Monthly Archives: December 2011

Hey, Kant’s Gettin’ Baked – Check Out His Moral Sense!

No one will ever know how dogs were domesticated, but we can make some good guesses based on the results beside us. Domesticated canines are less aggressive than their wild brethren. They pay attention to us in addition to their own species. They tend to be more ‘cute’ than grown wolves. A couple of different scenarios make sense of these observations. Maybe wild dogs hung around human encampments, attracted to food. The ones that didn’t bite us were tolerated, probably because they were good garbage disposals but also probably because they were social animals and we recognized that shared trait. The ones that didn’t growl were allowed close to the fire. The ones that learned to beg got more than scraps. Alternatively, we brought pups home after exterminating the adults and kept or disposed of the little ones as they pleased us. Either way, we catalyzed the changes we see.

And either story draws a vivid line connecting that first contact with the pair of dogs that pull my son’s sled. The products of selective breeding and the characteristics of wild canines are both visible in their behavior. They are working dogs, so they retain more wild traits than a pure companion animal. The aggression required to pull hard just seems to bring the wildness along with it. The lead dog is a Siberian Husky, and as expected for a lead dog, she is the most wolf-like of the two. She rarely seeks affection. She will hunt if not restrained. If the other dogs in the house defy her, she bares her teeth and puts her foot on their neck. She poses no risk to strangers, however. As entities outside her social order, they merit no attention beyond a quick sniff to establish détente. As for domestic traits,with her human family members, she is keen. She can tell when her boy is about to prepare the sled even before his parents. She recognizes words and tones as directional commands, and most impressive, she reads the expressions of facial features she does not possess. And she does it all for approval, not directly for food.

She is constantly running a reverse Turing test on her human associates, as do all dogs. Alan Turing proposed his test to determine when a computer was thinking and therefore conscious, and presumably, therefore a person. His test was a practical one. Essentially, a human inquisitor would speak with the computer alongside a human control subject and if the inquisitor could not tell which was which, the computer was thinking. The Turing test basically offered a practical answer to the question, “What makes me think a person is a person?”. The dog is asking, “What does it take for me to make you think I’m a person?”.

The dog owes this behavior to her ancestors and their human breeders. She cannot be taken out of context, nor can any of the players in this tale. Though they are no more conceivable to her than the astrophysics that lead to her winter coat and her instinct to dig a snow bed, she and they share a necessary link. It is a strange relationship, but a natural one, not a supernatural one. The same forces that fuel her cells fuel the sun and govern the seasons and the people who made her what she is.

It is possible that  a separate reality exists. If so, we can never know it, else it would no longer be separate, just weird. Look at the various proposed supernatural ideals, such as a moral sense, independent mind, or essential self-awareness. A bottle of Thunderbird can dispense with all of them with ease. If these intuitions are valid they are part of the Thunderbird reality with us, not visitors from a higher realm. The only way the supernatural makes sense is as a variation on George Berkeley’s model, in which we are all simply God’s thoughts. Unidirectional causation allows a separate, higher superstructure, but it renders it unknowable and so practically irrelevant to us. We can assert such a world without fear of self-contradiction, but there can be no Turing test to sort it out. If such a world exists, we relate to it, at best, as puppets to a puppet master rather than as dogs to humans or even dogs to winter. And if so, why worry about it? Nature is weird enough.

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The quest for autonomy should be medicine’s ethical basis. A person afflicted with pain or debilitating illness can do little else but attend to the demands of their malady. Offer that person some relief, and they can better fulfill their potential. Whenever medical interventions achieve that goal, it is a clear win. All too often though, that’s the start of trouble, because winning is seductive, and it easily displaces less dramatic goals. Casinos could not survive otherwise. And when it comes to healthcare, we’re really in a sort of magic casino.

Players come in the door with a stake, but there are no bets and the only game is Blackjack. Rather than betting, we simply get to keep playing until the house wins and then we have to leave. Meanwhile, there’s the best cash bar ever, Cuban cigars – whatever floats your boat. And there’s more. Interventions are available for purchase. A player can buy the game down from  eight decks to one. He or she can spend a little more for the privilege of referring to a strategy chart during play. A little more buys a consultant to count cards for the player. Cards are even for sale. Between the dealer’s hits the house will give or take back a card for a price. All of these changes in the game are analogous to medical interventions in real life, from preventive care to emergency surgery.

The catch is, you can’t win. Sooner or later, the house hits 21 and you have to go. The trick is, remembering that you can’t win and playing to stick around and enjoy the bar and the Cuban cigars while you can. Ignoring your cards doesn’t make sense, but neither does hunching over the table with your card-counter whispering urgently in your ear.

Of course, the house could try to help the players out. It could require the purchase of a single deck game on entry. It could hire a concierge to tap players on the shoulder when they forget what they’re about and start to play to win.

Right now, the house of medicine is satisfied with being an honest shopkeeper. It is loath to get involved with purchase decisions because it mistakenly views those choices as, categorically, an expression of autonomy when they are not. They can lead to an increase in autonomy, but they can  lead to an ultimate loss of autonomy as well. Too many players are fixated on their hands in eight deck games, trying desperately to win, a card counter at their side and no cigar money left. Surely, we could do better.

