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A Tree Falls in the (I need a week in the) Woods…

July 28th, 2009 2 comments

Near this time in 2007 I posted a little thing on an old saw in philosophy that cuts this way, “If a tree falls in the woods, and there is no one there to perceive it, then does it make a sound?” Since I think I’ll need a week off and the post raised a little debate, I decided to recycle the post. Philosophical skeptics such as David Hume and Bishop Berkeley are largely responsible for the notion and the incessant debate that surrounds the idea. They were so consumed with the mechanics of human perception they doubted the existence of a world that existed outside the human mind.

Once upon a time, Mr. Grim and I were knocking around an idea for a story and this notion of perception came up in regards to freedom. If there is a secret cabal [you know, like the vast neocon conspiracy to wrest control of our government (of course to update this, it's a vast leftwing consipiracy)] influencing/manipulating society without their knowledge, is that society free? Is their freedom contingent on their own perception? Is ignorance really bliss?

Seriously, in terms of perception, if a deal is made between two parties, and both parties are satisfied by the deal, haven’t they both come out ahead because of their perceived value of the exchange in question? I pay a buck fifty for the Sunday paper because I believe the value of the contents are worth more than my buck fifty, and the newspaper company is convinced the buck fifty is worth more than the paper (the paper is at least suitable to wrap fish, unless it’s the New York Times). Too capitalist a perspective? Or is freedom not a commodity that can be valued or traded in a market?

For Mr. Grim and I, the notion was relative to the observer. If I am unaware of the manipulation moving me in a specific direction, then I would consider myself free to act. If and when I become aware of the manipulation, then I also become aware of the constraints on my freedom. The question becomes whether or not there is a locus of perception greater than myself that defines an objective reality that everyone shares.

Is there an objective reality? Does it make sense for us to hash things out for the best course of action? For Bishop Berkley it makes sense, and Ronald Knox wrote a limerick that comments on why:

There was a young man who said “God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no one about in the Quad.”

“Dear Sir, your astonishment’s odd;
I am always about in the Quad
And that’s why this tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by Yours faithfully, God.”

I like these limericks, Mr. Grim likes these limericks, and I figured you might like them. A last question to everyone then: Does the tree continue to be?

Cheers all.

Categories: Culture, Philosophy Tags:

Visit Freedom

July 23rd, 2009 No comments

I’ve managed to stumble across another blog that seems to have a more eclectic flair for current events. I’m hoping I don’t lose my focus on corrections, but current events have definitely caught my attention! Anyway, Tom Vail, at Responsibility – Freedom Demands It had a great series of posts starting with “The Audacity of…” The last was The Audacity of Nope – and here’s a great little excerpt:

Since Mr. Obama has been stumping for his Energy Plan based on a cap and trade system, he has been telling us that one of the benefits of his plan is the great number of new jobs that will be created in the alternative energy industry.  Nope. The fact is that he glosses over the huge number of jobs that will be lost in other industries as we become less competitive due to cap and trade.  Why else would the legislation have built into it a program to retrain and to pay workers who lose their jobs due to the results of the energy bill?  Answer – because they all know that this will be a huge job loss creator and they won’t get their Union friends to support it if they don’t spend billions on Union members who will lose their jobs.

Take a click over and visit, I think you’ll find a few things that are worth the read! I’m off to work.

Cheers

Categories: Culture, Government, Politics Tags:

A Quick One Before Work

July 21st, 2009 4 comments
Deficit Cartoon From The Heritage's Foundry Site. Check out the article!

Deficit Cartoon From The Heritage's Foundry Site. Click on the image and check out the article!

It’s a really short little post… come on, follow the image link and read the post ;-)

Categories: Culture, Government, Politics, Tidbits Tags:

Freedom of Speech, A Quaint Civil Liberty

July 21st, 2009 2 comments

Ever hear of Theo van Gogh? Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Based on conversations with random people at coffee, sandwich, and ice cream shops it seems many Americans don’t really remember or know these names. Understandable, but if I asked if they remembered a Dutch movie director murdered because of a movie he made – then there was a fuzzy recollection. Theo van Gogh directed the movie Submission which was written by Hirsi Ali, who was essentially exiled though he was a member of parliament. This happened in the Netherlands in 2004 I believe, and is by now considered “ancient history.”

