Saturday, August 27, 2005

Back into Eden

An interesting post by Ian Ayres probing how God treats Free Will. It then side-steps into an analysis of God's punishment of Eve, and how it seems rather obsolete via modern advances:
Indeed, the trifecta reappearance in our world of painless childbirth, the appearance of different sex unions where the man does not rule over the woman (pace MacKinnon) and the appearance of women whose desire is not for their husband might all be signs that the punishment is no longer in effect. You see, sin without free will is not even possible. Pharaoh’s failure to let the Israelites go when his heart was hardened by God cannot in good conscience be considered sinful. The reappearance of choice – of women that choose whether or not to desire husbands – opens up the possibility for sin, but it does not indicate that same-sex desire is sinful. Indeed, it may be a sign that we are step closer to the garden, a step closer to grace.

I'm curious how else one can define it (time to call in a favor on Pseudo-Polymath). Perhaps it is humans blatantly flaunting God's will--but then, the Bible is rather clear about what happens when we do that. So--what? Have we finally achieved penance for original sin? And what does that entail for modern Christian theology?

Friday, August 26, 2005

I Love Jerry Kang

Jerry Kang is a Law Professor at UCLA. Why do I love him? Well, for one, he's just published a spectacular article, Trojan Horses of Race, in the Harvard Law Review (118 Harv. L. Rev. 1489). Essentially, the article runs through a bevy of research on implicit racism and then critiques specifically the role constant local newscasts of black criminality has in reifying racist attitudes. The article is superb, I can't recommend it highly enough.

But what really sells me on the good Professor is his answer in his FAQs to the charge that the whole thing is just "politically correct mumbojumbo." He retorts:

"First, it's now politically correct to be politically incorrect"

and then goes on to note that he has a mountain of scientific data backing him up.

Oh SO true. Political correctness is perhaps the most politically lethal characterization one can have today. It's so horribly misnamed, it's almost comical.

Exploding in a Puff of Straw

Jim Lindgren links to an interesting article by KC Johnson regarding the response in some quarters to recent studies showing a liberal slant in academia. While the comments to the article make what seem to be valid critiques of the methodology of the study, some of the responses--both those cited by Williams and those that came out in comments--are just crazy.

Once before, I blogged on an article in favor of a more ideologically diverse academic sphere that was so bad it made me want to run away from the position as fast as I could. Fortunately for everyone, now there is a leftist counter-balance, an argument against a more diverse academic sphere that is equally horrific in its explication.

The author of this "argument" is Montclair State Professor Grover Furr. Though rather lengthy (not that I have the right to complain about that), it basically comes down to the rather novel core that Liberal = Good and Conservative = Bad. Well, when you put it like that, hell yes we want more liberals! Why didn't I think of it before?

Of course, Professor Furr's "logic" only makes sense if you subscribe to a few of the logical leaps (to put it mildly) he makes along the way.
Ideologically, most college faculty are trained to use evidence, and to entertain and discuss differing viewpoints. This is congenial to "liberalism", and even more so to to Marxism, but not to certain dogmatic strains of thought, and modern "conservatism" is among the latter.

During the past 30 years or so the limits of acceptable opinion in the American academy, especially in the humanities and social sciences, have been greatly expanded. This in turn has meant that graduate students have been increasingly exposed to viewpoints that were formerly considered "taboo." It also means that subjecting traditional beliefs to scrutiny and doubt is far more common in higher education than it was a generation ago. This is itself a "liberal" ideology.

Most college faculty feel threatened by those who show any inclination towards censorship, especially in teaching. Those who advocate various kinds of censorship these days are overwhelmingly "conservatives."

I won't claim to be an expert on Marxism--my particular brand of liberalism leans more towards Deconstructionalism, Critical Theory, and Post-modernism. However, it seems rather odd to claim that Marxism is particularly open to differing views. Marxism is a totalistic philosophy--it claims class struggle is the root of all conflict and all social structures. Thus, it is inherently unreceptive to differing views of how the world came to be as it is--not just conservative claims of "objective merit" or the "invisible hand," but also liberal explanations like structural racism, sexism or tribalism. This isn't to say that Marxism hasn't informed many liberal social theories--it has, and it should, because it was an interesting (if in my view ultimately wrong) development in the philosophical field. But most modern liberal theories can't co-exist with Marxism all that easily, considering that they don't view class as the breeding ground of everything wrong in society. One also might note that the continued presence of true-believer Marxists represents pretty good prima facia evidence of their stubborn refusal to face the facts--after all, Marx was pretty much dead wrong in his predictions of how the world would respond to capitalism (let alone his claims that it was "inevitable").

