Recently in Portsmouth, a statue of Charles Dickens has been unveiled. While not terribly notable in itself this event is of some interest as it ignores the last wishes of the author it is meant to honour .
The problem, in my view, is that this is just one of many cases in which a public figure—authors appear especially vulnerable—has been denied the fulfilment of his or her express wishes regarding post-mortem handling of his or her estate or image. Continue reading
On 6 December, Prof. Dr. Bernward Gesang, Chair of Philosophy and Ethics of Economy at the University of Mannheim, presented an interesting talk on “Do individuals have duties to protect the climate?” exploring if individuals have moral obligation to change their behaviours to mitigate climate change from an Act Utilitarian perspective, i.e. the view that an act is permissible if and only if no other acts bring higher overall utility. Continue reading
In the U.K., a Labour plan has recently been in the news and stimulating some interesting debate – mainly about the over-regulation of smoking.
As can be seen on the BBC news website, Labour peers have “tabled an amendment to the Children and Families Bill detailing their proposal for England, which they said was about “protecting children”. Lord Hunt, who supports the motion, has stated
“Some Lords will argue a car is a private space and that we should not legislate for what happens within such a space. But there are more important principles than that… For one for me is the need for child protection. Unlike most adults, children lack the freedom to decide when and how to travel, they lack the authority most adults have to ask people not to smoke in their company. And in those circumstances I think it is right for Parliament to step in to protect children.” Continue reading
During the last years, we have seen a rapid increase in websites devoted to publicly exposing convicted criminals. Some sites claim that the purpose is to “shame” criminals. Some claim the purpose is to make available information that will increase the safety of you and your family. Some are legal and operate within the framework of the law; others violate the law. Regardless of purposes and legal status, consequences for ex-convicts are clearly negative, and potentially disastrous. What this means in terms of punitive justice is often overlooked: what is an appropriate reaction to a situation where the expected consequences of a criminal conviction go far beyond the intended punishment? Continue reading
The Guardian newspaper has today launched a campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM). This coincides with evidence that, despite being illegal, a significant number of young women from the UK undergo the practice. Globally, more than 125 million living women have had some form of FGM performed.
Over at Slate, Tanner Colby has a critique of liberal US school busing policies that’s well worth reading. Some historical context: in the wake of Brown v. Board’s 1954 mandate to integrate school districts, a pattern of ‘white flight’ emerged – white parents moving from city centers to the suburbs to avoid having to send their children to racially integrated schools. School busing was a court-enforced reaction to this movement, designed to force the children of those who had fled to the suburbs to integrate by busing students in the whiter suburbs to more minority-dominated schools and vice-versa. Busing has more recently been rolled back by various courts and local governments, much to the chagrin of liberals – but Colby argues the policy was actually a massive failure to begin with. He makes some important points concerning a central goal of integration (to get students of different races to truly socialize and interact, not merely sit in the same classrooms and cafeterias) that busing did not achieve, and towards the end offers a glimpse of an alternative Colby thinks is superior. This alternative essentially involves compromising with racism by having blacks be bused to predominantly white schools, but (acceding to the racially-motivated demands of white parents) not vice-versa. Yet despite the allegedly good consequences of the compromise, there are inherent problems with it. These problems, I submit, give us strong reason to reject compromising with racism in this instance. Continue reading
Difficulties in assessing the risks of hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction: new study shows correlation between birth defects and proximity to gas wells in Colorado.
Natural gas extraction is associated with several known teratogens. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on January 28th by researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health and the Department of Epidemiology of Brown University, USA, finds that for those babies born of mothers living with greater density of natural gas wells within a ten mile radius of their residence, there was an increase in congenital heart defects, and a possible link with increase in neural tube defects. 1
This is significant for current debates about the future of methods to extract shale gas inland in the UK, including the use of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking as it is more commonly known). Fracking involves a method for extracting natural gas from impermeable rocks deep within the earth by deep drilling, firstly vertically, then horizontally, and the injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into the wells to cause fissures into the rock (hydraulic fracturing) through which natural gas can escape up to the surface. The aim is that the fracturing will take place beneath the water table so that the water supply is not polluted by the mix of chemicals, methane gas and rock that are produced. The water sand and chemical mix that had been injected into the well is then partially recovered (it is never possible to recover all of it) and this waste fracking fluids, complete with fragments of rock from deep in the earth, must be disposed of. The technology requires that large numbers of wells are drilled in order to extract the gas, and requires the transportation of millions of gallons of water and chemicals to the drill, as well as some method of disposal of the waste. (The precise method of disposal for proposed UK fracking is not yet clear: in the States, evaporation pits are often used, but these are, for good reason, illegal in the EU.)
The debate about the safety of fracking is complex and it is important to tease apart some of the many points that may possibly muddy the debate. One of the difficulties is collating and assessing evidence of harm; another difficulty is in assessing how we extrapolate data of risks and benefits from one situation to another, when there may be variations in geography, geology, techniques used, chemicals used, regulations, and law. There is much to consider, so here I just discuss a couple of points to indicate how complex the debate is. One main lesson should be that simplistic assurances of lack of risk from fracking should be listened to with caution.
Kevin McKenna offers a spirited critique (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/01/assisted-suicide-bill-scotland) of Margo MacDonald’s bill on assisted suicide, proposed recently to the Scottish Parliament.
Behind the rhetorical references to the ‘culture of death’ MacDonald is seeking to introduce in Scotland, and her ‘deathly obsession’, there are some old arguments, which remain as weak as ever. Continue reading
Do you like the ambiguous title? No, I don’t think illegal kidney markets are intrinsically abominable. Insofar as they are abominable in various respects it is entirely a further consequence of the abominality of making them illegal. The abominable politicians who passed the law and sustain the law are to blame for thousands of deaths every year.
A fundamental argument for a market in kidneys is that they’re my kidneys and it’s up to me what I do with them, so keep your nose out of it. I would also direct you to an earlier argument of mine based on the ultimatum game, in which I show that if it is true that the offers in that game should be fair, then failing to pay donors for kidneys is unfair. But perhaps you’d prefer an argument based on better consequences. Let me give you one: Continue reading