Scott versus Scott

Welcome to our blog. Here we will debate the days most serious topics and allow users the chance to discuss the topics as well. The range of topics will vary, but one thing will remain certain, the debate will rage on. Scott Lesinski is a proud conservative and Scott Jones is a proud liberal. However, the roles will switch on some topics. Stay tuned.

Scott Lesinski is currently an actuarial associate for a large human resources and insurance consulting firm in Saint Louis. He is also an avid student of US history and enjoys following current events, with an eye to their contextual relationship to the past. He is also, in fact, a former student of Mr. Scott Jones. Scott is working toward his FSA credentials, which is akin to earning a PHD in Actuarial Science.

Scott Jones is currently a high school social studies teacher at a high school in suburban St. Louis, MO. He teaches World History, AP American Government and Senior American Foreign Policy. He has a BS. Ed. (Secondary Social Studies) from the University of Missouri - Columbia and a M.A. (History) from Southeast Missouri State University. He is currently working on a dissertation in character education to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Individual Responsibility and Empathy

On a recent post, one of the comments concerning my liberal ideology was that we (the liberals) want the government to take care of us. The implication of this, of course, is that I do not believe in individual responsibility.

That could not be further from the truth.

I do believe in individual responsibility, but it is much more complicated than that. In fact, the breakdown of individual responsibility is exactly where the need for a referee, the government, is much needed.

Psychologists refer to a phenomenon known as fundamental attribution error. This error is defined in the textbooks as a theory describing cognitive tendency to predominantly over-value dispositional, or personality-based, explanations (i.e., attributions or interpretations) for the observed behaviors of others, thus under-valuing or acknowledging the potentiality of situational attributions or situational explanations for the behavioral motives of others.

In other words, people predominantly presume that the actions of others are indicative of the "kind" of person they are, rather than the kind of situations that compels their behavior.

For instance, when someone fails to hold the door open for you at QuikTrip, you immediately brand them as rude. Or, for a more practical application, you cuss the driver who cuts you off in traffic.

However, when it is you doing it, you have a different view of the events. You don’t hold the door open, because you are in some other world thinking about what you need to do at work that day. You cut someone off on the highway, because you are late and need to move faster than traffic is currently moving.

Basically, I don’t think individual responsibility exits. At least in terms of how it used by conservatives. We always hold others individually responsible for their actions, but we have an excuse for our own. That, my fellow friends, is the very definition of a hypocrite.

Furthermore, individual responsibility cannot exist. No one has ever made it on their own in this world. In fact, some people try, but they die of malnutrition at birth because they refuse the help of their own mother’s milk.

On a practical manner, we have the freedom to do whatever we choose so long as another person is not hurt by our actions.

The smoker has the freedom to light up, but only in a way that does not hurt the nonsmokers desire/freedom to breathe clean air.

The driver has the freedom to drive on the highway, but only in a way that causes no hurt to the other drivers.

The factory has the right to make stuff, but only in a way that does not harm the people living in the area.

I could give more examples, but for the sake of space, I will move on.

In a perfect world, everyone would always be aware of how their actions and be able to see the actions of others from that person’s perspective. However, empathy, the ability to see the world from another’s perspective, is the hardest of the moral traits identified by Aristotle and Immanuel Kant to develop individually.

I know the word empathy drives conservatives nuts right now, but if we all used it perfectly, there would be no need for the government to act as a referee between two individuals acting on their conflicting own best interests.

Since it is impossible to act with empathy all the time (self-interest isn’t always a bad thing), we must have government regulate behavior in a way that keeps us from harming one another.

Bernie Madoff’s actions did not benefit the other. In fact, if he would’ve had some empathy, then no Ponzi scheme.

Smoker believe they have a right to light up (a closer look at the Constitution does not find such a right exists) whenever and wherever they want. If they had some empathy, then they would be willing to take the comfort of the nonsmoker in mind before lighting up outside instead of in the next booth.

While the government won’t always make the most empathetic decisions (see slavery, Japanese-American internment, Tuskegee – it seems that minorities have the least empathetic decisions made towards them) we have no other mechanism in American society to act as the arbiter between/among conflicting freedoms.

Conservatives claim that empathy isn’t in the Constitution and plan to protest Sonia Sotomayer’s nomination because of her claim that it is in the Constitution.

To claim that empathy is not a part of the Constitution and not a relevant factor in making legal decision is to claim that the Founders lacked the most important moral trait.

Conservatives believing the The Founding Fathers are immoral…Unbelievable.


  1. "I do believe in individual responsibility...Furthermore, individual responsibility cannot exist."

    Well, which is it? Haha! Just demonstrating a little drive-by journalism there SJ. Please take no offense.

    Frankly, I don't know where to begin with this post. There are so many things wrong with your premise and, wow, that conclusion requires QUITE a leap from one implication to the next. But alas, I shall respond to the best of my abilities.

    Let me begin with something that we agree on: We do require a "referee" as you call it in a Capitalist society. A very minimal referee. When working to be an umpire in baseball, one is strictly taught that the best umpire is one that nobody even notices is present. He calls it how he sees it and is fair and impartial, treating all teams and players equally, and upon finishing the game, the best compliment an umpire can receive is "nice game blue." But I'll settle for being ignored completely.

    If government were to referee our free market system in this way, you and I would have no argument. Its when government gets overly involved, calling attention to itself, taking over 40% of the GDP, and throwing its sizable weight around that I complain.

    But to the main point of your post: Empathy.

    First, I need to explain something about this word and the way its currently being used.

