totally got choked up while Sotomayor thanked her mother....

Pretty much dead on

It is probably not the case, but it certainly feels like students are much more grade-grubbing, much less interested in the material, and try to get away with a hell of a lot more than we did as undergrads (and I'm in my thirtues, and I graduated college in my late 20's). Just came across this, although it was written in 2005. The translation of what the student's statement to what the professor hears is funny and absolutely scary accurate (except the bit about office hours):

Translation Guide for Students

When a student says: Will that be on the test?
The professor hears: I could care less about learning. Grades are my sole concern.

When a student says:
I missed the exam because I had to go to my grandmother's funeral.
The professor hears: I was too busy partying to study, so at the last minute I panicked and skipped the test.

When the student says: I have to miss class next week. What will be covered?
The professor hears: It's easier to ask teachers for special treatment than to read the syllabus.

When a student says: May I have an extension?
The professor hears: That ridiculous class rule that late papers get reduced grades shouldn't apply to me. After all, I'm the center of the solar system.

When the student says: I was sick last week. Did we cover anything important?
The professor hears: When I skipped class last week, did you cover anything I need to know for the final? It's too much trouble to ask my nerdy classmates, and my friends don't pay attention.

When the student says: Can I still get a B?
The professor hears: I just realized that not doing any work all semester and getting a C minus on the mid-term paper might mean a low grade.

When the student says: What are your office hours?
The professor hears: I haven't even bothered to read your syllabus but I still want you to spoon feed me private tips that will get me a higher grade.

When a student says: There are personal reasons I haven't been doing well in your class this semester.
The professor hears: Maybe if I concoct a dramatic sob story for this dupe, I'll get special treatment.

When a student says: Can I do something for extra credit?
The professor hears: Even though I haven't cracked a book all semester I still deserve special dispensation and extra effort from my professors.

When a student says: I can't take the final exam when it is scheduled. Could I take it in January?
The professor hears: I talked my parents into leaving early for our ski trip to Aspen, and if I postpone the test until after the break, my friends will tell me what to study.

When a student says: Plagiarism? But I promise that I hadn't even seen the Web site when I wrote my paper. It's a totally random coincidence. I promise.
The professor hears: Busted! And I can't believe that this dinosaur knows how to do a Google search.

When a student says: Cheat? Me? But I swear I didn't do it. You're not going to give me a zero are you?
The professor hears: Even when I'm busted, normal punishments should be rescinded because I'm the center of the universe. Better try to lie my way out of this one.

When a student is unable to talk because of choking back tears....
The professor thinks: Damnation. Gotta make another call to Counseling and Psychological Services. Hope the meds kick in quickly.

I'm tempted to send it along to my students, just as advice.

What am I going to read?

So it turns out that my very favorite blogger is taking it easy for the time being, and my second favorite blogger is quitting. Vey ist mir.

At least I've got me a healthy new godson!


This will mean lighter posting

The Better Half and I are pleased to announce the arrival of Owen William (henceforth to be known as The Critter), born today at 12:31 PM.

While I take some time away for more pressing concerns, I will leave you in the capable hands of my fellow posters (and future godparents) Devin and Elizabeth.

Does anyone know or care what philosophers actually do?

If one is a philosopher by trade, as I am, one comes to dread telling strangers what one does for a living. Most people appear to conceive of the job requirements of a philosopher as including vague, dreamy, meaningless pronouncements (such as "Everything is a part of a great Oneness and Circularity" or some such nonsense - I blame the lame-ass "Philosophy" sections in most major bookstores); worrying about completely useless BS (there is something to this accusation, although our worries are occasionally applicable to actual real-world situations); constantly going around proving such non-intuitive propositions as the non-existence of chairs; feeling superior to all non-philosophers; wearing a toga; etc. (For the record, we're actually rather fond of clarity and meaningfulness, where possible -- and remember, we're the logic people!)

It remains a little shocking to me, however, how little people in other humanities departments understand what we do, know what we do, have any confidence that we can do what we're setting out to do, or believe can have any valuable contributions to what we set out to do. I got a BA and an MA in a humanities field (film), and much of the course material was actually covering philosophical topics. However, now that I am a philosopher, I am fully aware of how the philosophical topics covered in film studies (similar to Eng. depts) was covered in complete ignorance of the often extensive and usually more sophisticated literature on the same topics in philosophy journals.

