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Bits Blog: German Regulator Warns Google Over Collecting Users’ Data

The city of Hamburg’s data protection commissioner said the tech giant’s information gathering risked creating “meaningful and comprehensive” records of individuals without consent.

City Room: New York Today: Month of Festivals

Wednesday: A festival for every taste, clouds stick around, and a case of burglar vs. Swedish tourist.

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Latest News: Ebola, Netanyahu, Hong Kong

Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

For Hong Kong Leader, Pressure Builds From Both Sides

Leung Chun-ying is the man on whom China is relying to quell the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. He has also become a main target of the protest.

Lens Blog: A Photographer’s Guide to Nocturnal Life

Traer Scott had to find her own path as an artist. She found it at night, making portraits of nocturnal animals.

Hong Kong Government’s Strategy on Protesters: Wait Them Out

The city’s top leader and his aides are said to hope that the disruption will eventually turn the public against the pro-democracy protests, which swelled further on Wednesday.

Medicaid Expansion Lets Convicts Rob the Elderly and Vulnerable of Health Care

Crooked Timber - 5 hours 3 min ago

Since we’re on the topic of appalling and bizarre things said by rightwingers, here’s my entry, from this morning’s inbox, with the headline above. It’s from the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida thinktank closely linked to ALEC (it also has some overlap with Cato and the State Policy Network).

The “argument” is that the expansion gives health care to poor people “many of whom (35 percent) with a record of run-ins with the criminal justice system”. This is illustrated with a “light-hearted” YouTube cartoon of convicts (riding in Cadillacs, naturally) pushing old ladies out of the line to get into the luxurious health care club that is Medicaid.

Given the catchy use of percentages (the 35 per cent figure is applicable to any assistance given to the poor), we can expect to see this one resurface in the Repub memepond on a regular basis. Paging Mitt Romney.

Categories: Group Blogs

Royals 9, Athletics 8 (12 innings): Royals Keep Coming Back, and Advance to a Division Series

The Kansas City Royals, in their first postseason in 29 years, overcame deficits of 2-0, 7-3 and 8-7, winning on a two-out line drive down the left-field line.

Restaurants: Restaurant Review: Keith McNally’s Cherche Midi

Cherche Midi may be Keith McNally’s most thorough repudiation of the downtown scene and current dining trends of the six restaurants he operates.

Should You Freeze Your Eggs?

News: Slate - Tue, 2014-09-30 22:51

The cocktail party at the trendy Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo could have been a networking event for a hip New York investment bank or publishing house—a swarm of young women in their late 20s and 30s, mostly in business attire. But the attendees weren’t thinking about their careers. They were thinking about their ovaries. The event was hosted by a company called EggBanxx, and the women had come to drink free wine and learn about egg freezing, something their hosts were promoting as a way to stop the biological clock so they can have their babies later, whenever they damn well please.

Categories: News

States in Play: Part 3: Loss of a Democratic Power Leaves Arkansas in Doubt

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Tue, 2014-09-30 22:47
Democrats face tough challenges in a state that is drifting right. Their popular governor must leave office because of term limits, and outside interests loom larger in a race that may determine control of the Senate.

The Personhood Dodge

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-09-30 22:06

Crooked Timber seems to be suffering from a deficit of posts. I blame excess of virtue on my part. I was going to post about that Kevin Williamson piece that has set everyone off. I noticed it before it was a thing! And now it’s gone viral. And he’s followed up with a Twitter thing about hanging women who get abortions. Lovely.

Here’s the thing. 1) He’s trolling. 2) On or about Monday afternoon I realized this specific style of trolling bothers me a bit less than it did a couple years back.

Possible explanations:

1) I’ve grown old and cold and my youthful idealism for truth and justice has dried up.

2) I don’t wear my old “I refute Jonah Goldberg posts that haven’t even been written yet” t-shirt much anymore – because, seriously. Life’s too short to be always trying to live on the bleeding edge of NR nonsense. “Tastes are composed of a thousand distastes” (Paul Valery) and all that. Still.

3) I just don’t see this sort of rhetorical performance being a culture war winner for conservatives any time soon. If Williamson is just going to prove Dunham’s point, give or take – well, why the hell not? If he thinks the solution to the problem of getting down with his bad self is ‘keep digging!’, who am I to say no?

But life is always better with greater intellectual clarity, if it can be achieved, so let me conclude this post by explaining something about Williamson’s Tweets, which are baffling, and have actually been Boing Boing’ed.

What, you may ask, is ‘the personhood dodge’? That is, why does Williamson think that his views are strictly scientific (not religious) and that the only way to be pro-choice is by indulging in some sort of mystic mumbo-jumbo?

The answer is provided here.

There are many religious people in the pro-life camp, but it is not a religious question. It is a question about the legal status of an entity that is under any biological interpretation a 1) distinct, 2) living, 3) human 4) organism at the early stages of development. Consider those four characteristics in order: There is no scientific dispute about whether an embryo is genetically distinct from the body in which it resides, about whether the tissue in question is living or not living, about whether the tissue in question is human or non-human, or whether it is an organism as opposed to a part of another organism, like an appendix or a fingernail.

The pro-abortion response to this reality is to retreat into mysticism, in this case the mysterious condition of “personhood.” The irony of this is that the self-professedly secularist pro-abortion movement places itself in roughly the same position as that of the medieval Christians who argued about such metaphysical questions as “ensoulment.” If we use the biological standard, the embryo is exactly what pro-lifers say it is: a distinct human organism at the early stages of development. If we instead decide to pursue the mystical standard of “personhood,” we may as well be debating about angels dancing on the head of a pin.

