I Thought This Era Had Come and Gone

A prominent US abortion doctor has been shot dead at a church in Wichita, in his home state of Kansas.

Sixty-seven year-old George Tiller was killed just after 1000 (1500 GMT) at the Reformation Lutheran Church.

Dr Tiller – one of the few US doctors who performed so-called late-term abortions – had been a long-time target of anti-abortionists. His clinic had often been the site of demonstrations, and he was shot and wounded by an assailant 16 years ago.

Kansas is my home state (though you’ll rarely hear me admit it). My teen years were heavily tinted by the anti-choice violence that went on there at the time. But I admit, I was feeling pretty carefree about it all by now; feeling like those were the old days. And I bet most of my fellow pro-choice Kansans (not that there are many of us) were too. What sad news.

Does having daughters make parents more liberal?

So research done in England suggests:

Having daughters rather than sons, or vice versa, can change a father’s politics.

That is the conclusion of British researchers Andrew Oswald, of the University of Warwick and Cornell University, and Nattavudh Pawdthavee, of the University of York.

… Oswald told the Telegraph newspaper this past weekend that the research “provides evidence that daughters make people more left-wing, while having sons, by contrast, makes them more right-wing.”

It sounds good to me, but why would that happen?  Here’s what Oswald told the Telegraph:

Professor Oswald said that having daughters made men “gradually shift their political stance and become more sympathetic to the ‘female’ desire for a … larger amount for the public good”.

“They become more Left-wing. Similarly, a mother with sons becomes sympathetic to the ‘male’ case for lower taxes and a smaller supply of public goods,” he said.

Hmmmmmmm.  Makes it sound as thought we’ve got sex-related characterisitic dispositions that easily become political.   Should this just go along with the research showing that women have a preference for pink?

Anyone For an M&S boycott?

Update: The commenters have convinced me that the word ‘boycott’ above should be replaced with ‘rant’. I guess all the marking put me in a bad and intolerant mood. (That and the sense of betrayal: they *do* have lovely fair trade T-shirts.)

Marks and Spencer Chair Stuart Rose:

He said: “Apart from the fact that you’ve got more equality than you ever can deal with, the fact of the matter is that you’ve got real democracy and there are really no glass ceilings, despite the fact that some of you moan about it all the time….He told the newspaper: “I mean, what else do you want to do, for God’s sake? Women astronauts. Women miners. Women dentists. Women doctors. Women managing directors. What is it you haven’t got?…He rejected the suggestion that working mothers face greater challenges in the workplace.
“Well, childbirth is a biological fact. Women have children; I can’t help that,” he said.
“But I know lots of women who’ve got two or three kids – Nicola Horlick is a good example – there are many girls in here who’ve got two kids who come to work.”

For more, see here. Thanks, Nicola!

I mean, is a recession REALLY a good time to insult half of your customer base?

Even Philosophers like facts

and some are particularly relevant and interesting to one of the important issues of the day.  So have a look at Tom Goldstein’s valuable analysis of ‘the full data set” of Judge Sotomayor’s votes during her 11 years on the court of appeals.  His conclusion at the SCOTUS Blog:

In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times.  Only one case (Gant) in that entire eleven years actually involved the question whether race discrimination may have occurred.  (In another case (Pappas) she dissented to favor a white bigot.)  She particulated in two other panels rejecting district court rulings agreeing with race-based jury-selection claims.  Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.

Accompanying the article are a number of great links.  The Blog itself is clearly going to be a voice of sanity in the weeks to come.

David Brooks has it almost right: Sotomayor again

David Brooks, who frequently appears as a representative of conservative views,  picks up on the idea that a judge needs empathy.  His argument is politically important and it is also balanced.  One conclusion he reaches about the need for a judge’s self-knowledge of her decision making has an almost tragic air about it, since it appears that Sotomayor’s articulations of her self-knowledge are being used against her.  (For the articulation, see this post and the discussions.)