    1) Obama is using "empathy" as a codeword for "returning the wealth of the nation to its 'rightful' owners". To prove my point, in a recent fundraiser out in Los Angeles that Obama spoke at, he was off teleprompter and let his guard down among friends. He said regarding Sotomayor, "This woman is brilliant. She is qualified. I want her confirmed. I want her walking up those marble steps and starting to provide some justice."

    The implication is of course that until she came along, justice was not eminating from the halls of the Supreme Court. Well, at least, not the kind of justice that Obama is implying.

    2) SJ, you yourself are an avowed scholar of the SCOTUS. Empathy is not a tenet of our system of justice. Justice is supposed to be blind. The ONLY possible way that a judge could inject "empathy" into their decision would be this: Upon hearing all the evidence of the case, the judge believes that Party A (someone with whom she "empathizes", eg, a woman, minority, or poor person) has lost the case. Their evidence is weaker and they do not have legal standing or for whatever reason, the other party, Party B (wizened, rich white man) has indeed won the case. Party B is successful. But since Sotomayor feels "empathy" for Party A, she goes against the law and decides in favor of A. Or she levies an extra harsh sentence against Party B if indeed Party B loses. Either way, empathy is not a basis upon which a member of the judiciary ought to be deciding cases. The merits of the case, the evidence, precedent, and of course, the Constitution should be the bases upon which cases are decided.

    THAT is precisely why so many Conservatives (and indeed, some liberals) are balking so hard at Sotomayor.

    Not to mention the statement she made about the appellate court as being the place where policy is made. Uh, excuse me, but that is totally 180 degrees out of true.

    So, in summary, I do not condemn the idea of empathy, indeed, if I did would I take the time and money to help out others less fortunate than I? Would conservatives do that 2.5 times more than liberals? No. We have empathy. We just decide to have empathy with our own money, not other people's.

  2. First - I would love to see where you can validate your claim about President Obama's definition of empathy. I would also like to see the list of liberals opposing Sotomayor.

    Now, on to the point. Your whole comment rests on the premise that justice is blind. I often hear conservatives claim that liberals live in a utopia. Glad to see conservatives live in the same place.

    There has never been a decision of the Supreme Court that has actually achieved blind status. It is impossible to achieve. We can never remove ourselves from ourselves to make a truly unbiased decision.

    Case in point. I will examine two well-known African-Americans and their views on affirmative action.

    Justice Clarence Thomas believes that affirmative action in unconstitutional. I disagree with him, but I do not question his logic on basing his opinion in the Fourteenth Amendment's "equal protection" clause.

    However, it is naive to believe that he did not arrive at this conclusion blindly. In his autobiography (it is a great read about the life of a often overlooked, but nonetheless brilliant, justice), Justice Thomas writes that he believes affirmative action cheapened his Yale law degree. He thought people questioned his credentials and believed he was not worthy to achieve the degree on his own.

    In the book, he writes that this is the underlying reason he opposed affirmative action and has found refuge in the Fourteenth Amendment to justify his opinion based on his experience.

    The second prominent African-American is President Obama. He believes that affirmative action has helped establish a growing and stable African-American middle class despite the remnants of racism still in America. In his autobiography, he writes that 50 years ago, there would be no chance that he would have been able to get a Harvard and Yale education. However, the use of affirmative action has helped overcome these negative stereotypes.

    While you might disagree Scott about the argument, it too is based soundly in the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    These two highly educated and brilliant men disagree over the wording of Fourteenth Amendment and how it is to be applied to a historically and still discriminated group.

    My problem is that conservatives too often claim that their justice is blind, but the liberal version of justice is activist. I very well-known Constitutional Scholar, Chief Justice John Roberts, told me two years ago to be careful labeling people activists. Both conservatives and liberals are activists, he said, but only the side we disagree with do we make noise about.

    Conservatives just recently made policy last year with DC. v Heller. While the reasoning is sound, the conservative majority opinion basically ruled the first half of the Second Amendment doesn't apply. If that isn't making policy and if that isn't activism, then nothing is activism.

    All I am asking from conservatives is to realize the same arguments you make against Sonia Sotomayor are the same arguments that you defended when the questions were focused on Roberts and Alito.

    While I might disagree with Roberts and Alito on many issues, I do not question their ability and credentials to serve on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor is highly qualified and has a impeccable use of logic in her decision.

    Just because you might disagree with her interpretaions, doesn't make her an activist in the negative sense that conservatives have started to portray her.

    We all believe in activism.

  3. I know its not the main thrust of your point, but what part of the 2nd amendment did the striking down of the DC gun ban imply does not apply? I'm genuinely curious with that interpretation. It seems based on a quick read of the scotuswiki on this case's oral arguments that the main area of contention was on whether the intent of this amendment is to protect individual rights versus a militia. I think it protects both.

    I'd love to talk about affirmative action (or as I would call it - reverse racism), but that can be a different thread since I'm sure it will be a firestorm.

    I guess the difference is in our own interpretations of various amendments. I thought "equal protection" basically implies equal treatment. Clarence Thomas is right in saying that the interpretation is there that he has only achieved what he has because of AA. I believe, as he does, that he was good enough on his own merit. AA is unfair treatment in favor of minorities over whites without regard as to the actual qualifications of the person, so I agree that, to fairly adjudicate the 14th amendment, one must rule that AA is unconstitutional. Like my vanilla example above, and like Obama's example, he (or another minority of less than par qualifications) are awarded something in lieu of somebody more qualified because of "empathy".

