Thursday, May 17, 2007

Interesting paper.

Still not sure how I might respond to this one. Watch the presentation below, and read the paper here. Quite intriguing.

Community and activism.

I don't buy the central premise of this post at POGGE, namely that activism is fading/failing in Canada (and the US, too) because we don't have real communities. I think part of the problem is that the poster -- Purple Library Guy -- conflates a necessary and a sufficient condition. His claim should be, if read literally, that real communities are necessary for activism (if you don't have one, you don't have activism), but, reading through the comments, it seems that he finds it sufficient (if you have one, then activism will follow) -- possibly it's supposed to be necessary and sufficient, but it's not clear.

To the point, community is really neither necessary nor sufficient for activism. That it's not sufficient is obvious (or, at least, I thought so). If a community has no (significant) problems, then activism will not result. That it's not necessary is not as obvious. Consider this, though: in order for activism to really take hold and have genuine impact, what's required are a goal (the whatever it is that the activists are trying to achieve), a plan (how they're going to achieve it) and coordination (to follow the plan). All three can arise without a community -- I can conjure up the first two just sitting here, and I can coordinate action across large numbers of people with a couple of guns -- so, for community to have a role to play, it must be that all three can only simultaneously exist in a real community. But, as just suggested, that's not true either: a guy with a purpose and a plan and a couple of guns can engage in a kind of activism.

Of course, it would be objected that this is beside the point. Good or lasting activism comes out of community involvement, not out of dominance by a gun-wielding maniac. Maybe (although it looks like an empirical, not an armchair a priori, point now). However, once it's admitted that what activism, of any kind, needs is a goal, a plan and coordination, it then follows that lack of community is the least of the problems facing the left in Canada (or the US).

First, there's no goal. Or, rather, there's a bunch of goals and no one really knows which one is more important. I believe Jon Stewart mocked this at one point, playing a clip of a speaker at a rally who reeled off a series of leftist points (from "End the war!" to "Free Tibet!") without direction or organization. It's pretty clear -- at least to me -- that if you don't have a pretty good idea of what you're trying to achieve, then you're not going to be able to figure out how to get it; and, if you can't figure out how to get it, you're not going to get it. The right seems to have grasped this one, but the left seems unable to articulate a single vision.

Second, there's no plan. Say the goal is getting the NDP elected to a majority government. (I'm no Dipper; it's just an example.) How do we do that? Say the goal is reforming healthcare. How do we do that? I've previously articulated the difference between goal and plan as the difference between principle and policy: it's not enough to know what you want to do and why it's good to do it, you also need at least some understanding of how to pull together all the various people and organizations that currently exist and could be brought into existence in order to achieve the goal. Without that, you're flailing; and it seems to me that the left is doing just that. (So, I suppose, there's two levels of flailing: in search of a goal and in search of a plan. I have this image of a guy carrying an armload of signs, all with different slogans, standing at a crossroads and spinning.)

Third, there's no coordination. This is primarily a Canadian problem. The left in other parts of the world seems to have its shit together, and can organize demonstrations (for example) in pretty short order. When was the last time there was a leftist demonstration of any significance on Parliament Hill? We bitch on blogs, but we don't get together to actually do anything. It's easy to blame this on the size of the country and the physical distance between us, but Washington, DC is pretty far from most of the US, and Americans seem to be able to get together every once in a while. While we're at least not flailing with regard to coordinating our activity, that seems only because there isn't much activity to speak of.

I'd suggest, further, that once we solve these three problems, then we would be creating a community. That is, while community may be necessary for good and lasting activism, it's a necessary consequence not a necessary condition. Having a goal, a plan, and coordination is what makes a community exist.

(And, for what it's worth, if I had any ideas on how to solve any of these problems I wouldn't be writing this, I'd be out implementing them.)

Bestiality and pedophilia.

Here is a short piece by Peter Singer defending bestiality; and here is a response by William Saletan.

Singer's argument is pretty straightforward. Humans are basically animals themselves. So, there's nothing obviously wrong (in the sense of undignified) with having sex with an animal, unless the animal or the human is being harmed. But that's not necessarily the case. So, bestiality can be justified.

Saletan's response is also pretty straightforward. He sees, correctly, that he can't touch Singer on the harm issue. So he moves to consent instead, and tries to argue that animals can't (in any meaningful sense) consent to sexual activity with humans. As Saletan notes, this leaves the problem of figuring out why it's okay to eat meat: surely animals don't consent to that, either. So, consent can't be the whole story; but, rather than flesh out this concern, Saletan takes an odd detour into concerns about pedophilia. He claims that those who defend consent as a necessary condition for sexual activity can consistently reject both bestiality and pedophilia, as neither animals nor children can (meaningfully) consent. However, he claims that since Singer has, repeatedly, claimed that animals and children can have comparable (particularly, mental) capacities, it would seem that Singer must endorse pedophilia.

