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Glass Ceiling March 31, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy of Gender, politics.
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A recent study explains why there are vastly fewer women than men in politics—they are less likely to be recruited.

Highly qualified and politically well-connected women from both major political parties are less likely than similarly situated men to be recruited to run for public office by all types of political actors. They are less likely than men to be recruited intensely. And they are less likely than men to be recruited by multiple sources. Although we paint a picture of a political recruitment process that seems to suppress women’s inclusion, we also offer the first evidence of the significant headway women’s organizations are making in their efforts to mitigate the recruitment gap, especially among Democrats. These findings are critically important because women’s recruitment disadvantage depresses their political ambition and ultimately hinders their emergence as candidates.

There is little evidence that women are less able or less likely to win elections. It makes little sense to leave talent on the sidelines.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com


Sam Harris on moral relativism March 31, 2010

Posted by michaelmussachia in Ethics, religion, Science.
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Sam Harris gave an interesting and thought-provoking talk at the 2010 TED conference on how neuroscience can contribute to our understanding on morality and values. For those who are interested, the url is http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/moral-confusion-in-the-na_b_517710.html.

Harris challenges the traditional fact/value, is/ought distinction by pointing out that science can investigate values, both how they arise socially and their neurobiological nature.

To quote Harris:

“When I speak of there being right and wrong answers to questions of morality, I am saying that there are facts about human and animal well-being that we can, in principle, know–simply because well-being (and states of consciousness altogether) must lawfully relate to states of the brain and to states of the world.”

He argues that if morality involves well-being and happiness (rather than “God’s will”), it has an empirical basis. Science can provide data on what factors are most efficient it bringing about happiness and well-being, just as it can with regard to what constitutes a state of good health and what can bring it about. Harris grants that, just as there are numerous ways to achieve good health, so also there are many ways to achieve happiness and well-being,  but their effectiveness can nonetheless be scientifically investigated. Harris also argues that while happiness, well-being (and good health) cannot be defined in a completely objective and universal manner, experience and empirical data clearly show that some values and forms of behavior  are more likely to result in happiness and well-being than others, e.g., if good health is a value, then consuming poison is not an effective way to realize that value; if well-being is a value, throwing acid on the face of young girls because they resist arranged marriages with men three times their age is not effective in realizing that value. Of course, there are all kinds of social issues here, including who defines the values and the means to achieve them, e.g., a Taliban fundamentalist vs a liberal secularist, but I agree with Harris that, broadly and loosely speaking, values and the means to achieve them are subject to empirical investigation. This doesn’t eliminate the fact/value, is/ought distinction, but both sides of the distinction involve empirical issues.

Another part of Harris’ argument is that a value does not have to be subject to a completely objective and universal (let alone mathematical) formulation for us to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable definitions of the value. He also argues that when academics embrace moral and cultural relativism, they confirm the claim of religious moral objectivists that only religion can provide an objective basis for values and morality.

Morality Magnets March 30, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Philosophy, Science.
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Research at MIT shows that moral judgments are affected by magnetic stimulation of the brain. Here’s the abstract:

When we judge an action as morally right or wrong, we rely on our capacity to infer the actor’s mental states (e.g., beliefs, intentions). Here, we test the hypothesis that the right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ), an area involved in mental state reasoning, is necessary for making moral judgments. In two experiments, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to disrupt neural activity in the RTPJ transiently before moral judgment (experiment 1, offline stimulation) and during moral judgment (experiment 2, online stimulation). In both experiments, TMS to the RTPJ led participants to rely less on the actor’s mental states. A particularly striking effect occurred for attempted harms (e.g., actors who intended but failed to do harm): Relative to TMS to a control site, TMS to the RTPJ caused participants to judge attempted harms as less morally forbidden and more morally permissible. Thus, interfering with activity in the RTPJ disrupts the capacity to use mental states in moral judgment, especially in the case of attempted harms.


Apparently, the part of the brain involved in understanding the intentions of others, when stimulated by magnetic fields, is suppressed, which understandably alters our moral judgments. The NPR report on this study points out that we judge intentions as well as actions. The magnetic pulse makes normal adults reason like 4 year olds.

