Stanley Fish has an interesting opinion today about why it’s bad to be a political independent. Speaking as an independent, I obviously don’t think it’s such a bad thing, but the article is relatively well written. Essentially, the writer argues that humans are by nature factional, and that once you start trying to actually do anything rather than speak in meaningless generalities, you’ll end up with disagreements about terms or priorities, and then you’ll need to unite with like-minded people in order to accomplish something. Further, an independent as President would face more politics in trying to get something done than a member of one of the two major parties, as that President wouldn’t be able to count on a large bloc of automatic support.
These arguments are valid as far as they go. What I feel the author has overlooked, though, is another reason why many people become independents: the fact that there is more than one political axis. If you align things are a purely left-right axis, I come out pretty much dead center. So does another of my college friends. When you look at two axes, on the other hand, he and I come out as diameterically opposed, as he’s essentially a populist and I’m essentially a libertarian. We come out in the middle on a single axis because when looking at the broad scale, the number of issues on which we greatly favor the Democrats balance the number of issues on which we greatly favor the Republicans–it’s just that, for the two of us, many of those positions are opposite to each others’.
I’m sure there are some people who are independents because they gain satisfaction from not belonging to a major group, or who may feel superior to others for their lack of assumed allegiances. The author does, however, completely ignore that some people might be independents because on the, say, 4 issues that matter the most to that person, two positions are taken by the Republicans and 2 are taken by the Democrats, and the person thus doesn’t have greater loyalty to one side or the other on policy as a whole, but must make decisions more on the basis of the particular Republican or Democrat offered as a choice. By not addressing that aspect, I see the argument as fatally flawed. Thoughts?
Time has a very interesting poll about morality at the moment. Please go look at it first; it will take you less than 5 minutes to answer it.
(waiting for you to go answer the poll questions)
(no, really, go do so)
I’d heard about this poll before, but this time I get to see the exact scenarios laid out. My answers, for those who are interested, are: yes, yes, yes, no, no.
In the first scenario, the baby’s crying will lead to not only my death, but also to the deaths of others, including itself. Obviously, you try other means to quiet the baby first: give it something to suck on, rock it, change its diaper, whatever. But the scenario states that the baby can’t be quieted in any other way. If that baby continues to scream, it’s going to die very soon no matter what. Better that it be just the baby that dies, and not take me and the other refugees with it. I’m smothering the baby.
In the second scenario, if someone isn’t kicked off the lifeboat we’re going to capsize and all die. If one individual is already grievously injured and bound to die soon anyways, and killing him just a little bit sooner preserves my life and those of others, I’m pushing him out of the boat. I’ve got a strong survival instinct.
In the third scenario, we have a group of 5 idiots on one train track not paying attention to oncoming vehicles, and 1 individual on another doing the same. They’re all equally stupid, and none of them are guaranteed to die soon if I don’t send the train at them. I therefore bow to the notion that 1 death is better than 5 deaths, and send the train at the lone individual.
In the fourth scenario, we have the same 5 idiots unaware of an oncoming train, but I’m on a bridge over the track with a stranger, and if I push him off the train will stop before it hits the 5 clueless. In this case, the idiots on the track are more culpable than the guy on the bridge with me, who is entirely blameless. I’m not going to make him pay the consequences of the idiots being idiots. I’ll yell for them to get out of the way and maybe throw rocks at them if I think I have a chance of getting their attention, but I’m not going to kill an innocent bystander to save them.
In the 5th case, the guy in the catapult is just as innocent as the guy on the bridge. So, I won’t kill him to save 5 idiots. I’m assuming he’s not been sentenced to sit in the catapult as payment for a crime, nor is he being an idiot and playing in a catapult which has obviously been constructed to fling people at oncoming trains.
Of the people who had responded when I wrote this, 70% agreed with me in the first case, 56% in the second, 79% in the 3rd, 60% in the 4th, and 52% in the 5th. I’m surprised more people are OK with killing the baby than the presumably adult lifeboat passenger, but maybe they care that the baby probably won’t really understand its coming death while the lifeboat passenger will.
What are your answers?
Today’s NYTimes Science Section is all about evolution. Which, while interesting in itself, might not have caused me to post anything here. The fact that this article is about my advisor, on the other hand, I think warrants a post.
Well, as we’ve already got people on the blog riled today, let’s add another dimension to it. The latest news from the culture wars isn’t a good one for either equality or freedom, really. Yesterday, the Michigan State Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that public universities and governmental agencies may not provide domestic partnership benefits to their employees, in response to the 2004 MI state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and outlaws recognition of any “similar union for any purpose”.
Guest post by Mike Wiser
Here in Michigan we have a number of proposals on the ballot. Of most general interest is Prop 2, which would amend the state’s Constitution such that it would ban public institutions from using “affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.” This is particularly relevant in light of the recent Supreme Court cases involving affirmative action practices at the University of Michigan.
Long-term readers will know where I stand on this, though I don’t feel my own opinions and vote are important for this post. At the moment, CNN reports 9% of the precincts are reporting, with an overall 65% voting in favor. This exceeds the exit polls, where 60% of men and 47% of women supported the proposal.
In a move that should surprise very few, the Senate today rejected the proposed Constitutional Ammendment banning gay marriage. The vote was 49-48, in a largely party-line division. Republicans breaking ranks were Specter, Gregg, Chafee, Snowe, McCain, Collins, and Sununu. Democrats breaking ranks were Byrd and Nelson. Dodd, Rockefeller, and Hagel didn’t vote, and Jeffords, Vermont’s Independent, sided with the Democrats. The successful cloture motion effectively ends the legislative process for this ammendment for this year.
