Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Fightin' Infections

Category: Humor

I'm trying to get over a cold right now, and other than the hacking, painful, dry cough, I'm doing pretty well. I think the best thing to do at this point is to use the illness as an excure to avoid the gym, my law readings, and calling my family back. Hell, I may even trot out sickness as a reason to not call people back even when I'm healthy.
"Hi Paleo, this is your first girlfriend from high school. Do you have three hours to talk and catch up?"
"Oooooo, no. I've got... syphilis?"
This is a great idea. There is no way it can backfire.


I think if I were to win the lottery, the first thing I would do is donate a ton of money to my college alma mater, then demand that they name every men's room after me. Not "Paleobiology's bathroom" or anything like that; I actually want the bathrooms to be named "Paleobiology." That will totally mess up the students in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology program.
"Hey, are you going to Paleobiology class today?"
"Yes, but first I have to stop by Paleobiology."


If that doesn't fly, I'll donate a ton of money to a small college and have them rename the sports teams "The Fightin' Infections." It has the benefit of being offensive to nobody, plus it sends the right message: get well.
After the success of The Fightin' Whities intramural team at the University of Northern Colorado, I anticipate this to be a big moneymaker for both the lucky college and for me. We could even get pharmaceutical conglomerates to sponsor us. The marketing pretty much writes itself.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Randy Barnett to join Georgetown, Mark Tushnet to leave

The word on the street is that my libertarian friends are ecstatic at the news that Professor Randy Barnett, formerly of Boston University Law School, will join the staff at Georgetown Law. Info about him can ber found at his personal web page. He is a libertarian of the true variety, as opposed to those who use the term as simply a nicer way fo saying "conservative".

To make sure that we are at push, Professor Mark Tushnet has accepted a post at Harvard Law School, meaning we have no net change in the number of constitutional scholars. He is one of the main proponents of Critical Legal Studies, a field of legal philosophy that states that the law is indeterminate.

The constitutional philosophies of the two men are quite different, and it will be interesting to see how Georgetown's Law Center will react, if at all, to the change.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Members of the clergy join in the Natural Selection/Intelligent Design debate, and on the side of science, too...

From Reuters, via CNN.com:
Scientists enlist clergy in evolution battle.
The nice part about this article and the Clergy Letter Project itself is that it reframes the debate between NS/ID in terms that reconcile materialistic, empirical science with moral, value-driven religion. That reconciliation comes not by marrying the two fields, but clearly articulating the differences between the questions that science tries to answer and that religion tries to answer.
It was a shame when so-called "social-Darwinist" tried to use evolutionary theory to degrade human dignity and justice through eugenics and other deplorable practices; it will be shame if religiously-minded people water down the teaching of science and the wonder of the world around us.
I will also admit that as a practicing Roman Catholic and lover of science and evolutionary biology, I am hearted by the words of Father George Coyne, a scientist and priest at the Vatican: "The intelligent design movement belittles God. It makes God a designer, an engineer...[t]he God of religious faith is a god of love. He did not design me."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Immigration and the Minutemen

There is a perception that illegal immigration is tearing apart the fabric of the U.S. economy, and that the economic and criminal costs of supporting such a large number of illegal immigrants is an unbearable burden on the U.S. I wonder if that it true.
Let me start by saying that I firmly believe that the U.S., and every country, has the right to secure its borders. The ability to exclude is an important one, and border security is not something to be taken lightly. That being said, you can probably guess that I do not agree with the hard-line to illegal immigrants; I hesitate to say that, because I do not approve of visa overstays or forged document-facilitated entries. My problem is with a blanket "export 'em all" rule, and with the aggressive targeting and harassment of individual illegals by citizens. The Minutemen are by far the most visible group today, but that is not the only group, and many many more people hold similar policy views as the Minutemen while disapproving of their methods.
I have three basic issues with hard-liners towards illegal immigration. Firstly, they are off the mark with regards to good public policy; their proposed solutions are out of proportion and off the mark with regards to fixing the problems caused by illegal immigration. Secondly, the Minutemen and their ideological brethren frame the debate in economic terms, but actually give battle on cultural terms; this is xenophobia in a milder form. Thirdly, the minutemen are targeting a group that is easy to attack because the individuals have less rights, tend to be poor, and are easy to blame for a multitude of problems.
I should start with a disclaimer; I volunteer for an immigration charity (Catholic Charities DC) and am an immigrant myself, so there is an initial bias. However, my family and almost all of the people I've worked with had legal status when entering the country, and legal status when staying. It is possible that I would be resentful of those who do not enter through the proper channels, as my parents worked very hard to do. Let's call my situational biases "mostly harmless", then.

