A Philosopher's Blog

Saving Pets

Posted in Ethics, Medicine/Health by Michael LaBossiere on July 30, 2007

In the July 30, 2007 issue of Newsweek, Frederick R. Lynch told the story of how he spent $11,000 (US) in veterinary bills to save his cat, Fritz. Fritz was suffering from cancer and required numerous medical procedures. While Lynch’s story made it into the pages of Newsweek, his choice is not uncommon. Other people, including some close friends, have done the same for their beloved pets.

Of course, some people would see spending that much on a pet to be a waste of money. Those that give the matter some thought might say that the money could do more good if spent on something else rather than to save a pet. For example, the money could be spent to help another human being.

While that view has some merit, the same can be said in regards to most of what people spend money on. People, at least in wealthy countries like the United States, routinely spend money on luxury items. For example, if someone buys herself a new iPod, that money could have done more good if it had been donated to help a starving person. As another example, think of the extremely expensive parties that stars throw. These parties can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more)-all for one night of enjoyment. As another example, think of all the other ways wealthy people spend money on needless luxuries. This money could do a great deal of good if spent on other things. If such spending were acceptable (which might not be the case), then spending money on a pet would certainly be acceptable. In fact, when compared to such luxury spending, saving a pet is quite laudable

Perhaps the best argument in favor of spending money to save a pet is based on love. In the case of spending money to save a human, such a parent spending large amounts of money to save a sick child, it is also the case that the money could be spent to do more good elsewhere. For example, the money spent on expensive cancer treatments for a child could be used to save many children who have conditions that are less expensive to treat. However, a parent who spent the money to save her child instead of helping strangers would not be regarded as doing something wrong. In fact, she would most likely be praised for her devotion to her child.

In the case of the parent, she is justified in her choice because of her relationship to her child-he is someone she loves. Now, if this applies in the case of human beings, then it should also apply to pets as well. After all, people love their pets very much.

It might be objected that a human is worth more than a pet. Perhaps that is true. But, the same could be said of individual humans. The money the mother spends on her child could have been used to save people who are better than her child. Unless he is the best human in the world, then there would be other people who could be helped who would be better. The important difference is not who is better-but who is loved by the person spending the money.

One reason I became a Professor

Posted in Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on July 29, 2007

I was 18 and had just gone to college. I grew up in a tiny Maine town (Old Town). It is a nice place, but was very safe and quite uniform in character. Suffice it to say that I was rather naive, optimistic and very unworldly. Naturally, I believed I was mature and ready to be king of the world.

I enjoyed my first semester of college and when Thanksgiving break arrived I took a Greyhound bus back to Maine. On the way I stopped at a NYC bus station and was there around 3 am. I had never been in such a situation before and saw people picking food out of the garbage cans and other people sleeping under cardboard. I had heard of homeless people before, but I had not experienced it myself. While people obviously just pass on by these sights everyday without a thought, that degree of suffering and poverty in a nation of vast wealth and resources shocked and sickened me. The irony of people eating garbage as the rest of the country prepared to gorge itself on turkey, pies and cranberry sauce was not lost on me. I decided that I would be a success so that I would never meet that fate. I also vowed that I would take a path that would enable me to help other people avoid that fate.

While many other factors were involved, this moment set me on the path to being an educator. I confess that I have made no great changes in social justice nor have I been able to make the world fair and equitable. But I have helped people stick with their education and succeed in life. I have also done what I can to instill in them a sense of justice and responsibility towards themselves and others. I do believe a better world is possible-but it is all up to us. We make the world we live in, enjoy and endure.

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The reasoning of spammers.

Posted in Ethics, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 27, 2007

I just spent a while cleaning spam messages out of my Myspace inbox. Interestingly, I received the same spam message (inquiring if I wanted to have sex with random strangers) several times.

I cannot quite fathom how spammers reason. Perhaps it goes something like this:

Spammer 1: “Dude, my mom said I have to take a shower sometime soon because my foul stench is making her cats retch.”
Spammer 2: “Dude, that is so unfair. Those cats can’t smell you because you never leave this basement.”
Spammer 1: “I know. I love the cool and clammy darkness…it matches my soul.”
Spammer 2: “I have this great idea!”
Spammer 1: ‘What?”
Spammer 2: ‘You know how most people just delete our spam that offers sexy hookups?”
Spammer 1: ‘Yeah?”
Spammer 2: “Well, let’s send the same exact message from twenty fake profiles! They will totally believe it is legit if they get it twenty times! I know I would!”
Spammer 1: “That is awesome!”
Spammer 2: “But I get to pretend to be the hot chick this time. It makes me feel so special…so very special.”
Spammer 1: “Dude, don’t touch me there…”
Spammer 2: “Sorry…just getting into the role.”
Spammer 1: “On second thought, it has been a while…”

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MySpace & Predators

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 26, 2007

According to the news, MySpace recently deleted the accounts of 29,000 registered sex offenders. This is, of course, a good thing.
However, given the ease with which a person can create a false internet identity, I doubt this new action will have much of a lasting impact.
Some people claim that MySpace makes it easier for sexual predators and most especially those who target young children. This is, of course, true-such evil people can gather a great deal of information about potential victims and use MySpace and other such sites as a means of opening communication.