I think Saletan's clearly barking up the wrong tree -- I couldn't resist -- on the pedophilia issue. Singer can always fall back on harm. It's very, very dubious that sexual activity between adults and children is ever not harmful to the child. It's logically possible, I suppose; but if the logical possibility never obtains in fact, then who cares? It's a theoretical dangler, of little to no interest.

The more interesting approach to the pedophilia problem with respect to Singer is his argument that we can't draw any kind of a line between ourselves and even the bulk of other animals, because there's no clear division, biologically, between humans and apes, or apes and primates, or primates and other mammals, etc. Similarly, though, there's no clear division between adults and children. Legally, there is a line, but I don't know off-hand of anyone who thinks that the line so drawn is anything other than arbitrary. (If you think it isn't, I'd like to know why it couldn't be moved, say, a month in either direction.) The only way I can see to get out of the problem is to either (a) bite the bullet and admit that pedophilia is morally permissible (a horrible result, but a possible move), or (b) fall back on an analysis in terms of paradigms instead of lines.

Let me explain. When doing some good ol'-fashioned conceptual analysis, there's always different ways one could proceed. One way is to try to draw sharp lines between different categories of things, sometimes by defining categories in terms of species and genus (Aristotle, if I recall correctly; those aren't the biological uses of the terms, incidentally), sometimes by defining categories in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. That method falls apart whenever there's a fuzzy case, though. It has to fall clearly into one category or the other, but which and why? Another method, though, is to proceed by paradigms, i.e., to identify a selection of cases which clearly fall on one side of the line, and a selection which clearly fall on the other. This allows for the possibility of indeterminate cases -- they're simply insufficiently paradigmatic for judgements about similarity to paradigms to decide the matter. That's not a nice result, but it's not a disaster.

I think something like that can be applied here. There doesn't have to be some special human dignity to divide humans from animals, nor does there have to be a clear demarcation between adults and children. Clearly, a 9-year-old is a child; clearly, a 45-year-old is an adult. A severely developmentally-delayed 29-year-old may qualify as a child, due to resembling the 9-year-old more than the 45-year-old. A 16-year-old may sufficiently resemble both the 9-year-old and the 45-year-old that it qualifies as an indeterminate case. That would solve the pedophilia problem, for Singer could claim (and test, empirically) that children (those that resemble the paradigm of the 9-year-old) are harmed by sexual activity with adults (those that resemble the paradigm of the 45-year-old).

So far, so good. This also introduces a way to divide humans from animals -- an animal is something that resembles chipmunks and spiders and bears, a human is something that resembles me and you, and dolphins or chimps may be sufficiently borderline to count as indeterminate. Since Singer is still deploying a harm criterion, unless it could be demonstrated (which it probably can't) that everything that's clearly in the animal category is harmed by sexual activity with anything that's in the human category, it would still follow that bestiality is okay.

Thus, then, Singer can be saved from Saletan's critique. Generally, though, I don't buy most of Singer's arguments on anything. Singer is the kind of philosopher who latches on to a couple of principles and tries to run their consequences as far as he can. That's not the way I work; I tend to use a whole network of principles, rules of thumb, and ideas more nebulous than that. The idea of human dignity and its connection to sex -- that Singer just chucks out -- seems to be something that needs discussion and augmentation, and would probably serve to supplant Singer's harm criterion. So, that would probably lead to a very different conclusion on the permissibility of bestiality.

HSAs and women.

I found this by Ezra Klein pretty interesting. According to him [Disclaimer: I didn't follow the link to see if he's accurately reporting the results.], a group of medical researchers at Harvard ran the numbers on male vs. female healthcare spending, only to find that HSAs advantage men over women. The issue is that, apparently, women need routine procedures (mammograms, for example) which are relatively costly, while men incur greater costs for serious illnesses and physical traumas. So, chances are, if you're a dude, you're not going to spending much money at the doctor's; while if you're a chick, chances are you will.

I'm not sure what I necessarily think about it (I just found the result interesting). It seems you could easily flip it around, though. If you put everyone under an insurance plan which took payments on the basis solely of ability to pay, then it seems to follow that men will disproportionately be funding the healthcare costs of the women -- so, we flip from misogyny to misandry. This is possibly justifiable on the basis that men tend to be advantaged economically (so they can afford it) as compared to women. That doesn't really look like a very strong argument, though; after all, discrimination is discrimination, isn't it?

So, overall, I'm not sure a gender bias is really avoidable when it comes to health insurance. Given that, though, then these data are no argument against HSAs, which just seems wrong. That they disadvantage women should be a bad thing. My general sense is that the latter system (ability to pay) is better, as it's blind to the gender of the insured in a way that the former (HSAs) system is not. Given that female biology isn't going to change any time soon, it follows that medicine for women will continue to cost more, on average, than medicine for men. However, the economic (and political and social...) conditions which produce more men in the higher income brackets are, in principle, changeable. (I suppose the biological conditions could be changed as well, but that looks a hell of a lot harder to me.) So, the misandristic consequence is really due to a historical accident, while the misogynistic consequence is due to natural features of human biology. It seems more right to punish (if that's the right word) men for being lucky than women for being women, so the misandristic consequence is no bad thing.

