Friday, October 30, 2009

Next up: free with your paid prescription?

Payday, and thus time to order John Keay's new history of China, which bids fair to be the first-ever general history of China in English not to completely suck. Anticipation!!!!

Amazon saw fit to advise me that Stephen King has a new book coming out, for $9.00. A paperback, I assumed.

Nope. Hardcover. List $35.00. 74% off.

I don't really know that it's such a good idea for publishers to emphasize so heavily how little it costs them to print a 1,088-page hardcover.

This is just the most egregious instance known to me of the reciprocal rise in discounts and list prices for hardcovers. The more chains discount, the more the book costs. With the added bonus that, a month or two later, the discounts vanish (in the brick-and-mortar stores anyway) but the list prices do not.

Still, 74% off? Do that many people in Wal-Mart Walmart still pick up the new Stephen King book automatically? (Online Walmart price: $8.98. Take that, Amazon!)

From the anti-tank manual:

Figure 14.3 - "Where Not to Stand While Someone Attacks a Tank":

(Via Yglesias.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"That's no moon ... it's a pumpkin!"

TBA will not be carving one of these:But if you have "4-10 hours," then have at it. (Via TNR.)

"We now explicitly hold that nurses cannot testify as to medical causation."

Well, finally. The Mississippi Supreme Court at last spells out what had been generally regarded as the law, but never put quite so clearly.
While Richardson explicitly held that a nurse cannot testify as to cause of death, we agree with Baptist that Richardson should be interpreted as having made impermissible any testimony from a nursing expert on diagnostic impressions, because nurses are not qualified to make medical diagnoses or attest to the causes of illnesses. Richardson, 807 So. 2d at 1247-48. We now explicitly hold that nurses cannot testify as to medical causation.

Since medical diagnosis is outside a nurse’s scope of practice, logically it would follow that a nurse should not be permitted to testify as to his/her diagnostic impressions or as to the cause of a particular infectious disease or illness. This is in keeping with the majority rule that nursing experts cannot opine as to medical causation and are unable to establish the necessary element of proximate cause.
A very helpful case to healthcare defendants around the state.

... Also of interest: in eight death-penalty cases, the Court sua sponte has demanded that slow-moving courts and counsel get the ball moving, along the lines of "On the Court's own motion, the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County shall file a response within sixty days of entry of this order addressing why this matter remains pending." It's unusual and welcome for the Court to show an interest in such things -- let's hope this is the start of a trend.

Mark Danner on Obama and torture

Scott Horton interviews Mark Danner, who puts rather better than TBA can our shared reaction to the new administration:
Those who thought the Obama Administration would come in with a blazing white sword to bring light and truth to all these terrible policies have been painfully disappointed. We are embarked on a very long story, with no easily charted plot line, no readily identified climax, and no conclusion in sight. All of us, including Barack Obama and his administration, are all still living in “Bush’s State of Exception,” and it is clear by now that the way out will come not by hacking through it with a machete but by finding a pathway through with a compass. This is dismaying and maddening; but it is what it is.

My sense is President Obama may have underestimated the resistance he would encounter on many of these issues--and the political cost of taking the steps he thought he wanted to take. He is confronting two battles, one within the administration, another outside it. I think the former vice president has been extremely effective in terrifying many politicians by reminding them once again how torture can be used as a badge of national security credibility, and how its renunciation can be deployed as a weapon to brand one “soft on national security” who “coddles terrorists.” We knew these arguments well, of course; what is surprising is how effective they can still be in the hands of someone as politically ruthless and aggressive as Cheney.

Some of these problems are immensely complicated and admit of no easy solution. I oppose the idea of prolonged or indefinite detention--but some people I respect support it as the least bad solution to a vexing problem: Could we release someone like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, for example, if we were unable legitimately to convict him? (That “legitimately” is important, I think; for the other path is to alter the existing legal framework to such an extent that it becomes, through what might be criticized as wholesale corruption of the law, much easier to convict him and his alleged colleagues.)

