Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Study: Bush Supporters are Indeed Mentally Ill?

Like most articles that appear in the science section of the newspaper, broadcasting some new finding of a study, e.g. eating fast food makes you obese and eliciting a big "duh" from many of us, the New Haven Advocate just published Christopher Lohse's study (a master's student in Social Work) and found a link between psychotics and Bush supporters.

A collective “I told you so” will ripple through the world of Bush-bashers once news of Christopher Lohse’s study gets out.

Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

The study used Modified General Assessment Functioning, or MGAF, a 100-point scale that measures the functioning of disabled patients. A second scale, developed by Rakfeldt, was also used. Knowledge of current issues, government and politics were assessed on a 12-item scale devised by the study authors.

“Bush supporters had significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry,” the study says.

Lohse says the trend isn’t unique to Bush: A 1977 study by Frumkin & Ibrahim found psychiatric patients preferred Nixon over McGovern in the 1972 election.

Rakfeldt says the study was legitimate, though not intended to show what it did.

“Yes it was a legitimate study but these data were mined after the fact,” Rakfeldt says. “You can ask new questions of the data. I haven’t looked at” Lohse’s conclusions regarding Bush, Rakfeldt says.

“That doesn’t make it illegitimate, it just wasn’t part of the original project.”

For his part, Lohse is a self-described “Reagan revolution fanatic” but said that W. is just “beyond the pale.”

Hat Tip: Ricardo.

What the F***!

So, my WS class is having a nice little discussion of Ken Burn's documentary, Not For Ourselves Alone. In case you haven't seen this documentary, it features Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and their heroic struggle to get women the vote.

Anyway, I got to tell ya, I need to vent. And, let me just say that I know my venting will piss off some people, who will see me as a pious moralizer, but I am venting to the sympathetic ones. I ask the students what they think of the film? Luckily, I get a lot of wonderful responses. And, then, it happens, a student raises her hand and says: I think the point of this film is that Stanton and Anthony gave me the right to not vote.

Look. I am sure many people feel this way. But. Please. Don't. Say. That. Outloud.

Another student raises her hand and says: "I am 19 and I haven't even registered yet."

Then, like a flood, they confess. They confess that they don't really care. They confess that it is nice to have the right, but they don't need to exercise it. And, just when I thought I have heard more than enough, they start letting it all come out . . . "You know, when I watch films like this it just makes me feel guilty. I feel like I am supposed to do something like them. But, what if I want to stay home with my children." I respond, as I have all semester, "raising children is important work. Feminists value motherhood as much as you do. The point is that the fact you have to either make heroic struggles to juggle them both, or feel guilted into one or the other is something we need to change."

The conversation moves onto the ERA. Students start asking about the history of the ERA and what happened. A young man in the back row of my class raises his hand and says: "You know, in principle, the ERA sounds great. But, I looked into this and if we had the ERA, we would have to get rid of Sororities and Fraternities and single-sex schools." Upon hearing this, many were convinced that the ERA would not be a good idea. I held my tongue. I had to hold my tongue. I am not campaigning in the classroom.

I started thinking about these sorts of reactions we get from students, the heightened apathy. Or, the "well, that sounds like a good idea, but it just isn't 'practical'" variety. What the fuck? I can't figure out if they are just too privileged to care about inequality, or that they are overwhelmed with the sorts of demands caring would make on their lifestyle. In either case, there is not point obsessing on this. After all, this is how students are here and it is how they will continue to be.

So, how do I console myself now. Simple. After a long faculty meeting wherein it was made plain that a great deal of our operating budget comes from overenrolling students who can pay their way, a lightening bolt hit. 2 students--2 glorious, curious, hard-working and ambitious students--get their way paid for by 30 apathetic, eye-rolling, "do I have to do something?" students. If you can just keep that algorithm in mind, you can sleep better at night.

(Can you tell it's the end of the semester?)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Women Know Your Limits!

Women: Know your limits

Hat Tip: Kriscinda.

I Like "Soft" Philosophy

I would be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed with Rebecca Goldstein's lecture last night. Part of my dissapointment is irrational, and the other part is more rooted in a fundamental disagreement over the goals, methods and purpose of Philosophy. First the irrational: she begun her talk by disclaiming that she was not Renee Feuer in The Mind-Body Problem. Fine. I should know better. In fact, I have never really liked meeting authors in person. (I don't even like meeting what I think are fantastic Philosphers in person). Goldstein is right that what a good novelist should do is enchant the reader and she did that. When you meet an author and she tells you what's what, why she wrote this book, what her true views are, well, you short of break the spell. That is part of what happened.

I am not sure I consciously thought she was Renee; I certainly didn't attend the talk to ask her "are you Renee." But, the fact she lead with this disclaimer sort of threw me off from the beginning. Furthermore, she made this disclaimer in a way that I found haughty. She begun by saying: "I am not Renee. I was a happy and successful student at Princeton. And, I was temperamentally suited for the kind Analytic philosophy that was done at Princeton. I was very narrow. I hadn't read any philosophy before 1879, which was when Frege published his foundations of mathematics." Ick. Ok, so she made it clear, right off the bat, that she was a successful and beloved Princeton student.

Later on she argued that every character in a novel is part of the writer; the writer has find her way into the character's psychology. [Side note: had I more time or inclination, I might have pointed out for her how interesting her observations are on the process of writing and hearing character is to bringing us closer to resolving the "problem of other minds." After all the mind-body problem is one of those interminable problems plaguing philosophers and what a fascinating insight that novelists seem quite capable of "thinking like X" (an allusion to Nagel's What Is It Like To Think Like a Bat)]. Goldstein also remarked that she wrote the novel at a time of great tumult and tragedy in her life. Her father had died, she was a new mother, and she started asking herself the forbidden question "what is the meaning of life?" These were just odd and interesting observations.

The real source of my disappointment was with her rigid definitions of what Philosophy is, what it does, and what sort of questions it should restrict itself too. For Goldstein, writing novels was not only something quite distinct from doing Philosophy, but it was a source of embarrassment to her among her colleagues. Goldstein clings to the Analytic tradition and thereby asserts that all arguments should be narrow, tight and, I imagine, require the tools of mathematical logic. She confesssed that she is temperamentally a mathematician and therefore prefers solving problems, rather than getting lost in impossible metaphysical questions. (I don't tend to see these as the only two options left to us philosophers).

I, like Goldstein, started in the sciences. I left for Philosophy when my questions outgrew the tools of Chemistry. But, where we differ temperamentally is how we view what Philosophers do, more importantly what they ought to do. I don't see literature and philosophy as opposed to each other. I don't think literature is "soft," while philosophy is "hard," to use her adjective. In fact, if nothing else, I think her talk was a compelling defense of why literature is one of the most profound tools available to philosophers. In literature we engage in a dialogue with the novelist over matters of importance, we glean important insights into other minds, we make sense of the profoundly complicated nature of moral decisions, and, lastly, we find companions for our deepest searches for meaning.

