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What We’re Reading: August 27, 2015

The Hell You Say (New Yorker)
by Kelefa Sanneh
“The new battles over free speech are fierce, but who is censoring whom?”

How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election (Politico Magazine)
by Robert Epstein
“America’s next president could be eased into office not just by TV ads or speeches, but by Google’s secret decisions, and no one—except for me and perhaps a few other obscure researchers—would know how this was accomplished.”

Against Charity (Jacobin)
by Matthew Snow
“Rather than creating an individualized “culture of giving,” we should be challenging capitalism’s institutionalized taking.”

Inside the Migrant “Jungle” in Northern France (New Republic)
by Peter Wieben
“When you go through the desert it is only sand for two weeks. There is no way to know where you are. Many trucks got lost or ran out of water and those people died.”

The Myth of Cuba May Appeal to Tourists, but It Ignores the Country’s Complexity (Slate)
by Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo
“To visit a country because it’s ‘frozen in time’ is to glorify poverty.”

When a Snuff Film Becomes Unavoidable (Atlantic)
by Robinson Meyer
“On Wednesday morning, thousands of Twitter and Facebook users watched the lives of two Americans end, without ever having a choice in the matter.”

Check out these links related to our latest writing on The Prindle Post:
Conner Gordon: A Student Perspective on Trigger Warnings
The Trigger Warning Myth (New Republic)
by Aaron R. Hanlon

A Student Perspective on Trigger Warnings

I first encountered the classroom trigger warning in the fall semester of my junior year. The course in question covered humanitarian intervention, a particularly dark topic amongst any number of dismal subjects in political science. As a result, soon after talking through the syllabus, our professor made special mention of the topics at hand. The classes to come, we were told, would cover a number of heavy topics: genocide, ethnic cleansing, wartime rape and other forms of systematic violence. Reading about such material on a daily basis, the professor warned, could be emotionally upsetting. Drawing attention to this fact wasn’t an effort to silence the topics or distract from their discomfort. In communicating their emotional gravity, our professor was simply trying to prepare us, encouraging us to keep tabs on our mental well-being as we proceeded through each difficult discussion.

Continue reading “A Student Perspective on Trigger Warnings”

What We’re Reading: August 20, 2015

Pics or It Didn’t Happen (Medium)
by John de Jong
“Is Photography Even a Healthy Pastime? Considering Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’”

The Movement Against Solitary Confinement (New York Magazine)
by Benjamin Wallace Wells
“Why this focus now? For most of the past half-century, the single moral cause of the prison-reform movement, to the degree that such a movement has even existed, was death-penalty abolition.”

I Live in Iran. Here’s How Sanctions Have Shaped My Life (Vox)
by Pedestrian
“It is 2007, and I am an undergraduate at the University of Tehran. I’m very particular. I take notes with Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens, in purple and green, and on this particular day I’ve run through the stash I keep in my desk at home. There is a small office supply store next to the university cafeteria, I’ve bought my pens there before. Before lunch I go to pick up some more Fineliners.”

The Ethics of Bloodless Medicine (New Yorker)
by Amanda Schaffer
“Jehovah’s Witnesses object to transfusion because they believe that scriptural passages forbid it. But the attendant reasoning—that an individual’s singular qualities, life and soul, are carried in blood—does not fall so far outside of the mainstream imagination.”

As Voluntourism Explodes in Popularity, Who’s It Helping Most? (NPR)
Carrie Kahn
“It’s called volunteer tourism, or “voluntourism,” and it’s one of the fastest growing trends in travel today. More than 1.6 million volunteer tourists are spending about $2 billion each year. But some people who work in the industry are skeptical of voluntourism’s rising popularity. They question whether some trips help young adults pad their resumes or college applications more than they help those in need.”

Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace (New York Times)
by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld
“The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.”

Check out these links related to our latest writing on The Prindle Post:
Conner Gordon: Dissecting the Deathstagram
When Death is a Fascination (Atlantic)
   by Leah Sottile

Examining Ethics: Episode 2 Out Now!