    I say, screw empathy. Thomas' decision does not display empathy; indeed, its exactly the opposite! He wants to be judged by his own brilliance and effort, not by some government program that was meant (with the best of intentions, I'm sure) to show empathy for African Americans.

    And how does the DC v Heller case have anything to do with empathy? Seems that the court came to the decision that the constitution protects an individual's right to own a it pretty much spells out in wonderful clarity.

    "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

    SJ, please do not take offense. I quote this merely for the benefit of all readers, some of whom may not have actually read the text. We all know how thorough the educational system can be at times (no offense to you, you were excellent).

    But it looks like the right of the people to keep and bear arms is pretty much protected by our constitution, so you see, conservatives look at that language and then look at the DC v. Heller decision and we say, "Well look at that, they got one right!"

    My point about justice being blind is to say that justice should not display empathy in its development.

    You asked where I came up with Obama's code-word like usage of empathy? SJ, I can interpret his actions and what he says versus what he means. I quoted him once, but I'll do it again:

    He said regarding Sotomayor, "This woman is brilliant. She is qualified. I want her confirmed. I want her walking up those marble steps and starting to provide some justice."

    "Provide some justice."

    Justice is not a good to be provided by the Supreme Court. Justice is something to be ensured by the court. Justice is about what is right per the law of the land, not based on an hispanic woman's life struggles and her beliefs about America.

    When she says that the court is where policy is made, do you agree with that statement?

    When she says that, because of her life experiences as an hispanic woman SHE will come to a better decision than a white man because he has not lived her experience, do you agree with that statement?

    This is the kind of activism I oppose.

  4. I haven't gotten on here for awhile because I've realized recently that I have too short of a temper for people who disagree with me, one of my downsides i'll admit. AKA, I have little empathy for conservatives, as well as some liberals, no matter how much I try. But I just so happened to stop by this page today, saw this, and decided I had to retort to some of your arguements Scott L.

    For one, I agree with your analogy of the federal government to an umpire.. somewhat. However, as we all know it's impossible for an umpire to judge a fair game when one of the teams pays the umpires salary. "He calls it how he sees it and is fair and impartial, treating all teams and players equally..". This is true, however lets not forget who contributes the majority of funds to a congressman's campaign: lobbyists. Lobbyists for banks, organizations, large corporations, etc. And, obviously, i'm talking about both parties here. There are currently 13 lobbyists form the health care corporations for every one of the 535 members of congress. How can this federal government umpire ever call a "fair game"?

    And as far as Obama's quote goes, "This woman is brilliant. She is qualified. I want her confirmed. I want her walking up those marble steps and starting to provide some justice." your putting words in to Obama's mouth. Let's say, since I will soon be a working engineer, that I go in to an engineering firm, have a fantastic interview, and in secret to his buddy's my interviewer goes "This man is brilliant. He is qualified. I want him hired. I want him walking in here and starting to provide some quality designs". Does this imply that there wasn't quality engineering designs coming out of this firm before? Absolutely not. He was speaking in terms of ME, not the firm as it was before.

    Same with Sotomayor. Does this mean the Court wasn't providing justice before? Again, absolutely not. As far as I can tell, he was simply speaking in terms of Sotomayor herself, not necesarily in terms of the court NOT providing justice before.

    And I don't understand what you mean by "Justice is not a good to be provided by the Supreme Court. Justice is something to be ensured by the court." What exactly is the difference? Can it not be worded "Justice is ensured to always be provided by the Supreme Court"?

    Scott, I believe you're implying that Obama is wrong for pnominating a hispanic woman to the Supreme Court simply on the grounds that she is a hispanic woman and NOT necessarily that she is the most qualified candidate. To that I say you may be right, however I did none of the research into appropriate Supreme Court judges, and I don't believe you have either but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

    I do not, however, given her past legal career, believe she would side with Party A. And saying that she would side with Party A on the grounds of the empathy she would feel for the minority is rather racist in my opinion. If Republicans are really balking at the thought of a hispanic woman on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the large group of individuals that would fall under the variable Party A, than I believe THAT itself is more racist than Sotomayor's quote about the "richness of her experiences".

  5. Drew,

    I appreciate your passion. Believe me, its not always easy to avoid typing in all caps for me either, lol. But that is the beauty of debate.

    I agree in one respect with your thoughts on lobbying and its tentacles in our government. There is too much influence from special interest groups and too much "earmarking" of funds to satisfy these groups. I am really upset with the UAW and their lobbying efforts that have totally paid the form of Obama gifting them Chrysler and a large part of GM.

    That being said, we have a constitutional right to lobby our government for redress of greivances, so I can't be too upset with lobbyists. Its a sticky issue because on one hand, I agree there is too much money (WAY too much money) in politics, but at the same time, I can acknowledge that governmental efforts to limit the money have made things worse in reality (look at McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" and 527s). So for now, albeit an imperfect system, lobbying is what it is and we need to accept that is the game. If you have a good solution, I'm all ears.

    As for justice, it is something to be protected, ensured, upheld. Justice is the right thing by the law. It does not have anything to do with race, sex, creed, sexual orientation or anything else. A judge's duty is to interpret the law and adjudicate cases based on precedent and the constitution. What is your defense of Sotomayor's statement that due to her life experiences as a female hispanic, she would necessarily come to a better decision than a white man?
    "If Republicans are really balking at the thought of a hispanic woman on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the large group of individuals that would fall under the variable Party A, than I believe THAT itself is more racist than Sotomayor's quote..."

