February 10, 2012

Of shoes and walking

I took part in a press conference today aimed at urging Congress to pass a clean extension of unemployment benefits. The theme of the event, and of similar events around the country, was "Walk in my shoes" and among the people who spoke was an unemployed electrician.

It occurred to me that the theme of walking in the shoes of other people fits pretty well. It's a basic matter of empathy, which aside from being a basic human trait also seems to be found in the animal world. Back in the 18th century, philosophers like Adam Smith and David Hume argued that the real basis of morality lay in the emotions. Smith's book on the subject was titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

As chance would have it, this week I picked up a new book at the library titled The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sacha of Borat fame). Unlike other books on the subject, this one zooms in on the brain. I haven't got through the book yet, but I think he argues that the root of  human cruelty and evil is a breakdown of empathy....which unfortunately seems to be pretty popular these days.


MINE SAFETY AND DISTRACTIONS. Here's a good blog post from Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo on Governor Tomblin's mine safety bill, which is more about drug testing.



February 09, 2012

Of various items, including zombies and living in trees

I have mentioned in previous posts about how a certain over-educated daughter of mine is fascinated with the idea of a zombie apocalypse. We happened to share a meal this evening after a karate class and in due time she explained her latest theory about how such zombie eruptions were to be endured.

Her theory suggested that humans revert to living in trees, which presumably zombies would be too stupid to climb. She reasoned that people living there could "pick fruit and catch birds." Again, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

IT'S OFFICIAL. Some chimps like iPads and computer games.

THE NICER APES. Here's a look at bonobos, who are probably the nicest branch of the great ape tree (which includes us). Too bad we're not descended from them.

TAI CHI can be good for Parkinson's patients.


February 08, 2012

An injury to one...

According to a poll taken in January, around 61 percent of West Virginians oppose discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. The nationwide number is even higher. Each year, groups like Fairness WV tries to nudge the legislature into passing anti discriminatory measures.

Such efforts got a boost today when both the state AFLCIO and the United Mine Workers of America publicly supported anti discriminatory legislation, claiming that this was a basic matter of workplace fairness. In places where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation isn't forbidden by law, a union contract is often the only protection such workers enjoy.

Congratulations to the labor movement for standing on the principles that a worker is a worker is a worker and an injury to one is an injury to all.

February 07, 2012

Good news, bad news

When I was a kid, good news/bad news jokes were popular. One that I remember my old man telling involved a general telling his soldiers that the good news was that they got to finally change underwear today. The bad news was "You change with you, you change with you, you change with you..." and so on.

I guess the good news at the WV legislature is that Governor Tomblin has introduced mine safety legislation, at least partly in response to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch disaster which killed 29 miners in April 2010.

The bad news is that a big part of the legislation has to do with drug testing coal miners, which, as mine safety expert Davitt McAteer testified today, had absolutely nothing to do with the disaster. Or the Sago disaster. Or the Aracoma mine fire. It appears that drug testing is the drug of choice this year under the dome.

To be fair, there are some good things in the governor's bill. There are probably some better things in a bill that has been introduced in the house. It would be nice if something would get through this time that would address the real issues. It's too soon to tell whether that will happen.

More on all that here from the one and only Ken Ward at the Charleston Gazette here.

February 06, 2012

For the last several years, El Cabrero has been painstakingly crawling through several volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I'm now within 200 pages of the end.

 It's been kind of a chore, the literary equivalent of heavy lifting, but it has been rewarded by flashes of brilliance, wit and that great 18th century turn of a phrase. Here's an example of the latter. The occasion is his contemplation of the speed with which the discovery of gunpowder increased the destructiveness of war:

If we contrast the rapid progress of this  mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.

Roger that.

BETTER BUT NOT GOOD. Here's Krugman on the latest jobs report.

CITIZENS (NOT) UNITED. E.J. Dionne writes about a really bad court decision here.

DITTO THIS. Here's the Charleston Gazette calling on the legislature to create a mineral tax trust fund for the future.


February 05, 2012

A Super Bowl spike?

El Cabrero is not a big fan of watching ball sports. I plan on observing Super Bowl Sunday by running in a 10K race. Still, the topic of Super Bowl came up in a conversation with the Spousal Unit yesterday. It turns out that there is an oft-quoted belief out there that domestic violence incidents peak on Super Bowl Sunday.

It makes sense when you first hear it. I mean, think about it, there are going to be a bunch of beered up sports fans out there responding to the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

That doesn't appear to be the case, however. I checked it out on Snopes. While it is undoubtedly true that the domestic violence rate is too high all the time, there doesn't seem to be a trend over time for a significant spike on this day. Let's hope that's the case this year as well.