Dystopia here we come!

Interesting interview in the Atlantic with an Oxford Philosophy professor who argues we are dramatically under-estimating the likelihood of human extinction:

Bostrom, who directs Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, has argued over the course of several papers that human extinction risks are poorly understood and, worse still, severely underestimated by society. Some of these existential risks are fairly well known, especially the natural ones. But others are obscure or even exotic. Most worrying to Bostrom is the subset of existential risks that arise from human technology, a subset that he expects to grow in number and potency over the next century.

You’ll have to click through to find out what these risks are.

The power of the beard

In a headline that strikes me as completely science of the obvious, the LA Times declares, “Men with beards are not more attractive to women, study suggests.”  Well, duh!  That’s not to say there’s not some value in a good beard, though:

Now the psychologists are chiming in — and the news isn’t great for the hirsute ones. In a recent experiment, Paul Vasey of Canada’s University of Lethbridge and Barnaby Dixson of New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington found that while beards may be stylish, and are probably a mark of alpha males, they aren’t necessarily a key tool for attracting the ladies…

Both men and women said that with beards, the men looked older and more aggressive than they did with their beards shaved. The viewers also ascribed higher social status to the men when they were bearded than when they were baby-faced. Women said that the clean-shaven faces were more attractive than the whiskery ones.

Vasey and Dixson wrote that their research suggested that beards did not evolve in early humans because women found bearded men more attractive (as Charles Darwin believed). Rather, natural selection favored bearded faces because hairier men were more successful at conveying aggression and securing loftier social status.

Well, well-played by me.  I attracted Kim at an earlier age with my clean-shaven attractiveness.  And now that I’ve got her, I can convey my higher social status with some facial hair.

Actually, what I’ve been doing almost every year since sometime in graduate school is to grow a spring semester beard of varying duration.  The longest I kept it was until June; the shortest sometime in February.  My latest trend is to shave just in time for May graduation.

My favorite beard belongs to my friend, former Congressional Quarterly Book Representative, and now film writer and director/producer Michael Dunaway.

Photo of the day

I watched a lot of basketball the past few days.  Man did my Dukies let me down.  However, NC State came through this weekend in a big way, moving onto the Sweet 16.  After not even being in the tournament the past 5 years, this was especially gratifying.  Thus, today’s photo is in honor of the Wolfpack victory:

Gay marriage: good for America?

So says, Jonathan Rauch, tonight’s American Values speaker sponsored by the NCSU School of Public and International Affairs (i.e., I worked my butt off to get him as a speaker).  I was interested in Rauch not because he will advocate to legalize gay marriage (he will), but because in my years of reading about the issue he is the most thoughtful and even-handed writer I have read on the topic.  This 2008 Op-Ed is a nice summary of his views:

Even a moment’s reflection shows the fatuousness of “Let them eat contracts.” No private transaction excuses you from testifying in court against your partner, or entitles you to Social Security survivor benefits, or authorizes joint tax filing, or secures U.S. residency for your partner if he or she is a foreigner. I could go on and on.

Marriage, remember, is not just a contract between two people. It is a contract that two people make, as a couple, with their community – which is why there is always a witness. Two people can’t go into a room by themselves and come out legally married. The partners agree to take care of each other so the community doesn’t have to. In exchange, the community deems them a family, binding them to each other and to society with a host of legal and social ties.

This is a fantastically fruitful bargain. Marriage makes you, on average, healthier, happier and wealthier. If you are a couple raising kids, marrying is likely to make them healthier, happier and wealthier, too. Marriage is our first and best line of defense against financial, medical and emotional meltdown. It provides domesticity and a safe harbor for sex. It stabilizes communities by formalizing responsibilities and creating kin networks. And its absence can be calamitous, whether in inner cities or gay ghettos.

In 2008, denying gay Americans the opportunity to marry is not only inhumane, it is unsustainable. History has turned a corner: Gay couples – including gay parents – live openly and for the most part comfortably in mainstream life. This will not change, ever.

I do find the “if marriage is a good thing, shouldn’t you want it for all couples” argument fairly compelling.  And the evidence is quite clear that marriage is a very good thing.

Contraception is worse than war and torture

Really nice essay about the Catholic church’s recent emphasis on contraception.  Includes a lengthy, but really interesting discussion on the relationship between religious organizations and the state and how far one’s conscience or morality should allow for exemptions to state mandates.  The conclusion, though, hits the key point for me:

 The question that should be asked is why the US Catholic Bishops are exerting so much energy and money and time on the matter of contraception, with no similarly public cries of outrage against the death penalty, state-sponsored torture, or the two preemptive wars in which the U.S. has involved itself for fully a decade.

Amen.  I think the Church’s position on contraception is wrong and counter-productive, but I respect the moral reasoning behind it.  What I really object to is the emphasis on this doctrine (and gay marriage, for that matter), when there are major political issues which just seem so morally wrong, yet are almost completely ignored by the hierarchy of the Church.

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