A minor hermeneutic dispute has broken out concerning the proper interpretation of my last post. I hope this helps.

See now I’m thinkin’, maybe it means you’re the vicar. And I’m the second half of the show. And Mr. 9 millimeter here, he’s the Plymouth Herald protecting my righteous ass ‘like hell’. Or it could mean you’re ‘like hell’ and I’m the Plymouth Herald and it’s the second half of the show that’s the vicar. Now I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re ‘like hell’. And I’m the vicar. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the second half of the show.


by Henry Farrell on February 23, 2006

“Patrick Nielsen Hayden”:http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006036.html#006036 touts Robert Charles Wilson’s _Spin_ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/s?kw=robert%20charles%20wilson%20spin, “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&tag=henryfarrell-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&path=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fgp%2Fproduct%2F076534825X%2Fsr%3D8-1%2Fqid%3D1140750256%2Fref%3Dpd_bbs_1%3F%255Fencoding%3DUTF8 ) as “one of the finest science fiction novels of the last decade” and he’s right; I finished the book yesterday, and was enormously impressed. I’ve been a fan of Wilson’s work for a long time,1 but as Patrick says, this is on a different level to his earlier work, good though it is. Its conceit is classic science fiction – the earth is suddenly and mysteriously enshrouded by a barrier which blocks off the stars. Inside the barrier, time passes far more slowly than in the outside universe; one year on earth is the equivalent of one hundred million years outside. A single generation is likely to see the death of the solar system. But Wilson doesn’t treat this set up as a classic SF problem to be “solved” (as in Poul Anderson’s somewhat similar but more conventional _Tau Zero_). Instead, he wants to examine how people react when they are forced to think in cosmological time,directly to confront the fact that just as they are mortal, so too is their species, their world, their sun and even the stars in the sky. It’s a wonderful, subtle book, a love-song to scientific curiosity, with some clever, canny things to say about the deep currents driving contemporary debates over science in the US (Wilson’s a Canadian, and comes at this from outside). Strongly, no _vehemently_ recommended.

1 I’ve a particular fondness for Wilson’s _Darwinia_ which begins when Cork disappears to be replaced by an alien jungle inhabited by feral predators. Skeptics might fairly ask how anyone could tell the difference.


by Kieran Healy on February 23, 2006

“It’s”:http://www.irish-tv.com/wander.asp available on DVD. Astonishing.

Nearly Doing the Right Thing

by Kieran Healy on February 23, 2006

Raw material for a short paper in moral philosophy, to be written by someone who is actually a moral philosopher.

*Case 1*. A woman “loses her expensive camera”:http://lostcamera.blogspot.com/2006/02/camera-unlost-but-not-quite-found.html while on holiday in Hawaii. Some time later:

I got a call from an excited park ranger in Hawaii that “a nice Canadian couple reported that they found your camera!” … “Hello,” I said, when I reached the woman who had reported the camera found, “I got your number from the park ranger, it seems you have my camera?” We discussed the specifics of the camera, the brown pouch it was in, the spare battery and memory card, the yellow rubberband around the camera. It was clear it was my camera, and I was thrilled. “Well,” she said, “we have a bit of a situation. You see, my nine year old son found your camera, and we wanted to show him to do the right thing, so we called, but now he’s been using it for a week and he really loves it and we can’t bear to take it from him.” … “And he was recently diagnosed with diabetes, and he’s now convinced he has bad luck, and finding the camera was good luck, and so we can’t tell him that he has to give it up. Also we had to spend a lot of money to get a charger and a memory card.”

They have no intention of returning the camera. The camera owner says at least send me the memory cards plus $50 and we’ll say no more. She gets a package in the mail. A note inside reads “”Enclosed are some CDs with your images on them. We need the memory cards to operate the camera properly.” She calls the camera-thief back, angry, and is told “You’re lucky we sent you anything at all. Most people wouldn’t do that.”

*Case 2*. An Irishman and his Azerbaijani wife adopt an Indonensian boy. After a while, “they decide that it’s not working out”:http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/0223/dowset.html (apparently they had “trouble bonding”) and they “dump him”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2091-2003949,00.html in an orphanage in Jakarta. This one seems to have worked out OK for the boy, as the Irish High Court just ruled that the parents must support him financially till he is 18 and he has full succession rights to their estates.

I’m wondering why the people in each case thought their actions were justified. Also, we normally think that it’s better to have at least made an effort in the direction of doing the right thing than not to have bothered, or actively done the wrong thing right from the beginning. But in these cases the initially worthwhile actions (calling the camera owner; adopting the child) make the subsequent bad faith seem that much worse. We’re taken by surprise as the story veers off in the wrong direction.