Joshua Greene, the Harvard psychologist who has perhaps done the most important empirical work supporting the notion that morality is a function of the brain, thinks this kind of study has important metaphysical implications:

The fact that scientists can adjust morality with a magnet may be disconcerting to people who view morality as a lofty and immutable human trait, says Joshua Greene, psychologist at Harvard University. But that view isn’t accurate, he says. […]

The scientists are trying to take concepts such as morality, which philosophers once attributed to the human soul, and “break it down in mechanical terms.”

If something as complex as morality has a mechanical explanation, Green says, it will be hard to argue that people have, or need, a soul.

I’m not convinced that this study is all that important. It is not surprising that damage to the brain can affect our judgments. Furthermore, the fact that we can identify the part of the brain that accurately grasps the intentions of others tells us little about what we should do with that understanding. But I agree with Greene that the cumulative weight of the many studies showing various aspects of morality to be rooted in the brain suggests (without entailing) that notions such as the “soul” hypothesis do no explanatory work.

And as Jon Mandle at Crooked Timber points out:

Rather, it highlights the importance of attribution of intention in the moral judgment of normal adults, shows how localized in the brain this function is, and demonstrates how easily it can be suppressed in isolation from other functions.

And Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a brain expert and University College London, pointed out:

“What is interesting is that this is a region that is very late developing – into adolescence and beyond right into the 20s.
“The next step would be to look at how or whether moral development changes through childhood into adulthood.”

Ah…I ‘m sure that it does—see Gilligan, Kohlberg et al.

H/t Crooked Timber

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Emeg vs. Moonbeam March 29, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Uncategorized.
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Ed Kilgore has an informative account of the California Governor’s race. Here are some highlights.

He begins by questioning why anyone would want the job.

California’s bad case of political self-loathing goes beyond a terrible economy, the state’s chronic monstrous state budget deficits, and the endless gridlock over virtually all major decisions in Sacramento. On the structural level, California’s permissive ballot initiative system has inserted voters—or, to be cynical about it, the special interests backing initiatives—into matters normally left to governors and legislators, resulting in constitutional limits on property taxes; excessive reliance on recession-sensitive income taxes; a crippling two-thirds vote requirement for legislative enactment of a state budget or for increasing taxes at any level of government; and a variety of spending mandates. Polls consistently show that a majority of citizens oppose tax increases and most spending cuts (they do favor cutting spending on prisons, which are operating under court rules and stuffed with inmates who have run afoul of the state’s many mandatory sentencing laws, some imposed by initiative). “Waste” is where Californians seem to want lawmakers to look for the massive savings necessary to balance the budget. Too bad California already ranks near the bottom among states in per capita state employees and infrastructure investment, and below average in per-pupil spending on education.

He goes on to characterize the two main candidates for this highly sought after position:

The second GOP candidate, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, is running far ahead of Poizner, floating her campaign on an extraordinary sea of early money. Three months before the June primary, and eight months before the general election, Whitman (or eMeg, as local political journalists often call her) has already spent $46 million, mostly from personal funds on her campaign, and has threatened to spend up to $150 million if necessary.

EMeg’s strategy is to buy the election with her almost limitless personal fortune.

Whitman’s ads mainly convey, with numbing repetition, her claim to offer a fresh start for the state, delivered by a rock-star business executive committed to cuts in spending, tax cuts, and education reform.

And how is this to be accomplished in a state in which the population routinely says no to spending cuts and taxes?

She’s also bought herself grief by refusing, until very recently, to answer press questions or elaborate beyond the happy talk of her biographical ads about her positions on various issues. All in all, she’s in danger of earning the reputation of being something of a robo-pol like her political mentor, Mitt Romney.

So far there are no ideas coming from EMeg and no experience in government either. That sounds like “Governator” redux to me.

On the other side of the aisle we have Jerry Brown, known as “Governor Moonbeam” 30 years ago for his unorthodox style. He has experience in spades:

…Brown was first elected to statewide office 40—yes, 40—years ago. After a term as secretary of state, he was governor for eight years, and later state party chair, mayor of Oakland, and currently attorney general of California. He also ran unsuccessfully, and somewhat fecklessly, for the U.S. Senate once and for president three times.