The Netherlands was once considered one of the most tolerant countries in Europe. Enter the EU and its notions of free speech, notions that our left is increasingly advocating for consumption here in the United States. Both the American Spectator’s (AS) Roger Scruton and The Weekly Standard’s (TWS) Christopher Caldwell had articles on the February refusal of the UK, “on the advice of Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary,” (AS) to grant Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament, entry to the UK to show his film Fitna. Why comment on free speech? I write about free speech because “we the people” seem to be increasingly constrained in our speech by our government in direct violation of our first amendment rights. Take a look through the new hate crimes legislation that was attached to a defense bill by House Democrats, it’s just a little bit like limiting thought and speech.

Those two articles are worth the read, but if you don’t, here are a couple of entries that reflect the content of the articles:

But free speech is not about permitting only those voices of which you approve. It is about understanding your own beliefs and the beliefs of those who disagree with you. It is about creating the public space in which truth and falsehood can openly contend for their following. Free speech is critical to all the other freedoms that we enjoy, and the impulse to defend it—and in particular to defend the free speech of those with whom you disagree, of whom you disapprove, or who have been targeted by some mob or faction determined to silence them—is proof of the democratic spirit. (AS)

…the British government has grown less interested in freedom. After the July 2005 transport bombings, and even more after the foiled airplane plot of the following summer, the government said so explicitly. “Traditional civil liberty arguments,” said Tony Blair, “are not so much wrong as just made for another age.” Since then, 270 people have been refused admission to Britain on grounds of sowing hate. Only four of these have been Europeans. This kind of disparate impact must leave Jacqui Smith feeling she has little to apologize for in banning Wilders.

The new European conception of freedom of speech, based on anti-racism, protects a lot less speech than did the old British and Dutch conceptions of freedom of speech, based on sovereignty. Maybe membership in the family of man relieves one of a certain amount of worry about the liberties of one’s fellow citizens. (TWS)

Do we, as American citizens, really believe that traditional civil liberty arguments are anachronistic? I certainly hope not. It saddens me when the ACLU is more apt to defend free speech than post-secondary academia:

Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

That’s the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. And the ACLU believes that all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society.

Jeff, a commenter on the post Hate Crime Legislation is sooo Useful, made several keen observations about hate crime legislation – but he summed it up nicely:

Hate crime legislation is simply an attempt to control ideas and limit speech. It was passed by guilty consciences to raise up a stereotyped cartoon of downtrodden masses. It’s race law.

Seems like a bummer that our representatives in congress would actively seek to violate our civil rights in this underhanded way. My father has a tag line at the end of his emails I like: Polite, yes.  Politically Correct – don’t hold your breath. Though I would like to quote J.S. Mill from On Liberty, I’ll save that for some other rant because I’d rather end on a humorous note. I’m lousy at written humor – I just don’t have the chops. However, for a great ending to this post, P.J. O’Rourke emailed a little bit to the Scrapbook, a section of The Weekly Standard that addresses just this issue. Since I couldn’t seem to find it on line, it’s the APRIL 13 / APRIL 20, 2009 issue, and as it’s a relatively short little screed here’s all of it (with my sincere hopes this is perfectly ok):

The U.N. Human Rights Council —with the championing of human rights led by delegates from Belarus, Venezuela and Pakistan—has passed a resolution urging countries around the world to make “defamation of religion” illegal. Given the Obama administration’s desire for closer cooperation with the U.N., those laws may be on the books in America by the time you read this. But we will defy Attorney General Eric Holder and the fearsome weapons of the U.N.’s black helicopters enforcing his writ. Herewith a last stand for the defamatory rights of free speech:

How many Episcopalians attend church on Sunday? Fore.

