Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent design unconstitutional in Penn.

"Both defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general."

--District Judge John Jones

1. Excerpts from US judge's ruling against intelligent design
2. Darwin Victorious
3. Religion & Science: Can’t We Get Along?

Monday, December 19, 2005

The value of privacy

Yesterday, the widespread, furtive, and unwarranted monitoring of telephone conversations and emails by the National Security Agency was revealed in The New York Times. Originally, this authorization was to monitor incoming and outgoing communications between the United States and Afghanistan, but has been broadened since its enactment. Moral outrage has ensued to some extent under the constitutional premise of "privacy", despite the measure's possible effectiveness in providing security.
1. Eavesdropping Effort Began Soon After Sept. 11 Attacks
2. Bush vows to continue domestic eavesdropping
3. Rice defends domestic eavesdropping
4. NSA's surveillance of citizens echoes 1970s controversy
5. Spying on Americans

What is the value of privacy? The fourth amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Is that privacy? That first portion has always seemed ambiguous to me. "The right.. to be secure in their persons". Secure in what way? Secure in knowing that knowledge about your life and personal business is something that you should have the right to safeguard? To have the right to remain anonymous if one wishes? If that is the case, then privacy is a libery-related value premise and an oblique one at that.

In making axiological judgments between privacy and some other value, privacy, then, holds little weight.. in this case especially, since the value is security. Generally speaking, limited personal transparency has insubstantial negative effects when pitted against the capacity for improved intelligence and national security.

A lack of privacy can potentially result in an oppressive government (which by itself is an extreme case, and only one where the existing institutions lack the checks and balances to stop such a thing from taking place), but a lack of security has consequences such as increased probability for terrorism (i.e. property damage, deaths).

However, would too much transparency ever give way for privacy to take precedence? Where does one draw the line? If everyone had fully transparent lives, e.g. the government could just walk into your home, search your belongings, etc. the amount of security obtained would be remarkable; the main drawback would be disconvenience. However, the two potential largescaled drawbacks would be (1) near inability to engage in civil disobediance or other illegal activities without guaranteed recourse, and (2) the possible Orwellian surge of centralized power and authority that would weaken the ability of the masses to guarantee any of their other liberties (e.g. freedom of speech, right to property without just compensation, etc.).

In my opinion, warrantless phone taps don't push us in the direction of a dystopia, they augment our national defense. I would object if they had purposes other than national defense, in which case the value judgment would be wholly different. But a small amount of transparency is something that one can ethically offer without further consideration.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Space and time in Kant's Prolegomena

I post daily for the sake of accomplishing something. However, I have no time to complete this post at the moment on account of finals, but it will be written hopefully within the next two days. This post is just a reminder for me to actually write on this topic.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Something everyone should read

1. CIA World Factbook - Listing of International Disputes

I'm not sure why the CIA's website has to look so much like an amateur version of an official site for a Tom Clancy game, but it's good information nonetheless.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Richard Pryor, we hardly knew thee

Richard Pryor
His wife Jennifer said he was not in pain when he died.

"He did not suffer, he went quickly and at the end there was a smile on his face," she said.

--BBC 12/10/05

1. Comedian Richard Pryor dead at 65
2. Comics mourn 'trailblazer' Pryor
3. Remembering Richard Pryor
4. Richard Pryor; a Groundbreaking, Anguished Comedian

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bioethics and intellectual property

I have finals this coming week, so posts will be somewhat scant. I'll expand upon them as I get the time.

So, for now a jumble of links on the topic of bioethics and intellectual property:
1. Intellectual Property Landscape of the Human Genome
2. Monsanto files patent for new invention: the pig
3. Patents on life
4. Nuffield Council on Bioethics: Genetically Modified crops

Friday, December 9, 2005

Communism for intellectual property

What we have experienced in the last two decades with the arrival of affordable computers to the home setting and the availability of mass information via the internet is the birth of the information age, and with its conception, the popular transgression of information and media.

Given the ease of sharing digital information and media at an insignificant cost, we have seen a selection and general availability of resources unprecedented since the start of the public library.

