Saturday, August 27, 2011

Judge Allows Forced Medication for Arizona Shooting Suspect, Jared Loughner

Jami and I disagreed about this decision - and we had a fairly good discussion.

Jami feels it's okay to force him to take medications, with the assumption that he is suffering and the meds will ease the suffering, and that he may be dangerous to himself or others if not medicated. She also believes he should stand trial.

On the other hand, I do not feel right about forcing him to take medications if he does not want to do so. I also do not believe he should stand trial - in my opinion, he is severely mentally ill (SMI) and should be placed in a secured facility where he can receive treatment and not be sent to prison (where he would also be forced to take medications). Barring some break-through in treatment approaches, he would never be free again.

My sense is that the prosecutors want to medicate him so that he can stand trial, be convicted, and be sentenced to death. On the other hand, they won't let him commit suicide. Our legal system is all about retribution and punishment, not justice.

Judge Allows Forced Medication for Arizona Shooting Suspect

Published: August 27, 2011
Read the whole article.

Robin L. West - The Anti-Empathic Turn

This is an excellent article looking at the shift away from empathy in the reading and enacting of the law. Bad news, in my opinion, and I think the author is making that same point. The article is open access, so you may download the whole PDF - this is just the abstract.

The Anti-Empathic Turn

Robin L. West 
Georgetown University Law Center

NOMOS, Forthcoming 
Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-97 

Justice, according to a broad consensus of our greatest twentieth century judges, requires a particular kind of moral judgment, and that moral judgment requires, among much else, empathy - the ability to understand not just the situation but also the perspective of litigants on warring sides of a lawsuit.

Excellent judging requires empathic excellence. Empathic understanding is, in some measure, an acquired skill as well as, in part, a natural ability. Some people do it well; some, not so well. Again, this has long been understood, and has been long argued, particularly, although not exclusively, by some of our most admired judges and justices.

Somehow, however, this idea, viewed as so utterly mainstream for much of the last century’s worth of writing about judging, has, in the first decade of the twenty first century, become positively toxic, at least in the context of confirmation battles to the Supreme Court. What was once regarded as non-problematically central to good judging is now regarded as antithetical to it. No one challenged this claimed antipathy between empathy and judicial excellence. How did that happen?

The anti-empathy turn currently being expressed or implicitly endorsed by very high ranking judges and justices in our understanding of judicial ideals, I will argue, is part of a larger shift in our paradigm of what good judging should be. That paradigm shift, I believe, is most clearly revealed, not in the Supreme Court confirmation battles that spill over on the front pages of newspapers, but in the pages of law review articles and in the law school classroom. Its consequence, I will argue, is sharply felt, not only or even primarily in the Supreme Court’s handling of the major social and constitutional issues of our time (which are better explained by political ideology), but rather, in scholarly treatment of the common law of contract and tort - areas of law that have for a couple of centuries now formed the core of our understanding of the judicial craft. The anti-empathic turn, I want to argue, is a part of a “paradigm shift” - with apologies for the clich√© - in our ideals of good judging, and it's the perhaps unintended consequences of that paradigm shift that I want to explore.

In the first section, I contrast the traditional and more contemporary approach to the unconscionability doctrine, using the iconic case Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Company, and its scholarly treatment, as emblematic. In the second, I briefly explain how, in my view, this shift in the scholarly treatment of Williams v. Walker-Thomas (and related policing doctrines more generally) is reflective of and in some ways masks a larger shift in our guiding paradigm of adjudication - a shift away from a paradigm of moral judging to scientific judging. In the third and concluding section, I will offer some suggestions as to why this new paradigm has taken such a hold on our legal imaginations, and will briefly criticize it, both specifically with respect to the unconscionability doctrine, and more generally. I will urge a return to a more classical understanding - one which rested quite explicitly on the centrality not only of precedent (Blackstone, common law rules and so on) but also of moral passions and moral emotions to the work of judging, of which empathy and sympathy both are sizeable parts. Mostly, though, in this essay I just want to put in the record, so to speak, a piece of evidence for the claim that we have seemingly turned our back on a vision of moral judging that once embraced what Adam Smith dubbed the “moral sentiments” as essential to the work of judgment.