What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian? Someone who goes door-to-door for no reason.

Hey, Presbyterians, if everything is predestined by God, how come the tornado blew your double-wide to God-knows-where?

What caused the Catholic priest to have a sex change? Altar girls.

Then there was the Baptist congregation that put up a sign, “CH_RCH What’s Missing?” And they spent all week trying to figure it out.

Why was the Dalai Lama reincarnated as a compulsive gambler? So he’d get Tibet.

Did you hear about the dyslexic Hindu who had 47,000 dogs?

What do you get if you call a Sikh a reckless, insane maniac? A taxi.

And what’s the difference between Jews and Muslims? A profit.

Cheers all.

Cell Phones, Prisons, and Plans…

July 17th, 2009 No comments

Here’s another interesting tidbit! Hat tip to my friend John for emailing the link ;-) That prisons have a problem with cell phones ought not to be a surprise to people working in corrections – it might be a surprise to those who don’t work in the system. An article by William Saletan at Slate not only highlights some of the obvious problems (including drug dealers inside setting up deals and murders outside), but also highlights some of the possible technological solutions *GASP* an industry policing itself?? CTIA (wireless carriers’ association) convened to help solve the problem… Nope, guess I’m kind of in Saletan’s camp:

Good for you, CTIA. But I don’t believe for a minute that you’d be working hard on these alternatives if you weren’t facing the threat of federally authorized jamming. And this is one reason why I’m not a pure libertarian. Can technology help the good guys stay ahead in the cell-phone arms race? Yes. Is industry better than government at coming up with creative, pinpoint solutions? Yes. Will industry do this without the threat of clumsy, burdensome government intervention? No.

So thank you, senators, for applying the heat. And don’t forget the same lesson as you’re legislating health care reform. Government-run alternatives don’t always have to outperform private industry. They just have to scare it.

The article is short and hits the mark – a great read! Thanks John.

Cheers all!

Another Quickie!

July 15th, 2009 No comments

Drop by Blue Oregon for a look at someone coming to their senses about mandatory minimum sentencing. Ignore the lazy characterizations of opposition parties and focus on a good look at a “law-and-order” type realizing that the mandatory minimums are much too expensive… perhaps Oregon voters jumped before looking. Skim through the comments – I made mine, but it was directed more at some of the rhetoric about the criminal justice system. It’s worth a look!

Oh! The Disparity!

July 15th, 2009 No comments

Just another quickie – Thomas Sowell, hit tip to Neo-Neocon, writes a typically interesting and penetrating article. In an almost J. Swiftian way, he argues for changing the rules of basketball so he can compete equally with Michael Jordan. Though Sowell comes off as self-deprecating about his basketball skills, there is no doubt about his abilities as a writer:

Even under these conditions, you would be better off betting your money on Michael Jordan. But, conceivably at least, we might change the rules some more to make the results come out less lopsided, in order to create “social justice.”

Friends, Christians, and Communists contains my complaint about “social justice,” but read Sowell’s, it’s a lot more fun. Jeff’s comments on hate crime legislation are also worth the read. While your at it, another good read is NeoNeocon’s little screed against the use of “life-stories” in place of real news…

Cheers!

Are Prisons Morally Desirable?

July 14th, 2009 No comments

I’m off on a short excursion this week, though hopefully it’s pretty easy to see how this fits with the overall direction of the last few posts. I’ve just read and am now studying a book by John J. DiIulio, Jr. entitled Governing Prisons: a comparative study of correctional management. He makes a fine point at the end of his book concerning future research. I can’t say it any better than he states it, so here’s the deal:

Future prisons research must address two basic sets of issues, one empirical, the other philosophical. The empirical issues concern the governability of prisons and the conditions under which prisons can be improved. At this stage, the need is for comparative evaluations of prison practices that have already been tried. The present study may serve as something of a model for such works, but only in the way that the Ford Model-T served as a model for the Ford Mustang. The philosophical issues concern the legitimacy of imprisonment as a form of punishment. Even if we knew how to improve prisons, this would not in and of itself justify their existence. At present, the bulk of contemporary writing suggests that imprisonment is a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It remains to be seen whether a compelling case can be made that – given the possibility of prisons where levels of order, amenity, and service are indisputably high – imprisonment is a morally desirable form of punishment.