    I'm not balking at her being hispanic, but I think you may have contradicted yourself in this statement. If you WOULD NOT balk at the idea of Sotomayor ruling on behalf on anybody falling into the category of Party A, as I described above, then you are the (fill in the blank)-ist, not me. I'm wanting judges that would rule on behalf of Party B because that is the right decision based on the evidence and the law.

  6. Let me throw out an example to illustrate my point on Sotomayor: (This is taken from an article by David Limbaugh)

    The case of Ricci v. DeStefano. Ricci is a dyslexic Connecticut firefighter who quit a second job in order to study up to 13 hours a day and paid someone to read his textbooks onto tape in preparation for the New Haven Fire Department's exam for promotion to lieutenant or captain. Though he received the 6th highest score out of 77 applicants vying for eight vacancies, the city decided to deny him and all other applicants his earned promotion because no black applicants passed, even though the exam had been carefully constructed to ensure race neutrality. Ricci and 17 others, including an Hispanic, sued the city of New Haven for racial discrimination. They lost and appealed the case to the 2nd US Circuit Court, where Sotomayor was one of the judges. She issued a per curiam opinion (adopting the full reasoning of the district court without elaboration) affirming the district court's ruling.
    The plaintiffs failed to achieve an en banc (entire court) rehearing of the appeal, but not without a strongly critical dissenting opinion from one of Sotomayor's fellow Clinton appointees on the court, Judge Jose Cabranes. Cabranes noted that it was highly unusual for the panel to have issued a per curiam opinion, because the questions raised on appeal were "indisputably complex and far from well-settled." He wrote, "The core issue presented by this case - the scope of a municipal employer's authority to disregard examination results based SOLELY on the race of the successful applicants - is not addressed by any precedent of the Supreme Court or our Circuit. ...What is not this Court has failed to grapple with the questions of exceptional importance raised in this appeal."

    So in this case we have two things to be upset with Sotomayor over. First, she didn't do enough work on behalf of the legal considerations in the case in the first place. Second, where does she get off agreeing to deny these men, all of whom clearly had to work very hard, their just promotion?

    That is the kind of "empathy" I fear she will bring to the SCOTUS.

  7. Scott - I ask you a question: When was the Constitution EVER color blind?

    The original Constitution privileged one race over another. The Thirteenth Amendment specifically deals with one race. The Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments directly deal with race and gender, respectively.

    I still have a hard time believing that you believe in blind justice. I thought a found some empathy toward Ricci's example. Why did you need to tell us about his disability if justice is to be completely blind.

    Why is Mr. Ricci's case any different than an entire race that for the most part is denied an equal education. While de jure segregation is illegal, de facto racism still exists.

    Why do you sympathize with Mr. Ricci but fail to see the crap that has been forced on the African-American community for too long?

    It seems like you believe empathy plays an important part in legal decisions, but you only want to see justice for your kind of empathy and not for how others might see the world differently.

  8. SJ,

    I don't even know where to begin.

    The point with Ricci's story is to show just a WTF moment that was. You could repeat the story using any of the other firemen that were attempting to earn their promotion, but the fact that no african male performed well enough to earn that turned ALL of them down is COMPLETE BULL.

    The story is told from Ricci's point of view because it is a heart warming story that plays towards your emotions, that's how the media tells a story, to play towards your emotions. How else would we tell the story?

    Many people took a test to earn a promotion.

    Hours were spent studying.

    Some did well, others did not.

    No one was rewarded a promotion because certain criteria was not met.

    THAT STORY IS BORING! It certainly covers all the aspects, but from a media standpoint no one would write that. That is why we sympathize with Ricci for how hard one must work to achieve something, and because of a rule to be "fair" rules that because none of the African men did well enough to earn the promotion, that the whole test be disregarded, is injustice to those who did put in the hours, or in Riki's case. The weeks upon weeks and hundreds of dollars spent hiring a tutor to help him. It's injustice and wrong, and besides the point,

    to "disregard" and "throw out" the test results because not enough colors made it through because only the white guys did well enough...............

    SJ, the liberals need to wake up and realize that this is the 21st century and the African American community no longer deals with the injustices they dealt with 150 years ago, and 50 years ago. Things are better.

    Im going to make an analogy to help with what I mean.

    Were great when they started, things were really bad, now the Unions are full of their own greedy leaders that (UAW) specifically are bankrupting their own industry

    Was great to help clean up businesses and industry when things were just now coming out. Problem is, saying the air is bad today is just plain ignorant because we've come so far in cleaning everything up, the air today is cleaner than ever and is going to keep getting cleaner because we've fixed our ways.

    See where Im going with this? At some point, the liberals need to realize that things were needed but now they are just getting in the way

  9. Okay guys, one last time. Your feelings toward Mr. Ricci ARE all about empathy for the man. Stop denying it. You simply believe that your empathy for Mr. Ricci is better empathy than my, or Sotomayor's, empathy for the minority.

    Let me give you an example of how your idea of justice is blind and has no room for empathy plays out in real life.

    I have two students (this story is true from this past school year). There was a strict deadline for a project and I told the class I would not accept any excuses for the assignment being late.

    The first student comes to me and tells me that they don't have the assignment because their printer ran out of ink. I tell them tough luck, they should've saved it to a flash drive, emailed it or something. When they turn it in, the following day, I take 50% off.

    The second student comes to me the day after the project was due (they were absent the day of the project) and tells me they don't have the project because their father died suddenly the night before the project was due. Since I too have lost a father, I immediately feel for this student and I tell them to get me the assignment as soon as they can, but whenever is okay. When they turn it in the folllowing week, I take no points off for it being late.