Episode Two: Systems in Sheep’s Clothing is now available to download! In this episode we hear from producers Sandra and Christiane about their voices. Andrew Cullison interviews Rebecca Gordon about her new book Mainstreaming Torture, and Robin Zheng discusses the ethics of a concept popularly known as “Yellow Fever.”

To get this episode, subscribe to the Examining Ethics podcast in iTunes, or head over to our new site ExaminingEthics.org.  If you visit the site, you’ll also find a link for a 30% discount on Rebecca Gordon’s new book.

Solving California’s Water Crisis: A Libertarian Perspective

If you move to California these days, as I did a few months ago, the jokes about bringing your own water along will be abundant. Of course, access to clean water is no laughing matter – water is one of the only specific things, along with oxygen, that literally every human requires for life.  Like most public policy issues, the California water situation is much more complex than you might have first heard; it’s hard even to figure out who exactly is at fault.

No, we’re not experiencing a drought just because people have munched too many water-loving almonds, or even because of climate change – California has often experienced drought cycles historically. Water rights in the west are divided up in some legacy finders-keepers manner, based on the order in which settlers of different areas claimed them. More recent attempts to clarify who got which water failed due to inaccurate measurements of a cyclical supply, and because they didn’t take ordinary natural fluctuations in supply into account. Most importantly, California is a net importer of water, a situation which only heightens as it grows more food and houses more people.

Unfortunately, water management has ultimately been more hampered by the unfree market for water in California than improved by government’s interferences so far. Although citizens of California have been bribed and strong-armed into reducing water consumption, this is more symbolic than anything because agricultural purposes account for much more of the state’s water usage. And it’s not the dietary decadence of Californians that creates the problem either (although we really do eat avocado on everything) – California largely feeds the country, and makes up for states that house people but which aren’t suitable for producing many foods.

The most reasonable way forward is to increase the extent to which water is market priced (gradually, if necessary). Market prices for water encourage responsible consumption, force inevitable trade-offs between water-requiring activities, and properly stimulate the good stewardship of existing water and production of new usable water sources by those relevantly positioned. Market prices for water also trickle down (pun intended) through other industries, resulting in more accurately priced goods, like meat, and services, like lawn care.

When water is underpriced and everyone can effectively use as much as she likes, no one is forced to exercise any restraint – until the well starts running dry. In any case, there is no returning to some pre-political state from which we can re-divide up the water in a fair manner, once and for all. Every process for doing so (from dictatorial fiat to popular vote) would introduce deep new moral questions without ready answers.

Forward-looking considerations matter deeply, too: helping citizens today at the expense of harming citizens tomorrow is no morally-neutral choice. Political processes are also bad at managing water in a forward-looking manner, because politicians need votes today, so tough choices get deferred for literally as long as possible. But perhaps the situation is now dire enough to force some real action, like significant local and regional moves towards market-priced water. Many California homes and businesses don’t even have water meters, but those will be required by 2025, allowing for the tracking and pricing of specific entities’ usage.

Some harms associated with a switch to market pricing for water can be defrayed by government action at the margins. For those truly in need, water stamps could fulfill a similar purpose as food stamps, or an annual tax credit could be offered to individuals and families based on the baseline water usage a household of their size would be expected to purchase. One California city that began market pricing its water helps residents to smooth their bills month-to-month and conducts audits to help homeowners look for inefficiencies.

Less effective government programs, like tax credits for high-efficiency appliances, could be phased out, because when water’s market priced the incentive to use less for daily chores is built right into the appliance purchase. Authorities would only need to patrol for actual market-priced water theft (like connecting your hose to your neighbor’s pipes) which is a much smaller job as compared to preventing unauthorized usage and waste of water (like people watering lawns in the middle of the night during attempted bans). When water is the right price, water-intensive industries try hard to reduce their needs so demand doesn’t plummet for their products –indeed, market-priced water could even hasten the development of lab-grown (less water-intensive) meat.

No one wants to pay for something that used to feel free, or that was artificially cheap. But charging for water is the only way to distribute the existing supplies in anything close to a rational manner, and for ensuring that innovations in water sourcing can take place before it’s too late. Strangely enough, market pricing means the desires of distasteful Californians wishing to heavily water large lawns in the middle of the drought can be channeled for good instead of for evil. When they’re not wasting water, but buying it, big water users (and water bottling operations) can subsidize the research and development that will bring more sustainable water to their communities in the future.

