Saturday, May 19, 2007

Scary

Doing a bit of research for grad school, I read the profile of an alum of one of the programs I'm looking at. It turns out he went to Carleton, like me, and was a Political Science major, also like me. Unlike me, he graduated Summa Cum Laude (my grades are good, but nowhere near summa territory). And then he went and got his law degree from a top-10 law school, along with a Ph.D from the same school in a program that looked very exciting.

He's now teaching political science at a community college.

This is not heartening news.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Boxing Blogging Part II

Boring card tonight out in Oklahoma. It's unfortuate that I don't get HBO here, because tomorrow's fight between Edison Miranda (28-1, 24 KOs) and Kelly Pavlik (30-0, 27 KOs) should be spectacular. I'm a huge Miranda fan, but both of them are spectacular punchers. I got my first taste of Miranda in his one round demolition of Willie Gibbs, who was supposed to be a real contender in the division. He followed that up by handing white hot prospect Allan Green his first defeat (I think Green was a bit over-rated, but it was still a great victory). For his part, Kelly Pavlik's last fight ended in a highlight reel knockout of former Olympian Jose Luis Zertuche. I'm calling Miranda by KO, but any outcome is possible here.

Meanwhile, while Jermain Taylor's (26-0-1, 17 KOs) man-handling of game but undersized Kassim "The Dream" Ouma (perhaps my favorite fighter) should turn me off on a repeat performance against a bulked-up junior middleweight (this time Cory Spinks (36-3, 11 KOs)), I'm optimistic that fight could have some moments too. It's certainly better than the original bout, which scheduled Taylor to walk over fight "Contender" star Sergio "The Latin Snake" Mora. Mora said he withdrew due to location, but I think it's because he knows he would have gotten taken apart. Spinks is much smaller than Taylor, but he's a slick boxer and a better stylistic matchup than Ouma was. I think Taylor lost to Winky Wright when they fought (he escaped with a draw), and it's high time he lost that zero at the end of his record. The winner of Miranda/Pavlik is a mandatory for Taylor if he wins, and that could be spectacular. Miranda, particularly, has been calling Taylor out, noting that if he defeats Spinks on top of Ouma, he'll be "the best Junior Middleweight in the world. Unfortunately, he's supposed to be the Middleweight champion."

But back to Oklahoma. The undercard featured Shaun George (13-2-2, 6 KOs) against former three-time light heavyweight title challenger Richard Hall (27-6, 25 KOs). Hall had the reputation as a puncher, but he was never able to hurt (or even really connect) with the very slick George, who outboxed him the whole night. However, George faded badly after the second half of the 7th round (it was an 8-round fight), and spent most of the remainder running away. George clearly has boxing skills, but what he doesn't seem to have is a killer instinct. And I wonder if a more accurate puncher might cause him significant problems, as his defense mostly involves running away. Hall did not body punch effectively, but George won't be able to count on that his whole career. George won a comfortable unanimous decision.

The main event had lightweight Zahir Raheem (27-2, 16 KOs) fighting against Cristobal Cruz (34-10-1, 22 KOs). Raheem's two losses were both against top flight opposition--one to then undefeated Rocky Juarez in a very controversial fight (one where the ref docked him several points for holding), and the other against Acelino "Popo" Freitas in what was universally described as a close but ugly and choppy fight. Raheem does own a win over Eric Morales, and was looking to use this fight to impress folks and vault him back into elite competition.

Raheem, to put it bluntly, did not impress. Oh, he won (on the scorecards anyway--I had it a draw) alright. But he did not do anything eye-raising. Cruz continually pressed forward and turned it into an ugly fight, precisely what the slick and speedy Raheem did not want. Raheem also was completely spent in the last few rounds, falling to the canvas no less than three times (all three were ruled slips, much to Cruz's dismay). Finally, Cruz kept jumping inside, and Raheem did nothing but tie him up. All. Fight. Long. It was not just boring, it made me wonder whether all those "controversial" deductions against Juarez were justified. Teddy Atlas said both fighters were to blame, but I disagree--I thought that Cruz was making a genuine effort to work on the inside. And he landed a fair amount of solid body work. Raheem apparently had difficulty making weight for this fight, so that might be to blame. But he did absolutely nothing to show he was an elite fighter tonight, and even with the win raised more questions than he answered.

Finally, I should note the scorecards--I had it a draw (96-96). Teddy Atlas had it, I believe, 98-93, Raheem. The judges at ringside, by contrast, meted out one 99-91 and two shutouts, 100-90. That, to my mind, is ridiculous. And while Oklahoma is trying to make itself a fight destination, I have been consistently disappointed with their judging. The majority decision win they gave to Brian Vera over Samuel Miller was questionable, to say the least. And while I thought he won the fight, the margins they gave Allan Green in his defeat of Emmett Linton (97-92, 98-91, 98-91) struck me as a bit of home cooking, to say the least. It's a problem when in every card I've seen in Oklahoma, at least one of the fights has seen scoring that's raised my eyebrows.