But, although the anti-politician sentiment is raging, Brown may not be handicapped by it.

You see, Jerry Brown is a tough challenger because he is hard to confine to the standard political and ideological boxes. His long political career may be a handicap in some respects, but it has also helped him defy typecasting and create unusual coalitions. Long an ally of Democratic liberals—in the 1990s, he had a show on the lefty Pacifica radio network—Brown governed California as a fiscal hawk in the wake of the property tax-slashing Proposition 13 (which he had opposed) in 1978. Similarly, as mayor of Oakland from 1999 to 2007, he became known for a strong law-enforcement record, and for his championship of charter public schools, including one controversial military school. He can be broadly characterized as a social liberal and fiscal conservative, which is a good fit for his state. But his leitmotif as a politician has always been unpredictability and a knack for anticipating and sometimes embodying the zeitgeist. […]

He seriously studied Zen Buddhism in the 1980s, underwent training for the Jesuit priesthood, and worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Not surprisingly, he conveys a certain aura of ironic detachment and self-control.

Indeed, over four decades of engagement in public life, Jerry Brown has developed a remarkable knack for displaying a sense of his own—and government’s—limits. He began his gubernatorial first term in 1975 with an off-the-cuff “address” that ran seven minutes; replaced the traditional inaugural ball with an informal dinner at a Chinese restaurant; traded in his gubernatorial limo for a 1974 Plymouth from the state car pool; rented a small apartment instead of living in the governor’s mansion; and reportedly slept on a mattress on the floor. (As governor, Brown was far more fiscally conservative than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes and spending several times. His austerity, which created vast budget surpluses, prompted one Reagan aide to joke that the Gipper “thinks Jerry Brown has gone too far to the right.”)

How will Governor Moonbeam do this time around?

Short of having their own grossly rich and relentless attack dog in the race, Democrats are probably blessed to have Brown, who can be expected to shrug off Whitman’s certain assault on his record and land a few coolly delivered blows of his own. He’s already reminding voters that California hasn’t had a particularly good recent experience with “outsider” governors promising to come in and clean up Sacramento by sheer force of will. […]

And it’s not as though Jerry Brown is likely to present Whitman with an unmoving target. As protean as California itself and as wily as any other 40-year veteran of political wars, Brown nicely defined himself in an interview with Calbuzz just after officially announcing his candidacy: “Adaptation is the essence of evolution,” he explained. “And those who don’t adapt go extinct.”

Indeed, such adaptivity may be the only thing that can serve California’s needs right now.

I don’t know who will win. Californians have proven that they are willing to elect a wealthy, empty suit with a big mouth to run the state.

But one way or another, our next governor is likely to be a clown.


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Know-Nothing Philosophers? March 25, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, Science.
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Recently, there have been a number of books written by well-known philosophers—Thomas Nagle and Jerry Fodor in particular—calling into question fundamental features of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Philosopher of Science Michael Ruse has a readable take-down of this trend.

What does one say about these critics? One could certainly pick apart individual things, for instance Fodor’s claims about selective breeding versus natural selection.[…]

But rather than work over the details, I want to draw attention to the way this crop of critics ignores evolutionary biology—aside from the kind of cherry-picking in which Fodor engages. Nagel may sneer about the failure to find “accessible literature” that answers his worries. In what part of the library was he doing his literature search? Where, for example, is any discussion of the Grants’ work on the Galápagos finches? What about a detailed look at the new scholarship that is challenging earlier thinking about the evolution of bipedalism? What about the discoveries of molecular biology and of the similarities (homologies) between humans and fruit flies? And why no mention of Marc Hauser and his work uncovering the secrets of moral thinking? There is a deafening silence on those and other issues. Fodor, Nagel, and Plantinga don’t need to turn themselves into biochemists, but some awareness of the issues and advances would not be entirely misplaced.

Ruse points to a problem that I thought was an artifact of a bygone era. Earlier generations of philosophers often theorized about science without having much knowledge of science. But I thought contemporary philosophers had largely given up that approach and today endeavor to learn the science before pontificating about it.