Public Policy
As a matter of policy the Minutemen focus on the lack of taxes that illegals pay and the cost of paying for their children's education. One effort underway locally here in the DC area is the day laborer project. The local chapter of the Minutemen is organizing observations of day laborers congregating for work everyday at a newly built area in Herndon, VA. Peter Gemma, a Maryland member of the Minutemen, wrote recently about the group in the DC Examiner. He claimed that they men and women of the organization were in attendance because "Federal politicians are unable or unwilling to respond to the security and economic threats posed by runaway immigration." Another group member apparently claimed that one in four immigrants in Virginia is illegal. The central point seems to be that all of these illegals were taking jobs from American citizens and legal residents. I doubt the statistics bear that out; most illegals take work that is highly undesirable and that would be anathema to people who had full legal protections. The Center for Immigration Studies has done an analysis that touched on illegal immigration impact on American workers and wages, and found that most workers faced no job competition from the immigrants, legal or otherwise. Although it should be admitted that of those who are harmed, the poorest Americans are the ones most harmed by illegal, predominantly Mexican or Central American, immigration. Wages decreased 3% to 8% in some occupations, but I suspect that this is what fuels the American farm and labor economy. Is this a bad thing? Probably. Is the solution to close the borders? Probably not. Guest worker programs may alleviate the tension by formalizing the economic fact that agriculture depends on cheap immigrant labor to remain competitive (a condition predicted and described 15 years ago in Labor Management Decisions). By acknowledging the existence and economic necessity of labor, a guest worker program would compel the payment of taxes and allow federal and local governments to track immigrants to protect both them and their host communities. At any rate, there are programs up for debate through normal legislative channels. Quasi-vigilantism, even by well-meaning, intelligent people, is not a viable answer.

The Scope of the Debate
If you look back over his submission to the DC Examiner, Gemma clearly draws a line: "we are like you, they are totally different." I'm not saying that he is a racist, but I am saying that he paints himself and his group as the champions of American values and culture. He makes laborers his proxy for illegal immigrants, and makes them all out to be outsiders. That may accurate in a sense, because language barriers and cultural barriers exist. The problem is that the Minutemen do not seek to provide the immigrants, legal or otherwise, with a slice of the American economic pie, and that slice is what drives integration. By isolating the group and driving it underground, Gemma tactics actually harm his image of a fluid "melting pot". If the Minutemen want to promote America, they should work to expand English instruction services to the US-born (and this citizenship-eligible) children of illegal immigrants. That goes contrary to the secondary goal of American protectionism: to deny services to the people who enter the country illegally and their children. The Minuteman position is inherently contradictory in practice.

Easy Targets
My largest problem with targeting illegal or quasi-legal immigrants is that they are the poorest, most marginalized, and least protected members of the community. If arrested (rightly or wrongly), they are often not informed of their ability to contact their local consulate. The is abuse of them by employers, because the abusers know that no one will come forward for fear of being deported (the new term is "subject to removal proceedings"). They are easy to target legislatively because no one will speak up for them. US citizens can harass people who are suspected illegals knowing that no one will protest. I have heard many, many stories about employers (who are only an indirect target of Minuteman wrath) not paying immigrants, legal or otherwise, because they know that ignorance of the law and fear of being deported will keep them silent, even if no such threat exists. Other abuse was written about quite eloquently by Laura Roberts in the the Houston Catholic Worker. To attack a population that is inherently helpless seems unjust. Overstatement of the economic harm is very possible because there are few who want to speak up for the other side, and when they do speak up it is for the farm owners or business owners who benefit from low cost laborers. The laborers themselves have few advocates. I think of it as akin to vice squads targeting prostitutes instead of the johns or, more productively, the underlying causes of prostitution in the first place. Don't read too much into that analogy; it breaks down.


With any luck, the Minutemen who are the most considerate and aware of the humanity of the undocumented immigrants will be willing to compromise on the harshest of their tactics; with luck, the illegal immigrants who are talented, hard-working, and responsible will be given a chance to contribute to our national economy in a legal way.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Evolution is happening right now, and it is really, really ugly.

Darwinists rejoice: the cane toad, scourge of Australia, movie star, and all around nasty critter, is mutating.

Darwin's nightmare: Toxic toad evolves to secure supremacy.