If literature is too messy, too open ended to be counted as "hard" Philosophy, then give me "soft" Philosophy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Do Your Civic Duty Today

Sign this petition calling for a dismantling of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Do you need reasons:

(1) NCLB has not improved public school education.

(2) The most talented teachers are leaving public education precisely because of the straightjacket this act puts them in.

(3) NCLB does not give incentives to students to improve their performance. They are, after all not judged, the teacher is.

(4) NCLB gives incentives to teachers to "cheat" and give their students the key to the standardized tests.

(5) NCLB turns learning into a wholly instrumental act; teachers simply "teach the test." Education used to be one of our most important civic institutions for cultivating valued traits such as discipline, hardwork, creativity, autonomy, and civic engagement. NCLB perverts this admirable goal and sends a message that education is a "hoop" one has to jump through.

(6) NCLB cuts funding for the arts.

Feel free to add more reasons in the comments . . .

Existentialism is Wasted on the Youth

You know, existentialism is wasted on the youth. I don't mean the Jean-Paul Sartre variety. They dig that. And, oh well, yes, they find Nietzsche to be pretty hip too. But, the general gist of existentialism.

Take this passage from Albert Camus, wherein he describes one's confrontation with the absurd:

It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Mondy Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm--this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the 'why' arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.

I read this passage to my Intro students and asked them if they have ever found themselves reflecting on the seeming drudgery of their days. Why attend Gettysburg? Why study Biology? Why go to Dental School? I thought, at this time in the semester, they must be confronting the absurd. Now, of course, before asking them this question, I took away their crutch. "Don't tell me that you are using the talents God gave you and following along in his plan. How do you know what his plan is? He never speaks . . . he is like a lover you pine for and yet never get your love returned, ever." (I tell ya, I was working hard to get them into the last two weeks).

But, alas, the students gave perfectly lovely answers to how to make meaning out of their seemingly meaningless lives. They talked about tending to relationships, caring for others, loving . . . Damn them! Not enough alienation in them.

Well, I recommended to one of my students that he not sell back the textbook so that he has something to read when his midlife crisis hits him. Do you think I am projecting?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Why We Need Nietzsche to Deconstruct Analytic Philosophy

Tomorrow night, author and philosopher, Rebecca Goldstein will be speaking on campus. We are bringing her to Gettysburg College as part of a book club series on Jewish literature. I must admit that I haven't read any of the other books on the list, but I did read Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem, and I wish I had read it a decade ago while I was still in graduate school. Damn! It's as if the powers that be kept me from this book, that had I found it, I would've made wiser choices in my career and made sense of a lot of the needless hostility of my fellow students and professors.

The protagonist, Renee Feuer, is a graduate student at Princeton. She is finding herself totally alienated from her professors:

The field had made the 'linguistic turn' and I . . . had not. The questions were now all of language. Instead of wrestling with the large messy questions that have occupied previous centuries of ethicisits, for example, one should examine the rules that govern words like 'good' and 'ought.' My very first seminar, given by a prominent visitor from England whose field, they told me, was metaphysics, was on adverbs. The metaphysics of adverbs? From Reality to . . .adverbs?

As someone wholly mired in the messy metaphysical questions I found myself delighted by her penetrating descriptions of the wanna-be-mathematician Analytic philosophers at Princeton. The book gets even better, when we are introduced to Renee's soon-to-be husband, Noam Himmel. Noam is a "minor diety" in the mathematical world, because of his discovery of "supernaturals." He is convinced that reality is not coincident with the material world, but to be found in the a priori truths that only mathematics can capture. We eavesdrop on debates between Noam and Renee's physicist friend, Eva, on the nature of reality. Eva considers reality to be coincident with materiality, while Noam steadfastly defends his idealist stance.

Throughout the novel, we watch Renee move back and forth between her own body (and its sensual needs, cravings and pleasures) and her mind (the philosophical question of what "mind" is). She is trapped in this paradox and her relationship to Noam only worsens her philosophical angst. He is ruthless with her. He considers her questions to be fuzzy, not well thought out. She is trivial in her interests. In fact, her life is to be subordinate to his genius. There is a great scene at the beginning of the book where Noam melts down because he cannot find his pen, and it is, of course, the kind of trivial matter that Renee is supposed to tend to.

The book also explores the conservative Orthodox home Renee escapes from to Philosophy. But, I will leave that analysis for a more astute commenter.

I just wanted to share this wonderful book with my readers because, well, the gender politics of the book are what really captivated me. After all, Renee's mediocrity as a thinker is traced, precisely, to her obsession with bodily existence. Perhaps she is, after all, a living example of how the "wandering womb" corrupts the otherwise rational thoughts of human beings. The female body is a drag on true genius; to be a genius, to be an intellectual giant, is to contemplate the pure forms. However, even geniuses need to eat, need to sleep, and need to find their pens. That is where the usefulness of women come in, and Renee, poisoned by the girlhood fairy tales on knights on white horses, steps in to tend to Noam's obvious genius. He grows to hate her precisely because she tends to his body, the mere trivialities of his existence.

We also see how utterly violent academic debate is. The mathematicians shred each other to pieces, but, Noam and Eva assure us, this is not "personal." If one is willing to shred your ideas, they are doing you a service by showing you how much time you will waste if you pursue it. In such an atmosphere, it is hard to imagine that very many would dare put a word on page. Renee tries to escape the critical eye of her professors by amalgamating herself with a great man; if she finds her worth in his valuation of her, then she is real. And, yet, this sort of move poses a real metaphysical threat to her identity. If he hates her, scorns her, she is nothing but a mere body. She is replaceable and insignificant.

What I couldn't help but think as I worked my way through this novel was how apt Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals is for deconstructing the inverted values of old school Analytic Philosophy. All that is life-affirming, all that is the body, all that is messy and contradictory are dismissed, and what is ethereal, abstract, outside of space and time, and only tamed through logic, is exhalted. And, let's not forget, that what is life-affirming and messy are inextricably tied up with the female body.

When I was younger, my professor asked me: "why aren't there any women in Philosophy? Perhaps they just don't have the aptitude for it?" I am going to send him, anonymously, Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem for Christmas.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why Do We Even Bother Teaching These Last Two Weeks?

Thanksgiving is over and now its the home stretch until the end of the semester. I don't know if it is all the turkey I consumed over the last few days, but I am dreading finding the energy to pull off this last two weeks of the semester. My students seemed to be barely hanging on before Thanksgiving and I imagine that they will be somewhat restless these last two weeks too.

