Iceland Wept

iceland police

This week, police in Iceland shot a suspect who was shooting at them.  This is the first time in Iceland's history that its law enforcement has killed a civilian in the line of duty, and the incident made national news. The Icelandic police department said officers involved will go through grief counseling. And the police department has already apologized to the family of the man who died — though not necessarily because they did anything wrong."I think it's respectful," [news editor] Ar … [Read more...]

Must Pity be Hierarchical?


In Laura Miller's quasi-memoir The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, she talks about her intellectual development in the context of the books she read as a child, with a particular emphasis on Narnia.  But my attention was caught by a later passage, after she's read Orwell's Animal Farm. I don't mean to suggest that Animal Farm isn't moving. Even as an adult, I found the novel terribly sad. I pitied poor Boxer the draft horse, who dies serving a regime he can't even see has b … [Read more...]

Gratitude is to Thanksgiving as Penance is to…

Confessionals lined up at World Youth Day

Before Thanksgiving, I visited my alma mater for the Harvard-Yale game, and got to participate in a Liberal Party discussion on "When Should We Experiment on Animals?"  The first speaker opened with a quote from The Brothers Karamazov, and by the back half of the debate, the room full of students (many of whom had worked in animal labs themselves) had drifted onto the topic of how to handle causing harm or suffering even when you believe it is the best course of action.We were right on the c … [Read more...]

The Selfishness of Playing to Your Strengths


Calah Alexander has a post up about her frustrations with Disney storylines, where plot can warp around the characters to make sure they get whatever they wanted at the beginning of the movie.  Ariel's father is portrayed as tyrannical, not prudent, when he tries to forbid her from chasing after Prince Eric, even though her choice puts her entire kingdom at risk.  Magic abounds to help characters realize they've been special all along, and that they deserve their happy ending.  She writes: See, … [Read more...]

Choose Your Own Genre Adventure


Christian H of The Thinking Ground, and the inspiration for the question about genres in this year's Turing Test, has put together an online quiz to figure out "which genre would give you the most opportunities to express your worldview and explore the questions that you find most interesting."  Here's how he describes it:In general, I tried to make questions about the kind of beliefs you have--what the beliefs are about, how you think about them--more than what your opinions are. After all, … [Read more...]

Warfare “as obscene as cancer”

gas mask

During the debate over the proper response to Syria's use of chemical weapons, I kept waiting for articles to quote Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" and, eventually, I decided to write one myself.  I'm over at The Huffington Post today talking about why we find chemical weapons uniquely horrifying, and whether more types of warfare should provoke that same kind of visceral revulsion. Death by IED or drone has perhaps not yet found its poet. How do we weigh the suffering of a victim … [Read more...]

Servant of Two Masters

burning letter

If I had a car, I suppose I could have a bumpersticker that read "My other Sunday obligation is the New York Times."  And part of the weekly ritual tends to be glaring at the Ethicist column, which frequently gives questionably ethical advice.A few weeks ago, a reader wrote in to say that she sorts mail for a group of homeless or at-risk American Indian people and, when she found that one new mother had been sent a free formula sample, wanted to throw it out, so that the woman wouldn't be t … [Read more...]