As said, though, I'm not totally sure what I think of all this. It's an interesting empirical claim, 'tis all.


This is inspired, in part, by this over at Sadly, No!.

The relationships between rights and citizenship, and citizenship and immigration, and rights and immigration (etc, etc) are, of course, far too complex to do justice to here. So, take this as a working-out of ideas, not as anything particularly sustained. But it strikes me as borderline xenophobic to try to move from "we owe more to citizens than to immigrants" (a perfectly legitimate partialism) to "there can be too much immigration" and "citizens get first dibs on the jobs". Call the partialism -> excess immigration move "argument #1" and the partialism -> jobs move "argument #2".

Argument #1 is actually the better one, insofar as the empirical claims it assumes are actually true. Argument #1 requires it be true that:
  • If immigration is increased beyond a threshold, x, then citizens will be harmed.
That claim, coupled with partialism, gets us the conclusion that there can be too much immigration. The problem is, though, that the truth of the claim is extremely questionable. It's by no means obvious that continually increasing immigration will harm citizens; and it's very likely false that continually increasing immigration will harm citizens simpliciter. That "simpliciter" is intended to mark the fact that the claim in question is true if and only if the background political and economic conditions remain fixed. (So, maybe it could easily be a "ceteris paribus".)

But why presume that? Certainly, if there were no fixed minimum wage, then an influx of immigrants would drive down wages (simple supply and demand calculation); but there are minimum wage laws. And that suggests that increased immigration, while it might lead to problems in one set of political and economic circumstances, doesn't have to in other circumstances. Since we can falsify the claim that argument #1 needs in order to go through, argument #1 is a bad argument.

Furthermore, we can go from partialism to the conclusion that immigration should be increased, as long as we vary the background conditions appropriately. In short, partialism on its own doesn't get you to any sort of limit on immigration -- it's empirical claims that get you there and, AFAIK, the data shows that you can favour or disfavour immigration largely at will.

On to argument #2, which is the worse one. I'm not entirely sure how to make it even go through: there seems to be an assumption in play that having access to jobs goes hand-in-hand with citizenship, but that's not actually true. Citizenship is sufficient for access to jobs, but it's not necessary, as people on work visas, landed immigrants, and permanent residents also have access to jobs. So, it has to be something like:
  • There is a hierarchy of access to jobs, ranking citizens first, then permanent residents, then landed immigrants, then those on visas, etc.
I don't see any reason to accept this claim as true, though. The point of something like a work visa is that it gives one access to the jobs market on an equal footing with citizens. Once you've cleared the legal hurdles to be granted the privilege to work in a given country, then everyone's (at least in principle) in a fair competition. There's no further ranking of people based on their status. (Putting aside, of course, the question of what to do with illegal immigrants.)

So, since that claim's implausible, how else to make the argument work? My only other thought is with this:
  • Citizens are harmed by not having jobs.
Given that claim, and partialism, then it might seem to follow that citizens should get first crack at the jobs -- but, actually, that doesn't follow at all. What really follows is that citizenry is a (possibly slight) reason in favour of someone's getting a job. If there were two exactly equal candidates, except that Candidate A was a citizen and Candidate B was a landed immigrant, then A's citizenry could be seen as a tie-breaker reason in A's favour. But, of course, that sort of situation rarely if ever obtains. Instead, employers are confronted by vastly unequal candidates; thus, any weight that would be afforded by citizenship would usually be overwhelmed by more salient reasons (e.g., formal qualifications, work experience, congeniality).

We could, of course, modify the partialism that's in play and simply define citizenship as presenting a more overwhelming reason than the minimal reading I've given it here. The consequences of doing so are clearly absurd, though. For example, if citizenship is more than just a tie-breaker reason, it would follow that when person A, a citizen, has a severe stomachache and person B, a landed immigrant, has a gunshot wound to the chest, we should weight A's need for medical treatment by his citizenship -- and thus possibly leave B to die, if A's suffering is sufficiently greater than B's. This result is absurd; so, I conclude that citizenship is, at best, a tie-breaking reason.

Given that citizenship is just a tie-breaking reason, though, then what is it worth? The answer, of course, is that citizenship isn't just a property which gives others reasons to treat us in particular ways; it also provides certain powers, not the least of which are the power to vote and the power to run for public office. The value of citizenship really resides in these two (I'd tend to favour the latter over the former).

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Torture porn.

This is gonna be it for today as my fingers are starting to hurt. (Note to self: not blogging for a week entails loss of manual stamina.)

Over here, Kira Cochrane, women's editor for the Guardian, claims that mainstream movies, particularly horror movies, are getting more violent and misogynistic. Methinks I have heard this argument before, dating back at least to the first Evil Dead movie (which I've never seen, actually; I've seen most of the first sequel and, of course, Army of Darkness). The way it's made is, however, extremely bad. She lumps together Hostel, Wolf Creek, Turistas, The Devil's Rejects and Grindhouse, claiming they all exhibit pointless and sexualized violence. She even calls them dehumanizing. She also cites a billboard campaign for an upcoming movie called Captivity, which apparently featured Elisha Cuthbert being progressively tortured and killed. She concludes by claiming that there's something wrong with calling the violence ironic or humorous.

