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Patrick S. O'Donnell
Adjunct Instructor, Department of Philosophy, Santa Barbara City College
Interests: philosophy of law and legal theory, philosophy of mind, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of science, religious worldviews, psychoanalysis, psychology
Recent Activity
AP photo from the Vietnam War Date of estimated return from overseas (DEROS) for my soul: At times when I am calm I remember that even if you waited for it nothing came as suddenly as gunfire and nothing (not even the Lieutenant) seemed as stupid as the silence which followed At such times I know also that each of us who fought in Vietnam was spiritually captured by it, and that each remains a prisoner of his own war- It is, therefore, not surprising that for some (like for me) the AfterNam emptiness published no D.e.r.o.s. for the soul.... Yet, in moments better known to me, when reason drifts and whole worlds are illuminated with Platonic images dancing images dancing against the cave-walls of my mind, lit by a single candle borrowed from a twilight wish, I take the stairs two-at-a-time and wait in the second floor window of... Continue reading
Posted 2 hours ago at
The following provocative policy proposals are found in Anthony B. Atkinson’s book, Inequality: what can be done? (Harvard University Press, 2015): 303-304. 1. The direction of technological change should be an explicit concern of policy-makers, encouraging innovation in a form that increases the employability of workers, emphasizing the human dimension of service provision. 2. Public policy should aim at a proper balance of power among stakeholders, and to this end should (a) introduce an explicitly distributional dimension into competition policy, (b) ensure a legal framework that allows trade unions to represent workers on level terms, and (c) establish, where it does not already exist, a Social and Economic Council involving the social partners and other nongovernmental bodies. 3. The government should adopt an explicit target for preventing and reducing unemployment and underpin this ambition by offering guaranteed public employment at the minimum wage to those who seek it. 4. There... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at
“…[T]oward the end of his life [Malcolm X] argued that blacks should put aside religious and philosophical differences and recognize they had a common oppressor. Antiblack racism, he argued, negatively affects all blacks, regardless of faith or party affiliation, and thus blacks should unify to resist racial oppression on nonsectarian and non-ideological grounds. Although he continued to believe in the necessity of autonomous black institutions, he did come to relax his opposition to alliance with progressive whites. Malcolm X’s ideas of internal colonization, black communal self-determination, skepticism toward the black elite and the Democratic Party, and racially autonomous political organizations influenced a generation of black activists and have had a significant impact on the contemporary political culture of African Americans. As Manning Marable remarked, ‘Dead at the age of 39, Malcolm quickly became the fountainhead of the modern renaissance of black nationalism in the late 1960s.’ Indeed, shortly after his... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at
I second the sentiment of the chorus above.
The title of this compilation is a mouthful, but its content can be chewed with leisure and is easily digestible. I hope it also proves both nutritious and a gustatory delight. The Sullied Science & Political Economy of Post-Industrial Agriculture (Or: ‘Toward Agroecology & Food Justice’) — A Basic Bibliography Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2015 at
“This is [an excerpt from the] transcript of a talk [Kenan Malik] gave at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels on 10 May 2015 on ‘The many roots of Christian Europe, the many sources of the Islamic world.’ It was part of a series of talks to accompany an exhibition of ‘The Ottoman Orient in Renaissance Art’ entitled ‘L’Empire du Sultan.’” [….] “The translation into Arabic of Aristotle, Plato and other Greek philosophers helped transform Islamic thinking. In particular, it helped create what is sometimes called the Rationalist tradition, a tradition that began with the Mu’tazilites in the eighth century and culminated with the two greatest of Muslim philosophers, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rush’d, some four hundred years later. The Rationalists saw learning as an ethical duty. They took from the Greeks not just their spirit of rational inquiry but also their faith in the almost boundless power of the... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2015 at
Joe speaks of "high-profile anti-GMO lobbyists," but whatever their apparent mass media profile, it is in no way commensurate with their political power, with few and fairly feeble exceptions (in this country at least), and is thus clearly far less than the corporate power and influence of high-profile scientists who lobby on behalf of GMOS, a finding not surprising given the power of money in contemporary politics. Moreover, one might have a look at the edited volume by Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber (philosophy and law backgrounds): The GMO Deception (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014). Most of the articles are by those with PhDs in science, genetics, genomics or a closely related field (and some have backgrounds in law or philosophy, or combinations thereof), and the book does not at all have an "anti-science" tone (many of the pieces first appeared in GeneWatch, the magazine of the Council for Responsible [i.e., not 'anti-'] Genetics). It certainly cannot be said of the contributors that they "say things that show that they are scientifically misinformed about the relevant science." I think it's a oft-repeated (and untrue) canard (thus anecdotal) that "a huge amount of" opposition to GMOs is anti-science.
