Books in the Mail

Russ Shafer-Landau's new ethics anthology and introduction to ethics arrived yesterday.   I'm honored that there's an excerpt from my book on the good life in the anthology.  A pleasant discovery:  it sits next to an essay by Richard Taylor that's one of my favorites. 


Milk without Killing?

Unfortunately, it's very hard to be a milk drinker without being complicit in the killing of male cattle. For every female dairy cow born, there's a male that's got to be put to some use.  In developing countries, the male might be used for labor, but here in the US, males are used for meat.

I've been thinking for a while there's a solution that's at least conceivable.  Females are artificially inseminated with bull semen. Why not preselect XX sperm so male cattle are never born? Why not indeed.  It turns out that the technology already exists and has been used since 2006.  Over 90% of calves born using this technology are female. The New York Times says that 63,000 sex-preselected heifers are going to be added to US dairy herds this year, and 161,000 next year. That means there will be about 250,000 fewer male cattle destined for slaughter.

So, something to celebrate?

Not so fast! It turns out that all those extra heifers seemed economically desirable, back in 2006, but now there's too much milk flooding the market, making prices too low.  "Desperate to drive up prices by stemming the gusher of unwanted milk, a dairy industry group, the National Milk Producers Federation, has been paying farmers to send herds to slaughter. Since January the program has culled about 230,000 cows nationwide."

So much for milk without killing.

But what if the technology had worked, just as promised? More females, more milk, fewer males, less killing. Is that all to the good?  In their new book on women's rights, Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu Dunn decry the the huge number of baby girls that aren't born each year because of the widespread practice of sex selection in places like India and China.  They call this "gendercide," obviously inviting a comparison to genocide.

Why is it that human gendercide is a very serious matter, morally, but animal gendercide is not? It's not, is it?  Using sex pre-selection to prevent later killings of animals seems all to the good.  I can't really see a downside.

So animal gendercide is not just like human gendercide, if it's like it at all. While we are making comparisons, how about the comparison between human gendercide and genocide?  Does the word play create a false analogy?


More on Judge Jones

It was a real privilege to hear Judge Jones talk yesterday along with Eric Rothschild, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover case.  Perhaps the most moving moment was when Judge Jones talked about receiving death threats. Then he excoriated Ann Coulter for saying someone should put rat poison in Justice Stevens's creme brulee, after he issued some opinion she didn't like.  Words like that have real consequences, he pointed out, and referred to the Chicago judge whose mother and husband were murdered a few years ago.

I got to ask the judge if issues about religion-science compatibility played any role whatever in his thinking about the Dover case--since there was testimony on that topic. He said he had personal opinions on the subject, but they played no role. Which gets me thinking...does the compatibility debate make any difference to real world cases like this?

In this particular case, that issue doesn't seem to have concerned the judge.  The critical legal issue was whether Intelligent Design is science or not science, and whether the effort to get it into the science classroom had roots in religion.  So the broader philosophical issue was beside the point.

But it did matter to the people on the ground.  The 13 parents who filed suit against the school board, which had decided a pro-ID message was going to have to be read in high school science classes, were pilloried by their community.   Some of them were interviewed for a PBS documentary on the case, and it was obviously important to them to present themselves as wanting science taught in science classes, not as rejecting religion.  They were church-goers and even Sunday School teachers.  They would have been horrified by the suggestion that by believing in evolution, they were rationally committed to being atheists.

Some atheists seem to mind very, very much what the National Center for Science Education says about this issue.  What they say, in a nutshell, is that reasonable people will disagree. And isn't that exactly true? Plus, they offer lots of resources that are supportive for people like the Dover parents and science teachers.  Given the real world struggles the organization has to respond to, I can't see how they can be faulted.  An officially atheist organization would do differently, but I take it that's not the NCSE.


