Dried Roses

5000 words on academic freedom

Not mine, but Michael Bérubé’s. An excellent discussion of academic freedom, its purposes, and the current threats to it. See “Academic Freedom”, Michael Bérubé Online 27 Jan 2006. Some of my thoughts on the subject can be found via the Themes and obsessions page.

LinkFebruary 4, 2006 in Academic Affairs

Analyze (or, if you’re British, analyse) please

A nice taxonomy of lies by the Company Bitch (the permalinks aren’t working; scroll to 29 Jan, 2:02 pm). There are three kinds: (i) the “it just sounded good” lie; (ii) the “normal” lie (to avoid embarrassment); (iii) the “buttressing” lie (told to back up an assertion that has been called into doubt).
Pragmatics in the wild, you could call it. How many kinds of lie are there?

LinkFebruary 4, 2006 in Language

Wednesday garden pix

Early daffodils.


LinkFebruary 4, 2006 in Garden

Where were they?

Where were all the right-to-lifers when this was happening? Where were all the Republican politicians who hopped on the Schiavo bandwagon? Where were all the Christians who prayed outside Michael Schiavo’s house?
A 27-year-old woman, dying of cancer, is being kept alive on a ventilator in the Regional Medical Center of Baylor University at Plano, Texas. The young woman has no health insurance. The hospital authorities decide they will no longer accept the burden of the cost of care, and they inform the young woman’s relatives that unless they find another facility to accept the patient, they will unplug the ventilator in ten days. The young woman is fully conscious and she says she does not want to die yet. The relatives are unable to arrange for care in another medical facility, and the hospital staff unplugs the ventilator, which quickly kills the woman.
The patient’s name was Tirhas Habtegiris, a legal immigrant, killed by Baylor University on December 12, 2005, the authorities invoking a law signed in 1999 by George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, the law relieving doctors of an obligation to provide life-sustaining treatment 10 days after providing formal notice that such treatment is found to be medically “inappropriate”.
Baylor’s report undoubtedly describes a difficult situation. It conflicts with statements made by members of Habtegiris’s family. I don’t know—nor do the people commenting on the case—who is telling the truth. But the point is not so much what Baylor did as it is the disparity between the response of some Republicans and some Christian leaders to the Schiavo case and to this case. If cutting off life support to Terry Schiavo was wrong, so was cutting off life support to Tirhas Habtegiris: on what grounds could you argue for continuing Schiavo’s treatment that would not also be grounds for continuing Habtegiris’s treatment?
And yet all those voices were silent.
See also:
[Yucatanman], “Culture of Life: Pull the plug on conscious patients”, DailyKos 14 Dec 2005. With further links.
Baylor Health Care System, “Media Statement: Tirhas Habtegiris Case”, n.d. In the Texas law they refer to, search on “not obligated”. See also “Tirhas Habtegiris Case: Media Statement”, a longer version of the other media statement, and “Tirhas Habtegiris Case: Baylor Response”.
[Pessimist], “It didn't take long—15 to 16 minutes”, The Left Coaster 16 Dec 2005. The quotation is from Jack Fink, “Family Debates Hospital’s Action in Woman’s Death”, CBS 11 News 14 Dec 2005.
For the economic angle, see Steven Landsburg, “Do the Poor Deserve Life Support?”, Slate 3 Jan 2006; and a response from Daniel Davies, “A simple Coasian test for some kinds of economic bollocks”, Crooked Timber 11 Jan 2006.
Plus another exchange between Tyler Cowen, “Why they might drum me out of the Economists’ Corps”, Marginal revolution 13 Jan 2006; and Glen Whitman, “Problematic Probabilities”, TechnoTip 16 Jan 2006. It’s fascinating how quickly the patient, her suffering, her family, the doctors—in short, everything that makes the case worth caring about—drops out in favor of exercises in expected utility theory and ex ante degrees of belief.
Wikipedia has an article on Tirhas Habtegiris.
In case you’re wondering, twenty days at $1200 a day (which was what Habtegiris’ care was said to cost) is equal to 15 seconds of Iraq-war spending. Source: Mark Mazzetti and Joel Havemann, “Iraq war is costing $100,000 per minute”, Seattle Times 3 Feb 2006 (from the LA Times).

