Saturday, February 26, 2011

They're trying to build a prison... / Another prison system...

The United States is a/the (depending on what sources you use and how you measure) world leader in locking people up.

The literal financial expense of having a high incarceration rate has been discussed fairly widely during this Great Recession, and the unnecessary billions of dollars that the system costs is something we should look at.

While I am interested in fixing the deficit, I am more interested in the social and psychological expenses of a prison society. If I once again find myself rejected from grad school, I may just begin to study these expenses thoroughly and scientifically in lieu of going to school.

For now, though, I am just thinking about how lock-'em-up(-and-throw-away-the-key)-ism might affect a society. That social norm seems to encourage compartmentalizing problems, forgetting them instead of trying to improve them, even if it would be easier to improve them than to fix them. Strangely, it also ranks the well-being of criminals above orphans, senior citizens, and homeless people, including veterans. Maybe if we find a way to dramatically reduce the incarceration rate we can use some of the savings to create a system of public care for the other groups... We could even use the newly vacant prisons!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Good Advice from both Heather Mac Donald and Andrew Sullivan

"'If Republican-Tea Party rhetoric of fiscal responsibility is mere posturing, a fiscally responsible Democratic plan would force Republicans into the awkward position of arguing against reform that they have paid constant lip service to.  But if they truly do mean to rein in entitlement spending, they would (in theory) go along with an Obama proposal to make cuts and would share the political heat.   (Of course, Obama himself may not have the slightest interest in cutting the entitlement juggernaut, but still, he has before him a wonderful opportunity to put Republican political rhetoric to the test.)'
This is as plausible as the arguments that it's a political loser for Obama to propose entitlement cuts. Even so, the most compelling reason to put forth a budget that actually addresses the fiscal issues plaguing the United States is that it's the right thing to do. Partisans can always fool themselves into the proposition that public policy is served better in the long run by doing the politically expedient thing in the short term."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Scott Adams' "Two Heads": A Review

Catbert Pictures, Images and Photos
My uncle Buck was a big fan of Scott Adams' work. I think he had a Catbert toy for every room in his house, and as far as I know, he bought each Dilbert collection as soon as it was released. Because of my uncle's affection for S.A.'s work, I read Dilbert most days, and some of his other writing as well. Mr. Adams is fairly prolific, so I do not read anywhere near all of his writing.

Even if I had the time to read all of his various writings, I don't think I would. While he does write some excellent pieces, such as "How to Tax the Rich" (Wall Street Journal), he also writes items that make me cringe.

His blog article "Two Heads" is the piece that inspired this review. As a cognitive scientist, I take issue with his air of expertise that he uses to circulate misinformation.

Adams begins "Two Heads" with the rhetorical question, "Are conjoined twins one person or two?" He immediately answers, "That's easy. They have two minds, so they are two people. A person is defined by his or her brain." But it's not easy. I would go so far as to say the question is not framed specifically enough to give a proper answer, and I would assert that in general, conjoined twins are somewhere between one and two people, e.g. 1.8 people. A person is more than a brain.

Krang Pictures, Images and Photos
Adams finishes his first paragraph, "You are your brain." I could not disagree much more strongly. You are your body in your environment. Changes in any part of your body or environment are changes in you. Try to completely disconnect any decision, idea, or thought from your body or environment; I bet you cannot. You need your body and environment to be you. The idea that "your limbs, hair, lungs, heart, and all the rest of your parts can be transplanted, conjoined, or in some cases deleted, yet you remain the same person" is simply a reiteration of the ship of Theseus problem. In fact, we are living exemplars of the ship of Theseus. We constantly change parts at the cellular level, to the extent that none of our physicality is the same as that of our infant selves.

In his second paragraph, Adams asks us to "consider regular identical twins. Their brains have the same DNA, yet they are considered two people because their brains operate independently. I think we'd all agree that having the same DNA doesn't make twins one person." I don't think we'd all agree about that. I have heard people claim that twins, identical or otherwise, share a single soul. Apart from the presumption here, though, I suggest that non-conjoined identical twins are closer to 2 people than 1, but farther from 2 people than 2 fraternal twins, who are themselves farther from 2 people than a pair of non-twin siblings, all of whom are farther from 2 people than a pair of unrelated strangers.

Skipping ahead a little, Adams asks us to consider It "that what we think of as one person is always two, even if the two halves of the brain are communicating." I'm with him here more than before, but his logical problem remains. When counting people he is insisting on using whole numbers, which can work for rough aggregate purposes, but in discussions of unique personhood, whole numbers are insufficient. The extent to which a pair of people share a body or an environment reduces the individuality between them. As identical twins grow up and spend more time apart, they become more like 2 people than they were before. Identical twins separated at birth who never meet again are almost 2 unique people, but they share much of their body make-up, so they are still partially the same person. Likewise, college roommates become partially the same person by sharing such a large portion of their environment, especially if they have a lot of classes together and hang out outside of their apartment or dorm. Whenever two people come into contact, they share some of their individuality with each other, and, with respect to one another, each becomes less of a unique individual person.

As you read this article, you get some of my ideas, and, as such, you and I become partially the same person. Scott Adams and I are partially the same person because I've read some of this writing. I read his "Two Heads" article, took in the ideas, and, although I reject most of the ideas in the article, they are an inseparable part of me. These ideas are now a part of you. You're free to reject or accept them, in whole or in part, but you can't un-read them. The longer you go without thinking about the ideas, and the more other ideas you think about, the less of a part of you these ideas will be. But, in at least one way, you and I are the same person.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


I often don't know what to think of Justin Bieber, or why I'm thinking of him in the first place. I have seen a lot of him the past few days. He was, unfortunately, in a commercial with Ozzy during the Yellow Pants Superbowl this evening. He made his second appearance on SNL yesterday. He traded bodies with Jon Stewart for Thursday's Daily Show.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Intro - Justin Bieber and Jon Switch Bodies
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook
From these promotions for his documentary/concert/biographical 3-D film Never Say Never, I think he may have found his niche.

From the first time I heard of Justin Bieber, I felt sorry for him.  He is a pretty excellent punchline, for a wide variety of jokes.  Look at him.  Especially the way he wears his shoes.  Listen to him sing.  His name is Bieber.  All pretty hilarious.

His niche that I mentioned?  Knowing he's hilarious and rolling with it.

For months I've been jokingly campaigning my wife to go see Never Say Never 3-D with me.  I'm starting to think we should really see it.  I bet it's hilarious.