Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rights or retribution?

Thomas Sowell on the racist Sotomayor

Back when I was on the receiving end of racial discrimination, it was to me not simply a personal misfortune, or even the misfortune of a race, it was a moral outrage. But not everyone who went through such an experience sees it that way.

When it comes to subjecting other people to the same treatment in a later era, some have no real problem with that. They see it as pay-back. One of the many problems of the pay-back approach is that many of the people who most deserve retribution are no longer alive. You can take symbolic revenge on people who look like them but this removes the whole moral element. If it is all right to discriminate today against individuals who have done you no harm, then why was it wrong to discriminate against you in the past?

These are not just abstract questions. These are serious, real world questions, especially when considering someone to be given a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Some judicial nominees have had racial bias attributed to them, despite their years of unwavering support of civil rights for all-- Judge Robert Bork and Judge Charles Pickering being striking examples. But the current Supreme Court nominee is the first in decades to explicitly introduce racial differences in their own words, along with the claim that their own racial or ethnic background makes them better qualified.

Attempts to claim that Judge Sonia Sotomayor's words were isolated remarks-- a slip of the tongue "taken out of context"-- have now been discredited by further information showing that she has repeatedly expressed the same ideas, in virtually the same words, at other times and in other contexts.

Moreover, her deeds-- including years of participation in group identity politics-- are perfectly consistent with her words. So too was her vote on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to summarily dismiss the appeal of white firefighters who did not get the promotions they had earned by passing a required test, because not enough minority firefighters passed to provide racial "diversity." The Supreme Court of the United States found that appeal worth hearing, even if Judge Sotomayor did not.

The warm and genial image of Sonia Sotomayor presented on television, during President Obama's introduction and afterwards, is in sharp contrast with what attorneys who have appeared before her in court have said. A poll of such attorneys showed them rating her worse than other judges in her treatment of those who appeared before her. A tape of Judge Sotomayor's abusive behavior in court backed up the attorneys' picture. It is also consistent with someone in pay-back mode.

A confirmation decision on a Supreme Court nominee is not like deciding whether someone is innocent or guilty of a crime. It is right in criminal cases that the burden of proof is on those making an accusation, and that the accusation be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Judge Sotomayor is not in jeopardy of either criminal or civil penalties. So there is no reason why either the criminal standard or proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" or the civil standard of "the preponderance of evidence" is required for determining whether she is the right person to be given a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land.

It is hundreds of millions of Americans-- current and future-- whose fundamental rights are at stake whenever any nominee is being considered for the Supreme Court of the United States. It is the American people as a whole who are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

One of those fundamental rights was taken away just four years ago, when a 5 to 4 decision by the Supreme Court gave local politicians the right to seize your home or business and turn the property over to some other private party that they favor. Just one vote on the Supreme Court can make a huge difference.

We have been told endlessly about Sonia Sotomayor's biography and her symbolism as a Hispanic woman. Is that enough to risk millions of other Americans' fundamental rights?


The "peaceful savage" myth is being buried ever deeper

War, what is it good for? A lot, it could turn out. Lethal warfare drove the evolution of altruistic behaviour among ancient humans, claims a new study based on archaeological records and mathematical simulations.

If correct, the new model solves a long-standing puzzle in human evolution: how did our species transition from creatures interested in little more than passing down their own genes to societies of (generally) law-abiding (mostly) monogamists?

No one knows for sure when these changes happened, but climactic swings that occurred between approximately 10,000 to 150,000 years ago in the late Pleistocene period may have pushed once-isolated bands of hunter-gatherers into more frequent contact with one another, says Samuel Bowles, an evolutionary biologist at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and the University of Siena, Italy, who led the study. "I think that's just a recipe for high-level conflict."

By warfare, Bowles isn't talking about highly organised contests between nation-states and their armies. Rather, this period of warfare was probably characterised by ongoing skirmishes between neighbouring populations. "We're talking about groups of men who got out in twos or threes or fives," he says. "They didn't have a chain of command and it's hard to see how they could force people to fight."

For this reason, altruistic intent on the part of each warrior is key. Each person would do better to stay home than to put their life on the line for their neighbours – yet they still went out and risked their lives, Bowles says.

To assess whether or not people with a random genetic predisposition to altruism could flourish via armed conflicts, Bowles culled archaeological and ethnographic data on the lethality of ancient warfare and plugged them into an evolutionary model of population change.

