Thursday, June 21, 2018

Zero Tolerance v Catch And Release


I see a lot of skirting around what seems to me the fundamental issue with respect to the border issues, even more basic than separating families: it’s catch and release versus some form of zero tolerance. 

I don’t think anything will satisfy Ds short of a return to civil infractions for 1st time crossers—second timers are felons under law—the effect of which has earned it the nickname “catch and release,” which seems to me to be in its effect a kind of lawlessness under the thin, gossamer veil of law. I can’t see a return to that policy as a matter of substance or of politics, that is to say, substance as such and  politics coming from this Administration.

So does a solution lie in the continued misdemeanour route if there is a way to keep families together that doesn’t amount to sheer incarceration tied to much more resources for, and expediting of, the asylum claims? 

Can the EO get to this balance? Maybe, but I’ve no sense of that either way.

I’ll repeat my previous link to David Frum’s highly regarded article on this in the Atlantic:

Monday, June 18, 2018

An Answer To Stanley Fish On The Humanites Not Needing To Sell Themselves


(Here’s what I wrote to my friend who posted it:

...I agree with most of what he says, maybe all of it, except for his ultimate argument that there is no “generalizable benefit” to the study of the liberal arts. I believe that there are human betterments to the study, though something may turn on what he means by “generalizable benefits.”

 The brunt of his argument, that contemplation is its own reward, is wholly unsatisfying as is his claim that there are no external measures for the evaluation of, and external justifications for, the liberal arts. 

But an obvious and main one is the generalizable benefit of the transmission of our culture over its history and of the facts of our historical past. 

Another related to the first lies in the resolution of the disagreement I had with Larry over the benefits of art, (say) literature. Between the ostensible poles of the claim of real world, traceable tangible effects of art and the claim of no effects whatsoever, which claims, it finally became clear, neither of us were making, resolution lay in our agreement that we are affected, enriched, enlarged and on occasion changed by the literature we read and more generally by the art we experience. Given that by and large the taught art and thought is the product of our greatest minds and most creative artists, the best that has ever been written, thought  and created, how can individuals exposed to it not be personally benefited by it in these ways?

Isn’t human flourishing a generalizable benefit?

And, going another step, if every or nearly every individual is so affected and enlarged by some understanding of their culture, some appreciation for, and experience of, the best that has been thought and created, by some understanding of their history and a little of how the world works, then it must follow that on balance societies with more of such individuals than less have a better chance of flourishing.  If more individuals flourish the odds are greater that their society will too. Not inevitably of course but as a matter of likelihood. 

Maybe here lies a key to the hole in Fish’s argument: taken to its absurd ultimate conclusion—that there is no consequence to studying the liberals arts; they’re self justifying; contemplation is its own reward? For at the end of his argument, at its absurd final logical conclusion, we have a claim for a society that can exist without any knowledge of its own history, culture and past thought, with no amplification of the historical rehearsal of the big questions. 

Such a society is unimaginable. And, so, there is a logical fallacy of at the heart of Fish’s argument, namely, I think, the fallacy of composition, of concentrating on the part while ignoring the whole. 

And there’s a real world problem for Fish in tending to diminish, for example, “the lesbian poetry of Texas.” And that is to fail to note how the entire academic infrastructure, in whatever form it takes, bricks and mortar, online courses, whatever, is essential to, a sine qua non for, the transmission of culture, a real world, consequentialist, generalizable benefit to the liberal arts, without which our social life is unimaginable. So, for example, Fish distinguishes between the popularizing of art and the academic study of art, not noting the latter is the predicate for the former....

Saturday, June 16, 2018

One Point About The IG Report


Here’s one point on the IG Report, which I haven’t read, not even the summary.

Apparently, it discloses a great deal of bias among some of the top echelon in the FBI charged both with investigating Clinton and investigating Russia and the Trump campaign.