    Was my empathy for the second student wrong? Were my decisions true blind justice? Did my own personal experiences hurt or help me make the right or wrong decision concerning these two students?

    Your answers to these questions will tell you not about your opinions towards me, but instead about Sonia Sotomayor. If you think she is wrong, then I was wrong. If you think I was right, then you have no reason to disagree with her.

    Some of you might think I've oversimplified the issue. I have not. In fact, I think I might've added more complexity to the oversimplified view of blind justice versus the use of empathy.

  10. Also, you might argue that my example is different than constitutional decision making. However, I don't feel it is different.

    All decisions by SCOTUS are about personal philosophies, experience and reasoning of the justices. If they weren't the Court would always rule 9-0.

    Why is Scott L. conservative and I liberal?

    We both are educated and spend a lot of time thinking about these issues we are posting on this blog. The only explanation is that my experiences, education, perspectives, friends, family, etc are different and have come together to create our own personal political philosophies. Neither one of us has a monopoly on the right answers.

    The richness of these various perspectives has allowed America to remain the most progressive liberal democracy in the world. There is room for both Justice Scalia's strict interpretation of the Constitution and Justice Stevens' loose intepretation of the Constitution. Just as we wouldn't question the logic of Alexander Hamilton's loose and Thomas Jefferson's strict interpretations, we don't do this country any justice by only adhering to one interpretation.

    This argument is rich with various issues, but the right interpretation must be figured out on a case-by-case basis, which SCOTUTS does. After all, 70% of all decisions are 9-0 or 8-1.

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  12. Ok, I'm not seeing this as having straight up empathy for Ricci in this case. However, I do think it is essential to show that obviously the test was difficult but if you worked hard enough you too could succeed. I believe that you read the comment about dyslexia and immediately feel empathy, see that empathy could be drawn on that fact and think that's the reason we side with Ricci, and we read it and think, that guy and the other seventeen who are suing got screwed! I'm not emotionally reading that statement, seeing that someone was dyslexic, and immediately sympathizing with that person. That never comes in to play.

    Just because there's a coincidence that someone could find empathy with Ricci doesn't mean that's what we're drawing our conclusion on.

  13. Scott L.,

    Sorry I forgot to discuss Heller. The reason I think that Scalia is making policy is that he is conveniently forgetting that word militia meant something else at the writing of the Second Amendment. He, therefore, completely threw out the justification clause and went with the operative clause.

    The first part of the Amendmnent states "a well-regulated militia." At the time of the writing of the Constitution, the militia was a citizen army of the various States. This is not applicable anymore, but it doesn't make the justification clause extinct.

    Gun regulations were plentiful at the writing of the Constitution. However, Scalia doesn't recognize them as relevant to a modern regulation.

    I understand his argument, but this is a case of Scalia not being blind in his justice. In Heller, he just doesn't address the historical record that contradicts his already established beliefs about the Second Amendment.

    Can the District of Columbia regulate the ownership of handguns? In his opinion, Scalia refers to privacy rights, which is something he doesn't believe in when it comes to abortion.

    My only point of using these cases (I think SCOTUS got Heller right), is to point out that justice is never blind. I can't be. We all have previous experiences that play out in our current decision-making process.

    Linguist Mikhail Bakhtin wrote that every conversation we've had in the past allows us to have this current conversation, which will allow us future dialogues.

    It is impossible to escape our previous decision and this will always play out in our versions of justice. To rule blindly would be something the human brain could never achieve. See my example about the two students from above.

  14. Well, its tough to add a whole lot to the discussion that Todd and Jon haven't already said, but I still have to reiterate their points because I feel like your implications and logic are very fallacious.

    First, to deal with the original case again:

    Mr. Ricci and the 76 other people who took that exam were unfairly treated. Here is how I interpret these events.

    8 positions are open for promotion. The fire department gives a qualification: Score in the top 8 on this test and you'll be rewarded with a promotion. Ricci and many others busted butt for several months to study and gain an advantage.
    Ricci scored 6th and so, deserves a promotion based on the criteria that were set out from the beginning.
    Then, because the city decided that no Africans scored high enough to receive a promotion, they threw out the results and awarded nobody with a promotion on the basis of the results, which was the original deal.

    Ricci and 17 others sued on the basis of racial discrimination. Sotomayor agreed with the original decision against these men. I agree with their suit.

    I don't agree with their suit because I have empathy for their situation. I agree because they were wrongly treated. They upheld their end of the bargain, but for purely racial reasons, the city did not. That is wrong, not empathy.

    As for your example in class, it does not compare to this case Scott. In class, you are Judge, Jury, and Executioner. You set the terms and make the deadlines. You set the policy. So you get to decide when a student has a BS excuse and when a student has a true familial crisis. Your actions have an analog in the workplace. Most workplaces allow for some mourning time off in the event of a death in the family, so what you did was completely acceptable.

    You did not make a decision based purely on race. Yes you used empathy, but you are not making decisions about the US constitution on the Supreme Court. You wrote the policy and have sole power to change your decision or offer an extension. Sotomayor is a judge. She has only, i repeat, only the power to make decisions based on the law on the books. She cannot decide the policy is unfair or "living and breathing" and thus rule against the Constitution in favor of somebody on the basis of her empathy. If she thinks the Constitution needs to change, let her start a movement to amend it. She cannot change it from the bench, contrary to her own statements.

  15. "that guy and the other seventeen who are suing got screwed!"