Still, I expected the NEH, of all organizations, to have some clue about what philosophers do. Apparently, they do not. They are offering a grant to humanities professors who can teach "Enduring Questions":
What is an enduring question? The following list is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive but serves to illustrate.

* What is the good life?
* What is happiness?
* What is friendship?
* What is beauty?
* Is there a human nature, and, if so, what is it?
* What is the relationship between humans and the natural world?
* How do science and ethics relate to one another?
* Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Good and evil?
* What is good government?

Enduring questions are, to an overarching degree, predisciplinary. They are questions to which no discipline or field or profession can lay an exclusive claim.

Ahem. To a philosopher, those questions are not "predisciplinary" (whatever that means). Indeed, they are rather disciplinary, since we teach these questions in class all the time, and attempt to answer them in our journals. They are indeed firmly in the center of our discipline.

So philosophers are a bit up in arms about this. In a relatively neutral article in Inside Higher Ed, the apparent ignorance of philosophy by the NEH is smoothed away. But this response to a query by a philosophy professor suggests that even the NEH has little knowledge of what philosophers actually do.

So here is a plea to grant-makers and faculty in the other humanities: if a question seems to be philosophical, or "enduring," come and check out our literature and syllabi! We might have attempted to answer it, and with some expertise!


More on those kids rejected from the Philly pool

In a follow-up article on those kids who were asked to leave a Philly pool, two things stuck out at me.

The pool's defense is that they overestimated their capacity, and there was no room. To bolster support for this claim, they cite another day camp they had previously allowed in, then also kicked out. Might not one have hoped, or even expected, that they had gotten an idea of what it is like to have a day camp visit their pool when one actually did visit?

The other is this:

By phone, Valley Club board member Fred Helbig, 71, said that he had not heard any race-related comments at the pool on June 29 and that the club does not discriminate.

"We have people who are black, people who are Asian, and Russians and Jewish people," Helbig said.

I did not know it was a sign of tolerance to permit Russians to be in one's presence.

Please. God. No.

I am not a big fan of Jamie Kirchick's. Kirchick, for those of you who don't habitually refresh the screen over at The Plank to see if anyone's replied to your comments, is an assistant editor over at The New Republic. His pieces, even when I agree with the content and analysis, are often marred by a snide, self-congratulatory arrogance that makes him difficult to read and even more difficult to like.

That being said, I can think of no more appropriate a target for Kirchick's particular brand of arch contempt than Perez Hilton, famous blogger, famewhore and homosexual. Kirchick (who is himself gay) writes in The Advocate:
The latest scandal involving flamboyant celebrity blogger Perez Hilton presents us with as good an opportunity as any to ask a question that gays have long been reluctant to broach: Namely, how has this half-literate typist been elevated from his day job of spewing Internet hatred to become one of the most prominent gay people in the country -- and the national face of a civil rights movement, no less?
Ta-Nehisi Coates frequently writes about the frustration of seeing men like Al Sharpton held up as spokespeople for black America as a whole. (In Sharpton's case, largely because of his self-promotion in that regard.) On the one hand, I think having a charismatic gay man or lesbian as a figurehead for the gay rights movement would be helpful in some regards. (Confidential to the overlords coordinating the Gay Agenda: I will work for scale, and clean up relatively well.) On the other hand, if a thoroughly witless and repellent creature like Perez Hilton is the best we can offer, then I'll do without a "national face," thanks all the same.

Hilton (nee Mario Lavandeira) first came to prominence with an eponymous gossip website, wherein he offers up gossip that is equal parts salacious and brainless. He came to whatever prominence he enjoys as a spokesperson when he did the gay rights movement the inestimable favor of asking Carrie Prejean (quondam Miss California) what her thoughts on same-sex marriage were, then excoriating her on his blog for giving the wrong answer. (In short, she's agin' it.) He thus created a right-wing media martyr in her, and made himself into some kind of ambassador for gay rights, albeit one many of us would never have asked for and would prefer to have disappear promptly.