Some are drawing succour from the report saying, paraphrase, “We can’t find documented or otherwise evident instances of bias informing specific decisions. But we’re concerned with many expressions of bias among highly placed people.” 

But it’s rare so as to be effectively non existent for sophisticated people explicitly to broadcast their bias. That’s why the legal maxim is, “Not only must justice be done, it must seen to be done.”

So, for example, when Strzok, a lead investigator into Clinton’s email issue and the campaign collusion issue, says, “We’ll stop it,” how can anyone know whether that attitude didn’t inform his decisions? It’s impossible to know.

That impossibility is why taint arises from just the  apprehension of bias, why courts, for example, overturn decisions on that apprehension and root out judges for it before decisions are made. Bias can be inferred from conduct and comments. In the Report, however, there are smoking gun instances of it. 

So for those who want to take comfort from there being, as the Report says, no documented or evident instances of bias affecting specific decision, they need other recliners: it’s no comfort at all and proceeds from a massive misconception.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A Note On A Subsidiary Issue In Masterpiece Cake And Then A General View

Masterpiece Cake case:


a long note on a subsidiary issue in the Masterpiece Cake case and then a general overarching view of the case’s main issue.

The issue is whether it was inconsistent for the Commission to exonerate three bakers who refused to bake a cake with an anti gay wedding message  but yet to hold baker Phillips in violation of Colorado law in refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding. 

Colorado law says: 

- [ ] ....It is a discriminatory practice and unlawful for a person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to an individual or a group, because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry, the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation.....

Kennedy noted this apparent inconsistency in results as one of the “data points” underlying the Commissioners’ religious animus towards Phillips, which meant he didn’t get a neutral hearing, which then meant the Commission’s decision had to fall:

- [ ] ....As noted above, on at least three other occasions the Civil Rights Division considered the refusal of bakers to create cakes with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage, along with religious text. Each time, the Division found that the baker acted lawfully in refusing service. It made these determinations because, in the words of the Division, the requested cake included “wording and images [the baker] deemed derogatory”.....

- [ ] The treatment of the conscience-based objections at issue in these three cases contrasts with the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ objection. The Commission ruled against Phillips in part on the theory that any message the requested wedding cake would carry would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. Yet the Division did not address this point in any of the other cases with respect to the cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism.....

- [ ] The treatment of the other cases and Phillips’ case could reasonably be interpreted as being inconsistent as to the question of whether speech is involved, quite apart from whether the cases should ultimately be distinguished. In short, the Commission’s consideration of Phillips’ religious objection did not accord with its treatment of these other objections.....

Justice Gorsuch on this point held that the seeming inconsistency is in fact a real inconsistency, that the cases are not distinguishable. In the anti gay message cases, the customer, Jacks, wanted a cake that reflected his religious creed, which held against gay marriage, and the refusing bakers were exonerated based on the Civil Rights Division’s (the “Division”) theory that the message offended their, the bakers’, secular convictions. 

The Division made two points: the bakers would have refused anyone who wanted that message on a cake; and the bakers would have made a cake for the same people (and anyone else) had they wished a different non offending message. 

The Commission rejected Jacks’s appeal:

- [ ] ....But the Division declined to find a violation, reasoning that the bakers didn’t deny Mr. Jack service because of his religious faith but because the cakes he sought were offensive to their own moral convictions. As proof, the Division pointed to the fact that the bakers said they treated Mr. Jack as they would have anyone who requested a cake with similar messages, regardless of their religion. The Division pointed, as well, to the fact that the bakers said they were happy to provide religious persons with other cakes expressing other ideas. Mr. Jack appealed to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the Commission summarily denied relief....

For Gorsuch, Philips similarly out of his own religious convictions refused to bake a cake celebrating a gay wedding. But he would bake these or any gay customers  cakes for other occasions. Nor would Phillips bake a cake for a gay wedding at the request of any customer, gay or straight. 

The Commission held that Phillips breached the law. 