Politics Big Willie Style

I've relayed before that my political perspective is very much conditioned by being a Democrat whose first three elections (that I followed) were 2000, 2002, and 2004. Not great times to be a Democrat, and I wrote some pretty despondent material. Now, of course, people are starting to see the light a bit. Democrats won huge in the 2006 elections. People are fleeing the Republican Party in droves, and the remaining partisans are turning on each other with a fury. Good, competent officials are emerging. And Congress is beginning to re-establish its oversight powers.

So am I pleased by this development. Yes, obviously. But, on the other hand, I'm a bit exasperated. What took you so long! I could have told you that this administration would end in catastrophe seven years ago. As usual, my words as better expressed by Will Smith in Men in Black II:
[on the train]
Agent J: Please move to the forward car, we've got a bug in the system.
[He is ignored by the passengers]
Agent J: YO! WE GOT A BUG IN THE ELECTRICAL SYSTEM!
[a huge bug smashes through into the compartment, the passengers flee]
Agent J: Oh! Now y'all runnin' Now y'all... No, no, no, no, sit down, sit down, It's only a 600 foot worm!

Is this uncharitable of me? Of course it is! And I have no doubt there are not a few Iraq war opponents thinking the same thing about me now. But, nonetheless, this is how I feel.
Agent J: Could I have your attention for a moment, please?
[neuralyzes the crowd]
Agent J: Thank you for participating in our drill. Had this been an actual emergency, y'all would have been *eaten*. 'Cause you don't listen! You're ignorant! That's the problem with y'all New Yorkers, you're hardheaded. "Oh, we've seen it all." I come in, I ask you nicely... how's a man gonna come busting through the back of a subway - then the worm comes in, and it's, "Oh, another 600 foot worm. Save us, Mr. Black Man!" You all...
[neuralyzes the crowd again]
Agent J: The City of New York would like to thank you for participating in our drill. Hopefully you enjoyed our smaller, more energy-efficient subway cars. Watch your step, you will have a nice evening.

Today's Watergate

Former Reagan and Bush-the-elder attorney Douglas Kmiec tries to take down the breath-taking testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. For those of you who don't know, while then-AG John Ashcroft was lying sick in a hospital recovering from surgery, Alberto Gonzalez and Andrew Card tried to get him to sign off on Bush's domestic survaillence program. Horrified at this attempt to take advantage of a man so sick he had signed over his powers to Comey, he rushed to the hospital, beating Gonzalez and Card to Ashcroft, and tried to get him alert enough to know what was going on. He even felt compelled to get a personal order from the head of the FBI demanding that he was not to be evicted from the room by Gonzalez or Card under any circumstances. At the end of day, Ashcroft, displaying "a strength that I had never seen before," explained point-by-point his objections to the program, and refused his assent. President Bush then authorized the program anyway.

So, Kmiec's got his work cut out. He spends a lot of time arguing as to whether Bush had the authority to ignore the advice of his own Justice Department. Maybe he does, but the point here is less about the interplay of executive agency authority than it is as to whether a) Bush's ultimate determination was lawful and b) whether or not it is remotely ethical to try and take advantage of a virtually incapacitated man in order to seize a massive amount of new executive power. And so, here Kmiec has a simple argument: It's not Watergate.

Now, I'm not sure who has made the Watergate comparison thus far. Indeed, while Kmiec calls Comey's testimny "histrionic," the clip seems to show otherwise. And furthermore, as Orin Kerr notes, there is significant space between "not Watergate" and "not newsworthy," in which this case very well might fall. Nixon seems to have spoiled us--there are Presidential scandals that fall short of breaking and entering, and this seems to be an obvious case.

But you know what? As Steve Benen puts it, if you want to talk Watergate, let's talk Watergate:
Attorney General Richardson and DAG Ruckelshaus did not resign in October 1973 because they concluded there had been a "burglary for purposes of political dirty tricks," in Kmiec's words. The burglary was an old story. They resigned because the President insisted that they fire prosecutor Archibald Cox when Cox subpoened Nixon's tapes. In other words, Nixon was trying to subvert the established procedures of the Justice Department. As were Bush and Gonzales.

Cox, I'd imagine we would hear now, served "at the pleasure of the President" as well.

Let's be clear--there is very strong evidence that the program President Bush had been and wished to continue to operate was illegal, and that's a crime. We shouldn't minimize that. But as Watergate (among others) reminded us, sometimes it isn't the crime, it's the cover-up. And for all the trouble I have with the idea of warrant-less domestic survaillence, the behavior of this administration in trying to get legal approval--though not a "cover-up"--betrays a disrespect for established procedures and basic integrity that threatens the entire character of the US government. That, amazingly, might be the worse sin here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rep. Paul on Race

I know there's a group of Republicans who are excited about a potential candidate who isn't obsessed with making things explode, but before we get too committed, be advised: he seems to have a bit of a race problem:
Reporting on gang crime in Los Angeles, Paul commented: "If you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be."

Paul, a Surfside obstetrician who won the GOP nomination in the 14th District runoff by defeating incumbent Rep. Greg Laughlin, said Wednesday he opposed racism.

He said his written commentaries about blacks came in the context of "current events and statistical reports of the time."
[...]
Writing in his independent political newsletter in 1992, Paul commented about black men in the nation's capital.

Citing statistics from a 1992 study produced by the National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives, a criminal justice think tank based in Virginia, Paul concluded in his column:

"Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal."