(There's a couple of minor points that deserve mention. She blames Robert Rodriguez for the fact that in Sin City the women were basically either prostitutes or strippers, ignoring that Rodriguez was faithful to Frank Miller's original material, which was meant as an homage to pulp and noir. She claims that the Rapist Number One action figure (Tarantino's character in the Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse) is "for your kids", as if no adult would ever want to buy a toy version of a character that resembles a cult director. And only children buy the KISS dolls, too.)

There's many things wrong with the argument. First, as suggested above, this isn't new. Horror films have been blamed for misogynistic violence for a while. Society has yet to collapse. Draw your own conclusions.

Second, the films she mentions don't really go together. Grindhouse is a joke. No, really: it's just a joke. It's a tongue-in-cheek homage to a style of films that Rodriguez and Tarantino grew up watching. It has no plot to speak of, and the characters are completely flat. The whole point is long, elaborate set-ups for either shit to blow up real good (Planet Terror) or cars to go real fast (Death Proof). The trailers are also, entirely self-conscious, jokes. The Devil's Rejects is less of a joke, but still basically an homage. It's also, as I've blogged before [at least, I thought I had, but I can't find the post in my archives. Hmm...], really two movies in one: I don't think Rob Zombie could decide if he wanted to sympathetically treat his serial killer characters, or condemn them. Neither, though, fits as "torture porn". (I'll come back to the "irony" business in a bit.) I haven't seen the others, so can't really comment.

Third, she makes her points by overlooking the violence done against men. It does get a quick mention, but she tries to pass it off as "not sexualized". I dunno about that. The afore-mentioned Rapist Number One experiences some pretty gruesome damage to his genitalia: does that count? Furthermore, there isn't really a male parallel to rape; what, exactly, would count as sexualized violence equal to threatening a woman with rape? (Incidentally, to my recollection, both Grindhouse and The Devil's Rejects don't even imply rape, let alone depict it. At worst, it's threatened.)

And, finally, if you're out to horrify your audience -- and that's one meaning of "horror" -- threatening a female character, one that the audience sympathizes with, with rape is pretty good way to do it. (Unless your audience is the Manson Family or something, I suppose.) Taking Grindhouse, for example, I really wanted to see Tarantino's character get his ass kicked by Cherry (Rose McGowan) -- and he did, quite effectively. Similarly with Stuntman Mike in the Death Proof segment. Indeed, not only does Stuntman Mike bite it in the end, but he gets terrorized and then beaten to a pulp by three women whom he tried (and failed) to kill. Cochrane cites the many young, female victims depicted on CSI; but, assuming that she's right about the proportions, it just makes dramatic sense. Appealing to the chivalric impulses of the male audience strikes me as a pretty good way to build and keep an audience: they want to see the bad guy caught and get what he deserves.

Finally, the idea that there's something bad about being ironic about violence and death is highly obscure to me. If there were any way to connect the dots between these depictions and actually seeing violence as unimportant or morally permissible, then there might be sense to the claim. But, AFAIK, there's no connection ever been made. It's more likely, really, that the ironic distancing enhances the sense of unreality, the idea that what's being depicted on the screen is just fantasy, and would never be acceptable in reality.

So, what's wrong with sexualized violence against women? Far too much to mention. What's wrong with depicting it? Nothing that I can see, from a moral perspective. (Of course, you could make an aesthetic argument that such depictions are simply bad art. But that's not Cochrane's point.)

The value of education.

Barbara Ehrenreich, whom I normally like, has a weird little article on Alternet here. The background of it is that Merilee Jones, who was dean of admissions at MIT, lied about her academic credentials 28 years ago when she was hired. Thus, despite doing, by all reports, an excellent job, she was fired. Ehrenreich uses this as a jumping off point to -- criticize employers who place a higher value on paper than skills? No, sorry: to blame the academy:
But there are ways in which the higher education industry is becoming a racket: Buy our product or be condemned to life of penury, and our product can easily cost well over $100,000.
I hate the idea that a degree is a product, as I have said many times before. More than that, though, in this case I object to the claim that the academy is to blame for the "racket". I mean, really, how many professors have stood around corporate HR departments, forcing reps to hire only those with degrees? My money is on "none". The problem, really, is not even corporate, nor is it with employers; it's broadly social: there is a stigma attached to not having an undergraduate degree. Even if you're a skilled tradesperson, making six figures a year, you're somehow broadly seen as having settled for less. (I admit, I wouldn't want to do a plumber's job, because of the "ick" factor involved with sewage; but, then again, would a plumber want to do mine?)