Presumably we will be hearing from Obama’s task forces on this and other issues: we are, as I say, only at the beginning of what may well be a deeply dispiriting journey. For my part, I believe the administration has chosen a more difficult path by ruling out a commission on the 9/11 model, however flawed that might have been, to investigate many of these matters and add vital independent political weight to its conclusions. The “middle path” that has resulted, with the possibility of investigations and even prosecutions of those interrogators who “went beyond” the waterboarding and other harsh techniques that the Bush Administration policymakers and lawyers permitted, risks an outcome similar to the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, where you had obvious lawbreaking by policymakers and other high officials left uninvestigated and unpunished and lower-level people suffering--however repulsive their actions--what was in effect scapegoating. Perhaps the prosecutor’s work will lead inexorably to a more thorough and honest investigation, as some believe; but I fear that, when it comes to accountability, it may leave us in the worst of all worlds.
That's the answer to # 5 of 6 questions; the whole interview merits attention.

A batty verdict?

Puns aplenty I'm sure regarding the Montana jury award of $850K to the parents of an 18-year-old pitcher killed when an ball from an aluminum bat hit his head during a game. (Via Bashman.)

The verdict against Louisville Slugger was premised on its failure to warn that aluminum bats supposedly return the ball faster than wooden bats.

I'd seen this suit mentioned at the Volokh blog, where I predicted a Montana jury wouldn't buy that theory. Oopsie. Bound to go up on appeal.

This comment at the Volokh thread is worth noting:
Everyone who plays baseball knows that the ball comes faster off an aluminum bat than off a wooden bat. They’re not used in pro baseball for that reason — somebody can get killed when, say, Ryan Howard hits a 98 mph fastball. Metal bats are used in amateur baseball because people don’t usually hit them that hard. Kids (up through college) like aluminum bats because they hit the ball harder and farther than they can with wood, and because they’re much cheaper over the long run.

The NCAA has a BESR (bat exit speed ratio) test to which bats must conform to be used in college play. The people who set the standards have to balance safety issues against the fact that the whole point of a bat is to hit the ball hard. (Hollow plastic would be much safer but the game wouldn’t be quite the same.) They also have to take into account cost — most amateur teams these days couldn’t afford to play with wooden bats, since they break so frequently. Maple bats don’t break as often as ash, but they’re more expensive and more dangerous when they do break. Composite wood and bamboo bats break less often, but (like aluminum) cause the ball to be hit harder. Everything is a tradeoff.
If "everyone who plays baseball" knows this, then the fault would seem not to lie with Louisville Slugger, but with the league that picked the aluminum bats for older teen players. Of course, that's not where the deep pockets were.

And we don't know what the expert testimony was -- the parents might've found someone to contradict the "everyone knows" meme, or the defense might've treated the case as too absurd to defend seriously (like McDonald's on the hot-coffee suit).

That said, it would not've been hard for Louisville Slugger to put a safety warning on its aluminum bats -- part of the plastic wrap around the bat, perhaps -- and it would've saved them a million dollars in this case (allowing for litigation costs).

Still, the parents might do well to settle this case pending appeal.

(See another comment from a coach who won't let his kids play with aluminum bats.)

What your Bible and Magna Carta have in common

The barons who pushed Magna Carta on John were led by, among others, Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also the fellow who divided the books of the Bible into their modern chapter divisions.

When you see the guy waving "JOHN 3:16" at a football game, he has Stephen Langton to thank.

(As well as Robert Estienne, who divided the New Testament into verses; I believe the OT's verse divisions are lost in the mists of time. Robert's son was Henri Estienne, whose edition of Plato provides the common page numbering of the dialogues today.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chinese scroll painting of the day

Wikipedia has a big-ass reproduction of Fan Kuan's Travelers Among Mountains and Streams.

The painting is 6.75 feet long, and arguably the finest masterpiece of Chinese landscape painting. When it was supposed to leave Taiwan's National Museum and visit the Met in NYC, the Taiwanese people freaked (on the rather unlikely theory that we would give the painting to China) and it stayed home.

The most remarkable thing about it, from what I've been able to discern of the painting, is the ethereal relation of the looming mountains to the foreground landscape. It can be taken as "really there," but it also seems to inhabit a separate reality.