This does not mean that MySpace itself is a bad thing. After all, sexual predators can use a telephone to contact their intended victims and it does not follow that telephones are bad.

Like the telephone, MySpace does have its uses. Normal people use it to keep in touch with friends, make new friends and share idea, photos and such with the world. These are all good things.

But, people need to be careful and exercise good sense. Sadly, good sense is something that is not very common (which is why I do not call it “common sense”). One very good idea is to not let children have profiles on places like MySpace. While I am all for liberty and freedom of expression, it is reasonable to deny this freedom to children. It puts them at risk and there is really no compelling reason why a child should be posting information and photos for the world to see. While adults generally have poor judgment, kids have worse judgment and are obviously much more vulnerable than adults.

It is also a good idea for people to not post photos of children in public albums. While the media greatly exaggerates the danger, it seems wise not to take an unnecessary risk by exposing such pictures to the eyes of pedophiles. I don’t have any photos of my nephews on my pages nor do I have any photos of my friends’ children. If photos of children must be posted, it is a good idea to put them into private albums so random strangers cannot see them. Yes, it is sad that people have to worry about such things, but it is best to be safe.

Young adults and adults should also have better sense in what photos they post and what they say as well. It is amazing, and sometimes frightening, what people are willing to make public. I think people should keep in mind that places like MySpace are public places and anyone can see and read what is posted (unless it is private, of course).

That said, we should not be ruled by fear. The media regularly tries to create this culture of terror by running dramatic stories about sexual predators. But, they say little about the actual risk and the actual numbers. True-there are bad people out there and so being on MySpace involves some risk. But so too does leaving your house, dorm or apartment. As with the real world, the use of good sense and proper caution goes a long way. Be careful, but do not be ruled by fear.

Men, Women & Communication II

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on July 26, 2007


I recently had another opportunity to provide relationship advice. As usual, this provided new insights into the way people fail to communicate. With some dramatization for effect, here is how it went:

Her: “So, we went to the movies and then he drove me back to my place. I really wanted him to come in…”

Me: “You do remember that talk we had about ‘too much information’, right?”

Her: “Don’t worry. He didn’t come in. When he dropped me off, I said I was tired and was going to go to sleep because I had an early day.”

Me: “Okay. So what is the problem?”

Her: “I really wanted him to come in.”

Me: “Well, you could have said that, you know.”

Her: “You don’t understand how this dating thing works. That’s why you’re single, you know.”

Me: “And yet you come to me for advice…”

Her: “But you are smart and sometimes say things that aren’t totally stupid.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Her: “Anytime.”

Me: “So, you wanted him to stay, but told him to go away?”

Her: “Yes. He just didn’t get it. I think he’s too passive for me. A man needs to take charge.”

Me: “And read minds?”

Her: “No. He just can’t be passive.”

Me: “Could you pass the blueberry pie, please?”

Her: “Sure.”

Me: “Sigh.”

Her: “What?”

Me: “I really wanted the cherry pie. You handed me the blueberry.”

Her: “But you asked for the blueberry pie! You have to ask for what you want, you know.”

Me: “Yes. Yes you do. If you weren’t so passive, you would have handed me the cherry pie.”

Her: “You are a right bastard.”

Me: “Yes. The emphasis being on ‘right’, of course.”


Later on…

Her: “All the guys I date turn out to be assholes.”

Me: “That guy you went to the movies with sounded like a decent guy.”

Her: “But I’m not dating him. He’s too passive.”

Me: “Sigh.”

Her: “What?”

Me: “He’s passive because he just left when you asked him to?”

Her: “Yes.”

Me: “Well, what do you say to a guy you are not interested in when you are in that same situation?”

Her: “I tell him I’m tired and have to go to sleep because I have an early day.”

Me: “We’ve had this talk before-you can’t say the same thing and expect it to mean something different to other people.”

Her: “Yes, I can. A real man would know what I meant.”

Me: “Really? Like a real woman would know about which pie I wanted?”

Her: “That’s not the same at all!”

Me: “True-pie is much more important.”