So, for Gorsuch, both customers wanted protection for a protected category: Jacks, a creedal belief; and the others, sexual orientation. All the bakers refused these specific requests only out of deep personal conviction.  The bakers would have refused anyone’s request for similar cakes. And all the bakers would have baked other things for the same customers:

- [ ] ....the bakers explained without contradiction that they would not sell the requested cakes to anyone, while they would sell other cakes to members of the protected class (as well as to anyone else). So, for example, the bakers in the first case would have refused to sell a cake denigrating same-sex marriage to an atheist customer, just as the baker in the second case would have refused to sell a cake celebrating same-sex marriage to a heterosexual customer. And the bakers in the first case were generally happy to sell to persons of faith, just as the baker in the second case was generally happy to sell to gay persons. In both cases, it was the kind of cake, not the kind of customer, that mattered to the bakers....

The Commission exonerated the Jacks bakers for wanting to avoid creating an offensive message even as the effect of that was to exclude anyone religiously desiring that message and even as the law proscribed refusing service because of creed. But it held Phillips liable on the theory that, as noted by Gorsuch, 

- [ ] “intent to disfavor” a protected class of persons should be “readily ... presumed” from the knowing failure to serve someone who belongs to that class...In its judgment, Mr. Phillips’s intentions were “inextricably tied to the sexual orientation of the parties involved” and essentially “irrational.”

But, says Gorsuch, if Phillips’s objection is inextricably tied to a protected class, those of a gay sexual orientation, then so must be the Jacks’s bakers’ objection, those of a certain religious creed and faith. To distinguish between the two is not a neutral treatment of religion. 

- [ ]  .....In the end, the Commission’s decisions simply reduce to this: it presumed that Mr. Phillip harbored an intent to discriminate against a protected class in light of the foreseeable effects of his conduct, but it declined to presume the same intent in Mr. Jack’s case even though the effects of the bakers’ conduct were just as foreseeable....

- [ ] appears the Commission wished to condemn Mr. Phillips for expressing just the kind of “irrational” or “offensive . . . message” that the bakers in the first case refused to endorse. ...

- [ ] is also true that no bureaucratic judgment condemning a sincerely held religious belief as “irrational” or “offensive” will ever survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment. In this country, the place of secular officials isn’t to sit in judgment of religious beliefs, but only to protect their free exercise. Just as it is the “proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence” that we protect speech that we hate, it must be the proudest boast of our free exercise jurisprudence that we protect religious beliefs that we find offensive.....Popular religious views are easy enough to defend. It is in protecting unpopular religious beliefs that we prove this country’s commitment to serving as a refuge for religious freedom....

Against Gorsuch, Kagan argues (barely comprehensibly to me) that the gay customers’ protected trait, their sexual orientation, informed Phillips’s denial of service. For if they were straight he would have baked either of them a cake. But, she argues, if Jacks were of different religion, those bakers would have still refused to bake that specific cake bearing an anti gay wedding message. In Jacks’s case, the bakers’ refusal had nothing to do with religious opposition to gay marriage. They simply refused to create a message that violated Colorado’s accommodations law:

- [ ] .....JUSTICE GORSUCH argues that the situations “share all legally salient features.” But what critically differentiates them is the role the customer’s “statutorily protected trait,” played in the denial of service. Change Craig and Mullins’ sexual orientation (or sex), and Phillips would have provided the cake. Change Jack’s religion, and the bakers would have been no more willing to comply with his request. The bakers’ objections to Jack’s cakes had nothing to do with “religious opposition to same-sex weddings.” Instead, the bakers simply refused to make cakes bearing statements demeaning to people protected by CADA. With respect to Jack’s second cake, in particular, where he requested an image of two groomsmen covered by a red “X” and the lines “God loves sinners” and “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” the bakers gave not the slightest indication that religious words, rather than the demeaning image, prompted the objection. Phillips did, therefore, discriminate because of sexual orientation; the other bakers did not discriminate because of religious belief; and the Commission properly found discrimination in one case but not the other....