In ancient graves excavated previously, Bowles found that up to 46 per cent of the skeletons from 15 different locations around the world showed signs of a violent death. More recently, war inflicted 30 per cent of deaths among the Ache, a hunter-gatherer population from Eastern Paraguay, 17 per cent among the Hiwi, who live in Venezuela and Colombia, while just 4 per cent among the Anbara in northern Australia. On average, warfare caused 14 per cent of the total deaths in ancient and more recent hunter-gatherers populations.

The cost of losing an armed conflict as a group is high enough to balance out the individual risks of warfare, especially if a population is relatively inbred, Bowles' model concludes. Since evolution acts on genes, it makes more sense to make more sacrifices for a related neighbour than an unrelated one.

Since Bowles had no way of knowing how inbred Pleistocene populations were, he compared contemporary hunter-gatherers such as African pygmies and native Siberians. Individuals in these populations were closely related enough to justify going to war, he found.

"There's no doubt that his is a controversial view," says Ruth Mace, an evolutionary anthropologist at University College London. Inbreeding between the victors and any surviving losers would dilute, not concentrate, altruistic genes, she says.

Bowles modelled this possibility in a previous paper and found that even with a measure of inbreeding, altruists still win out. However, he agrees that it would slow the evolution of altruism through warfare. "A much better way to spread the genes is to kill everybody," he says.

Mark van Vugt, a psychologist at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, notes that warriors could act in their own self-interest, not for the good of the group. "Studies on the Amazonian Yanomamö people show that these warriors do get a greater share of resources, they get more women, they sire more offspring," he says. "How do you explain that there are individual benefits for these warriors? There shouldn't be."

Still, van Vugt thinks Bowle's model is on the right track. Studies show that people divided into arbitrarily chosen groups – say heads and tails – behave altruistically to members of their group, but are more hostile toward non-members. "Together we provide different pieces of the puzzle. If they fit together, they are starting to make sense," van Vugt says.


People aren't as envious as the Leftists think

The most fascinating document I read all week wasn’t Michael Jackson’s obituary, or the breakdown of BBC expenses, or even the desperately moving Twitter feeds from Iran. It was a lengthy piece of research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on attitudes to inequality in Britain. And the reason it was so absorbing was that it showed that almost all activists’ and politicians’ assumptions – including mine – about how people feel about inequality are wrong.

The main parties think that poverty and inequality will be one of the key battlegrounds of the next election. They can all see that unequal societies are associated with every social ill, from crime to addiction. The Conservatives, with their concern for broken Britain, want the poorest to be brought into the mainstream. Labour is mortified by the fact that while it has been in power, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer, while it is now harder than ever to move between the two.

All parties assume that the financial crisis has focused people’s fury on the unjustified salaries paid to the very rich; that the recession will mean there’s much more sympathy for the unemployed; and that there is a new concern about bridging the gap between the top and bottom.

I’m in that camp. These are the things I know, not least because they are endlessly repeated: that we live in more egalitarian times, that the ages of automatic deference and respect for those higher in the social hierarchy are over, and that most people think that Britain’s social immobility is a scandal.

Well, it’s not so. Rowntree’s research, among more than 1,000 adults of all income groups, shows that more than two thirds of them admire the rich, and assume that their high salaries are a proper reward for ability, effort and performance. On the other hand, they are largely contemptuous of the poor, especially those who live on benefits. Those people are routinely described as scroungers.

The research group are sublimely unconcerned about social mobility, because they think it exists. It’s now harder to move class in Britain than in any other developed country except the United States, and yet 69% believe that there are enough opportunities for anyone to get on in life if they really want to. And though most people described themselves as very concerned about inequality, it wasn’t the gap between rich and poor they cared about. It was the gap between the top and themselves that they wanted to see narrowed.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why people should be so positive about the rich, so oblivious to the many social and financial obstacles faced by the less privileged, and so harsh about the poor. It’s so clearly untrue that the hawkers of dodgy mortgages are more useful or work harder than, say, carers for the elderly. It’s equally untrue that the dim public-school boy faces the same difficulties in finding a good job as the dim child from a comprehensive. Only one thing can explain people’s determined fantasy about how society works, and that is our desperate need to make sense of the world by believing that it is just.

We’re told we live in a meritocracy, so despite the evidence around us, we pretend it’s so. Anything else would be too painful to bear. We can tolerate the comfortable or luxurious lives that some people live only by telling ourselves that they are deserved. These people must work much harder than we are prepared to, or have skills we cannot dream of.

In the research sessions, participants projected all kinds of virtues – dedication, private study, willingness to tolerate stress – onto those with high salaries. Equally, we might find the grim poverty or simple limitations of others’ lives indefensible unless we told ourselves that these people had a choice, and it’s wilfulness or laziness that keeps them as they are. The idea that our life chances are radically unfair is more than we can admit.