While we’re on the topic, though, I have a question which has genuinely puzzled me for years. The Defense of Marriage Act (which, to be completely fair, hails from 1996, so it was signed by Clinton, not Bush) says that states don’t have to recognize legally-performed gay marriages from other states regardless of the “full faith and credit” clause in the Constitution. I’m not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV), but I have never understood what the legal justification is for passing a law stating that certain other laws are not subject to the Constitution. As much as I oppose the proposed ammendment which failed today, I do recognize that at least it’s being done in accordance with the law–if you don’t like what the Constitution says, you have to ammend it, rather than passing laws in violation of it. Brendan’s told me before that he has heard that DOMA’s constituionality isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, but he was unable to elaborate how. So, since this blog has a good percentage of readers who are lawyers-in-training at a markedly religious school, I figure someone might be able to explain this. How is it that a law can state what other laws are subject to the constitution? Would it be any different if I tried to get a law passed saying that computer files aren’t subject to due process claims, and thus there is no such thing as unreasonable search and seizure when it comes to electronic files? If so, why?
As was mentioned last week, March 28th saw the publication of a new book, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Last night, I finally had a chance to read the whole thingÃ¢â‚¬â€my local BorderÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had been sold out when I tried to pick up a copy over the weekend. I asked for a deal, in that we refrain from deciding whether or not the book was inherently offensive until someone had read it, and was willing to make a case one way or the other. Well, I have, and am willing to. So, my thoughts on this are after the jump.
Guest poster: Mike Wiser
Dane sent along this link, in an apparent attempt to raise my blood pressure. Congrats, Dane. It worked. Sorry about the length of this one, all, but the whole “after the jump” feature isn’t currently available.
[UPDATE: It’s available again, so here goes…]
Mike Wiser here again. We’ve had conflicting reports about martial law over the past few days, with some commenters stating that such a term has no legal meaning in the state of Louisiana, and others saying that it needs to be declared by various different officials. For what it’s worth, the WWL blog now reports that Mayor Nagin has declared martial law. Direct quote from their site: “7:32 P.M. - N.O. Mayor Ray Nagin declares Martial law in the city and directs the city’s 1,500-person police force to do “whatever it takes” to gain back control of the city. He will also enlist the aid of troops.”
So, if the mayor has the power to declare martial law, it’s been done. Even if he doesn’t have the legal authority to do so, though, it’s possible that pragmatically it won’t matter–it may well be that the police department will take it for granted that the mayor is able to do this, and leave worrying about the technical legality of it to legal scholars. As a disclaimer, though, I speak from the viewpoint of someone unfamiliar with the details of either the declaration of martial law in general or the specifics of the Louisiana legal system.
Mike again. The WWL TV stream reports that the river is now back into normal range of height, and thus is no longer filling the city. The flood waters continue to rise, but it’s not the river anymore, but the lake. While the lake is a large basin of water, it’s still a big deal to remove the river as a source of flooding–the lake is unlikely to gain more water than it already has, but the river is by definition moving water, and thus any flooding from it won’t slow substantially as the water enters, as the source isn’t depleted by the flow.
This is Mike Wiser, the Mike mentioned below as one of Brendan’s friends obsessively monitoring the situation. From culling the websites of several of NO network affiliates, I bring you the following. It’s a few hours old (sorry—I too needed to get some sleep eventually), but as Brendan’s site has become a major news source for many:
8:15 a.m: Evacuees Grow Restless In Superdome
Outside, the Louisiana Superdome is surrounded by 3 feet of water. Inside, refugees from Hurricane Katrina are taking what they can get, even if it’s just a breath of fresh air. Dozens of them slept on a walkway surrounding the Superdome as conditions inside worsened and frustrations grew. National Guardsmen made sure they didn’t leave. National Guard General Ralph Lupin said everything possible is being done to keep people comfortable, which mostly means keeping things from getting worse. Right now there’s no air conditioning, bathrooms are filthy and trash is overflowing. There are no details but officials say two people have died. – Associated Press
The same website is also reporting that hospital patients are being transferred to the Superdome, which certainly cannot help the situation there—though the hospital must be in major trouble if evacuating patients to the Superdome is a viable option.
For more information about conditions in the Superdome, I recommend http://abc26.trb.com/news/sns-ap-katrina-superdome,0,5401691.story?coll=wgno-home-1. It’s a more complete story, which I presume is because ABC26 is focusing on print reports for its website, rather than trying to get streaming video capabilities back up and running.
UPDATE: Streaming video is back online from WWL.
Apparently, there’s no need for separation of church and state in Indiana.
Well, it’s outside my normal area of knowledge, but Canada’s facing a pretty serious Parliamentary issue at the moment…
This week, the Veritas foundation, a Christian apologetics group, is holding a series of talks at Stanford, which I found out about last Thursday. Yesterday, two of the talks were by Dr. Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and the author of DarwinÃ¯Â¿Â½s Black Box, in which he advances his claim of intelligent design in biological systems and that certain biochemical systems are irreducibly complex and could not have evolved by natural selection. As an evolutionary biologist, I felt the need to attend his talksÃ¯Â¿Â½and since IÃ¯Â¿Â½m BrendanÃ¯Â¿Â½s unofficial science correspondent, I figured IÃ¯Â¿Â½d take the opportunity to report on what happened, and my take on the issue as a whole. Be warned, this is an extremely lengthy post, as IÃ¯Â¿Â½m trying to balance the desire to be technically precise (always a strong drive with me, as some may have noticed) with the desire to make my points understandable to people without substantial background in biology and chemistry.
You know things have gotten out of hand when the Unitarians mobilize…