Gorsuch answers Kagan’s objections by arguing that for these purposes there is no legal difference between a cake meant for a gay wedding and a cake with a specific text on it:

- [ ] .....Nor can anyone reasonably doubt that a wedding cake without words conveys a message. Words or not and whatever the exact design, it celebrates a wedding, and if the wedding cake is made for a same-sex couple it cele- brates a same-sex wedding....

- [ ] ....Nor would it be proper for this or any court to suggest that a person must be forced to write words rather than create a symbol before his religious faith is implicated....

And he further argues that Phillips’s refusal cannot be resolved by some view that, as Kagan would have it, a cake is just a cake is just a cake, and is not a symbolic expression of affirmation for the wedding it’s designed for:

- [ ] .....We are told here, however, to apply a sort of Goldilocks rule: describing the cake by its ingredients is too general; understanding it as celebrating a same-sex wedding is too specific; but regarding it as a generic wedding cake is just right. 

The problem is, the Commission didn’t play with the level of generality in Mr. Jack’s case in this way. It didn’t declare, for example, that because the cakes Mr. Jack requested were just cakes about weddings generally, and all such cakes were the same, the bakers had to produce them. Instead, the Commission accepted the bakers’ view that the specific cakes Mr. Jack requested conveyed a message offensive to their convictions and allowed them to refuse service. Having done that there, it must do the same here....

I find Gorsuch’s arguments persuasive compared  to Kagan’s, which I understand, but which make little sense to me for the reasons Gorsuch explains.

More generally: 

While I’m totally for gay marriage and the grant to gay couples and individuals of all equal rights—“grant” may not be the right verb; “recognize” is better—I’m sympathetic to the argument based on compelled speech, assuming baking a fancy, symbolic and specified wedding cake can be legally likened to the expression inherent in artistry. 

Not otherwise.

The most troubling argument to me has been the question of what if the baker for religious reasons, sincerely but perversely held, is against interracial marriage.

I struggled with it and offered a few answers that didn’t sit well with me.

But I’ve had a good conversation with my younger lawyer daughter, who gives and takes good arguments equally well. And it came to me.

I think.

No dancing around the application of strict scrutiny or hiving off racial issues for special consideration: no, I think the issue has to be met head on. And the answer I think—I stress “I think” because it’s not necessarily conclusive—is that compelled speech must apply to the religiously based animus against interracial marriage if that’s what is sincerely and deeply believed. 

Compelled speech, which is as strong and embracing as the 1st Amendment itself, can’t be splintered into the convictions we can live with and the ones we can’t. If Nazis can march under their rights of assembly and unbridled expression, short of incitement, then bakers oughtn’t be compelled to create against their convictions, if they come within the ambit of artists, who can’t be compelled to act against their convictions.

Nobody made that argument before SCOTUS and I doubt it was briefed. But I do believe and think that it is the principled answer to the troubling question of what to do if race is at the bottom of the refusal to provide service.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Some Back And Forth On Jordan Peterson


This is a spectacular essay, brilliant I’d say, which isn’t a word I use often. 

Wesley Yang is a most compelling, authoritative, trenchant, judicious, fair minded, deep and probing writer and thinker in the way of long form journalism. 

And no pussyfooting: he is lucid about what he thinks and where he stands. 

To read him is like eating food so delicious that its flavours and tastes and satisfactions seem ineffable. Reading him induces such pleasure that it’s deeply resonant and exhilarating.


As the writer says, he gives sermons, and since I don't like them as a genre or need them (in  the sense of, I don't feel the need for them) I can't read what he says.  (or don't want to, but it feels like just can't).  I have never heard him say anything bad, the one thing I looked at he was quite good.  If he wants to build character fine, and I think it has been undermined in all sorts of ways.  If he can move a society, which  encourages bad character,  mainly by making consumption (the universal solvent of character) and success, the measure of the person, to encouraging good character, good for him.       


