Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Much Ad About Nothing

Thanks to Seth Stevenson's Slatearticle on the Clio awards, I just watched a really cool Honda ad in which a choir recreates all the sounds a Honda would make while on the road.

I often wonder whether the millions of dollars companies pour into advertising really have any effect. I can't remember the last time I was making a purchasing decision and thought, "hmm, what ads have I seen lately?" I suppose ads do have their intended effect in a more insidious manner, subliminally indoctrinating me to believe that a certain product is "cool." Even when it comes to food, which should depend entirely on taste, not brand popularity, advertising seems to work: I buy Coke or Pepsi from the grocery store, not RC Cola.

Speaking of insidious indoctrination, in about a month I'll be attending a free, weeklong seminar on Environment and Society sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies, a "nonpartisan" but conservative-leaning organization which, as far as I can tell, exists solely to indoctrinate impressionable college students like myself with free-market ideology. I feel vaguely dirty attending the seminar, like I'm willingly marching off to a "reeducation camp" or joining a cult (I guess I've already done the latter by becoming a member of the Party of the Right at Yale). The IHS presents itself as fair and balanced, and I suppose conservatives are to be admired for fighting to defend what they believe in the war of ideas, but still...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A brainy answer to the abortion debate

First order of business now that I've resumed posting: bring some depth to the abortion post, which has been bothering me ever since I posted it.

Kolmogorov, whose blog I stumbled across while reading The Fray at, points out that all human cells, even skin cells, are human and grow, which quickly dismantles my 2 sentence argument that embryos are human life. He suggests, instead, that the presence of brain activity be the criterion for life, just as its absence is the criterion we use for death:

If there is "brain death", so also there must be "brain birth". Just as we look for electrical signals to indicate that brain death has occurred, so we could, and should, look for electrical signals to see if brain birth has occurred. And that's exactly my position in the abortion debate. It's a position almost everyone misses, but I think it is the only remotely principled position one can take.

Makes sense to me. In responding to comments, Kolmogorov mentions that his position doesn't get him out of the woods with Christians, who that human life begins when God endows something with a soul. But I'm comfortable with the brain-life stance he takes.

Guess who's back...back again

So, in the 3 months since I created this blog, I've posted a whopping 5 times. That's partly because I've been busy with other things, but mainly because I haven't decided what the purpose of this blog is. I vaguely recall being motivated to start a new blog when I read an article about employers perusing applicants' blogs as part of the evaluation process; actually, I think I was considering applying for an IHS summer program and saw that the application had a field marked "blog."

Since then I've realized that Blog-as-resume holds myself to a unnecessarily high standard, keeps me from blogging about anything that isn't Deep, and makes blogging a chore instead of a procrastinatory delight.

Another reason I've been less than motivated to blog is my conspicuous lack of readership. The only comment I've had has been from an acquaintance I haven't talked to in person since middle school (thanks Zach!), and anyone who was interested in reading my blog has probably long since given up hope. But I would just feel silly returning to Xanga, and I suppose I can write more freely knowing that no one's reading.

Which raises the question (I'm very tempted to say it "begs" the question, but the specter of Mr. Wolf looming over my writing keeps me from abusing a term with precise philosophical meaning), why bother to post at all? For one thing, the prospect, ever-so-slim though it may be, that someone may read my work forces me to strive for higher levels of precision, organization, and interestingness. For another, it will force me to take positions on issues, instead of just idly pondering them, letting the arguments for both sides wash over my brain and moving on.

Besides, I need something to do during the two months of summer vacation before I leave for China. (I'm teaching English through the Crimson Summer Exchange program, where Harvard pays my airfare and room/board. So not only do I get a free trip to China, it's funded by my rival school!

If anyone's still reading, my responsibilities include submitting a copy of "a text, or part of a text, that illustrates or helps one understand American culture. Cultural submissions that relate to moral and behavioral standards are particularly encouraged." Any suggestions?)