The only reproduction I've found for sale is from the National Museum itself -- currently on sale for a mere NT$2550 ($79 U.S., plus shipping).

... Not much seems to be known of Fan Kuan that isn't inferred from his work. He seems to've flourished around the turn of the first millenium A.D.

Green atoms

LGF relays an article on the mysteriously inchoate recognition that nuclear power is much more environment-friendly than oil.

Maybe it's all the SF that I read as a kid, but it's always struck me as inevitably obvious (or obviously inevitable?) that nuclear power was going to have to be our primary resource sooner or later, preferably sooner. Plants need to be run safely, of course, and accidents always happen, but compared to the cumulative carbon emissions from our present power source, nuclear still doesn't look all that unsafe. (And, hey, France is still here.)

So I'm not quite sure why we're still having this debate, or why nuclear power is a *Republican* talking point.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Harlan Ellison

Still alive, still litigating.

What the Industrial Revolution looked like

Dark satanic mill, indeed. James Fallows provides this photo by Lu Guang of a Chinese power plant in Inner Mongolia.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Over drinks, perhaps, Ms. Rand?

Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive, and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life.
-- Ayn Rand, quoted in New York magazine.

The degree and nature of a person's sexuality extends into the highest pinnacle of his spirit.
-- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil # 75.

... Yet another confirmation of what a philosophy professor told me (himself quoting Dr. Johnson): what is good in Rand isn't original, and what's original, isn't good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I got nothin'

Basically, unless you want to hear about how (1) sinus infections suck or (2) reply briefs in Medicare reimbursement challenges suck, there's not a whole lot else circling around TBA's feverish brain cells here lately.

We did notice, at Leiter's Nietzsche blog, that there's a new translation (from OUP) of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. TBA rather shamefacedly has never actually liked TSZ all that much -- it must be much better in the original, we tell ourselves -- so perhaps we will look into Parkes's translation.

Until then, we must number ourselves with the bitches -- er, "bisches"?

... Spent a little time with the new translation, the Gutenberg online text of the original German, and the Cambridge translation, and Parkes is indeed closer to the text, though I do wish people would just bite the bullet and go with "superhuman" for uebermensch. "Overhuman" is clunky and conveys nothing. Whereas "superhuman" conveys not so much Clark Kent as W.B. Yeats:
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Check your brow

Kieran at CT posts a 1949 Life Mag chart, setting forth the characteristic tastes of the highbrow, lowbrow, and upper/lower-middlebrows.

I seem to fall most comfortably into "upper-middlebrow," though why anyone would play charades, much less call it "The Game," mystifies me.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Book of Questions

Via 3QD, Richard Dawkins notes four of his favorite Unsolved Mysteries of Evolution:
The origin of life: It might surprise some of Dawkins' critics to hear that he offers no explanation for what kick-started life in the first place. "That is a complete mystery," he said. Scientists have plenty of suspects to check out, however.

The origin of sex: Dawkins said scientists are also puzzling over "what sex is all about" - in evolutionary theory, that is. After all, sexual reproduction isn't strictly necessary for the evolutionary process to do its thing. Some researchers surmise that sex arose to help weed out harmful mutations or provide more options for propagation.

The origin of consciousness: Where does subjective consciousness come from? Dawkins sees this as the "biggest puzzle" facing biology. Scientists have their ideas, and one of the latest ideas is that consciousness serves as the Wi-Fi network for an assortment of "computers" inside your brain.

The rise of morality: What drives us to do good, even for people we don't even know? The expectation of reciprocity provides a partial explanation, but "it doesn't account for the extremely high degree of moral behavior that humans show," Dawkins said. He surmises that altruism might have arisen as a "mistaken misfiring" of neural circuits involved in calculating the mutual give and take among kin.
It's at least kinda amusing that these four questions are of sufficiently long standing that they are all addressed in the first three chapters of Genesis.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Comes w/ cheezburger rit?

(Via Majikthise.)

The bookshelf

Byron, Don Juan. Second try, da capo, at the masterpiece. Best read in a relaxed manner -- it's witty and clever, but not a page-turner.