The odd thing about this article is that while Ehrenreich sees that college isn't the only way to acquire important skills, she blames this on (as said) the academy, and employers wanting drudges and the desperate. No, seriously, she says that:
My theory is that employers prefer college grads because they see a college degree chiefly as mark of one's ability to obey and conform. ... Or maybe what attracts employers to college grads is the scent of desperation.
She also ignores the possibility that a college degree is not only socially worthy, but also a shortcut way of sifting through a stack of applications. Figuring out who has the skills to the do the job is time-consuming and difficult, and immediately culling everyone without a degree is a big time-saver. I'm not saying it's right, but it's certainly comprehensible from this perspective; the sinister conspiracy Ehrenreich sees is just bizarre. (Perhaps I'm missing the point and she was just joking?)

Incidentally, it's not just sour grapes on her part. She has a PhD in biology from Rockefeller University. So... I'm at a loss.

I'm equally at a loss to explain the viciousness with which Stephen Moss attacks Oxford here. He calls it an "exam factory", mocks the short terms and lack of detailed examination of topics. He also suggests that 18 and 19 year-olds should do something other than go to university, and that humanities can't be taught in universities. It's pretty stupid, really, and looks like little more than a case of Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Universities aren't to blame for people who have bad educational experiences. There is such a thing as a mismatch between the person and the institution, and institutional clout isn't always the best way to decide where to go. Every undergraduate degree is pretty much equal, unless you're planning on graduate work (and even then, I think reputation effects get a bit exaggerated). If you're not studying something you're interested in, then that's really up to you to change; if your profs aren't challenging you enough, there's no rule that says you can't do more than you're required to. University is, when it works, an unparalleled opportunity to have access to people who know a hell of a lot more about something than you do. If you don't take advantage of it, why is it supposed to be the university's fault?

The rule of law and the strong executive.

Harvey Mansfield makes a simple bizarre argument here against the rule of law and in favour of a strong executive. (He means, of course, in the US system.) I'm going to fisk it, as I think it's the best way for me to figure out exactly what I find so disturbing about it. I warn ye, gentle reader, that it's long, so you may be in for a bit of a read. Into the breach:
Complaints against the "imperial presidency" are back in vogue. With a view to President Bush, the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. expanded and reissued the book of the same name he wrote against Richard Nixon, and Bush critics have taken up the phrase in a chorus. In response John Yoo and Richard Posner (and others) have defended the war powers of the president.
Not off to a great start. Dick Posner is the guy who tried to argue moral theory was worthless, but didn't talk about any actual moral theories. (Right here.) Skipping a bit...
Its flexibility keeps it in its original form and spirit a "living constitution," ready for change, and open to new necessities and opportunities. The "living constitution" conceived by the Progressives actually makes it a prisoner of ongoing events and perceived trends.
WTF? The drive-by slam against one view of a "living constitution" is really strange; for it to follow the claim that the US Constitution is already "living" is even weirder. The Constitution hasn't been significantly changed in almost forty years (no, the 27th Amendment doesn't count as "significant"). So, in what sense, exactly, is it "living"? Mansfield never explains.
To explain the constitutional debate between the strong executive and the rule of law I will concentrate on its sources in political philosophy and, for greater clarity, ignore the constitutional law emerging from it.

The case for a strong executive should begin from a study, on this occasion a quick survey, of the American republic. The American republic was the first to have a strong executive that was intended to be republican as well as strong, and the success, or long life, of America's Constitution qualifies it as a possible model for other countries. Modern political science beginning from Machiavelli abandoned the best regime featured by classical political science because the best regime was utopian or imaginary. Modern political scientists wanted a practical solution, and by the time of Locke, followed by Montesquieu, they learned to substitute a model regime for the best regime; and this was the government of England. The model regime would not be applicable everywhere, no doubt, because it was not intended to be a lowest common denominator. But it would show what could be done in the best circumstances.
This is just wrong. This reading of world politics in the modern age basically brushes over the staggering racism that underlies the term "model regime". That a particular group of people were, somehow, not able to live in the "model" society was used in the colonial era to justify frankly brutal oppression. Furthermore, Mansfield's reading of classical politics is just false: Plato's Laws, for example, is widely held to be a classic of political philosophy, and yet is stridently non-utopian. (Unlike Republic -- which, FWIW, may only be an allegory -- Laws discusses procedures and policies specific to running a Greek city-state like Athens.)
The American Founders had the ambition to make America the model regime, taking over from England. This is why they showed surprising respect for English government, the regime they had just rebelled against. America would not only make a republic for itself, but teach the world how to make a successful republic and thus improve republicanism and save the reputation of republics.
And how's that working out for ya?
For previous republics had suffered disastrous failure, alternating between anarchy and tyranny, seeming to force the conclusion that orderly government could come only from monarchy, the enemy of republics. Previous republics had put their faith in the rule of law as the best way to foil one-man rule. The rule of law would keep power in the hands of many, or at least a few, which was safer than in the hands of one. As the way to ensure the rule of law, Locke and Montesquieu fixed on the separation of powers. They were too realistic to put their faith in any sort of higher law; the rule of law would be maintained by a legislative process of institutions that both cooperated and competed.
Locke didn't put his faith in a higher law? Is he kidding? Or does he just not know anything about Locke? The whole theory of property -- namely, that we own what we mix our labour with -- hinges on the idea that we own ourselves, which Locke purchases by claiming we are something God mixed his labour with. God then gave us to ourselves, which granted us self-ownership, which allows us to autonomously own other things. And this is his example of someone who doesn't believe in a higher law? To make matters worse, it's not at all clear from Locke's writings that he cared about the rule of law or keeping away tyranny. That's a Popperian conceit (see The Open Society and Its Enemies, particularly volume 1). Locke's aim was to ensure that government is constituted such that the governed have consented to their government (which gets him into a mess vis-a-vis "tacit consent", but never mind).
Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws."
This is stupid. Has he not read Hart? (The Concept of Law, that is.) Laws are imperfect, but vague, and thus perfectible through the application of judicial discretion.
The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.
True enough, but, again, this is something Hart covers in much better terms than Mansfield. According to Hart, in order for law to be followed, a select group within a society must adopt the "internal perspective" on the primary rules that govern society. (A "primary rule" is basically a "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not". Not his words, but it's a good analogy, I think.) The internal perspective amounts to this group taking the laws to be rules governing everyone's behaviour. There must also be, in addition to this group, secondary rules: rules of recognition (what counts as a law), rules of enforcement (what to do when a law is broken), and rules of (I think) revision (how to change a law). Beyond that, Hart falls back on morality as the enforcement mechanism -- a solution not everyone is happy about, but one I'm content with.