Hilton has since gotten himself into hot water for calling will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas a "faggot" for some idiotic reason or another, and then getting himself punched in the face for it. Frankly, it's too tedious to relate here, and Kirchick goes into sufficient detail in his article, so I would just as soon have you read about it there. Suffice it to say, Hilton cashiered whatever credibility he had as a gay spokesperson with the incident, but that didn't stop The Advocate from putting him on their cover.

Look, I don't expect gay people or lesbians to conform to some perceived notion of bland acceptability before they can meaningfully speak up for our community, any more than any other minority group is expected to make themselves acceptable to the majority. But, for the love of [Insert Theatrical Grande Dame Here], I would ask that any self-appointed ambassador for our interests be, at the very least, a person of integrity, intelligence and good faith. None of which, sadly, applies to Perez Hilton.

Nah-nah-nah-nah, hey-hey-hey, gooooood-bye!

From the Times, via Political Animal:
Senator Roland Burris, the Illinois Democrat appointed by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the seat of President Obama, is expected to announce Friday that he will not seek election to a full Senate term, party officials said.

The decision to be announced in Chicago does not come as a surprise since Mr. Burris has not been aggressively raising money or showing other signs of organizing for what would be a difficult campaign given the circumstances of his appointment.

Mr. Burris, 71, a former Illinois attorney general and longtime presence in state politics, was picked by Mr. Blagojevich after disclosures that the governor, who was later impeached and indicted on corruption charges, was seeking to trade the appointment for personal and political gain.
I am, let us say, not a fan of Sen. Burris. He should never have been appointed. His nomination was a [tight grouping][sexual congress] from the very beginning, and the further disclosures about his untidy dealings with Blago et al have done nothing but worsen his already-tarnished image. I am sorry he occupied the seat in the first place, but am glad to know he won't be in it for long.

In which I fall in love with a complete stranger

[Immediate disclaimer for friends and family reading this post -- the following is strictly a fanciful jest. You need not call and offer the Better Half solace.]

I think I may have fallen in love with Uwe Reinhardt. I have never actually met Prof. Reinhardt, but I am so moved by his writing that I may need to sequester myself away from the computer to keep my feelings of love in check. Prof. Reinhardt, who is an economics professor at Princeton, writes for the Times' Economix blog, and his recent posts on health care "rationing" make my heart go pitty-pat. His first post on the subject covers the same territory that I did in my post at League of Ordinary Gentlemen. But it's today's post about physician pay that really makes me swoon.

He writes to address concerns such as this, expressed in his online comments:
Lee Beville, a radiologist, also wrote:

The proposed fee schedule for 2010 for radiologists and cardiologists is 21% less than this year! Instead of being reimbursed 36.00 per RVU, CMS proposes to reimburse at 28.00 per RVU. These reductions are the first signs of removing economic incentives for medical practice.
Please give us your thoughts about capping the number of work units and how this will put RATIONING on steroids? There will be few radiologists and cardiologists working after they hit the magical cap number.
In response, Prof. Reinhardt writes:
Like everyone else, radiologists and cardiologists certainly can claim to be sorely underpaid relative to the extraordinarily high compensation of bankers and corporate executives, which appears to have little correlation with contributions to society. But relative to their colleagues in internal medicine, pediatrics and family practice, radiologists and cardiologists actually are very well paid.

There are a number of sources on physician income (see, for example, this). All of them suggest that the median annual net income of radiologists and of cardiologists (around $400,000) is more than twice that of family practitioners, internists and pediatricians (less than $200,000). The median is a statistic such that half of physicians earn as much as the median or more, and the other half as much or less.

So even if Medicare cut fees of radiologists and cardiologists by 21 percent, the income of these specialists would still exceed that of their colleagues in primary care by 60 percent or more.
Halle-freakin'-lujah. I think I may have to send him a dozen long-stemmed roses.

Radiologists and cardiologists make as much as they do because they can bill per procedure, which is compensated at much higher rates than is primary care. I am not, in any way, questioning the value of radiologists or cardiologists. If my left side goes numb, or I suffer from crushing chest pain, I'd like there to be a competent radiologist or cardiologist on hand.