James Ellroy, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. These are page-turners, and they've pretty much eclipsed my other reading while I dash through, upon which I hope that the final volume, Blood's a Rover, has made it to my library so's I can avoid buying the hardback. I hadn't read any Ellroy, but this review (warning: dumb-ass spoilers!) made me pick up the first book, and it's wonderfully engaging even to a non-conspiracy-buff like myself. (Most Kennedy-conspiracy works, I submit, are failed novels.)

Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. Latest in the Oxford History of the United States, whose volumes I am prone to snap up like potato chips ... well, like very, very large bags of potato chips, anyway. 100 pages in it's quite good, with an emphasis on "gentlemen" vs. "middling folk" in the politics of the early years.

Walter Isaacson, Kissinger. Almost finished with Chace's Acheson bio (very good, tho hampered by the author's subordinating chronology to topics) and dipping into the second of my Cabinet-secretary trilogy (a library copy of the new Rumsfeld biography is the goal here). Thrown off-track by the Ellroy novels, but looking forward to getting back to my Secretaries.

The "garden gnome" of German nationalism

2009 is the 2,000th anniversary of the Roman disaster at the Teutoburg Forest: three legions slaughtered, and Augustus roaming his palace, tearing his toga, and crying out, "Varus, give me back my legions!"

Clay Risen reports that the Germans, after some post-Nazi unease with their national hero, have purified him through kitsch:
This autumn marks the 2,000th anniversary of the battle, and Germany is witnessing a new-found interest in all things Hermann. But in a twist on Marx’s famous adage about how history repeats itself, the Hermann cult appeared first as tragedy, and second as a 12-million-euro marketing bonanza. What had been a question of shame has become a matter of kitsch: when I went to Detmold to check out the scene, I found a gift shop stocked with garden gnomes in the shape of a cartoonish Germanic warrior; a thick sausage called “Hermannwurst”; and Thusnelda Beer, named after Hermann’s mythical love interest. And the region around Detmold has pulled out all the stops in promoting the anniversary as a mega-tourist event, including three museum exhibits, plays, tours and festivals.
The importance of Hermann, or Arminius, to German nationalism is more notional than real; the Germans had no thought of themselves as a "nation," and Arminius was killed by rival tribesmen.
To me, he is just a garden gnome,” Schafmeister said during an interview in his office, his desk piled with Hermann chocolate bars and other paraphernalia. The exhibits and plays organised for the anniversary no longer depict Hermann as the founding father of the German peoples: instead he appears as a minor warlord who got lucky, an interesting figure with no relevance to the present. “He is really history,” says Herfried Münkler, a historian at Berlin’s Humboldt University and the author of The Germans and their Myths. “He is no longer relevant to the question of German identity.” It’s a thin line to walk – a year of festivities for a man no one thinks is worth celebrating. “We don’t even call it an anniversary, because that implies a celebration,” said Schafmeister. “It is just a recognition of something that happened from 2,000 years ago.”
The article details the coincidence of the recovery of Tacitus's Annals in 1508, just when German dissatisfaction with Rome was about to reach boiling point, and the subsequent use and abuse of Arminius's legend. (The article errs in saying that Tacitus gives "an extensive retelling of the battle"; Tacitus's focus is on the reprisal campaign under Germanicus, though there's a spooky account of the battle site as those troops found it, white bones everywhere and "barbarian altars, at which they had sacrificed tribunes and first-rank centurions.") Interesting stuff.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The South definitely has some rising to do.

The 5th Circuit has upheld a school district's policy against the Confederate flag on students' apparel or, um, purses:
In response to previous incidents, the high school adopted a policy prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag on school grounds. When plaintiffs A.M. and A.T. came to school at the beginning of the spring 2006 semester carrying purses adorned with large images of the Confederate battle flag, administrators required them to cease carrying the purses (giving them the option of leaving the purses in the administrative offices until school ended for the day, or to have someone come and pick the purses up from the school). The girls voluntarily went home for the day rather than comply with the demand.
God knows, under Tinker, it's difficult to see how any different result was possible. What's striking is the racial hostility that led to the policy:
during the 2002-2003 school year, there were 35 reported incidences of race-related problems. The next year brought one referral based on a student’s use of a racial epithet against another student. During the 2004-2005 school year, there were ten referrals involving racial incidents. One of these incidents involved a student who drew a Confederate flag in his notebook accompanied by the statement “No niggers; subject to hanging.” Finally, during the 2005-2006 school year (the year in which A.M. and A.T. brought their purses), there were seven
race-related referrals. One involved a student who drew a noose and made comments about hanging minorities. * * *

