A top-ten female athlete of the year retires

We remarked when she made the Associated Press’s list of the top ten female athletes.  So,  despite the fact that she’s a horse, it seems appropriate to notice her change now.  From the official statement by her owner:

As a 3-year-old, she set standards and records that no filly before her ever achieved. And I suspect it will be quite a while before a 3-year-old filly ever equals or surpasses her achievements. Although her fans were thrilled by a series of spectacular victories, I believe they, as we, were simply awed time and again by her sheer beauty, courage and athleticism

Plus, she had a photo layout in Vogue:

If you are wondering how Vogue managed to abstract her image from the full horsey details, you might be interested in this video of the shoot.

Porn on the NHS?

There’s been some recent attention directed to the news that the NHS provides pornography to men at IVF clinics when they’re required to produce some sperm. I say “news” — I thought this had been happening for ages. But a recent report has highlighted the practice, and the Sun and Telegraph have both published stories following up.

The two newspapers concentrate on the waste-of-public-money angle. The original report uses this argument, and also briefly gives some general anti-porn arguments, and a couple concerning how the NHS particularly is morally obliged to refrain from exposing its staff and patients to pornography (the “report” is a short and easy read).

Against this, Ben Goldacre points out in the Guardian that the average amount spent on porn is £21.32 a year per NHS trust. More seriously, he argues that there’s a reasonable amount of evidence suggesting that providing porn increases the quality of sperm produced, and thus the chances of successful IVF, and that this might be more important than moral scruples.

And against Goldacre, Kat Banyard writes to the Guardian to argue that all pornography is harmful — indeed, “a public health crisis” — and shouldn’t be provided in clinics, no matter what the benefits. She cites a Ministry of Justice report as evidence. I’m not sure which MoJ report she’s referring to, but I’m guessing it’s this one (direct link to pdf — not a short and easy read), which is concerned with extreme pornography. So it’s not clear to me that it or the meta-analyses it contains can support her general conclusion about all pornography (though I can only identify two of the three meta-analyses she mentions; is there a different report that I’ve missed?).

Anyway, some engaging to-and-fro, and some interesting issues — I’d never considered a possible increase in the motibilty of sperm as an argument in favour of pornography.

Stuff that needs to be said

Frank Herbert on the Republican candidate for governor of NY:

One of the things that can happen in the news business is that some portion of a story becomes so vile, so offensive, it is virtually impossible to effectively recount or describe. Reporters keep their distance. Editors lunge for the delete button.

Such is the case with the images and videos forwarded by Mr. Paladino to a wide variety of people. The public should know about these mailings, and Mr. Paladino should give a full, thoughtful explanation of why he trafficked in such filth.

Example: A photo showing a group of black men trying to get out of the way of an airplane that is apparently moving across a field. The caption reads: “Run niggers, run.”

Example: A doctored photo of President and Mrs. Obama showing the president in a stereotypical pimp’s costume holding the hand of the first lady, who is dressed as a prostitute in a grotesquely revealing outfit…

Excellent news: Canada’s prostitution laws struck down

Canada’s prostitution laws are unconstitutional because they’re contributing to the danger faced by sex-trade workers, an Ontario court ruled Tuesday in striking down key provisions of the legislation. The Ontario Superior Court ruled that laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade “are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice.”

“These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Justice Susan Himel wrote her in decision.

Receiving payment for sexual services was not illegal in Canada.

Read the full story in Macleans here.

A Creepy Treehouse

You might want to avoid building one.

An interesting observation from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A growing number of professors are experimenting with Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking tools for their courses, but some students greet an invitation to join professors’ personal networks with horror, seeing faculty members as intruders in their private online spaces. Recognizing that, some professors have coined the term “creepy treehouse” to describe technological innovations by faculty members that make students’ skin crawl.

Jared Stein, director of instructional-design services at Utah Valley University, offered a clear definition of the term on his blog earlier this year. “Though such systems may be seen as innovative or problem-solving to the institution, they may repulse some users who see them as infringement on the sanctity of their peer groups, or as having the potential for institutional violations of their privacy, liberty, ownership, or creativity,” Mr. Stein wrote.

Alec Couros, an assistant professor of education at the University of Regina, in Canada, is coordinator of the education school’s information and communication technologies program. He says that there are productive — and non-creepy — ways for professors to use social-networking technologies, but that the best approach is to create online forums that students want to join, rather than forcing participation. “There’s a middle space I think you can find with students,” he says. —Jeffrey R. Young

This strikes me as one of those interesting cases where one might not be able to anticipate the attitudes of those on the other side.

New paper: Gender and Philosophical Intuition

Wesley Buckwalter and Steve Stich’s new paper, “Gender and Philosophical Intuitions”, is out. I think it’s really interesting. Here’s the first paragraph:

In recent years, there has been much concern expressed about the underrepresentation of women in academic philosophy. A full explanation of this troubling phenomenon is likely to be quite complex since there are, almost certainly, many factors that contribute to the gender disparity. Our goal in this paper is to call attention to a cluster of phenomena that may be contributing to the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, though until now these phenomena have been largely invisible. The findings we review indicate that when women and men with little or no philosophical training are presented with standard philosophical thought experiments, in many cases their intuitions about these cases are significantly different. We suspect that these differences could be playing an important role in shaping the demography of the profession. But at present this is only an hypothesis, since we have no evidence that bears directly on the causal relation between the gender gap in academic philosophy and the facts about intuition that we will recount. In future work, we plan to focus on that causal link. However, we believe that thefacts we report about gender differences in philosophical intuitions are both important and disturbing, and that philosophers (and others) should begin thinking about their implications both for philosophical pedagogy and for the methods that philosophers standardly use to support their theories. It is our hope that this paper will help to launch conversations on these issues both within the philosophical community and beyond.

Thanks, A!