"These aren't my figures," Paul said this week. "That is the assumption you can gather from" the report.

He also wrote: "Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions, i.e. support the free market, individual liberty and the end of welfare and affirmative action."

Paul continued that politically sensible blacks are outnumbered "as decent people."

Via The Plank.

They Could Care Less

The Shin Bet (Israel's equivilant of the FBI) has uncovered a plot by a Palestinian member of Doctors Without Borders to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He got weapons and unarmed combat training from terrorist organizations in Gaza (it appears he had connections with the PFLP--Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Fortunately, they caught him before he was able to kill anybody, but like The Forward, I was a bit perturbed by Doctors w/out Borders' response:
I don’t think embarrassed would be the right word. We are very sad for Bashir who has been working for us for almost six years. But we would like to make it very clear that we make a distinction between his professional work and what he does on his personal time in the sense that all our staff is hired for professional reasons and I don’t think our organization can be held liable for every aspect of their life.

Errr....what? I doubt that, as an organization, Doctors without Borders was in any way linked to this plot. Nonetheless, they have at least some responsibility to insure that their employees do not abuse the trust of their host governments by assassinating world leaders. The rhetoric here is just astounding--they're "sad for Bashir," and they describe this as something he was doing "on his personal time." I really think that they have an obligation to respond more forcefully than this.

Any further statements by the group would be appreciated, but as it stands this is an appalling level of apathy. And, call me cynical, but I have to wonder if the politics of this group makes them sympathetic to their wayward employee's goal here (again, I'm not accusing them of knowledge or participation. But this is not the response of someone who is revolted at the thought of seeing the Israeli Prime Minister dead).

Boxing Blogging Part I

I'm developing into a real boxing fan since I've been at Carleton. If Matt Yglesias can break from serious blogging to do basketball, and the LGM crowd has hockey covered, then why can't I do a little boxing?

Unfortunately, since I don't get HBO at Carleton, I'm pretty much limited to the Wednesday and Friday Night Fights cards shown on ESPN. So we'll start with yesterday's Wednesday Night Fights in Hollywood, Florida, which featured three televised fights.

The first pitted prospect puncher "Mean" Joe Greene (14-0, 11 KOs) against a journeyman veteran named Jose Spearman (27-12-4, 11 KOs). Both, interestingly, were Golden Gloves champions, but Spearman's career had not gone well--as Teddy Atlas put it, all his wins came against "C+" opposition or worse. Meanwhile, when he stepped up, he had been knocked out a whopping 7 times--a problem going against the undefeated Greene, who had the reputation as a knockout artist.

Greene was impressive, flooring Spearman in rounds two and four, but I can't help but think he should have gotten him out of there within the distance. Perhaps he was putting rounds under his belt against probably his strongest opposition to date. And to be fair, the fourth round knockdown, where he had Spearman seriously hurt, came at the very end of the round and enabled Spearman to recover in his corner. It wasn't a bad performance, to be sure, but if Greene really has the power people say he does, someone like Spearman should be hitting the floor and not making it up.

The second fight pitted Joel "Love Child" Julio (30-1, 28 KOs) against Mauro Lucero (42-11-1, 28 KOs), a former lightweight fighting the tail end of his career at junior middleweight. This is the third time I've seen Julio fight--the first being his upset loss to also-then-undefeated Carlos Quintana. Julio's been on the comeback trail since then, but the problem is that in the fight immediately following the Quintana loss, Julio escaped with only a tight decision against a faded Cosme Rivera, which couldn't help his confidence. His first round knockout of Lucero should help, but it's probably time for him to get back to more solid competition.

I don't want to leave Julio without mentioning Thomas Davis, the third fight I've seen Julio in (it came after Rivera but before tonight) and a fighter he dispatched in 7 rounds. Davis, an ex-marine, is a fighter who intrigues me, and not just because of his platinum pink trunks. He's currently 11-4-1 with 7 knockouts, not a particularly impressive record. But three of his four losses have come against very strong opposition--Julio, 21-1 Oscar Diaz, who later became the NABF welterweight chmapion, and Luis Collazo, who became the world champion in the Welterweight division before losing a pair of fights to Ricky Hatton and Shane Mosley. Those are some serious names for a young fighter. Moreover, he has a no-decision againt dangerous Richard Guitterez (whose only loss comes to Joshua Clottey) and he owns a first round knockout victory over Kendall Holt, Holt's only loss as he gears up to fight for a welterweight world title shot of his own against Ricardo Torres (to be fair, Davis was getting battered by Holt before catching Holt going for the knockout). In essence, we're talking about at least three world-class boxers for a guy who has yet to break 20 fights. Davis is extremely tough, and I feel like if he could get a promoter who would develop him a bit rather than throwing him directly in with the lions, he could really blossom as a fighter.

Finally, the main event pitted Glen Johnson (44-11-2, 29 KOs) against Montell Griffin (48-6, 30 KOs). Both were former light heavyweight titlists who were fighting an eliminator to get a shot against IBF champion Clinton Woods, who took the title off of Johnson last year. Though Griffin's slickness let him a take a few early rounds, Johnson settled in and figured him out, controlling the entire second half of the fight before Griffin's corner stopped the fight in the 11th. Johnson's loss to Woods was a razor-thin split decision, and you know he's back for revenge. His come-forward, consistent style isn't exactly flashy, but it isn't boring either, and could make for a great fight against Woods, who has already fought Johnson three times (splitting the contests 1-1-1, this one is the tie-breaker).

