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Jon Mandle

Pre-Early Rawls

by Jon Mandle on May 25, 2007

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics, Eric Gregory (a Religion professor at Princeton) has an article (abstract here) discussing John Rawls’s senior undergraduate thesis. Gregory is properly cautious, pointing out: “Few people, I suspect, would welcome the thought of being held accountable to claims made in graduate seminar papers, let alone undergraduate theses.” True enough. And it’s worth remembering what Sam Freeman writes in the preface to Rawls’s Collected Papers: “Rawls has often said that he sees these papers as experimental works, opportunities to try out ideas that later may be developed, revised, or abandoned in his books. For this reason he has long been reluctant to permit the publication of his collected papers in book form.” One can only imagine what he would have thought about a published analysis of his undergraduate thesis.
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Pretty Flamingo

by Jon Mandle on May 22, 2007

I thought this news item involved several of those colorful British idioms that I never quite get exactly. But no – these are real birds.

A pair of gay flamingos have adopted an abandoned chick, becoming parents after being together for six years, a British conservation organisation said Monday.

Avian Flu Negotiations

by Jon Mandle on April 4, 2007

As of yesterday, Indonesia has suffered more confirmed human deaths (72) from the avian flu than any other country. (Here are World Health Organization statistics.) In February, Indonesia stopped sending samples of the flu to the WHO. They wanted to prevent drug companies from developing and patenting vaccines that they (and other poor countries) could not afford. In a February story (that I missed at the time), the NY Times reported:

Dr. David L. Heymann, chief of communicable diseases at the [WHO], who negotiated in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, with the health minister, thanked Indonesia for drawing attention to the problem and said he had been assured that it “would not hold the W.H.O. hostage to the virus,” wire service reports from Indonesia said.

Dr. Heymann said that a fund to buy vaccine for poor countries could be discussed at the March meeting and that his agency would help Indonesia eventually develop its own vaccine factories.

At the end of March, Indonesia and the WHO reached an agreement according to which Indonesia would resume sharing samples with the WHO, on the condition that “not share virus samples with commercial vaccine makers without permission from the source country”.

Now, news comes that

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Britain’s largest drugs company, is in talks with the World Health Organisation (WHO) about a proposal for a subsidised mass vaccination programme against avian flu for developing countries, The Times has learnt.

Hopefully these negotiations will be fruitful. It seems as though Indonesia has played the game successfully – but what a dangerous game they were forced to play.

One Night

by Jon Mandle on February 21, 2007

In 1956, Smiley Lewis scored a minor hit – #11 on the R&B charts – with a song written by Dave Bartholomew and Dave King called “One Night”. By 1957, Elvis Presley was a huge star. He had already had big hits with “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, “All Shook Up”, and 50 million people – over 80% of the viewing audience – had watched him on the Ed Sullivan Show. In January, 1957, he recorded a “One Night”. According Peter Guralnick, writing in the liner notes of The King of Rock and Roll: The Complete 50’s Masters:

‘One Night,’ by way of contrast [with ‘Teddy Bear’, which he recorded at the same session], … clearly stemmed from no other source but Elvis Presley’s passion for the music, and it was delivered with undiminished, and unexpurgated, force. Upon his return to the studio a month later to complete various album and single tracks, he re-cut ‘One Night’ with cleaned-up, more teen-oriented lyrics in a performance which, despite its lyrical compromise, actually matches the intensity of the original.

At the end of 1957, Elvis was drafted, so RCA began releasing previously recorded tracks, and they released “One Night” October, 1958. It hit #4 in the US and #1 in the UK. He played it during his 1968 comeback special, and it was re-released in the UK in 2005 and again hit #1. I believe his original recording (the one with the original lyrics) was first released only on The Complete 50’s Masters boxed set in 1992, under the title “One Night of Sin.” (It’s also included on the remastered version of his third album, Loving You.)
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by Jon Mandle on January 4, 2007

The Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association had its annual meeting last week. This year it was in Washington, and for the second straight year I attended but went to exactly zero sessions – I was conducting interviews. But the real excitement was at 4:30 am on Saturday when the fire alarm went off in the hotel. I basically assumed somebody had pulled a switch in a drunken stupor, but my wife and I decided not to take the time to get our 6-year-old dressed, so we just wrapped her up in her sleeping bag and I carried her down the hall to the stairs. We definitely smelled something burning when we passed the seventh floor, and as we waited outside some people were saying that they had crawled through part of the hall on the seventh floor because the smoke was so thick. The rumor was that one woman was taken away by ambulance after breathing in smoke, but I didn’t see that.

