Identity and Essence

by Kieran Healy on July 14, 2003

This is really Brian’s territory (and Laurie’s even moreso, but she’s in Australia so I am forced to ontologize without the help of a professional), but Eugene Volokh has been posting about gay marriage and he quotes this argument from one of his readers:

I happen to be 40 years old, happen to be an economist, and happen to be fertile, but I AM a man. I am not a human who happens to be a man. Being male is fundamental to who I am in a deeper way than any of these other characteristics.

The reader goes on to talk about fertility and infertility in hetero- and homosexual couples, and Eugene disagrees with him. But this first paragraph struck me as odd. I can understand how being male is more fundamental to his identity than being 40 or an economist, but he also seems to say that it’s the essential thing about him. He’s a man first, “not a human who happens to be a man.” Can he really mean this? What if he had to choose one property or the other? Would he really prefer to be a male non-human than a non-male human? Say, a fine, strapping male canary rather than a woman? Maybe I’m misreading his view. Or maybe my he-canary vs woman preference ranking is not widely shared.

Goodbye England’s Rose

by Daniel on July 14, 2003

Nobody comes particularly well out of this story. After winning a lawsuit with the Diana Foundation about rights to the image of the Princess of Wales (that’s the Princess of Wales as immortalised in the song, “Goodbye England’s Rose”, god damn you Elton John), the Franklin Mint, purveyors of granny crap1 to the world, decided to do what comes naturally to an American corporation with lawyers, and countersue the Foundation so hard that their regal ancestors feel the pain. Presumably pour decourager des autres; after all, there are a lot of celebrities on their last legs and I can see how it might be inconvenient to have to go through a prolonged court battle every time before you can get down to the business of milking the grieving fans for the price of a commemorative plate.

Anyway, the Diana Fund trustees have realised that they are potentially personally liable for the costs of this lawsuit, and in order to protect themselves against possible action for wrongful trading, have frozen all the accounts of the Fund until the suit is completed. Bad news for all manner of cute, furry animals and disabled children. I am not entirely sure who decided that it would be good publicity for the Franklin Mint to bankrupt Princess Diana’s legacy and close down a number of charities, but there you go. As I say, nobody comes particularly well out of this one.

1Since these people are apparently quite litigious, I would like to point out that I am using the term “granny crap” to refer generically to kitsch ornaments of all sorts. The term “granny crap” is not specifically meant to refer to the products of the Franklin Mint but rather to be a general pejorative comment expressing my opinion of the general aesthetic of celebrity-themed merchandise. To show goodwill, I am prepared to give the following unsolicited testimonial; I believe that the Franklin Mint is the finest manufacturer and direct marketer of granny crap currently operating today.

Crime and Punishment

by Daniel on July 14, 2003

This series of reports in the Guardian is incredibly worthwhile, not just as an insightful piece of reporting on crime in the UK, but as a general example of what goes wrong when you try to manage things “by the numbers”. In general, if business school taught me anything it’s that companies with no strategy process of their own end up being managed by their most junior budget analyst (because he’s the one who writes the report and therefore picks the ratios to concentrate on), and it appears that something similar goes on in the public sector. While we’re on the topic, a couple of other fun facts for UK criminology nerds:

1. A prize for the first confirmed sighting this week of a report on the Home Office crime figures which attempts to find an explanation for the “massive increase” in the murder rate in the UK without the author realising that all 215 of the murders attributed to Dr Harold Shipman over a fifteen year period were booked in the 2002/3 numbers because that’s when the total was finally established.

2. One of the big driving forces behind the misbegotten policing “reforms” detailed in the Guardian article above was an “epidemic” of street crime in last year’s figures. It was particularly noted at the time that thefts of mobile phones had gone through the roof …. oh dear. It appears that more than half of reported mobile phone thefts and up to 10% of the total reported street crime in London is the result of people claiming to have had their telephones stolen in order to claim on the insurance. It gets worse … there is a distinct suspicion that some of the less reputable mobile phone shops are encouraging people to do this, in order to get the insurance companies to unwittingly subsidise upgrades in an increasingly competitive phone market. I’d always wondered how the industry was going to finance the transition to 3G handsets …

Both of the anomalies above, by the way (as well as the fact that, after a few years’ campaign to improve reporting levels, it is now the case that domestic violence accounts for a quarter of the violent crime in England and Wales, much more than anywhere else), can be avoided by serious researchers by always using victimisation survey data wherever possible.