Informative and helpful material: thank you. For now, permit me to raise two topics deserving more attention from all parties concerned, topics more (but not only) about “the forest” than “the trees.” The first topic concerns the role of conglomerate agribusiness corporations, which have inordinate political, economic, and legal power in shaping both scientific research and the “context” of application (e.g., vertical and horizontal integration of the food supply into fewer and fewer conglomerates) referred to in your piece, power that contravenes our attempts to accord democratic norms a role in the scrutiny and accountability of scientific and technological practices. This is a classic political economy question that is relevant to virtually all facets of post-academic science, but perhaps most conspicuously and urgently, with regard to the “biotechnosciences,” genomics, regenerative medicine, and the neurosciences (Hilary Rose and Steven Rose). This topic was addressed in a preliminary fashion in two recent articles in the Monthly Review: Fred Magdoff’s “A Rational Agriculture Is Incompatible with Capitalism,” and Michael Friedman’s “GMOs: Capitalism’s Distortion of Biological Processes,” March 2015 (Volume 66, Number 10): The second topic is raised your citing the FDA’s “many steps involved in [its] testing protocols for new drugs,” as indicative or representative of “a cautious, scientifically based approach” in recommending “FDA oversight for testing of new GMOs.” But we should bear in mind that the FDA mode of scientific oversight and testing is fraught with chronic (if not perhaps insuperable) problems (given the current political climate and neo-liberal economic order), not the least of which might be the well-known phenomenon of “regulatory capture:” “Critics have disputed the claim that the Prescription Drug User Fee Amendment has improved the speed of drug approvals. Former Editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, Marcia Angell, has stated that ‘It’s time to take the Food and Drug Administration back from the drug companies.... In effect, the user fee act put the FDA on the payroll of the industry it regulates. Last year, the fees came to about $300 million, which the companies recoup many times over by getting their drugs to market faster.’” Or, in the words of Philip Mirowski: “Because of various neoliberal deregulation initiatives, converting government activities into proto-market fee-for-service, some 12-17 percent of the FDA budget was accounted for by fees paid by pharmaceutical firms to expedite the regulatory processes at the turn of the millennium.” The rise of the “contract research organization” (CROs) after 1980 (Big Pharma’s outsourcing of clinical trials for ‘increased efficiency’ and ‘cost-savings,’ code words for capitalist profit imperatives), is a variable that complicates matters and exacerbates problems yet further, bringing with it the dark side of what John Ziman memorably identified as “post-academic” science, here emblematic of the “privatization of science” (see Mirowski’s 2007 book, Science-Mart, especially pp. 223-255, for details). To some extent the FDA acknowledges its problems, but one wonders if it has the staff and resources, not to mention requisite agency will, needed to overcome its myriad chronic problems with the testing of both food (especially supplements) and drugs. Consider, for instance, a 2006 report by the Institute of Medicine, “The Future of Drug Safety: Promoting and Protecting the Health of the Public.” We learn, in summary: In its report, The Future of Drug Safety: Promoting and Protecting the Health of the Public, the committee considered the drug safety system as the sum of all activities conducted by FDA and other stakeholders to monitor, evaluate, improve, and ensure drug safety. Although much of the committee’s work was focused around the drug review, safety surveillance, and related activities of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), the committee also reviewed some key aspects of the roles and considered the potential contributions of the pharmaceutical industry, the academic research enterprise, Congress, the health care delivery system, patients and the public. During its research, the committee found that • There is a perception of crisis that has compromised the credibility of FDA and of the pharmaceutical industry. • Most stakeholders—the agency, the industry, consumer organizations, Congress, professional societies, health care entities—appear to agree on the need for certain improvements in the system. • The drug safety system is impaired by the following factors: serious resource constraints that weaken the quality and quantity of the science that is brought to bear on drug safety; an organizational culture in CDER that is not optimally functional; and unclear and insufficient regulatory authorities particularly with respect to enforcement. • FDA and the pharmaceutical industry do not consistently demonstrate accountability and transparency to the public by communicating safety concerns in a timely and effective fashion. Noting that resources and therefore efforts to monitor medications’ risk-benefit profiles taper off after approval, the committee that wrote the report offered a broad set of recommendations to ensure that consideration of safety extends from before product approval through the entire time the product is marketed and used. Recommendations include: • Labeling requirements and advertising limits for new medication • Clarified authority and additional enforcement tools for the agency • Clarification of FDA’s role in gathering and communicating additional information on marketed products' risks and benefits • Mandatory registration of clinical trial results to facilitate public access to drug safety information • An increased role for FDA’s drug safety staff • A large boost in funding and staffing for the agency Since this report, there does not appear