Her: “You and your pie…”

Me: “You know, I have a guess about why you end up dating jerks.”

Her: “Why is that, Socrates?”

Me: “Look at how you deal with guys. The last guy took what you said as the truth-he trusted that you were not deceiving him and that you were really tired and wanted him to leave. He was polite and respected what he thought you wanted.”

Her: “So how does this explain why all men are jerks?”

Me: ‘Well, not all of us are. Anyway, the sort of guy that gets past your little test or whatever it is has to think that you are lying when you say you are tired. Someone who thinks that way is probably a liar himself. Also, he has to be willing to be pushy and has to think that there is no reason to respect what you say. So, only lying, pushy, impolite men who don’t believe what you say will get past that barrier. In short, you have a dating filter that keeps out good guys and selects for assholes. That is why all the men you end up dating are assholes.”

Her: “Nah. All men are assholes. Some of them are just passive jerks and I don’t date them.”

Me: “Sigh.”

Her: “You’re just mad because you’re a passive jerk, too.”

Me: “And yet you keep bringing me pie and asking for my advice.”

Her: “Bastard.”




Thoughts on Online Dating Sites

Posted in Relationships/Dating, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 24, 2007

My sister, who was divorced a while ago, asked me for advice about using online dating sites such as Match.com and eHarmony. My initial thought was “for the love of God, no!” Then my more philosophic nature overrode my emotional response and I offered the following assessment.

Online dating sites have some positive aspects. First, you know that the people there are looking for someone to date. Well, mostly. Some people claim to be there looking for friends only. This struck me as very odd-it is like running into someone in steak restaurant who is there just to buy a salad. Anyway, getting back to the main point: this avoids the problem of trying to sort out if the person you met is interested in dating or not, which is a plus.

Second, you can learn a bit about the person via his or her profile. While people do embellish a bit, a profile can be very revealing. For example, if someone writes “I hat gam playes as muc as I hate cheatrs” (presumably they hate game players as much as they hate cheaters), then you know quite a bit about them. Or, as another example, the following is also very informative: “I am only interested in women with large breasts who will dress up like anime characters , refer to me as ‘Lord Grug’, and fetch me beers.” That reveals much about “Lord Grug.” Too much, perhaps.

Third, they provide a fairly safe avenue of communication. Most sites offer anonymous email and some do check for felons and such.

Online dating services also have many negative aspects.

First, there is the ease with which people can lie. Based on my own experience and those of others, people routinely post misleading or even fake photos and lie outrageously.

One common thing done by both men and women is to post old photos from when they were young and in much better shape. For example, on two occasions I went to meet someone and literally could not recognize them. In one case, the woman had apparently increased in mass about 100% since the photo was taken. In another case, the woman later admitted that her photos were at least 10 years old. They had no trouble spotting me-my photos were up to date. What bothered me was not how they looked, but the fact that they thought it was acceptable to start things off with deception. If someone lies from the very beginning, it is obvious that things will only get worse. As you might imagine, there were no second dates.

My favorite example is from a friend of mine. She said the guy had posted these great pictures on his profile and talked about how athletic he was. When she met him, he “looked like the Pillsbury dough boy…but without the charm.”

Naturally, people also lie about such things as their status (they claim to be single, but are not), their income, their interests, hobbies and so on. So, if you plan on trying such sites, be very careful about the lies. Oh, and don’t lie. That would be…wrong.

Second, there are some very crazy people who are on such sites. These people range from mildly deranged to dangerous.

One person I know tried a major site and went on a date with a guy who had said he was a programmer. When she met him at the movies, he said that he was actually a wizard. Not a programming wizard, but a wizard like Gandalf (or Harry Potter). She bravely went through with the date and at the end of the movie he asked if he could kiss her. She refused, so he licked her face and said “you didn’t say I couldn’t lick you.” She showed great restraint in not killing him.

Another person I know recently met a person who initially seemed very nice. Things did not go well, though. She now has a restraining order against him (he punched her in the face and started stalking her). So, if you try such sites be on guard for crazy people. True, crazy people are common in the real world-watch out for them there, too. And, of course, don’t be a crazy person. If you are a crazy person, you should get help and stay away from dating sites and other living things until you get yourself under control.

Third, when you meet someone via a dating site there is the expectation that it is for romance (or whatever, depending on the site). This means that instead of getting to know a person and then considering the romance option, you are jumping right to the romance assessment step. On one hand, this can be a good thing-as mentioned above this bypasses all the questions about whether the person is interested in dating (in general). On the other hand, it does create a somewhat artificial and potentially rushed situation. Of course, this can be offset by communicating with the person for a while before meeting.

