Friday, April 28, 2006

Curse You Mandy

A friend of mine gave my laptop a virus, so now its been suspended from the Carleton network. It looks like I won't be able to fix it until at least Monday.

Boo. Posting will be reduced accordingly until then.

Inertia Is A Property Of Matter

There was something about how that phrase popped up randomly in the theme song to "Bill Nye, The Science Guy" that made it always stick with me.

Anyway, a new study by The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy purports to show that, even where gay marriage is legalized, many gay people are not partaking in the institution. The rate is lowest in Europe (1-5%) and highest in Massachusetts (16.7%).

The study itself does not make normative conclusions based on the data (though the IMPP is definitively anti-gay marriage). However, Minnesota Law Professor Dale Carpenter is almost definitely right to say that this information will make its way into the debate. Conservatives might use it to say that gay people don't even want gay marriage, liberals will respond that this has absolutely no bearing as to whether the small proportion that do deserve the full benefits of the institution. In any event, the classic conservative argument against gay marriage is that the change in definition alone somehow harms the institution, which is utterly divorced from the number of people who enter into the arrangement (no pun intended).

Carpenter also notes that there seems to be a correlation in the data between places that a stronger marriage culture generally, and rates of gay marriage. Marriage is a much healthier institution in Massachusetts than in Europe, and consequently gay marriage rates are far higher there. I'm not sure what it means, but it seems interesting.

I'd just add to this analysis that we might be jumping the gun a bit here. Gay marriage has been legal for a total of four years at the longest (in The Netherlands), and less than that in the one state that currently allows it in America. I think it's a bit facile to expect gay couples to immediately jump into a marriage the moment it is recognizable. The prohibition against gay marriage probably discouraged the formation of long-term, monogamous relations (not that it obliterated them, just made them less likely), and at the very least it reduced the need for the type of long-term commitment that the prospect of marriage always holds on the horizon. It shouldn't surprise us that there might be a transistion period. And of course, continued prejudice against homosexuals, a desire within the community for differentiation, and plain old cultural barriers all factor into this data. Four years simply isn't a lot of time when you're starting from point zero. After all, 35 years after Loving v. Virginia the interracial marriage rate was stuck at 2.9%. Social integration after centuries of oppression takes time.

UPDATE: Professor Carpenter explores why gay couples aren't getting married yet. I think he hits the nail on the head.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Controversial" and "Idiot" Don't Have To Be Synonymous

Inside Higher Ed has an article about college inviting "controversial speakers" for lectures. In sum, they say that college's should not shy away from controversy and should recognize the importance of providing alternative perspectives. Which is right. But the article also includes a comment arguing the following:
The problem that isn't being addressed here is that provocateurs like Moore and Coulter are brought in as speakers in the first place. They command high fees to present recycled tedious, predictable polemical rants that lack intellectual depth and rigor. They substitute cleverness and wordplay for genuine argument, and they offer little or nothing that is new or imaginative.

The money would be better spent on bringing in genuine scholars and intellectuals (our college has recently hosted W.S. Merwin and Seamus Heaney, for instance), in which case the need for this sort of policy would vanish.

Which is also right. The reason that Ann Coulter and Michael Moore shouldn't be invited isn't because they are too controversial for our tender ears. It's because they are morons. I like having interesting speakers at Carleton, from all sides of the political divide (we had, among others, Jonah Goldberg and Derrick Bell this year). Frothing polemics are "interesting" only in the way a car wreck is.

Via Daniel Solove.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It Pays To Be Diverse

Via Feminist Law Profs, the benefits of diversity in the workplace:
New research from Tufts University indicates that diverse groups perform better than homogenous groups when it comes to decision making and that this is due largely to dramatic differences in the way whites behave in diverse groups--changes that occur even before group members begin to interact.

"Traditional arguments in favor of diversity often focus on ethics, morality and constitutionality," said Samuel R. Sommers, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. "I wanted to look at the observable effects of diversity on performance."