Dissecting the Deathstagram

For many, the feeling of morbid curiosity is a common yet unsettling one. It is difficult to be sure where this feeling comes from, but its presence when viewing death is strangely magnetic. It would be easy to feel that this morbid curiosity is immoral, some sort of perverse feeling not shared by the rest of the population. According to The Atlantic’s Leah Sottile, however, perhaps it is more common than expected. In documenting celebrity death sites like FindADeath.com, Sottile’s piece makes clear that this curiosity is not only widespread, but also potent enough to form entire communities where morbid curiosity is at center stage. When observing how it manifests regarding these celebrities, it is clear that such morbid curiosity is hardly uncommon.

Continue reading “Dissecting the Deathstagram”

What We’re Reading: August 13, 2015

The Makeup Tax (The Atlantic)
by Olga Khazan
“Women who wear makeup earn more and are treated better. This has steep costs, in both money and time.”

This may be the biggest threat to Facebook right now (Fortune)
by Michal Addady
“…Facebook’s video efforts are drawing controversy lately. Some observers say the social network is littered in video content lifted from its original source, meaning the content creators aren’t seeing a dime for their work. And while YouTube has built-in mechanism for content creators to report such theft, Facebook has no such solution.”

My Position on the Iran Deal (Medium)
by Chuck Schumer
“Every several years or so a legislator is called upon to cast a momentous vote in which the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views. Over the years, I have learned that the best way to treat such decisions is to study the issue carefully, hear the full, unfiltered explanation of those for and against, and then, without regard to pressure, politics or party, make a decision solely based on the merits.”

My life without gender (The Guardian)
by Tyler Ford
“I have always felt like a walking brain, living in my head while everyone around me seemed to have some innate understanding of their bodies: how they moved, what they desired.”

Why ‘Do What You Love’ Is Pernicious Advice (The Atlantic)
by Bourree Lam
“If passion is a job requirement, says the writer Miya Tokumitsu, employees have little room to complain about mistreatment at work.”

How White Users Made Heroin a Public Health Problem (The Atlantic)
by Andrew Cohen
“When heroin users were disproportionately black, they faced severe punishments. Now, as new users are overwhelmingly white, states are turning toward treatment.”

Why Bernie Sanders’ run-in with Black Lives Matter activists made me squirm (The Guardian)
By Heather Barmore
“Grassroots activists are pushing their way through spaces and forcing conversation. That makes us all a little tense but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

New York cops are photographing homeless people (Dazed)
by Hannah Rose Ewens
“New York City cops have gotten tired of homeless people on the streets of New York. So tired that they’ve decided to start posting pictures of them online.”

Whitewashing Stonewall

In just a few weeks, audiences around the country will have the chance to watch the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 play out before their eyes. Over 45 years after the riots that sparked the LGBT movement in America, the events that took place at the Stonewall Inn will once again be immortalized in film. Directed by Roland Emmerich, Stonewall will come to theatres in September, promising to explore the story of “A young man’s political awakening and coming of age during the days and weeks leading up to the Stonewall Riots.”

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Bernie Sanders and #Blacklivesmatter

Late last week, activists affiliated with the #Blacklivesmatter movement interrupted presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a Seattle rally. What they had to say was important, yet the substance of their protest was often sidelined in commentary about their actions. Even after their protest worked, and Sanders’ website posted a detailed campaign plan for racial justice, many still condemned the disruption. Examining why reveals the dangers of viewing such events from a single perspective – a perspective that ultimately helps reinforce sexist and racist stereotypes.

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The Hiroshima Bombing: Was it Terrorism?

Terrorism is a word often associated with its modern context. When we think of terrorists, we think of masked gunmen attacking shopping malls and beaches, or planes flying into the World Trade Center on September 11th. Rarely do we consider events that predate the 21th century – events that may have taken place before the modern notion of terrorism arose, but that also relied heavily on the killing of civilians and fear to accomplish their aims.