Judge Jones

Today I'm going to have the privilege of hearing Judge Jones speak--the judge who defended the integrity of science classrooms against intelligent design proponents in the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision.  It occurs to me to reflect on why it's so important for people to embrace evolution.  So--some possibilities.
  1. What's really important is the separation of church and state, which is threatened by the intrusion of religion (under ID camouflage) into science classrooms.
  2. It's important because evolution is not only true, but a significant and wide-ranging truth.  People can't hope to know every truth, but ought to know the Big Truths.
  3. It's important not simply because evolution is a Big Truth, but because it's pivotal to understanding ourselves and our place on earth.  Understanding evolution corrects a false and dangerous sense of human exceptionalism.
  4. What's important is the rational scientific outlook that lies behind embracing evolution.  If you resist evolution, it must because of a more deep-seated irrationality that's got to lead to many other misjudgments on matters of public significance.
  5. Accepting evolution is important as a stepping stone to abandoning religion and adopting a fully rational, secular stance toward matters of public significance.
I'm leaning toward 1, 3, and 4.  More later...


Philosophers as Writers and Bloggers

Announcing his selection of the three top blog entries in a "3 Quarks Daily" competition, Dennett adds this comment about  philosophers as writers and bloggers. I couldn't agree more--
I wish philosophy blog postings were more like the best science blog postings: short, jargon-free, and lively (if wit is too much to hope for, as apparently it is). Philosophers emerge from a training in which their writing efforts are almost always addressed to a captive audience: the grader is obliged to read the student’s essay, however turgid and ungainly, because that is the student’s right; then later, the others in the field with whom one is engaged in intellectual combat are obliged to read one’s latest sally simply because scholarship demands it. “You don’t know the literature” if you haven’t managed to claw your way through the books and articles of the competition. Moreover, writing something that is somewhat challenging to read, or even unpleasantly difficult to slog through, is seen by some as an enviable sign of depth. It is, I fear, the only way many philosophers can prove to colleagues and students–and to themselves–that they are doing hard work worth a professor’s salary.
Blogs, one might think, would be the ideal antidote, since nobody has to read your blog (not yet–the day will soon come when keeping up with the latest blog debates is the first rule for aspiring philosophical quidnuncs.) Alas, however, it seems that there is a countervailing pressure–or absence of pressure–that dissipates the effect: the blog genre is celebrated as a casual, self-indulgent form of self-expression. Easy to write, but not always delicious reading. (Remember, I tell my students, it is the reader, not the writer, who is supposed to have the fun.)
It is hard to see how blogs could survive without Google. If you are interested in the problem of reference in property dualism, or Buddhist anticipations of virtue ethics, or whatever, you can swiftly find the small gang who share your interest, and join the conversation without having to go through the long initiation process that introduces the outside reader to the terms, the state of the art, the current controversy. That means, however, that those who don’t share that interest will find nothing to appeal to them on those websites. Tastes in philosophy are deeply idiosyncratic, of course, and one conviction driven home to me by reading through the finalists is that my own taste in philosophy marks me as an outlier, far from the mean, if these nine entries represent the cream of the crop as determined by some suitably diverse judges. Most of them did not draw me in—but then they were not meant for my eyes. So one must bear in mind that my choices may well tell much more about the vector of my eccentricity than about the relative merits of the candidates. Still, I’ve agreed to judge the finalists, and here are my decisions.
All three winners exhibit the sort of calm clarity that philosophers pride themselves in providing and so seldom do. They are well-organized, explicit and–unlike most of the also-rans–efficient in the use of language. (My estimate is that a good editor could compress each of the others by close to 50 percent without any loss of content, and a considerable gain in memorability.)
I kind of think my own entry (which didn't make it into the finalists) was the right kind of thing (short, topical, etc), but probably needed a few more paragraphs to be really interesting.


Birthday of the World

We celebrate Rosh Hashanah both in the traditional way (going to services) and by making a birthday cake.  It usually looks about 50 times worse than the one above, but still cute.

Rosh Hashanah is the new year in the sense of the anniversary of the world's creation.  In my steadfastly secular way, I think of it just as a day to be glad the world exists, though I enjoy all the distinctly Jewish trimmings--the music, the apples, the honey, the familiar rituals.

