Less Current Events*:
Modernism Workshop at Emma Lake
Dayton and I are organizing workshop on modernist aesthetics and art criticism
on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Clement Greenberg's time as
critic-in-residence at the Emma
Lake Artists' Workshop. Cleverly, the workshop also falls just after 2007 CFHSS
Congress in Saskatoon, helping to ensure that we actually persuade
a significant number of academics and others to come to an aesethetics
workshop held at a camp/resort in northern Saskatchewan.
Posted: March 26, 2007
Another Surveillance Story:
Rank Abuse of Authority by Edmonton Police
In 2004 Edmonton
Sun columnist Kerry Diotte wrote an article critical of the city's
photo radar initiative, calling it a "cash cow" and pointing
to data which suggest that photo radar is completely ineffective in preventing
traffic accidents. (Those data are accurate, but not, I think, decisive:
Enforcement by flesh and blood police officers doesn't do much better
unless you spend a lot of money on it, by making enforcement
Posted: September 23, 2005
and Privilege (Eventually)
Flock Together: Part 100,992
The big news today: Belinda Stronach crosses the House to sit as a Liberal, thereby possibly saving the Martin government, probably causing a serious case of the vapors for Stephen Harper and, I'll wager, probably guaranteeing that while she will now have a cabinet post for as long as there is a Liberal inhabiting 24 Sussex Drive, she will never be PM.
I can't honestly say that I'm a big fan of either of these patrimonial plutocrats--Stronach or Martin--but I can see the sense in this part of Stronach's explanation of her move quoted in today's National Post:
Strip away the tact and delicacy, and this suggests to me something I've thought to be the case for a long time. Namely, that as long the CPC continues to coddle the social conservative, ex-Alliance wack jobs in its midst, it will continue to frighten Ontarians, who can't help but see it for what it is.
May 17, 2005
Frankly, I could not care less and, apparently, a plurality of Canadians feel pretty much the same way (scroll about halfway down).
Leave aside the obvious (though obviously important) symbolic problem, namely that for many people in Canadian society--in francophone Quebec, among Aboriginal Canadians, among non-European immigrants--the monarchy mainly symbolizes colonialism and ascribed status. But beyond that, who on earth is impressed by this crap anymore? Pageantry, special hats, fancy getups, over-refined manners and unhealthily close genetic ties to one's extended family. Yes, all mightily impressive -- about 300 years ago.
And for this we are shelling out, I reckon, surely at least a million taxpayer dollars to keep Her Majesty entertained during her three days in Saskatchewan?
I don't necessarily endorse everything that the following groups stand for. But possibly tomorrow would be as good a time as any for Canadians to reflect on the fact that there are indeed alternatives to a constitutional monarchy headed by a foreigner.
for a Canadian Republic
May 16, 2005
|So... when did you stop beating your boyfriend?
Today I received some pre-election campaign bumf from Saskatoon-Humboldt's neophyte Conservative MP Brad Trost. In the feedback section, Trost supposedly wants my opinion on the following:
Way to go, Brad. I'm always on the lookout for textbook-grade fallacies to use in teaching informal logic and, trust me, you just made your way into my course notes.
Possibly this is what political consultants call "playing to your base." And, quite possibly, Trost could benefit from a course in informal logic, so at least he'll be able to recognize a petitio principii when he sees one. Depending on what happens in Parliament next week, he may soon have some time on his hands to pursue that.
Much more important, however, is to point out the brazen inconsistency of Trost's substantive point. Trost's tract is headlined "NDP pick gun registry over RCMP" and it goes on to report how, in November, 2004, the NDP caucus--together with a majority of every other party in the House aside from the CPC--voted down a CPC motion to take $20 million away from the gun registry and add it to the RCMP budget. Also mentioned: The fact that in December of the same year Jack Layton voted in favour a $14 million appropriation to fund the gun registry.
this straight, Brad: Guns are inherently dangerous devices and
it is well established that the state has role to play in regulating dangerous
things (cf., your car, the emissions from your factory). For decades,
a solid majority of Canadians have supported gun control for just that
reason. But beyond simply enabling the regulation of dangerous devices,
the gun registry has the added benefit of aiding law enforcement by making guns used in the commission of crimes traceable to persons.
