Casualty #5: Yasin Hamilton, RIP

A never-ending toll: I didn’t know Yasin Hamilton, but his sister Iteeanah was a student of mine at Felician. Just a sobering reminder of the State of War taking place three or four miles from the suburban placidity of my own existence.

Last night at approximately 7:18 pm. Yasin Hamilton, 26, of Newark was fatally shot in the 900 block of South 18th Street. He was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. yesterday.

To repeat something I’ve said before, and will inevitably say again: “Whatever criticisms we have to make of law enforcement–and I have more than my share–the fact remains that law enforcement is the only barrier between us and victimization. Abolitionist fantasies can’t eliminate that fact. Reform is our only hope, and enough work to last a lifetime.” I’m unwilling to tolerate abuses of police power, but always grateful that the power is there.

My condolences to the Hamilton family.

Previous posts on this topic: Tyeshia Obie, Stepha Henry, and Imette St. Guillen; Sarah Butler.

Malcolm Young (1953-2017), RIP

“A real entertainer, a mischief maker, lover of no fixed abode…”

I never thought, at the age of twelve (when I first discovered AC/DC), that I’d be reading Malcolm Young’s obituaries in the mainstream press. And yet, here they are: Rolling Stone, NPR, The Los Angeles TimesCBS News, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Guitar World. Angus Young, on behalf of the band.

Never has one man done so much, so many times, with so few chords.  Continue reading

God Bless the Child Who’s Got His Own Epi-Pen

I don’t like to pre-judge a legal case before it’s been adjudicated. So instead of pre-judging this case, I’m going to wonder about it out loud in as non-judgmental fashion as I can muster, playing the role of a chatty, colloquial, self-appointed investigator tasked with getting “to the bottom” of the matter, but in a sense of that broader than the narrowly legal.

Suppose that you’re a pre-school given the responsibility of caring for a child with a severe dairy allergy–severe enough to kill him if he eats the wrong thing. Death, I assume, is a serious matter, and merits being taken seriously. So I’d assume that you’d take measures to flag the child during lunch or snack, and make sure he doesn’t eat the wrong thing. If his dietary restrictions were merely a matter of finicky tastes or even religious dogma, you could afford to slip a bit. But if the restriction is a matter of life and death, you couldn’t. So I would make sure that someone was tasked with giving him a non-dairy meal. Or something like that.

But suppose that you do slip, and feed a severely allergic child a grilled cheese sandwich. The child now shows signs of going into anaphylactic shock. Preliminary question, not meant to be rhetorical: do you know what anaphylaxis is? Continue reading

“Permission to Innovate”: A response to Michael Munger

Here’s a comment I wrote in response to an article by Michael Munger, “Permissionless innovation: the fuzzy idea that rules our lives” (Learn Liberty, Sept. 19, 2017). The quoted passage at the beginning is drawn from Munger’s article, but I’d suggest reading the whole article first to get the context. (I’ve slightly edited one phrase in the version below without changing the meaning.)

There are two kinds of obstacles to permissionless innovation: requiring permission from regulators and requiring permission from competitors.

How about requiring permission from your boss, or the administrative hierarchy above you in your organization? That’s not what’s usually meant by the word “regulator,” but even apart from cases where admin functions as a proxy for external regulators, a boss is the most obvious and proximate source of regulation and of the requirement to get permission to innovate. Continue reading

The Balfour Declaration: 100+ Years of Ethno-Nationalist Apologetics

Some food for thought, in “commemoration” of the Balfour Declaration, drafted 31 October 1917, adopted by the British Government 2 November 1917.

(1) Lord Arthur Balfour, speech to Parliament on the need for the British to retain control of Egypt (1910)

First of all, look at the facts of the case. Western nations as soon as they emerge into history show the beginnings of those capacities for self-government…having merits of their own…You may look through the whole history of the Orientals in what is called, broadly speaking, the East, and you never find traces of self-government. All their great centuries–and they have been great–have been passed under absolute government. All their great contributions to civilisation–and they have been great–have been made under that form of government. Conquerer has succeeded conqueror; one domination has followed another; but never in all of the revolutions of fate and fortune have you seen one of those nations of its own motion establish what we, from a Western point of view, call self-government. (Quoted in Edward Said, Orientalism, p. 33)

(2) Balfour Declaration, Zionist Draft (July 1917)

  1. His Majesty’s Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.

  2. His Majesty’s Government will use its best endeavours to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organisation.

