Everyone’s a deviant

2
Jun
2008

Fascinating article by Stanley Fish in this morning’s NY Times.

All we can be sure of is that the struggle between the impulse to normalize — to specify a center and then police deviations from it — and the impulse to repel the normalizing gaze and live securely in a community of one’s own will never be resolved.

I agree with his central theme, but I suppose I also agree that (in law at least) there must be some way to protect each other from (real, as opposed to imagined) harm. Although these definitions can be slippery, I feel comfortable (for the most part) arguing that consent is the key. As long as individuals are capable of consent, they should pretty much have free reign to live their lives as they see fit. Of course defining consent is where we have a bit of a problem. There are always exceptions in individual cases (for example, at what age is a child capabale of consent? Some 16 year olds will be more mature than some 30 year olds), but as a society we need to imperfectly set a boundary (say 18).

Quote of the day

28
May
2008

From an article at Slate.com on reproduction, I thought this was a pretty funny way to look at it:

The family values debate of the future will pit gays and straights who think everyone should get married and have children against gays and straights who think that marriage is a stodgy bourgeois construct designed to channel the revolutionary energy of sexuality into diaper changing and carpool planning while the planet chokes on the greenhouse-gas emissions of the multiplying hordes.

Accidental being

26
May
2008

I just read a fascinating article in the NY Times this morning about woman named Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke in 1996 that completely changed her life…for the better. Through the severe damage that the stroke caused in her left hemisphere, she was left for a time with only right brain awareness and an overwhelming sense of presence. This state of being and experience outside of ego (constructed by the left brain) is one of the main goals of meditation. It is also worth listening to her short talk about her experience at TED.

Number Crunching

25
May
2008

A friend of mine just forwarded me a link to the work of an artist that is pretty fascinating. Called Running the Numbers, the work is by an artist named Chris Jordan. In the series, he creates a group of photomontages representing the vast quantities of waste that our consumer culture produces. What is so amazing about the work is how he plays with the scale in such a way that one doesn’t recognize the individual items in play until one is at a very close range. From a distance our detritus is abstract and divorced from the social indictment of a closer view. We rest easy when we aren’t forced to confront the enormity of our consumption. Amazing work.

Playing footsies

21
Apr
2008

Fascinating article from New York Magazine about the several thousand year old scandal that goes by the name of “shoes”.

It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we’re wrecking it with every step we take.

Although anyone who knows me knows I don’t care for feet (mine or anyone else’s), the article makes some really interesting points. Check it out here.

You’re, um, fat.

19
Apr
2008

Linked from a fascinating Salon.com article about seating comfort (or lack thereof) on airplanes, I was led to a fairly interesting company called Thompson Solutions. They have a line of ergonomic airplane seating, and as I was perusing their “Cozy Suite” subsection called “High Comfort“, I came across this euphemistic gem:

The high comfort seat is particularly suitable for single aisle aircraft. A conventional seat on a Boeing 737 is 17.5″ wide; our seats are 19″. For an A320 a conventional seat is 18.5″; ours is 20″. These are valuable increases given the continued growth in average passenger size (particularly US nationals) and the remaining lifespan of the current generation of aircraft.

emphasis mine.

Cost / benefit and scale

15
Apr
2008

Given any endeavor, what is an acceptable level of risk? I think this question is difficult enough if there is only one person involved and he or she is the one taking the risk. But what is an acceptable level of risk where more people are involved, but have no say in the decision? What if the entire world is involved? The New York Times has a fascinating article this morning about minuscule but theoretically possible risks from the Large Hadron Collider due to open soon in Switzerland.

Of course, this article talks about the largest of all possible risks, total world destruction. But what about the smaller risks that are taken daily in building a polluting chemical plant for example? How about an even smaller scale, like building a tall building? At some point we are reduced to complete immobility, never making anything or progressing in any way. How does one weigh the benefits of any project against its possible negative outcomes? There is of course no standard for cost benefit analysis, because people would have a hard time agreeing on what the value of each potential “cost” (say, health or human life) is.

Coffee achiever

4
Apr
2008

Good news about my addiction to coffee. According to this article on the BBC website:

Caffeine is a safe and readily available drug and its ability to stabilise the blood brain barrier means it could have an important part to play in therapies against neurological disorders.

Note: And before anyone goes about trying to correct the spelling of “stabalise”, remember that this is from a British publication.