West, Robin L. (2011, July 13). , The Anti-Empathic Turn. NOMOS, Forthcoming; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-97. Available at SSRN:

Nicole Forsyth - Why Empathy is the Key to a Kinder Society

I found this post at One Green Planet: Online Destination for the Ecologically Ethical Generation.
Nicole Forsyth is president and CEO for RedRover (formerly United Animal Nations), a nonprofit organization that strengthens the bond between people and animals with a commitment to help, shelter and connect suffering animals with people who care. In 2007, Nicole introduced a program that fosters empathy in children, the RedRover Readers, and co-teaches the RedRover Readers training workshops. She graduated from the University of California, Davis with a master’s degree in animal biology in 2006, and holds a master’s degree in communication from the University of Maine and a bachelor’s degree in English and education from the University of Colorado.
I am a huge supporter of any efforts to teach empathy to children - although me sense is that they are pre-wired for empathy so that all we need to do is support its use (and teach parents how to support its use and expression).
Read the whole post.

Authors@Google: Dario Nardi - Neuroscience of Personality

Another cool, geeky talk from the Authors@Google series - Dario Nardi has done some extensive research into personality types (among other things). In this lecture, he speaks about some new research showing the difference in brain use among different personality types.

One of his more recent books is 8 Keys to Self Leadership (2005), but the book seems to be out of print (or exceedingly expensive at $989.97 used).

Dario Nardi - Neuroscience of Personality
UCLA professor and author, Dario Nardi, has discovered that people of different personality types don't merely rely on different brain regions -- they use their brains in fundamentally different ways. Using colorful anecdotes and brain imagery, Dr. Nardi shares key insights from his lab. Among these insights: how people of different personalities can find and sustain a state of creative flow. This talk is suitable for a general audience including those who have passing familiarity with the Myers-Briggs types.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jeffrey Toobin - Will Clarence and Virginia Thomas Kill Obama's Health Care Plan?

Jeffrey Toobin has an interesting article in the New Yorker about the conflict of interest in Clarence Thomas sitting on the court when it (inevitably) hears the challenges to Obama's health care reform - his wife, Virginia, spent much of 2010 on a coast-to-coast campaign against the Obama Administration (and its health care reform legislation).
As she said in an introductory video on her Web site, “If you believe in limited government, individual liberty, free enterprise, national security, and personal responsibility, and have felt these principles are under attack from Washington, then you’ve come to the right place.” In a later interview, she said, “I’ve never seen, in my thirty years in Washington, an agenda that’s so far left. It’s a radical, leftist agenda that grabs a lot of power to Washington so that Washington √©lites can pick the winners and losers.” In his own speeches, Justice Thomas expresses himself in terms similar to those of his wife. Answering questions recently in Florida, he said, “The government has to be limited. We have separations of powers, and some of the other enumerated powers that prevent the government from becoming our ruler. I don’t know if that’s happened already.”
Thomas would seem to be highly compromised in this situation, and it is very unlikely that he can offer an impartial decision based on the merits of the case - but he refuses to recuse himself, despite a call from nearly a hundred members of Congress that he do so.

Toobin outlines the personal and political partnership between Clarence and Ginni (her nickname) Thomas. Many of us see this as an assault on the supposed impartiality of the Court (which is a myth at best - look at Justice Roberts tenure as Chief Justice and you'll see the conservative agenda his case selection and rulings reveal).

Julian Assange In Conversation With John Pilger

Top Documentary Films found the YouTube of this conversation, which is definitely worth hearing. Personally, I support what Assange and others are doing in creating a little "transparency" in government and in exposing the fraudulent activities of the Corporatocracy. The interview is a little over an hour long.
Julian Assange In Conversation With John Pilger

An extended interview with Julian Assange recorded during filming of John Pilger’s latest film The War You Don’t See.

The attacks on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, are a response to an information revolution that threatens old power orders, in politics and journalism.

The incitement to murder trumpeted by public figures in the United States, together with attempts by the Obama administration to corrupt the law and send Assange to a hell hole prison for the rest of his life, are the reactions of a rapacious system exposed as never before.