The holiday (like all religious things, as far as I'm concerned) is like a sturdy piece of cloth that we can make meaning out of as we please. The nice thing about it is that the cloth has been around for a long time, so it's covered with embroidery.  We can add to it, while also noticing what's already there. Plus, there's the pleasing sense of continuity over thousands of years.  May all who want burlap find their own. 

This is a day when the sermon often concerns environmental issues. I'm looking forward to it.  Here's to the world's existence and health!


Inside Animal Labs

It's hard to get inside animal labs to see what's going on (I've tried), so this glimpse in today's New York Times is intriguing.   Just to be clear, obviously the tragedy here is about the murder of Annie Le. But the glimpse, being rare, is interesting. The reporter must think there may be some connection between the killing and the suspected killer's position as an animal tech.  I'll just quote, without comment.

The arrest opened a window into a peculiar work environment, populated by thousands of animals, driven researchers and the technicians who perform the lab’s menial but essential work.

Those technicians are given a special order: to serve as advocates for the animals and guardians of regulation about how they should be treated.

“There is a certain stress that builds with the job,” said David Russell, who worked as an animal technician at Yale from 1997 to 2008. “If there’s something wrong, you are the one who is on the hook.”

They come from a variety of backgrounds: former veterinary technicians; laid-off workers from pharmaceutical companies; men and women fresh out of high school and college and looking for a decent-paying job.

The jobs are competitive, and many get through the door with the help of a friend or relative. Mr. Clark’s brother-in-law and sister also work as animal technicians, and she recommended Mr. Clark for a position in the washing center in 2004, the year he graduated from high school in nearby Branford.

The university asks that technicians have familiarity with animals. Mr. Clark confided in one co-worker that he had listed on his résumé that he had worked on a farm, even though he had not, the co-worker said. The co-worker spoke on the condition of anonymity because Yale officials had instructed employees not to speak with the news media.

Yale’s Web site says it conducts criminal background checks of its employees, and since 2007, it has required all educational and employment credentials be verified.

With its cutting-edge facilities, the Amistad building, which opened in 2007, is a place technicians dream of working. It is home to about 4,000 mice alone, Mr. Russell said, on a campus that also keeps hamsters, gerbils, cats, dogs, pigs, sheep, fish and monkeys.

The washroom job is considered one of the toughest. It involves scraping dirty cages and loading them onto a conveyor-belt washer, and lifting 40-pound bags of food and bedding.

On a daily basis, technicians must also make the rounds looking for green neon tags — the mark signifying that an animal needs to be euthanized. They take the animals to the basement, lock them in a cage, and turn on the carbon dioxide machine.

“It is very easy to get attached to the animals,” Mr. Russell said. “It wears on you.”

Mr. Clark’s co-worker said the technicians “definitely do get a little desensitized.”

“But I don’t know anyone who is bothered and upset on a daily basis,” the co-worker said. The university provides counseling to help employees cope with having to kill animals on a regular basis.

Animal technicians must also be watchdogs, making sure that in the bureaucratic world of animal research, all documents have been filed and all ethical standards obeyed. They might remind a student to put on a gown before entering a room, or chide a researcher for failing to separate a litter of mice or clipping a mouse tail for a DNA sample, a practice the university forbids.

They live in fear of being held responsible for somebody else’s sloppiness; a single lapse like a dehydrated animal or unsanitary work space could mean weeks of disciplinary hearings.

Learning from Fiction

If fiction were outlawed, what would be lost?  This post raises the qestion whether the fictionless would  know less about the world. I think so.  They wouldn't have the benefit of reading Tolstoy's brilliant depiction of love and obsession in Anna Karenina, for example.  So they'd know less about love and obsession.

Could the loss be made up for?   Could psychologists tell us everything about love and obsession that we could ever learn in novels?  The task of writing a novel -- creating a detailed, believable alternative reality -- puts the writer is a unique position to see things that a psychologist might not.  But it would be a bit much to pound the table and say that fiction can't be replaced as a source of knowledge. It's just not likely to be replaced.