After about an hour (I’m guessing – I didn’t have a watch), we were allowed to go into the ballroom where we waited for another hour before being allowed back into our rooms. On the ground floor, there was some water damage from the sprinklers on the seventh. On our way back to our room we peeked into the seventh floor where the smell of smoke was strong and several of the doors had been broken down. No word on how it started, but I’m sure grateful that the alarms and sprinklers worked.

Last spring I put up a post about Randy Cohen, the NY Times Magazine “ethicist”, and I quoted the following passage from his book: “real virtue lies not in heroically saving poor orphans from burning buildings but in steadfastly working for a world where orphans are not poor and buildings have decent fire codes.” Let’s hear it for decent fire codes.

Buster Returns

by Jon Mandle on December 18, 2006

My friend Dennis Gaffney, a freelance writer, has a story in today’s NY Times about the return of “Postcards from Buster.” (He tells me that he has another piece on the same subject forthcoming in The Nation.) The PBS children’s show, you may remember, lost its funding after the animated title character, who interacts with real children, visited a girl from Vermont to learn about maple syrup. The child casually mentioned that she has two mothers – the implication, not stated explicitly, was that they are gay – and Buster replied with the unforgettable line: “Wow – that’s a lot of moms.”

In one of her first official acts, just before being sworn in as Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings wrote to the head of PBS threatening to cut its funding because “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode.” The “exposure”, of course, was simply portraying the existence of gay parents. The real sin was clearly the casual manner of presentation – like it was no big deal. PBS refused to distribute the episode and didn’t renew the show. Here’s a 2005 Washington Post piece about the cancellation, and here’s a Boston Globe story quoting the mom involved.

But now Buster is back with a new (albeit small) commitment from PBS and a variety of non-traditional funding sources. This season he’s visiting a family living on an Army base, and he is returning to visit some kids that he met in Louisiana during the first season who survived Katrina. Even when dealing with these tough issues, I’m sure the episodes will be presented with the same fun and matter-of-fact attitude that makes the show so enjoyable.

Same-sex Marriage in Canada

by Jon Mandle on December 8, 2006

For many of us, the hope has been that as same-sex marriage gains a foothold, it will seem less threatening and scary – more normal – to many people and opposition will temper. A data point from Canada:

Yesterday, the Canadian House of Commons voted to uphold same-sex marriage. According to the Global and Mail, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared the contentious issue of same-sex marriage to be permanently closed…. The vote yesterday, which fulfilled a Conservative election promise, marked the sixth time since 2003 that the House of Commons has decided in favour of same-sex marriage.”

But what was striking to me was that opponents of same-sex marriage seemed simply to be going through the motions. According to the Washington Post: “The prime minister expended little visible effort to try to win the vote, and political commentators suggested that he simply wanted to put the issue behind him before another national election was called.”

More on Borders and Justice

by Jon Mandle on December 8, 2006

Thanks, Chris. And thanks to the people who contributed to the excellent comment thread. Let me try to continue the discussion by attempting to clarify what I had in mind in the passage that Chris quotes.

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by Jon Mandle on December 5, 2006

MSNBC prints a puff piece from Forbes on Richard Branson’s approach to charity – he’s been for it since September, apparently. “At Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative in New York, Branson pledged all proceeds from Virgin Group’s transportation divisions be donated to develop alternative fuel sources and alleviate global warming. His pledge amounts to about $3 billion over ten years.”

But get this: “Branson didn’t even believe in global warming until five years ago. Then he read Bjorn Lomborg’s, The Skeptical Environmentalist.”

Just imagine if he had been reading Quiggin’s posts – on his own website back to August, 2001, and here and here and here and here, for example. On the other hand, could it be that Lomborg served as the thin edge of the wedge and that Branson allowed himself to be convinced by the evidence only because the “solution” Lomborg presents is pretty much to wait until technology solves the problem? Regardless, and not to quibble about the definition of “charity” at work in the article, it’s certainly good that Branson is putting money toward developing alternative fuel sources.

Inward and Outward Justice

by Jon Mandle on November 5, 2006

In her 2002 Locke Lectures, Christine Korsgaard suggests readings of Plato and of Kant that try to make sense of the relationship between “inward justice” and “outward justice”. She asks, for example, “What is the relationship between maintaining unity in your soul, and doing things like telling the truth, keeping your promises, and respecting rights?” In the course of exploring the connection, she observes, “It’s hard to have a free press and lie to the world.” Her point is not limited to freedom of the press. Rather, she thinks that it is hard to have a democratic society that engages in free public deliberation if it lies to the world.

In its recent effort to prevent victims of “alternative interrogation methods” from telling even their own lawyers – let alone the general public – what they endured, the Bush administration seems to agree with Korsgaard.

Actually, they offered two defenses of the prohibition. First:

“Many terrorist operatives are specifically trained in counter-interrogation techniques,” says a declaration by Marilyn A. Dorn, an official at the National Clandestine Service, a part of the C.IA. “If specific alternative techniques were disclosed, it would permit terrorist organizations to adapt their training to counter the tactics that C.I.A. can employ in interrogations.”