On the other hand, I make far, far less than $400K a year. (Faaaaaar less.) I get paid based upon how many patients I see, and how detailed the care I provide is. I cannot deliver competent, compassionate care for more than four (or, for simple problems, five) patients an hour, and for more complicated or sensitive issues, I allot a full half hour. And, of course, every so often I can handed patients like, for example, a newborn that's not breathing, with the expectation that I will fix it pronto. (Having been woken at 1 AM today for an emergency admission, perhaps I am not as objective as I could have been.)

I am not necessarily arguing that I should make more, though I wouldn't cry if they started shifting compensation away from procedure-based medicine and toward primary care. (Hint: if you want more people to go into that field, start paying people in that field more.) But there isn't such a vast difference in the importance of what I do and what a radiologist does that they should make three times what I do. If the Feds are looking for a place to make a cut, those reimbursement rates are a place to start.

And, for all their whining, the providers in question will still make a pretty penny. Heck, even I make enough to afford chocolates for a certain economics blogger.


The importance of the people who make the politics

Scott H. Payne critiques Andrew Sullivan's attacks on Sarah Palin, suggesting that criticizing Sarah Palin the person, instead of her (lack of) ideas, is problematic.

[W]e ought to fashion our political discourse around an analysis of ideas, not an appreciation (or lack thereof) of particular personality traits. It is consistently astonishing to me how little one sees a serious discussion of ideas present in any number of political foray. Perhaps I’m just waxing naive, but isn’t it just a given that a thorough debate about the merits of the ideas presented by differing viewpoints renders us better off within the context of democratic machinations? So why does it seems as though one has to dig so deeply and widely to hit upon just such a debate within the analysis of different political actors?

I have posted recently at some length refuting this view, and I won't rehash it. Suffice it to say that ideas do not get implemented without implementers, that is, human actors. The qualities of the human actor is directly relevant how and why and with what success those ideas, or other ones, get implemented. And the ideology a politician supports often does not tell us as much as character does about how that politician will react to novel situations.

Honduran "Foreign Minister" calls Obama a 'plantation n*gger'

In the latest charm offensive coming from the right-wing junta that ousted the elected president of Honduras, El Tiempo quotes Enrique Ortez, the new foreign minister of the Honduran government, talking about his great diplomatic skills:
He negociado con maricones, prostitutas, con ñángaras (izquierdistas), negros, blancos. Ese es mi trabajo, yo estudié eso. No tengo prejuicios raciales, me gusta el negrito del batey que está presidiendo los Estados Unidos."

"I have negotiated with queers, prostitutes, leftists, blacks, whites. This is my job, I studied for it. I am not
racially prejudiced. I like the little black sugar plantation worker who is president of the United States."
Charming. Clearly he's not prejudiced -- he says so! If the rightfully elected president of Honduras comes back to power, Mr. Ortez could run for Governor of Arkansas or work as an aide in the Tennessee State Legislature.

In all seriousness, the coup in Honduras is a depressing example of how right-wing oligarchies work -- and what happens when folks try to reform the system even from within. The pro-oligarchy spin is that Zelaya wanted to change the constitution in order to get re-elected. Given that the constitutional convention wasn't to take place until after the next election, that seems rather unlikely. Zelaya had begun paying more attention to the rights of family famers, Afro-Hondurans, and landless workers, however -- the kind of progressive work that under the oligarchy gets you shipped out of the country at gunpoint. In your pj's. (By the way, anyone know what kind of pajamas Zelaya wore? I think it might be a good insight into whether he was a true reformer, or just using the Left for his own political gain...)

Representatives James McGovern (D-MA) and Bill Delahunt (D-MA) have sent out a Dear Colleague letter to the other members of the House of Representatives asking them to sign on as original co- sponsors to a House resolution calling for the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya as president of Honduras. I've quoted it below. If you're reading on Thursday 7/9 and want to call in to your rep and ask them to co-sponsor the McGovern/Delahunt resolution on Honduras, the Captiol swichboard number is 202-224- 3121.

For the curious, here's the resolution:
The Resolution:

Condemning the June 28, 2009 coup d'état in Honduras, calling for the reinstatement of President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, and for other purposes.