The point is that the issue of obeying the law is one that has been addressed extensively, and the idea that force through police is what we must conclude is absurd.
The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.
Too bad Machiavelli was wrong. There's really no reason to suppose that humans are generally so self-interested (and so narrowly self-interested) that they will have greatest incentive to enforce law only when their own power is at stake.

Since I think that this, ultimately, is where I believe Mansfield goes off the rails, I'm going to be jumping more often from now on. So, skipping ahead again...
Yet the executive subordinated to the rule of law is in danger of being subordinate to the legislature. This was the fault in previous republics. When the separation of powers was invented in 17th-century England, the purpose was to keep the executive subordinate; but the trouble was the weakness of a subordinate executive. He could not do his job, or he could do his job only by overthrowing or cowing the legislature, as Oliver Cromwell had done. John Locke took the task in hand, and made a strong executive in a manner that was adopted by the American Founders.
Oh, lord... a subordinate executive is a problem? Only if we take Mansfield's terms as given, namely that the only way to enforce law and apply law is through a single "strong man". But this just looks like a failure of imagination on Mansfield's part, as well as an empirical failure to comprehend (or even try to) the motivations behind people's political actions.
Locke was a careful writer, so careful that he did not care if he appeared to be a confused writer. In his "Second Treatise of Government" he announces the supremacy of the legislature, which was the slogan of the parliamentary side in the English Civil War, as the principle that should govern a well-made constitution. But as the argument proceeds, Locke gradually "fortifies" (to use James Madison's term) the executive. Locke adds other related powers to the subordinate power of executing the laws: the federative power dealing with foreign affairs, which he presents as conceptually distinct from the power of executing laws but naturally allied; the veto, a legislative function; the power to convoke the legislature and to correct its representation should it become corrupt; and above all, the prerogative, defined as "the power of doing public good without a rule." Without a rule! Even more: "sometimes too against the direct letter of the law." This is the very opposite of law and the rule of law--and "prerogative" was the slogan of the king's party in the same war.
What Mansfield ignores, though -- and this is where his earlier misreading of Locke is crucial -- is that Locke ultimately drops his whole moral and political theory onto God's shoulders. Even if an executive goes against the law, he nonetheless must comply, in Locke's system, with the moral and divine laws. Else, basically, he's fucked. I sincerely doubt that Locke was trying to give the executive carte blanche to do as he pleased.

Skipping some sloppy logic...
The test of good government was what was necessary to all government. Necessity was put to the fore. In the first papers of the Federalist, necessity took the form of calling attention to the present crisis in America, caused by the incompetence of the republic established by the Articles of Confederation. The crisis was both foreign and domestic, and it was a crisis because it was urgent. The face of necessity, the manner in which it first appears and is most impressive, is urgency--in Machiavelli's words, la necessità che non da tempo (the necessity that allows no time). And what must be the character of a government's response to an urgent crisis? Energy. And where do we find energy in the government? In the executive. Actually, the Federalist introduces the need for energy in government considerably before it associates energy with the executive. To soothe republican partisans, the strong executive must be introduced by stages.
See what he's done here? By defining away -- that is, by argumentative fiat -- any possible source of "energy" (by which, I maintain, he means the ultimate ability to enforce and apply the law) than the strong man, Mansfield has pretty much guaranteed his result. It has more than a whiff of principio principii, though.