Also during the 2002-2003 school year, a BHS student “shoved a Confederate Flag in the face of several members” of another high school’s all-black girls volleyball team as they walked through the BHS hallways. According to Crummel, this incident caused tension and required Crummel, who was then the principal at BHS, to apologize on behalf of the school. Thereafter, BHS students attempted to display the flag at athletic events, prompting BHS administration and staff to “intervene.” The same school year (2002-2003), supporters of a predominantly African-American school left BHS during a sporting event because a BHS student waived [sic -- TBA] the flag from his pick-up truck in front of them. This caused the state high school athletics governing body to view the display of the flag at BHS events as a racial insult and a means of intimidation, and led to the consideration of sanctions against BHS because the school was “identified [as] having a reputation . . . as being openly hostile to African-Americans; if not simply racist.” That year, some white BHS students also waved a Confederate flag in the direction of a group of fellow African-American students as they waited for the bus. According to Crummel, the staff viewed this “as an attempt to intimidate our African-American students.” Following these incidents, during the 2002-2003 school year, BHS instituted the ban on visible displays of the Confederate flag. * * *

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2006 -- less than a month after A.M. and A.T. carried their purses to school -- a homemade Confederate battle flag was raised on the BHS flagpole and graffiti representing the flag was drawn on the sidewalk below. In December 2006, the following academic year, a white BHS student attempted to wrap his belt around an African-American student’s neck while using racial epithets and threatening to hang him.
This is Burleson, Texas, at a school with about a 3% black population. Love ya, Texas! Making Misisssippi look good!

(Judge Garwood writes separately to emphasize that a flat ban on the Confederate battle flag merely on the basis that "'some who display that flag 'may' harbor racial bias or belief in racial separation," absent some history at the school supporting that inference, would not pass muster under Tinker. I suppose one could make the same argument about the swastika.)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Interview with James Wood

Nice article and interview in the LA Weekly:
[How Fiction Works] seems very humble, helpful, and earnest in its endeavors. Though that didn’t stop Walter Kirn from painting you as the world’s greatest snob in The Times.

I was bemused by the Walter Kirn attack — that’s diplomatese for “I wanted him dead and bound in the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car.” It was the purest American anti-intellectualism: Fiction, he claimed, is about noise on the streets, not words on the page, because words on the page mean ... the library. And that is where I spend all my time, apparently. His review traded in the coarsest binarisms: On one side, according to Kirn, there are [Henry] James and Flaubert, tortured and isolated souls, who spent their lives rubbing nouns and adjectives together in onanistic bliss, and on the other side, there is ... none other than David Foster Wallace! Does Kirn think Wallace did not spend Jamesian amounts of time and energy rubbing together exquisite nouns and adjectives? Of course, he did. Writers who care about language care about such things as nouns and adjectival phrases. They aren’t cowboys — at least, not on the page.

And then there were all the silly things he said about my having a Burberry coat. Alas, he revealed much more about his own social anxieties than he did about my criticism.
Well done.

Tyson folds - Fresh Market rules!

NMC notes that, after Sunday's NYT story about tainted ground beef, Tyson has agreed to let Costco test Tyson's trimmings for E. coli before mixing them with other producers' trimmings to grind into hamburger.

Of course, as NMC previously noted, there are other reasons to avoid Tyson products.

I was in Fresh Market the other day and wondered about their ground beef. They had a newly-posted sign stating that they grind their beef in the store, from steaks and roasts. Of course, this results in $4/lb for ground chuck. But I think I'll be getting my ground beef from there.

The Maleficent Seven?

