I know that there is some competition, but David Kopel’s “explanation”:http://volokh.com/2009/11/30/swiss-vote-to-ban-minarets/ of the minaret vote as perhaps the only plausible response that solid Swiss burghers could make to secret conspiracies and sweetheart deals between their government and the “Islamonazis of Tehran” surely ranks as the most flat-out insane Volokh Conspiracy post ever. If I were one of the saner Volokh conspiracy contributors (there are several), I would be considering as rapid and public an exit as possible to avoid reputational contamination.


by Harry on November 30, 2009

Talking of political philosophers’ job descriptions, Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (UK) has been out for a while now, but only just reviewed in the NYT (by Jonathan Rauch). It has the virtues that Sandel has honed over the years (and were notably absent from his first, influential, book): he has the remarkable ability to keep things clear and complex at the same time, and resists the temptation to repeat himself for the sake of the ungenerous or slow-witted reader. Rauch is right that the chapter on Kant is a gem, but equally striking is the chapter on Rawls which is accurate (as the earlier book wasn’t always), fair-minded, and to the point (and even, at the end, inspiring). The Economist review says, that he nudges the reader toward Aristotle, by being harder on the consequentialist and Kant-inspired accounts of justice, but that’s not really my read of the book: unless his experience has been radically different from mine, he believes that his students (and, probably, many of his readers) are unduly reluctant to incorporate a concern with personal virtue into their judgments and the book attempts to overcome that bias, putting the different accounts on a more level playing field. Every page makes some real world or literary reference that will be familiar to the non-philosophical reader. A couple of social scientist friends have recommended it to me as something to recommend to other social scientists as an excellent introduction to the field. (Update: See also George’s typically excellent critical review here).

But more to the point, his TV show is almost all up online now, free.

[click to continue…]

Artificial Meat

by Jon Mandle on November 30, 2009

I don’t know how I missed the breakthrough in fish stick technology mentioned so casually in this article from the Sunday Times:

SCIENTISTS have grown meat in the laboratory for the first time. Experts in Holland used cells from a live pig to replicate growth in a petri dish.
The advent of so-called “in-vitro” or cultured meat could reduce the billions of tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year by farm animals — if people are willing to eat it.
So far the scientists have not tasted it, but they believe the breakthrough could lead to sausages and other processed products being made from laboratory meat in as little as five years’ time.
They initially extracted cells from the muscle of a live pig. Called myoblasts, these cells are programmed to grow into muscle and repair damage in animals.
The cells were then incubated in a solution containing nutrients to encourage them to multiply indefinitely. This nutritious “broth” is derived from the blood products of animal foetuses, although the intention is to come up with a synthetic solution.

The Dutch experiments follow the creation of “fish fillets” derived from goldfish muscle cells in New York and pave the way for laboratory-grown chicken, beef and lamb.

The Vegetarian Society reacted cautiously yesterday, saying: “The big question is how could you guarantee you were eating artificial flesh rather than flesh from an animal that had been slaughtered. It would be very difficult to label and identify in a way that people would trust.” Peta, the animal rights group, said: “As far as we’re concerned, if meat is no longer a piece of a dead animal there’s no ethical objection.”

That’s the “big question”? I’m guessing that Dr. Kass will find this even more repugnant than the public licking of an ice cream cone.

Minarets in Switzerland

by Kieran Healy on November 30, 2009

I hadn’t been following the story of Switzerland’s efforts to ban the construction of minarets. Switzerland has about 400,000 muslims and — though there are many mosques — precisely four minarets. The referendum succeeded by a comfortable majority. As you can see from the poster, the rights of women under Islam were pointed to as a reason to support the ban. The Guardian reports that the pro-ban SPP

said that going to the European court would breach the popular sovereignty that underpins the Swiss democratic model and tradition … It dismissed the arguments about freedom or religion, asserting that minarets were not a religious but a political symbol, and the thin end of a wedge that would bring sharia law to the country, with forced marriages, “honour” killings, female genital mutilation and oppression of women … The prohibition also found substantial support on the left and among secularists worried about the status of women in Islamic cultures. Prominent feminists attacked minarets as male power symbols, deplored the oppression of Muslim women, and urged a vote for the ban.

The Times reports that there’s some evidence that more women were in favor of the ban than men, too. One can only suppose that, having waited until 1971 to give women the vote in Federal elections, and in some parts of the country until 1990 in Cantonal elections, the Swiss are now making up for lost time making good on their commitment to feminism.