    Wardo - that is a statement of empathy. I'm not making any argument about the validity of your opinion, but it is based on your previous experiences, learning and an emotional reading of the facts of the case.

    Ironically, I believe the appellate court got Ricci wrong, but I just wish the conservatives here would be able to recognize their use of empathy in helping them reach their conclusions about their views of justice.

    Your empathy lies with the facts surrounding Ricci getting screwed. My empathy lies with the horrible schools we pass off onto minorities. These are both empathetic viewpoints and the facts we surround ourselves in are directly related to our empathetic reading of the case.

  16. First, I'd like to commend you on your belief of the appellate court getting it wrong.

    But can you allow for any impartiality at all??? I mean good God! I can't make a decision one way or another on this case without it being empathetic to you?

    This is about right and wrong!

    Basic breakdown of how I processed this story

    Contract stated....

    Contract broken...

    Wrong decision made...

    I fail to see how I'm viewing that as empathetic

    Definitely a fundamentally differing view on this issue from your standpoint and mine though. I do not believe that the only way to make a decision on this case in particular is to have empathy to one side or another, obviously you do.

  17. "This is about right and wrong!"

    Wow, this is an issue for whole other post. You believe that the breaking of the contract is the issue. I see the discriminatory test as the issue. Why do we have two perspectives on the same issue? Our personal learning experiences and our personal experiences. We both read the same facts, and our attention is drawn to the facts that resonate within us and we base our decisions on this version of the factual record.

    No two people see the same situation the same way.

    It seems as if you are basing your entire view of Judge Sotomayor based on the fact you disagree with her perspectives, which will heaviliy influence her decision. I don't think simply disagreeing with a decision is enough reason to oppose a nomination to SCOTUS.

    If that was the case, there would've been no way for me to support Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, however, I was able to put aside my personal disagreements with their interpretation of cases and judge them based on thier worthiness as a justice, which I place as more important than petty constitutional disagreements with them. We must have nine highly qualified people on SCOTUS and some of them must have differing perspectives on cases, which allows for full debate on the merits of the case and a higher likelihood of making a just decision.

    One thing I've notices is that conservatives are not attacking her credentials to serve. Must be because they know that is a losing argument.

    "If [she] has the qualification, then [she] should be confirmed by the Senate. We, as Senators, should not deny someone the ability to serve on the Supreme Court because we disagree with some of [her] decision."

    That final quote is a modified version of current Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. Except he was referring to Justice Alito's confirmation hearings. Remove my bracketed changes and insert he/his and you have the actual quote.

  18. SJ, the example you gave,

    Either you are called a dick to your face by the student or you do what you did.

    Honestly though, since teachers say, "NO EXCEPTIONS" but there are always exceptions (...) it is quite not the same thing.

    But all in all, using your post as an example, the same thing could be said for the first student to the second student.

    Im truly sorry about your father's passing but you're project should've been done beforehand, and turned in when you came back to school.

    Im truly sorry about _____________, but your project should've been done beforehand, and turned in as soon as you came back.

  19. "I see the discriminatory test as the issue."

    How can a test be discriminatory? If you have to ask the questions to know someone has mastered the material I don't get how it can be so.

  20. If I give a test and every student fails, whose fault is it? I think it is mine.

    In this case, every minority failed the test. How can this test be not considered discriminatory. Black people aren't poorly educated because thier happen to black. Black people get a substandard education because they are black.

    The real question is how come our education system is serving white people wonderfully (in the top 4 nations in the Western world), but fail to serve minorities (the worst ranking in the Western world).

    Why were the only people that passed this test white? Blacks are just as motivated as whites and have equal mental capacities. If whites pass the test and blacks fail it, it is discrimination hiding behind an "objective" test.

    Of course, it is impossible to achieve true objectivity as I've stated before.

  21. "I'd like to commend you on your belief of the appellate court getting it wrong."

    Wardo - here is a case that your current beliefs jumped to a conclusion about my comments. I believe the appellate court got the case wrong ONLY because Ricci is a poor example to set such a standard. Ricci's example is one that is tought to argue against. The others that were denied are easier to use as an example.

    However, you read that I disagreed with the appellate court and concluded I agree with you. My point about objectivity proven.

  22. "The real question is how come our education system is serving white people wonderfully (in the top 4 nations in the Western world), but fail to serve minorities (the worst ranking in the Western world)."

    "My empathy lies with the horrible schools we pass off onto minorities."

    "Black people aren't poorly educated because thier happen to black. Black people get a substandard education because they are black."

    We're getting way off on a tangent here, but here goes.

    First, who is the term minority describing in your terms?

    I just don't get how, in the liberal point of view, it's ALWAYS the majority SCREWING over the minority.

    As an example, I'll use the Hazelwood School District.

    Here is a breakdown of each high school's demographics, their combined MAP scores in the areas of Math and Communications, and their Missouri High School Rank based on the combined MAP scores.

    HE 2007 69-White 1772-Black 4-Hispanic 1-Asian
    Combined MAP Test Scores: 22.8
    MO HS Ranking: 472/490
    Student:Teacher 19:1

    HC 2007 921-White 1914-Black 25-Hispanic 22-Asian
    Combined MAP Test Scores: 53.5
    MO HS Ranking: 443/490
    Student:Teacher 23:1

    HW 2007 1409-White 520-Black 50-Hispanic 34-Asian
    Combined Map Test Scores: 69.9
    MO HS Ranking: 384/490
    Student:Teacher 23:1

    In terms of percentage, Hazelwood East has the highest percentage of minorities. How exactly are we passing off a horrible school on to minorities in this situation? Maybe with you working in the district you know something we don't. Please correct me if my assumptions are wrong but doesn't each school get equal funding and work from the same curriculum? What gives?