Regardless of whether sermons—he actually goes way beyond sermonizing, though of course there’s a strong element of that and he says so—the gist of this piece as I read it is is a probing examination of what Jordan thinks and says, the depth of which accommodates probing (and shoots down the charge of only sermons)—though at the deepest parts of his thought I don’t get him—to exemplify media fakery, outright misrepresentation of him, and to explore with trenchant acumen the roots of that sheer dissembling.  


Where was the probing?  It moved all over the place and included all sorts of things about his reception on the left.  I doubt there is any thought. The deepest part of his thoughts?  Like what don't you get?  This sounds like you are talking about Kierkegaard or Wittgenstein.  Who is dissembling?   Indeed the culture battle seems to be is pretty above-board.  Shut your fucking mouth you fascist.  Fuck you, I'll say what the fuck I please.  Is anyone puzzled by it?  Do people wrestle with the ideas of any of these people?  They are serious because a lot is at stake but intellectually it's boring.   (Granted I am bored by statistics, which is probably where the action is, i.e., truth rather than fictions  like God, rights, however useful they may be) but all I need to ruin a day is to study opposing statistical analyses of anything, vs. finding someone who says the stats are on my side.  Just google.  


Try this, which I just wrote to a couple of guys:

...Take the notorious hit job on him recently in the NYT, written of course by one fairly young journalist and passing muster with her editors. She for one thing called him a sexist purveyor of awful misogyny, an exemplar of “toxic masculinity,” and, so a placeholder for the patriarchy. These ascending tropes have roots in the prevailing general misinformation circulating about Peterson in media of all kinds.  And at the height of the ascension sits an ingrained premise of the further left, and maybe not so far left. And in that premise, the patriarchy, is one fount out of which flows the discourse/narratives and the responses to them so roils the hyper nature of the culture and political craziness of our moment.  (Obviously Canada in more muted tones shares in them.) So she picks up that theme in her piece and in the social psychology of these things gives the idea the cultural imprimatur and legitimacy of the vaunted NYT. And her case rests on the notion of enforced monogamy, which Peterson has written and spoken about. But her use of the term in application to Peterson is near to defamatory: she says he says the state should by its varied coercive means impose monogamy on women. They can’t leave without state imposed consequences. But he’s not saying that at all. Rather he’s using a term prevalent in anthropology and social psychology and maybe other disciplines too that refers to something like the across the board prevalence of norms that conduce to monogamy. He’s not close to saying anything about the state enforcing anything: he says the opposite: women are and should be free to make choices here. So then with the legitimacy accorded by the imprimatur of the NYT this false meme doubles down on itself on Twitter and FB and in other platforms and sides and becomes, now so well “established” the criterion by which you’re so in by ascribing to it and so out and absurd by dissing it. And so you have in this example a microcosm of the large sweep of what Yang argues. 

Now admittedly, as I said, that this dissembling of what Peterson says and thinks is “fake news” is my own claim not Yang’s. But I can see no ground for saying that this dissembling doesn’t fit into the fake news category 

I’m open to persuasion otherwise....

Or take any other of the examples Yang rehearses: say the differential in pay pay between men and women, or in the inequality in outcomes among groups, or why so far anyway men are more prevalent in business and politics than women or why more men are in jail than women. Consider the reprise Yang gives to Peterson’s “multivariate” account of some of the factors and how that complexity differs from the simple minded premises of the ideologically hide bound, especially on the left.

To me that’s probing in the way of long form journalism. (He’s not writing a peer review  article for an obscure academic journal.) And if that’s not probing to you, then we share different conceptions of what  probing means.

He’s listened to and read Peterson for hours and hours and had drilled down to correct understandings of some what Peterson thinks, including noting where on some points he finds Peterson lacking, and sets it against agenda driven takes on him. Why isn’t that probing in the way of long form journalism? 


