Monday, November 28, 2011

How much authority should schools have over a child’s life?

 Last week Kansas high school student Emma Sullivan visited her state capital and then tweeted that she wished she could tell her governor that “he sucked” in person. She then ended the tweet with the hashtag: “#heblowsalot.” I will admit, I think that’s a funny hashtag.

One of the Governor’s staff members found the tweet and called the Principal who demanded she write a letter of apology. Then the Governor experienced The Streisand Effect, the online phenomenon in which the attempt to hide something calls disproportionate attention to the thing one is trying to hide. In response to the fracas, Sullivan’s Twitter followers went from about fifty people to over 8,000, and media coverage went national. Today, Governor Brownback apologized for the reaction; the complete opposite of what his Communications Director wanted. No one is asking Sullivan to apologize anymore.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are stupid traditions worth preserving too?

President Obama pardoned the Thanksgiving turkeys yesterday. For our foreign readers, this is a White House tradition in which the American President finds two turkeys and declares that they will not be eaten, sending them off to live a life of ease in a petting zoo or some national monument. This year’s birds were named “Liberty” and “Peace,” so needless to say, he couldn’t have killed either one. 

This tradition is dumb. First off, the turkeys can’t be pardoned because they haven’t been convicted of a crime. Maybe they could be rescued or saved, but that’s not the same thing. More importantly, there are no consequences of the pardon. Obama (and most of America) are still going to eat other birds, so there isn’t even the symbolic value of swearing off the slaughter of millions of living creatures.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Should statistics change people’s minds?


A friend of mine just had a breast cancer scare. Given where the mass was in her body, people kept reassuring her that she had only a 25% chance of malignancy. Her response was always the same: “You are telling me that I have a one-in-four chance of getting cancer. These are NOT good odds!”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Is satire ever harmless?

There’s a fine line between laughing with someone and laughing at them. This is made more complex by the ironic stance that seems ubiquitous on the internet. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement started, there has been an avalanche of jokes, satires, and derivative activities feeding off of the term “occupy.” Most of it isn’t making fun of the people involved, but I can’t help wonder whether it still works unconsciously to delegitimize the movement, even among those who would otherwise support it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is there a human right to toilet access?

Poster courtesy of:

Today is World Toilet Day, a day dedicated to calling attention to the one-third of people around the world who do not have access to flushable toilets. Campaigns like this remind those of us who take infrastructure for granted just how difficult life can be for the poor.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When is shock a moral political tool?

My decision to use a pixelated version of this picture is one I am uncomfortable with, precisely because, as I say below, I think there is nothing wrong with showing nudity. But I also know that this is going to show up on people's Facebook and RSS feeds and I didn't want to impose the picture on others without warning. Do you think readers would react differently to my comments if I had shown the original picture instead of the censored one?

Much of the liberal-democratic world is used to nudity in protests. From PETA to peace activists, nudity has become an effective tool to get attention (link probably NSFW), precisely because the media likes to cover it. But these tactical decisions are the result of prurient motives -- the media likes to film nudity because people like to look at it; these pictures are often arousing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Today is World Philosophy Day: How should we celebrate it?

Today is World Philosophy Day, at least as declared by the fine people at UNESCO. No celebrations were planned where I am (in part because we didn't know it was World Philosophy Day), but I am forced to wonder what would the ideal celebration would be. In Plato's Symposium, the philosophers decide that they should celebrate by rejecting alcohol and discussing the true nature of Love. I find, however, that a little alcohol might actually help the discussion. At least, in that respect, I follow the advice of the Philosophy Professors at the University of Wooloomooloo in Australia. (See the video below.)

Our address is now!

Greetings everyone. As a sign that the slow posting season is now leaving us, we're happy to announce our new URL:

Blogger assures us that the old URL will continue to work, but adjust your bookmarks and tell your friends. anyway And we promise, more exciting posts will follow shortly.

Here is a QR-code to prove how hip and with it we now are:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Next Episode of WHY? "Philosophy of Violence" with Steven Pinker. Sunday, November 13, at 5 p.m. Central

Join WHY? as we ask whether the world is less violent and whether humanity is progressing morally.

RSVP for this on Facebook at:

"The Philosophy of Violence"
with guest Steven Pinker

Sunday, November 13, 5 p.m. central.

Listen live from anywhere in the world at
and in North Dakota at 89.3 (Grand Forks), 91.9 (Fargo), 90.5 (Bismarck), and on Prairie Public radio stations across the state.