Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gogol the Optimist

I am working on a proposal to write a paper about Emerson and Gogol. I mentioned this to my dad and told me a story illustrating how nuts Gogol was. Apparently, he was obsessed with the numbers 2 and 4 resulting in his suicide at the age of 42.

I burst out laughing--I always sensed he was a glass half full kind of guy. A true Russian optimist.

Can One Appeal to Merit?

I attended a workshop over the last month with one of the professors here where we discussed her forthcoming book which articulates a non-ideal philosophical argument for racial integration, specifically affirmative action. Throughout the seminar I was confused as to why she did not address the question of merit head on--if one works hard and excels (those are two different items) isn't one entitled to a position at an Ivy or elite firm (or at least more entitled than someone without that merit)? How do the values of integration (democratic norms along with social justice ones) address the claims of merit?

Turns out she doesn't really think such an appeal exists, at least to a strong version of the claim. Sure, she concedes, you are going to have a hard time remaining an elite school if you open up enrollment to a lottery, but merit, in itself does not really constitute a claim. Merit will excel on its own, but it is not a ethical value by itself; an instrumental not a deontic value (that might be stating it a bit too strongly--she did intimate that at a large firm passing up someone more qualified for a cousin of yours might be an ill). So if you don't believe that merit is an appropriate claim, anti-affirmative action arguments really fall down.

Just prima facie, there seems to be some appeal to justice wrapped up in merit, something like Aristotle's equals to equals where one's capacity ought to equal the challenge of the position, but I am not sure. Furthermore, it would be hard to argue that every promotion ensures a correspondence between merit and responsibility. Anyhow, it was kind of a mind blowing moment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Now?

There seem to be indications that the Republican party is ready to block Sotomayor's confirmation. I am not really sure how it is going to do this. Its party discipline is on the decline, and I can't imagine that Collins or Snowe will block her (especially considering that they confirmed her in 1998). Neither do the Republicans have the votes, nor do they have the motive to raise hell over her nomination. From initial reports she writes narrow decisions and is not an outspoken pro-choicer. Furthermore, a battle against the first Latino SC judge won't play politically.

Given all that, why nominate her now? Obama has excellent public approval and a lot of goodwill. If you believe, as I do, that Sotomayor will sail through the confirmation, why not choose someone more controversial now and save the safe bet for later? Is he saving capital for health care later this year?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Barack Hussein and Hosni Mubarack

Are they really so different?