The US Justice Department has established a secret grand jury just across the river from Washington in the eastern district of the state of Virginia. The object is to indict Julian Assange under a discredited espionage act used to arrest peace activists during the first world war, or one of the war on terror conspiracy statutes that have degraded American justice.

Judicial experts describe the jury as a deliberate set up, pointing out that this corner of Virginia is home to the employees and families of the Pentagon, CIA, Department of Homeland Security and other pillars of American power.
Watch the full documentary now. Alternatively watch it at

TEDxPhiladelphiaED - Phil Clothier - How Big Is Your World?

Interesting talk.

Phil Clothier - How Big Is Your World?
Phil Clothier is the CEO of Barrett Values Centre. Their Cultural Transformation Tools are used by consultants and leaders of organisations, schools, communities and governments in over 60 countries. Phil is also a keen student of the belief systems and behaviours driven by love and fear within human groups.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Buddhist Geeks 228: There is No Enemy (Ken McLeod)

This week, Vince spoke with Buddhist teacher and author Ken McLeod - in addition to being a translator and author, Ken is the executive director of Unfettered Mind, a Buddhist service organization that provides instruction, training programs, and guidance in Buddhist methods for being awake and present in your life.

BG 228: There is No Enemy

by Ken McLeod

BG 228: There is No Enemy
“Obstacles in your path should not be regarded as obstacles. They are simply features of the landscape which have to be negotiated.” – Ken McLeod

This week’s episode is taken from the recent Buddhist Geeks Conference, where Ken McLeod–a well known Buddhist teacher and management consultant–spoke about moving beyond ‘us vs. them,’ embracing the mystery of the human condition, and changing the world. Ken speaks about the futility of fighting our lives, explores what it means to make an something an enemy, and how to realize that there is no enemy. He shares many helpful suggesting in creating what he calls “a toolkit for change.”

Episode Links:


Ecosalon - Six Ways Nature Heals Us

Andrea Newell at Ecosalon posted an article on 6 Ways to Embrace Mother Nature - but it might as well be called Six Ways Nature Heals Us. The article is written for women, it seems, but the ideas are applicable to all of us.
Here is the list of six activities, all of which can offer us some healing:
  • Breathe the Fresh Air and Stay Out of the Mall
  • Leave the Mirror at Home
  • Feel the Salt Air, Look at that View
  • Go On, Stick Your Hands in the Dirt
  • Listen to the Birds
  • Healing Powers
Read the whole article.

Dalai Lama - Conception of inherent existence can be extinguished

THE DALAI LAMA AT HARVARD: Lectures on the Buddhist Path to Peace
by H.H. the Dalai Lama of Tibet,Tenzin Gyatso
translated and editedby Jeffrey Hopkins

With regard to ordinary study, except for the fact that there is a limit to our lifetime, it is not that you arrive at a point where there is no more room in your brain. No matter how much you study, even if you study a hundred thousand million words, the mind can still retain them. This indicates that the basis of these qualities, consciousness, is stable and continuous.

The other day, I made a joke to someone who was asking about the brain. I said that if, like a computer, you needed a cell for each moment of memory, then as you become more and more educated, your head would have to get bigger and bigger!

Because of these reasons--that compassion, wisdom, and so forth are qualities that depend on the mind, and the mind is stable and continuous--they can be developed to a limitless degree.

It is from this point of view that it is said that the conception of inherent existence can be extinguished. When one removes the conception of inherent existence, one thereby also ceases the afflictive emotions generated in dependence upon that ignorance. Also, since the ignorance that drives contaminated actions has ceased, this class of actions ceases. Once the motivator of the action and the actions cease, the results of those actions will cease. That is how the third noble truth--true cessation--comes to be. (p.103)

--from The Dalai Lama at Harvard: Lectures on the Buddhist Path to Peace by H.H. the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, published by Snow Lion Publications

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(Good until September 2nd).


This is interesting. The idea that we are close to reaching the point when we will be able to "design" life is both exciting (in terms of how we can possibly end human disease and create more nutritious forms of food, from low-fat meat higher in good fats to plants that produce higher yields) and frightening (in terms of how humans are highly fallible and likely to misuse this knowledge).