Our need to believe in the worth of those above us might give us a different explanation for the anger over bankers’ salaries and MPs’ expenses. It isn’t the fact of their high incomes that enraged us. It was that their selfishness and incompetence destroyed our illusions about their worth. Our faith required us to believe that they deserved what they got. Having their faults exposed has made us uncomfortable.

This mass delusion doesn’t mean that attempts to make Britain more equal are doomed, but it does show that those who think it desirable have to take a different approach. Expecting most people to care about inequality as an abstract concept is pointless: they don’t. They think that quite a lot of it is fair. But the Rowntree research does show a way forward.

The research group were asked which of three societies they would rather live in – a traditional free-market one, with few protections; an egalitarian one that cut the gap between rich and poor; or one that gave priority to improving everyone’s quality of life.

Almost nobody, not even the rightwingers, opted for a society that made economic growth and standards of living a priority, especially if these were accompanied by greater insecurity. Yet this is pretty much what Labour has offered in the past dozen years – increased wealth but much more precarious lives. If that bargain ever was appealing, it isn’t any more.

Only a small number opted for the egalitarian choice. The overwhelming majority chose the third. [Which only capitalism can deliver]


Woman who cried rape after date with man she met in internet chatroom is jailed for a year

In one of their rare acts of judicial sanity, the Brits do prosecute these bitches -- but the woman should get the same sentence the man would have got if she had been believed

An innocent man almost lost his freedom after being accused of rape by a woman he dated through the internet. Gary Wood was hoping for romance when he arranged to meet Natalie Jefferson after chatting to her online - but ended up facing a potential 10-year jail term. Instead 27-year-old Jefferson is beginning a 12-month jail term after detectives saw through her lies.

Mr Wood, 31, of Walker, Newcastle, said he was still baffled by her motives. 'I just want to know why,' he said. 'Maybe she's is messed up in the head, maybe she's an attention-seeker or maybe it is a bit of both, but I could have lost everything because of what she did.'

Newcastle Crown Court heard how Jefferson, of Fellgate, South Tyneside, agreed to meet Mr Wood in Newcastle's Gateshead before going for a drink in nearby Jesmond. But she received a phone call during the night and claimed one of her children had been taken to hospital. Mr Wood offered to go with her but she only let him travel on the Metro underground system part of the way with her.

He phoned her later but was horrified when she told him she had been raped by a stranger. It was a lie - but she had already called police claiming Mr Wood himself had raped her. Soon officers were on his doorstep to arrest him. He said: 'I got a call saying the police wanted to speak to me. They didn't say what it was at first but when they came to my flat, the officer said, "I will be up-front with you - we have had an allegation of rape against you."' Mr Wood was held in custody for three hours.

Jefferson - also known as Natalie Dawn Dodsworth - had alleged Mr Wood attacked her on January 7 near Newcastle's Luckies bar and even agreed to go to a rape crisis centre. But she was arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice after investigating officers interviewed Mr Wood and witnesses, as well as studying CCTV, and grew suspicious about her version of events. In court Jefferson admitted the charge.

Robin Patton, prosecuting, said: 'It's quite clear she had concocted this account for no good reason at all. 'The man's medical examination was about to start but police, having viewed the CCTV footage, immediately stopped the examination because they were sure he was an innocent man.'

Ailsa MacDonald, defending, told the court: 'There is a considerable psychiatric background and she has alcohol problems.'

Pronouncing sentence, Judge Esmond Faulks said: 'This was a huge waste of police time and, more seriously, led to the arrest of an innocent man.' Det Con Graeme Barr, of Newcastle CID, said: 'We are happy with the sentence passed by the court as it sends out the message that people will be punished for making false reports of crime. 'Gary is an innocent man and she could quite easily have ruined his life. I hope he can now put this behind him and get on with his life.'

Mr Wood said: 'I had met her on the internet. She didn't seem right as soon as I met her and kept going to the toilet, which was strange, but I never thought she would do anything like this. 'I have never been in any trouble with the police before this. I was on bail for two weeks with this allegation hanging over my head. 'I can't stop thinking that if there had been no witnesses or CCTV to prove that she was lying I would have been in real trouble and would have been sent down. I would have lost my friends and everything I've got.' He added: 'It has still affected me and if I was to meet someone now, I would only do it in public. I am glad with the sentence but think she should have got more because she could be out and doing it to someone else in six months.'



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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