Whereas Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales was elected President of Honduras in November 2005 in elections that were deemed free and fair by international observers;

Whereas President Zelaya and other political actors in Honduras became embroiled in a political dispute over whether to hold a non-binding referendum asking Honduran voters whether they wanted a constituent assembly to be established to amend the Constitution;

Whereas on June 28, 2009, the day that the non- binding referendum was to take place, Honduran military forces stormed President Zelaya's residence, apprehended him, sent him out of the country, and seized the materials for the referendum;

Whereas the Honduran Congress named Roberto Micheletti, the head of the Congress, as President and subsequently suspended a number of constitutional rights, including the freedom of association and of movement;

Whereas the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed its concerns regarding human rights abuses by the de facto Micheletti government, including the arbitrary detention of Zelaya supporters;

Whereas the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the European Union - representing governments from across the political spectrum - have condemned the coup d'état, refused to recognize the de facto Micheletti government, and demanded the unconditional return of President Zelaya to office;

Whereas on July 1, 2009, the Organization of American States voted unanimously to suspend Honduras from participation in the OAS unless President Zelaya was returned to office within three days;

Whereas, on July 4, 2009, the OAS unanimously voted to suspend Honduras;

Whereas the Administration of President Barack Obama has condemned President Zelaya's removal, supported the OAS resolutions regarding Honduras, and demanded that he be returned to office;

Whereas the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have suspended aid and loans to Honduras;

Whereas national elections are scheduled in Honduras for November 29, 2009;

Whereas President Zelaya has said that he will only serve until his term ends in January 2010;

Whereas it is critical for the stability of Honduras that the November 2009 elections be free, fair, and transparent; and

Whereas U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on July 7, 2009, that Costa Rican President Oscar Arias would seek to negotiate a solution to the crisis, and President Zelaya and the de facto Micheletti government have agreed to the mediation of President Arias.

Therefore, the House of Representatives:

1) Condemns the June 28, 2009 coup d'état in Honduras and refuses to recognize the de facto Micheletti government installed by that coup d'état;
2) Calls on the Obama Administration to continue to refuse to recognize the de facto Micheletti government;
3) Calls for the reinstatement of President Zelaya as President of Honduras;
4) Urges the Obama Administration to suspend non-humanitarian assistance to the de facto Micheletti government as required by U.S. law and as it deems necessary to compel the return of President Zelaya to office;
5) Calls for extensive international observation of the November 2009 elections once President Zelaya is returned to office to ensure that his successor is elected freely, fairly, and transparently; and
6) Welcomes the mediation of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and encourages the Obama Administration to provide any assistance President Arias requests in his efforts.

What we don't know about obesity

As I've written before, we actually don't know much at all about obesity and why diets are such miserable failures and what makes people compelled to eat. Yet I continue to read stuff wherein the author seems sure she has the answer to why people are obese.

In this article questioning why Southerners are fatter than the rest of the country, a definitive answer is claimed:

So there you have it. Southerners have little access to healthy food and limited means with which to purchase it. It's hard for them to exercise outdoors, and even when they do have the opportunity, it's so hot, they don't want to.

This article also acknowledges that the rate of obesity is increasing. If obesity is increasing, and the above paragraph lists the reasons why people are obese, shouldn't all or some of those factors have gotten worse, too? I mean, if obesity is caused by heat, and obesity rises, shouldn't heat have gotten worse? Were Mississippians richer 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago? Was it significantly less hot? Was there better public transportation (one of the ways in which the article suggests Northerners get more exercise)? I'm pretty sure the diet of Mississippi 10, 20 years ago was somewhat different than today...so maybe that's the cause. But it's far from clear. A Southerner's diet in the 1960's does not seem to be a model for avoiding obesity, unless the foods that cause obesity are not what we believe them to be (which is actually what I suspect). It certainly can't be stated with nearly the assurance that this author has.

So please. Let us have a little humility about what we don't know about obesity. Who knows, it might go hand-in-hand with a little less contempt for fat people.