In fact, one of strongest voices in support of the gun registry has been
that of the Canadian
Police Association. So, Brad, support for the gun registry is in fact
support for the RCMP and all other Canadian law enforcement agencies.
May 13, 2005
Artfacts.net has introduced an automated rating system for artists. The system, which updates daily, tracks changes in the reputation of artists based on the number of exhibitions of their work and the prestige of the galleries in which their work is shown--being part of a group exhibition at MoMA, for example, brings more points than a solo show at, say, the Mendel.
It's sort of fun to speculate about fluctuations in the reputation of individual artists. It's also fun, for about ten minutes, to make arbitrary comparisons between the supposed titans of art history and recent enfants terrible. (It turns out, for instance, that Damien Hirst consistently outranks Paul Cézanne.)
Like any claim to have systematized some aspect of aesthetic judgment, the Artfacts ranking system is bound to rankle the sensibilities of people in the artworld ...
and Warhol... Neck and Neck
... but I would be interested to know what Pierre Bourdieu would have made of this. After all, the Artfacts system bears at least a superficial resemblance to the empirical work compiled in his best-known work, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.
[Actually, I think I know what Bourdieu would say: The Artfacts algorithms tell us essentially nothing about art, but quite a lot about the social prejudices of people who read and write for Artfacts. Most of the work done by the ranking system as a whole is accomplished by the reputation rankings assigned to galleries. After that, it doesn't really matter what goes on in the artworld any more than your choice of hat will make a difference in who you see when you look in a mirror.]
Insurers Become Co-Pilots
As part of a experimental program, US insurer Progressive Corp. is offering a group of 5,000 drivers in Minnesota discounts on their auto insurance of up to 25% in exchange for installing a monitoring device in their cars. The device will record driving speed, as well as the frequency and the time of day of trips taken.
Brother offers a driving discount
The company stresses that this is a discount-only program--they will not raise rates for drives who are found to have high risk driving habits.
I think we can expect to see more of this, however. It's only a matter of time, I'd say, before one of Progressive's competitors offers still deeper discounts in exchange for ongoing verification of good driving habits. It's not hard to imagine drivers voluntarily, in some cases even enthusiastically, signing up for such a program.
After that, the next logical step is obvious: Still lower insurance premiums in exchange for accepting not a monitor, but an electronic governor, wired to your car's computer system so as to prevent your car from traveling faster than the speed limit, to disable its ignition unless seat belts were deployed, and so on. This would be yet another example of the delegation of rule enforcement to technological devices (of the sort described by, e.g., Bruno Latour). And, in this case, if the discount was deep enough (and if I had some real assurance the data generated would be kept private), I'm not sure I wouldn't go along with it.
Privacy News: SGI and University of Saskatchewan
Informed consent is the basic ethical principle in biomedical research. And that principle is usually taken to include control by research subjects over the use of their personal information.
According to information recently reported by the CBC, however, informed consent seems to have have been almost completely disregarded in the course of research sponsored by Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) and carried out at the University of Saskatchewan (and now, in effect, continuing at the University of Alberta).
From 1997 to 1999, identifying personal information collected from SGI accident claims was transferred to researchers at the U of S. Claimants were subsequently contacted by the researchers for a series of telephone interviews and, in some cases, sent an extensive survey questionnaire. The information requested was often highly personal in nature (e.g., rating the quality and frequency of subjects' sexual activity). While letters to claimants describing the study and the survey both contained a 'fine print' statement indicating that the claimants' information would be used for research purposes, there was no clear indication that claimants could opt out of participating in the study. As far the average SGI claimant could know, she had to answer these questions in order to receive insurance benefits. Whether they liked it or not (indeed, whether they knew it or not) virtually everyone was part of the study.
The Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans--the administrative guidelines governing this sort of research in Canada--maintains (Article 2.4) that participation in research should be voluntary and that research subjects should be informed about the nature and possible consequences of their participation. Compliance with these guidelines is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Research Ethics Board (REB) at each research institution; in this case, the University of Saskatchewan.
that there is an exception to the Article 2.4 rule (Article
2.1), according to which some of these provisions can be waived in
the case of epidemiological research. Presumably that was the available
justification in this case. But it will be interesting to see exactly
how the University Committee on Ethics in Human Research justifies the
approval of the SGI project when their promised report is made public
later this year.
clips of the CBC reports:
Fault With The New England Journal of
Incredible Abuse of Saskatchewan
Ominous Signal" for Whistle-Blowers
This week (14.07.04) three senior scientists--Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lamber--were summarily fired by their employer, Health Canada. Citing privacy concerns, Health Canada officials have refused to say why the scientists were dismissed but, according to Health Canada spokesperson Ryan Baker, "It was not because of anything they may have said publicly."
Maybe so, but the optics, as they say, are not reassuring. Over the years Chopra, Haydon, and Lambert have offered highly vocal and very conspicuous public criticism of Health Canada policies and procedures, in connection with BSE, possible threats to human health posed by veterinary drugs, the increasing pressure being brought to bear on regulators to approve new drugs and many other things besides. All of these topics should be of real concern to the Canadian public (even if most Canadians pay little attention to such things until disaster strikes).
as worrisome, however, is the broader question of how government regulatory
agencies are to treat internal dissent. Regulatory agencies like Health
Canada are not as transparent as they could be (and, I'd say, ought to
be) and they are only (very) indirectly accountable to Parliament. Yet
all of us depend on the integrity of technology assessors and regulators
and the fairness of the regulatory system as whole depends on their freedom
to speak out.
Canada fires 3 scientists
Canada fires scientists who criticized drug-approval process
Canada fires whistle-blowing scientists
Sacks Three Scientists
this month's (03.04) New York Review of Books, Richard Horton
offers an interesting--indeed, spirited--review of Sheldon Krimsky's new
book Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted
The review should be of considerable interest to students in PHIL 236, Ethics and Technology.
A Modest Proposal:
In a related
[Here, BTW, is the post-election version, with a new, but, alas, much less powerful ending.]
Among Us (and
some shameless self-promotion)
As the following article suggests, the latest trend toward camera-equipped cell phones poses new challenges to social norms. Yet again (as with the telephone, with pagers, with earlier generations of cellular technology), people are faced with the challenge of working out a new etiquette in response to a new technology and renegotiating the boundaries of public and private space.
up with the cell phones
What makes this especially interesting, I think (apart from the things that MacIntyre quotes me as saying in the article), is the fact that it's ordinary people who have made cell phone cameras popular. For years now people have talked about the 'surveillance society', but the assumption used to be that only the state or big non-state actors such as corporations would have access to the tools that would make the surveillance society possible. It turns out, however, that ordinary people (whether wittingly or not) seem to be willing to do their part in bringing about the end of privacy as we used to know it. That's an old story, of course. But camera-equipped cell phones put just that many more potential privacy hazards into the hands of just that many more people.
in Intolerance and Paranoia: Larry Spencer
Earlier this week (11.25.04), in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Canadian Alliance MP Larry Spencer (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre) decided to share with the Canadian public his paranoid fantasies about a homosexual "conspiracy" to seduce young people and to infiltrate schools, churches, and the judiciary. If some brave soul were to introduce a bill outlawing homosexuality, says Mr. Spencer, he'd vote for it.
acts should be illegal: Alliance MP
MP punished over anti-gay remarks
Now, as everyone
knows, Alliance leader Stephen Harper responded to this inanity by firing
Spencer from his job as 'family issues' critic for the Alliance. Fair
enough, I suppose. But I, for one, find it not just embarrassing but nearly
incredible that Mr. Spencer has not yet indicated that he is prepared
to vacate his seat in Parliament.
US Copyright Tinkering: Milking Mickey Mouse
Freeing Mickey Mouse (PDF, 47 kb.)
OK. But why a retroactive change? And what's so special about the year 1923? Well, amongst other things, it happens that a certain beloved cartoon character was created in the mid-1920s and, in 1998, was about to revert to the public domain. The owners of said character, it seems, were quite successful in persuading US legislators that this was not to be welcomed.