I have things planned on the syllabus. At least one class will be watching a scheduled film. But, I am worried that nothing I teach for these next two weeks will quite sink in. My dear-stressed-out-students are thinking about senior theses, final research projects, job interviews, final examinations and/or applications to graduate school. With all of that on their plate, why do we even bother teaching anything the last two weeks of classes?

Do we do it because it was done to us? Are we finishing out the semester because we actually believe that everything we put on our syllabi was so crucial that, goddammit, we cannot let these students out of our classes without ensuring they read everything we deemed appropriate for the course? Are we doing it because our bosses make us?

There have to be some good, creative ideas out there with how to deal with the end of the semester students stresss out. I am not sure I can keep myself psyched up about going into a classroom where students are looking at me like I take pleasure in torturing them.

What do you recommend?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Yet Another Total Ban on Abortion

Just when you thought the days of crack-pot legislation putting total ban's on Abortion, even when the mother's health is at risk, were over. The Misogynist Anti-Abortion Crew, undeterred by the voter's rejection of South Dakota's ban, have crafted another total ban. Nemohee, guestblogging at Shakespeare's Sister, reports on House Bill 1 in the Georgia Legislature. Apparently Representative Bob Franklin thinks that the real problem with legal access to abortion is that it ends up costing the Georgia taxpayer. How, you ask?

"The practice of abortion has caused the citizens of this state an inestimable amount economically, including, but not limited to, the costs and tax burden of having to care for individuals and their families for the conditions cited above, as well as significant reduction of the tax base and the availability of workers, entrepreneurs, teachers, employees, and employers that would have significantly contributed to the prosperity of this state."

What are the conditions cited above?

"Studies of the three decades since Roe v. Wade have revealed that women have been deeply wounded psychologically, with one researcher reporting that 81 percent of the women who have had an abortion had a preoccupation with an aborted child, 54 percent had nightmares, 35 percent had perceived visitation with an aborted child, and 96 percent felt their abortion had taken a human life."


"Thirty years of abortion on demand have resulted in an increase in breast cancer, and a study has shown that women who had an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy before experiencing a full-term pregnancy may be at increased risk for breast cancer".

As Nemohee points out: Rep. Franklin cites no evidence in support of these claims. And, there has been plenty of evidence that abortion does not cause breast cancer. Honestly, are anti-abortion freaks just plain dumb? Are there special "research" rules for them? Aren't these the same jack asses who wanted to crack down on colleges and universities for indoctrinating students? No wonder. They have no idea what real arguments, evidence, and education looks like.

Why Any of Them Do It

Thanks to Kerry's tip, I read Judith Regan's "Why I Did It," apologia over at MSNBC. I don't know how many of you have been following the story of O.J. Simpson's new book If I Did It . Judith Regan, considered the best editor in the business, contracted with O.J. to write a virtual confession of his murders of Nicole Simpson Brown and Ronald Goldman. Simpson's book was set to be released on November 30th and Fox News had lined up an interview with O.J. to promote the book. Controversy and outrage forced Rupert Murdoch to kill both the book and the interviews on Fox.

Judith Regan's apologia is truly disturbing to me. Granted, I know nothing about the details of her past abuse at the hands of her psychiatrist husband. I cannot imagine, furthermore, what it would be like to lose a daughter to such abuse. But, what amazes me is that this publisher would find it "healing," or even vindication, to publish O.J.'s "confession." Here you have a man who writes a book solely to pay his bills; he is capitalizing off of his fame and the notoreity of these murders. This is not a selfless act, wherein he wishes to pay amends or take responsibility for what he did. Rather, it is a story of an ambitious editor profiting off of a ruthless, narcissistic man.

Regan argues:

In the past few days, since the announcement of the forthcoming book and televised interview "If I Did It," it has been strange watching the media spin the story. They have all but called for my death for publishing his book and for interviewing him. A death, I might add, not called for when Katie Couric interviewed him; not called for when Barbara Walters had an exclusive with the Menendez brothers, who killed their parents in cold blood, nor when she conducted her celebrated interviews with dictators Fidel Castro or Muammar al-Gaddafi; not called for when "60 Minutes" interviewed Timothy McVeigh who murdered hundreds in Oklahoma City, not called for when the U.S. government released tapes of Osama bin Laden; not called for when Geraldo Rivera interviewed his dozens of murderers, miscreants and deviants.

Nor should it be.

“To publish” does not mean “to endorse”; it means “to make public.” If you doubt that, ask the mainstream publishers who keep Adolf Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" in print to this day. They are likely to say that there is a historical value in publishing such material, so that the public can read, and judge for themselves, the thoughts and attempted defenses of an indefensible man. There is historical value in such work; there is value for law enforcement, for students of psychology, for anyone who wants to gain insight into the mind of a sociopath.

But that is not why I did it. That is not why I wanted to face the killer. That is not why I wanted to publish his story.

I didn’t know what to expect when I got the call that the killer wanted to confess. I didn’t know what would happen. But I knew one thing. I wanted the confession for my own selfish reasons and for the symbolism of that act.

There are two things I find interesting about this bit of her own confession. I think it is telling that she draws an analogy between her act to publish Simpson's book and Barbara Walter's interview of Fidel Castro. At first, I thought, "but she is trying to make a huge profit off of a sicko and Walters was delivering the news." However, the more I mulled this over, I think that Regan's analogy is quite apt. What is disturbing is it shows that what we think is "news" is nothing more than a commerical transaction: soulless, motivated by the public's fascination with tragedy and pathology, and mutually beneficial to the contractors. The only benefit that "news" interviews give the viewer is a prurient satisfaction of their intrique with murderers and other infidels (pun intended). Regan's confession is tantamount to an exposé of the true motivations of televsion journalism: profit and circus-like entertainment for the masses.

The second disturbing element of her apologia is her claim that "to publish" is not "to endorse," but rather "to make public." I find this sophistry also quite telling. Perhaps it manifests her own psychology and so her long-winded defense of her decision to publish Simpson will one day have "historical value." This is a unique opportunity into the mind of a sociopath editor/publisher; it reveals the clever ways in which she rationalizes her decisions. "I am not ruthless for publishing this book; I am making public an historic document that millions will study to understand sociopathy." Pahleeze!

Regan goes on:

My son is now 25 years old, my daughter 15. I wanted them, and everyone else, to have a chance to see that there are consequences to grievous acts.

Does she really believe her choice to publish a faux confession by a killer who has already been acquitted of this crime will teach her children that there are consequences to actions? This is the most creative parenting I have ever seen. Make a shit load of money off a psycho, and then sell it as family values move--a lesson in accountability.