to have been substantial improvement such that FDA’s testing of new drugs would inspire confidence. See, for example, this post at Health News Review: “JAMA papers raise questions about FDA drug and device approval,” And this from Medscape Medical News: “Faster Drug Approvals Linked to Safety Issues” “In total, label changes for all black box warnings plus withdrawals came to 208 (27.8%). Half of the warnings were issued within 12 years of approval, and half of the withdrawals happened within 5 years of approval. The researchers found that drugs approved after enactment of PDUFA were more likely to be withdrawn or to receive a black box warning. The rate of warning or withdrawal climbed from 21.2 per 100 drugs before PDUFA to 26.7 per 100 afterward. ‘New drugs have a one-in-three chance of acquiring a new black-box warning or being withdrawn for safety reasons within twenty-five years of approval,’ the researchers conclude.” For these and other concerns, see here:
Two important and complementary pieces addressing long-standing housing segregation and the dominant model of urban redevelopment projects that emerged from the 1960s and 1970s: First, “The Building Blocks of Deprivation” by Daniel Pasciuti and Isaac Jilbert at Jacobin and, next, Richard Rothstein of the Economics Policy Institute explains why and how “Baltimore, not at all uniquely, has experienced a century of public policy designed, consciously so, to segregate and impoverish its black population,” in his essay, “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation.” Images (including more inspiring photos) found here. Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2015 at
I had forgotten Robert Goodin’s elegant argument (Goodin himself describes it as ‘undeniably cheeky’) in favor of basic income schemes, having read it over twenty years ago. It runs as follows: “[S]chemes paying everyone an unconditional basic income are less presumptuous than more conditional programs of support [i.e., the two-tiered system—social insurance and social assistance—that characterizes our social security policies generally]. Not only are they less prying and intrusive, less demeaning and debasing…. [t]hey also make fewer assumptions and presumptions about those whom they are aiding. That in turn makes schemes of basic income support more efficient, in one important sense than more conditional schemes of support. [….] [Most conspicuously, basic income schemes are] less prone to sociological error and less vulnerable to social change than are alternative models of social security provision. [….] Efficiency as such is of no independent moral importance to us. So at root the reason... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2015 at
I largely agree with Clyde* here: our moral reasoning is rather impoverished and unreal if it cannot come to the conclusion that Pamela Geller shares some measure of moral culpability for the violence—the injuries and deaths—that occurred in Garland, Texas. Well-knowing that there is a comparatively small set of self-described Muslims who might or will be provoked by an event such as this, an event with no other redeeming or rationally defensible social, cultural, or political purpose or value (a distinction with a meaningful difference from some of the cases cited in the New Republic article) and thus clearly designed to inspire Islamaphobes and religious fanatics alike, Geller was inspired to act by the possibility if not strong probability that this contrived circus show could spark violent conflict of one kind or another. There is ample evidence that Geller and her collaborators are not genuinely or minimally concerned about our constitutionally protected right of free speech, given her prior attempts to prevent Muslims from exercising that right. I agree with the New York Times op-ed piece that stated this “was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom.” Of course these ill-motivated (or ‘nasty-hearted’) Islamophobes were perfectly free to orchestrate their freak show forum of amplified bigotry and hatred, but that freedom is not bereft of moral scrutiny, particularly of the consequentialist kind in which we are held in some measure responsible for outcomes that we deliberately or recklessly (or even negligently) set in motion or at least contribute to setting-in-motion. And one need not be a utilitarian or a consequentialist to engage in this sort of moral evaluation: “Every sane moral philosopher since the beginning of the subject has had regard for outcomes and consequences” (David Wiggins). And yet we can appreciate the specifically utilitarian contribution to this focus on outcomes and consequences if we (conversely) extend the predication “acts wrongly” in terms of consequences. As Samuel Scheffler memorably argued, if we rule out consequentialist reckoning of a moral sort, it seems we’re “committed to the claim that morality tells us to do less good than we are in a position to do, and to prevent less evil that we are in a position to prevent.” Nonetheless, we need not go so far as the utilitarian or consequentialist in claiming that all wrongness (or rightness), so to speak, is “determined exclusively by reference to the valuation of outcomes.” Geller bears at least “fractional moral responsibility” (moral responsibility need not be an ‘all-or-nothing’ affair, it might come in degrees) for the violence that ensued, which in no way diminishes the moral and legal responsibility of the two men who acted with murderous intent. In this case, those with Geller who acted from a different (but closely related) species of dark motives or evil intentions from the would-be killers are no less morally accountable for their behavior, given their contribution to this deliberately provocative event. * In particular: “the right to say something does not relieve one of responsibility for the consequences of one’s speech, especially if those consequences were foreseeable.”