Now, I’m a big fan of empirical research that can actually be used for the purposes of developing policy. Making policy decisions based on an old fashioned crunching of the numbers and finding valid statistical significance in well formed research projects seems more appropriate than making observations and policy decisions based on untested theoretical systems. That’s just me, but what really caught me was DiIulio’s starkly honest statements concerning the moral desirability of prisons in the first place. After spending an entire book poking holes in the sociological model/perspective concerning prisons and showing that a political science perspective answers more questions and predicts more results than does the sociological perspective, he questions the validity of having the prisons in the first place.

It’s an excellent book. Even though some sociologists believe he was hitting below the belt, they also acknowledge that his book is one of the top three books written on prisons over the past 50-60 years! Unfortunately, I believe you must have a subscription to the Prison Journal to access the article The Champion, Contender, and Challenger: Top-Ranked Books in Prison Studies, so here is a quick quotation concerning DiIulio’s work:

After all, he is (rightly or wrongly) highly critical of prison sociology’s ability to provide useful policy-oriented knowledge to corrections practitioners. DiIulio tells his readers, in fact, that officials responsible for prison policy have been the “slaves of some defunct sociologist” (p. 14).There is no doubt that DiIulio’s “in-your face” approach to shifting focus away from the inmate social system and toward prison administration has angered more than one prison sociologist, and rightly so. To some, then, DiIulio’s comparative analysis of prison management may not constitute a “knockout punch” to traditional prison sociology but rather a “punch below the belt.”

I also purchased the other two books, and they are also worth the read. But the real reason for the post: Is anybody willing to take on the notion that prisons may not be morally desirable? And the corollary, if they are not morally desirable, then what is/are suitable alternative(s)? Maybe even justifying the prison system in America would be worth a look…

Cheers all.

Hate Crime Legislation is sooo Useful

July 9th, 2009 2 comments

This is just a quickie (hat tip to Dr. Helen), but believe it or not, after what was clearly a racially motivated attack (the legal concept of a guilty mind is often inferred from statements made by the perpetrator), the Akron Police can’t seem to bring themselves to classify it as a hate-crime… Astonishing.

Akron police say they aren’t ready to call it a hate crime or a gang initiation.

But to Marty Marshall, his wife and two kids, it seems pretty clear.

It came after a family night of celebrating America and freedom with a fireworks show at Firestone Stadium. Marshall, his family and two friends were gathered outside a friend’s home in South Akron.

Out of nowhere, the six were attacked by dozens of teenage boys, who shouted ”This is our world” and ”This is a black world” as they confronted Marshall and his family.

Yes, all of the boys were black. The father spent several days in the critical care unit after trying to protect his wife and kids. Interesting reading.

Cheers!

Categories: Criminal Justice, Culture, Government, Police Tags:

“C-Cubed” and Being Accountable for Recidivism

July 7th, 2009 6 comments

This week I’m heading back to “Why have prisons?” This isn’t a rhetorical question, but judging by some of the emails, some respondents either believed I meant it as a rhetorical question or just took it as an opportunity to rant about my being a part of the “rightwing noise machine.” On the other hand, there were a few emails that not only took a shot at answering the question, but also ventured commentary on our criminal justice system from start to finish.