Why Palin matters

Andrew Sullivan has a pretty compelling justification for why he's been so obsessive about Sarah Palin. (And let's take a minute to concede that Sully has been very, very obsessive.) It's not so much about her, and her flagrant inability to communicate a single idea of what it means to govern. It's about the GOP.
McCain knew full well that Palin was unqualified to be commander-in-chief at this period of time; and he knew there was no way she could ever learn enough to do the job. So his decision to pick her was pure cynicism and irresponsibility. The MSM knew full well that there were very serious questions about this unknown person's background, lies, mental stability, and secrecy - but they were so terrified of being called biased they refused to do the proper vetting.


The reason we need to get to the truth of what happened is that these people nearly took this country off a cliff. They need to be held accountable. They need to be removed from their positions of power. We cannot move on until they are. And John McCain should retire from public life. After that decision, nothing he says can be taken seriously on the national or international stage.
I think he is dead right.

For all of my criticism of the Republican Party, I absolutely do not think the the Democrats or the President are just wonderful, angelic, unicorn-riding heroes. I think that they are politicians whose stated policy goals are generally in line with what I would like. But they frequently fail to live up to their promises, as the President has done with a few issues that are very, very important to me. (For example, in addition to his very sluggish pace on gay issues, I am also appalled that he is continuing the Bush administration's policies regarding indefinite detention of suspected terrorists.)

Admittedly, I feel that Obama's actions are insufficiently progressive, and so recourse to a more conservative party isn't really an option. But the GOP has lost essentially all of its credibility across the board, with the Palin nomination the apotheosis of its pandering, cynical, anti-intellectual, nativist slide into insanity. When I read the reports about the lunatics, demagogues, blow-hards, hypocrites and theocrats the GOP comprises, I simply cannot ever imagine voting for a party that not only tolerates them, but has no other sane-seeming iteration at present. (When I find myself thinking almost fondly about how normal Mitt Romney seems, I know it's both a telling statement about the cretins in his party and a sign that I need to take a break from reading the news.)

We need a sane two-party system, because no party should become so powerful and comfortable that they need not be responsive to their constituents. What does Obama have to fear from me if he continues to disappoint me? I may not feel much like voting for him in four years, but I cannot conceive of voting for anyone on the other side.

Update: Peggy Noonan says essentially the same thing, but better.

In which I out myself as naive

I am sheltered. I must be. Because I cannot believe this happened in 2009.


I wish I could say that I didn't see this coming. Via the Kennebec Journal:
A coalition that wants to repeal the state's gay-marriage law announced Wednesday it has collected more than enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot.

Stand for Marriage Maine, which includes the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and others, has collected more than the 55,087 signatures needed for a people's veto question, according to a statement from the group.

The coalition has until early August to turn them in to the state for certification.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine has better things to worry about than my marriage, but that didn't stop them from distributing petitions to their members in church. (I can't even begin to describe the feeling of Christian love that fills my heart when I think about it.)
Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for Maine Freedom to Marry -- a coalition that includes EqualityMaine, Maine Civil Liberties Union, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders -- said they are not surprised about Stand for Marriage's announcement because that group used paid signature gatherers from out of state.

"Advocates who are working on this issue knew from the beginning they would have to win at the Legislature and the ballot box in November," Connolly said.

Of course we knew that this would happen. While it may be infuriating and depressing, it's not surprising. (It's also been mildly irritating to see Maine described as a state where same-sex marriage is legal, because the law had not gone into effect, and will now be put on hold until after the referendum.) Can I say, definitively, that being a member of a minority whose rights are apparently subject to the whim of the majority totally sucks eggs?

So, the bottom line is that we're not done fighting. Polling is apparently pretty evenly split, so we have reason for cautious optimism. But every little bit helps, so if you're interested in contributing to marriage equality where it really, really (really) counts, click here.


Guide for the perplexed

I'm pregnant for the second time, and for the second time, my belly is, ahem, friggin' enormous. My first baby was not himself big, but for some reason my belly just gets huge. One of those things. My husband recently asked if I was sure I was not carrying twins. I had to remind him that he has been at the ultrasounds of our lovely singleton child. There are actually some advantages to this -- I look pregnant instead of merely fat much earlier than most women.

Most strangers are absolutely lovely to pregnant women. I get huge smiles, good wishes, offers of help with ridiculously tiny tasks, eager questions: "Do you know whether it's a boy or a girl? When are you due?" etc. Sometimes the smiles are absolutely beatific and I'm a little alarmed because I have momentarily forgotten that I'm pregnant and I can't figure out why someone would beam at me like that. But still. People wish a pregnant woman well, and it's a lovely state in which to be.