In the bigger picture, this is a different kind of "evolution make self-aware" than Ken Wilber likes to talk about in his anthropocentric spirituality. In thinking about the possible negative outcomes, Wilber's version is less frightening.


Jason Silva is a Fellow of the Hybrid Reality Institute.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Should the Government Tax Stupidity?

Stupid question - of course they should. Then they would never be short on tax revenue . . . and they could offer free universal health care, free college educations for any who aren't stupid . . . the list could go on for weeks.

Okay, seriously, this article is from Forbes, so it's bound to have a negative spin, and it's the obvious one: such pigovian taxes leave the decision as to what should be taxed up to our oh-so-competent elected officials.  If you read Forbes, there is probably not a single tax you are okay with, unless it only impacts the poor.

But, based on the current display of compassion in Congress, all of the taxes would be targeted at poor people and exclude the wealthy.

In AZ, where we had added a tax to cigarettes to fund health costs and a state lottery to fund education, the state legislature in their great wisdom have appropriated (or trying to) those revenues into the general fund, which is more than likely a violation of the law (redirecting voter approved funding requires voter approval).

Should the Government Tax Stupidity?

Daniel Freedman, Contributor

“A tax on stupidity” is how a former colleague of mine (who typically opposed most forms of taxation) liked to describe, and justify, revenue raised by governments through lotteries. A somewhat similar type of taxation, but with a less offensive rationale (and name), are Pigovian taxes.
They target behavior that harms others (or as economists put it: produce negative externalities) to both discourage it and raise money to rectify the damage caused / compensate those affected. (Pigovian taxes are different from fees, which charge for upkeep costs and are not concerned with reducing use.)
Taxes on alcohol (to counter social and health costs such as public drunkenness and liver damage), on cigarettes (to pay for health costs), and congestion charging for drivers (to reduce pollution and traffic) are classic examples of Pigovian taxes.
It’s easy to suggest potential Pigovian taxes that could find popular support – some serious, some less so. My favorites include taxing dog food (to compensate for headaches caused by barking and the mess left on sidewalks), chewing gum (just look at the sidewalks) and anything exclusively used by celebrities (to compensate for the closed roads, screaming fans, and other problems caused when they visit town).
US actors Angelina Jolie (L) and Brad Pitt pos...
A celebrity tax?
Pigovian taxes get their name from Arthur Cecil Pigou (pronounced: PIG-oo), a 20th century British economist, and they have a vocal group of U.S. supporters, including Greg Mankiw, a Harvard University professor and former Chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. His “Pigou Club” lists a diverse bunch of supporters, including economists Gary Becker and Tyler Cowen, New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman, and former Vice-President Al Gore.
The group supports using Pigovian taxes to discourage carbon dioxide emissions – because, the argument runs, it contributes to climate change (and therefore harms society). They would tax pollution-causing activities such as driving and flying, thereby creating a disincentive to use those methods of travel and raising money to counter the environmental damage.
A problem with Pigovian taxes is that they rely on politicians to divine what needs to be taxed, and at what rate. Looking at the state of today’s economy, however – which is after politicians tried to fix things – hardly inspires faith in our lawmakers’ abilities. Pigou himself recognized this weakness, admitting in his 1954 essay Some Aspects of the Welfare State, that “it must be confessed, however, that we seldom know enough to decide in what fields and to what extent” to interfere – a problem that has long haunted social planners.
 Read the whole article.

Gyatrul Rinpoche - Abandon the dualistic mind of discursive thoughts

by Gyatrul Rinpoche

Dharma Quote of the Week

Do you understand who the enemy is? You do not need to beat anyone up, and you do not need a weapon to kill your enemy. You do not need money to buy a weapon. It is all very easy.

How is liberation accomplished? The offering of liberation is accomplished by abandoning the dualistic mind of discursive thoughts. The sharp weapon of primordial wisdom, which completely annihilates the dualistic mind, is the means for achieving this separation. This "weapon" has been part of your continuum for a long time now. With this weapon you can completely devastate the dualistic mind, leaving not even a trace behind, thus liberating the mind into the sphere of unborn truth. The enemy will never return. This is called great liberation.