Signaling Effect

Politicians love to talk about how they're "tough on crime." However, one crime that seems to be met with a resounding shrug is men killing their wives, girlfriends, or exs. Domestic violence by men against women, in general, tends to get downplayed in the criminal justice system. Oh, we deny it--we say that we treat these crimes with revulsion and disgust, and punish the perpetrators harshly. But the stats don't lie--and the story Tulane Law Professor Tania Tetlow tells is chilling in that respect:
Everette Simpson married three times, and three times he murdered his wife. Simpson stabbed his first wife 16 times with a butcher knife and then served nine years in prison. He stabbed his second wife with a hatchet, was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and served 11 years before being paroled. Last month in Slidell, Simpson beat his third wife and her brother to death and then set the house on fire to conceal the murders. He died in the fire, so at least he won't be released and marry again.

Sheriff Jack Strain asked how a "monster" like this could have been free to kill again. The answer is simple -- the national average sentence for men who kill their female partners is two to six years in prison. Criminal justice systems and juries do not, on average, treat the murder of women by their husbands terribly seriously.

In contrast, women who kill their male partners are sentenced to an average of 15 years, three times as much as male defendants, despite the fact that many of these women killed in self-defense.

Men who kill their spouses don't usually "get away with it", but they often get off light. Two to six years is not particularly impressive for homicide--and don't think it doesn't send a signal. These are not the types of sentences that deter men bent on exacting vengeance on their partners.

And the women who are stuck in these relationships? Well, they're pretty much left to fend for themselves. And if "fending for themselves" involve killing their abusers, well, then the hammer comes down:
Women in abusive relationships find themselves trapped. They know that the system will not, or sometimes cannot, protect them from husbands who promise to track them down and kill them. Ashley Ruffins was stabbed to death last year after the police in both Orleans and Jefferson parishes failed to answer her repeated begging to enforce a protective order. Even when the police respond immediately, as they did in Mandeville last month, they could not protect Adrienne McGee from being shot down in the middle of the street in broad daylight.

But if these women try to save their own lives, fight back and end up killing their batterers, they often face life sentences in prison. Their children are effectively orphaned. Three recent New Orleans trials, all held in the same month, illustrate this fact:

In March, an Orleans Parish jury convicted Catina Curley of second-degree murder for shooting a husband who had abused her. Catina provided police records and witness testimony that her husband had beaten her for years, broken her nose and dislocated her shoulder. Catina testified that she shot him in fear for her life, but the jury was neither willing to acquit her or convict her of a lesser charge of manslaughter. Second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Another jury offered different justice to Clarence Warden for beating his girlfriend to death with a banister. Warden claimed that he acted in self-defense. Given disputed evidence of a physical fight between the two, the jury erred on the side of acquittal of the male defendant.

A third jury convicted Jeremy Colbert of manslaughter rather than murder. Prosecutors provided evidence at trial that Colbert stalked and beat his ex-girlfriend for years. When he saw her speaking to a male friend (an acquaintance she had only known for a few weeks), Colbert shot and killed the man. Colbert's lawyer successfully argued to the jury that Colbert's ex-girlfriend "riled him up" so he should not be subject to a murder conviction.

The high school LD topic this past fall (November/December) dealt with whether women should be allowed to respond with lethal force to men who repeatedly abused them. The evidence some of these debaters mustered was truly horrifying--for all our supposed outrage, there is a persistent trend among our nation's law enforcement apparatus that seems far more interested in protecting the abusers over the abused, the batterers over the battered. We don't have the resources available to help these women, and we really aren't showing that much interest in remedying the situation. Thus, Professor Tetlow ends her piece with what will surely be a controversial, but telling, comparison:
When we look at other cultures overseas, we understand that violence against women is a function of power. We know that honor killings and bride burnings systematically exclude women from public life and make women fear for their lives if they disobey the rules.

But in our own country, despite more than 1,000 such murders a year, we see domestic violence as aberrant, the result of a bad upbringing or mental illness. We treat domestic violence as sad but inevitable, as irrelevant to our own safety, as having nothing to do with the status of women.

I've blogged on this point before: We have no right to be as smug as we are in this respect. Are we better than Saudi Arabia? Yes. But "better than Saudi Arabia" is no rallying cry. And American women, faced with a criminal justice system that is utterly unresponsive to their beatings, their murders, have every right to wonder whether our claims to care are so much hot air. The disparities between how we are treating men and women are striking, and a very strong signal about what type of violence we are willing to overlook or condone. We don't have the evidence on our side. And the onus is on us to start remedying that situation--and in the interim, not act surprised when women facing repeated violent abuse sometimes try to turn on their attackers.

Via Feminist Law Profs

Why I Support Reproductive Rights for Young Women

This is Shark-Fu's post on the aftermath of the rape of a fourteen-year old friend. It's the type of story that literlly left me shaking with rage:
When she told me I was horrified for her…deflated because this young woman has already been through a lot of shit in her life...and angry that rape was now being added to a list that reads like an indictment of our society’s devaluing of human dignity and life.

