Friday, July 6, 2012

Announcing: Fish for Friday

This new column is intended to serve up "Fish for Friday"—fish caught by casting our hook into the waters of recent correspondence, thus abstaining from our usual practice of blogging on anything whatsoever.
    Only fish will be served that we think will be good for you, either for information or for provocation to think about something new, or about something old but from a different perspective.
Corporate administrations that abuse human capital often have a day of reckoning—though after the “workforce” has paid dearly.
    That’s not true for university administrations—state university administrations in particular. They are no longer the infrastructure of the academy. They are a burgeoning, self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory superstructure modeled after academic health centers. Today they are more tenured than the faculty and more powerful than any they are to serve.
    If you want to take them on, do it in an essay in The Atlantic. You'll do more good for others, and less harm to yourself. Trying to speak truth to an ethically bankrupt administration is like teaching a pig to sing; it's a waste of time and it angers the pig.

People aren't worried about global warming and the violent weather it will create because they assume humans will find a way to deal with it and bend Nature to their will.
    Perhaps they should take a look at the results of the recent weekend's random pattern of thunderstorms before they make that assumption. So far there are 22 people dead, and, with power still off for hundreds of thousands, many more are likely to die in the heat wave. In my hometown of Roanoke, one of the largest and most modern cities in Virginia, large areas still don't have power and the Red Cross is setting up soup kitchens for those who had to throw away food and don't have money or a place that is open to buy more.
    And all this not from a tornado, not from a hurricane, not from a blizzard, but from a few brief storms that tracked through the area.
    As always, when push comes to shove, I believe in the power of Nature.

A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion. [–Chinese Proverb]

I don't understand what religious folk mean by "believe." They seem to mean absolute certainty regardless of evidence. I don't understand how one could do that, and it seems a bad idea. Technically this means I'm not even an agnostic, since they also profess beliefs: "Men can know nothing of gods." I'm certainly not an atheist, as they are certain (based on faith?) that there is no god. The usual notion of gods seems unlikely to me, but I certainly don't know they don't exist. Quantum mechanics seems unlikely as well, but that doesn't prove that it is wrong.

Perhaps [Barton D.] Ehrman didn't move all the way to atheist because he's just being intellectually cautious—figuring the whole matter of our existence, of the universe's existence, to be beyond our understanding.

Friends of the Sea: My deepest appreciation goes to each of you who have signed our petition to stop the deliberate killing and maiming of our sea life. I am just one person who has personal experience with the cetacean community and know how truly wrong it is to invade our oceans with harmful sound and other forms of pollution. We can stop this; your outpouring of e-mails and letters tells me it is time for this change. Respecting the oceans is a way of affirming our own humanity and our willingness to live in harmony with the natural world. We only have a few days to make our voices heard.
    Whatever you do in your lives to make a difference in this world, do it with great passion. There are so many areas in our world that need healing and all of us have a responsibility to speak out and help each other in that process. Thanks to, we can easily make our voices heard. It's not over till it's over and we still have a few days left. I urge you to take action if it is in your heart to do! Thank you a million times over. [–Lyndia Storey, mother, grandmother, and lover of the sea)]


  1. What a wonderful addition to Moristotle! A la Diane Rehm's Friday wrap-up show on National Public Radio, those of us who can't follow every witty and knowledgeable commentary on Moristotle during the week can at least the highlights on Friday. Well done!

  2. Why, thank you, dear Motomynd! I don't see Fish for Friday as a true wrap-up, though, and I'm not certain that the five items included yesterday literally came across the transom in the preceding week. Anyway, as someone has suggested, a literal wrap-up might make more sense on the weekend. But I have other plans for the weekend—for Sunday, at any rate.

    1. I just added another item that I'd actually intended to include, a quotation about agnosticism and atheism to parallel the quotation about Bart Ehrman. Now there are six, which frees the column from its possibly inferred limitation to a number of items whose name alliterates with "fish" and "Friday" (such as four or five—or fifteen!).

  3. In regard to the "Friends of the Sea" post above, an additional thought on what everyone can do to help ocean creatures right now: Stop eating shrimp. If you want to do more than just wait and hope for a petition to have impact, and can't bring yourself to become a vegan, or a vegetarian, or to even give up eating fish, you can have huge impact if you can at least stop eating shrimp.

    If you eat a pound of fish you actually kill less fish than if you eat a quarter-pound of shrimp.

    Why is catching shrimp so destructive? The technical term is "by-catch" and it refers to all the fish, turtles, sea birds and animals that are killed in the process of capturing shrimp. "In the worst cases, for every pound of shrimp caught, up to six pounds of other species are discarded," according to the Seafood Watch section of the Monterey Bay Aquarium website. According to a United Nations report "shrimp trawl fisheries are the single greatest source of by-catch, accounting for over 27 per cent or 1.86 million tons of discarded fish."