While I was in the military, “C2” or “C Squared,” was a shorthand term used for “Command and Control.” In the criminal justice system we might try “C3” or “C Cubed” as a shorthand term for “Cops, Courts, and Corrections.” One of my oldest friends here in the valley, I’ll call him Mr. Grim, shares a view commonly believed to be widespread in the rightwing ranks. It’s best to quote him directly:

…my personal belief remains to the extent that I think that prisons and the incarceration of law-breakers in said prisons should serve three out of the four reasons you listed as options.  Retribution (punishment), deterrence and incapacitation should all be equally valid answers to the “Why have prisons?” question.  Rehabilitation is a bonus if it does happen.  Hopefully at least some of those guilty of committing crime(s) and are convicted “learn their lesson” so to speak and are effectively “rehabilitated” after serving out the punishment for their crime(s).  But we both know that doesn’t happen as often as it should and thus the point that rehabilitation is a bonus. ~Mr. Grim

Part of my reason for posing the question was simple curiosity. The reason for the curiosity is my primary reason for posing the question. My curiosity was aroused by an interesting and important piece of research published by Richard Tewksbury of the University of Louisville, and Elizabeth Ehrhardt Mustaine of the University of Central Florida entitled Correctional Orientations of Prison Staff. Tewksbury and Mustaine split deterrence into two parts: specific deterrence (meaning “to punish each prisoner and discourage him or her from committing crime”) and general deterrence (meaning “to punish prisoners as an example and discourage other people from committing crime”).[1]

The reference link below is to the abstract which I’ll quote in full here, but I believe you must subscribe to the journal in order to access the full research article:

Beliefs about the purpose and goals of incarceration are important determinants of how policy makers and practitioners perceive correctional operations. Drawing on survey data from 554 corrections staff persons in Kentucky, this research explores perceptions of important and primary goals for incarceration and factors influencing the endorsement of 5 correctional ideologies (rehabilitation, retribution, incapacitation, specific deterrence, and general deterrence). Results show that all five ideologies are perceived as somewhat important, with rehabilitation receiving the strongest support. Demographic influences include female staff being more supportive of rehabilitation, administrators and program staff being most supportive of rehabilitation, and security staff providing the strongest support for retribution. [1]

The Closer, a TV show I’ve watched on occasion, had a great line that I’ll quote as closely as I can recall: “If you’re a carpenter, everything looks like a nail.” Clearly, if you work toward rehabilitation your orientation is likely to be supportive of rehabilitation. After reading the entire research article, the abstract is somewhat misleading concerning the stated results. These views, as stated in the title of the research, are all by corrections workers, including the administrative, program, industries, services and security staff. I’d like to find some research that investigates the orientation of you, the general public. As indicated in my post “Why have prisons?” and the research above, “Beliefs about the purpose and goals of incarceration are important determinants of how policy makers and practitioners perceive correctional operations.”[1]

This brings me to the next question: “Should correctional facilities, prisons, penitentiaries, etc., be held accountable for recidivism rates?” Clearly, if you believe the purpose of a prison is for retribution, then holding a facility accountable for recidivism is not sensible. However, if you believe the purpose of prison is rehabilitation, then it is clear that correctional facilities should actually “correct behavior” and reduce recidivism – meaning of course that the system should be held accountable.

This brings me to the Oregon Accountability Model (OAM) and the Mission of the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). The OAM states:

The Oregon Accountability Model encompasses the simultaneous, coordinated and efficient implementation of many Department of Corrections initiatives and projects that provide a foundation for inmates to lead successful lives upon release. ~OAM

This logically leads to the ODOC Mission Statement:

The mission of the Oregon Department of Corrections is to promote public safety by holding offenders accountable for their actions and reducing the risk of future criminal behavior. ~ODOC – Mission, Vision, and Core Values

Oregon, in terms of its Department of Corrections (which of course represents you, the governed), clearly believes that reducing recidivism is of primary importance for its mission. This is in step with the PEW Center on the States’ Executive Summary entitled Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance. So finally, the question once again:

“Should correctional facilities, prisons, penitentiaries, etc., be held accountable for recidivism rates?” Whether your answer is “yes” or “no,” please provide at least a brief account of why you believe the answer is yes or no. Please feel free to answer in the comments or email, and if by email, let me know if it’s OK to quote you directly. Thanks!

Cheers all!

[1] Tewksbury, R., and Mustaine, E. E., The Prison Journal 2008; 88; 207, “Correctional Orientations of Prison Staff.”

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