A select bibliography, “On Boxing—Sweet Science & Brutal Agon,” is posted over at the U.S. Intellectual History blog. A downloadable version of the list is here.* This post from the archives highlights several dimensions of the sport. * The downloadable version has now been considerably expanded from the first draft at the U.S.IH blog. Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2015 at
On this May Day, we’ll introduce some Communist & Socialist Parties in Israel (edited from Wikipedia entries) “Maki (Hebrew: מק"י‎, an acronym for HaMiflega HaKomunistit HaYisraelit (Hebrew: המפלגה הקומוניסטית הישראלית‎), lit. The Israeli Communist Party) was a communist political party in Israel [Founded, 1948, dissolved, July 1973]. It is not the same party as the modern day Maki, which split from it during the 1960s and later assumed its name. Maki was a descendant of the Palestine Communist Party (PCP), which changed its name to MAKEI (the Communist Party of Eretz Yisrael) after endorsing partition in 1947, and then to Maki. Members of the National Liberation League, an Arab party that had split off from the PCP in 1944, rejoined Maki in October 1948, giving the party both Jewish and Israeli Arab members, while the Hebrew Communists also joined the party. It also took over publication of two communist newspapers,... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2015 at
At the Arms Control Law blog, Dan Joyner blog provocatively proposes “a walkout from the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] en masse by the members of the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement]”: [….] “The original idea of the NPT from the superpowers’ perspective, was to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons from spreading outside the five that had already tested at the time. This clearly didn’t work out well. At least five other states have manufactured nuclear weapons since 1968 (I’m counting South Africa), and four of these still have them. And I think one would be hard pressed to show that the NPT itself has actually proven to be a meaningful independent variable in stopping any country from developing nuclear weapons when they wanted to do so. This is going to be a difficult experiment without a control case, of course. But I think the ‘proliferation success stories’ that... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2015 at
Charles White, “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep,” 1956 “The roots of the cosmopolitanism I am defending are liberal: and they are responsive to liberalism’s insistence on human dignity. It has never been easy to say what this entails, and indeed, it seems to me that exploring what it might mean is liberalism’s historic project.”—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity (Princeton University Press, 2005): 267. “Whether or not the notion that the international legal human rights system is grounded in and serves to affirm the inherent dignity of humans is a central feature of the system, it is surely at least a desideratum for a justification of the system that it can make sense of this notion given its prominence. [….] [T]he relevant notion of dignity can be understood to include two aspects. First, there is the idea that certain conditions of living are beneath the dignity of the sort... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2015 at
Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755) I have a guest post up at the U.S. Intellectual History blog (Saturday, April 4) with a short bibliography on Liberalism (introduced with an apologia). I want to thank L.D. Burnett for prompting me to put together this list and the invitation to post it at the blog of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 – 8 May 1873) Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2015 at
Imagine you’re assigned the task of coming up with a list of books—say, for a graduate level seminar— by way of covering or at least suggesting the breadth and depth of both classical and contemporary Liberalism (as a political philosophy or political philosophies). Your list is limited to seven titles. What seven books would you recommend? Your readers are familiar with the more or less canonical writers of the Liberal tradition. Here is my perhaps idiosyncratic compilation: Appiah, Kwame Anthony. The Ethics of Identity. Princeton University Press, 2005. Gaus, Gerald F. Contemporary Theories of Liberalism: Public Reason as a Post-Enlightenment Project. Sage Publications, 2003. Goodin, Robert E. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 1995. Holmes, Stephen. Passions & Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy. University of Chicago Press, 1995. Raz, Joseph. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford University Press, 1986. Ryan, Alan. The Making of Modern Liberalism. Princeton... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2015 at
The latest issue of the “independent socialist” periodical, Monthly Review, has two articles that might interest this blog’s readers: Fred Magdoff’s, “A Rational Agriculture Is Incompatible with Capitalism,” and Michael Friedman’s “GMOs: Capitalism’s Distortion of Biological Processes.” With the “print” icon one can access PDF versions of either article. Fred Magdoff “is professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and a long-time commentator on political-economic topics. He is co-author, with John Bellamy Foster, of The Great Financial Crisis (2009) and What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (2011),” as well as co-editor, with Brian Tokar, of Agriculture and Food in Crisis (2010), all three volumes published by Monthly Review Press. Michael Friedman “earned his PhD in biology at the Genomics Laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History and currently works as an adjunct at City University of New York (CUNY).” On the nature... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2015 at