In a study involving 200 participants on 29 mock juries, panels of whites and blacks performed better than all-white groups by a number of measures. "Such diverse juries deliberated longer, raised more facts about the case, and conducted broader and more wide-ranging deliberations," said Sommers. "They also made fewer factual errors in discussing evidence and when errors did occur, those errors were more likely to be corrected during the discussion."

Surprisingly, this difference was primarily due to significant changes in white behavior. Whites on diverse juries cited more case facts, made fewer mistakes in recalling facts and evidence, and pointed out missing evidence more frequently than did those on all-white juries. They were also more amenable to discussing racism when in diverse groups.

I'm not sure why the "surprising" part was surprising. I guess the stereotype is about all the benefits them crazy Black folk will get from being exposed to rational, civilized White guys. But as it turns out, it's White people whose performance needs a shot in the arm. Go figure [/sarcasm].

That aside, studies like this are absolutely, positively critical for pushing integration in American society. First of all, Court's are more likely to uphold diversity-enhancing programs when there is empirical data showing that such programs lead to meaningful benefits for the entity that organized them (i.e., higher productivity in an office, or better grades at a university). Second, such studies help break down racist mentalities that present Blacks as a drain on their communities, contributing little of value to society, and generally of being practically worthless. Third, if one believes that White people will only work to improve the status of racial minorities when it is in their interest, then the more data out there that shows the benefits for Whites of interaction with Blacks, the more better. I'll admit this holds risks--my first thought upon writing that scenario was of Blacks-as-steroids: "Just inject Black people for increased performance!" But ultimately, I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

Don't! It's a Trap!

Crooked Timber has the skinny on an interesting program by the Ayn Rand Institute:
The financial support arrangements and tuition waivers are rather generous.

If any CT readers want to apply for a grant from the Ayn Rand Institute the form is here. Although I suppose this may be a trick; if you apply for a grant you thereby prove yourself to be unworthy of one.

Devious folks, those Objectivists.

Yom HaShoah

It's Holocaust memorial day, and I concur with Ampersand: the best way to remember the Shoah is to put your name behind the message of "Never Again."

Belle of D'Blog

Belle Lettre of "Law and Letters" makes the blogroll, because her posts are fascinating, because her analysis is trenchant, and because she has an official degree in Critical Race Theory, which is uber-cool.

Calling me the "most ambitious and crazily well-read pre-law sophomore in the blogosophere" is also appreciated, but not required.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Torture in Tennessee

Once the dike has been breached...

The Agitator has the transcript and audio tape (warning: very explicit) of a brutal case of what can only be described as torture by the police of a drug suspect:
The police are attempting to get the illiterate man to sign an admission of guilt without telling him what it says. They beat him, over and over, hook electrodes up to testicles and shock him, threaten to kill him, and threaten to go after his family. Early news accounts reported that the torture continued well beyond the end of the recording. After the tape ran out, the same deputies apparently repeatedly submerged the guy's head in a fish tank and a bath tub, threatening to drown him unless he confessed.

How have we sunk to such depths? Listening to the audio was like putting an earpiece to a Soviet gulag. And that's not a comparison I make lightly.

If it wasn't for the extraordinary audio tape, this barbarism probably would never have been dealt with:
It's worth keeping in mind when you read about a case in which a suspect claims his confession was beaten out of him, and police, to a man, keep to a remarkably tight story stating otherwise (as they did in Siler's [the victim's] case, before the audio came out).

The transcript bears this claim out--the officers tell their victim what "happened"--that they came in, he first fled then resisted arrest, nearly beat them up, so they had to fight back (by electrocuting his testicles, obviously).

May they rot in jail for the rest of their miserable lives.

Via Sebastian Holsclaw.

Remember: Bullies Always Win

This deserves to be saved for posterity:
The Leader

He's a green guy with a big brain. He's the Hulk's arch-enemy. Kind of obvious, really. Hero: Big green dumb strong guy. Villain: Small green smart weak guy. It's not really dripping with creativity, and the moral ends up being "clever planning and logic can never win against the sheer physical brutality of a guy who barely even knows where he is." This is not a moral that your average comic book reader wants to hear.

