Empirical Asylums

The professor in a sociology class I’m taking this quarter acknowledged that scholarly papers tend not to have much impact. It’s a shame really, because scholars are actually studying the problems in our society, and often highlighting the absurdity of current policy.

I’ve previously commented on the Bush Administration’s utter lack of regard for empirical information, but I see the same thing among more ordinary people.

It is almost as if universities were asylums, where empiricists go, do their studies, and publish their results in journals read only by other scholars. And just as if they were insane, sent to mental hospitals, they are ignored by the outside world. Challenges to the elite and to dominant ideology are buried in the stacks of university libraries.

In the back of Stanford University, there is a large area of open space, fenced off and marked “Academic Reserve,” reminiscent of a game reserve. As an academic, driving past those signs, I’ve wondered if I was supposed to go there and live off the land. It might be as effective.

Dying and more dying

This item, written by Tim Grieve, and posted on Salon.com’s War Room, deserves note:

When the 2,500th American soldier died in Iraq earlier this month, the White House dismissed the news as “a number.” Here’s another one: According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 50,000 Iraqis have died violent deaths since the U.S. invaded their country in 2003.

The Times’ number comes from data from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies, but the Times itself acknowledges that the number is almost certainly too low; conditions are so bad in the Al Anbar region that deaths go un- or undercounted there, and Iraqi officials in Baghdad don’t have data from the Kurdish provinces in the north.

Still, as the Times says, the 50,000 number is daunting, particularly in a country with a population of about 26 million. “Proportionately,” the Times says, “it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years.” Put another way: It’s as if the United States had suffered an attack of the magnitude of 9/11 once every five or six days since March 2003.

Not really free

The case I was recently called in for jury duty on can be viewed on at least a couple levels. First, there is the simple matter of sexual abuse, an unwanted touching of the accusers. But feminists sometimes argue that such episodes are symptomatic of something much more seriously wrong in our society. Let me offer a couple examples:

1) A man walks into a coffee shop everyday, and orders breakfast. He is nice to the waitress, and the waitress is nice to him. But after a while, the man begins to wonder. Does the waitress really like him, or is she simply being nice, because he is the customer?

2) A pretty woman walks down the street alone. Men smile at her, and she smiles back. Does she smile because she appreciates the attention, or because the men are a threat and she is displaying submission?

Power relationships are pervasive in our society, and the question is, how such power relationships introduce ambiguity into communication. Some feminists argue against heterosexual relationships simply they view them as inherently hierarchical. Yet as the first example illustrates, not all power relationships are gender-based. To cut off all power relationships might require one literally to live in the wilderness as a hermit.

But for a man who has met a woman who works in a grocery store, the problem is more profound. Because she isn’t really free, he isn’t really free.


The last time I got called for jury duty, and actually had to face a judge, I had had to get up at an hour of the morning that I really don’t deal well with. I’ve never been an early riser, and I never will be. I simply can’t do it. I really hate life when I’m getting up that damned early, and anybody who gets me up this early without a very good reason is likely to face my wrath. And that judge was plainly obnoxious about the adherance to law issue; he kept saying it over and over again.

So when questioned, I was really cranky, as I declared, “There is more to justice than law.”

Today was different. I got to sleep in til about my normal waking time. And the judge, and his clerk, were unfailingly polite. He had to ask a lot of questions before I saw an opportunity to introduce my views on the relationship between law and justice, and that juries should not be confined strictly to a consideration of the facts.

Of course, this was code for jury nullification, though I actually was implying far more, challenging the very nature of the system of justice in this country. And the judge recognized at least the part about jury nullification. And so I was excused.

Had I actually served on the jury, however, I would have had to get up at an unreasonable hour in the morning each day for probably the rest of this week. And that would surely have made me cranky.

The case was ugly. The accused faced two misdemeanor counts of sexual assault, allegedly committed on two different women, and one count of indecent exposure. I will have to ponder another day on why sexual assault can be considered anything less than a felony.

Jury Duty, update

So I’m due in at 1:00 pm at 190 West Hedding in San Jose. The latest:

It is not just that there is more to justice than law, but that the preference for law at the expense of justice reflects a preference for social order at the expense of other values in a politically conservative moral hierarchy. This is not justice for all; but, as seen in a range of cases from censorship to the incarceration and execution of African-American men, it is justice for rich, white men. I am not competent to deliver a verdict in such a system.

To my earlier reading list, I have to add Marjorie Heins, who has written at least two books on censorship.

Jury Duty

So this is jury duty. I’m waiting for 10:00 am to roll around so I can check the latest status of my group, 117. And I’ve been contemplating what I will say in the event they actually contemplate putting me on the jury.

I will have the opportunity to say something because I will object to the idea that I should render a verdict based solely on law. My current phrasing goes something like this:

It is not just that there is more to justice than law, but that the preference for law at the expense of justice reflects a preference for social order at the expense of other values in a politically conservative moral hierarchy. This is not justice for all, but justice for rich, white men, and it is not the kind of justice I will render.

To fully understand what I’m saying here, one must read George Lakoff, Moral Politics, and then the philosophy of Richard Weaver, a conservative theorist. And to understand the justice that this system produces, one need only look at a range of cases from censorship to the incarceration and execution of African-American men.

Justice and Law, redux

Next Monday, I’m scheduled for jury duty, which has my thoughts returning to the judiciary.

Judges are typically very strict about application of the law, regardless of any other nagging issues — like justice. And they will insist that jurors apply the law as they (the judges) instruct in reaching a verdict.

But the preference for laws has two serious ramifications. First, it reduces the courtroom to an arena where lawyers compete to see who can get which rules applied. “Justice” is reduced to a game of skill with largely arbitrary results; he who can afford the more skillful lawyer prevails. Second, the preference for a supremacy of rules at the expense of other values is an appeal to order, a preference for which biases the judicial process in favor of politically conservative values.

I am not a conservative. I am appalled by conservative values. And I will not participate in their promulgation.