Normally, evolution at the macro level does not occur at a visible level. This is a nice case because it shows evolution, natural selection, and adaptation in a species that has a high public profile.
Here's some background on the cane toad, from Nature:
Invasive species: The toads are coming!
If you're interested in cane toad biology, and it IS facinating, as well as the ecological impact of its introduction to non-native habitats, check out the movie Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. It is a hilarious and enlightening documentary about the importation of cane toads into Australia to control rats. Interstingly, the reason they didn't like the rats was because they were eating the sugar cane, a non-native cash crop.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

H.L.A. Hart, Law, and Morality

Ok, so I wrote this as a post for my Philosophy of Law class, but I figure I need content, and I'd like to thorw it out there.

The book referred to is The Concept of Law, by H.L.A. Hart. He was a legal philosopher who took a positivist point of view in his writings. Basically, there is no natural law that informs the actual law we have (as some, such as Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther King, have argued). He would disagree with the notion that "an unjust law is not law."

Anyway, here is the post:

Positivism is a harm, but Hart says, “let them eat cake.”
Hart makes, in my view, a convincing argument against the “naturalness” of any specific provision of the law or human custom. To paraphrase, he believes that what we (and the classic philosophers) call “morality” and “justice” are mental and societal shortcuts. They exists because, taken in the aggregate, morally-termed behavior on the part of the majority of people tends to make society run smoother than amorally- or immorally-termed behaviors.

His is a descriptive definition of morality, not a normative one (I apologize, as I tend to harp on that theme a lot). He does not believe in a divine source for morality, but that it can be defined in humanistic terms. Note that he sees an intersection between morality an justice, but not a definite one to one relationship. Hart believes that morality can inform the law, but that that is the extent of the relationship. He also, it would appear, does not believe in much stasis in the definition of justice. Note his emphasis on interpretation and what he terms a “balancing” by judges. So much for the summary.

Here is what I don’t get, and bear in mind that it is not a criticism of Hart: What good does it do us to deconstruct the morality, then? I know that I feel that it is a “good” thing to identify the limits of morality, but is it? If morality and its influence on the law are so important, if “liability for both criminal and civil wrongs may be adjusted to prevailing views of moral responsibility,” then are not positivists harming us? If the functioning of society depends on morals being taken seriously, then by deconstructing morality are they not in fact hampering the smooth functioning of civilization? Let’s say that, to take one hypothetical example, sexually transmitted diseases are bad, and the prevailing arbiter of monotheistic morality issues a proclamation that the Goddess told her that sex without condoms is morally wrong. The rate of condom uses does up, for fear of damnation. Then lets say a legal philosopher, Bizarro-hart, deconstructs that moral proclamation and is lauded for it. People buy into the lack of moral force behind the law, and condom use goes down. Even with education programs that tell people the materialistic reasons why they should use condoms, the numbers for condom use are far lower than when under the moralistic regime. This is because, to use real-world Hart’s words, the populace has “limited understanding and strength of will”; the force of law AND morality combined succeeded better than in the later regime. I admit this is a loaded example, and not think it matches anything in our current climate (oh man, I hope not). Still, in such a world, is a positivist doing harm?

Einstein’s general theory of relativity superseded Newton’s Theory of Gravity. This was not because Newton’s theory was wrong in its calculations, but because at the really small decimals, Einstein’s theory fit the facts better. Most of the time, for many calculations, Newton’s theory works just fine and it would be a waste of resources to use a calculation as complex as Einstein’s. So, is Hart’s theory akin to Einstein’s in this regard? Is the Newtonian morality just fine for the general populace, as Hart seems to think? Is Hart setting up a world view where an elite few are able to pierce the veil of morality, but continue to support the moral system for the masses? Is this arrogant?

The manifesto, or: zero readers does not equal zero concern.

It's a trap!!!

Blogging always seemed like a bad idea to me, because I could easily take up too much time writing about nothing. It is strange to worry about blogging content when you simulataneously know that no one is reading.

Anyway, here is the manifesto of this blog:

I will try and write only semi-coherent thoughts. No more "cheese is tasty" pointless posts.

I will keep personal news to a minimum, to try and keep myself relatively anonymous here. That probably will not work,as there are enough links on this page to make it easy with a little snooping to find out who I am. Still, I'd like to keep personal news confined to my personal web page.

I will touch on a variety of topics, and so this blog may become filled with non sequitur posts.

I will post at least once every two days, to keep myself thinking and to keep the writing muscles working.


If I add more to this manifesto, I will place the new points in italics.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago is a great resource for procrastination.

Man, I waste too much time on this thing:

The Encyclopedia of Chicago

Fun stuff. A couple of friends of mine worked on the entries for the print version while we were in college.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My personal web page

I've created a new web page using iWeb, and I have to say it looks nice. It doesn't let you tweak the HTML very easily, but I can work around that.

First Post

Man, I gotta post to these things more often.