It's hard not to see this as garden variety corporate welfare, but it is also, alas, a rather typical example of who gets their say and how when it comes to setting intellectual property rules.
It will be interesting to hear the verdict in Eldred v. Ashcroft this spring.
Bono Copyright Term Extension Act
It has been a while since I have had an opportunity to teach the Philosophy Department's course in business and professional ethics. I miss it sometimes--not least because it is so easy to come up with examples of venality, wickedness, and stupidity in the world of business.
101 Dumbest Moments in Business
UK Commission Considers Proposal to Outlaw DNA Theft
might urge DNA theft be made an offence
The commission seems to be mainly concerned with how unauthorized DNA samples could be used to violate personal privacy rights, for example in the hands of unscrupulous journalists or in police searches. But it is interesting to consider how such a law (if it is ever actually introduced) would affect the use of DNA samples in biotech research. Ordinary civil liberties may turn out be the best defense against so-called bio-piracy (at least in the case of human genes).
Privacy News: The World Of "Free" Online Services
Interesting times for users of "free" webmail and file swapping services:
Rips! Up! Privacy! Policy!
is evolving into fee-mail
Plans Raise Privacy Alarm
A Cop in Every Computer
We are at the beginning of a major change in the way intellectual property rules are enforced. Until recently, intellectual property rights ultimately depended on the courts and, sometimes, legal sanctions meted out by the state. Now, however, enforcement is increasingly handled directly by technology -- sometimes the very technology to which the intellectual property rights in question apply.
As the following article from law.com suggests, "content" industries and "technology" industries have markedly different perspectives on this. But one also might ask whether a right really ought to be the sort of thing that you can create and enforce for yourself.
Cop in Every Computer
This is playing
out on other fronts as well ...
nearing anti-copying tech for TV
McGill Shrugged; Ayn Rand Shrugged Off
The National Post and the Montreal Gazette reported this week
(28.07.02) that McGill University has turned down a sizable bequest to
fund an Ayn Rand chair in philosophy.
If any university
I was associated with were to accept such a offer, I'd be embarrassed
too. But the comparisons to an "Adolph Hitler Chair in International
Relations" or a "Huston Stewart Chamberlain Chair in Eugenics"
offered by the anonymous McGill prof quoted in Dubinsky's piece are way overdrawn. Ayn Rand is marginal to academic philosophy for the simple reason that she provides
almost nothing by way of original, cogent arguments for her views. That
she has been influential among some apparently intelligent people (in
particular, as a formative
influence on the young Alan
Greenspan) is beyond doubt. But then again, lots of people hold influential
Berra to Tony
Robbins--and they don't make it into philosophy textbooks either.
Last Call for Biodiversity: GM Corn in Mexico
Maize corn has been cultivated in Mexico for at least 4,000 years. Mexico is, you could say without much exaggeration, the birthplace of corn and the 60 or so varieties of corn that grow there serve as a de facto gene bank for preserving the future viability of the crop.
The news is that, notwithstanding a ban on growing genetically modified (GM) crops in Mexico, GM corn has been found growing in the southern state of Oaxaca. At the very least, this ought to serve as an object lesson in how difficult it can be to control GM crops outside of the laboratory. Given the immense social and cultural significance of corn in Mexico, however, it is also gearing up to be a serious political question and yet another hard case in the ethics of globalization.
Angered by Spread of Corn
corn found growing in Mexico
Post-September 11 McCarthyism
For a while, in the days immediately following September 11th, the Bush administration explicitly offered "you are either with us or you are against us" as an organizing principle in its war on terrorism. There is nothing surprising about this. Governments have responded to crisis by suspending critical debate and waving the flag since, well, since government was first invented. Sometimes governments have to act under pressure and there is no time for a debate about principles.
So runs the standard justification, at any rate. But obviously just because something serves the interests of government doesn't mean that it is right.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative advocacy group dedicated to purging liberalism from academe, recently issued a report that tries to take the logic of "you are either with us or you are against us" into university classrooms.
