A nice fishy example

God clearly does not love all fetuses.  Ones particularly expendable are fishy ones.  The male three-spined stickleback is the fish in question right now.  He goes in for cannibalism and recent research confirms an explanation:

The researchers manipulated the clutches that individual males cared for, replacing up to 100 percent of the eggs fertilized by the male with eggs fertilized by another male. They found that the higher the percentage of “alien” eggs, the more likely the male was to completely cannibalize the clutch. The researchers suggest that the fish probably take their cues from the odor of the developing eggs as the paternal genes start to kick in.

Cannibalism of a clutch with a high proportion of alien eggs makes sense for the fish, because it avoids putting a lot of energy into producing offspring that carry another fish’s genes, and because by eating the eggs it gets energy to rear future clutches of its own eggs.

But what I like about the example for teaching  is that it’s a clear case where the explanation appeals to the good of the agent without giving any reason the agent actually could entertain.  As we say in evo-speak, it would be much too expensive and impractical  to build a  fish brain that could grasp facts about passing on one’s genes.  So evolution has linked his actions with odor or taste.  Others’ eggs are just so yummy. 

It’s also a really good way into  to the apparently mythical idea that step fathers tend to kill their step children, though if I’m out of date on the many twists and turns of that debate, please someone let me know.

Beserk Paternalism? Should we mount a protest?

What  in the world could they be thinking?

From the NY Times:

The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override vetoes of two highly restrictive abortion measures, one making it a law that women undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion.

Though other states have passed similar measures forcing women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, requiring a doctor or technician to set up the monitor where the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

The second measure passed into law Tuesday protects doctors from malpractice suits if they decide not to inform the parents of a unborn baby that the fetus has birth defects. The intent of the bill is to prevent parents from later suing doctors who withhold information to try to influence them against having an abortion.

The governor, Brad Henry, a democrat, vetoed the first on the grounds that it didn’t exempt rape and incest, and violated a woman’s privacy.  The second he labeled as immoral.  Right!

This kind of disregard for the rights of othersin order to preserve a fetus does seem to me to be psychopathological.  It  is very hard to believe that the legislators’ desire for control has left them with any empathy for anything more than a fetus.

This may make linking immodesty to earthquakes fairly small beans.  Will we feminists just stand by?


I’ve just discovered Stoat’s earlier post on this topic here.

The whiteness of British politics

Read about it here. Particularly interesting is the situation with the Lib Dems:

The leaders’ debates have produced a love-affair with the Liberal Democrats that has barely paused to question the party’s record on diversity. Although popular with Muslim voters in many constituencies, due in large part to its stance against the war in Iraq, and in spite of its mini-manifesto on equality, the Liberal Democrats are the only party whose MPs are likely to be entirely white. Of the 36 Liberal Democrat candidates from minority backgrounds, not a single one has been fielded for a winnable seat.

The Lib Dems’ poor record on minority representation has been noted by minority voters, but so has the media’s failure to reflect those concerns.

CFP: Diotima

Diotima: A Graduate Conference for Feminist Philosophers
Feminism, Technology and the World: Ecological Perspectives
University of Western Ontario
September 25-26, 2010

This conference aims to bring together graduate students who share an interest in feminism, post-coloniality, queer theory, critical race theory, philosophy of disability and anti-oppression theory in general, regardless of their primary area of research.
Keynote Speaker: We are pleased to announce Lorraine Code, Distinguished Research Professor Emerita at York University and recipient of the Distinguished Woman Philosopher Award (2009), as our keynote speaker. Prof. Code’s work explores “ecological thinking as a conceptual apparatus and regulative principle for a theory of knowledge – an epistemology – capable of addressing feminist, multicultural, and other postcolonial issues.”

We are also pleased to announce Gillian Barker as our faculty keynote speaker. Prof. Barker specializes in philosophy of science and of biology. She is interested in ecological conceptions of organism-environment interaction and their implications for our thinking about agency, normativity and knowledge, and in ecological psychology as a tool for transformative learning and action.
We invite submissions in any area of philosophy or feminist theory, that have been influenced by your feminist commitments broadly construed, including but not limited to:

• Feminist analysis of information sharing systems and new technologies;
• Social consequences of genetic or biomedical research and treatment;
• Explorations of a human/non-human divide, or personhood generally;
• A discussion of a recent work or emerging political concern;
• Developing interactions between theorists from different cultures;
• Wilderness, the built environment, poverty and politics;
• Environmental disaster and response;
• Intergenerational justice

Presenters will have 30-35 minutes to speak, followed by a 10-minute commentary and a 25-30 minute discussion period. Papers should be approximately 4000 words. Please include an abstract with your submission of no more then 200 words.

Please send your submissions electronically to diotimagrads@gmail.com. All papers will be evaluated by blind review; identifying information should appear in a cover letter only.

We’re all equal before the law!

It’s not often you hear senior members of the judiciary criticising the law for being on the side of dominant groups in society.   And in Britain you don’t get much more senior than Lord Bingham of Cornhill, formerly Master of the Rolls, then Lord Chief Justice, then Senior Law Lord – or, to be precise, the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary – aka Tom Bingham.

So I was for a moment heartened to hear the following exchange with the poet Simon Armitage, who said,

…as a probation officer in a magistrates’ court in the north of England – the high street supermarket of the legal system – I got to the point where I felt I was enforcing… not some gold standard of justice every day, but actually a series of moral values.  And there would be… students of history who would say that many laws are designed to keep the wealth and power with a certain proportion of the population and stop the others from getting it.

Nice point!  What do you say to that, Tom Bingham?

There have undoubtedly been periods in history when the law reflected the interests of the dominant class.  They were represented in Parliament and they made laws that were convenient for them.

Cool, I thought.  What a promising recognition.  He continued,

But I think that we would now claim, and certainly aim, at a situation in which there is true equality before the law: you don’t get a lesser punishment – indeed, rather the opposite – if you’re well-to-do…

Oh well.  Silly me for thinking that the problems were things like low rape conviction rates, or imprisoning drug addicts for petty theft when white collar fraudsters do deals to avoid prosecution, or the provocation defence which tends to recognise men’s ‘crimes of passion’ but not the years of abuse suffered by battered women.

Nope, turns out it’s all okay now, because – after conviction – rich people get the same punishment as poor people for the same crime.  Thank goodness we’re all equal before the law!