Friday, May 28, 2010

Making Mix and Container Gardening

I used the recipe for planting mix from Square-Foot Gardening, which calls for one part vermiculite (sort of like crushed mica), one part compost, and one part peat moss.

The vermiculite was a challenge to find, but after an online search I found a gardening center a few towns over that carries it.  Compost was also surprisingly difficult to find, especially since one should use compost from various sources.  I found one type at the center from which I bought the vermiculite.  Then I went to Wal-Mart, and the 16-year-old kid I asked at their garden center didn't know what compost was.  I found another variety at Lowe's.  I laid a table cloth down and mixed it all together, with the whole family getting into the action:

I made just enough mix for the six self-watering containers I constructed.  I was impressed with how my seedlings had done, growing inside with just sparse sunlight in a window sill.  My only disappointment was the lettuce, which seemed to shoot up quickly but then fall over and die.  The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants did well inside though.  For protection of the garden, I used the baby play yard gate we no longer use:

The picture above was taken the weekend of May 7th when I planted the garden.  I thought I was safe with the weather since it was a week after the average last frost, and we were enjoying seventy degree days.  However, the next week we were hit with some nights getting down into the thirties.  I moved the garden inside the shed two of the nights (not a fun task), but I think the third night frost-bit the plants.  Since then, most leaves have turned yellow and fallen off, though a few of the plants seem to be doing okay.  I may need to buy plants from the store to replace the failing ones.

Another concern is that there is not much sun for these plants, so I am unsure that I will get good results even if I plant new freshly store-bought ones.  I will try anyway.  I figured this year would be mostly for learning anyway.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who Do the Police Protect?

From the local police blotter, modified to protect the innocent:

An area man was arrested Sunday at 6:53 p.m. on Main Street, police said.

John T. Doe, 25, had a warrant charging him with failing to appear for jury duty, police said.

Make no mistake: the primary mission of the government's law enforcers is to protect the government.  When they are not busy posing as 13-year-old girls to seduce stupid men, they fill out at least a third of the blotter with arrests of people who do not possess proper paperwork, or practice the wrong profession, or grow the wrong plant. 

But we need them to protect us from the bad guys, right?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Countering Kant's Categorical Imperative

The categorical imperative is Kant's central contribution to moral philosophy.  It is not really useful in itself for guiding one's moral action but acts as a sort of test for a given ethic:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.

It would seem then that we might proceed to list a number of proposed moral rules, think really hard about whether each adheres to this meta-rule, and then write the ones that do in our Book of Moral Laws.

The famous counter-example to Kant's imperative is lying to a murderer (after Kant proclaimed that "never lie" fits the criteria for being a universally valid law).  If you want the example to seem even more egregious, use a Nazi.  For example, Anne Frank is hiding in your attic, a Nazi enters your house and asks you "Is Anne Frank hiding in your house?"  Kant maintains that it would still be wrong to lie; just about everyone else thinks it would be okay.

Why does this counter-example work?  I think there are two reasons.  First, there is the trouble with abstracting the situation to a neat ethical quandary.  Much of philosophy has been haunted by the idea that reality can be expressed in true or false propositions, but such abstraction must fall short.  Words and propositions are tools for vaguely referring to actual experience, not the other way around.  As such, it might be as true (or false) to claim that the decision is whether or not to lie as opposed to helping a murderer or even whether to utter the words "not here".  Or if we persist in claiming the correct abstraction is whether to lie, what exactly constitutes a lie? 

But even if we "play along" that we can meaningfully reduce any scenario to a particular true or false ethical proposition, the counter-example still defeats Kant.  The reason relies on intuition: it just seems offensive to say that telling a lie would not be worth preventing a murder (or kidnapping).  In fact, the counter-example follows a formula that can be used to defeat any specific ethic.  Here is all you have to do: think of a situation where a small transgression is required to prevent a larger one.  Such hypotheticals can get to be pretty silly, but if you are imaginative enough you might come up with a realistic one.  You can get a lot of mileage out of the "man about to open fire on a crowd of people" scenario.  Invent some smaller bad thing you must do to stop him, like:
  • push an old woman to the ground
  • steal a make-shift weapon from someone
  • destroy property
  • kill a single innocent by-stander (?)
The last point is to show that there is a hazy line somewhere between what you think would be okay or not okay to do to prevent a catastrophe.  You could argue forever about where this line is.  But then you'd be missing the point, which is that there are no absolute lines.  Any ethic you produce, no matter how refined, can be defeated by inventing yet another scenario that would require breaking it in order to prevent a yet larger catastrophe.

A different approach is warranted for ethics.