Friday, January 28, 2011

How important is your mother's education?

The New York Times reports about a new, very detailed, study of contraceptive use in the United States. In the midst of the article is a tremendously interesting piece of information. The rate of contraceptive use among women, the first time they have intercourse, is directly correlated to the level of their mother's education:

"Seven out of 10 women said they had used some form of contraception at their first incidence of intercourse, ... For those whose mothers had no high school diploma, the rate was 52.8 percent; for daughters of high-school graduates it was 69.3 percent; for daughters of women with some college, 75.5 percent; and for daughters of college graduates, 83.9 percent."

Pretty much everyone knows that a parent's habits have profound effects on her or his child. The amount of time children see their parents read, for example, correlates to their own reading abilities. But the observation about contraception is not about similar behavior like the impact of reading on reading is. Instead, it is about how a significant set of life experiences (education) and the knowledge base it provides translates to a behavior that may not be included in that experience at all. In other words, the study did not say that it was related to mothers' education about contraception, only about education in general.

I could speculate as to why this connection exists but I'm not a sociologist and I would be guessing. Instead, I am moved to pose a more general question, asking what other indirect effects a mother's or parent's education has on a child.

It is also noteworthy that contraceptive use correlates with the mother's education and not the father's. Does this mean that fathers are not talking to their daughters about contraception? Does it mean that they are, but the daughters aren't listening? Or, does it mean that the role modeling that a mother does is significantly more important to a daughter than the role modeling the father does? It wouldn't surprise me if all three were true, of course, or if, in the end, it meant that a father impacts a different set of behaviors than a mother does.

In any case, we have yet another reason to promote education: it promotes responsible behavior over a tremendously wide range of activities. (And yes, I am aware that I am calling using contraceptives "responsible" and not condemning women who engage in sex for pleasure.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Should people be allowed to record interactions with the police?

An article in the New York Times outlines several cases in which people are being prosecuted under "eavesdropping" laws for recording interactions with the police. One is an instance where the person -- an eighteen year old woman -- was allegedly being sexually harassed by an officer who was there to sort out a domestic abuse situation in which she involved. Since some jurisdictions make it a crime to record conversations without the knowledge of everyone involved, it seems that those who do the recording, while trying to protect themselves, are running afoul of the law.

In Chicago, "although law-enforcement officials can legally record civilians in private or public, audio-recording a law-enforcement officer, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney, attorney general, assistant attorney general or judge in the performance of his or her duties is a Class 1 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison"

One would think that the police would be a special case, and that protecting someone from abuse of power is a compelling interest. In Chicago, the centerpiece of the article, there is an exception when "citizens have 'reasonable suspicion' that a crime is about to be committed against them, they may obtain evidence by recording it." However, what is most philosophically interesting is the comment made by the president of the Fraternal Order of Police whose organization “absolutely supports” banning of secret recordings. He said, that "allowing the audio recording of police officers while performing their duty 'can affect how an officer does his job on the street.'"

He is right, of course, but isn't this the point? Isn't the purpose of recording these incidents to make sure that the police officer acts according to the law, follows procedures to the tee, and treats those he or she interact with as they should. And, it goes both ways. The New York State police record most of their traffic stops and this protects the Troopers against lies and accusations as well.

On the flip side, a police officer does not cease to be a person and does not cease to have the protections that he or she would have in normal life. The police deserve a certain amount of protection and privacy and if eavesdropping laws are meant to apply to everyone, it ought to apply to them also. Furthermore, as we all know, recordings make their way onto the internet all the time. A police officer could be made famous because of an accident or a misleading tape. Investigations might be compromised. Media frenzies could interfere with public safety.

So, which is it? Should people (and the police) be permitted to record interactions or do the privacy issues outweigh the advantages? Furthermore, ought the police be allowed a little leeway to "bend" the laws and procedures in the name of public safety, a flexibility that recording would prohibit? What do you think?

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How much food has to be in "food"?

