Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Sotomayor and Her Statements Currently Criticized

On, Ed Rollins has today argued that the GOP should not put up a fight about Sotomayor, Obama's first Supreme Court pick.

On Facebook, I posted the following quick response:

"It's amazing when people criticize Sotomayor as an 'elitist' pick. What do you want, a SC justice you'd have a beer with? Sotomayor came from a humble background, which makes her success all the more impressive. Good for Rollins for seeing that this is a silly fight, whether or not Sotomayor said something that could be interpreted unflatteringly in one speech. I think I need to write a blog post about this, lol."

Here's the deal. Sotomayor said in a speech that a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

CNN ran a story about Rush Limbaugh's attack, calling Sotomayor a racist. In the story, if you look only at the surface of things, you might wonder why a latina woman would necessarily make better decisions than a white male. According to CNN, "White House press secretary Robert Gibbs defended Sotomayor's Berkeley comments Tuesday. 'If you look at the context of the longer speech that she makes, I think what she says is very much common sense in terms of different experiences, different people,' he said." So, let's look at the context.

Here is the speech, which the NY Times has reprinted.

Here is the paragraph that has sparked so much controversy:

"Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Two things seem important to note in reacting to the incredible attacks on Sotomayor of racism. First and most important is the fact that she does not say that a latina woman would in fact make better judgments than a white male, but rather that she would hope so. It is not clear why we should not hope that they would make equally good decisions, but the point is that we can interpret her as pronouncing an aspiration. In the past, as she points out in the speech, even justices whom history reveres, such as O.W. Holmes, have upheld discriminatory practices and rules. To say that she would hope, given her experience that a latina woman would do better than this sounds far more reasonable. In my eyes, this context effectively disarms the challenge against her of racism.

The second issue is this: when we consider juries in court room cases, we want the people who decide about our situations to be made up of our peers. The idea is that someone who is not like me in circumstance may have a harder time understanding why I made the decisions or requests that I have. It is not necessarily the case that someone cannot empathize from a different view point or experience, but it is reasonable to hope or to expect, I think, that someone with a similar background to mine would be more equipped to understand my concerns and reasoning. As such, to have greater diversity on the Supreme Court in a diverse nation is perfectly reasonable to value and is in this sense anything but racist.

Ed Rollins is absolutely right in this case, I think, that people like Gingrich and Limbaugh are making a mistake in fighting Sotomayor. Unless the GOP starts to look like it is led by less off-the-handle leaders, it is going to increase its troubles in 2010.

Fiscal Responsibility paper

To keep myself focused, I'll occasionally post info about what I'm researching and writing. Today, I will be focused on editing a paper I have written on "Fiscal Responsibility and the 'Use It or Lose It' Rationale for Spending." I got some great feedback on the paper from Professor Alastair Norcross of UC Boulder, who commented on the paper at the Midsouth Philosophy Conference this spring. The audience at the paper was large, which was nice, and gave me great feedback as well.

The paper is basically about what happens when a fiscal leader finds himself or herself with more cash than was planned previously, such as when a non-profit gets the luncheon catering donated at the last minute. Now an organization has money beyond what it had originally planned to use, an experience I have encountered, and certain decisions bring with them moral criticism of irresponsibility when the "use it or lose it" rationale is brought up. In this paper, I set up some guidelines for deciding when the "use it or lose it" reasoning is unacceptable, acceptable, or morally better than not using the funds.

Fun stuff :)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Strawman Fallacies and Public Leadership

In a recent New York Times article, Helene Cooper criticizes President Obama for committing straw man fallacies. She explains that critics complained about the same thing regarding President Bush. The example she gives with regard to President Bush is a clear straw man fallacy. The ones she points out for President Obama, though, are about things I have heard people say.

In this post, I'm not interested in comparing possible straw man fallacies. Rather, I want to suggest that omitting the name of the person whose argument you are answering can often be a good thing. When there are people who are clear ideological opponents, it can sometimes make sense to name them. At the same time, when you are trying to work with people, to sway them to join your projects, it might be best not to point the finger at them for having raised an objection. That is clearly different from extending an argument beyond the reasonable version of your critics' challenges (as in the case of needing to "inform" people that you can't negotiate with terrorists).

My point is that in addressing people diplomatically, one can try to separate criticism of ideas from criticism of people. Think of working in a team. When someone offers an idea that is no good, to say the person was stupid is not only too strong (as everyone has some bad ideas), but it also discourages that team member from contributing in the future. In general, teamwork does best when contributions are encouraged, rather than discouraged. In that sense, then, to say "those who" is not necessarily a precursor to a straw man. It may just be that the speaker is reluctant to point the finger. We often want to challenge an idea, not the author, and with good reason.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reason to be proud of Mississippi

Changes like this one make me proud of Mississippi. Philadelphia, MS, elected its first black mayor. It is the town notorious for the killings of three civil rights activists.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Torture and killing

Ok, since I've announced that I've got a blog up now, I feel compelled to post something interesting.

Lately a matter has been on my mind with regard to torture. For some reason, killing in the battlefield does not feel as wrong to me as torturing a prisoner who is in our custody. Some might find that odd. I don't think my intuition is wrong, though. An armed soldier on the ground poses a certain threat to our soldiers. An imprisoned person may have information that would be helpful to obtain, but qua prisoner, he or she is not immediately putting our soldiers in danger. Plus, we would not want others to torture our soldiers, so we sign treaties and agreements to say that we will not perform such actions. When we contradict those treaties, are we not hypocritical? Isn't America a place that should always strive for the moral high ground? Surely we falter, but if our goals are less than moral, our actions can only follow the lowering of our standards. These are only initial thoughts.

First Post - I'm blogging!

Hello world,

This is Eric Thomas Weber's first blogging entry, unless you count all that stuff I post on Facebook. I'll be posting about exciting news stories, scholarly works in progress, and other musings. If I post things of interest to people, great!
Thanks for visiting.