I must emphasize that primordial wisdom is not something you can buy, get from your best friend or have handed to you by a buddha in heaven. It is not something that someone else has but you do not. Abandon such concepts. Primordial wisdom does not come from an external source. It is simply your true nature. It is something that you and everyone else have as the very essence of your mind.

You should know what your qualities and capabilities are. (p.79)

--from The Generation Stage in Buddhist Tantra by Gyatrul Rinpoche, published by Snow Lion Publications

The Generation Stage in Buddhist Tantra
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Neural Reflections - David Christopher Lane

Over at Integral World, David Lane posted an interview with Patricia Churchland, one of the flatlanders of consciousness research. She is incredibly smart and, in my opinion, incredibly wrong about the nature of consciousness.

After the interview, lane posts his own short Neural Reflections on the interview. Lane edited the transcript of the interview for its original publication in 1990.

Here is the beginning of the interview, which is quite lengthy:
An Interview with
Professor Patricia Churchland

Conducted by Meredith Doran

And then if it turns out that you just are "stuff," that your brain just is meat, then wanting it to be different isn't going to change it. Why not accept it for the glorious piece of meat that it is?

--Patricia Churchland
Patricia Smith Churchland is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Californa, San Diego. She is the author of the book Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of Mind-Brain (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1986), which outlines her views on the connection between philosophy and neuroscience. The following interview was conducted by Meredith Doran, Editor of Plato's Cave, in March 10, 1990. David Christopher Lane, Professor of Philosophy at Mount San Antonio College and Founder of the MSAC Philosophy Group, edited Ms. Doran's transcript and has included an addendum and a suggested reading list.

Meredith Doran: What I would like to ask you first is: what initially led you into being interested in philosophy? Or was it science that first interested you?

Patricia Churchland: What drew me into philosophy? Well, I just got very interested as an undergraduate in the kinds of questions that were raised in a philosophical context. But I was at the same time very interested in science, especially biology.

Meredith Doran: So what led you into working in philosophy rather than in scientific research?

Patricia Churchland: I don't know that there was anything really interesting [in regards to choosing philosophy over science], but I decided to go to graduate school in philosophy, and I went first to the University of Pittsburgh. I did an M.A. there, and I probably should have stayed to do the Ph.D. there, but I had sort of itchy feet, and I was interested in going abroad for awhile. So I went to England, to Oxford, and I finished up there.
And here is one other quote that is interesting:
Meredith Doran: Getting back to your own work--neuroscience and the nature of existence--do you think that science, even if it is able to map out mental processes in terms of brain physiology, can even begin to address the ultimate origin of those processes? Where, in your opinion, is the cause or origin of mental processes?

Patricia Churchland: I do think that neuroscience will be able to explain--well, it depends on what mental processes you're talking about--but I think that if you're talking about, for example, the nature of memory, or perception or reasoning, or use of language, I have no doubt that we will understand those processes in terms of the way the circuits in the brain function. I mean, there isn't anything else to explain them in terms of, so it better be that! There's no spooky stuff lying around, such that when I look in a certain direction I see an orange orange--it's the way the rods and cones work, and the neurons work, and the way the circuits are put together that allows me to see that orange. Now there's still a lot that we don't understand about it, but I expect that we will understand it. Now, of course, it might turn out for some weird reason that we won't, but I can't see that we won't. So I think we just have to keep working at it, and I think we'll get those answers. And I think it'll be very exciting, because we'll be able to understand ourselves--why we have the thoughts and feelings we have, why we're conscious, why we're aware. And we'll know that it's thus-and-such circuit doing thus-and-such thing. Now some people find that rather threatening, and they think, "I want to be a mystery. I don't want to be explained. I don't want to be just "stuff," but of course what one wants--well, first of all, you have to ask why one would want that--why would it be better to be a mystery to yourself than to understand yourself? And then if it turns out that you just are "stuff," that your brain just is meat, then wanting it to be different isn't going to change it. Why not accept it for the glorious piece of meat that it is?
Read the whole interview and Lane's reflections on it.