A group of people recently filed a class-action lawsuit against Taco Bell, claiming that their beef tacos were anything but. (Thank you Mouse Print Blog, and to Gail for sending it to us.) They want to argue, instead, that the food should be called "meat" tacos because it contains only 36% beef. But, the thing is, the meat mixture contains many things that aren't meat at all. Here is the ingredient list:

There are multiple issues here including whether Taco Bell is simply lying about their food. But the philosophical questions at the heart of the matter ask us to consider what counts as "meat" and "food" in the first place. So many of our foods contains vast numbers of preservatives and fillers, that it makes me wonder what we should call this stuff. "Soda" and "Nuggets" aren't real things in and of themselves, so I suppose that those names aren't misleading, but Chikken or Cheeze... well, that's a whole different animal. (Or not, as the case may be.)

It is also worth mentioning that Taco Bell isn't the only one in trouble with this sort of thing. McDonald's just settled a complaint from the State of Vermont because their so-called maple oatmeal has no maple in it. So,what do you think? Is the food labeling we use too misleading? How much meat has to be in a mixture for it to be called "meat," and how much beef is needed for Taco Bell to call something "beef". Is McDonald's wrong to call non-maple oatmeal maple even if it tastes like it? (Which it probably doesn't.) 

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's lunchtime. I think I'll go get some füd

Saturday, January 22, 2011

IPPL/Why? Are Seeking Graphic Arts Interns (interns need not be local)

Please send this announcement to anyone who you think might be
interested in this opportunity.

The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life and Why? Radio are looking for one or more graphic arts and design interns to begin work immediately. The internships may last six months to one year. Interns are not paid but may be eligible for course credit at The University of North Dakota or, if they are as student elsewhere, their home university or college.

Intern must have working knowledge of Adobe graphic arts software, especially Dreamweaver; web development capabilities are essential.

Interns will work independently in an informal environment, and engage with a supportive and flexible supervisor. The right intern will have the freedom to develop new initiatives and will be encouraged to explore his or her own ideas. Interns outside of Grand Forks, ND are free to telecommute.

To apply, contact Jack Weinstein by email at In the email, please provide a brief description of your background and experience. Include a resume if you have one. Applicants will be asked for a portfolio and references, but please do not provide this information until asked. 

Is there a right to revolution?

In the January 21, 2011 issue of The Week, William Falk argues that the National Rifle Association is motivated, not by a desire to protect hunters, but rather by the need to protect "the right to revolution." This is why they resist bans on automatic weapons even after tragedies like the shootings in Arizona. He writes:

"This is not a fringe view, held only by shaved-head militiamen in camouflage uniforms. Though not often discussed around hostile audiences, the belief in the "right of revolution" is a fundamental tenet shared by tens of millions of gun enthusiasts, and is at the heart of the NRA's determined — and successful — fight against gun-control laws."  
The short but complete article can be found here.

John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and others have talked about the right to revolt when the government becomes tyrannical or stops governing in the interests of those it represents. Is there such a right, and if there is, is the NRA correct it its assumption that preserving the legal capacity to own automatic weapons is a necessary precondition to exercise this right? Does this knowledge make you more or less inclined to support the NRA?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Are social services (like public schools) worth paying taxes for?

In a previous post, we talked about selective government, asking whether people should be permitted to choose which social services they want their taxes to pay for.  A recent segment on the Daily Show asks the more basic question: which are more important, social services or taxes? The report is funny, but also scary. Is it preferable to raise taxes or to make massive social cuts? And, if you choose to raise taxes, does your answer change if it is to pay for other people's social services, such as school for others' kids when you don't have any?

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The Prodigal Blog Returns

Greetings all. Followers of the blog may have noticed that we've been shut down for a bit. There are lots of reasons for this which aren't worth articulating. I'm happy to report, thought, that we're back in action. Thank you for to those who have been patient with us.

There will be a slight change in the blog. In order to help inspire you with more philosophical questions, rather than just post longer blog entries, as we've been doing, we'll also post links to interesting pieces published by others with a brief explanation as to why they are being posted. (We'll continue to do the longer pieces, naturally.) This is, of course, a very common way to run a blog, and there is, obviously, a reason for it. Now that we've learned the reason, we too hope to regain the excitement and enthusiasm we left behind a few months ago.

Thanks for your interest and thanks again for your patience.