Then I asked her if she was offered emergency contraception.

She wasn’t.

I asked if she knew what emergency contraception is.

She did, but admitted that she was too upset to even think about asking for it.

That’s when I got angry.

As I drove her to Planned Parenthood…I offered that as a way to get a handle on her options and she accepted…my blood pressure shot through the roof.

A 14 year old was raped…she did the right thing and went to the hospital…she was offered tests and counseling…but she wasn’t offered emergency contraception.

As a sister in the struggle I am beyond words.

A 14 year old was raped and she wasn’t offered the emergency contraception I have personally spent time working to make available to all women who find themselves in such situations.

I certainly want 14 year old rape victims to be given the option.

I sure as shit wanted the young woman in question to have been.

When we arrived at Planned Parenthood we got another dose of reality. It was too late for emergency contraception but too early to find out if the monster who raped her had also gotten her pregnant.

With an appointment having been set we left…walked out and got into my car…drove past the crowd of anti-choice protesters who chose that moment to thrust dead baby pictures at my window…and out onto the road.

I drove…and then I pulled over, turned and folded her into my arms.

We wept…rocking back and forth on the side of the road...and I have no idea who was comforting whom.

The thing is...this young woman is strength.

That 14 year old is the very definition of what strength is.

But I am struggling to turn rage back into usable energy…frustration into action.

This is one of the reasons I support access to birth control to women of all ages, no questions asked. What this young women went through, no person should be forced to endure. That she might become pregnant after this ordeal, because emergency contraception isn't considered the default option after a rape is appalling. We can't ask for anything more from this survivor. It's our job, as a society, to give her what she needs--and what she needs is appropriate health care. Stories like this obliterate whatever sympathy I had towards society's hang-ups on this issue. Get over it, and get her the care she needs.

And the anti-abortion protesters...Good Lord. I hope God has mercy on them for what they did, because I sure don't.

Via Majikthise

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Female Presidents and Original Intent

Tangenting from a discussion as to whether naturalized US citizens ought to be allowed to run for President (which would require a constitutional amendment), Texas Law Professor Sandy Levinson asks whether originalists can even allow women to run for President. After all, "If one is an original intent buff, one might want to interpret 'he' in the Constitution as barring women from running for president, since it surely the case that no Framer could have envisioned any such possibility." Article II begins by using "he" to reference the President, but then shifts to the gender-neutral "person." However, I recall reading that in the early days of the Republic, voting laws that did not specifically restrict suffrage to men were still interpreted that way by the courts. And indeed, I believe in New Jersey an early suffragist tried to take advantage of gender-neutral language, but was arrested by the authorities and prevented from voting.

It does seem difficult to argue that the founders would have anticipated allowing a female President, given the retrograde views on women held in America throughout most of its history. No constitutional amendment has specifically given women the right to President. The 19th amendment did grant them the vote, but one can be franchised and still be prohibited from holding certain political offices (as are naturalized citizens).

So it's a difficult question. Are originalists committed to disallowing women from running for President? Does Hillary Clinton need to follow the same route as Arnold Schwarzenegger and get a constitutional amendment to take her shot at the White House?

On Stereotypes

Walter Lippmann was the founder of The New Republic and was once described by Teddy Roosevelt as "the most brilliant man of his age in all the United States." I've been reading passages from his 1920 masterpiece, Public Opinion, for a class. I just want to excerpt some of his thoughts on stereotypes, which are way ahead of his time (they remind me of similar work by Martha Minow and Angela Harris on categorization, but they were writing a good 70 years later) and ring very true to my own thoughts on the subject.

Lippmann argues that there are at least two main functions to stereotyping. The first is economy--it would simply be impossible to deal with the world if we were forced to be in a constant state of reflection and critique towards the world around us. We need stereotyping to live, to simplify an unimaginably complex world.
There is an economy in [stereotyping]. For the attempt to see all things freshly and in detail, rather than as types and generalities, is exhausting, among busy affairs practically out of the question....
[...]
The subtlest and most pervasive of all influences are those which create and maintain the repertory of stereotypes. We are told about the world before we see it. We imagine most things before we experience them. And those preconceptions, unless education has made us acutely aware, govern deeply the whole process of perception. They mark out certain objects as familiar or strange, emphasizing the difference, so that the slightly familiar is seen as very familiar, and the somewhat strange as sharply alien. They are aroused by small signs, which may vary from a true index to a vague analogy. Aroused, they flood fresh vision with older images, and project into the world what has been resurrected in memory. Were there no practical uniformities in the environment, there would be no economy and only error in the human habit of accepting foresight for sight. But there are uniformities sufficiently accurate, and the need of economizing attention is so inevitable, that the abandonment of all stereotypes for a wholly innocent approach to experience would impoverish human life. (59-60)

Everyone stereotypes, and nobody can avoid it. When I step into a car, I use my stereotypes of previous car trips to assume that it will take me where I want to go, and won't explode when I turn the ignition. I would exist in a state of paralysis if I was to constantly question those sorts of assumptions. So when I indict stereotypes (and I do think they're quite dangerous), I am not saying we should stop stereotyping, for we can't. But more on that later.