In addition to websites, P2P (Peer to Peer) technologies have arisen to facilitate economical file distribution, which, in application, may be used to share lawful content (but is more often used to share copyrighted content). Through these, people have experienced a taste of a form of communal distribution, in which each individual participant puts forth files and bandwidth in exchange for the gargantuan collection of files and the aggregated bandwidth of others.. which, for me, for one reason or another, evokes an image of limited communism for intellectual property.

I think of it as the contribution of work in order to obtain the larger body of work that is being contributed by everyone else, which occurs at a much more prolific rate than with the sharing of private ideas via capitalism. Individuals that contribute in this system can, essentially, have access to everything that is available, rather than being selective with one's salary in the purchasing of informational goods.

Out of this (and oftentimes before this) came numerous projects with an imperative to pursue the development of typical forms of "intellectual content" without the incentive of profit. These projects involve the altruistic dedication of labor for the benefit of others. It would be like if someone could design a chair (for lack of a better example) and then distribute it at virtually no cost; it's an action of altruism that is based on its medium for distribution. But, beyond that, there has been the advent of "open" projects. In these, no form of property (in the normative sense) is claimed, allowing individuals to modify and contribute to the products as they see fit and then disclose those modifications for the public where the product, fostered by the community, begins to flower and take newer, better forms.

Some examples might be:
1. Open-source web browser: Firefox
2. Open encyclopedia: Wikipedia
3. Open-source office software: OpenOffice.org
4. Open-source operating systems: FreeBSD and Linux
5. Directory of open-source software: SourceForge
6. Digital library for books with expired copyrights: Project Gutenberg
7. Open-source audio encoding technology: Ogg Vorbis

Furthermore, open software projects have become competitive with commercial projects. Firefox has significantly reduced Microsoft Internet Explorer's market share (and in my opinion is a far superior product), and OpenOffice.org and Linux are making trails in developing countries and business as a free alternative to Microsoft Office and commercial operating systems.

The "open" paradigm is altruistic and for everyone's benefit, which is at least partially antithetic of a commercial paradigm.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Hapless poetry

Flags cast in open

Walls, windows, shoulders

Sparrows slackly
Embraced, confined

A mirror that echoes
Sound asleep

And the fields stapled in time

By flowers and subterfuge
To fill the soul

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

The heated debate over global warming

The Bush administration's reluctance to act on the matter of global warming is drawing some new criticism (or heat if one wants a pun) from Canada, the UN, environmentalists, economists, and even the Inuit:
1. Canadian Leader Faults U.S. Stance on Global Warming
2. U.S. rejects bid for post-Kyoto talks
3. 'Gas muzzlers' challenge Bush
4. Wealthy Nations Owe 'Climate Debt' to Poor, Greens Say
5. Economists urge Bush to act on emissions
6. 12/8 update: US 'isolated' at climate talks
7. 12/8 update: Inuit sue US over climate policy
8. 12/9 update: Clinton Says Bush Is 'Flat Wrong' on Kyoto
9. 12/11 update: 'Hot death' warning on climate

Bush's general blanket position is that any effort to curtail emmissions of greenhouse gases would harm the US economy. This is, of course, when he doesn't express uncertainty that global warming is even occuring and justify his policy in this manner.

Global warming is widely accepted in the scientific community by a vast majority. There are skeptics, but, unfortunately, a large number of these are financed by the energy industry. They oftentimes have persuasive but unsubstantiated claims that are not peer-reviewed. Ross Gelbspan outlines this fairly succinctly in his book The Heat is On. In it, he argues, among other things, that the ambivalence on the subject of global warming is due to the media's tendency to represent opposing views with equal emphasis (when a vast majority of climate scientists acknowledge the trend) and the energy industry's extensive lobbying and political efforts.