From The Book of Ratings: Marvel Supervillians.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Power Within

Lawrence Kaplan in The New Republic (also The LA Times) contrasts the behavior of college activists regarding the Iraq war ("Immoral! Bring the troops home!") and Darfur ("Moral obligation! Intervene already!").
As their criticism of the particulars of the Iraq war has hardened into a broader indictment of U.S. foreign policy, the mostly progressive voices calling for action in Darfur have become caught in a bind of their own devising. Even as they demand intervention in Sudan, they excoriate Washington for employing U.S. military power without due respect to the opinion of the international community and against nations that pose no imminent threat to our own--which is to say, precisely the terms under which U.S. power would have to be employed in the name of saving Darfur.

Kaplan isn't really speaking to me here, because I supported Iraq and support Darfur. But while I do see this dynamic somewhat, I think he overstates the case. In fact, the college students calling for Darfur intervention have varied and interesting perspectives on Iraq.

First, I'd note that the leadership for the anti-Iraq and the pro-Darfur groups aren't really the same. I know many of the top guns in our college chapter of STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), and while I suspect that most of them are not supporters of the Iraq war, they aren't and haven't been focusing their activist energies on the subject. And insofar as they are opposed to the Iraq war, it is generally a more sophisticated opposition than the shrill refrain of the partisans.

That moves me to the second point: Often times, pro-Darfurites use the genocide as a reason against the Iraq war. The case basically boils down to a zero-sum argument: if we weren't in Iraq, we could be in Darfur by now. This also cuts nicely against my argument in favor of the Iraq intervention on humanitarian grounds; if I was really serious about human rights, why didn't I dedicate my energies to a far more serious ethical catastrophe? For these people, a military solution is not just grudgingly accepted, but actively demanded. I don't really think foreign policy is zero-sum like they say, and in any event Darfur was barely on the radar in 2003. Besides, Kaplan is right that an immediate withdrawal from Iraq would yield a bloodbath that would be unacceptable from a humanitarian perspective.

I've heard complaints about tactics, and how the Bush administration mislead us in the run-up, and that it was a poor strategic move. What I'm not hearing is the reflexive aversion to US power or unilateralism that would make a Darfur intervention logically incoherent.

Although Kaplan starts his piece out talking about college students, he very rapidly moves to policy makers, pundits, and national organizations. Perhaps the argument he makes is stronger for these people. But at least here at Carleton, we take the stakes of this conflict seriously. We know that Darfur can only be saved by aggressive US action utilizing military force. In a dramatic reversal of 2003, in 2006, Iraq is the blip on the ethical radar compared to the murderous titan in Africa.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

You Don't Belong Here

According to Crooked Timber, The Netherlands is considering a law that would allow the deportation of young Dutch citizens of Caribbean descent back to their country-of-origin for petty crimes. Again, we're talking about "citizens" here. The bill specifically applies to people age 16-24 who come from Dutch-controlled islands in the Caribbean (Netherlands Antilles and Aruba). If they commit a crime, they can be sent back to those islands and not allowed back into Holland proper. That makes the issue a little more complex, but not much: it's like forcing a Native American who commits a crime to return to the Reservation and never be allowed to return to mainstream America, or a native Hawaiian to go back to the islands.

Details here (PDF). Sketchy stuff. I'm so glad no American legislator would call for expelling American citizens from America.

Oh gosh, did I just indulge in classic leftist Blame America Firstism?

Bad Blogger!

Sounds Like Abstinence Plus To Me

Via Mirror of Justice (the Catholic Legal Theory blog) comes a really interesting statement by several top Catholic officials on abortion and condom usage.
On abortion, [Cardinal Carlo Maria] Martini firmly upheld the moral teaching of the church, but acknowledged the complexity of writing it into public policy.

"It seems to me difficult [to imagine] that, in situations like ours, the state would not distinguish between acts that are punishable in a penal fashion, and acts for which a penal solution doesn't make sense," he said. "That doesn't mean a 'license to kill,' but that the state doesn't intervene in every possible case. Its efforts should be to reduce the number of abortions, to impede them with every means possible (above all after a certain period from the beginning of the pregnancy), to reduce the causes of abortion, and to take precautions so that women who decide to take this step, especially during the period when it's not illegal, do not suffer grave physical damage or have their lives placed at risk."