Here's another assumption working under the surface that I have a problem with: the idea that there has to be some "ultimate" solution to this problem (assuming it's a problem). Even if we can't, in theory, resolve the problem of political stability in any set way, it doesn't follow from that that we have some sort of concrete political problem. We could, but it may turn out that we don't. I think Mansfield is conflating the two: he's identifying a longstanding issue in philosophy of law and political philosophy, and trying to argue that an actual constitution has to contain some solution to the problem. But that's not so; it's an abstract problem which, if it could be solved, should be codified, but the lack of codification doesn't obviously have any necessary impact on the practical political realm.
One should not believe that a strong executive is needed only for quick action in emergencies, though that is the function mentioned first. A strong executive is requisite to oppose majority faction produced by temporary delusions in the people. For the Federalist, a strong executive must exercise his strength especially against the people, not showing them "servile pliancy." Tocqueville shared this view. Today we think that a strong president is one who leads the people, that is, one who takes them where they want to go, like Andrew Jackson. But Tocqueville contemptuously regarded Jackson as weak for having been "the slave of the majority." Again according to the Federalist, the American president will likely have the virtue of responsibility, a new political virtue, now heard so often that it seems to be the only virtue, but first expounded in that work.
This much is true, but how a strong man executive, who imposes his own will, can ever do more than dominate the people (herd them, rather than lead them) is highly obscure, at best. Skipping...
"Responsibility" is not mere responsiveness to the people; it means doing what the people would want done if they were apprised of the circumstances. Responsibility requires "personal firmness" in one's character, and it enables those who love fame--"the ruling passion of the noblest minds"--to undertake "extensive and arduous enterprises."
Oh, god. Now he's invoked an ideal preferences theory. I'm not the only philosopher (or philosopher-in-training) who thinks that there's something deeply wrong with ideal preferences theories, particularly (in my case) the assumption that people, even in ideal circumstances, which just converge on one discrete set of preferences. It just doesn't seem that likely, even when we introduce massive abstractions (such as those operating in Rawls' original position). Skipping again...
This admiration for presidents extends beyond politics into society, in which Americans, as republicans, tolerate, and appreciate, an amazing amount of one-man rule. The CEO (chief executive officer) is found at the summit of every corporation including universities. I suspect that appreciation for private executives in democratic society was taught by the success of the Constitution's invention of a strong executive in republican politics.
This is sheer bullshit. CEOs can be overthrown by boards, and university presidents have fairly limited powers. If the analogy were to hold, then his "strong man" is more like a Prime Minister than a President. Skipping...
The lesson for us should be that circumstances are much more important for free government than we often believe. Civil liberties are for majorities as well as minorities, and no one should be considered to have rights against society whose exercise would bring society to ruin. The usual danger in a republic is tyranny of the majority, because the majority is the only legitimate dominant force. But in time of war the greater danger may be to the majority from a minority, and the government will be a greater friend than enemy to liberty. Vigilant citizens must be able to adjust their view of the source of danger, and change front if necessary. "Civil liberties" belong to all, not only to the less powerful or less esteemed, and the true balance of liberty and security cannot be taken as given without regard to the threat. Nor is it true that free societies should be judged solely by what they do in quiet times; they should also be judged by the efficacy, and the honorableness, of what they do in war in order to return to peace.
This is a series of howlingly bad inferences. The minority is a danger to the majority? How? Particularly considering that, in any democracy, the majority always has the power to force oppressive policies on the minority (checked only by the constitution, de jure, but nothing seems to check the majority, de facto). That "civil liberties" belong to all seems to be a covert way of telling the minority to shut up if they feel they are being unjustly repressed or dominated. And while it's certainly true that free societies should be judged by their actions in war, the idea is, I think, that the judgements of the minority on the persecution of a war are somehow less valid than those of the majority.

Strictly speaking, Mansifled doesn't say any of the above. He doesn't really say anything, which is why the inferences are, technically, bad ones. But there's something going on under the surface which is justifying his claims here, and I strongly suspect that it's a dishonest way of trying to justify oppressive structures -- dishonest because he doesn't come right out and say he's trying to justify oppression. But, really, what else would make sense of the ideas that the minority is a danger to the majority, that civil liberties "apply to all", and that how societies prosecute war is as important as how they act in peace?

I'll skip the rest, as I'm disgusted with what I see here. Is this really the best political scientists can come up with? (I think he's a political scientist, but I can't seem to find what his doctorate is actually in.) If he wants to justify tyrannical and oppressive government, surely he should just do so, rather than dishonestly pretending to be defending some virtues of American democracy.

Don't ask me what I do!

What Jonathan Wolff said. Hey, I laughed.

Basketball and race.

This is sort of interesting; the NYT discusses a study (not yet published) that purports to show a slight bias in NBA officiating on the basis of race. That is, white refs call fouls on black players more often than white players; and black refs call fouls on white players more often than black players. (At least, I think that's the conclusion; the article isn't totally clear on the claim that was tested.) The NBA has supposedly done a study that reaches the opposite conclusion, but because they won't release the data for independent confirmation, this is little more than PR.

