we’re in a war, so are some things justified?

John Quiggin at CT (and others in the comments) turn over the ticking bomb problem regarding torture. What they find underneath is that even if the situation could somehow legitimise torture under some ethical system, this does not necessitate dispensing with punishment for the torturer. If the situation were somehow severe enough to call for torture of an individual, it would also be severe enough to call for punishment of the applicant, even if their intentions were wholly good.

“Torture is wrong, but…” is a step into pragmatism that lends it a conditional legitimacy. Torture should not be treated as a last ditch tool in our carry-case. Even if the hypothetical situation arose, if a moral agent stepped out of bounds and committed the unconsciounable, it would have to do so aware that this isn’t merely a ‘Break in Case of Fire’ operation: it’s playing with the devils fire, with all the consequences that brings.

Keep reading the funny.

Reprazent Yankee Pot Roast!

It’s had a sleek overhaul and is looking tres gauche (hey, I can misuse the French language if I feel – this site taught me the Gallic for ‘Hairdresser on fire’; it’s all going on, baby). Run around and look at stuff, laugh funny ha ha. HA!

Beware of Greeks baring… nah, I’m not that crude

Belle Waring over at Crooked Timber has a … ripping post about the modern use of the word Trojan, and whether those who do so onsider what associations it may inadvertently bring. Here’s the gem:

“And then, there are the condoms. What do you think of when you hear the word Trojan? Possibly, you think of the heartbreaking scene of farewell between Hector and Andromache, when little Astyanax is frightened by the nodding plumes of Hector’s helmet. But probably not. Probably, you think: Trojan horse. So consider the context. There’s this big…item outside your walled citadel, and you are unsure whether to let it inside. After hearing the pros and cons (and seeing some people eaten by snakes), you open the gates and drag the big old thing inside. Then, you get drunk. At the height of the party, hundreds of little guys come spilling out of the thing and sow destruction, breaking “Troy’s hallowed coronal”, as they say. Is this, all things considered, the ideal story for condom manufacturers to evoke? Just asking.”


I think i have put comments up ok – if so, anyone who actually reads this know youself out in here. Say hello and some such. Also took a new template for the site. I’m thinking I should get some html know-how, it seems pretty straightforward, and then I can personalise a little. Make this coop a home!

Update: Comments are now squawk-backs. Kill me now. Bwaaak.

Get me out of this business!

Just kidding, I think. John Sutherland is about to retire from UCL’s English dept, and signs off with this piece in the Guardian Education – the good, bad, and ugly of University now vs then (40 years back). I particularly liked this quote:

“the RAE militates against colleagues who are merely (merely!) ‘learned’ but ‘unproductive’. Not all learning needs to be excreted on paper to be useful to the academic community”.

From Crooked Timber.

Is the world ready for more brownish sugar water?

This summer will see the launch of a new kind of Coke, which should shake people out of their daily stupor with its radical notion of a soft drink with less calories. Yes, less calories. Who would have thunk it?

To be fair, it is selling itself as having “that great Coca-Cola taste”; that would firmly distinguish it from Diet Coke then. But I’ll leave final arbitration to my brother, kingpin of the coke-drinking world. If he’ll switch then they’re on to a winner.

Two legs bad, polymer tentacles on a carbon steel chassis good. Obviously.

The guardians Bad Science section is a real joy, one I’ve got to check more regularly. The current story focuses on perennial favourite Kevin Warwick, the Derren Brown of Artifical Intelligence research. Only Warwick doesn’t follow his pronouncements of the preposterous with a half-hearted stab at demonstrating them. Technology is the future so in the future we will all be technology. QED. So read, but make sure to shield your monitor from involuntary snort damage.

unexpected reactions, until you stop and think

Via Crooked Timber, this story of the treatment of the Japanese hostages from Iraq on their return home is uncomfortable and for me a little bewildering. I visited Japan last month, expecting to encounter a rigid, stratified social structure, but finding people accessible, friendly, and warm. I made a number of friends, found myself discussing partners and home life with a senior Professor, was taken to visit a friends’ well-to-do mother in law and was treated far more inclusively than I expected. The social mores were certainly distinct from the west, and etiquette (including a fair amount of deference) was fairly pronounced, but the structure seemed to be as much focused on communal endeavour over individualism, as it was on hierarchy.

Thinking on it it’s not so surprising that the public reaction was so disapproving. The criticisms are telling:

“Yasuo Fukuda, the Japanese government’s spokesman offered this about the captives’ ordeal: “They may have gone on their own but they must consider how many people they caused trouble to because of their action.”

Effectively, they have done wrong because they embarked on a project which is not Japanese: they have pursued individualistic goals (admittedly these goals are concerned with helping others, but being active in Iraq would likely appear random and capricious to the public at home) which have now caused problems for Japan, as well as shaming it. My impression is that in Japan concepts of shame and honour are not purely elements of bradaggio and cred (though I’m sure that for many, from salaryman to yakuza footsoldier, this so; the world turns on its similarities as well as differences) but are deeply involved with the notion of community. If so, this would explain some of the level of vitriol – regardless of the public’s position on Iraq, regardless of opinions of whether their actions within Iraq were positive or negative. It’s not Rachel Corrie-style ‘traitor’ hatred, or anger that their presence or capture endorsed the war. Simply, it is that very visibly, these people endangered themselves and compromised Japan for distinctively non-Japanese, self-centred goals, and this is shaming.

Weird. I totally disagree with this, but understanding it prevents me feeling angry. I’m just sorry for the former hostages: what a thing to come back to.