Thursday, August 21, 2008

On Obama

Demographically I fall squarely into Obama's base. I am a young, middle-class, highly educated male and more or less post-partisan. I am the generation who is raised on cynicism on the absurdity of the political process. Who regard the most trusted person in America, the person with the most integrity, as comedian Jon Stewart.

Obama's legendary charisma is better remarked elsewhere and it's easy to become captivated in the man. I've been a supporter ever since the 2004 Democratic Convention and changed my party affiliation to democrat in order to vote in the primary. This was my first time voting in a primary, my first time donating to a political campaign, my first time being enthusiastically for a candidate for office. I am not alone.

Obama is the first presidential candidate to be untouched by Vietnam-era boomer politics, of identity politics. He is post-partisan in a good way. Not "bipartisan" in the way the Joe Lieberman is, but represents a pragmatic, nuanced, and intelligent approach to politics.

Reading his books and watching him speak makes me feel inspired. Now this is actually quite difficult for me to admit. A large part of Obama's draw is an emotional resonance that I am wary of, the whole charge of us Obama supporters being a cult. I am a skeptic and an atheist and anything that is unable to be confirmed by empirical evidence is automatically suspect. Though I have a flair for and appreciation of rhetoric, I am more convinced by hard facts and accurate statistics. However, Obama makes me proud to be an American and hopeful as to what this country has to offer.

More to come later.

Friday, October 12, 2007

On Heroes

I have a few judicial heroes whom I admire for their intelligence and integrity. Ronald Dworkin, whose seminal work this blog is named for, is obviously one. Judge Learned Hand is another. This jurist, though never elevated to the Supreme Court, seems to be held in reverence amongst the entire profession. I cannot say I fault them. Hand's opinions are wonderful and insightful views into the law and his wisdom knows no bounds. In a story that may be apocryphal, Learned Hand was in a car with Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose wit was greater than his wisdom, during the latter's confirmation. Hand remarked to Holmes, "Do Justice", and Holmes responded, "I do the law."

This is of the conflict that most judges are faced with: law and justice. And while I am only a mere law student, I ponder these two daily when considering cases. What is justice and what do I consider justice, and what does the law say I have to do. How cruel and removed must I be when I apply the law, and does that law rest on a bedrock of justice?

Another Jurist I am beginning to admire is Justice Stevens, who is a calm island of temperence in a storm of right wing vitriol. Maybe I should read further into his works.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Existence

I got into a great discussion today with Charlie, a recent law school associate whose intellect I greatly admire. What started as a normal discussion on religion and me attempting to show that God is improbable and therefore we should not postulate his existence led to an interesting discussion on existence itself.

"Existence and the probability of existence are independent of each other. Probability is something that the individual observer attributes to a concept, but has no bearing on whether or not that concept actually exists. Something either exists or it does not."

While I may be mis-interpreting I do believe that this was the claim argued for. This was really the only thing that I could not rebut because my training is in political philosophy, not metaphysics. Everything else we argued about I felt I had an appropriate answer to.

I do believe he was attempting to undermine the concept of the burden of proof in regards to determining the probability of existence. Science, as well as reason and logic, demand that the positive existential claim bear the burden of empirically confirming that claim. I attempted to apply this to the concept of God we were mulling about and I questioned the necessity of postulating such a being. As Carl Sagan so aptly put it: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Charlie's argument sounds suspiciously like the agnostic claim that denies that one is unable to prove or disprove the existence of God. If existence truly is independent of probability, then we lack the means to say anything meaningful about God. God either exists or he doesn't and we lack any definitive means of proving either.

The answer to the agnostic is Bertrand Russell's Celestial Teapot, which I tried to put forward as a possible resolution to the problem of existence. What if, says Russell, I say that there is a china teapot orbiting between the Earth and Mars that is undetectable by both the naked eye and the best telescopes? You can neither definitively prove nor disprove the existence of this celestial teapot. The point is that the Celestial Teapot is analogous to God or really any unjustified thing such as fairies, leprechauns, Thor, etc. We should all be teapot-agnostics but most people, when pressed whether or not they believe that the teapot exists would say that they do not. Why is God afforded special status from the rigors of logic and evidence? Just because existence is possible, does not mean that it is probable. Or rather the chance of a thing existing and not existing is not equi-probable. If this is all sounding familiar, then yes, this is a rehashed version of Richard Dawkin's own succinct arguments.

I suppose that I am saying that you cannot divorce existence and the probability of existence from each other and still be coherent. Existence is an assumption that everyone makes in order to function, else you end up in Descarte's dream world, uncertain whether what you experience is real or whether it is an imagining or manipulation.

He is however, right, that the probability of existence stems from perspective. We perceive things to exist all the time that do not exist in reality: dreams, hallucinations, mirages, false memories, etc. Whether or not things exist independent of the perceiver borders on solipsism, and really adds nothing useful other than mental masturbation.

There was another point that Charlie made that I felt I did not answer to my satisfaction and that is the problem of the definition of life. However I have posted too much for one entry and I'll write about that tomorrow.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

On First Impressions

A case of first impression is an issue that a jurisdictional court faces for the first time. There are no precedents, no guiding hand of history to determine the just outcome. No personal experience.

First impressions matter a lot. It frames entirely how one views an issue or a person.

First impressions of law school: it's a lot like high school, at least on a superficial level it's structured a lot like high school. I think the fact that they gave us lockers was the tipping point of the resemblance to high school.

First impressions of people: Everyone makes an effort. Everyone interacts on more or less a polite level. It's hard to base everything on first impressions.

If you are reading this, it's your first impression on myself as a professional. This is going to be a professional journal. No crazy walls of text, no strange pictures, no stream of consciousness writing, no angst. How sad.

This will probably bore most people since it's going to be mainly about thoughts on the law, legal philosophy, and struggling through law school. It's not like I have much else to write about.