The second function of stereotyping is, to quote Lippmann, "as defense." Stereotypes allow us to continue to live in a world that is familiar, comfortable, and just--which is why we defend them so vigorously from challenge.
[Stereotypes] are an ordered, more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of the world, but they are a picture of a possible world to which we are adapted. In that world people and things have their well-known places, and do certain expected things. We feel at home there. We fit in. We are members. We know the way around. There we find the charm of the familiar, the normal, the dependable; its grooves and shapes are where we are accustomed to find them. And though we have abandoned much that might have tempted us before we creased ourselves into that mould, once we are firmly in, it fits as snugly as an old shoe.

No wonder, then, that any disturbance of the stereotypes seems like an attack upon the foundations of the universe. It is an attack upon the foundations of our universe, and, where big things are at stake, we do not readily admit that there is any distinction between our universe and the universe. A world which turns out to be one in which those we honor are unworthy, and those we despise are noble, is nerve-racking. There is anarchy if our order of precedence is not the only possible one....

A pattern of stereotypes is not neutral. It is not merely a way of substituting order for the great blooming, buzzing confusion of reality. It is not merely a short cut. It is all these things and something more. It is the guarantee of our self-respect; it is the projection upon the world of our own sense of our own value, our own position and our own rights. The stereotypes are, therefore, highly charged with the feelings that are attached to them. They are the fortress of our traditions, and behind its defenses we can continue to feel ourselves safe in the position we occupy (63-64).

I want to clarify Lippmann's claim here. We do need stereotypes to provide order in our lives, part of which includes giving us our own sense of value and meaning. That doesn't mean that the particular stereotypes we hold are the only ones that can give us authentic value and meaning. However, it feels that way to us, which is why we defend our stereotypes with such ferocity.
If experience contradicts the stereotype, one of two things happens. if the man is no longer plastic, or if some powerful interest makes it highly inconvenient to rearrange his stereotypes, he pooh-poohs the contradiction as an exception that proves the rule, discredits the witness, finds a flaw somewhere, and manages to forget it. But if he is still curious and open-minded, the novelty is taken into the picture, and allowed to modify it.... (65-66)

I hope the first response strikes us as familiar, because we've all done it.

As I mentioned above, the process of stereotyping is inevitable. It is also dangerous. It should go without saying that the instinct to retreat into a "fortress" whenever information that clashes with our prevailing viewpoints is not a positive one. So, is this post merely an exercise in fatalism? What do we do with the knowledge that an inextricably part of our human behavior is also a toxin to a functioning democratic polity?
What matters is the character of the stereotypes, and the gullibility with which we employ them. And these in the end depend on those inclusive patterns which constitute our philosophy of life. If in that philosophy we assume that the world is codified according to the code which we possess, we are likely to make our reports of what is going on describe a world run by our code. But if our philosophy tells us that each man is only a small part of the world, that his intelligence catches at best only phases and aspects in a coarse net of ideas, then, when we use our stereotypes, we tend to know that they are only stereotypes, to hold them lightly, to modify them gladly. We tend, also, to realize more and more clearly when our ideas started, where they started, how they came to us, why we accepted them. All useful history is antiseptic in this fashion. It enables us to know what fairy tale, what school book, what tradition, what novel, play, picture, phrase, planted one preconception in this mind, another in that mind (60).

This is the kicker of the argument. One must condition one's worldview to have some "give", to expect challenges and to expect that it will be shaped and changed by alternative narratives. To be agile, to put it briefly. The best part is, we do not need to abandon our stereotypes (as if we could) to do this! We must only be cognizant that we are holding them, and "hold them lightly." So, my obligations as a citizen under this paradigm are twofold:

1) Be explicit about what my biases are from the start, and recognize that they are just that;

2) Not keep a chokehold on those biases in the face of conflicting information.

I've seen people who experience the type of panicked vertigo that occurs when one argues to them that all their preconceived notions are nothing but that, and that the quest for an all-encompassing code is futile. These people panic because they want knowledge that is beyond or above a mere stereotype. This only occurs, then, when people feel that order is impossible without certainty--and this is manifestly not the case. I may operate under the stereotype that my car will take me where I want to go, but if it breaks down, my entire worldview doesn't break down with it. I can deal with the indeterminacy of life when it comes to my car, maintaining an expectation about what my car will do while recognizing that this is not the way it has to or always will be. Philosophy works the same way, and there really isn't an alternative to it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nice Guys Finish....

Jonathan Adler comments on the apparent upcoming confirmation fight over D.C. Court of Appeals nominee Peter Keisler:
In my opinion, Keisler deserves confirmation on the merits. I also believe Senate Democrats should begin to consider how they would like Democratic judicial nominees to be treated in the future, and set an example. This would be a welcome step toward a de-escalation in judicial nomination fights -- a step the next President (whomever he or she is) might appreciate.

I express no opinion as to whether Judge Keisler should be confirmed on the merits. However, there is a significant flaw in the "set an example" point. It assumes that Republican treatment of a future Democrat's nominees will in any way be influenced by how Democrats behave now.