Nice article on the subject:
Robert C. Hockett and Saule T. Omarova have posted a draft of their important—hence highly recommended—new article, “Public Actors in Private Markets: Toward a Developmental Finance State,” at SSRN, available here. The abstract: The recent financial crisis brought into sharp relief fundamental questions about the social function and purpose of the financial system, including its relation to the “real” economy. This Article argues that, to answer these questions, we must recapture a distinctively American view of the proper relations among state, financial market, and development. This programmatic vision – captured in what we call a “developmental finance state” – is based on three key propositions: (1) that economic and social development is not an “end-state” but a continuing national policy priority; (2) that the modalities of finance are the most potent means of fueling development; and (3) that the state, as the most potent financial actor, both must and often... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2015 at
[Edited] “A descendant of the wife of Hong Yen Chang was researching a book about an ancestor when she learned that her great-grand-uncle Chang had received a law degree but never practiced in California. She contacted another relative, who spoke to a historian at the State Bar of California. The California Supreme Court had denied Chang a law license because he was Chinese. ‘The family was troubled that it happened, but we didn't ever imagine there was anything we could do about it,’ said Rachelle Chong, a prominent lawyer and Chang’s great-grand-niece. Twenty five years later, she received a note from a UC Davis law professor. His students were going to try to overturn the decision that denied Chang admission to the California bar. That reversal finally came Monday, when the California Supreme Court closed a chapter in the state’s history of anti-Chinese laws and decided unanimously to give Chang... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2015 at
“The state, largely in the form of the federal government, has had an important background role in providing the environment in which the biotechnology industry could be created. Numerous state interventions made the formation of the biotechnology industry possible. Federal government funding of NIH [National Institutes of Health] and NSF [National Science Foundation] research built the basic scientific knowledge from which commercial biotechnology developed. The entire history of molecular biology is that of federal funding of ‘basic’ research that was meant to create the technical base necessary to understand and cure diseases.” Martin Kenney, Bio-technology: The University-Industrial Complex (Yale University Press, 1986): 241. “It’s no surprise that Apple’s tremendously successful line of products—iPads, iPhones, and iPods—incorporate twelve key innovations. All twelve (central processing units, dynamic random-access memory, hard-drive disks, liquid-crystal displays, batteries, digital single processing, the Internet, the HTTP and HTML languages, cellular networks, GPS system, and voice-user AI programs)... Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2015 at
“Two facts are clear: (1) There is nothing in [seventeenth-century English philosopher John] Locke’s theory that lends an iota of legitimacy to the contemporary institution of slavery in the Americas; and (2) African slavery in the Americas was a reality and Locke himself was implicated with it… [i.e., he ‘invested money personally both in plantation enterprises and in an enterprise (the Royal African Company) that had a monopoly in the slave trade’].”—Waldron, Jeremy. God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations of Locke’s Political Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2002): 206. My bibliography on slavery is here. Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2015 at
[ A "decent" show? I think it is (was!) one of the best offerings on television. I'm not alone: ]
Glades Correctional Institution inmates reading in the prison library - Belle Glade, Florida (1975) “Some of the greatest works of literature and social commentary—everything from Don Quixote, to O. Henry’s stories, to Martin Luther King Jr’s, Letter from a Birmingham Jail—were written in whole or in part while their authors were incarcerated. In many prisons and jails today, however, speech is burdened by regulations that make little sense. Examples include the following: A federal prison employee prevented a prisoner in Colorado from receiving books by President Obama, citing national security concerns. A Wisconsin prison banned all materials related to the fantasy role play game Dungeons & Dragons, concerned that the game would promote gang activity. A jail in South Carolina prohibited all publications with staples on the ground that staples could be used in makeshift tattoo guns. At the same time, the jail allowed prisoners to purchase legal pads that... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2015 at