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What We’re Reading: August 6, 2015

So You Flunked A Racism Test. Now What? (Codeswitch)
by Maanvi Singh
“You’re probably at least a little bit racist and sexist and homophobic. Most of us are. Before you get all indignant, try taking one of the popular implicit-association tests.”

Google refuses French order to apply ‘right to be forgotten’ globally (Reuters)
by Julia Fioretti
“Google Inc is refusing to bow to an order from the French privacy watchdog to scrub search results worldwide when users invoke their ‘right to be forgotten’ online, it said on Thursday, exposing itself to possible fines.”

Do We Cheapen Philosophy When We Use It as Therapy? (Chronicle of Higher Education)
by Tom Stern
“You can do whatever you want in life — take inspiration from The Smurfs, for all I care — but I’m here to teach you how to read a philosopher, slowly and carefully, which is not an easy thing to do. If you want to be inspired by Nietzsche, you have to read him precisely, to make sure that it is Nietzsche who inspires you, not a preconception or a misappropriation or a scholarly reading, mine or anybody else’s, which is vulnerable to the interpreter’s peculiar agenda or the fashions of the hour.”

The Long History of Political Idiocy (New York Times)
by Joanne B. Freeman
“We are currently enjoying a master class in the art of political stupidity.”

A New Approach to Pedophilia

Few crimes are as stigmatized as those that stem from pedophilia. Pervasive tropes of the pedophile as the serial child abuser, shadily lurking in public parks, have worked to demonize the mindset to a degree rarely seen with other crimes. This stigma is so strong that, in states like California, therapists must report clients who admitted that they viewed child pornography, regardless of their attempt to seek treatment. Such measures may seem like a strong stand against pedophilia, a mindset that contributes to the abuse and exploitation of thousands of children. But is criminalizing pedophilia in this manner effective?

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TV Debates Warp Political Process

This post originally appeared in USA Today on July 29, 2015.

Political wonks and junkies breathlessly await the first televised “debate” of the primary season. But sensible voters will do something more productive on debate night. Taking a walk or going to a ballgame will be better than watching 10 overprepared GOP candidates try to upstage each other with verbal brickbats and one-liners.

Political debates have become nothing more than media events that do little to promote reasoned, in-depth discussion. Cable news channels stand in line to program them to promote their brand, get a ratings boost, showcase their talent, and insert themselves into a political brawl. Their producers make the events look like a cross between the Super Bowl and Dancing With the Stars, hardly a venue for thoughtful political dialogue.

Television is a medium of emotion, and as such, warps the process of selecting who is best suited to lead the nation. Candidates are advised by slick handlers to stick to simplistic catchphrases, and toss in a few zingers along the way. Television forces candidates to worry more about their on-screen image than about how to explain their policy for improving the economy. Any candidate who seriously tries to make debating points and explain the nuances of a complex matter will come off as boring and calculating.

Afterward, the media will immediately start declaring who “won,” as if winning a debate 15 months before Election Day will help the electorate decide who’s best suited to confront Islamic State terrorists. There is little transferability of television debating skill into international diplomacy, working with Congress, or any other presidential duty that matters.

The candidate who can make the most noise on debate night will be viewed as having advanced his candidacy, and the less showy but more sensible candidate will be dismissed. Remember, many pundits thought Newt Gingrich won the early GOP debates in 2012.

John Kennedy warned in 1959 that television would force politics into the realm of public relations and “gimmickry.” Televised debates are all of that. These concocted events will not be the stuff of Lincoln-Douglas. Our nation’s political process suffers as a result.

What Does Ant-Man Say about our Morals?

If you have not yet viewed Marvel’s latest production, Ant-Man, take this as the obligatory spoiler alert. Those who have viewed this perplexing film about an ant-size superhero that saves the world, however, probably have several questions running through their minds: How can such a small superhero be so powerful? Will Ant-Man join other Marvel heroes in future films? But the most important question, one that has yet to be asked by the masses, is what the very idea of Ant-Man and the plot of Marvel’s film says about our morals and whether the ideas in this film allude to a bigger problem in terms of warfare.

Continue reading “What Does Ant-Man Say about our Morals?”