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16 June 2010

Sen, ‘The Idea of Justice’, Chapter 16, ‘The Practice of Democracy’

via Public Reason by Cynthia Stark on 6/15/10

This chapter covers three empirical issues relating to democracy: 1) the connection between democracy (or public reasoning—Sen seems to use these terms interchangeably) and famine, 2) the connection between democracy and economic development and 3) the promotion of tolerance toward minorities. In what follows, I will first restate Sen’s account of democracy (given in the previous chapter), as this is relevant to his interpretation of the data he provides in chapter 16. Second, I will outline his discussions of each of the three topics he takes up, and, third, I will raise a few questions about the causal connections he proposes in the discussion of famine.


Sen views democracy as not merely the presence of elections and ballots, but as “government by discussion,” which includes “political participation, dialogue and public interaction (326).” He believes that an unrestrained media is especially important to the functioning of democratic societies, for a number of reasons, one of which plays a central role in his discussion of famines: a free press, Sen tells us, contributes to human security by giving a voice to the vulnerable and disadvantaged and by subjecting the government to criticism. (More on this

Democracy and Famine

In 1982, in an article in The New York Review of Books, Sen made the observation that “no major famine has ever occurred in a functioning democracy with regular elections, opposition parties, basic freedom of speech and a relatively free media (even when the country is very poor and in a seriously adverse food situation) (342).” Further, while India was under autocratic British rule, famines were regular occurrences; once India achieved democratic self-rule famines ceased. (Apparently, Sen’s observation about democracy and absence of famine was initially met with a fair amount of skepticism. Now it is widely accepted.) Sen infers from the observed correlation that democracy prevents famine. He offers two reasons in support of this inference. First, democratic governments are accountable to their citizens and subject to uncensored criticism from the media. So, in order to maintain power, democratic governments have a strong incentive to eradicate famines. (Indeed Sen argues later in the chapter that the famine case is really an instance of a broader phenomenon whereby democracy advances human security by giving political incentive to rulers to respond to vulnerable citizens.) Second, because of the informational role of the free press, democratic governments are likely to know about the plight of citizens and therefore about the need for amelioration. By contrast, authoritarian regimes, which suppress public discussion, may be simply uninformed about the severity or extent of a famine and fail to provide assistance for that reason.


Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

"A Good Day for Judicial Discretion" (though I would say "Equitable Principl...

via Sentencing Law and Policy by Doug B. on 6/15/10

The first part of the title of this post is the headline of this intriguing New York Times editorial discussing some of the Supreme Court's rulings yesterday.  Here is how the piece starts and ends:

Equity is an elusive legal concept that occasionally allows some leeway in applying the rules of the law and is often unappreciated by judges who insist the law means only what it says. That was clear in 2008 when the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit refused to allow federal courts to consider a death-penalty conviction of Albert Holland because his lawyer had inexcusably let the filing deadline pass.  Fortunately, seven members of the Supreme Court proved less rigid in their thinking on Monday and reversed that blinkered decision....

Justice Scalia wrote that while it is tempting to tinker with technical rules to achieve a just result, the Constitution does not give judges the discretion to rewrite Congress’s rules.  The law is the law, in other words, and tough luck if your incompetent lawyer leaves you hanging.

It was heartening to see that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. refused to subscribe to that philosophy, just as they have broken with Justice Scalia in other criminal justice cases.

The full court demonstrated that same spirit of understanding in another opinion issued Monday, when it ruled that a minor drug offense did not justify deporting a legal immigrant. The case was brought by Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, an immigrant from Mexico found in possession of a single tablet of Xanax, the anti-anxiety drug, without a prescription. Overruling the lower courts and disagreeing with the Obama administration, the court said that the possession did not qualify as a serious felony, even though Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo had a previous misdemeanor conviction.

The decision gives hope to other immigrants fighting deportation on minor charges that are taken far too seriously by the government.  Taken together, the outcome of Monday’s cases suggests that even on a conservative court, the letter of the law has its limits.

I think the headline of this editorial is a bit misleading given that, as the text of the editorial notes, the Holland case is pricipally about the development of equitable principles, not really "judicial discretion."  Moreover, as explained in this post, the fascinating 5-4 ruling in the Dolan restitution case actually fits this equitable narrative better than the ruling in Carachuri-Rosendo.  Nevertheless, I think it notable to see the New York Times praise the Supreme Court for acknowledging the limits of law.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog


Quote: Stephen Fry on art

via john hawks weblog by John Hawks on 6/13/10

Stephen Fry is a famous British actor, humorist and blogger. He recently gave a speech on the occasion of the private viewing of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which is entertaining in its detail. I especially wanted to pull this quote:

While I could not be more delighted that we live in a verbal world, I do understand the pleasure in occasionally laying language aside and letting some other non-verbal part of our brains take over. For you cannot explain a work of art in words. A painter makes a painting out of paint – paint is its language. If you can define it, nail it, comprehend it in words then something is rather wrong. A work of art is precisely that which remains when you have run out of words to describe it. The works that move us most are those that have the most life and power in them when the talking stops. If an artist could have said it in words, well then they would have done. Instead they have said it in paint, or stone, or bronze, or glass or whatever medium they may have chosen.

