aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Salatin on cities and sustainable agriculture
In the book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, sustainable farmer Joel Salatin is quoted as saying (on page 245), “Why do we have to have a New York City? What good is it?”
The quote was no longer fresh in my mind when I met him the other evening and told him I had lived in New York City for most of my life. I asked him about it; his position has softened somewhat. It clearly wasn’t the first time he had answered the question…
Neuroscience law and cognitive liberty
Jeffrey Rosen looks at Neuroscience Law in The Brain on the Stand in today’s NYTimes Magazine:
[T]he influence of what some call neurolaw is clearly growing. Neuroscientific evidence has persuaded jurors to sentence defendants to life imprisonment rather than to death; courts have also admitted brain-imaging evidence during criminal trials to support claims that defendants like John W. Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate President Reagan, are insane. Carter Snead, a law professor at Notre Dame, drafted a staff working paper on the impact of neuroscientific evidence in criminal law for President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. The report concludes that neuroimaging evidence is of mixed reliability but “the large number of cases in which such evidence is presented is striking.” That number will no doubt increase substantially. Proponents of neurolaw say that neuroscientific evidence will have a large impact not only on questions of guilt and punishment but also on the detection of lies and hidden bias, and on the prediction of future criminal behavior. At the same time, skeptics fear that the use of brain-scanning technology as a kind of super mind-reading device will threaten our privacy and mental freedom, leading some to call for the legal system to respond with a new concept of “cognitive liberty.”
One of the most enthusiastic proponents of neurolaw is Owen Jones, a professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt. Jones (who happens to have been one of my law-school classmates) has joined a group of prominent neuroscientists and law professors who have applied for a large MacArthur Foundation grant; they hope to study a wide range of neurolaw questions, like: Do sexual offenders and violent teenagers show unusual patterns of brain activity? Is it possible to capture brain images of chronic neck pain when someone claims to have suffered whiplash? In the meantime, Jones is turning Vanderbilt into a kind of Los Alamos for neurolaw. The university has just opened a $27 million neuroimaging center and has poached leading neuroscientists from around the world; soon, Jones hopes to enroll students in the nation’s first program in law and neuroscience. “It’s breathlessly exciting,” he says. “This is the new frontier in law and science - we’re peering into the black box to see how the brain is actually working, that hidden place in the dark quiet, where we have our private thoughts and private reactions - and the law will inevitably have to decide how to deal with this new technology.”
Neuroscience law advocates argue that the legal system should be radically refocused on deterrence rather than on retribution, something I wholeheartedly agree with. Getting there from here will be a long and torturous ride, no doubt. Especially given the imagined challenges to the whole notion of “freedom of thought.” The article is long and fascinating; this is the concluding paragraph:
As the new technologies proliferate, even the neurolaw experts themselves have only begun to think about the questions that lie ahead. Can the police get a search warrant for someone’s brain? Should the Fourth Amendment protect our minds in the same way that it protects our houses? Can courts order tests of suspects’ memories to determine whether they are gang members or police informers, or would this violate the Fifth Amendment’s ban on compulsory self-incrimination? Would punishing people for their thoughts rather than for their actions violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment? However astonishing our machines may become, they cannot tell us how to answer these perplexing questions. We must instead look to our own powers of reasoning and intuition, relatively primitive as they may be. As Stephen Morse puts it, neuroscience itself can never identify the mysterious point at which people should be excused from responsibility for their actions because they are not able, in some sense, to control themselves. That question, he suggests, is “moral and ultimately legal,” and it must be answered not in laboratories but in courtrooms and legislatures. In other words, we must answer it ourselves.
From telephone monopoly to cellphone oligopoly
Doug lost his cellphone yesterday. I’ve considered it a temp phone anyway. We bought it on eBay while the phone we want is developed and brought to market. It will have calendaring and contacts and camera and music and synching capabilities that work simply and consistently, all wrapped up in an effective design.
Nothing out there does it all well yet. The killer phone, the StarTac of the 21st century, is not out yet. Even with university tech support the lost phone has only successfully synchronized the calendar and contacts with his desktop once; we gave up on synching with the laptop.
I lay no special claim to expertise in the mobile marketplace. I do, however, doubt that many of the features we want will ever come to market. A couple weeks back On The Media spoke with Columbia law professor Tim Wu explained why:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In the U.S. today there are two hundred million cell phone subscribers. The wireless industry has grown up in the last decade, so it’s a good time to ask, how’s it doing? Columbia law professor Tim Wu says, not so good. Yes, we have service at competitive prices, but we could have so much more.
We don’t, says Wu, because the big wireless carriers, Verizon, Cingular, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile have a stranglehold on product design. In a paper he presented to the Federal Trade Commission, Wu details many of the improvements we could enjoy if the wireless carriers let us.
For example, we could more easily transfer photos or browse the Net, or even keep track of how much we talk. We can’t, because the carriers are engaged in what Wu calls “feature crippling.”
PROFESSOR WU: There’s often cases where a phone is technologically capable of doing quite a bit, but carriers, because of their business model, a fear of losing revenue or potential fear of losing control, won’t let the feature be on the telephone and will force the equipment manufacturers not to allow the telephone to do something. That’s crippling.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you give us a couple of examples in your paper. I have to say, when I was reading through it, I got angrier and angrier, so let’s go through a couple.
