Monday, May 26, 2008

The Survival And Success Of Liberty.

This year's presidential campaign has focused on one phrase from John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address.
"Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."
Senator Barack Obama has adopted that short phrase as the theme of his proposed foreign policy. An earlier phrase from the same speech says much more about what makes America the great nation that it remains to this day.
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
Don't hold your breath waiting for the Junior Senator from Illinois to quote that phrase to his adoring followers to explain his proposed foreign policy.


Read and watch President Kennedy's entire speech here.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones: Bored Out Of My Skull

The good news yesterday was that a friend had free tickets to a special screening of the new Indiana Jones movie and his wife couldn't go. But I could. The bad news was that Indy's latest adventure is one of the most mindnumbingly boring movies I've ever seen. And that's saying a lot because I've seen the original version of Solaris. (Here.)

The first 10 to 15 minutes of Indiana Jones did not bode well, what with the strangely artificial-looking cinematography, bad accents, stupid and stupid-looking bad guys, awful dialogue, ham acting, and some really obvious continuity errors. Indy and his partner are captives, surrounded by Soviet spies and with each change in camera shot, the partner's arms go from up in surrender, to down, to up, to down, to up, to down. It's a very amateurish error and it's right there in the beginning of the movie.

The rest of the movie is more professionally done but it remains boring, boring, boring. It's so boring, I can't bear to relate what happens. Suffice to say, the plot is threadbare, the ideas are nonsensical, the action is absurd, and worst of all, the talents of several really good actors are wasted --- Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone. At least admission was free, as well as the pizza, popcorn, and drinks. Plus, the hat is cool.


Republished once for editing.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Not Over Until The Voters Sing.

So much for a presidential election devoid of cultural issues. Or in Obama-speak, "distractions." Apropos of yesterday's California Supreme Court decree overturning the definition of marriage that was enacted into law by California's voters, here's Abraham Lincoln on how judicial overreach undermines democratic self-rule.
At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. (Here.)
Come November, we'll see whether the people of California have ceded self-rule to four Supreme Court Justices. (Here.)


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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Speciesism For Thee But Not For Me.

So about a month ago I was a panelist at a local science fiction convention. Our panel’s topic was the ethics of killing. I guess they figured a lawyer would have something to say about that. I was the moderator so we did not discuss the ethics of killing lawyers. Which reminds me, did you hear the one about the difference between a dead skunk in the road and a dead lawyer? There are skid marks in front of the skunk. Ba da boom.*

One topic that day was genocide. A vegan panelist proposed --- “in jest,” so he said, "truth in humor," I said --- that it would be ethical to kill off all of humanity in order to save the planet. Surprisingly most objections to this plan from the other panelists and the audience were practical ones: "Who decides, how do we decide it's necessary, and who gets killed" not "it's wrong to kill most or all of humanity to save the planet." People accepted the premise that the rest of life on Earth had greater moral worth than humans.

I’m in the "it's just wrong" camp. First, because it's anti-humanist to elevate the environment to a level superior to humanity, and, second, because there's no way to know with sufficient certainty that such genocide would be necessary to save the planet. Anyway, I was struck at the willingness of people to be utilitarian about it and accept that it would be okay to do it.

Some will say that it's speciesist to give humans privileged moral status. So be it. The vegan panelist used the term when he explained why he believed it would be acceptable to kill off all humanity to save the planet. The irony is that humans are the least speciesist beings on this planet. There is no animal that even tries to look out for other animals or plant life in the way that humans do.

With some insignificant exceptions, animals look out for their own and that's it. Humans on the other hand often look out for nonhuman lifeforms. So why should humans step aside through an act of genocide or mass suicide to make way for creatures who don't look out for species other than their own? We don't deserve that fate and the rest of the biosphere doesn't deserve the benefit of that kind of sacrifice by us.

I suppose killing off humanity would save the planet. I'm sure the Earth would get along very well without us. But I don't think science can tell us it's necessary to kill off humanity to save the planet. Besides showing that the only future scenario is the worst case scenario, science would have to show there are no alternatives to human self-extinction in order to save the planet. If other options could save the planet then self-extinction is not necessary.

But I admit my main objection to the idea is the humanist one.

The fact that the idea of humans having less moral worth than the rest of nature seems so non-controversial to people surprises me. I've heard of the humans as virus notion before but I always figured it was a fringe view. Apparently, it's not.

I found a statement recently by ethicist Peter Singer, who refused to sign one of the versions of The Humanist Manifesto because he said the manifesto suffered from speciesism. He objected to the manifesto's language making the welfare of humanity the purpose of humanist ethics. He called this speciesism and said it was a remnant of Christian thinking because in his view, “[t]here is no nonreligious reason why the pains and pleasures of nonhuman animals should not be given equal weight with the similar pains and pleasures of human beings.” (Here.)

I wonder if the belief, espoused by people like Singer, that maintains it's morally wrong to privilege humans over animals is a greater threat to humanism than Christianity. Christians and humanists may agree on the primacy of human beings but their fundamental disagreement over the supernatural makes them more rivals than allies. People like Singer may fundamentally disagree with humanists over the primacy of human beings but they share humanism's rejection of the supernatural. Humanism is therefore more likely to be influenced by people like Singer than it is by religious people. I wonder if that's likely to cause humanism eventually to reject the moral primacy of human beings.


* Lawyer jokes are the price we pay for running the world. It's a small price to pay.

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The Birds Of Paradise: Part 19.

More backyard birds. The Cooper's Hawk looks skyward. On the alert for the gang of crows that torments it ceaselessly. Speaking of crows, here's one of them flying by carrying some takeout. Finally, this little scrub jay standing on a feeder rounds out this vertical triptych of the more aggressive birds that come by the yard.

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Bugs Of Paradise

So, it's not just birds that live on my property. Bugs make their home here, too. Some pretty and some not so much. This mama spider has set up her maternity ward in the electrical box. Here's a fly sunning itself on the bottle brush tree. It was a hot weekend. Here's one posing for its closeup.It's not all ugly or scary. Here's a pretty ladybug on a rosebush.When dusk rolled around the flying beasties swarmed the bottle brush tree. Nice wings on this one.

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