The organization -- which lists among its founders Lynne V. Cheney, wife of the US Vice President -- claims an official mandate that sounds as unobjectionable as motherhood and apple pie:
The report, however, rather grandly entitled Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can be Done About It [PDF], mainly consists of some 117 "unpatriotic" statements by US professors.
These include such outrages as a claim that Osama bin Laden ought to be tried before an international tribunal, that we ought to “imagine the real suffering and grief of people in other countries" and that "ignorance breeds hate." It is claimed that such remarks should be held up to "criticism," but you will look in vain for any actual critical discussion in the report. For the most part, such remarks are simply labeled as relativistic, ideological and un-American.
All this would be merely idiotic if it weren't for the all-too-real possibility that some university administrator, caught up post-September 11 the patriotic fervor, might actually act on it.
York Times Article on the ACTA Report
Jello Biafra in Saskatoon
Did he basically steal the idea of reinventing himself as a spoken word act from ex-Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins? Of course he did. Does that mean that Jello Biafra isn't worth checking out? Not at all.
Biafra, who led the Dead Kennedys back in the day, may not have Rollins' sheer muscular aggression. But an hour or so into a spoken word show that's probably a good thing. They can both be annoying, in their own way, but Biafra always was the more self-consciously intellectual of the two.
I think it's downright hilarious that the Biafra show runs (nearly) back to back with Peter Mansbridge delivering the Roy Romanow Commemorative Lecture. It's all show business now, folks. Anarchy for sale.
Unfortunately, I teach a class that conflicts with the rescheduled show. I'm interested in hearing reviews from anyone who can make it. Drop me a line.
| Professional Responsibility in Biotech Research
A standard claim about biotech products -- indeed the standard claim about most controversial technologies available in the marketplace -- is that the relative safety of such products can be evaluated through "objective" scientific testing. But if scientific risk assessment is possible (and that is itself an open question), then science has to be allowed to work the way that it is supposed to.
Pretty much every philosophical view of how science is supposed to work -- realist, instrumentalist, falsificationist, whichever -- recognizes that science must involve adjudication between competing hypotheses. But it is absurd to call something an adjudication if some competing hypotheses cannot be heard for reasons that have nothing to do with the likelihood of their being true.
That is one way of describing a phenomenon that is increasingly noticeable in the field of biotech research (and elsewhere). I draw your attention, in particular to the cases of Arpad Pusztai and Ann Clark.
The Sierra Club article, "Spinning Science into GOLD," clearly has its own position to sell. On the other hand, as environmental groups go, the Sierra Club hardly counts as a wingnut organization. When you read fawning announcements about industry support for university research -- in the U of S OnCampus News, say -- I invite you to imagine how many Arpad Pusztais and Ann Clarks you have not heard about.
Before tuning in to Stossel, however, you might want to have look at this description of how he achieves that smooth, simple spin: http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/4393
Case and Her Boyfriends
Aside from maybe, just maybe, Steve Earle (circa Transcendental Blues), Neko Case & co. are pretty much the only country-inflected act that you are ever likely to catch me listening to. (No offense to C&W fans, it's just that I find most country music well ... stupid.)
I've caught up with Neko Case before, in Toronto, and trust me when I say that this is one of the coolest acts to make its way to Saskatoon this year. (A rather modest claim, I realize, but still ...)
A Canadian DMCA?
Industry Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage have begun a process to reform the Canadian Copyright Act. In particular, amendments along the lines of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act have been proposed in order to "prevent the circumvention of technologies used to protect copyright material; and, prohibit tampering with rights management information."
If such amendments end up being dictated to Parliament by the "content" industry (TV, film, publishing, software), there is a good chance that, as with the US DMCA, individual rights and the doctrine of "fair dealing" will be compromised. In particular, public criticism of technology protection schemes by computer scientists and others may be discouraged by the threat of litigation.
We don't have to let that happen. The Intellectual Property Directorate has, without much fanfare, solicited public input on the process. The deadline, however, is close at hand: September 15, 2001. Check the links below for more information:
Copyright Reform Process (Industry Canada)