Professor Furr's allegations of censorship is also rather peculiar, considering that he specifically argues that a minimization of conservative viewpoints is a bona fide goal colleges should strive towards ("...we can never have too few
'conservatives.'"). I think that skirts pretty close to the edge of censorship. But regardless of whether it is or is not, conservatives can make a pretty good case that liberals are no strangers to the censorship mentality. Black Liberal Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy has noted the actions of liberal groups targeting purveyors of "hate speech,"--sometimes correctly, sometimes overzealously. Liberal Law Professors Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, and Charles Lawrence III all have advocated for campus speech codes. We can debate the merit of these proposals--we can even debate whether they're advocating "censorship." But it certainly is a close enough call that Furr's sweeping claim that "conservatives" are the main proponents of censorship has to be called into question.

Furr continues in his semantical quest which assures conservatives can only represent evil:
In my experience, there is considerable prejudice among academics against certain ideas that are strongly associated with the Republican party -- to its shame, I may add -- and so could be called "conservative."

Support for racism -- the Republican Party depends upon racism for success in national elections; support for dogmatic religious beliefs; for strongly authoritarian views of almost any kind, including "my-country-right-or-wrong" jingoism; for naked, unbridled exploitation; for knee-jerk anti-radicalism and anti-communism; in culture, for "tradition for the sake of tradition" -- these attitudes and ideologies, all of which are strongly associated with conservatism and the Republican Party, are rightly abhorred by most academics, who have excellent material reasons to identify with the "little guy."
And the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are themselves highly ideological. Lots of blue-collar workers would call themselves "conservative" if asked certain questions (e.g. about war, patriotism, homosexuality, etc.), but would have to be classified as "liberal", in fact, "radical", if asked about social policies (whether public employees should have the right to strike; about 'right-to-work' laws; the desirability of minimum-wage laws, etc.).

The blatantly distorted picture Furr draws of conservatism qua conservatism should be obvious by itself, but it is all the more ironic because, in his comment to the article itself he protests that Professor Williams "dishonestly equates 'liberal' with 'Left', an absurdity that lumps John Kerry with Marx or Lenin." Yet he seems utterly untroubled grouping "conservative" with "reactionary right." It is of course true that there are quite a few conservatives who (in effect if not in rhetoric) support these atrocious positions--and certainly one can find plenty to criticize in the modern Republican party. But a basic knowledge of Political Science would dictate that the views and positions of a party should not be presumed to represent those of all the parties members--especially in a two party state. Thus Furr makes his claims either a) knowing full well that many self-described conservatives would not support many of the policies he says they do (when's the last time you've heard a conservative say "I support naked, unbridled exploitation"?) or b) is so incredibly unaware of the world surrounding him that it is amazing he could have picked up his Ph.D. without getting run over by a truck on the way to the ceremony.

I suspect the former, though, because of his laughable efforts to group many conservatives into "liberalism"--at least when they say what he likes. For example, I don't think "right to strike" counts as a "radical" position anymore. What would happen if a conservative said that he considers himself a radical environmentalist--but based on his readings of economics he is convinced that the free market (mixed with, say, tax subsidies for environmentally friendly research) is the best way to fix the problem? I'd say he's wrong and misguided, perhaps. But certainly he isn't advocating "naked, unbridled exploitation." Is he actually a liberal, albeit one strayed from the path? I don't think we can play word games like that. Furr's claims only make sense if conservative is defined as in alignment with its most extreme wing--a claim that is akin to (and roughly as bad as) saying that all liberals are communists (which, as noted, Furr complains about!). If we agree there is such thing as a moderate conservative, or--perish the thought!--there are stalwart conservatives who still aren't racist, then there exists a vein of legitimate discourse that is as yet unfilled in colleges and universities.

At best, all I'm getting out of Furr's claims is that we should make Ms. Ann Coulter into Professor Ann Coulter. Okay, no argument. But should we chuck Professor Eugene Volokh on the street? I think it is rather absurd to call him a minion of evil. Indeed, this liberal wishes there were more professors like him.

