Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Worth reading

December 9, 2008

This article is worth reading, for the views it expresses, but also for who is writing it and in reaction to what. Why now? Shouldn’t this have been said years ago? Or is it meant as a dialectical move?

On another topic, and more informative than opinionated is this piece. Modern pirates are apparently quite sophisticated and hardly come out of nowhere.

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Health in politics

October 20, 2008

Will McCain die of cancer in the next 10 years? Just how much did Obama smoke? Not only do some people apparently think that these are legitimate questions to be raised and discussed in public; candidates are to be criticized for less than full disclosure of their medical records. Are you serious? Should candidates really be chosen for their cholesterol levels?

But isn’t there a legitimate worry? What if the president gets seriously ill? Or dies? Well, that what vice-presidents are for. No, this public concern for the candidates’ health is much more expression of the kind of fetish health has become than expression of a legitimate worry.

But healthy doesn’t mean invincible. Just the other day, ever healthy and youthful seeming Jörg Haider of Austria killed himself in car crash, drunk and speeding, but still unexpectedly. But at least in his case we now know for sure he’s dead, which is more than can be said for another “beloved leader”, Kim Jong Il. He has disappeared from the public sphere (insofar as this is possible in the absence of a public sphere), but speculations about his death are denied.

How is Fidel Castro doing these days?

You’d never have guessed

August 5, 2008

Careful and subtle analysis once more helps to improve our understanding of teenage minds. Beware of kids listening to French Rap, though!

Puzzle for an economist

April 12, 2008

How do these two pieces of information go together?

Here we go again…

February 23, 2008

… yet another article that begins with the overused sentiment that yet another question philosophers (gosh, these people must be really stupid!) have been unable to make any progress on has finally been addressed (successfully, naturally) by SCIENCE, and hence there is hope for an answer, at last.

While the question “Whence morality?” has been addressed by many thinkers, it is not the question “which has troubled philosophers since their subject was invented.” The question that underlies most philosophical reflection about morality (or ethics, rather!) is: what should we do? how should we live? The question is not primarily about why we engage in moral judgment, but rather which moral or ethical judgments to make. Such questions have prompted further questions about the meaning and epistemic standing of moral claims, and many interesting philosophical answers have been developed. Naturally, we do not see any of them mentioned in the article.

But note the rhetoric: philosophers are TROUBLED by questions – they don’t investigate questions, or give answers to them, no it is questions who trouble them. They are similarly passive with respect to their entire subject: it was invented. By whom, one might ask. Nor has their been any development in the subject – which presumably makes it permissible to ignore contemporary philosophers.

Aside from some serious questions about the science in this particular case, the most annoying fact about the article is not just that it fails to mention any of contemporary philosophical normative theory or meta-ethics, but that the author can be certain to get away with it. Why is that?

Tax invasion

February 23, 2008

It is mostly small countries, many of them in Europe. Their most important good: privacy. Laws that hide bank accounts and protect data. What they fear most: attention. Naturally then, Liechtenstein was not pleased when German officials began far-reaching investigations, tracking down a large number of German citizens with secret accounts in Liechtenstein. The claim: tax evasion, on a very large scale.

There are some legal issues about how the crucial data was obtained (apparently the BND (the German secret service) bought the information from an undisclosed source). But mostly reactions in the news have ranged from outrage at the systematic way in which monetary elites have manipulated the system to sheer schadenfreude about them being caught.

But it actually seems difficult to agree with either sentiment. Not just because most people engage in some form of instinctive tax evasion – the difference in absolute numbers and income level is too significant for that. It is more the nasty suspicion that this is not a victory for the man on the street at all. In fact, neither side seems particularly worthy of empathy. The moral standing of the monetary elites in question has suffered a number of severe blows in the past few years due to numerous other scandals. But can we really rejoice in the triumph of a state that is essentially a success in eliminating privacy?

Beyond the legal issues, moral questions are lurking. Questions about the legitimacy of taxes and the duties one might have to society, questions about privacy and respect thereof in light of the opportunity of obtaining data.