Over at Crooked Timber, mockery of the Conservapedia Authorized Version veers into mockery of Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave by Dave Breese, these worthies being "Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Julius Wellhausen, Sigmund Freud, John Dewey, John Maynard Keynes, and Soren Kierkegaard."

Commenter Ajay:
I’m seeing Yul Brynner as Keynes, James Coburn as Darwin, Robert Vaughn as Kierkegaard, Steve McQueen as Freud, Charles Bronson as Marx ....

“John, we go up against Calvera and his men, a lot of us are going to come back dead.”

“Karl, you know what I always say: in the long run, we’re all dead.”
Oh, to be a billionaire who could produce this as a vanity project.

("Julius Wellhausen?" A man only a fundamentalist could hate:
Wellhausen was famous for his critical investigations into Old Testament history and the composition of the Hexateuch. He is perhaps best known for his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels of 1883 (first published 1878 as Geschichte Israels), in which he advanced a definitive formulation of the Documentary hypothesis, arguing that the Torah or Pentateuch had its origins in a redaction of four originally independent texts dating from several centuries after the time of Moses, their traditional author. Wellhausen's hypothesis remained the dominant model for Pentateuchal studies until the last quarter of the 20th century, when it began to be challenged by scholars who saw more and more hands at work in the Torah, ascribing them to periods even later than Wellhausen had proposed.

Wellhausen's uncompromisingly secular approach to the bible and the detailed cogency of his re-creation of early Israelite history (one which dismissed such fundamental Jewish beliefs as their status as God's "chosen people," and even the originally monotheistic nature of ancient Israelite religion) led to accusations from conservative Jews, and even Christians, that he was motivated not by the dispassionate search for truth but by a desire to destroy the Jewish religion.
Ruling the world, folks!)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Adventures in irony

Via DeLong, Mark Bernstein tells us about Donald Rumsfeld's senior thesis:
Rumsfeld’s senior thesis concerned President Harry Truman’s seizure of the nation’s steel mills in 1952 in response to a strike, and the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision striking the act down as an abuse of executive power. In his conclusion, Rumsfeld endorsed the Court’s decision to curb the president’s emergency powers. “There is much to be said for not tying the hands of the President unduly,” he wrote. “No one wishes to injure adequate defense action in the event of an enemy attack or an emergency of similar gravity. But, it must not be forgotten that the concept of emergency is elastic...

That may have been the realist writing, but Rumsfeld went on to embrace the philosophical underpinnings of the Court’s decision, as well. Observing that, in America, almost anyone could rise to the presidency (something he saw as a mixed blessing), Rumsfeld concluded by quoting Jefferson: “With an eye ... [that] the Presidency may not always be occupied by a man intelligent enough to use his power sparingly, Jefferson had the correct answer 165 years ago, when he warned: ‘In matters of power let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.’ Let us be thankful that we live in a land where we can demand of those in authority, ‘Give us an account of thy stewardship.’”
Someone get John Yoo a copy. Wonder if this is in Bradley Graham's bio of Rumsfeld that I keep renewing from the library w/out reading; somehow I conceived the idea that I should read Chace's Acheson and Isaacson's Kissinger first, a Cabinet secretary trifecta ....

(That's the tragedy of Rumsfeld, as it was with McNamara; both were genuinely intelligent men, and both lacked the fundamental character to make their intelligence weigh in the balance.)

How not to blog; or, Why is my brief not written yet

I was struck by the auto-complete suggestions on Google when all one has typed is the word "how":
how to tie a tie
how to kiss
how i met your mother
how to get pregnant
how stuff works
how to
how to lose weight
how to make a website
Presumably, these are the goals most often sought via Google.

... "How not to get pregnant" is however the very first hit when one types "how not," followed by:
how not to look old
how not to be shy
how not to be jealous
how not to die
how not to live your life
how not to be seen
how not to worry
how not to cry
how not to write a novel
These lists have a found-verse quality to them.

