Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama on Immigration

Barack Obama's acceptance speech went on for almost 45 minutes yesterday. Here is what he had to say about immigration:

"You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. But this, too, is part of America's promise -- the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort."

Not clear what exactly this position is, as the ImmigrationProf Blog points out.

Special kudos to anyone who can guess (without doing a Google search!) who held this view on immigration:

"All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas. And the marvelous thing, a thing of which we're proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things to fit in. In fact, what they brought to America became American."


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is Russia Killing White People?

Yes, if you were 18 century "scientist" Johann Friedrich Blumenbach who, in 1795, coined the term "Caucausian" to refer to people of the "white race". He came to his theory of different races through an examination of human skulls and found that skulls from the regions in Georgia, around the Caucus mountains, were "most beautiful". He surmised that this area was the origin of the white race of Europeans. Hence, the birth of word that has now seeped into popular usage.

But as this article points out, the word and its "technical" meaning have not just been a point of curiosity. It was used by the U.S. goverment to make decisions about the rights and privileges of citizenship (in a most confusing way). What the Slate article doesn't mention is that there was a case in 1922, Ozawa v. U.S., in which the court denied citizenship to a Japanese resident because he wasn't descended from Caucausians, meaning people from the region of Georgia. Less than a year later, another man tried to become a citizen and he was a Caucausian in the Blumenbach sense. The court denied him as well, this time saying he was not "white".

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Habermas Wins European Award

Jurgen Habermas, in my mind one of the giants of social and political philosophy in the twentienth century, recently won an award:

European prize goes to philosopher Habermas
The European Prize of Political Culture has been awarded to the German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas at the Locarno Film Festival.

Habermas' theories have greatly contributed to the evolution of modern social sciences, the Hans Ringier Foundation, patrons of the €50,000 prize said.

The philosopher, born in 1929, is best known for his work on the concept of the public sphere, the topic and title of his first book.

Last year the prize went to Serbian president Boris Tadic; Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's prime minister received the honour in 2006. The prize is in its third year.

From here. (Tadic was also a philosopher, if memory serves me right)

Why doesn't the United States have such prizes?


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Celebrity Morph by MyHeritage

MyHeritage: Celebrity Morph - Free genealogy search - Antique photos

Are we at the End of World Travel?

I remember a few years ago trying to organize a summer class that would travel to Mexico for two weeks to study the effects of globalization on immigration. Several students were very interested. At the last minute, every single one of them had to back out because of the high cost of travel. Oil prices had shot up and what was usually a $300 plane ticket had ballooned into a $600-700 one.

Bradford Plumer warns here that as the era of peak oil approaches, cheap air travel will likely disappear. It will be less likely that people will be able to afford going cross country for vacation, or that academics will be able to go to conferences all around the nation. (Last academic year alone, I flew to Texas, Michigan, and Colorado two times to give talks)

It will also mean that economic globalization will slow down and it will be less likely for goods and services to criss cross around the world. No more Australian oranges in summer or cheap Wal-Mart gadgets from China.

But it also means that its less likely that ordinary people will be able to travel outside of the country and see the world, experience new cultures, or different ways of life. We may be able to hear about events all over the globe, but it will be less likely that we will ever have the chance to see the people attached to those events.

Should we be concerned that world travel will be out of reach for many?


Thursday, August 21, 2008

What is it that you do?

I just had a conversation with my friend Dennis about the difference between political philosophy and political theory (as usually taught in Political Science Departments). I tend to think that political philosophy is more normative, that is, its concerned to examine whether or not politics ought to be a certain way, whereas political theory is more interested in explaining the foundations for why politics is the way it is now. For instance, I tend to think political philosophers are more interested in questions of utopia than are political theorists.

From Public Reason: the questions that motivate social and political phlilosophy

1) What Should the Social World Be Like?

2) Should There be Government?

3) What Sort of Government Should We Have?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

There Are No Evil People

But surely Hitler or Stalin or Osama Bin Ladin are evil if anyone is evil. Not according to Susan Neiman. As she sees it (and you can see it here), we shouldn't talk about evil people, but about evil actions. This helps us to understand the phenomenon of evil in the world more clearly, she believes. Thinking this way allows us to see that you can do quite evil things without intending them, or even do evil with good intentions. (This, of course, goes to the kind of discussion we've had here before here at Engage about why it may be morally inadequate to say that some action shouldn't be labled as racist unless the agent intended it to be racist).

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is not liking Obama racist?

John Heilemann asks why Obama isn't doing better in the polls, considering that so many Americans are unhappy with the status quo? His guess: many older white men ( who don't seem to be very interested in Obama) are racist.

This would not be suprising, given the result of a recent Gallup poll which finds that a majority of Americans (including whites) think that racism against blacks is widespread in the U.S. Via Feminist Philosophers:

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Military-Industrial Complex and You

"If the law is of such nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau's famous essay on civil disobedience addresses the question of disengagement from government and a reliance on individual conscience. He feared being absorbed in a mob mentality, in general, and lost in a movement of mindless people who utilized the coercive power of the state in particular. Remember, of course, he spent time in jail for failing to pay taxes during the U.S. invasion of Mexico--a war he considered to be especially unjust. His example inspired Gandhi and Cesar Chavez to think that one of the important principles of nonviolence is: non-cooperation with whatever is humiliating is paramount.

I know some people who refuse to pay their federal taxes because they don't support the military and I know a lot more who wish they could bring themselves to take such a stand against the government.

But a new book suggests that our involvement in the military and its operations is far more complex and raises questions about our collective responsibility and culpability. Nick Turse demonstrates that the military-industrial complex is quite wide; that is, the number of corporations that do business with the military is quite vast and many of them provide ordinary goods and services that most people use on an every day basis--the the toothpaste and shampoo we use in the morning, the appliances we fill our house with, to the stations we watch on televsion. We literally cannot escape from some kind of involvement with an organization that provides material assistance to the military and its capacity to cause destruction.

Thoreau had Walden to which he could retreat and experiment with self-reliance. In our highly integrated, technology society, it seems that there is less space with which to exercise the first principle of nonviolent ethics.

Does the size and reach of the military-industrial complex in modern America morally implicate civilians in any violence, destruction, or human rights violations that the military may commit?

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Star Trek Still Inspires Moral Lessons

What happens to a great ship when it is overcome by xenophobia and decides to get rid of all the aliens?

Don't Deport Me, Scotty!