So is global warming occuring? Is it caused by humans? Probably:
1. Scientists claim final proof of global warming
2. Core Evidence That Humans Affect Climate Change
3. Rise in Gases Unmatched by a History in Ancient Ice
4. Arctic ice 'disappearing quickly'
5. CO2 'highest for 650,000 years'

There was also a speech delivered today by Canada's Minister of the Environment, St├ęphane Dion at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. In it, he details the common impacts associated with global warming:
1. Opening Ceremony, Arctic Day Parallel Event

Articles containing other implications:
1. Experts say global warming is causing stronger hurricanes
2. Scientists Say Slower Atlantic Currents Could Mean a Colder Europe

Unlike other domestic matters, this one doesn't just affect us. As 2% of the world's population, the United States is releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other country by far. Considering the far-reaching ecological affects of global warming, other countries have a right to be mad at us. And as one of the foremost "developed" nations, our reluctance to engage in negotations is stalling progress on a global scale.

Something needs to be done. There's never a time when enacting regulations will not have some effect on the economy, all regulations do this. Just because global warming's effects aren't as immediate and readily observable as, say, a nuclear strike, does not mean that it does not have its consequences-i.e. species extinction, desertification, more intense hurricanes and tropical storms, property damage caused by rising coastlines, and many others. Severe long-term problems need to be addressed, which is done better sooner than later. Simply putting it off to an indefinite date is irresponsible and unethical.

12/11 update:
1. Details of the Montreal Agreements
2. U.S. Won't Join in Binding Climate Talks
3. U.S. agrees to informal talks on pollution, climate change

Monday, December 5, 2005

Intelligent design and intelligent refrigeration

I had a lecture in my anthropology class today about the intelligent design controversy.

I've never thought there to be a irresolvable conflict between the basic bibilical beliefs and the contemporary scientific theory provided that one doesn't adopt the position that the "6 days" in which God created the universe was an elapsed time of 144 hours that is equivalent to the way we judge time from Earth.

However, I had never heard the belief that sedimentary layers don't have any foundation in reflecting the passage of time. The belief went as far as to say that the Colorado River couldn't have carved the Grand Canyon, rather that it was more likely to have been caused by the Great Flood. Some of the other criticisms of empirical evidence I can vaguely understand, but that is tantamount to saying that tree rings don't necessarily reflect a tree's age.

Then there's the controversy over reptiles preceding birds in the evolutionary chain, when birds were created the day prior to land animals.

Here are some recent articles regarding the fossil record for proponents of evolution (not that I'm implying either side is correct by posting these):
1. Best Archaeopteryx Fossil So Far Ruffles a Few Feathers
2. A Well-Preserved Archaeopteryx Specimen with Theropod Features

Also: I finished reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken and found a reference to a developing environmentally-friendly refrigeration technology. Here are some articles:
1. Wikipedia: Thermoacoustic refrigeration
2. Cool Sounds

Or if you prefer, the latter as told by cartoon penguins (Flash Player 7 required):
3. Sounds Cool

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Language and thought

An idea that I've left undeveloped for a few years (and which is still undeveloped) is concerning one's capacity to think. Aside from reflexive and physical activities, general thought (intellect) as I see it is founded in language.

What initially prompted my curiosity was the mind's ability to process thoughts. Because language is learned and executed verbally (with exception for those born without a sense of hearing) it is continued in that form throughout our internal and non-vocalized thoughts. So, when a two-syllable word goes through your head, it takes less time to process than a six-syllable one. We get around complex ideas that are expressed by multiple words by creating a shorter conjunctive word, i.e. instead of "young deer" we could use "fawn", but the number of narrower terms to keep in mind if a solution was pursued in this manner would be daunting.

I often find myself having a thought such as "That means that I need to do -blank-", and finishing the thought before the phrase's syllables in my head are fully articulated. I've looked at this phenomenon as a type of bottleneck on how we think, but I'm completely clueless about how to get around it or make the process more efficient. I'm aware that there's some work in linguistics describing language as a "means" for abstract thought. If so, without language we could only intuit concepts directly related to sensational experience.

Maybe there's a way to process thoughts (language) without executing them verbally. It wouldn't be in the same sense that you make a conscious decision to move you arm, because that form of thought isn't intellectual, it doesn't involve a predicate expression or any form of deduction.

I'm curious on how deaf persons get around this. Is it simply transfered over to another sense, i.e. sight or touch, or is there a different approach?