... Okay, I have to quit doing this:
how can you tell if a guy likes you
how can you tell if a girl is a virgin
how can i make my hair grow faster
how can you tell if a girl likes you
how can you tell if your pregnant
how can i get pregnant
how can i keep from singing lyrics
how can you tell if someone is lying
how can i lose weight fast
how can i keep from singing
The youthfulness of those who consult Google for their major life issues is evident.
why is the sky blue
why is michael jackson white
why is my poop green
why is there a dead pakistani on my couch
why is a raven like a writing desk
why is yawning contagious
why is my computer so slow
why is facebook so slow
why is the ocean salty
why is it raining so much
Okay, that fourth one leads me to think that someone is gaming the system.

Monday, October 05, 2009

And then there is Hegel.

It is Kant who made really bad writing philosophically acceptable. We can no longer show other people some atrocious paragraph, and say ‘How can it be worth reading anyone who writes like this?’ The answer could always be ‘What about Kant?'
-- Derek Parfit, "Preface" to On What Matters, p. 8.

Making my way through the first Critique for the first time since grad school, I am reassured that so accomplished a philosopher as Parfit agrees.

... On What Matters is a draft work posted for internet critique. The preface is a charming account of Parfit's admiration for his "two masters," Sidgwick and Kant. One sometimes sees a reprint of Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics; I shall have to pick one up sometime.

(H/t John S.)

"No one leaves Guantanamo innocent"

Last week, Andrew Sullivan wrote up the case of Fouad al-Rabiah, a man held for years at Gitmo and tortured into such implausible confessions that his own torturers didn't believe him. Sully links this excellent Andy Worthington writeup and the district court opinion directing that al-Rabiah's habeas petition be granted. Really worth reading the links on this one, folks -- if I provided quotes, I'd be here all day.

Perhaps the most appalling thing here is that, given such an absurd case, Obama's DOJ nonetheless fought to keep this man in custody.

Boycott Tyson!

Lots to catch up on from last week and this week here at TBA, as time permits this week.

Mark Kleiman notes the ground-beef story in the NYT that's going around the internet:
Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.

The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.
I had suspected that "Angus" was meaningless, seeing it so many places. But I have indeed bought ground beef from Wal-Mart in the past. Oops.

Also, boycotting Tyson is a good idea:
Costco said it had found E. coli in foreign and domestic beef trimmings and pressured suppliers to fix the problem. But even Costco, with its huge buying power, said it had met resistance from some big slaughterhouses. “Tyson will not supply us,” Mr. Wilson said. “They don’t want us to test.”

A Tyson spokesman, Gary Mickelson, would not respond to Costco’s accusation, but said, “We do not and cannot” prohibit grinders from testing ingredients. He added that since Tyson tests samples of its trimmings, “we don’t believe secondary testing by grinders is a necessity.”
We can't prohibit testing, we can just refuse to supply you if you test. I think Americans can do just fine without Tyson products, thank you very much.

Kleiman rightly nails this guy to the wall:
Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that the department could mandate testing, but that it needed to consider the impact on companies as well as consumers. “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health,” Dr. Petersen said.
Ah, right. Because "Food Safety and Inspection Service" really means "Food INDUSTRY Safety and Inspection Service."

Finally, here's some news you can use:
“In a warm kitchen, E. coli cells will double every 45 minutes,” said Dr. Mansour Samadpour, a microbiologist who runs IEH Laboratories in Seattle, one of the meat industry’s largest testing firms.

With help from his laboratories, The Times prepared three pounds of ground beef dosed with a strain of E. coli that is nonharmful but acts in many ways like O157:H7. Although the safety instructions on the package were followed, E. coli remained on the cutting board even after it was washed with soap. A towel picked up large amounts of bacteria from the meat.

Dr. James Marsden, a meat safety expert at Kansas State University and senior science adviser for the North American Meat Processors Association, said the Department of Agriculture needed to issue better guidance on avoiding cross-contamination, like urging people to use bleach to sterilize cutting boards. “Even if you are a scientist, much less a housewife with a child, it’s very difficult,” Dr. Marsden said.
Bleach spray for cutting boards (and adjoining counterspace) used for meat -- I can do that.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Personalized tag FAIL

Sometimes people should just take what the DMV hands them, and glorify God in a more competent manner:
Ah, sir, I earnestly do fear that such is your intention.