I dunno, are any of you MMF readers buying this?

Always the Bridesmaid!

Via Lauren at Faux Real and Jill at Feministe, I found this little quiz on my blog celebrity status:

B-List Blogger

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Break

I have been too tied up with family and plans for Thanksgiving to post these past days. I am not sure when I will get a moment to sit down and write a new post. So, in the meantime, feel free to look at old posts or send me some good material to blog about.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

John McCain Wants to Overturn Roe

Scott Lemieux has covered this over at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Let this put to rest, please, that McCain is a moderate.

Only a Social Misfit Can Save Us

Last week, my colleague invited John Conroy, a journalist for the Chicago Reader to speak on torture. He has written several pieces exposing how the Chicago police used torture in interrogation (here) and published a book entitled Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture. In the course of his lecture, in which he argued that any of us could become a torturer, he made reference to the Milgram experiment. I hadn't thought about Milgram for a few years; I used to show his film, entitled Obedience, to my Contemporary Moral Issues students. My goal was to show students how difficult it was for the majority of us to disobey an authority figure, and hence, why it is important to cultivate in us a robust moral character such that we would be able to dissent when necessary. However, I am clear-eyed that very few, if any, of my students internalized that message.

The only hope we seem to have, if we want to stop atrocious and inhumane practices, such as torute, is to be super-human--to transcend our hardwiring to obey. This message is depressing to me; we are all capable of dark and unspeakable acts given the right context and adequate fear. What lesson should we draw from this? We could see all criticisms of torturers as a kind of unfounded moralism. We could also give up on the belief that we are capable of overriding our primal instincts when we are afriad. If either of these views are the logical consequence of accepting the premise that anyone of us could be a torturer, then I think we are screwed.

Those who dissent, it seems, are those who already find themselves alienated from their social groups. Our heroes do not seem to be those capable of stupendous acts of empathy, but social misfits who could care less what is asked of them.

What do the rest of you make of this thesis?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bush Appoints an Abstinence Jack Ass to Oversee Title X Funding

It's bad enough that Abstinence only programs think that they are the only successful route to keeping teenagers and other would-be hussies from having sex and getting pregnant. But, it's worse when Abstinence only programs try to offer "scientific" evidence in support of these worthless programs. But, what really takes the cake is when our lame duck fearless leader appoints a pseudo-scientist who strings together silly arguments in support of abstinence to oversee Title X funding. That's right folks. Jessica at Feministing posted yesterday that Bush has appointed Dr. Eric Keroack to oversee the only federal program devoted entirely to family planning and reproductive health. The SF Chron points out:

The appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, is the latest provocative personnel move by the White House since Democrats won control of Congress in this month's midterm elections. Last week, President Bush pushed the Senate to confirm John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, and this week, he renominated six appellate court nominees who have previously been blocked by lawmakers.

Dr. Eric Keroack is a gynecologist who thinks he is a cutting edge neuroendocrinologist. I guess having an M.D. sometimes gives physicians the impression that they know everything. Keroack is big on the anti-choice circuit, wherein he argues that it all comes down to oxytocin. Yes, the hormone responsible for emotional bonding. What is his argument against pre-marital sex: everytime you have sex, you deplete your "finite" store of oxytocin, so that that you will impair your ability to create bonds with your future husband. Keroack also argues that oxytocin is responsible for a powerful bond between mother and fetus. Hence, if you show the mother an ultrasound of the developing fetus, her hormonal bond becomes so strong that it makes abortion unthinkable. (You'll love how they describe their study, give me a break!)

If you poke around online and take a look at the arguments Keroack makes against abortion and comprehensive sex education, you soon learn how scientifically inept the pro-life crowd is. This is, afterall, the same crowd that wants to ban the teaching of Evolution in the classroom. But, hey, if they can make up some unsupported medical hypotheses, and not subject them to serious scientific study and peer review, they can get the entire pro-life crowd believing it. It's amazing to me how gullible this crowd is to any pro-life jack ass with an M.D. who purports to have conclusive evidence that women are, afterall, nothing but their oxytocin. And, I guess the minor premise here is that God made women with more oxytocin so that they would be good mothers. It is an offense to God to deplete your oxytocin, cause God only gave you a little bit and you better use it wisely.

Just in case there are readers who actually believe this bullshit, you should know that (a) men synthesize oxytocin too, (b) there is not a finite amount that can be depleted, (c) evidence is inconclusive about the role that oxytocin plays in maternal behaivor.

For more on Keroack, I urge you to read moiv's account at Alternet. You can access the Powerpoint slides from Dr. Keroack's presentation entitled, "Oxytocin: Is This Nano-Peptide A Chemical Type of Human Super-Glue?"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Did I Hear Correctly? Trent Lott is the New Minority Whip?

Let me get this straight. The GOP just got "served" by the electorate for scandals, incompetence, and other "values" issues and what does it do? It revives the political career of racist, Trent Lott, who is infamous for saying at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday:

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Bejeezus! What kind of sense does it make to appoint Lott to the Minority Whip position? Is this how you restore the image of the GOP?

And, to add insult to injury, "moderate" McCain says:

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was said to be an important supporter of Mr. Lott, added, “He paid a pretty high price for the statement he made."

So, according to GOP logic, if you believe that the denying African Americans their Civil Rights is a noble goal, then you will be exiled for a period of 4 years, at which time you are eligible to take the 2nd highest leadership position in the Senate? Damn, those guys sure know how to teach a uncivilized fellow a lesson, don't they?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Duty to Question: A Philosophy 101 discussion

I am about to teach the W.K. Clifford's famous essay on "The Ethics of Belief." What is compelling about Clifford's argument--which many agnostics will invoke to challenge the legitimacy of anyone's belief in God--is that he characterizes the act of believing in something to be a moral act. When we believe that Global Warming, for example, is non-sense or cooked up by political liberals, and in doing so we supress all evidence that challenges our belief or we have insuffiicent evidence for our belief, then, we are acting immorally. The reason why we are acting immorally, according to Clifford, is because

"no one man's belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone. Our lives are guided by that general conception of the course of things which has been created by society for social purposes. Our words, our phrases, our forms and processes and modes of thought are common property, fashioned and perfected from age to age; an heirloom which every succeeding generation inherits as a precious deposit and a scared trust to be handed down on to the next one, not unchanged but enlarged and purified . . ."

Hence, our beliefs become part of the common stock of human beliefs that in total make up all knowledge of the universe. Our actions follow from our beliefs. So, if our beliefs are flawed, then our actions are flawed, doomed to fail, capable of causing disaster. Taking the Global Warming example, again, if we belief that Global Warming is false, and thereby we do not act, then we will be morally responsible for the destruction that ensues and the lives that are taken.