The problem

…with right-wing ideologues is: they always have to be first.

First to tell folks to buck up and face cold, hard reality.

First to whimper about the Threat of the Scary Other.

First to say, “Grab them bootstraps and start yankin’!”

First to say, “Help, somebody’s touching my stuff. My Rights! My Rights!”

Some consistency, please. Bitches.


Should You Be Trapped in a Basement

Yes. And if you are already, congratulations, because it means that you are serious about a non-productive activity, and a certain class of non-productve activity – an obsessive devotion. Not a hobby, hobbies can happen in a den and earn their keep. Hobbies are spare time things, to be set aside when they become inconvenient.  I don’t mean hobbies, I mean all those things for which the term ‘amateur’ was devised and were the reason why, in sport,  that term used to define the Olympics. Obsessive devotions will eat you up and must go in the basement, or sometimes a garage.

Anyway, for all those amateur mechanics, body builders, musicians, inventors and artists, I have no advice. For climbers, though, I can say exactly what to do should you be trapped in a basement. 

First, pick the right basement. It should be grim. No windows, no decor, it should be a concrete box if at all possible. Flourescent lighting, at least in the form of fixtures with tubes, is out. A single, bare bulb will do. A single door is best, too. It ought to lock from the inside. People should wonder what is going on down there. Wild fantasies keep people away on the front side, and compare favorably with reality if need be.

Not perfect, but close.

Fill the room only with training devices which pose an eminent risk of harm. Use free weights, no machines. You need at least one campus board. If you have a bouldering wall, pad the L.Z. with the minimum cushioning required to prevent fractures. Any Russian training device you come upon, buy it and put it in the room. They have had the world’s biggest basement for over 100 years, they have what you need. For instance, a bottle of garlic pickled in vodka may help to see you through moments of weakness.

You will need a ferret, or other small, vicious animal. Let it run free to control vermin. It will keep you company without being too chatty. Ferrets are best because they also provide a good moral lesson. Once they struggle to consciousness for their four waking hours per day, they have a pure focus on destruction. Animals ten times their size rightfully fear them.

Training secrets

With this basement, you can train at 4AM or midnight. You won’t want to linger. You won’t need some meathead in a campaign hat, or worse, spandex tights, to keep you moving. Lose focus and you will crush a toe, break an arm or get bitten.  When you can finally bust out to climb outside, you won’t need a warm-up, you will be ready to send.

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The New Ice Season

If you go back to climb the same route on rock time after time, you may have a psychiatric problem. You can’t climb the same ice route time after time. The gist will be the same – same basic angle, relative water supply, temperature range, etc. The ice, though, will be brittle, squeaky dry, slushy, plastic, crystal, blue, green, featureless, chandelier, thin, fat, mixed – new every time.

Crossing the South Fork of the Shoshone.

You have to reinvent yourself every season, too. At the beginning, the sticks feel squirrelly and the feet, rickety. An ice screw every 8 feet anchors your psyche.

Pillar of Pain, 12/10/11

 Then the truth starts to come back to you. The last tooth on the pick will hold you. A good stick has a quality you can measure with your hands, eyes and ears. Spread your weight across hips, knees and ankles and the feet can float on the most delicate candles.

Then you can move, making it safe with every swing. The screws will keep you off the deck if the ice betrays you, because that is the only way you’ll fall.

A very wet, Ice Fest

I know, it’s aid, and so it’s easy like aid, the way a hand crack through a roof is easy, the way an offwidth is easy. But it is so cool to travel by real faith like that, not blind belief from a book or other people, but faith from knowledge you can’t get from words. In fact, it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done, each and every time.

Starting the walk up to Pillar of Pain from the top of High on Boulder

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Marketing a Pig in a Poke

Everyone knows better than to buy a pig in a poke, so selling one ought to be hard. It happens everyday in clinics and hospitals, though. Marketing is the key. The seller just has to convince the buyer that nobody really knows what’s in the bag, and that it might be really good. Fortunately, the task is easy for healthcare providers, because it’s just’ telling the truth. Much of the time, both parties can take a good guess at the bag’s contents. Sometimes neither is certain. In any case, a rational price is difficult to determine.

That’s why our current system uses baseline administrative pricing. There may be equally bad ways of pricing healthcare services, but there probably aren’t any better ways. At least this way, prices are based on an educated guess about what is in each bag.

Market pricing is an alternative method. It would give very good prices for squealing bags with pig-shaped lumps in them – things like Botox treatments and laser vision correction. Prices for bags with more amorphous lumps, containing things like cholesterol medicines, blood pressure medicines and cancer screening tests, not so much. The prices for those bags which, in livestock terms, could hold a pedigreed piglet or a skunk, would vary based on the buyers’ fears, hopes and disposable income. It’s a recipe for very good, cheap Botox treatments, and very good, cheap cardiac bypass surgeries and kidney transplants. It might not result in an efficient allocation of resources, but it would present an excellent marketing opportunity for those willing to prey on others’ hopes and fears.

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