Even were I to believe that a gesture of good faith by Democrats regarding judicial confirmations would be met with future "de-escalation" by the GOP, there is no way Senate Democrats believe it. They have been alive over these past few years of Republican control, after all. I suspect they think that treating Bush's nominees with respect and deference will yield much the same results as adopting slash-and-burn tactics: either way, Senate Republicans will show no restraint or fairness towards a Democratic President's nominees.

Does this mean I think that Democrat's should just get their licks in while they can? Not necessarily. But it does mean that if, for any reason, they think that Keisler will be the type of judge they don't want on the D.C. Circuit, they might as well block and delay him. It won't change the future any--and to be blunt, it's the GOP who will need to make the first move of good faith if the poisonous atmosphere they've created is going to break.

The Sick Man of Washington

You know, it's weird. Back in the early days of the administration, John Ashcroft was kind of the poster-boy for the really scary excesses of the Bush regime. Theoconservative ex-Senator from Missouri who lost his re-election to a dead guy? He did some pretty weird things as Attorney General, and was the front from some of President Bush's earliest travesties, like the USA PATRIOT act.

But after his resignation and as time passed, new information began to emerge. Despite the rep, and despite the public image, it turns out Ashcroft was one of the chief internal critics of Bush's radical expansion of executive powers in the wake of 9/11. And so in that vein, we get an interesting story from CNN, about how the Bush Administration tried to get Ashcroft to sign off on a domestic spying program while he was hospitalized recovering from gall bladder surgery. Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey described the events:
In his testimony Tuesday, Comey recounted Ashcroft's wife calling a Justice Department official that night informing her [White House Chief of Staff Andrew] Card and [then White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales were on their way to see Ashcroft. She had banned all outside phone calls and visitors, Comey said.

He immediately headed to the hospital and soon after he got there, the White House officials entered. He said Ashcroft, who had been weak from gall bladder surgery, "very strongly expressed himself" regarding his objections to a classified program, but added that his views didn't matter because he was, temporarily, not the attorney general.

Comey said Card and Gonzales then left the hospital room without acknowledging him.

"I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself -- and I said to the attorney general -- in a way that demonstrated a strength that I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper," Comey told the committee.
[...]
Comey said the program was reauthorized the next day without a Justice Department signature, and he then prepared a letter of resignation. However, he said he did not hand that letter in because the Justice Department's chief of staff asked him to delay it until Ashcroft could also resign.

This was in March of 2004, Ashcroft resigned that November, and Comey followed suit in March of 2005.

Certainly a classy move by Gonzalez and Card, no?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Killers of Christ

Almost a year and a half ago, I noted Venezuelan dictator President Hugo Chavez blaming the "descendants of those who crucified Christ" for stealing the world's riches for itself. It seemed like a relatively run of the mill anti-Semitic comment, and I called it out. However, it appears that things might not be that simple.

The good folks at Amptoons found an article arguing against the anti-semitic interpretation by the Venezuelan Jewish community, with support from various prominent American Jewish groups. Apparently, "Christ-killers" doesn't have the anti-Semitic trope it has here and in Europe. Rather, in liberation theology circles (who see Jesus as a socialist), "Christ-killers" refers to capitalists, not Jews, and that is who Chavez's quote refers to. This actually makes sense given the full context of Chavez's quote, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

So is Chavez not an anti-Semite? I wouldn't go that far. His claim that Israel's Lebanon war was "perhaps worse" than the Holocaust strikes me as pretty virulently anti-Semitic on its own. But fair is fair, and even though I discovered Amp's post eight months after it appeared, it appears I was wrong in this case and I wanted to set the record case.

Science and Standpoint Theory

The post I put up on Friday regarding Standpoint Theory sparked a furious debate in the comments about an element of standpoint theory I am particularly unsuited to comment on--it's relationship to the "hard" sciences. As I may have relayed on this blog, I am not a science-guy, wouldn't know Fermat's Theorem if it hit me in the face, and indeed spent of most of the past weekend looking for a sharp object to dull the pain of learning logarithmic regression. But so it is that my objects of interest spin out of my control, and so here are a few preliminary thoughts regarding some of the objections raised in the comments--again, prefaced by the fact that while there are standpoint theorists with a strong background in the sciences who presumably could debate this point very effectively, I'm not one of them.

The first argument is that the issues of hard sciences can be bracketed off from the prevailing thrust of the standpoint theory critique. I actually heard this argument best phrased in a critique of certain post-modern legal theorists, but it struck me as a solid formulation. Standpoint theory can be applied to simple isolated descriptive cases. The sentence "the top of Mount Everest is snowy", for example, could raise questions about when a hill becomes a mountain, when the middle becomes the top, and why the referenced mountain is signified by the Western notation of "Everest" rather than an indigenous name. Nonetheless, this is not what most post-modernists do with their time. The topic of snow on Mount Everest is relatively uninteresting to us. By and large we are talking about social phenomena--political organization, distribution of resources, societal structures--areas in which the criticism is much stronger. So if the kernel of hard science is indeed not contingent on standpoint, that doesn't take out much of the theory's most fertile ground.