The multivariate analysis is common sense to someone with no hobbyhorse.  He was very good on that in the interview on the bbc and the woman was stupid and must have repeated the 7% differential 20 times.  What is the interest in that other than the sheer fun of watching an arrogant person get skewered.  It was entertainment not a serious discussion between people who knew what they were talking about.  
Indigenation goes apace.  It is nonsense.  What kind of discussion can one have about that?  Like, the university is an agent of colonization and we are trying to decolonize, etc.  What can one honestly say about that other than laugh or be contemptuous.  Wente can be pretty good with a light touch, but she’s a pro and while I admire the rhetoric I am not hearing a serious debate.  

As soon as discussion gets serious it gets picky and academic.  If one has a public platform one takes sides and offers ones view and it vanishes by the next day.  Seminars are boring unless there is basic like mindedness about some fundamentals.  

I have ben loving Roths the Counterlife in which he mimics various positions brilliantly, both sides, and what is great is that one understands the passions that underlie them.  But debate, discussion, never, the book would drop dead in an instant.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The NFL Players Have No Case On Not Being Allowed To Kneel Etc.

A correction and a further couple of thoughts.

The correction:

I reread Turley, whom I suggest you read if you haven’t—he’s short, clear and to the point. I said there may be a way into the constitutional issues by way of the collective bargaining agreement, which way, I said, I don’t understand but there it is. Well, it’s not a way in: the argument would be that the CBA properly understood prohibits the decision by the NFL to penalize on field kneeling. Whatever the merits of that argument, that’s precisely a contractual issue not a constitutional one and as such has nothing legally to do with 1st Am claims.

The thought or two:

I’ve seen online some fanciful thinking—fanciful in my and Turley’s view, no disrespect to Martin—that Trump’s inveighing here implicates state action. And Ken is right to note that a court might stretch a point, to my mind stretch beyond proper legal limits, to affirm that implication, just as the New York judge held that Trump couldn’t constitutionally block people from his Twitter account, reasoning on the basis of the doctrine of public forum, and just as lower courts have bent themselves into legal pretzels to strike down various Trump initiatives more as a matter of the “resistance” than as a matter of sound legal reasoning. You see this kind of trashing of established doctrine by such eminent Trump haters such as Lawrence Tribe and, less eminent, Richard Painter, who both seem to have gone off the deep end. So far SCOTUS has gone out of its way to resist the resistance, so to say, and, so to say, lay down the law. Which all circles back to Ken’s correct observation of what a court might do. But Ken’s observation generalized to a theory of adjudication suffers, to my mind, by not recognizing that while in hard cases, in which competing legal principles and their underlying values are virtually equally compelling, ideological presupposition informs adjudication—there’s no doubt about that, still disinterested legal reasoning also informs it and there’s marked tension between the two. (Dworkin argues that even in hard cases there’s always necessarily one right principled answer.) But as cases get less hard, as established doctrine is less conflicted, then usually presupposition recedes and disinterested analysis prevails. And so with the doctrine of state action so firmly and clearly established, with the NFL and its own decision making as an insuperable obstacle to state action here, it would be aberrant in the worst sense of judicial activism for an argument for state action to prevail.

Terrific, Thoughful Essay On Identity Politics As Evident In Exchange Between Sam Harris And Ezra Klein



Excellent piece from a thoughtful Canadian writer—with whom I happen to agree—whom I’ve only most recently come across.

The core idea here is that bad identity politics—it’s not all necessarily bad, such as racially or ethnically composed groups fighting for their equal rights—at its core involves the self refuting premise that individuals can’t get separate themselves from their “tribe,” that their thoughts, views and attitudes are essentially conditioned by their ineradicably etched in group belonging, and that others, deludedly professing their own non tribalism, can never understand those tribally different others.  

My own thought is that it’s a least paradoxical, if not contradictory, to claim that those of us, including me, who hold that ideas based evidence and logic—at its most pure modelled by science—allow us to transcend the impositions on who we are by birth, race, class and gender, are by tribal in virtue of what we so hold.