So why are these respected philosophers returning to the bad old days? Ruse speculates:

This total lack of interest in the science is surely suggestive. The critics are being driven by other, for them deeper, concerns. And as an evolutionist, I turn to the past for clues. What fueled the initial opposition to Darwin was a concern with our species, with Homo sapiens. For 150 years, since the Origin, critics have feared that we humans might become part of the evolutionary picture—not just our bodies, but our minds, our very souls. What makes us distinctively and uniquely human? This worry is still alive and well in today’s philosophical community. Plantinga is open in his fear that Darwinism makes impossible the guaranteed existence of our species. More, for years he has argued that Darwinism is bound up with the metaphysical belief that everything is natural (as opposed to supernatural), and that this leads to a collapse of rational belief and knowledge. The chance elements in Darwinism are simply not compatible with Plantinga’s Christian faith.

As nonbelievers, Nagel and Fodor are a bit different, but not that different. For years Nagel has argued against a reductive view of the human mind, believing it to be more than just molecules in motion—the obvious end result of Darwinism. At some level, Nagel believes, the mind is above the material. It is perhaps a stretch, but probably not too much of a stretch, to say that the kind of sympathetic attitude that Nagel takes toward intelligent design points not so much to a concealed theism (akin to Plantinga’s open theism) as to a kind of vitalism, in which there are nonnatural, nonphysical forces that direct things in the material world.

And then there is Fodor. The final section of his new book is very revealing. As a dreadful warning to those who do not accept his main conclusions, Fodor prints passage after passage of claims by Darwinians that one can understand human nature and thinking as the product of natural selection: This is where we will all end up if we don’t stop the rot right now. My suspicion is that Fodor doesn’t really give a damn about fruit flies or finches or anything else out there. But when it comes to Homo sapiens, he wants no part of a naturalistic explanation that reduces design to the workings of blind law. There may not be a God, but we sure are made in his image.

This strikes me as a plausible explanation. There is, even among some philosophers, reluctance to acknowledge that we are, as Brad Delong puts it, “jumped up East African Plains Apes”. This is especially true of philosophers, like Fodor and Nagle, who have built a career arguing that mental properties are irreducible.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

What the Health Care Plan Does Immediately March 24, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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There has been (and still is) a lot of nonsense said about the recently passed health care bill. So it is worth clearing up misconceptions. Nancy-Ann Perle summarizes the immediate benefits:

  • This year, children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied health insurance coverage. Once the new health insurance exchanges begin in the coming years, pre-existing condition discrimination will become a thing of the past for everyone.
  • This year, health care plans will allow young people to remain on their parents’ insurance policy up until their 26th birthday.
  • This year, insurance companies will be banned from dropping people from coverage when they get sick, and they will be banned from implementing lifetime caps on coverage. This year, restrictive annual limits on coverage will be banned for certain plans. Under health insurance reform, Americans will be ensured access to the care they need.
  • This year, adults who are uninsured because of pre-existing conditions will have access to affordable insurance through a temporary subsidized high-risk pool.
  • In the next fiscal year, the bill increases funding for community health centers, so they can treat nearly double the number of patients over the next five years.
  • This year, this bill creates a new, independent appeals process that ensures consumers in new private plans have access to an effective process to appeal decisions made by their insurer.
  • This year, discrimination based on salary will be outlawed. New group health plans will be prohibited from establishing any eligibility rules for health care coverage that discriminate in favor of higher-wage employees.
  • Starting January 1, 2011, insurers in the individual and small group market will be required to spend 80 percent of their premium dollars on medical services. Insurers in the large group market will be required to spend 85 percent of their premium dollars on medical services. Any insurers who don’t meet those thresholds will be required to provide rebates to their policyholders.
  • Starting in 2011, this bill helps states require insurance companies to submit justification for requested premium increases. Any company with excessive or unjustified premium increases may not be able to participate in the new health insurance exchanges.
  • This year, small businesses that choose to offer coverage will begin to receive tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums to help make employee coverage more affordable.
  • This year, new private plans will be required to provide free preventive care: no co-payments and no deductibles for preventive services. And beginning January 1, 2011, Medicare will do the same.
  • This year, this bill will provide help for early retirees by creating a temporary re-insurance program to help offset the costs of expensive premiums for employers and retirees age 55-64.
  • This year, this bill starts to close the Medicare Part D ‘donut hole’ by providing a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the gap in prescription drug coverage. And beginning in 2011, the bill institutes a 50% discount on prescription drugs in the ‘donut hole.’