That said, here's a quick reply from Nicholas Beaudrot (here):
  • It's possible ... and I say this having not read the paper ... that fouls per 48 minutes is not the proper rate state to examine. It would be interesting to examine only fouls during the act of shooting, to see if black players are called for more fouls in the act of shooting fouls against players in the act of shooting than white players.
  • It's also possible, though unlikely, that ... how to say this delicately ... African-American players and white players play the game differently, which accounts for the slight difference in foul rates.
  • An increase in fouls of 2.5-4.5% per 48 minutes for African-American players is incredibly low. If state troopers only stopped black drivers 5% more often than white drivers we would be crowing about the incredible reduction of racial profiling.
I'm not sure about the first point; it's sufficiently technical to be beyond my expertise. As for the second, we'd have to see the paper to really tell if they controlled for this or not. The third, though, is the kicker: this is a tiny bias. What it says, if the result can be repeated (which, if -- big if -- the NBA study holds up, it can't) is that officiating is generally fairer than other areas of society where racial bias is a problem. So, really, the question should be: what are NBA refs doing right?

Religion on campus.

I despair. According to this, religious activity is growing, not fading, on US college campuses. Personally, I blame society.

On a more serious note, though, shit like this underscores how important it is for the godless and proud to keep kicking away at the awful edifice that is religion. If even increased education isn't a sufficient shield, then we have to find other ways to keep this nonsense from spreading.

Incidentally, would it have killed the NYT to find an atheist to point out that this is a bad trend? Y'know, in keeping with the he-said, she-said school of "journalism".

Digg implosion.

Man, last night's Digg-swarm was funny. Quick collection of links:The short version is that someone on some relatively obscure forum posted the encryption key for some HD DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. This was then, repeatedly, Dugg (Aside: is that the past tense of Digg? Or should it be Digged?) and, without warning, taken off the Digg mainpage. This, unsurprisingly, produced a revolt in the community, with the consequence that the Digg admins waved the white flag due to their inability to keep articles containing the key off the front page.

Some funny things. First, the knowledge of the key is apparently not new. Second, it's a fucking hexadecimal string: it's a number. Yet, the Digg admins are apparently worried that they can be successfully sued for posting a number. Third, they're idiots: the first post they took down had 15,000+ Diggs -- did they really think no one would notice when that vanished?

On the whole, I think it's funny as hell. You can't possibly copyright, trademark, or otherwise protect a number; nor can you prevent it from being distributed. By way of example, I give you this cat. And also, this label.

What's wrong with Mojo.

Okay, I like Stuck Mojo and have for years. (First album = 1996's Pigwalk.) So, I say this with trepidation: but I think Rich Ward (guitarist, singer, mainman) may be a racist. This is not in any way an aesthetic condemnation, incidentally; but it does suggest a reconsideration of a lot of his output.

Basically, the situation is this. Stuck Mojo's newest album, which is available for free download at their website, has a song on it called "Open Season". Pretty standard for Mojo; if you've heard of them before, you'll recognize the style immediately. (Aside: that would be my biggest aesthetic knock against the album. It all sounds like what I've heard before.) There's also a video for it floating around on YouTube. Problem is, looking just at the lyrics, it's hard not to see it as claiming that all Muslims are inherently evil:
... Claiming that you're a religion of peace, We just don't believe you, We can clearly see through, The madness that you're feeding your people, Jihad the cry of your unholy war, Using the willing, the weak and poor, From birth drowning in propaganda, rhetoric and slander, All we can say is damn ya ... I don't need a faith that's blind, Where death and hate bring me peace of mind, With views that are stuck deep in the seventh century, So much sand in your eyes to blind to see, The venom that you leaders preach, Is the path to your own destruction, Your own demise, You might say that I don't understand but your disgust for me is what I realize, Surprise! Your homicidal ways has got the whole world watching, Whole world scoping, So if you bring it to my home base, Best believe it, The season's open ...
Etc, etc. The video is a little better, as the images aren't of Muslims generally but Jihadists. A representative of CAIR (The Council on American Islamic Relations) made an oblique and condemning reference to it (which is a bitch to find; it's here, but I had to go through (*gag*) LittleGreenFootballs to find it), and Rich tries to defend himself here.

Here are the problems, though. As said, CAIR may have gotten the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the video, but the lyrics are pretty ambiguous between both interpretations (i.e., all Muslims are bad and deserve to die vs. Jihadists are bad and deserve to die). The comments on the House of the Ward forum are also pretty ambiguous, for the most part, but some are also quite vicious (e.g., on the second page, the commentators who suggest shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood). Ward is also clearly enjoying the support of LGF and others of the American right-wing psychosphere, so there's a connection (of some kind) between himself and pretty vicious racists. And Mojo has a rep (which I previously thought undeserved) for sometimes extreme right-wing political views.

This is thin, I know, which is why I hedged the claim above as Ward may be a racist. He may also be, unthinkingly, buying into the dominant myth in the US: clash of civilizations, war on TERRAH~!!, Muslims = evil and Christians = good, the same old shit we've heard before. He may also believe inconsistent things (e.g., Muslims are generally okay, but Muslims are also evil and deserve to be killed). The former is the possibility that troubles me.