Martini noted that the risk of serious physical injury is especially grave in the case of clandestine abortions, and hence said that, all things considered, Italy's abortion law -- which permits abortion during the first trimester -- has had the positive effect of "contributing to the reduction and, eventually, elimination" of back-alley procedures.

In a case in which a fetus threatens the life of the mother, Martini said "moral theology has always sustained the principle of legitimate defense and of lesser evil," in order to justify a procedure that would save the life of the mother while terminating the pregnancy.

That's good rhetoric, and I think a "realistic" position that many Americans who feel ambivalent about abortion would subscribe to. But the real important stuff, from my view, comes with regard to condom usage:
Similarly, asked about the use of condoms to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, Martini responded: "Certainly the use of prophylactics can, in some situations, constitute a lesser evil," mentioning the case of a couple where one partner is infected and the other isn't.

The problem, Martini said, isn't really the ethical analysis. The problem is the PR headaches that follow whenever a church official says this out loud. To put it bluntly, anytime a senior church official says that use of a condom might be a "lesser evil" in the context of a deadly disease, the next day's headlines trumpet "Church okay with condoms," which is not the same message.

"The question is really if it's wise for religious authorities to propagandize in favor of this method of defense [from HIV/AIDS], almost implying that other morally sustainable means, including abstinence, are put on a lower level," Martini said. "The principle of a 'lesser evil,' applicable in all the cases covered by ethical doctrine, is one thing; another thing is who ought to express these judgments publicly."

In upholding the moral tolerability of condoms as a "lesser evil" in the context of HIV/AIDS, Martini joins Cardinal George Cottier, theologian of the Papal Household under John Paul II; Cardinal Godfriend Danneels of Belgium; Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health; Cardinal Cormac Muphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England; and Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa.

In 2004, the Indian bishops launched an awareness campaign about HIV/AIDS that includes information on condoms, and in 2005, a spokesperson for the Spanish bishops said that condoms might be justified in some circumstances to combat the disease.

Msgr. Angel Rodriguez Luño, an Opus Dei priest, a professor at Santa Croce University in Rome, and a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has said there's actually not much debate over the theology; most moralists, he said, believe the argument for condoms as a lesser evil is fairly clear. The question is how to explain that conclusion in a way that doesn't seem to offer a free pass for irresponsible sexual behavior.

"The problem is, anytime we try to give a nuanced response, we see headlines that say, 'Vatican approves condoms,' Rodriguez Luño told The Washington Post Jan. 23, 2005.

"The issue is more complicated than that. From a moral point of view, we cannot condone contraception. We cannot tell a classroom of 16-year-olds they should use condoms. But if we are dealing with someone or a situation in which persons are clearly going to act in harmful ways, a prostitute who is going to continue her activities, then one might say, 'Stop. But if you are not going to, at least do this.'"

First, recall the affiliation of Msgr. Luno. I'm very skeptical that Opus Dei is the evil conspiratorial organization depicted in The Davinci Code, but I think it is fair to surmise they are quite conservative. Now, look at how he says condom use shoud be dealt with: "Stop. But if you are not going to, at least do this."

Isn't that exactly what "abstinence plus" education is?

Admittedly, Luno says that we shouldn't tell a classroom of 16-year-olds that they should use condoms. But the question is how we read that former statement in relation to the latter. If X person is going to engage in potentially harmful sexual activity (as both teenage sex and prostitution qualify as), the first goal of the Church (and by extension, the schools) should be to say "stop." But if X is definitely going to continue, then the next goal should be to minimize harm, via condom use.

The trick is how to bring up condoms without endorsing them. And seeing how the media loves to slap misleading headlines on issues, I really can sympathize with the Church's plight here. But I do think that "abstinence plus" toes this line pretty well. For all the talk about Catholic dogmatism, the religion is a lot more pragmatic than many people give it credit for. And I think that intelligent liberals can very easily make common cause with this strand of Catholic thought.