    Conversely, the best high school in all of Missouri is Metro High School in St. Louis Public School System. It's ranked in the top 50 in the nation!

    The breakdown:

    2007 138-White 167-Black 6-Hispanic 16-Asian
    Combined MAP test score: 188.6
    MO HS Rank: 1/490
    Student: Teacher 17:1

    I know SJ has commented before that class size has a lot to do with it. It doesn't seem like 17:1 is anything amazing and I'm not a teacher but would it make that big of a difference between the 19 at East and the 17 at Metro?

    Side note: One of the worst schools in the state is Vashon High School in the St. Louis City School District and it's student to teacher ratio is 9:1. Their combined MAP test score is 5.9!

    According to parent comments and the school code of conduct at Metro High School, discipline is STRICTLY enforced. No fights, no bullying. It also seems like challenging class work and parental involvement are big at Metro as well.

    Could it be that we don't just pass off the "bad schools" on the minorities and that it has something to do with culture and family values and how each perceives education?

  23. Wardo, excellent research. These statistics confirm what is, in my view, the biggest driver of a successful education: quality parental involvement and good family values.

    What our schools need is a heavy dose of Boy Scouts of America ideals (Girl Scouts are also excellent, but I will speak from experience).

    Just read the Scout Oath and Scout Law and tell me if you think our schools could benefit if we imposed these morals on our students.

    Scout Oath:

    "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. I will help other people at all times and keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

    Scout Law:

    "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."

    Actually, upon recalling these two bits of BSA wisdom, it seems our entire society could really benefit if we all sought to achieve these morals. If we enforced this moral code in our schools, in addition to doing the things that SJ has suggested in his previous education post (which appeared on Facebook), we could really turn around our faltering public school system. It seems that Metro has done just this.

  24. I didn't read all of the comments following this post, so I apologize if I say something someone else already mentioned. But I whole-heartedly agree with the concept of individual responsibility and freedom to the extent that it does not harm others. But what many liberal politicians are responsible for includes restricting individual liberties beyond those that effect others.... ex. it being a crime to not wear your seatbelt, or to commit suicide, or use illegal substances, etc. How do those things affect anyone but the person making the choice do so? I just think government needs to be as small as possible... it exists to protect the people's rights when needed, but not to patriarchally police the public.

  25. Our country needs government assistance. Fighting this help simply because we don't want to give them the power to decide how to help is absurd. It is our job to elect those we can trust. If we can't trust the government, then it is our own fault. We have proven in the past decade that we can't run this country on our own.

    I believe in a smoker's right to smoke, but I also believe in a nonsmoker's right to avoid second-hand smoke. I work for a non-profit organization that houses families with sick children. Many of these children are immunosuppressed, so we ask for a smoke-free house. Too often, though, we catch guests smoking in their rooms. We can't do what we want without regard for others.

    Capitalism is great, but pure capitalism without a bit of socialism focuses all on money and forgets the people. We have to take care of our own by making sure that all have healthcare and the oppurtunity to attend a good school. These are things we need to entrust to the government. We don't live in a utilitarian society. All need be cared for.

  26. @schubugg83,

    Give me an example of when our government did one of the things you listed well.

    Healthcare? Ha, ever heard of Veteran Affairs? Medicare? Medicaid? These are all great examples of how "well" the government can run such an industry.

    Pure capitalism is not what I propose. I make qualifications for the young and the elderly and the truly disabled. But I'm sorry, having a couple of children out of wedlock is not a job, nor does it qualify you for indefinite sloth receiving government redistribution handouts.

    Now I know that people need a hand up every now and again, and we have unemployment benefits (which you pay for if you make an income, so if you do end up using those for a short time, you've prepaid it for yourself). But 90 months of welfare is far too many. People want a handout. What they need is tough love and a kick in the rear to get moving.

    You say all need to be cared for. I say all need a fighting chance. We have that chance in America. We are free to make our own decisions. We are limited only by the limits we place on ourselves. At least for now.

  27. Let me just say that this blog is suppose to be about smoking and everyone has gotten way off topic. It gets kind of confusing when you start talking about one thing and then talk about another and another topic on the same blog. I want to emphasize on the fact that smoking is DIGUSTING and a horrible habit to pick up. As of January 1st of 2009, smoking in restaurants was banned. I live in a state where this law was passed and I LOVE it. I use to hate going into a restaurant and coming out smelling horrible. I think that they should pass a law for every state in the United States that you can’t smoke in or near a public facility. The people who don’t smoke shouldn’t get punished by the people who do. We actually want to save our lungs to be able to breathe and smell like rose pedals. People who do smoke should get help to stop. Being in the health care field, so many people are worried about being healthy. First tip: Don’t smoke! The tarter in cigarettes fill our lungs up with horrible toxins and causes lung cancer and for us not to be able to be breath as well. Right now the country is an economic depression and people need to save their money for something they need, not want.

  28. First off let me say I did not read any of the comments above me and I am sorry if I already state something someone has pointed out.

    I believe there is individual responsibilities just most people ignore them.