There are many humorous passages in the speech but this more serious paragraph is very well-phrased.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

15 June 2010

Gee, Thanks for Permission to Feed People, Las Vegas

via's End Homelessness Blog by Josie Raymond on 6/15/10

Doesn't asking for permission to feed the needy feel a little off, like asking to go to the bathroom or to eat lunch? When communities tell adults they can't do things like hand out food in a public park, as Las Vegas did to activist Gail Sacco four years ago, it's pretty short-sighted. If municipalities can't feed everyone, why should they begrudge average citizens for picking up the slack?

The government should help us when we're down and keep people from doing bad things, not make it harder to provide charity for people who've, ahem, dropped straight through the tattered social safety net.

In an agreement reached last week in Las Vegas, a city lawsuit will be dropped against Sacco for feeding more than 25 people in a park, and she will drop a federal suit against the city for infringing on her personal freedom. In what both sides are calling an acceptable compromise, 75 people can now gather, and eat, before being hassled or cited by authorities.

Granted, what police officers are going to patiently count 73 ... 74 .... 75 ... before pouncing when the 76th person joins the picnic? And unfortunately, public feedings have a way of drawing out previously invisible people in need. Next time Sacco hosts a feeding, will she have to pack up and drive away as soon as 76 hungry people show up?

The city's ban on public feedings was overturned in the courts in 2007, but it continued to criminalize the act with trespassing charges. Trespassing in public parks — go figure. How the new agreement plays out remains to be seen, but for now, the city got to save face while common sense won out: yes, you can feed people who are hungry.

Photo credit: Diane Worth

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

13 Ways to Raise Your Consciousness

via Dumb Little Man - Tips for Life by Henri Junttila on 6/14/10

Raising your consciousness means raising your vibration or your energy. The higher it is, the lighter and more at peace you feel.

Think back to one of those days where everything went effortlessly. Work was seemingly a piece of cake, conversations went great, and your relationships just shined. Everything was going so well that you broke into song and smiled to everyone you met. Can you remember a day like this?

Obviously, we aren't always this way. There are days when everything looks a shade darker. Where simple conversations are a struggle. It’s easy to get caught in those moods but if you find a way to calm yourself long enough to refocus your brain and emotions, it's possible to reverse the day.

Life is about doing what you love and following your heart. There’s a reason why you’re here. You may or may not know what it is, and that’s okay. One day you will.

We’ve been taught to strive, pursue and consume. It's a never-ending cycle. That’s ending now, because you are enough and everything is okay, even if it may not seem like that in the short-term.

Here are thirteen sure-fire ways of raising your consciousness:

  1. Simplifying
    Eliminate stuff, clear away clutter and clean your home. The more stuff you have, the more burdened your mind will be. Getting rid unnecessary stuff may at first go against everything you know, but when you’ve done it, you’ll see the benefit.

  • Deliberate Action
    Taking specific action and moving forward even when you’re afraid, frustrated and confused will give you clarity. It’s counter-intuitive to keep going if you feel fear, but realize that your lizard brain is always trying to protect you from the unknown. Embrace the unknown, fear and confusion. Take deliberate action.

  • Uplifting Music
    Finding music that empowers, enlightens and uplifts is different from person to person, which is why you have to experiment. Some days I listen to the groovy beats of reggae, other times I get a boost out of listening to the carefully orchestrated symphonies of classical music. Music has a profound effect on our consciousness, so use it wisely.

  • Exercise
    Moving your body is an ingredient that is missing from many people’s lives today. It doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t even have to be boring. Find what you think is fun. The important thing is that you do it regularly. I like martial arts. What do you like?

  • Being Kind
    When you are generous, you can feel your heart expanding. You don’t have to volunteer or travel to Africa to be kind. You can be kind by helping someone over the street, or just giving people a simple smile as you’re strolling down the sidewalk on an especially gloomy day.

  • Meditation
    You can meditate by sitting, walking or doing. There are no rules that limit you. Your body is different from mine, which is why you have to find what brings you joy. When you raise your consciousness, you feel lighter, happier and more at peace. Meditation can be done while doing the dishes, reading, walking or looking at a candle. There are no limitations.

  • Singing
    While I am not a huge fan of singing, it does raise your consciousness dramatically. The next time you’re feeling down, try putting on an uplifting tune and singing along. Act like there’s nobody left on earth and just let it rip.

  • Nature
    Being out in nature is relaxing for a reason. We have a symbiotic relationship with mother earth. If you want tangible proof; be aware of your inner body while touching a tree. You will feel a calming, loving energy come through. All things on this blue planet of ours are imbued with energy. Go for a stroll in the park, sit below a tree, or have a picnic.

  • Having Fun
    Watch a comedy, go out with your closest friends or sit down with a good book. Depending on the day, having fun means different things for me. As I am writing this, I am doing what I am passionate about, which is writing and losing myself in words. It fills me with joy and I love it.

  • Animals
    Did you know that just being around a dog or a cat has health benefits? Being around animals is calming, because they live in the now. They have no concept of time, because time in and of itself does not really exist. It’s an out-there concept, but even scientists know this.