Some, however, are not lovely to pregnant women. They don't mean to be unlovely, I don't think. They don't realize what they say is insanely irritating. I was recently told there was a bunch of jokes about this in the movie Away We Go, but I haven't yet seen it. So I hope to use this public forum to recall a few things that have been said to me over the course of my pregnancies that I really would rather not had been said. I'm sure my sisters with giant bellies will join me in wishing these comments less frequent:

"Oh my God, you're huge!" -- said by too many to count. I know I'm pregnant. But trust me, no matter what the reason, a woman pretty much never likes to be called huge.
"No really, that's huge." -- said by a good percentage of the previous commenters after I acknowledge their remark.
"You're kidding!" -- said by too many to count in response to my answer to the due date question. Usually their eyes widen in alarm.
"I/my sister/my wife/my friend was nowhere near that big, even when I/she delivered" - also said by many. Good for you/her.
"You're about to blow!" -- a garage attendant.
"Don't give birth here!" said by several. Thanks for the advice! Although I was hoping to go into an extremely rapid early labor and give birth in a distinctly non-hospital setting, I will do everything in my power not to do so.
"It's weird. You look like you're about to give birth, but you're walking normally. What's up with that?" -- fellow elevator rider.
"So you're due any day now, right?" Actually, no. No, I'm not.

There is also little need to shake one's head in amazement and whistle.

Thank you. Done now.

CNN Updates

So I signed up for email news alerts from CNN. You know, so I could be notified asap in case of crucial breaking news. I've been paranoid about this, since I think I was the only person in Manhattan who did not hear about 9/11 until 11 am that day (I had called in sick from work, and the phones were, of course, out).

So fortunately, CNN is a trustworthy news source. Serious, respectable. Here are the two emails I received yesterday:

-- Michael Jackson's golden coffin is placed in front of the stage as his memorial service gets under way in Los Angeles.

-- At memorial service in L.A., Michael Jackson's daughter Paris says he was "the best father you could ever imagine."

I'm glad CNN knew that I could not wait until I happened to check their website to discover that information.


Confidential to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.)

Please do not waste the people's time with a useless and potentially divisive resolution that will merely provide your opponents (and mine) on the far right with an opportunity to hit their "demagogue" buttons. Michael Jackson, for all his talents, was an entertainer about whom many reasonable people have cause to feel deeply ambivalent. The encomiums can come from his fellow entertainers, who presumably do not have anything better to do. As one of our nation's lawmakers, you do.

Thank you. That is all.

Color me skeptical

Despite Elizabeth's generous description of me, I tend to be a little bit leery of writing too much about health care policy. While I feel very comfortable discussing the nuts and bolts of health care delivery (for example, I will confidently aver that bribery with stickers is laughably ineffective when shots are on the line), the intricacies of health care reform are both more complicated and more obscure than I can authoritatively claim to understand. Still, as an issue that is of pressing national importance and dear to my heart, I try to essay an opinion now and then.

With that disclaimer in place, I'd like to comment on Jonathan Cohn's recent post at The Treatment (TNR's health care blog). Mr. Cohn, who knows far more about the topic than I do, is somewhat unsure what to make of the overtures from the pharmaceutical and hospital industries that they are willing to make a deal with the Obama administration as efforts to reform the health care system proceed. He writes:
On Wednesday, according to the Washington Post, three groups representing the U.S. hospital industry will announce their willingness to give up $155 billion in revenue over the next ten years--money that the government can then use to help finance universal coverage, or some approximation thereof.

The deal, which the hospital groups are making with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and the White House, has apparenlty been in the works for a while. Laurie McGinley and Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News first reported its emergence last week. It follows closely on the heels of a similar deal Baucus and the White House struck with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry in late June. And, broadly speaking, it's consistent with the pledge leaders of the health care industry made at the White House in early May: That they would support health care reform, even if it meant taking money out of their own pockets.

These agreements might seem merely symbolic. They are not. They are significant developments, both politically and substantively.