Clifford's strict requirements for belief is that we have sufficient evidence to warrant our belief, i.e. we have compelling evidence tested against the strongest possible counter-arguments out there.

In Clifford's view, the dogmatist, the one who is so narrow-minded as to believe that his views are the only right ones--despite evidence of contrary evidence, is the worst kind of sinner. And no one, no matter how rich or poor, intelligent or daft, is bound by this moral duty to test his or her beliefs. "No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station can escape the duty of questioning all that we believe." The skeptic, in other words, it the moral hero.

Clifford ends this argument with the following:

"'But,'" says one, 'I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments.' Then he should have no time to believe.

What do you make of Clifford's moral view of belief? Too strict? A good guideline?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why is Female Leadership So Threatening?

Contiuing with my theme of the "Year of the Woman," I wanted to both celebrate the election of the first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and analyze what is a familiar pattern of demonizing women leaders. The Episcopalian church is nearly 400 years old; it did not allow women to become priests, let alone bishops, until 30 years ago. Hence, the election of Jefferts Schori, wherein she won over 6 other candidates is an amazing feat for not only women, but for the direction of the Episcopalian Church. Before turning to ministry, Jefferts Schori was an Oceanographer with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. She is married to a theoretical mathematician, Richard Miles Schori and they have one daughter, Katharine Johanna, who is a second lieutenant in the Air Force. She is a feminist, supports teaching Evolution, she voted for Gene Robinson, the first gay Bishop of the Episcopalian church, and she supports the blessing of same-sex partnerships.

Echoing my theme from yesterday, when women finally accede to positions of real leadership and authority, everyone benefits from a fresh perspective and different style. However, it is precisely this difference that causes panic, that rouses latent sexist attitudes, and that inspires the more conservative forces to belittle this remarkable woman. 3 diocese have called for a more conservative bishop to preside over them: Quincy, Ill., San Joaquin, CA, and Ft. Worth, Tx. None of these diocese believes that women should be ordained. Conservative pundits characterize her as "eliminating Jesus' teaching." And, of course, she has not healed the deep rifts in the Anglican church over the consecration of a gay bishop.

So, what we have here, is the "Nancy Pelosi" of the Episcopalian church. I don't mean to suggest that they are identical on positions, character, or temperament, but rather they are equally lambasted, mischaracterized, and maligned by not only the predictable conservative forces out there, but by well-meaning individuals who haven't taken a good look at how profoundly entrenched ideas of female leadership threatens them.

While women continue to earn positions of leadership in traditionally male dominated fields, the way that we characterize those leaders belies our lack of faith in their competence. We either paint them as "shrill," in the case of Nancy Pelosi or "fractious" in the case of Katharine Jefferts Schori. If these women, furthermore, stand up for the civil rights of gay people, or fight for women's equality, they are destroying our "American Values." They are, after all, liberal. And, thanks to the success of malicious campaigns against liberal values, to be liberal is to embody everything that is wrong with America.

Jefferts Schori, despite the poisoned well, is focusing on her mission, and hoping it will heal the church.
And, if you want to get a sense what sort of dangerous message this liberal female Bishop has to share with the world, read a portion of her sermon, from her investiture on November 4th:

There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work – shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.

You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God's creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God's abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts – through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.

That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet. None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers – for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life's restless sea.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Year of the Woman

The last time we referred to a political season as the "Year of the Woman," was in 1992, after the Clarence Thomas hearing. The obstacles to getting women into politics have been theorized for years: lack of mentoring, less donors, persistent sexism, balancing career and family, etc. The structural obstacles to women's successful entry into National office are no different from other traditionally male dominated professions. And, the costs to the polity of having less women in political office are evident. e.g.: less funding for breast cancer/uterine cancer, less focus on quality education programs, less emphasis on health care . . . Women offer a unique perspective on policy and governance, and often, but not always, bring a different agenda. Last year, while I was at a fundraiser for local PA races, a male legislator pointed out that PA had one of the worst records for getting women into office. He also emphasized the real costs to the state because women weren't at the power table , making important decisions about the well-being of the state.

This year, women have a lot to celebrate. We have the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who unabashedly brings her perspective as a mother and grandmother to her governing. And, Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics just released the following data on this last election:

Women in Leadership

2,433 women ran for seats as state lawmakers.

12 women ran for Senate seats.

2 new women were elected in the Senate: Claire McCaskill, in Missouri and Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota, bringing the total to 16.

Of the 12 Senate women running for seats, 8 were Democrats.

138 female candidates ran in the House.

10 new women were elected in the House.

57 women incumbents were re-elected in the House.

Of the 138 women who ran in the House, 97 were Democrats.

While women are far from achieving "parity" in the number of seats they hold, and we still don't see a lot of women governors, nor have any women been elected to the highest offices in this country, I want to focus on the positive today. Women took a big step forward and hopefully this means that we will begin to see a change of priorities coming out of Washington: policies that make it easier on parents to support their children, higher minimum wage, better and more affordable healthcare, better educational policies that No Child Left Behind (which has only succeeded in pushing the most talented teachers out of education), bringing troops home to their families, and tending to the environment.

Yesterday, while talking to my neighbor about how exciting it is to have our first female Speaker of the House, she reminded me how senseless and vitriolic the attacks on her have been. Afterall, Newt Gingrich who took out his "contract with America(pun intended), " and dubbed to the Republican party as the "values party," has divorced twice, and with a track record of cheating on his wives. Nancy Pelosi, by contrast, has been married to the same man, and raised 5 children before entering politics. If Pelosi's biggest threat is that she represents the ultra liberal wing of the party, then, damn, I'll take those values anyday over Gingrich's.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I Just Don't See Rives Miller Grogans in the Pro-Choice Movement

So last week I asked if pro-choice advocates use violent tactics toward achieving their ends, as much as pro-life advocates do. I didn't answer the commenter's question: "what motivated my question?" I sat back and read what people said on the matter. Yesterday's outburst during the Supreme Court hearings from a passionate pro-lifer, forced me to think about this question again. While, abstractedly, it seems "logical" to assume that any and every political cause has its zealous and "violent" activists, I don't think that a pro-choice stance lends itself to violent and radical tactics. Rives Miller Grogan's outburst underscores this point for me. To Grogan, abortion is a "sin." To sin is to reject God's commands. Moreover, to pro-lifers, abortion is a repulsive, inhumane, selfish act that threatens our very humanity. If you frame your issue in these terms, you are far more likely to attract passionate advocates, willing to use any tactic possible to stop the sin. What is at stake in abortion is our soul, our humanity as a people, and if we don't stop this sin, we are turning our back on God.
There is no room for disagreement from this paradigm. Abortion is wrong, wrong, wrong.