Is it really knowledge we get from fiction?   One thing that makes it seem as though a reader doesn't get knowledge from fiction is that the novelist doesn't actually present the evidence that went into the construction of the story. Tolstoy may have made lots and lots of observations that went into the drawing of the character of Anna Karenina.  But he didn't put them in an appendix.  You might say, then, that he knew what he was talking about, but we don't, as a result of reading the book.

Yet this is unsatisfactory.  As a casual reader of popular science books, I've come to know a lot of things.  For example, I know that the rate at which animals are becoming extinct is accelerating, because I've read E. O. Wilson.  Yet I have only the dimmest recollection of the evidence for that.  Wilson has the evidence, but I don't.  Evidently, knowledge can be transmitted from person to person without the ability to give justifications being transmitted.   When we are in very fussy moods, we may not call this "knowledge," thinking of "She knows that p" as very high praise. But for the most part, we're liberal with the use of the word.

Martha Nussbaum is well known for arguing that certain sorts of moral knowledge are conveyed by novels, a view I have a lot of sympathy for.  Novels are uniquely fitted to reveal the pluralistic nature of values, she says.  But I'm going to leave that aside, what with thinking it sidetracks into tangential issues about whether there are moral truths to be known about--and how moral knowledge might be distinctive.


Defense by Decimation

It's always good to keep myself away from the endless wrangling at religion websites, but I've fallen off the wagon, yet again. I'm intrigued by what Karen Armstrong has to say in defense of religion here. I think I'll read her forthcoming book before making up my mind. But here's another defender, with a not entirely different strategy. Armstrong and Josh Rosenau are both engaged in a kind of defense by decimation. First you cut down the pretensions of religion; then you say religion is alright.

Rosenau says that if religious scripture doesn't deliver scientific knowledge, like a physics textbook, it can still deliver some kind of knowledge. It can deliver knowledge like novels do. Quoting another blogger, he writes:
Vampire stories tell us, for example, than any of us can have great power if only we are willing to prey on others. Feed off the blood of others and great power will be yours. This is demonstrably true. It's how the pyramids were built. And Standard Oil.
We could get very confused here if we didn't make a distinction. When you understand fiction as fiction, you understand that it's true in vampire stories that there are vampires. What's true out there is only that power can come from preying on others. If you don't separate truth-in-fiction from truth-out-there, you're liable to make mistakes. Maybe you'll go around looking for vampires to hang out with, in the hopes of getting bitten by one and living forever.

So what's Rosenau saying? Maybe he's saying that there's an element of actual religion that's salvageable, even if the claims about miracles and the supernatural are false. If everyone would just recognize scripture as fiction, religion would be a good thing--at least the religions that involve good, edifying fictions. The truths in these fictions would stay safely in the fictions, and the edifying lessons would be learned. These are lessons about human psychology, morality, happiness, and much else. I agree with him that fiction makes us smarter and wiser, and that scripture-as-fiction sometimes has something to teach. (And I think some of his critics -- here and here -- are just missing the point.)

But he seems to be saying more. He argues that Jews have been understanding the bible non-literally for thousands of years, quoting Maimonides. He points out that Augustine also defends biblical non-literalism. He at least very nearly seems to say that religious folk already do recognize scripture as fiction, making the necessary distinctions between truth-in- fiction and truth-out-there, and placing the right things in each category.

But Jews and Christians, even of the most liberal sort, don't think of scripture simply as fiction. They certainly don't think of God as a fictional entity, like a vampire. If they read it as fiction at all, Jews read the bible as a sort of historical fiction. In that genre, the goal is to represent real things and happenings, but there is also fabrication and embellishment. Liberal Christians could take the same view of the New Testament. The most liberal take the realities represented in a very abstract way. A liberal Christian friend of mine once told me her faith did not depend on there being an actual, historical crucifixion and resurrection. Christ really did die for our sins, and we really are saved, but in some less that solid "bricks and mortar" sense. (Frankly, I didn't understand what she meant.) Liberal Jews don't think Moses met God on a mountain top, but still think there really is a covenant between God and the Jewish people, and that God wants certain things from us.