Restrain Yourself

The VC links to a really interesting story regarding the controversial Kelo and Raich cases (eminent domain and medical marijuana, respectively).
Addressing a bar association meeting in Las Vegas, Justice Stevens dissected several of the recent term's decisions, including his own majority opinions in two of the term's most prominent cases. The outcomes were "unwise," he said, but "in each I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator."

In one, the eminent domain case that became the term's most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government's "taking" of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result "entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program" that was under constitutional attack.

His own view, Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association, was that "the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials." But he said that the planned development fit the definition of "public use" that, in his view, the Constitution permitted for the exercise of eminent domain.

Justice Stevens said he also regretted having to rule in favor of the federal government's ability to enforce its narcotics laws and thus trump California's medical marijuana initiative. "I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with the policy choice made by the millions of California voters," he said. But given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce, he added, "our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was pellucidly clear."

A liberal judge voting against his policy preferences? Why, why, that's impossible! They're all activists--every last one of them.

And so it seems that some righties can't get there heads around the fact that Stevens might actually believe the law binds him to this particular result. Mike Rappaport, for example, says "give me a break" and thinks Stevens merely wants to deflect criticism from his role in an unpopular decision (why an 85 year old man with life tenure on the nation's highest court would be so concerned about self image goes unstated). What causes his immediate dismissal of the simple explanation--that Stevens actually believes what he says? Easy--"It is only judges who follow the [originalist] approach that are significantly restrained by the law." (Ethan Leib also weighs in on Rappaport's post).

Not that we're too self-assured or anything. I think it's abundantly clear that judges who are manifestly committed to an originalist understanding are quite capable of acting with reckless abandon (Scalia's opinion in Division of Employment v. Smith, anyone?). And of course, any principle worth its salt will restrain a judge from doing something he might otherwise like to do--I'm skeptical that devout Catholic Anthony Kennedy is a huge fan of sodomy, yet somehow he found the jurisprudential basis to realize the constitution "neither knows nor tolerates classes amongst citizens."

Other people are more sanguine. Helvidius thinks that it is probably true in at least some cases that Stevens really is voting against what he believes is "right," but posits that every judge has a "breaking point" at which time s/he ceases to interpret the constitution and instead searches for a rationale to justify the result s/he deems necessary. This is probably true to an extent--though of course it applies to all judges, not just liberals. PG of De Novo also hits on this--noting that Scalia's "duty" to protect criminal defendants from illegal processes seems to magically disappear once they've been convicted. Where do it go? But unlike Helvidius, PG is not so quick to label Scalia as giving in to mere "desire." That seems reasonable to me--there are many ways of interpreting the constitution, and I'm not so self-assured in my own method to tar those with opposing methods as being fundamentally ideological. Wrong, perhaps, but not deliberately so.

In any event, while I dislike the notion of judges deciding cases on partisan whim, I am far less alarmed at the supposed epidemic of activism than some of my peers. Frankly, I've seen no evidence that any judge on the Supreme Court consistently subverts constitutional interpretation to naked political desire. So Stevens' statement comes not as a shock or tragic exception, but as the way things are.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hell of a Pedigree

Kos links to a story on Montana Governor (and Democratic rising star) Brian Schweitzer's plan for energy independence. Essentially, its a method developed eighty years ago that can derive gasoline from coal--and with skyrocketing oil prices, it's economical again.

Alright, so I'm intrigued. But oh, the history...

The Fischer-Tropsch technology, discovered by German researchers in 1923 and later used by the Nazis to convert coal into wartime fuels, was not economical as long as oil cost less than $30 a barrel.
The fuel that comes out of the Fischer-Tropsch method (also used by South Africa during their embargo years) burns cleaner than current fuels, stripping out sulfur, arsenic, and other nasty byproducts. [quoting from both the article and Kos]

Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. Now there's a nice set of play mates.

Triumphant Return

So, I'm back from the beach. I know I said I'd blog, but I didn't count on going to a posh and trendy resort and having internet access that resembled a bad cell phone commercial. Aside from the fact that the moons had to be aligned in order to even connect at all, the rates sounded like something Verizon would mock: "75 cents for the first hour and 10 cents a minute after that!" What the hell?

But aside from that, it was a good trip--or as good as can be expected considering I don't like warm weather and don't like South Carolina. Read a bunch of books--a cheap sci-fi piece, but also Barack Obama's autobiography (stellar!) and Randall Kennedy's book "Nigger" (thought-provoking).

I'll re-enter the blog circuit full time (I swear!) tommorow.