It’s hard to take this seriously. What do they imagine they’ll do – practice holding their breath while being waterboarded dunked in water?

Here’s the other defense:

revealing the countries where the prisoners were held could undermine intelligence relationships with those governments. Such disclosures “would put our allies at risk of terrorist retaliation and betray relationships that are built on trust and are vital to our efforts against terrorism,” Ms. Dorn wrote.

The connection seems plausible – only the conclusion is absurd. We need to undermine the rule of law at home so that we can continue to lie to our allies. Not exactly what Korsgaard had in mind, I think. As a lawyer for several Guantanamo detainees observed, the prisoners “can’t even say what our government did to these guys to elicit the statements that are the basis for them being held. Kafka-esque doesn’t do it justice. This is ‘Alice in Wonderland.’”

Defense of Marriage Act Lives

by Jon Mandle on October 18, 2006

When Bill Clinton signed the (offensively-named) Federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, the looming issue was the possibility that the Hawaiian Supreme Court would legalize same-sex marriage. (In 1993, the court ruled that the state needed to show a compelling interest in order to prohibit same-sex marriage.) Since the Constitution requires that “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state,” it seemed that same-sex marriages recognized by one state would have to be recognized by the others. The Act explicitly exempted states from such a requirement. As I remember it, this was the focus of the debate.

But the Act has another implication that I don’t remember being discussed very much. It denies benefits to legally recognized same-sex spouses of federal employees. (There are currently around 1.9 [oops: million, of course] federal civil servants. I don’t know whether this prohibition applies to the additional 10.5 million individuals who are government-funded contractors or grantees.) This includes former members of Congress:

The federal government has refused to pay death benefits to the spouse of the late Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress.

Studds married Dean Hara in 2004 after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. But Hara will not be eligible for any of Studds’ estimated $114,337 annual pension because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from recognizing the couple’s marriage.

Meanwhile, in somewhat related news, Eliot Spitzer (who is leading John Faso by a 3-1 margin in the race for NY governor) says that he will introduce legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in NY.

Hey, It’s a Plan!

by Jon Mandle on October 4, 2006

Maybe they should try $40 million. (via Atrios)

Tucked away in fine print in the military spending bill for this past year was a lump sum of $20 million to pay for a celebration in the nation’s capital “for commemoration of success” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, the money was not spent.

Now Congressional Republicans are saying, in effect, maybe next year. A paragraph written into spending legislation and approved by the Senate and House allows the $20 million to be rolled over into 2007.

Empirical Evidence about Torture

by Jon Mandle on September 18, 2006

I’m a little late with this, and others have written about it, but it’s worth repeating over and over again….

The new Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations prohibits the use of specific interrogation techniques including water boarding, electrical shock, burning, beating, mock executions – you know, the usual. The Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence Lt. General Jeff Kimmons clarified during a press conference that “interrogation” refers to “getting truthful answers to time-sensitive questions on the battlefield” and that the manual applies “all detainees, regardless of their status under all circumstances.”

A reporter pointed out that “some of the tactics that were used in particular in Guantanamo Bay … are now prohibited” and asked, “does that limit the ability of interrogators to get information that could be very useful?”

GEN. KIMMONS: Let me answer the first question. That’s a good question. I think — I am absolutely convinced the answer to your first question is no. No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.

And moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, under — through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility. And additionally, it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can’t afford to go there.

So just to clarify: we now have empirical evidence from that last five years that “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices” including in the “time-sensitive” circumstances of the battlefield.

Counterfactual History – slavery

by Jon Mandle on September 13, 2006

Although the U.S. Constitution of 1787 does not include the word “slavery”, there are five more-or-less direct references to it, and other more indirect references. Article IV, Section 2, is the fugitive slave clause – any person “held in service or labor in one state, under the laws thereunto, escaping into another … shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

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Palin’s Travels

by Jon Mandle on August 29, 2006

In 1988, Michael Palin set out to travel around the world in 80 days roughly tracing the path of Phileas Fogg and using only modes of transport that had been available to him. He filmed it for a BBC documentary. I vaguely remember seeing and enjoying an episode or two some years ago. I had no idea that he filmed 5 more travel adventures – Pole to Pole; Full Circle; Hemingway; Sahara; Himalaya – and he is now working on one called the “New Europe” about countries that were part of the Soviet Bloc but are now part of or are soon to be part of the EU. I haven’t seen any of them – don’t watch enough TV, I guess. But I did stumble upon his website – Palin’s Travels – complete with lots of texts, maps, pictures, and some video from the travels. It’s worth exploring.