    Yes, you read that correctly: 1.86 million TONS of fish are killed and wasted in any given year in the quest for shrimp.

    Other studies show that as bad as those numbers are, the even more serious concern is the damage done to the bottoms of rivers, bays and oceans by dragging heavy weighted nets across them. These trawls are basically underwater bulldozers and it is easy to imagine the damage they do.

    If you really care about the oceans by all means sign those petitions, and stop using ecologically destructive household and lawn chemicals - and stop eating shrimp!

    1. Thank you, Motomynd for the additional plea. I'm reminded of Jonathan Safran Foer's passage on bycatch (he doesn't hyphenate it) in Eating Animals:

      "Modern fishing tends to involve much technology and few fishers. This combination leads to massive catches with massive amounts of bycatch. Take shrimp, for example. The average shrimp-trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch.) Shrimp account for only 2 percent of global seafood by weight, but shrimp trawling accounts for 33 percent of global bycatch. We tend not to think about this because we tend not to know about it. What if there were labeling on our food letting us know how many animals were killed to bring our desired animal to our plate? So, with trawled shrimp from Indonesia, for example, the label migth read: 26 POUNDS OF OTHER SEA ANIMALS WERE KILLED AND TOSSED BACK INTO THE OCEAN FOR EVERY 1 POUND OF THIS SHRIMP.
          "Or take tuna, Among the other 145 species regularly killed—gratuitously—while killing tuna are: [long, long list....]
          "Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across."

  4. If people had to be fully aware of, and pay the true full price of, all they eat, they would consume less and hopefully waste much less. That shrimp are allowed to arrive at a dining table without people being forced to learn about the travesty of by-catch is not unlike children being raised to assume that fish, fowl and meat grow in plastic-wrapped packages in the grocery store.

    1. Motomynd, strikes me that a social arrangement by which the price of everything would be its "full price" (in the sense you're talking about) would go very, very far to solving many of the planet's fundamental problems....
          I wonder how central this idea is to economists? Do you know of any who have studied it, and looked in particular at how such an arrangement might be brought about?

  5. Moristotle, strikes me you are probably correct, "full" pricing would indeed solve many problems. However, since most people are short-sighted or just plain selfish, politicians are terrified of backing anything that could be labeled a "tax" and used against them in the next election, and economists are conditioned to favor profiteers rather than cause-oriented endeavors, getting to "full" pricing would be a steep hill to climb.

    Yet, there is a glimmer of hope. In a very specific niche is the "Fair Pricing Coalition" ( which focuses on pricing for HIV and hepatitis drugs, and in a broader realm there is "The True Price" ( which already claims some victories from its efforts despite not officially launching until this fall.

    Of course, balanced against these meager efforts are all the people wanting the absolute cheapest food, clothing and other necessities for their world - like tablet computers - they can possibly get. And those buyers don't really care if their ultra-cheap prices are achieved by fairness, or just by sending slavery offshore instead of actually banning it.

    1. Motomynd, sadly, your description "meager" is apt. It occurred to me this morning that evolution seems to have prepared us to act in our own perceived best interest, but mostly in the short term and with blinkers on when it comes to other people's (and other species') interests. It seems to take an uncommon degree of conscious awareness of (and perhaps moral sensitivity to) our interdependency on other people and non-human animals (and the physical environment generally) for us to even care about acting in our longer-term interest, let alone to be able to act effectively to do something about it.
          Is not that the underlying cause of the situation you summarize in your first paragraph?
          I am not hopeful.

  6. Not being a student of the human psyche I have to trust what I have heard others say, that being that survival is the only instinct we are born with. If that is indeed the case then I guess we can understand why people try to overpower each other and animals and the environment if that is the only way they can survive. However, after survival is fairly well secured, as it is in the modern world, does that instinct then make them act out in the fashion many do? Is the desire to have the biggest house, the fastest car, the fattest kids, merely an extension of the ancestral drive to survive? Is obesity the result of a DNA-inspired urge to feast now in case of famine later?

    Given that the other option is to believe most people are just selfish, insensitive jerks because they choose to be, it is at least more palatable to blame it on instincts rooted in DNA. Which could also help explain the "angst of excess" that seems to afflict all affluent cultures. It may be that when people don't have enough real "fight or flight" moments in their lives they start creating problems to fill the void, much like people who live in places without real scary creatures start seeing imaginary ones.

    I don't know if there is any science behind any of this conjecture, but I do know that when one goes into the Africa bush you don't meet people looking for psychological counselors or worrying about being attacked by "Bigfoot" or some long-lost flying dinosaur. They are too busy trying to feed themselves and their families while keeping an eye out for lions, leopards, elephants, et al, to be concerned about imaginary risks.