October 16, 2013
Why is it more wrong to kill intelligent animals?

This Guardian article by John Sweeney argues that because the intelligence of elephants is similar to that of humans, it’s wrong to kill them.

I don’t understand this argument; if a creature’s right not to be killed is correlated to its intelligence, then humans with developmental disabilities have less right to live than those who don’t.

I suspect that Sweeney wouldn’t agree, because his argument seems to be less about logic or morality and more about what could be called Human Exceptionalism - a narcissistic view of our own species as being superior to all others, the old “God created man in His own image” saw.

May 19, 2013
Does Prozac help artists be creative?

I think that this article, while interesting, is limited in that it considers Prozac only in the context of its use as a treatment for depression. I’ve never been depressed, so can’t speak from experience of its efficacy there, but I find Prozac to be enormously helpful for post-traumatic stress disorder. The lowest standard dose - 20 milligrams a day - eliminates my symptoms almost entirely, and produces no side-effects at all.

I object to the article’s glib description of Prozac as “the crutch of choice for the worried well.” There are people who, without Prozac, are far from well. I am one of them.

May 4, 2013
Why parents should leave their kids alone

The reason I write so much about childhood in my novels and stories is that kids are one of the most oppressed groups, people who can openly be treated as objects, as possessions.

This article by Jay Griffiths suggests something that will be considered extreme in the western world: respecting kids as thinking, feeling, beings.

March 7, 2012
I Was Wrong About Organic Beef

Although I no longer eat meat, I have argued that it is better for the environment if we eat locally-raised, grass-fed beef rather than organic vegetables trucked hundreds or even thousands of miles. It turns out I was wrong. This article in The Guardian explains:

Organics are… not even necessarily good for the environment, either. Increasing demand has led to organic meat being raised on vast industrial feed lots, and the scarcity of organic ingredients means they are flown around the world. Research sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed that the production of a litre of organic milk requires 80% more land than conventional milk. And that organically reared cows burp and fart twice as much methane as conventionally reared cattle, which would be amusing if it weren’t for the fact that methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2.

I already knew that cows caused more damage than cars, but I had assumed that factory-farmed cows were more damaging than organically-farmed ones. It looks as though there is no way around the reality that, for our own sake, the sake of other species, and the sake of the world itself, humans must stop eating animals, however they are raised.

December 27, 2011
The Royal Family: The Original Reality T.V. Stars

Reading the news about Prince Philip’s health issues, it occurs to me that the Royal Family was the prototype for the current reality T.V. culture, in which people are famous only for being famous.

From The Guardian’s “news” story:

On Christmas Day, Princes William and Harry drove separate cars to the hospital from Sandringham, the Queen’s private Norfolk estate, taking the Duke of York’s daughters Beatrice and Eugenie and the Princess Royal’s children Zara and Peter with them for the 45-minute visit to their grandfather.

So, an old man got sick, and his family went to visit him.

Can you tell me one noteworthy - or even interesting thing - about Prince Philip, aside from his wealth and that he married the Queen? Can you tell me one noteworthy - or even interesting - thing about the Queen, aside from the position she inherited? The fascinating thing about these people is that they are so unremarkable, but their unremarkable problems and dramas are scrutinized as though they are important. In some ways, Princess Diana (click here to read the obituary I wrote for her) was the Jade Goody of her generation.

December 6, 2011
Disguises I Have Worn: Why Subterfuge Is Necessary for Investigative Journalism

Great Eastern Hotel, Glasgow

I’ve been following The Guardian’s coverage of the News International phone-hacking scandal. While I think hacking a person’s phone is criminal and should be treated as such, I disagree with The Guardian's apparent position that subterfuge should never be committed by journalists.

I’ve misrepresented myself several times: I dressed in rags and pretended to be homeless in order to get admitted to the Great Eastern Hotel in Glasgow, because I wanted to examine the conditions there. When I heard that a nursing home was neglecting its residents, I pretended that I had an elderly relative I wanted to find a place for.  I’ve gone on ride-along with cops who didn’t know I was a journalist, because I wanted to report what they actually said when they didn’t expect consequences. When Sheriff Joe Arpaio was acting as a “celebrity waiter” at a charity event, I went to the restaurant for dinner, pretending to be a tourist from Scotland, and asked him whether he was going to run for governor. There have been other such deceptions - these are only the ones that spring to mind right now - and the sad fact is that they are often necessary in matters of public interest. It should be exceptional, and a last resort, but as long as the privacy of individuals is not being violated, I see no ethical problem with it.

July 11, 2011
"Freedom" = Government Selling Power Over Health and Education to Private Business

The Guardian reports that David Cameron is vowing to “end the state’s monopoly over public services,” i.e. hand over the National Health Service and the education system to private business. He calls this “putting power in the hands of the people.”

This is the same idiocy that the U.S. embraces. Few seem to wonder how putting healthcare under the control of insurance companies - whose only concern is profit, and so their goal is to deny services wherever possible - gives people more of a “right to choose” than when services are nonprofit and government-run.

April 30, 2011
In U.S. Elections, Insanity May Be a Trump Card

The next U.S. President?
The Guardian ponders whether Donald Trump might be the most bizarre Presidential candidate ever.

Speaking at an event called The Reagan Revolution: From Ronald to Donald, Trump made his pitch to an audience of Nevada Republican bigwigs and curious onlookers in one of the key early-voting states in the nomination process. In the casino’s ballroom, which featured an ice statue of himself, Trump gave a virtuoso performance that was full of braggadocio and littered with expletives. “Our leaders are stupid, they are stupid people,” he said, before referring to the Chinese government as “motherfuckers” against whom he’d raise trade tariffs.
Despite such a performance – and perhaps because of it – there is no doubt that Trump has injected a remarkable shot of adrenaline into the stilted Republican search for a nominee to take on Barack Obama next year. One perhaps should have expected no less from the flamboyant figure who is a household name in America not for his politics, but his TV show The Apprentice and his catchphrase, “You’re fired!”
I know Democrats who’re hoping Trump will get the Republican nomination, and Republicans who’re worried that he will, and, judging from The Guardian report, that seems to be the general mood. I think they all might be underestimating the stupidity and childishness of the United States.

No doubt about it - Trump is a freak show. But that isn’t necessarily a handicap to his election chances. If the people Obama has betrayed stay away from the polls, and the racists and blamemongers and the frightened and angry people who worship Sarah Palin and Ayn Rand turn out, I think it’s by no means impossible that Trump could end up in the White House. In this country, where 25% of the people don’t believe the President is a U.S. citizen, and 18% aren’t sure (because, of course, black people are so pampered and overprivileged that one would get an easy ride to the Presidency), insanity may well prevail.

April 16, 2011
Sam Harris: Angry With the Unbelievers

Robert Winston and Sam Harris
The Guardian has a debate between torture-endorser and evangelical atheist Sam Harris and Professor Robert Winston.

Harris, and such fellow travelers as Richard Dawkins, are actually religious people, in the same vein as Jerry Falwell. They are defined by a belief, and they see that belief as The Truth, and so they want everyone else to convert to it.

March 30, 2011
Innocence is No Defense in Death Penalty Cases

The Guardian reports:

If the supreme court says innocence is no reason to commute, is it any wonder the US is one of the world’s leading executioners?
[It is] a significant but little-known fact about death-penalty law in the US – namely, that current court precedent allows the execution of innocent people. Remarkably, the supreme court, in a 1993 opinion, suggested that “actual innocence” is not a sufficient cause to be let free. The court only cares if the legal rules are followed, while acknowledging that innocent people could still be convicted and put to death.

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