But are they also good developments, the sort that liberals should cheer? That's a bit more complicated. To be quite honest, I'm not sure I know the answer.
I must admit to feeling somewhat gratified that Mr. Cohn is as unsure as I am. The details of the deals seem a bit murky to me, but from what I understand, the pharmaceutical industry will kick in money to shore up the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and the hospital industry will cut costs by $155 billion over the next decade. Cohn's piece discusses some of the upsides and downsides, but what I was most interested in was this:
Perhaps the most important question to answer is what these industry groups are getting in return. Changing payments to the health industry isn't simply about generating savings that can finance expansions of insurance coverage. It's also about changing the behaviors of these industries--and, in so doing, creating a health care system that offers better quality care for less money.

To accomplish that, reform should ideally include measures like strengthening the hand of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), developing more data on comparative effectiveness (CE), or building a strong public insurance plan. But hospitals don't like the idea of a stronger MedPAC, drug makers are pretty hostile to good CE, and insurers (among others) hate the idea of a public plan. When the industries cut these deals, are they prying promises from [Senate Finance Committee chair Max] Baucus [D- Mont.] --or the White House--not to push too hard on these levers?

Considering how closely tied Baucus appears to be to the industries in question, I must admit to being more than a little bit skeptical. (Confidential to GJ: you can put this in the "Dan willingly criticizes the Democrats" file.) Based on nothing more than a certain familiarity with human nature and suspicions about corporate behavior, I have a hard time believing that either the drug companies or the hospital industry are making concessions out of the kindness of their collective hearts. I don't know much about MedPAC, but I do know that CE could potentially steer patients away from new and expensive brand-name drugs and toward older, cheaper generic alternatives that are just as effective (if not more so). Minimizing attention to CE would be in the pharmaceutical industry's interests, but not necessarily ours.

Cohn seems cautiously optimistic about what all of this means, and I'm certainly glad to see the major industries playing along with health care reform to any degree. But I can't swallow the idea that these concessions don't come with some kind of sweetener. It remains to be seen just what that may be.

In which I out myself as a social conservative

I am a social conservative.

That said, I am fully in favor of equal rights for gays. While I suspect that the majority of abortions are immoral, and would hope more people who found themselves accidentally pregnant would consider adoption, I support the legalization of abortion. I am not unconcerned, but I am less concerned than many others about a vapid, celebrity-obsessed, sexualized culture. I believe in workplace and domestic equality for women, and my husband and I certainly split housework and child care in this house. I shop at farmer's markets, love dining at three-star restaurants, participate full-throatedly in food snobbery, have little use for guns, and am not religious.

When I say I am a social conservative, then, what I mean is that I strongly value something like what David Brooks calls in his op-ed today, "dignity." I think he's getting at something I meant to get at yesterday in discussing politicians' character. Maturity, character, stability, rectitude, politeness, and thank-you notes are dangerously undervalued. Self-expression, catharsis, impulsivity, self-indulgence, dramatic behavior, and the ridding of norms of behavior and responsibility and decorum are vastly overrated. For being such a big-picture piece in so few words, I think Brooks does a pretty good job of guessing why this might have happened. I share his hope that Obama might have a more lasting cultural influence in leading us to be more socially conservative in this way, not the Palin-Limbaugh way.

Trusting the guy on the street

There are many, many good arguments for reforming health care. The lovely and talented Dan has made many of them right here on this site and on Ordinary Gentlemen. I believe we have less to be afraid of than many think by adopting a system more like France's. There are good arguments for this. But you know what is a bad argument for this, and one that I've seen repeatedly? The fact that people in countries with greater government subsidization of medicine would not trade their system for our system.

Why would we assume that, say, an average French person on the street knows more about what Americans deal with in their health care system than we know about theirs? When Americans say they are leery of trading their system for a foreign one, we assume that they are xenophobic or ill-informed. Why should we assume that the average European is much more informed, policy-wise?

If you want to convince us that the horrors of universalized care are exaggerated, show us stats, show us data. But don't tell us that the Dutch wouldn't trade their system for the American one, and expect that to be a convincing argument for adopting a more Dutch style of health care. Because I guarantee you that for every Dutch person who says they would not switch to America's health plan, I can find an American who says she would not switch to the Dutch.