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

I Think, therefore I Have No Time to for Skepticism March 23, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy.
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Descartes famously posed the problem of global knowledge skepticism by asking us to prove that we are not always dreaming.

Philosopher of science Michael Ruse thinks this is a fascinating question:

I truly remember my first day in philosophy class and thinking: “Gosh, I am not the only person who really wonders if they are awake or asleep. I have been thinking about this since I was a kid and never could solve it. I am not a nut-case to be worrying about this. […] I want to suggest that the Meditations is a bit of a litmus test. Either you are hooked or you are not. […]

Humans are divided by nature into two essential types. This is not male or female, or straight or gay, or whatever. It is between those who think that philosophy, as marked by Descartes’ Meditations, is the only thing that truly makes worthwhile the life of a human being, and those who think that philosophy is really a little bit daft but we have to let our spouses have their silly enthusiasms

I was never fascinated by global knowledge skepticism (and I remain unconvinced that it is worth thinking too hard about). Logical possibilities are not as interesting as real possibilities. My entry to philosophy was a worry about whether I had free will given the social influences I was learning about in sociology.

And I think it is rather silly to make a fascination with global knowledge skepticism a litmus test. There have been countless philosophers—Aristotle, Nietzsche, Pierce, Wittgenstein, Rorty, etc.—who thought such questions a waste of time.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Dummy Inflation March 22, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, religion, Science.
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Brad Delong was on irony watch this weekend:



And doing double duty on All Souls Market Watch as well:


and Thomas Nagle will soon publish his new paper: What Is It Like to Be a Rock?


Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Victory (I Hope) March 21, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Assuming, as expected, that the Senate plays ball, we will have Health Care Insurance Reform.

This is indeed an important victory and an historic moment. And it is testimony to Obama’s political skills and the policy chops of Senate and House Democrats.

Although the process has been exhausting and frustrating and the deal-making ugly, the result is impressive. Ezra Klein provides an excellent summary of the accomplishment:

This was a hard bill to write. Pairing the largest coverage increase since the Great Society with the most aggressive cost-control effort isn’t easy. And since the cost controls are complicated, while the coverage increase is straightforward, many people don’t believe that the Democrats have done it. But to a degree unmatched in recent legislative history, they have.

Furthermore, the bill reduces the federal budget deficit.

All of this was accomplished in the face of lies about “death panels” and “government takeovers”, deep cynicism, outright threats, an utterly polarized electorate, and powerful interest groups who could easily have scuttled the effort. Ezra Klein again:

This year, the Obama administration succeeded at neutralizing every single industry. Pharma supports the bill. Insurers are incoherent on it, but there’s not a ferocious and united campaign to kill the proposal. The American Medical Association has endorsed the Senate bill. The hospitals have endorsed the bill. Labor has endorsed the bill. The business community is split, with larger employers holding their fire.

The legislation isn’t perfect—far from it. And one could argue that Democrats should have pushed for a better bill, ditched the attempts at bi-partisanship that failed to garner a single Republican vote, and resisted the influence of the insurance companies who will likely come out winners from all of this.

But truth be told, there was not a lot of room for maneuver. The compromises were probably necessary given the political climate.

The unsung hero here is Nancy Pelosi who mastered the end game and guided this legislation through a House Democratic caucus with sharp ideological differences in an election  year.

But with all the celebration, a note of caution is in order. As Robert Reich wrote recently:

Nothing that’s legislated is perfect and in my view the good that will come from passing health care legislation outweighs the bad, but be warned: the pending House bill (that will go to the Senate for a “reconcilation” vote) does not repeal the antitrust exemption for health insurers, nor does it contain a public insurance option. It thereby will allow health insurers to continue to consolidate into even larger entities, gain as much market power as they can, and charge ever higher prices. Yet Americans will be required to buy health insurance from them. Assuming the bill becomes law, this dissonance spells trouble. It will have to be addressed before 2014, when the bill takes effect.