    For your example of the driver that has the freedom to drive on the highway, but in a way that causes no hurt to the other drivers. Everyone knows what the speed limits are, and why they are what they are. Everyone also knows it is their responsibilities to follow those speed limits where they are posted; you sign something when you get your license, if I’m not mistaken. It does not make us a hypocrite if we go over the speed limit. We know we could get a ticket, in an accident, we Americans are always in a hurry, and just want to get to our destination the fastest way we can.

    The example of when someone fails to hold the door open for you at QuikTrip and you brand them as rude. THEY ARE RUDE. The excuse because they were thinking of what they had to do at work is NOT AN EXCUSE for them. It is your individual responsibility to be courteous to people.

    How can the government be a referee to individual responsibilities? They can’t. You should be born with them; if you’re not well then hopefully you are taught them. If you are not taught them, I would hope you would pick them up as you navigate around this world.

    If you can't pick them up, are not taught them, nor born with them, you in my opinion are a loss cause.

  29. Personal responsibility is a sticky issue though, because as Scott said, circumstances do play a part in determining whether an (possibly rude, anti-social, dangerous, whatever) action is called for. I think speeding is usually not a good idea, but what if you had a dying person in your back seat? Or your fiancee just attempted suicide? I think most reasonable people would say that speeding was justified in these circumstances. The gray-area problem comes in when one person thinks there is an emergency (let's say, late for business meeting), while other people are not convinced of the emergency status. Where is the line that separates real emergencies from not-really-emergencies? What if the late businessman was in danger of losing his job and plunging himself and his family of 15 into dire poverty? Would THAT tip the scales into emergency terriotory? More importantly, who gets to say where the line is drawn? The highway cop? The traffic judge?

    The question of welfare is mired in lots of gray areas, and understandably so. How do we help people who really need help (especially the vulnerable populations: children, elderly, disabled) without allowing others to fraudulently use the system?

    Unless you really know what's going on in a person's life, there's no way to really know if they truly need help. And "truly needing help" is another issue I have...

    The more people I encounter, the less I'm sure whether people can objectively tell if they "truly need help" or not. In the health field, I see lots of elderly people who insist on living alone even though they frequently fall and have serious problems such as dehydration and even fractures. When I am having my own financial difficulties (which is most of the time), I DO feel hopeless and feel like I truly need some help. And I do ask for it (not through welfare checks but by applying for scholarships).

    I think when children are involved (no matter how sketchy the parents look), they should be helped in some way. Little kids can't control what their parents do, and they can't go out and work for themselves. If the parents can't feed them, then some kind of support must be provided.

  30. Smoking is something that is a personal choice. I feel sympathy for those who do smoke. I know a lot of smokers who say they wish they would of never started. I feel sympathy for those who feel that cigarettes control their life. I was a smoker for five years. Now that I am entering the health care field, I realize how awful and unhealthy it really is. I know that learning more about the harmful diseases associated with smoking has opened my eyes to what a terrible habit it is. I also am glad that my state is putting restrictions on smoking in public places. I think this is great and those who are non- smokers are very thankful for this.

  31. The right to smoke in public places is a controversial isssue especially since it is so ingrained within our country's history and culture. Look how glamourous the women were portrayed in the movies from the 1920-1950s. It seemed that one wasn't considered a mature adult until he/she took up smoking. However, the problem lies in the infringing of other people's right to breathe clean air. We would hope that smokers have enough commen sense and decency to respect this right as much as they demand the right to smoke freely. I fully support the freedom of the individual, however, if an act or decision such as smoking near me impacts me or my surroundings, then it is within my right to ask you to stop. I don't support the ban of smoking in your own private space, but I do support the ban of smoking in any public place that is near nonsmokers. To me, that is just common sense.

  32. I completely agree with what the last few writers have stated in their posts. I am a non smoker and I love that our state has banned smoking in public establishments. There is nothing worse then getting all cleaned up and smelling great then to walk into an establishment for less than 5 minutes to come out smelling like a cig butt!! Another thing the really gets to me is that Im in the medical profession and see what smoking does to your lungs each and every day, but I still see nurses smoking left and right... Does this make sense at all? Its like they don't even practice what they preach to their patients. I understand if they have been smoking for years, but they do have aids out there to help you. Take a little responsibility for yourself, if you are going to be in the medical field, don't smoke.. Because when you do, not only does your clothes and breath stink, but your hair and fingers do too!! I dont know about anyone else, but if I'm sick and in the hospital, I sure don't want the person taking care of me to smell of cig butts and make me sicker!!

  33. I agree, with what you said about how we can not act without empathy. If a person did not have empathy, I do not know how they can be human. Even stone-faced people deep down have something that can make them not so stone-faced. I am a nursing student, and I find that having empathy is being what makes apart of a nurse. Nurses have hearts, and I have always told myself—the day I am not affected by death or something really bad is the day I need to stop becoming a nurse. I am not talking like ruin my life. For example, when a person dies, I want to be a little sad. That is somebody’s wife, husband, sister, father, mother, brother, and more. One of the wonderful things about becoming a nurse is that you get to make a difference in lives. Without that empathy, I do not know how a person even has friends or family. Even if something really bad would happen, then that person needs you to be there for them.

  34. Let me preface this by saying that I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. It makes my eyes burn, I can't stand the smell of it, and I hate how all of my clothes smell after being around smokers. I am shocked that more places don't have smoking bans after all of the research that has been done to prove how dangerous second-hand smoke can be. To me, this should be a no-brainer. I think that several years down the road we'll look back at a time when smoking was allowed in restaurants (near our food!) and have a good chuckle. I am currently a student at Fontbonne University and our campus will soon be smoke-free. I believe that this is an excellent decision and others should follow suit.