Americans Taste Exotic Asian Food

 Posted by on 25 August 2014 at 2:00 pm  Culture, Food, Funny
Aug 252014
 

This is hysterical — Americans Taste Exotic Asian Food:

When Traditions Go Awry

 Posted by on 31 July 2014 at 11:00 am  Culture, Sports
Jul 312014
 

This article on the tradition of a golfer who gets a hole-in-one buying drinks for buddies (if not the whole club) — Why Golfers Buy Hole In One Insurance — is quite fascinating. Because of the cost involved, the tradition has given rise to insurance against seeming good luck. But it’s also a bit sad:

Other golfers admit to fearing the wrath of a spouse if they treat the clubhouse, and therefore having agreed with golfing buddies to slip away quietly without telling the clubhouse if anyone scores a hole in one. It’s a rather sad result of the tradition — instead of celebrating a hole in one like the once in a lifetime accomplishment that it is (the odds of getting a hole in one, very roughly, are 12,500 to 1 for an amateur and 7,500 to 1 for a professional), it pushes golfers to slink away like they crashed a golf cart in a sand trap.

If your cultural traditions transform a fabulous bit of good luck into a financial calamity… it’s time to change those traditions!

Jun 122014
 

Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers:

In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam.

Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.

More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.

That — and the abuse, neglect, and ostracism suffered by these children detailed in the article — is a painful reminder of the evil of stigmatizing children born out of wedlock. Speaking generally, raising children is difficult and demanding work — mentally, emotionally, and financially. I see the value of bearing and raising children within the stability and support of a family — particularly in less wealthy cultures where women don’t have the resources or capacity to raise and support a child on their own. Yet that’s a far cry from demanding that any pregnant woman marry her sperm donor, regardless of his suitability as a husband. And it’s light years away from subjecting innocent children to the torture of abandonment, neglect, abuse, ostracism, and perhaps death because their life is the result of religious sin.

This is one of the many ways in which western culture is so much better than it was, even just 100 years ago. I don’t want to go back!

Update: The burial location wasn’t a septic tank, as this Forbes article explains, but instead a kind of mass grave:

Today the Irish Times has published a reader’s letter that has further undercut the story. Finbar McCormick, a professor of geography at Queen’s University Belfast, sharply admonished the media for describing the children’s last resting place as a septic tank. He added: “The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many part of Europe.

“In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries…..Such tombs are still used extensively in Mediterranean countries. I recently saw such structures being constructed in a churchyard in Croatia. The shaft was made of concrete blocks, plastered internally and roofed with large concrete slabs.

That’s all well and good, but not really essential to the point that I’m making about the story. Honestly, I don’t care too much about how the dead bodies were treated: I care about how living people — pregnant girls, mothers, and children — were treated. That’s not under dispute.

“If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say”

 Posted by on 10 June 2014 at 7:00 pm  Culture, Funny
Jun 102014
 

If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say:

Paul says this stuff to me all the time! :-)

The Power of Speaking Out

 Posted by on 10 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Bullying, Culture, Ethics, Racism
Jan 102014
 

Paul sent me this video, knowing that I’d like it. He was right!

Update: I just fixed the video, so that it works now!

I love to see people speaking out against such racist bullying, even when remaining silent would be the easier course. Bullies are cowards at heart. They’ll almost always back down in face of firm opposition, which is part of why it’s so important to say that they’re wrong, clearly and openly. Also, speaking out against a bully helps the victims: they don’t feel alone and under attack from all sides. That’s why I liked the first woman most of all: her immediate focus was to protect the victim from these vicious comments by letting her know that she rejected the bully’s racism.

Videos like this one give me hope for the future of American culture. Americans are concerned about justice — and many will not stand idly by while another person is unjustly victimized. We just need to figure out how to reach them with rational principles in ways that make sense to them.

Norms of Beauty Versus Eating

 Posted by on 13 November 2013 at 10:00 am  Culture, Food, Gender
Nov 132013
 

Oh ye defenders of the sex-based norms of beauty and behavior of the culture in which you happened to be born, think of this example next time you’re inclined to think that some norm of your culture is “only natural.”

This example is hardly wild and crazy, but you’ll probably find it odd for the simple reason that you didn’t grow up with it.

Via Upworthy. Oh, and a good discussion of the ad campaign on Quora is here.

Oct 102013
 

This excellent blog post on Kant’s various crazy views by UC Riverside philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel details some of the crazy views that I covered in my recent broadcast on Kant’s views on sex. It’s worth reading though for its tidbits on including on organ donation, women in politics, and more.

At the end of the post, Schwitzgebel draws two lessons, both worthy of consideration:

First, from our cultural distance, it is evident that Kant’s arguments against masturbation, for the return of wives to abusive husbands, etc., are gobbledy-gook. This should make us suspicious that there might be other parts of Kant, too, that are gobbledy-gook, for example, the stuff that transparently reads like gobbledy-gook, such as the transcendental deduction, and such as his claims that his various obviously non-equivalent formulations of the fundamental principle of morality are in fact “so many formulations of precisely the same law” (Groundwork, 4:436, Zweig trans.). I read Kant as a master at promising philosophers what they want and then effusing a haze of words with glimmers enough of hope that readers can convince themselves that there is something profound underneath.

Second, Kant’s philosophical moral reasoning appears mainly to have confirmed his prejudices and the ideas inherited from his culture. We should be nervous about expecting more from the philosophical moral reasoning of people less philosophically capable than Kant.