The first, call timers on telephones--what are they, are why don’t we have them?
PROFESSOR WU: Well, you know, some of the device manufacturers think it would be handy to have something that keeps track of how much time you’ve used per month, you know, per day. You can monitor your own usage.
Phone carriers have acted to prevent consumers from having their own records of how long they’ve been speaking on their telephones.
It’s a little bit like, you know, when you’re in a casino in Las Vegas, they don’t really want you to know how long you’ve been there, and so there’s been a lot of crippling, or disabling, of phone timers for the full capabilities they could have. [...]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you say that in the world of wired phones, the policies of these carriers would be, in some cases, not just outrageous but possibly illegal. So could you take us back to the era before the mobile phone, when a similar battle was being fought over land lines?
PROFESSOR WU: Sure. So in the 1950s, 1960s, the Bell Company would not allow you to hook up anything to their phone network. You know, you had to use a Bell phone and only a Bell phone. There was no such thing as consumers hooking up an answering machine, a Mickey Mouse telephone. This was not allowed.
There was a large revolution in the late ‘60s, along with other revolutions. [LAUGHS] The outcome of this consumer revolution was something called, technically, the Carter phone Rule, but more clearly, as a consumer’s right to attach anything they want to their phone network, whether it’s a strange phone, whether, more importantly, it’s a modem, whether it’s an answering machine.
And consumers don’t have that right, in the wireless world. You don’t have the same consumer right to attach. It may sound very technical [LAUGHS], but that consumer right to attach modems in the 1970s and ‘80s is what led to the birth of the entire Internet in the first place.
But I’m suggesting that if consumers have that right to use their mobile service for what they want to use it for, we will see a similar revolution and a similar blossoming that we saw in the Internet in the 1990s.
UPDATE: The cellphone’s been found. Hiding in plain site, it was on a table in his office. Now we can wait and buy the killer phone - and in the meantime get tech support back to try to help make the found one synch!
Google heard him: the announcement is tomorrow
Aaron Stanton of CanGoogleHearMe.com fame will make the happy announcement tomorrow. There’s been less of a mainstream media build up than I expected, so if you haven’t heard of him, here he tells his tale:
I’ll be watching tomorrow.
IT’S UP: CHAPTER 2 - build a functioning prototype in less than 6 months. Of what? “you’ll know what it is, but please be patient. Things are more delicate now than ever before.”
Should Georgia apologize for slavery?
Black legislative leaders said Thursday they will propose that Georgia apologize for the state’s role in slavery and segregation-era laws.
“It is time for Georgia, as one of the major stake-holders in slavery, as one of the major players in lynchings, to say it’s sorry,” said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a Democrat. “Sorry for the fact that it was involved in slave trade, sorry for the fact that it was involved in Jim Crow laws.”
The measure comes on the heels of a Virginia resolution, passed unanimously in February, expressing regret over slavery.
RaisingPaine at DailyKos, speaking as a black man, is having none of it:
Requesting an apology from the state, without any stipulated action associated with it, smacks of an attempt to institutionalize white guilt. Formalizing the state’s regret is a double-edged sword which, while ostensibly seeking to heal old wounds in the black community, has the reverse effect in the white community—many of whom played no role whatsoever in creating or promoting Jim Crow laws, nor had any hand in the advancement of the ugliness of slavery.
There are blacks in Georgia and around the country that suffered under the yoke of government-backed segregation. But this practice was carried out with the tacit consent of the federal government, so seeking out apologies on a state-by-state basis seems painfully redundant. The wink-and-a-nod southern states received from the larger bureaucracy is what ultimately allowed the South to continue these abhorrent practices—the very same ones the federal government were a full party to until after WWII.
I would go one further and point to Democratic Party culpability; it was the Democratic Party running the Jim Crow South. It seems to me that as we demand apologies from southern states and newspapers, we might also turn one day and demand such an apology from the Democratic Party itself.
Paine quotes Barack Obama in The Audacity of Hope*:
Rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America; even the most fair-minded whites, those who would genuinely like to see racial inequality ended and poverty relieved, tend to push back against suggestions of racial victimization - or race-specific claims based on the history of race discrimination in this country.
What Obama’s describing is echoed in the “not responsible for the sins of our fathers” quotes from various Republican state legislators in the AP story. Paine proposes, instead, a national monument:
Those blacks who are first-hand survivors of the Jim Crow era have a rightful claim on a federal apology, but a national monument would bring a stamp of earnestness that words could never convey.
Such a landmark would not be about the resurrection of white guilt. Rather, it would be about allowing America as a nation to move past the notion of state-by-state apologies, whose roots owe more to political-correctness than any genuine sense of remorse by those rightfully resentful of being held accountable for their ancestors misdeeds. Through the powerful documentation of a federal national monument and its concommitant acknowlegement of a shameful passage in American history, perhaps we can better move forward simply as citizens.
The Viet Nam War memorial has succeeded far beyond what anyone envisioned. A national monument seems the least we could do. It won’t solve our problems, but then, neither will legislative battles over forced apologies.
* I’m bugged that Amazon’s Search Inside! feature is not enabled for this title. Google Book Search also came up with nothing. I had to use the index of my copy to find, confirm and expand the passage, from page 247.