Rosenau's real interest is in arguing that religious people ought to be brought to science without being made to feel that their religion has to be left at the door. If religion delivers truths to us in the way that fiction does, it would be a bad idea to leave it at the door. That's his basic idea, I think. But he's simplified reality to make his argument more compelling. Religion delivers truths (like fiction does), but also falsehoods. Some of the falsehoods are inimical to science. You really do have to leave religious fundamentalism at the door, if you want to enter into the temple of science. But what about the very basic tenets of liberal religion? If you want to learn, teach, or do science, do you really have to leave the idea of the covenant or the saving power of the crucifixion, at the door?

Why should you? Nobody has shown that people with these fundamental beliefs make worse scientists or worse advocates for science. They don't, because these beliefs have little power to disrupt rational and scientific thought. The beliefs do concern events in the natural world, but they are long ago, isolated, non-recurring events. In a liberal Jewish setting, there is not constant talk of miracles, intercessory prayer, the afterlife to come. The God of liberal Judaism is not constantly poking his fingers through the clouds. So for all intents and purposes, believers are free to understand the world in an entirely secular, rational way.

I know less about liberal Christianity, but I suspect it is somewhat the same way. Though the Christian God is poking his fingers through the clouds a lot more often, there's something isolated and remote about the miracles. A liberal Christian scientist doesn't ever suppose that we should let God be the explanation for what happened, and not look at the physical facts.

I don't think a solid reason why religion has to be abandoned by the science-friendly is in the offing. Surely it would be unattractively paternalistic for atheists to want liberal religion to be abandoned just for the good of the benighted. There's the oft-heard argument that liberal religion gives cover to the worst kinds of religion, but even if that were so, you'd have to bring in a good accountant to draw any conclusions. Even if the good enables the bad, the good may still be the greater quantity. Besides, there's a more fair way to stop the bad: by going after it directly. It's not fair to expect good novelists to give up their craft, because they give luster to writing generally, thereby dignifying bad novels. Creators of wonderful technology like my ipod shouldn't feel guilty for dignifying the creation of bad technology, like guns.

So--I'm on the same team as Josh Rosenau. I don't think it's either true or helpful to say that a choice must be made between science and religion. But we can make that argument without decimating religion--making it out to be just a tiny, innocuous fraction of what it really is.

Updated 9/16 2 pm


Comment Policy

After writing my 200th post the other day ("Number 9, Number 9, Number 9"), I finally decided to put together a little comment policy. It's down there in the left column, below the fold.

Are We All Moral Realists?

Reading Russ Shafer-Landau's book Moral Realism, I am struck by an irony. Moral realism says that our moral judgments make claims about the world that are sometimes true, and true in the nature of things, not true (as "constructivists" say) because of the way we reason, or the way we agree to live together under a social contract, or some such. A contrasting position (among many others) is non-cognitivism. On that view, a moral judgment is a disguised reaction--"Hurray for universal health care!" or "Boo, genocide!" The Big Problem for moral realists--as the book makes clear for many chapters--is explaining how moral judgments can be motivating, if they're beliefs about the world. Beliefs (all by themselves) aren't the paradigm case of a motivating state. The advantage of non-cognitivism, by contrast, is that it makes it easier to explain moral motivation. "Boo!" and "Hurray!" reactions are just the kind of thing that spur people to action.

But here's the irony. It's puzzling how moral beliefs motivate, but the acceptance of moral realism is motivating. Imagine being sent to a reeducation camp where it's beat into you by non-cognitivists that your moral judgments are just reactions. When you are released, I think you're going to have a hard time latching onto any cause that takes any energy. But gradually you'll probably go back to how we normally think about morality. As you return to thinking it's true that you should do something about global warming, you'll get fired up to actually do something.

It's interesting to ponder the "phenomenology of obligation." What does it feel like to believe that we (really, truly, objectively) ought to stop global warming? It feels like someone's telling you to do something. You're under order. Most of us don't think of our moral responses as mere reactions, but if we did, what would that be like? We'd back off and demur. "I think there should be universal health care, but that's just me."