I added the bold, because I think that’s so damn true. Kant does not merely handwave on occasion. So many of Kant’s arguments are rationalistic, pie-in-the-sky handwaving, where mere associations between words are supposed to give the force of argument.

My only point of disagreement is that I strongly suspect that the various horrifying ethical claims surveyed in the blog post were significant worse than the prejudices of his culture. For example, children born out of wedlock might have been stigmatized, but I doubt that more than a few crazies thought they could be killed with impunity. Then again, maybe I’m overestimating the moral culture of Königsberg.

Aug 262013
 

This is horrifying… and fascinating: Third of teens in Amman, Jordan, condone honor killings, study says. Here’s the horrifying part:

Almost half of boys and one in five girls in Jordan’s capital city, Amman, believe that killing a woman who has “dishonored,” or shamed, her family is justifiable, a study of teenagers’ attitudes published Thursday revealed. A third of all teenagers involved in the study by researchers at Britain’s Cambridge University advocated so-called honor murders.

Here’s the fascinating part:

A key finding was that support for honor crimes was not connected to religious beliefs, but is far more likely in adolescent boys with low education backgrounds from traditional families.

It’s easy to blame Islam for honor killings and other atrocities… but it’s not clear to me that such is true or fair. Alas, the case cannot be made by pointing to the violence in the founding of Islam or in its texts. The history and texts of Christianity or Judaism bear little resemblance to the ways that these religions are practiced today.

That’s not to say that I regard Islam in any kind of positive way. My point is simply that I don’t regard it as inherently or inexorably worse than any other religion. Like all religions, it’s influence will run from mildly bad to horrifically awful, depending on the ways in which people choose to attend to, interpret, alter, and apply its ideas.

People have free will, and they exercise it in all kinds of strange and unexpected ways… even with regard to their fundamental religious and philosophical beliefs.

Embarrassed by Hollie McNish

 Posted by on 22 August 2013 at 10:00 am  Children, Culture, Parenting
Aug 222013
 

This is an amazingly powerful poem about the social shame imposed on women for public breastfeeding:

For what it’s worth, I answered a question about public breastfeeding on the 8 April 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:

For more details, check out the question’s archive page. The full episode – where I answered questions on cultivating good luck, public breastfeeding, national identification card, mulling over memories, and more – is available as a podcast too.

Benevolence of a Culture

 Posted by on 2 July 2013 at 10:00 am  Benevolence, China, Culture, Ethics
Jul 022013
 

A while back, Robert Garmong posted the following story on Facebook:

Walking home from work, through the hard-packed ice left over from yesterday’s snow, past the construction zones, I saw a row of cars stopped, waiting impatiently while a very miserable-looking minivan spun its wheels on the ice.

(Incidentally, a Chinese minivan is truly mini. It comes up to my eye-level, at most, and it looks as though I could fit it into my backpack, yet somehow, like a clown car, you can get 8 people into it. They’re very crummy, and mostly used for low-end delivery businesses and the like.)

The driver clearly didn’t know what to do about his situation. He obviously didn’t get his driver’s license at age 16 in a small, snowy town in Illinois. After spinning his wheels a few times, churning up ice and spewing oily exhaust into the air, he got out of the car to come back and scratch his head, staring down at his rear wheels. He didn’t do any of the things I would have done: he didn’t put a rock or a piece of cardboard under his tire, didn’t throw dirt down, didn’t try to push his van past the glossy spot he’d worn by spinning his wheels. He just looked for a few seconds, then when the cars behind him started honking he got back into the van and started spinning his wheels again. The unofficial motto of China might as well be: Work harder, not smarter.

If this were Texas, there would have been five people lined up behind his little clown van to push him along (not that you’d need that many). The guy in the car behind him would’ve jumped out of the car to give him a shove, without even thinking about it. Passers-by would’ve joined in. Street vendors selling fruit alongside the road would have paused their haggling for a minute to come pitch in. (Well, I guess in Texas there wouldn’t be street vendors selling fruit alongside the road, but IF there were, they’d be helping.)

Here, all the guy got was a glance or two from the pedestrians, and a bunch of blaring horns from the cars piled up behind him. A larger bus going the opposite way rolled down its window so the driver could offer him some fairly useless advice, then drove off.

The clown-van driver was getting nowhere, so I jogged out into the road and gave a little tiny shove — I mean REALLY tiny — no stronger than would be required to open a stuck backyard gate. The van shish-shish-shished forward a foot or so, then got traction and chugged slowly up the road. The driver of the car behind him tooted a little honk of thanks, then the whole lot of them tailed the van-driver slowly, carefully up the hill.

For the most part, Americans are steeped in benevolence. We are willing to help others — including strangers — in a thousand small ways at the drop of a hat. That’s a huge value — and not one that we should take for granted. Such makes life so much better in a thousand small ways.

As it happens, I mentioned that culture-wide benevolence in my end-of-year Philosophy in Action Radio of 30 December 2012, where I talked about all the good in American culture. (That was the whole episode!) So if you’ve not heard it, take a listen:

For more details, check out the episode’s archive page.

Also, if you’ve not yet heard my two interviews with Robert Garmong on life in China… don’t delay! They’re chock-full of great stories and insights.

First, I interviewed Robert about “Teaching in China” on 19 September 2012. Listen to or download the podcast here:

For more details, check out the episode’s archive page.

Second, I interviewed Robert about “Should We Fear or Embrace China?” on 27 March 2013. Listen to or download the podcast here:

For more details, check out the episode’s archive page.

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