LinkFebruary 4, 2006 in Current Affairs

Jean or Paul. Or maybe both of them. Some French guy, anyway.

Pat Robertson knows why Europe has low birth rates.
ROBERTSON: Studies that I have read indicate that having babies is a sign of a faith in the future. You know, unless you believe in the future, you’re not going to take the trouble of raising a child, educating a child, doing something. If there is no future, why do it? Well, unless you believe in God, there’s really no future. And when you go back to the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, the whole idea of this desperate nightmare we are in—you know, that we are in this prison, and it has no hope, no exit. That kind of philosophy has permeated the intellectual thinking of Europe, and hopefully it doesn’t come here. But nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, Europe is right now in the midst of racial suicide because of the declining birth rate. And they just can’t get it together. Why? There’s no hope.
See what happens when you read too much atheist philosophy? Racial suicide! Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?
Extra credit: develop a theory of time according to which the existence of the future depends upon your current mental states.

LinkFebruary 8, 2006 in Current Affairs · Unenlightenment

Cloudy ’Nights

From Snapshirts: a “word cloud” based on your website. You can turn it into a t-shirt for $18 ($21 color). I notice that their software seems to be incapable of dealing with accented letters. So much for the non-English-speaking world…
I see too many sites (CiteULike and Wists are other examples) that don’t handle Unicode well. I suspect they are using standard PHP routines that no-one ever bothered to test. Too bad. You’re excluding a majority of the world’s inhabitants. That’s not a great way to make money. Or friends.

LinkFebruary 12, 2006 in Web/Tech

Sunday cat pix

Musa emerges from sleep. After this comes the front stretch, then the back stretch. Only then is the cat ready for quadrupedal locomotion.


LinkFebruary 12, 2006 in Cats

Another liberal scientist

Spewing socialist venom in the classroom no doubt. Better call David Horowitz.
A good analogy for the biological approach is to think of a group of people working together. “They all do their own things in different ways and, to make an effective team, you let them do what they are best at or what they naturally do and try to get them into a directed purpose for your company’s goal,” Dr Zauner said. “If you apply very rigid rules on them, they become very inefficient.”

LinkFebruary 15, 2006 in Current Affairs

No, no, no. It can always get worse.

(i) A red giant. (ii) Planetary nebula surrounding white dwarf remnant. (Source: National Schools’ Observatory (UK), Astronomy Textbook).
Don’t worry, kids. This won’t ever happen to our Sun. God will sustain it with energy from our prayers.
In a different example of spinning science news last month, NASA headquarters removed a reference to the future death of the sun from a press release about the discovery of comet dust around a distant star known as a white dwarf. […]
“We are seeing the ghost of a star that was once a lot like our sun,” said Marc Kuchner of the Goddard Space Flight Center. In a statement that was edited out of the final news release he went on to say, “I cringed when I saw the data because it probably reflects the grim but very distant future of our own planets and solar system.”
An e-mail message from Erica Hupp at NASA headquarters to the authors of the original release at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said, “NASA is not in the habit of frightening the public with doom and gloom scenarios.”
Never mind that the death of the sun has been a staple of astronomy textbooks for 50 years.
Ms. Hupp was a colleague of the former NASA flack, George Deutsch III. Deutsch, who didn’t quite finish his BA at Texas A&M, was discovered to be trying to censor press releases. Before she started telling NASA’s scientists what to say, Erica Hupp was a PR person for the Colorado Springs and the Kansas City airports. She wrote stories like this: “COS Gears Up for the Annual Holiday Travel Rush” (Colorado Springs Airport Press Release 19 Nov 2003). You can certainly see how she’d be qualified for her present position.
Now tell me again what’s so bad about solipsism.
Link to the Times story via Seed’s “Daily Zeitgeist”.

LinkFebruary 15, 2006 in Current Affairs · Unenlightenment

Sunday cat pix

From the Collected naps of HS, ch. 35,088.


LinkFebruary 20, 2006 in Cats