However, if you are pro-choice, fundamentally, you respect anyone who would choose not to have an abortion because she found it sinful. You don't demand that the opponent to abortion change her view on it. All you ask is that the opponent not assume that her view, which is based on her own moral convictions, shaped by a narrow theological view, not pretend to be infallible.

There are many political causes on the left that inspire violent tactics, for example, environmentalists, animal rights activists, or anti-globalization activists. What inspires violent tactics in the more radical branches of these movements is the belief that their view is the only right view; again, there is no room for moral disagreement. Free trade agreements necessarily lead to the death and impoverishment of peoples in the developing world, for example. Those who protest "free trade agreements" don't say: look, we are opposed to free trade agreements, but we grant your right to believe in the merits of free trade agreements for developing economies.

The built in respect for different positions on the moral issue is what distinguishes the pro-choice movement from the pro-life movement. If you acknowledge that all moral positions are fallible, then it is hard to inspire passionate, doggeded commitment to your cause. In what way does it make sense to use violence to impose respect for moral disagreement? Why would you blow up the courts, for example, to make the point that the legal judgments should respect the diversity of religious convictions in this country?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My Political Development [Guest Post: Jeff Maynes]

In several recent posts (here, here, here, here) Aspazia has tackled a daunting topic – the mindset of her students. More specifically asking – why do they react to bleak assessments of the world in the way that they do? Each and every one of these posts has given me pause and helped focus my thoughts on my own political development. I am not going to bore all of you with the details of that personal change, but I do want to take a look at where I began. I was a student at Gettysburg, and I was one of the students Aspazia talks about in these recent posts. Thinking over my experience being “that guy” has helped me tease out several threads contributing to the mindset of Aspazia's students and reflect on the origins of these views from my own experience. (By “Aspazia’s students” I mean the ones referred to in recent posts, the not everyone who could be classified as a student of Aspazia).

I was the consummate Gettysburg student – upper middle class upbringing in a small New England town with a high school that measured diversity in shirt colors. I enrolled at Gettysburg in 2001, fresh off the Bush-Gore election. I considered myself politically conscious, but not politically active. If you had asked me for my political affiliation, I would have told you that I was a “libertarian, for the most part.” I was not active in gaining and scrutinizing political information, but I had determinate opinions on most matters political. In the experience of this formerly blog-worthy student, what were the major threads and influences that underscored these political views?

(1) Distractions from Pity: Growing up in the middle class can be quite an isolated experience. Real poverty simply did not exist in the town I grew up in; the people that I actually knew in disadvantaged circumstances drove used cars. Yet I still had the general human response of unbearable pity when confronted with true suffering and true tragedy. For a moment I might be motivated to thought or even action, but when the object of my pity vanished out of my life, the pity receded. Being able to keep the appreciation of the suffering of others in mind when the objects of pity are not present takes emotional maturity. It is a type of maturity that many fresh high school graduates, myself included, have or had not developed.

(2) Institutional Faith – Does this mean that I, or others like me, did not desire relief for the disadvantaged and a fair society? Not at all. What it meant was that I took my rock bottom faith in democratic and capitalist institutions as adequate. This faith came in two simple forms: (a) “capitalism will ultimately provide for the needs of the most people possible” and (b) “democracy will insure that society is fair.” The distractions that kept pity from driving my political views did not take away the pity entirely, but they made it much easier to accept these two propositions as self-evident truths. I could have this faith because it worked for me, and if it did not work for everyone then either we needed to try a little harder with what we've got or at least accept that this is the best we can do. High school history and political education emphasizes the truth of those two propositions, so I had never experienced either a powerful intellectual or emotional challenge to either of those propositions.

(3) Cynicism - While my faith was strong in the political and economic institutions I had a deep cynicism in politicians. I had faith because I thought that the system would get by despite individual corrupt politicians. As a result, political campaigns did not draw my interest because I was firmly convinced that it did not matter. The system would keep on operating in the same way it always had and thus even if I had an interest in real change, it was beyond the scope of my vote. This combination was particularly powerful as the resulting disenchantment prevented further interest in developing as a politically aware citizen.

(4) A Crook's a Crook - This could alternatively be phrased, “it can't be that bad.” I simply took it on unchallenged assumption that since all politicians were to some degree corrupt, they must all be equally corrupt. Yet, at the same time, I held an odd view that is prima facie at odds with this conviction – namely that politicians were not corrupt enough to subvert the institutions of the country. Each politician was equated with a certain degree of similarity on the issues, a certain degree to which I assumed they would act at odds with everyone's interest for their own good, but at the same time, that nothing they did was so corrupt that it could threaten either the country or its institutions. When I heard about accusations of truly dangerous corruption, or election scandal, I brushed it off as biased reports and conspiracy theory. This assumption takes it for granted that listening to either side yields an absolute minimum of truth. The hole I had found myself in was dug a bit deeper – because of this outlook I ruled out the evidence I needed in order to challenge the views from (2) and (3).

(5) Amoralistic Conception of Politics - This thread in my thought was rooted in relativism, but I think that it can easily exist without a fully relativistic outlook on ethics. I simply did not think it was the place for ethics in politics because even if there were objective standards that one could find, there was no agreement about them. I considered it an impingement on human liberty to enforce an ethical doctrine so I rejected ethical concerns entirely from my political outlook. This is part and parcel to the faith in capitalism – I was simply unwilling to ask the question, “even if it is efficient, is it ethical?” On this topic I lacked the intellectual maturity to distinguish between legislated morality and an ethical regard for the well being of every citizen.

(6) Negative Conception of Freedom - I do not mean this to be an assault on negative conceptions of liberty, or a defense of positive ones. The only conception of freedom that I had at this point in my life was a negative one, i.e., the only freedom is hands off freedom. Additionally, I gave freedom an intrinsic value, so any political view that increased government control in any facet of society was in error. I had never considered on my own accord or been presented with the idea that increased power of acting could be the result of a positive action by the powers that be, and not simply through a lack of limits. This unwarranted assumption on my part, like (4), decreased the availability of alternatives to my political outlook, and acted as a justification to my lack of empathy, noted in (1).

These six threads were dominant in the shaping of my world view as I exited high school and entered Gettysburg College. They were firm enough to give me confidence in my political views but without any serious reflection. Not only did they shape my political views they actually actively inhibited serious reflection. The changes in my views did not happen until I cast all six of these assumptions, as well as others, under the light of critical thinking and discursive reasoning (to which I owe much to the critical thinking skills imparted on me by SteveG and Aspazia). I intend this characterization to be an accurate portrayal of my own views, and a hypothesis for the views of the students that Aspazia is struggling to understand, and the views that I once lived myself. They might be motivated by different concerns than I was, but this might serve as a window into a foreign mode of thought.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Free At Last, Free At Last . . .