But even still, I think that standpoint does influence science writ proper on the front and back ends of the process. The front end, because standpoint directs what sorts of research questions are "interesting", which projects get funding, what Ph.D. programs train their disciples to do, etc.. For example, it is only recently (I mean really recently--within the past dozen years) that there has been any research on the basic anatomy and function of the clitoris. Most biologists are male, their attention was (ironically enough) elsewhere, and so the subject was completely neglected for years. We don't have time to research everything, and how we use our precious time is mediated by the gatekeepers to the scientific profession who can make the labs and the equipment and the funding available.

Science is also influenced by standpoint on the back end, because at the point where science leaves the laboratory and enters the real world to have a social impact as a policy or philosophy, those impacts and interpretations are also socially conditioned. A study which shows that we could create a completely clean-burning, renewable resource that would satisfy all our energy needs, but it would require some massive expenditure of resources from the First World that would sacrifice their economic advantage can "mean" that it's possible if we're willing to demand heavy sacrifices, or it can "mean" that it's cost prohibitive and infeasible, depending on who gets to determine meaning. More directly, scientific disciplines that see themselves as having insights on human nature or behavior are particularly prone to be usurped by the dominant classes to reify their position and dominance. The argument simply is that people who are on top of unjust hierarchies will grasp at any ammunition that buttresses their stance, and science can often be utilized towards these ends. Since the dominant classes control the means of (knowledge) production, it is difficult for alternative views or interpretations to surface.

Finally, there has been interesting research on how science itself constitutes a "mentality" or standpoint that is not neutral but can lead to very specific ideological outcomes. George Kren & Leon Rappaport used the Holocaust as their example, giving three problems with the scientific mentality:
[T]he prevalent view is that science is neutral, a method of gaining knowledge leading to control over the physical and social environment, and evil only insofar as evil people may use it badly.

Our view is different....Quite apart from the technology, the mentality of modern science is what made the Holocaust.

[First]....the...central role of science as a mentality was in providing the inspiration and justification for these technical activities. The abstract, categorical thinking encouraged by the culture of science paves the way for acceptance of categorical racist ideas.

....Once it is accepted that such abstractions as genes distributed in populations are, so to speak, ‘real facts’ instead of theoretical constructs, the way is opened toward instituting and justifying social policies based on these ‘facts.’

The point at issue here has nothing to do with whether or not there is can be some merit or utility in the accumulation of evidence leading to scientific generalizations about people; it is that in a scientifically oriented culture, people will accept generalities produced by science as fact, particularly when the generalities fit other culturally determined predispositions or biases.
[...]
[Second,] [t]he scientific orientation in Western civilization also encourages and even forces people to detach their emotions from the rational intellect....This is not to say that ignorant, brutish people with no education and no ability to detach emotions from intellect are not capable of performing horrible actions....But...designing an efficient system of death camps.... is only possible as a manifestation of detached technical expertise grounded on a scientific rationale or logos, and only in a relatively small degree supported by emotionality or passion.
[...]
It should be clear that the mental splitting which separates emotionality from rationality is deliberately inculcated by science-oriented Western culture in order that people may repress or suspend reflexive emotions that might block achievement of abstract, distant goals. The ability to categorize objects, to then perform mental (imaginary) operations upon these objects, and thus transform the meaning of the objects into something other than what one started with is fundamental to all science.....By exercising this capacity, we can make judgments that some people are better than others, and, ultimately, that some people are not even people at all. So it is that the scientific mode of thinking—the mode of thinking required and promulgated by science—allows us to perform promethean acts that transform the world.
[...]
[Third,] science....is irrelevant to questions of morality or value, which stand at the center of the human condition. Science appears, consequently, as hardly more than a wonderfully complex and plastic plaything of the intellect, a toy that can be shaped in whatever forms clever intellects wish to shape it. It follows that science is totally amoral and terribly dangerous because its potent effects are ungoverned by any intrinsic human limits. We see it ever more clearly these days, of course: the weapons, nuclear plants, food additives, pollutants, etc., that cumulatively, as the result of science, threaten the future existence of our species and determine the conditions under which we exist. [George Kren & Leon Rappaport, “The Holocaust and the Human Condition” Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust, Roger S. Gottlieb, ed. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990): 347-72, pp. 357-361]

Orthodox Rabbi Irving Greenberg made a very similar point in his famous essay, "Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire,":
In so many ways, the Holocaust is the direct fruit and will of this [scientific modernist] alternative. Modernity fostered the excessive rationalism and utilitarian relations which created the need for and susceptibility to totalitarian mass movements and the surrender of moral judgment. The secular city sustained the emphasis on value-free sciences and objectivity, which created unparalleled power but weakened moral limits. (Surely it is no accident that so many members of the Einsatzgruppen were professionals.) Mass communication and universalization of values weakened resistance to centralized power, and served as a cover to deny the unique danger posted to particular, i.e. Jewish, existence. [Irving Greenberg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire,” Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Implications, John K. Roth and Michael Berenbaum, eds. (New York: Paragon House, 1989): 305-48, pp. 320]

The upshot isn't to say we should revolt and overthrow the Biology department (though I've been known to advocate that, it is strictly a result of academic, not philosophical, frustration). The point is that we should not exalt science as existing on a plane beyond society, beyond social implications, beyond the people who build it and beyond the people who apply. Science may have an independent reality, but insofar as its reality intersects ours it matters who controls the relationship between it and us. That, beyond all else, is why standpoint theory still matters for scientific relationships.