Could it be that an implicit commitment to moral realism gives our beliefs about right and wrong some of the oomph that they have? Well, I'm pondering it. Frankly, I think I'd have to study these issues for the 10,000 hours required for expertise--if Malcolm Gladwell is right about that--before I really thought I had the right to an opinion, but we're all entitled to our erstwhile hunches and hypotheses.


Can Animals Do Wrong?

This post somehow led to a discussion about whether animals can do wrong...so let's talk about it!

Say a cat badly scratches a baby. If the baby's 2-year-old big brother scratched her like that, we'd probably say that was a wrong thing to do, yet the brother is too young to be held responsible. The kid did wrong, but wasn't culpable. Why not say the same thing about the cat?

We might think the cat does no wrong, because he doesn't do anything. It's actions that are right and wrong, and cats don't perform any actions. Calling the scratching wrong is like calling a volcano eruption wrong. Yes, both things lead to bad outcomes, but neither is in the right category for any kind of moral assessment.

Okay....but what about the older brother? If his behavior is aptly considered wrong, and not classed with a volcano eruption, why such a dim view of the cat? Are we shortchanging the cat?

I suspect we are. Animals don't just erupt. In simple, low-level ways, they make up their minds, they choose, and then they act. The cat who scratches a baby could have chosen differently. If he'd heard a can of cat food being opened, he might have momentarily frozen, looked this way and then that, and then darted into the kitchen.

So cats do things, like 2-year olds do things. Neither is culpable, because they can't think through the difference between right and wrong, but why not say that cats, like children, sometimes do wrong?

It doesn't seem like there's any real barrier to judging the cat's action wrong, there's just ... weirdness. Where there's not much use in speaking a certain way, we find it peculiar. We're entirely comfortable calling the child's behavior wrong, because it's just such categorizations that help us teach children to do better. We tell the child how very wrong it is to scratch his baby brother. As the child learns the concepts of right and wrong, he learns to control himself, and we also start to hold him responsible.

Calling the cat's behavior wrong does little good. It's all the same whether we yell "Stop!" or we yell "That's wrong!" The cat's not "on the way" to responsibility like the child is. Still, there's nothing incoherent about thinking the cat did wrong. It's just a label with very little practical value.


Just Another Day?

Not quite, but 8 years later, we're getting there. For people closer up to the tragedy, I'm sure it hasn't been just another day.

Of Human Bondage

I am slaving away in the mines of my book index today, but here's some fun for the leisure classes--the finalists in the "3 Quarks Daily" contest. Just as I thought they would, the judges have promoted some bloggier entries over winners of the popularity contest.


Number 9, Number 9, Number 9

Here's a curious and amusing sentence from Jeff McMahan's book The Ethics of Killing.
A rough guide to what we owe to animals is this: we owe to them whatever kind of treatment we believe the severely retarded would be owed in virtue of their intrinsic natures by morally sensitive Martians. (p. 227)
Okay. If I want to know what I owe to cats and dogs, I just have to consult my convictions about those morally sensitive Martians, and what they owe to the severely retarded.

It sounds absurd, but on second thought, maybe this is not simply a case of "ignotum per ignotius"--trying to figure out the unknown by pondering the even more unknown.

We have a complex set of predispositions when it comes to the treatment of animals. Some animals are elite, and not to be tampered with. Some can be killed for food or even just for fun. All that is so deeply entrenched that it's hard to think clearly about what's really ethical or unethical.

Enter, the aliens. What would they owe to us? Another fresh start on the animals problem: What would we owe to aliens? It was with that honorable question in mind that I went to the movie District 9 a couple of days ago. I'm happy to say that about 15 minutes of the movie did touch on deep matters of ethics. The rest was ultra-gross-out mayhem of the first order, with a very light helping of another philosophical issue--the problem of personal identity. (Think Jeff Goldblum and The Fly.)

The aliens in the movie are treated in a way that's a little odd. They're not dismissed as "just animals," even though they look a lot like large (humanoid) insects. Rather, they're treated like a second-class human minority group--like black South Africans under apartheid.

The difficult question lurking in the background: what would we owe to an alien species that landed on earth? What criteria would we use to decide what their status was? I suspect if we thought these things through, we really would be in a better position to know what we owe to animals.