Nonetheless, there’s a problem with the core of what he says.  Let’s look at it.

He starts with an important point:

The American legal system is based on a useful falsehood. It’s based on the falsehood that this is a nation of laws, not men; that in rendering decisions, disembodied, objective judges are able to put aside emotion and unruly passion and issue opinions on the basis of pure reason.

While the falsehood is useful generally, there’s a danger that it could be employed to derail Obama’s current nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.  So it’s important to see how it is false.  Here’s Brooks’ account:

It is incoherent to say that a judge should base an opinion on reason and not emotion because emotions are an inherent part of decision-making. Emotions are the processes we use to assign value to different possibilities. Emotions move us toward things and ideas that produce pleasure and away from things and ideas that produce pain.

People without emotions cannot make sensible decisions because they don’t know how much anything is worth. People without social emotions like empathy are not objective decision-makers. They are sociopaths who sometimes end up on death row.

Unfortunately, as Brooks should know, given the background reading his recent articles indicate, this isn’t right.  One can spend hours grading logic tests; while emotions may be involved in one’s struggle to stay focused – or even just to stay at one’s desk – you don’t need emotions to decide for you what is and what is not permitted according to a rule of logic.  As Damasio in his Descartes Error points out, someone who is incapable of living a wise practical life because his emotions and reason do not work together can nonetheless do all sorts of calculating correctly.  It is creative and/or practical decisions that are, then, according to Damasio and other researchers, in need of the evaluing guide of the emotions. 

Why, then, is the law more like creative  or practical or moral decision making – at least when we understand the latter according to theorists that allow room for emotion – than logic?  There are no doubt a number of reasons for this; among other things, it is hard to halt the decision process if one doesn’t have a sense of a good outcome.   This may be part of what Brooks has in mind when he says:

The mind tries on different solutions to see if they fit. Ideas and insights bubble up from some hidden layer of intuitions and heuristics. Sometimes you feel yourself getting closer to a conclusion, and sometimes you feel yourself getting farther away. The emotions serve as guidance signals, like from a GPS, as you feel your way toward a solution.

Another was explored explicitly in a post below:  All sorts of human concepts don’t have the precise definitions that allow a simple and dispassionate “yes or no” test for their application.  The comments on that post are well on their way to establishing we can’t even easily define “bachelor.”   Important legal terms like “cruel and unusual” have much  less chance of such definitions.

Brooks also maintains:

Sonia Sotomayor will be a good justice if she can empathize with the many types of people and actions involved in a case, but a bad justice if she can only empathize with one type, one ethnic group or one social class.

Lastly, Brooks emphasizes how important it is to be aware of the conflicting demands on one’s decisions and of the importance of knowing self-restraint.  These last two points could well make one quite sad, for we now have a Chief Justice who officially regards  himself as a totally disengaged observer, but whose decisions almost entirely side with powerful vested interests.  And we have a wonderful nominee whom many would like to derail in part because of her awareness that a judge cannot really be so disengaged.


We’ve had a series of posts on Sotomayor that readers might want to be aware of.

Odd Bedfellows

Lawyers Olson and Boies represented opposite opinions on the  2000 US presidential election.  But they are allies now on the subject of gay marriage. 



This is a soothing video to watch. 

The Need for Rape-Free Gadgets

This is really important:

In the Congo, explains Eve Ensler, militias use rape to fracture communities and the threat of sexual violence to coerce slave labor to mine coltan (a colloquial name for columbite-tantalite ore) which is used to produce capacitors that power cell phones, iPods, and other gadgets.
“We create those atrocities through our consumption,” says Ensler.
She is proposing that electronics manufacturers and their customers—us—began to concern themselves with the notion of “Rape-Free” products in which the raw, mineral components of consumer electronics are traced back to sources that can be verified to have procured them ethically. (She allows that “Rape-Free” is probably not a moniker that would be comfortable plastered on boxes and signs.)

Thanks, Mr Jender.