This is at least the sort of argument that is interesting to discuss (probably not with Williamson, who is obviously way too busy not caring about Lena Dunham having sex. But maybe he can take a break from all that.) The argument stands in a long line of similar arguments that try to finesse the is/ought distinction, by finding some scientific is to substitute for some-or-other puzzling ought. It’s a classic positivist gambit to say that anything that isn’t strictly scientific is therefore mystical (even though it’s actually kind of implausible that this opposition is exhaustive.)

It’s easy to see that Williamson’s argument generates odd implications. Thus, it can only be swallowed simultaneously with some extreme moral revisionism of ordinary attitudes and notions.

Suppose we encounter a race of non-human aliens that are, like us, sentient. They feel pain and pleasure. They have beliefs and desires, they laugh and cry and fall in love. They make life plans. Can we torture and kill them with impunity? After all, they lack human DNA? Obviously no one is going to say it’s just obvious that we can.

Suppose that for some strange reason a women is pregnant with a genetic clone of herself, so that the thing growing inside her is not genetically distinct from her, as an organism? Does it seem more ok to abort a clone, merely because it lacks a unique DNA signature? I think not. For that matter, would it be ok to murder an adult human clone – or one of two genetically identical twins, so long as you spared the other?

Suppose you want to defend the permissibility of factory farming against Peter Singer-style arguments? Would you simply repeat, over and over, that these animals have been tested and found to contain no human DNA?

Last but perhaps not least: human knowledge about basic truths of genetics is fairly recent. But human ethics is ancient. It is full of strictures against murdering, robbing, unfair treatment. It stipulates duties of care, on and on. If all this is really about genetic facts (not persons) then it seems to follow that all of human ethics is one giant Gettier problem. Quite literally, no human knew a thing about right and wrong before we basically knew how DNA works. Would it make sense to say that humans have moral knowledge of right and wrong, but that no humans did before 1953? Also, real knowledge about genetics is even today a fairly scarce commodity. (I confess to large gaps in my own knowledge.) Would it make sense to say that most of us take it on scientific faith that murder is wrong? That is, we usually have to trust the CSI boys and girls not just about the forensic details of a given murder scene, but about the victim being a genuinely qualified genetic candidate for the moral status of being murdered?

The basic formula for all such silly counter-examples is simple: it is a contingent fact that all known and accredited subjects entitled to the highest level of moral care do have unique human DNA signatures (with the exception of twins). So imagine a world in which that contingency doesn’t hold. What will our moral judgments track, in that world? Not the DNA signature (or lack thereof). That is, the reason we extend moral respect to some things, not others, is not that we value DNA. Rather, we judge some things, not others, to be persons.

If it turns out that personhood is a scientifically disreputable category, what follows is that the content of human morality is scientifically disreputable, for better or worse. If it turns out that our sense of personhood is vague, or conflicted in some cases, yet our moral sense demands an answer, then certain sorts of cases are just never going to be morally comfortable. We will have doubts and a nagging sense that there is something arbitrary, or absurd, about our ethical outlook. We will feel we’ve gone wrong somewhere. The pieces don’t fit.

But probably that isn’t such a surprising result. You can say that this is a proof that all humans are mystics. They go around all day believing in stuff that has no scientific basis, that doesn’t even really make sense, if you really push it. But, since we associate the term ‘mysticism’ with more specific forms of belief and behavior, perhaps this is not the best way to talk about it.

So Williamson is basically committing an old-style is/ought scientistic conflation, or positivistic fallacy, like I said. But maybe there’s a more general term for this fallacy? It goes like this. You notice that some subject, X, is a mess. But there is some subject, Y, in the vicinity, that can be handled neatly. You infer that X must be Y. Because what are the odds that the universe isn’t neat and tidy? Maybe this is just Occam’s Broom?

[UPDATE: thinking about it a bit more, after reading a comment by Brad DeLong, who takes Williamson to be reducing personhood to DNA, I think actually he is reducing moral truth to biological truth, while simultaneously being an eliminativist about personhood. It’s wrong to murder. That’s biology. But there’s no such thing as a person. That’s also biology. Curious combination.]

Categories: Group Blogs

Secret Service Rules Violated on Obama's Trip to Atlanta

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Tue, 2014-09-30 22:06
The contract security guard also managed to take pictures during the encounter, an official said, violating Secret Service rules while the president was in Atlanta.

Detailing Financial Links of Doctors and Drug Makers

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Tue, 2014-09-30 21:37
A new federal database sheds light on payments made to doctors, but the health care industry says technical problems and inaccuracies limit its value to patients.

Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Tue, 2014-09-30 21:19
Newly disclosed government documents show that in 1976, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger mapped out secret plans to launch airstrikes against Havana and “smash Cuba.”

With ‘Crouching Tiger’ Sequel, Netflix Takes Aim at Hollywood

News: The New York Times, Most emailed - Tue, 2014-09-30 20:44
Netflix and the Weinstein Company said that they planned to release a sequel to the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” simultaneously on Netflix and a select number of Imax theaters.

Hong Kong Protests Are Leaderless but Orderly

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Tue, 2014-09-30 20:43
The crowds on the streets maintain fastidious attention to hygiene and good manners as they rally for democracy.

Political Theater With a Purpose

News: Slate - Tue, 2014-09-30 20:33

U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson spent three-and-a-half uncomfortable hours on Tuesday being grilled by lawmakers who were very, very displeased with last week’s White House security breach. “This failure has once again tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service—a trust already strained by a string of recent scandals,” Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said early in the hearing, providing what would become a common refrain from both sides of the aisle. Proving this was far from a one-sided partisan attack, Democrat Rep. Stephen Lynch unleashed perhaps the most blistering one-liner, telling Pierson, “I wish to God that you protected the White House like you’re protecting your reputation here today.”

Categories: News
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