For the curious, my own situation is that I stopped using such sites quite a while ago. The main legacy from that time consists of numerous horrific dates, some good dates and I made a few good friends who still stay in touch. Based on my own experiences, I’ll never use such sites again. But, they might work just great for you-I do know of some people who have had great success with them and swear by such sites as a means of finding the right person. Good luck-you’ll need it. 🙂


Lost Dogs & ID Tags

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on July 24, 2007

Over the past few days I’ve found three lost dogs wandering in San Luis Park while I was running. While one had a harness and a rabies tag, none of them had any ID that was very useful to me-like a number to call. Fortunately, I was able to get the dogs into the dog park area and there was someone there with a cell phone who could call the animal rescue people.

One dog I found seemed to have had an encounter with a car or something bad-he had some wounds on his front and was limping. I was just glad I found these poor dogs before they were run over.

While owners can take steps to keep their dogs from escaping, dogs are quite good at getting out and about. That is why it is a very good idea to have your contact information on your dog’s collar. Hartz, the company that makes a variety of pet products, sells very nice custom ID tags on their web site. The tag is only $2.95 and I got mine in just a few days (Isis’ previous tag had been worn down).

Some people have actually told me that they do not put an ID tag on their dog because they worry that weird or dangerous people will find the information. If you are really worried about that, you could create an extra free email account and put that on the tag. That way if someone finds your dog, s/he can contact you while you will be safer from weird or dangerous people.

Our pets depend on us to keep them safe and we are obligated to not let them down. If you don’t have an ID for your pet, then you really should get one.

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“Maybe it is me…but maybe not.”

Posted in Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on July 22, 2007

After a plane crash or other such accident, investigators arrive on the scene in an attempt to piece together what went wrong. I often feel like that is what I’m doing when I talk to friends when their relationships have failed: in addition to providing a sympathetic audience I also try to help them sort out what went wrong (if they want to do so).While I often suspect that relationships succeed or fail at random because “people do stuff and no one knows why”, analyzing relationship failure seems to be a good idea for the same reason that analyzing a crash is a good idea: if you can determine what went wrong you can avoid that in the future.

Based on years of experience, most people assign blame in one of three ways: they place all the blame on the other person, they place all the blame on themselves or they split the blame. Not surprisingly, just as relationship success is a shared endeavor, the failure is also a shared endeavor. Of course, people being what they are, they most often put the most blame on the other person and very rarely do they accept all the blame.In general I have found that women tend to blame the failure on the guy “being an asshole.” Men tend to say that the relationship failed because the woman was “a crazy bitch.” These are rather vague terms, to say the least-but they are informative. In such cases the blame is placed on the character defects of the other person. While everyone has defects (and there is a certain appeal to saying all men are asses and all women are crazy bitches) it seems odd that there are just so many asses and crazy bitches out there ruining relationship after relationship for wonderful, flawless people. After all, would not these perfect people eventually meet and have perfect relationships?

When a person’s relationship seem to always fail from either of these factors (assholeness or crazy bitchiness) there seem to be three possibilities.First, the person is attracted to this sort of person who is an ass or a crazy bitch. In this case, the person bears some blame-they need to find a way to stop being attracted to people who will doom the relationship. I’ve known many people like this. Sadly, they even know this about themselves yet often cannot stop. In this case, the blame must be mostly their’s for selecting someone they know will be very bad for them. Second, the person is a bad judge of character and thinks s/he is picking someone who is not an ass, crazy or a bitch. But, the person is always wrong. In this case, the person bears some of the blame for having poor judgment. The person should investigate potential dates with greater effort or date people they already know that are not assess, crazy or bitches.Third, the person’s behavior brings out the ass or crazy bitch in the people they date. All of us have the potential to be pushed into being assholes or crazy bitches by the way other people act towards us. For example, someone I know recently dated a woman who deceived him about her relationship status (she said she was single but was very involved with someone who lived out of town) and had a rather convoluted set of dating rules (and associated convoluted behavior). When the man got angry about this, she classified him as an asshole and said that she somehow always dated assholes. The most likely explanation is that if she always behaves like that, then guys are typically going to respond in ways that she might regard as “being an asshole”-assuming that means “being angry about being deceived and subject to crazy games.”

Naturally, male friends of mine who have complained about always dating crazy bitches sometimes act in ways that would turn a saint into a devil. Obviously, if a person acts in a way that makes his/her partner an asshole or crazy bitch, then s/he bears much of the responsibility. To fix this, the person needs to identify the behaviors that cause this effect and stop doing that. Yes, that is easy to say and almost impossible to do. From a practical standpoint it is a good idea, when a relationship fails, to ask yourself “could it be me?” When you are calm (or calmer) ask yourself the following specific questions:

1. Am I attracted to people that are not right for me (do I go after the assholes or crazy bitches)? If the answer is yes, you should be very careful in assessing your next relationship prospect. It can be hard to control attraction, but we are (in theory) more than just animals ruled by hormones.