Thank God Almighty we are free of Rick Santorum at last!

And: Yea to Spitzer in NY and O'Malley in MD. Two great new Democratic Governors!

UPDATE: Bye, Bye No.6 in South Dakota! Buh, Bye.

The Power of Pro-Life Rhetoric

Tomorrow the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in favor of and against the "partial-birth abortion" ban signed into law in 2003 (Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood). The core issue here is whether or not this federal ban is unconstitutional because it does not include a health exception.

I caught an interesting debate on C-SPAN this past weekend on this upcoming abortion case (here is the transcript). While I was particularly pleased with Katharine Hancock Ragsdale (former chair of Religious Coaltion for Reproductive Choice)--in particular because she reminded the audience that over 40 denominations, including the Episcopalian Church, are pro-choice--the speaker who haunted me the most was Helen Alvare, Associate Professor of Law at Catholic University. First of all, she is impressive as hell; I mean, she is smart. Secondly, she is cunning. And thirdly, she deploys the rhetoric of being a pro-life feminist. I take it that she sincerely would find common ground with many feminists on poverty issues, day care issues, and health care issues (perhaps more?). She is, staunchly, pro-life. And, she gives compelling reasons for rejecting late term abortions.

First of all, some background. The federal ban would outlaw Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) abortions and Dilation and Extraction (D&X) abortions, which take place after the 2nd trimester. In fact, part of the ambiguity of the phrasing of the ban lies in which proceudure(s) would be banned.

The pro-life movement calls this "partial birth abortion" for a reason. Even if you read the language of the act, they stress the brutality of the procedure by describing, in full gory details, how the procedure is carried out. The idea here is to suggest that the only thing separating this procedure from infanticide is moving the fetus out of the womb and cutting the umbilical cord. This is a powerful image. The fact is that once you describe the procedure in these terms, it is hard for anyone to support late term abortions. That is why the pro-life movement cunningly adopted this strategy for chipping away at Roe and a woman's right to choose. They have done a marvelous job implanting, in the minds of Americans, the gore of this procedure. In my little town, you regularly see rental trucks with huge posters of bloodly, aborted fetuses drive around the public square in their "shock and awe" campaign.

Listening to Ms. Alvare, I was struck by how incredibly persuasive she is to even pro-choice folks on why we should outlaw late term abortions. The reason why she is so convincing is that she is master of rhetoric. What she does is (1) focus the audience on the repulsive details of the 'intact D&E', (2) compare 'intact D&Es' to infanticide, and (3) point out the frightening consequences of legalizing infanticide. The second move I alluded to above: she points out that the only things separating the fetus from being an "infant" is the umbilical cord and being outside the woman's body. She then points out that it might be "safer" for the woman to deliver the baby, and then take her out back and shoot her. Never underestimate the power of language and framing in moral issues. If this is the only account you hear for late term abortions, you would be a inhumane for not decrying this act. But, of course, this is not the whole story.

What is markedly absent in the Alvare's depiction of late term abortions is any details about the woman seeking the abortion. If she were to take care to tell the stories and describe the brutal details of the lives of women who seek these late term abortions, wouldn't it make the moral question a real question? Instead, you have a strawman: the selfish, inhuman woman and physician who fool themselves that what they are doing is an abortion, when in reality it is infanticide. (By the way, if it is infanticide, as Alvare charges, why is the charge up to 2 years in prision?)

With that framework working, the answer is clear: ban D&Es and D&Xs. But, the fact is that the moral permissibility (and I use that word consciously, we are not celebrating the killing of a fetus, but asking under which conditions it is permissible) of late term abortions is a complicated moral decision. It is complicated because while abortion is not a pretty thing, it is something that many women have to choose to do on pain of their own health. And, that last point is what will be debated to death in the Supreme Court.

What many pro-choice groups will do is point out that the health exception is crucial and point toward medical opinion that substantiates that. Pro-choice advocates will also argue that the ban effectively undercuts the ability of physicians to make the best decisions for their patients, i.e., it amounts to giving Congress a license to be medical experts, without any evidence that they actually are. I fear that this approach is deeply flawed.

On the one hand, the SCOTUS will ask for clear cases of women who, if they cannot access a late term abortion, will die. And, there will need to be a substantial number of those women. More importantly, the burden will be on the pro-choice side to show that the resulting death is linked to a disease, which mean some physical illness. I doubt the SCOTUS will be easily persuaded by the dire mental heath affects of an unwanted pregnancy (think serious depression, such as Andrea Yates). Nor will they necessarily be persuaded by accounts of fetuses with serious birth defects--undetected until later in the pregnancy--serving as the basis of the late term abortion.

Secondly, if the pro-choice side continues to use the rhetoric that "Congress is practicing medicine without a license," they will weaken their case. It is, after all, just rhetoric. We allow Congress to restrict and ban medical procedures all of the time. The built in assumption is that physicians are always to be trusted to know what is best for a patient, which, of course is paternalism, at best.

What the pro-choice side has not effectively done is really depict the moral issue. Abortion certainly isn't a choice, especially in the 2nd trimester (or later), easily made. It is one of the hardest and most painful decisions that anyone would have to make. And, yet, women do have to make this decision. And, they have to for heart breaking reasons. To understand how heart breaking the decision is would require profound moral imagination. It would require putting yourself in the shoes of a woman, understanding the unbearable forces on her life, and asking yourself who has the right to make this decision for her? The real failure of the pro-choice side is to make the public care, really care about the woman who has to make this horrific choice.

The language of rights, laws, medical opinion, stare decisis, and autonomy, will not persuade most people to understand the dire consequences of these bans. And, until we appeal to the hearts and compassion of decent people, this debate will rage on.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why My Students Are Likey to Vote Republican

Because they believe, against all credible information, in radical free will. I just came back from my Introduction to Philosophy course, where we discussed how meaningful a concept of free will is. We start off by discussing the relatively uncontroversial statement that most events in the world are caused by something and move to the more controversial claim that perhaps all human actions are caused by antecedent events, thereby making "free will" a problematic concept. Now, how philosophers have framed the problem of free will is quite different from our common sense understanding of the notion.

For most philosophers, free will is opposed to determinism. That is, if an act is free, it was not determined by a prior cause, whether that be one's childhood education or one's basic temperament. The common sense notion of free will is that despite the fact that we find ourselves limited or determined by past events/conditions, we have some ability to choose against our inclination.