  • Being Present
    Nothing beats being fully in the now. This can mean focusing on your breath, observing your thoughts or being present in your body, feeling all of your muscles, tendons and ligaments moving and working together. The more present you are, the more joy you will feel. Stop thinking about the past and future for a second and just be. There is nothing more uplifting than that.

  • Eating Healthy
    Food is one of our greatest enemies when it comes to our health. We’ve been eating processed, unhealthy foods for several decades now, and it shows. More people are sick now than ever before. Eating healthy, vegan foods has been proven to reverse heart disease, increase mental faculties, improve energy levels and on the list goes. Be mindful of what you eat.

  • Following Your Passion
    Last, but definitely not least, if you want to raise your consciousness and your vibration, you have to do what you love. Finding your passion isn’t easy, but what other options are there? I will either follow my passion, or die trying. When you have that attitude, you will succeed sooner or later. Your life is in your hands. You are responsible, so start taking control and begin living the life you want to live.

  • Written on 6/14/2010 by Henri Junttila. Henri is addicted to living a free and passionate life. He runs the Wake Up Cloud, where he shows you how you can learn how to find your passion and live consciously.Photo Credit: lanx1983

    Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

    "Three will set you free"

    via Snitching (Natapoff) on 6/15/10

    A carwash attendant explained to me that this was the saying in his old neighborhood (he wouldn't say where he was from). It means that if you are charged with a felony but can give the government information about three other people, they will "set you free."

    Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

    Sunday Secrets

    via PostSecret by postsecret on 6/15/10

    PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people
    mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.

    -----Email Message-----

    I am fourteen years old. I lost my virginity yesterday. I wish i had waited until i was 26.

    -----Email Message-----

    I chose to wait until marriage. Now I'm 33, still single, and scared of sex.

    See More Secrets. Follow PostSecret on Twitter.

    -----Email Message-----

    i'm not the girl in this story but as a kid i also suffered the pain
    of being bullied. it took a long time but those experiences made me
    stronger and turned me into the person i am now: a social worker.
    through helping others overcome the misery of their own social hells
    i'm healing myself, too. i hope your victim has found some of the

    -----Email Message-----

    I didn't forgive him for his sake, but to set myself free.
    And it worked.


    It could've been worse, he could've read Dianetics or something.

    -----Email Message-----

    Reading Atlas Shrugged gave me the strength to pull myself out of an eating disorder; it saved my life.

    PostSecret Community

    -----Email Message-----

    I'm a 4th year podiatry student and I just want to say, you should be happy if hairy toes are your worst problem.

    This secret from last week sparked a movement

    In seven days over 50,000 59,000 of you joined an online community offering encouragement and help.

    This hopeful story has received international press coverage including this first report on Time Magazine's NewFeed.

    I haven't heard from the person who mailed this postcard, but I have heard from many others who have felt lifted by this world-wide spontaneous act of kindness.


    -----Email Message-----

    Thank you for creating the "please don't jump" facebook group... I am overwhelmed at the response and truly, deeply hope the author of the postcard is as well. Things have been rough for me, and even though the kind words are meant for another suffering soul, I have drawn strength from following these voices too... I wish there were more examples of this kind of love, hope, and support in our world.

    -----Email Message-----

    I read the Golden Gate Bridge postcard on PostSecret, visited the facebook page, and went to the bridge today [Sunday]. I have lived in San Francisco for 4 years and never once walked across the bridge. Today me and my roommate did for the first time because of this secret and I wanted to share with you my experience.

    We walked about 3/4 across the bridge reading ribbons and messages along the way then decided to head back. On our way back I noticed a backpack against the bridge and thinking this was odd kept staring...soon noticing a person on the other side of the bridge. Me and my roommate stopped and stared over at this man sitting on the ledge of the bridge.

    My roommate asked him if he was alright, which he replied "not really" but he stood up. She then asked him if he would come back on our side of the bridge. He climbed back over and we all just stood there awhile. He had a big scar down his neck and had also wet himself sometime sitting out on the ledge. I asked him his name and we introduced ourselves. My roommate asked him if she could call anyone for him and he replied no. He then put on his sweatshirt, grabbed his stuff, and walked away. We stood there watching him and the bridge police and security team pulled up and escorted this man into one of the cars.

    I have no idea what is going to happen with this man, where he went, if he will try to jump or some other method again. All I know is today was my first day on the bridge, and because of postsecret and the support of all these individuals, we wanted to be a part of that support and through that we were able to be there for someone.

    People do make a difference and even if the person who wrote the post secret has no idea of the effect that it has had, today it helped take someone off the Golden Gate Bridge.

    PostSecret on Facebook

    -----Email Message-----


    This past Friday night I found myself in a black hole of depression and I didn't know how I was going to make it through the night. Not knowing where to turn and feeling like I couldn't stop. I remembered seeing the Hopeline phone number in the front of your book. I talked with someone there for 2 and a half hours and I truly feel that they saved my life.

    Thank you for the book, thank Hopeline for being there, and thank the people that send in their postcards so that others know they are not alone with their secrets.

    -Casie (with permission)

    Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog


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