The real work starts now. This is complex legislation that must be implemented correctly if it is to have the desired effects on health care coverage and cost reductions. And much of the bill does not take effect until 2014—that is a lot of time for mischief-makers to derail the effectiveness of this much needed reform.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Gardner and the Presumption of Innocence March 18, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Criminal Justice, Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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Sorry I’ve been quiet lately—I’ve been under the weather. And there’s been much to talk about, so let me see if I can catch up!

The murder of Chelsea King and arrest of her accused killer, John Albert Gardner, is of course something that has occupied the minds of many San Diegans, myself included. And the discovery of the body of Amber Dubois, and the possibility of a connection between the two tragic deaths of young women have only added to the sense of outrage and urgency in our community—a terrifying suspicion that Chelsea’s death, and perhaps also that of Amber, could have been avoided with more diligent surveillance of a known sex offender. 20/20 hindsight is cheap, though, and the fact that the laws that got Gardner convicted of his first sex offense (or at least the first he was charged with) were different in 2000 that they are now seems to have escaped some critics. More safeguards are in place now, and we can’t send our outrage retroactively back to 2005 when he was paroled and complain that he wasn’t convicted according to the laws of today. We can, however, hold the appropriate authorities accountable for not keeping an eye on him the way the law demanded at the time.  And we can try to improve on current laws. (And we can remind ourselves to be more vigilant in our own lives. That’s another topic…)

An issue that has been raised is whether Gardner can get a fair trial in San Diego. Information released before the arraignment (and after the arraignment, no more information about Chelsea’s death will be released before the trial, to avoid overexposure to the case, and prevent it from being judged in the media) included tidbits about Chelsea’s clothing found with DNA evidence. We have a sense that the DA’s office has a very strong case against Gardner. Even so, it shouldn’t be hard to find jurors who are able to keep an open mind—it can usually be done. Even in the case of David Westerfield (who killed Danielle van Dam) the trial took place here in San Diego, with a jury that was perfectly capable of weighing the evidence on its merit, and not base their judgment on what they’d seen on TV. But who will defend Gardner in court? Two attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office. In the San Diego Union Tribune, columnist Logan Jenkins speculates that they will probably be vilified for their willingness to defend Gardner, just like Steven Feldman was vilified for defending David Westerfield. Jenkins points out that regardless how certain we may be that Gardner killed Chelsea, and regardless of how much we may despise him, he still deserves the “best defense our tax dollars can buy,” because the presumption of innocence is one of the cornerstones of our legal system. And, I might add, far preferable to Napoleonic Law which we encounter south of the border, where a person is presumed guilty until he or she can prove their own innocence. So I completely agree wth Jenkins that Gardner deserves his day in court, with competent lawyers speaking for him. However, I don’t quite agree with some of Jenkins’s general assumptions, if I understand him correctly: For one thing, the law guarantees presumption of innocence in court, not in the media, or around the kitchen table. We are perfectly in our right to think whatever we want about Gardner in the court of public opinion—but if we have reached an opinion that is flavored by news coverage, we just won’t be good jury material. It doesn’t mean we ordinary people have to empty our minds of every fact we’ve read, or pretend we can’t put two and two together. Another thing I find somewhat disturbing about Jenkins’s op-ed piece is his reference to Westerfield’s lawyer Feldman and the vilification of him. If Jennings is referring to people harassing Feldman during the trial, he’s right. That was inappropriate and unworthy of San Diego as a society. But what about after the trial? That was where a certain talk-show host spoke up against Feldman-–because it became clear that Feldman had deliberately tried to mislead the jury. According to information coming out after the trial, Feldman had been aware that Westerfield had killed Danielle, because Feldman had been in the process of a plea bargain with the court on behalf of Westerfield when Danielle’s body was found. And even so, he put up a defense of Westerfield where he misrepresented facts and tried to deflect suspicion onto somebody else. Now this is a fine line, legally: A defendant is entitled to the best possible defense—but as far as I know, there are limits to what a defense lawyer can try to put over on jurors, and Feldman was dancing very close to that limit. Some legal scholars said he crossed the line. That was the talk show host’s concern, not that Feldman had chosen to defend a murderer.  After all, that’s what high-profile defense lawyers do. Let’s make sure we remember the actual situation before we begin to imagine future parallels in the Gardner defense.