While this common sense definition resonates with my views, it dramatically differs from the more radical view that "we can become whomever we want to become," a statement, btw, uttered by one of my students today. The sentiment in that statement is that those who wish to climb out of deep poverty and make something of their lives can do so, if they want to badly enough. I have to say, that view is attractive. It is downright romantic. And, for years, my father instilled this same view in me; hence, I still feel affectionate toward it.

Having said that, I have learned, through experience, that one's desire to transcend his or her circumstances are often thwarted by conditions out of one's power to change. I tried to illustrate this point to my students with the following thought experiment:

Let's assume that Pete has grown up, in a working class neighborhood, in Camden, NJ. Pete's mom dropped out of high school when she was 17, because she wanted to keep Pete and couldn't do so while in school. Her parents were not well off, and so she needed to work to help fray the costs of a new baby. She found a job in a day care center, and was able to enroll Pete for free. She made minimum wage, with no benefits. Pete grows up loved and with a great deal of ambition to get out of Camden. He works hard in school, but his school is underfunded, crowded and hence, his education is sub-standard. He earns a high G.P.A and decides to apply to college. He is accepted a few places, but they are all too expensive for him, even with the aid from the school. He opts for Community College, which costs $5,000.00 a semester and he continues to work in a department store. To pay for the tuition, he takes out a student loan. After three semesters, he has to drop out because his mom gets ill and so they don't have enough money for rent. After 6 months of this, his student loans become due and he is required to work more to cover the cost of these loans. He realizes that he might get better tuition benefits if he enrolls in the Army. He does, and unfortunately, while on a supply run, he gets seriously injured and returns back home. He is in the hospital for a few months, and finds out that the military won't grant him his full G.I. bill since he was in for only 2 months.

My question to the class was: Is Pete morally responsible for not getting out of poverty?

Their reaction: Yes.

Their second reaction: the example is completely absurd, no one would have such horrible luck.

So, you see, my students simply cannot imagine living in such conditions. Because of that, their views of radical free will are untroubled, and the tough language of "personal responsibility" resonates with them.

After all, people like Pete are poor, because they didn't work hard enough.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Are The Claims Against Haggard Politically Motivated? Duh!

Why would there be any doubt that Mike Jones's allegations that Rev. Haggard had a three year affair with him was politically motivated? The more interesting question is, so what? Here you have a powerful, charismatic leader motivating his leaders to deny gay people their civil rights.

If you discovered that one of your "friends" was a figure as powerful as James Dobson or Tony Perkins, wouldn't you want to to expose the hypocricy to the world? Especially in a state with a same-sex marriage ban on ballot?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Question of the Day

Has a Pro-Choice advocate ever killed a Pro-life advocate? That is, has a Pro-choicer ever bombed a pregnancy center? Has a Pro-choicer ever killed pro-life ministers who crusade to persuade women not to have abortions?

Hot Damn Olbermann!

Crooks and Liars has the latest Olbermann "speak truth to power" comment up. (I searched on You Tube and couldn't find it).

Kerry pointed out to me that during his lifetime he has never seen a journalist continually make such hard hitting frontal attacks on a sitting President. This, of course, begs the question: Is Olberman hard on W because he is a new species of journalist, empowered by the citizen journalists of the blog world, or is Olberman this blunt and critical with W because W deserves it more than any other President in the last half of the 2oth Century has?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No on No. 6!

LinkThe most poignant statement in today's NYTimes story about the South Dakota abortion ban ("No. 6") that is on the ballot (the legislature already voted for it and it was signed by Gov. Rounds, but opposition to the sweeping ban put it on the ballot) are these two picture, side by side.

The young woman on the left,with her toddler, works, for "Vote Yes for Life," while the older woman on the right works for South Dakota campaign for Healthy Families (donate here). While one might argue that the subtext of this picture is that the old, ageing feminist population cannot compete with today's post-feminist culture, I think it says something differently.

My research on the country doctor, Dr. William Jennings Bryan Henrie, back in August taught me to consider that many pro-choicers are men and women over 70. These individuals grew up in a time before Roe, in a time with the same sort of restrictive bans on abortion that South Dakota wants to enact. These individuals--whether they be Republican, Democrat, or neither--or, whether they be church goers or 'secularists'--know what a sorry state things will be for women if we turn back the clock to the Draconian days of total abortion bans (with the slim exception for the mother's life). Make no mistake about No. 6, this abortion ban will not make exceptions for health, e.g. preeclampsia, "high risk pregnancies," pregnancies resulting from traumatic situations like rape or incest, etc. The only way in which physicians won't be prosecuted for performing an abortion in the service of the woman's health is if it happens by accident (a by-product of treating the woman's underlying health condition. e.g. lupus, cancer, diabetes, ). What the ban says is: if you are suffering serious consequences and risks to your health by carrying this pregnancy to term, the fetuses life is more valuable than your own. Only if it is clear that you will die, can a physician abort.

Before Roe, many states added a health exception to the Comstock laws, which enable some women to get a safe abortion if they met the criteria of a panel of male physicians. The health exception covered "mental health," but in order to get it, you had to subject yourself to the most humiliating of circumstances--proving to a panel of men, who already had a great deal more power than you, that, true to stereotype, women were the weaker sex. Now, while this health exception was more humane than the current South Dakota ban, if this is humane, then what is inhumane?

Before Roe, women who were pregnant feared going to Catholic physicians or hospitals to give birth. Why? Because if it came down to you or the baby, the common wisdom was that the physician, well indoctrinated by the Catholic catechism, would choose the baby. There are lots of stories around of motherless babies and clueless single-parent fathers.

What pro-lifers often forget is that pregnancy is often dangerous to women's health. In fact, human woman have the most ill-suited physiology for giving birth due to our uprightness. So many things can and do go wrong that to ban abortions in such a sweeping and inhumane way is to assuredly put women's lives at risk.

So why do you have this young, energized and committed female pro-life contingent: Ignorance. They simply do not know what they are signing on to; they have no idea what the world was like before Roe and hence, they simply do not have enough lived experience to understand the effect that this abortion ban would have on their lives and the lives of all the other women they care for.

Years ago, a friend of mine who spent many years working for NARAL said, reflecting on the current hostile climate towards women's reproductive freedom: "Maybe people have to lose their rights to remember how vital they are." At the time, I nodded my head. Sure, that made sense. And, from my cushy perch--wherein I know that I could acquire the medical attention I needed were I to find myself in a difficult pregnancy--I thought, "Ok, let 'em lose those rights."

That was before I embarked on my research project of pre-Roe days. I could never go back to that position. To do so is to be willing to give up on the safety of low income women's lives, which morally is unconscionable to me. It should be unconscionable to anyone, for that matter.

The fate of No. 6 is indeed truly important for the future of women's lives. I urge all of you to do something today to help this ban get defeated.