NB: There's more to the McMahan's quote. He asks us to think about what morally sensitive Martians would owe to severely retarded humans. Is that really the right question to ask, if we're worried about what we owe to animals? I very much doubt it, but that's another story.


Polls are Open

"3 Quarks Daily" is running a competition for best post at a philosophy blog. There's now a ballot up--including an entry by your humble servant--and voting continues until Sept. 7. Then there are some further judging stages, before the final coronation by Daniel Dennett. Have fun.

I can't resist commenting. I think there's some confusion about this contest. Judging from the wild popularity of some very unbloggy entries, and also from Brian Leiter's recommendations, I suspect some people think the panel of judges is looking for good philosophy that happens to be at a blog. We shall see, when the august body (headed by Daniel Dennett) makes its final decisions. My bet--the prize is going to go to something philosophically sharp, but also bloggy, like entry #1. Bloggy means--light, accessible, reasonably short, suitable for a relatively wide audience, apt to generate comments. We shall see.


Where the Boys Are

There's an interesting article about women in philosophy in the next issue of The Philosopher's Magazine, and an interesting discussion about it here. The perennial question: why so few?

More on Obama and the Kids

I'm happy to say that a lot of parents are hopping mad about the success that the Obama-haters are having with their campaign to block schoolchildren from hearing his speech next week. We're writing letters and emails and making phone calls. The President of the United States would like to talk to schoolchildren about working hard and staying in school. Sheer respect for the office means: they watch. And they watch without first getting special permission from their parents.

It annoys me that our first black president is being diminished this way. The locos (and I don't just mean "locals") wouldn't have dreamed of stopping President Bush from talking to school kids. In their minds, I think President Obama isn't actually quite the president. He's "that one"--a socialist, a death-bringer, a corrupter of youth. And our school administrators go along with it! Below--an open letter to our school superintendent, sent yesterday with a long list of signatures.


Obama's Speech to the Kids

President Obama is going to be addressing school children next week about the importance of working hard and staying in school. Did you know that he's going to be giving the speech in the nude? In fact, Michelle will be naked too. When he is done talking up education, they will be demonstrating some of their favorite positions on his desk. Or at least I gather as much from this article in the Dallas Morning News:

A groundswell of parent opposition to President Barack Obama's speech next week to students on the importance of education has forced many North Texas school districts to question whether to air it live in classrooms.
Obama announced the speech weeks ago, but opposition and concerns spread rapidly Wednesday morning through conservative social networking Web sites and radio talk shows.
By midday, local school districts say, they were inundated with hundreds of phone calls from parents urging them to not show Obama's speech at school.
Some parents threatened to keep their children home from school if the video was aired.
Apparently my own kids' school district here in Richardson, Texas, got wind of the X-rated nature of the presentation, and we've been sent the above permission slip. Unless I sign, they don't get to see the speech.
My feeling is: no. I don't think this kind of thing is appropriate for school age children. But me, I'm definitely watching.


The Unbearable Lightness of Proofreading

Not much blogging lately, partly because school has started, but also because I'm frantically proofreading and fact-checking my book. My head is filled with issues like whether it's "buses" or "busses" and "canvases" or "canvasses"...and the always thorny question of "Sacks's view" (going with The New York Times) or "Sacks' view" (going with how people speak).

I'd take this task lightly, except for the fact that I don't like finding typographical errors in a book. It says "author doesn't care." Plus, a couple of books in recent memory have been slammed by reviewers for factual errors. Not me...please!!!

So on and on it goes. With not much for entertainment except compulsively keeping track of my score over at 3 Quarks Daily. It seems my mother likes my blogging, I'm shamelessly partial to my own writing, and I have two fans. Sniff. Now about everybody else's entries (not even one of which I've read all the way through). Do these folks know what blogs are for? They're for getting in the mood to work, or taking a break from work. They. Shouldn't. Be. Work.

But that's OK...it's only money. Typos in the last sentence were deliberate. It. Was. For. Emphasis.