Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Philosophy of Law

Here, in case you’re curious, are the study questions for my Philosophy of Law examination next week.


Perhaps the Rangers
Will win a frickin’ ballgame
If I am present

Addendum: My beloved Detroit Tigers kick Yankee ass this evening. And tomorrow. And Thursday.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Elizabeth Edwards, an admirable public figure and veteran political campaigner, joins an enduring list of critics who blame American mass media for the decrepit state of our political dialogue. For years, media critics and academic scholars have railed against the tendency of popular media to obsess over the horse-race element of campaigns, to the detriment of serious discussions of issues.

It is a legitimate criticism, magnified by today’s proliferation of competitive news outlets scrambling to hold onto increasingly fragmented audiences and advertisers.

On the other hand, we should not delude ourselves by thinking that if only those media sources were more responsible, our political dialogue would be magically uplifted. That is because political candidates and their handlers typically prefer the slick, shallow and safe sound bite over extended, in-depth conversations. And because they also understand that really telling the truth (or revealing too many uncomfortable specifics) about an issue might be political suicide.

Another sad reality is that, despite more in-depth coverage of political issues by leading national newspapers, weekly newsmagazines, public issue periodicals and public broadcasting (all of which are experiencing losses, not gains), most Americans seem to prefer the speeded-up, less reflective headline version found on commercial TV, cable and the Internet.

Younger Americans, particularly, look to the Internet and satirical news features like “The Daily Show” for a quick political fix.

Yes, there is a problem threatening our political dialogue. But it goes deeper than just pointing a finger at our most visible media messengers.

Carl R. Ramey
Pinehurst, N.C., April 28, 2008
The writer is a retired communications lawyer and the author of “Mass Media Unleashed: How Washington Policymakers Shortchanged the American Public.”

Note from KBJ: Here is a paragraph from Elizabeth Edwards’s op-ed column:

What’s more, the news media cut candidates like Joe Biden out of the process even before they got started. Just to be clear: I’m not talking about my husband. I’m referring to other worthy Democratic contenders. Few people even had the chance to find out about Joe Biden’s health care plan before he was literally forced from the race by the news blackout that depressed his poll numbers, which in turn depressed his fund-raising.

Hint: She’s talking about her husband. She can’t bear the thought that voters knew all they needed to know about him and rejected him.

From the Mailbag


Here is a neat little philosophical conundrum for you. A desktop dictionary gives the following definitions of “uncle” and “aunt.”

Definitions [A]
(1) the brother of one’s father or mother
(2) the husband of one’s aunt
(1) the sister of one’s mother or father
(2) the wife of one’s uncle

The sequence of terms in “father or mother” versus “mother or father” is different in the two definitions, but since the conjunction “or” is commutative, the meaning is unaffected. And let’s also ignore the question of whether to use “the” or “a.”

What is interesting is that these two definitions interlock with and depend on each other. (Is there a technical term for this?) One subset of what an uncle and aunt are is given by alternative (2) in each definition, according to which an uncle and aunt are any husband and wife of each other. So are Prince Charles and Camilla my uncle and aunt? They seem to fit the definition (meaning (2) in each case), although I don’t see where the term “one’s” attaches to.

In my opinion, definitions [A] are defective. A proper wording would be

Definitions [B]
(1) the brother of one’s father or mother
(2) the husband of one’s aunt (in sense 1 of “aunt”)
(1) the sister of one’s mother or father
(2) the wife of one’s uncle (in sense 1 of “uncle”)

Expanded, this becomes

Definitions [C]
(1) the brother of one’s father or mother
(2) the husband of the sister of one’s mother or father
(1) the sister of one’s mother or father
(2) the wife of the brother of one’s father or mother

I do not know whether it is only my desktop dictionary that defines “uncle” and “aunt” in the incoherent way of definitions [A].

Maybe other languages—or genealogists—have distinctive wordings for senses (1) and (2) of “uncle” and “aunt.”

Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

Note from KBJ: Interesting missive, Mark. There are, as these definitions show (however imperfectly), two types of uncle and two types of aunt, and I can see why someone would say that there is a morally relevant difference between the types. My mother, for example, has one brother and eight sisters, all of whom (except the sister who died in infancy) have married. I thus have (or have had) many uncles. But only one of them—my mother’s brother—is related to me by blood. Whether that should matter to me is debatable. In fact, it does. Does it matter to anyone else?

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr on Capital Punishment

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, applicable to the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Robinson v. California, 370 U. S. 660, 666 (1962), provides that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” We begin with the principle, settled by Gregg, that capital punishment is constitutional. See 428 U. S., at 177 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and STEVENS, JJ.). It necessarily follows that there must be a means of carrying it out. Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution—no matter how humane—if only from the prospect of error in following the required procedure. It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions.

(John G. Roberts Jr, Baze v. Rees, 553 U. S. ___ [2008] [brackets in original])


If this isn’t the best album ever made, then Ozzy Osbourne isn’t God.

Addendum: Check out the opening guitar licks of “The Ultimate Sin” and “Never Know Why.” They are headbangers’ delights.