2. Do I have poor judgment? If the answer is yes, then you need to work on your people assessment skills. Until they are up to par, avoid dating or get someone trustworthy with good judgment to help you avoid poor choices.

3. Do I behave in ways that helps make people behave like assholes or crazy bitches? This is probably the toughest question to answer honestly because it requires considering the possibility that the failure was in large part your fault. Answering it properly requires carefully considering your words, actions and choices. Most people are not up to this-it is much easier to say “I always date assholes” or “why do I keep ending up with crazy bitches?” then it is to say “maybe I’m doing something wrong…maybe I need to treat people better if I want things to work.”

4. Could it be them? In most cases the responsibility for failure is shared so this is a good question to ask. It is very tempting to always answer “yes”-so be careful with this one.I make no guarantees that this will lead to success, but it should help cut down on the failures. Of course, I still strongly suspect that when it comes to relationships people just do stuff and have no idea why. Afterwards everyone tells themselves pleasing lies and they move on to the next disaster. Despite that, I’m still optimistic-but I’m sure that is just the biochemistry talking. 🙂

YouTube-CNN Presidential Debate

Posted in Politics, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 21, 2007

CNN and YouTube have joined forces to present a new type of debate. People will post their questions to the candidates on YouTube and then the candidates will answer some of them.

As with any question and answer session, there is the problem of determining which questions should be answered.

One possible approach is to use the YouTube method of ranking videos. Using this method, the questions would be selected democratically-the questions that the most people wanted answered would be the questions asked.

However, this method is not being employed, Instead, CNN will select the questions that will be asked. The reason is given by executive producer David Bohrman (Newsweek July 23, 2007 p 37). When asked about why CNN is not following the democratic model of YouTube, he said: “It’s dangerous. With the anonymity of the Internet, you can cross the line. There is a small, good gatekeeper function we still need to play.”

On one hand, this is a reasonable idea. After all, the questions selected should be ones that are relevant, coherent and not absurd. Also, there is the obvious concern that people will post ridiculous videos and these will be selected because of their humor value, sex appeal, vulgarity or some other factor that is not appropriate. For example, I suspect that questions asked by two models wrestling in pudding would probably make the top ten. A video of a person covered in tin foil and asking what the candidate will do about the aliens in his head would also probably do very well. While such videos have their place, it is not in the context of a serious political debate. If this is allowed, then people might start asking candidates questions and expecting a show of hands for an answer-as opposed to a meaningful response.

On the other hand, an essential feature of democracy is that people get to make decisions. The idea that a small number of people get to decide what is asked and what is not seems rather undemocratic. Further, if people are allowed to select the actual President (well, assuming that is how it actually works) then it would seem that they could also be trusted with selecting the the questions to be asked. If not, perhaps we should reconsider the notion of having elections.

Bohrman’s words are also quite telling. He notes that such openness would be “dangerous” and that a “small, good gatekeeper” is needed. While I would not accuse him of being a fascist or an authoritarian, those words certainly do ring with the echoes of such political views. After all, Mussolini took a similar view when it came to liberty-the state should decide what liberties people are to have and it only strips them of dangerous and useless liberties…for their own good. Perhaps we should be grateful that the people at CNN are protecting us from dangerous and useless questions (as interpreted by their “small, good gatekeeper”). Perhaps they shall be gracious enough to render a similar service come election day.

Vick’s Dogs

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on July 19, 2007

The story of the cruel acts alleged to have been committed by Vick is a top news item and it shows just how horrible people can be to man’s best friend.

One rather interesting turn of events is the statement made by a spokesperson for the Falcons on this matter: “…We are disappointed that one of our players — and therefore the Falcons — is being presented to the public in a negative way, and we apologize to our fans and the community for that…”

While PR people are trained to spin things, this is a very odd statement. As written, the team is disappointed with and apologizing for the negative publicity. This makes it sound like the media is somehow wronging the team and the fans by reporting the crimes in question. Apparently, the Falcons PR people have taken a page from the Bush administration when it comes to dealing with misdeeds.

While Vick’s guilt is still in question, the initial evidence points to his involvement. In any case, horrible things have been done and those involved need to be punished.

I’m very much a dog person and this situation fills me with rage towards the cruel people who did such horrific things. One can only hope that Hell is stocked with savage hell hounds that will return the favor to these monsters.