(3) Balfour Declaration, Final Draft, (finalized 31 October 1917, adopted 2 November 1917)

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. (Both drafts quoted in Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, 8th ed., p. 94)

Continue reading

Happy Halloween 2017

I’m reblogging this post I did in 2014 and 2015, modified after taking a year off in 2016.

Halloween has, for as long as I can remember, been the only holiday I’ve ever been able to take seriously or wholeheartedly to celebrate. As a nominal Muslim, I fast during Ramadan, but Ramadan isn’t really a holiday, and unfortunately, none of the Muslim holidays (the Eids) are seasonal, seasonality being an essential property of a real holiday. In fact, generally speaking, Muslims have trouble figuring out when exactly their holidays are supposed to take place–another liability of being a member of that faith.

Having spent a decade in a Jewish household, I have some affection for some of the Jewish holidays–Yom Kippur and Passover, though not Hannukah or Purim–but always with the mild alienation that accompanies the knowledge that a holiday is not one’s own: it’s hard to be inducted into a holiday tradition in your late 20s, as I was.

I like the general ambience of Christmastime, at least in the NY/NJ Metro Area, but unfortunately, once you take the Christ out of Christmas, you take much of the meaning out of it as well, Christmas without Midnight Mass being an anemic affair, and Midnight Mass without Christ being close to a contradiction in terms. Not being a Christian, I find it hard to put Christ back into Christmas, mostly because he’s not mine to put anywhere in the first place. (Same with Easter.)

Diwali I just don’t get. Continue reading

Call for Participants: 11th Annual Felician Ethics Conference

The 11th Annual Felician Ethics Conference takes place this Saturday, October 14th, at Felician’s Rutherford campus: that is, roughly 9 am to 6 pm, at 227 Montross Ave, Rutherford, New Jersey 07070. Registration and plenary take place on the first floor of the Education Commons Building (the modern-looking white building on Montross); concurrents take place in Martin Hall (the old-fashioned brick building right next to it on Montross).

The plenary couldn’t be more topical:

Michele M. Moody-Adams
Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory
Columbia University

“Taking Expression Seriously: Liberty, Equality, and Expressive Harm”

The paper will discuss some implications and challenges of the claim (accepted by theorists as varied as Elizabeth Anderson, Richard Pildes, Jeremy Waldron,  Catharine Mackinnon and  Charles Lawrence) that (a) expression can sometimes be the cause of direct, ‘non-material’ harm to persons and their interests and (b) the seriousness of some kinds of expressive harm make it reasonable to consider content-based restrictions on free expression and academic freedom.

And here’s the program.

Though we won’t have quite the PoT-person quorum we had in 2016 (when David Potts and Derek Bowman gave papers, and Michael Young and I chaired sessions), Michael, Alison Bowles, and I will be there this year. Michael and I will once again be chairing sessions, and I’ll be giving a version of a paper that started life as a blog post here.

If it’s any consolation, plenty of other people will be there, too.

TOOC U: Three Tiny Open Online Course Offerings

I’ve been too busy blogging elsewhere to blog here, or even keep up with what’s happening in threads in which I’m involved. “Elsewhere” refers primarily to the blogging I’ve been doing for three of the (eight!) sections I’ve been teaching this semester: Phil 250, a sort of applied ethics course (“Making Moral Decisions”); Phil 380, a course on philosophical issues in criminal justice intended primarily for criminal justice majors headed for the police academy, and pre-law students headed for law school; and Phil 420, a three-student independent study I’m doing on “Islam and the West,” where the primary text is Edward Said’s Orientalism.

I’ve been doing this “blogging for credit” thing for about three years now, but have in the past generally thought it advisable to create a “firewall” between my ordinary blogging and my classroom-blogging. The thought was to “protect” my students’ “privacy,” and ensure that I wasn’t distracted by the intrusions of trolls (or other overly zealous commentators) who might derail what I was doing on the job. I’ve come to re-think that. It’s not that there are no risks to taking down the firewall; it’s that I now regard the risks as relatively low and manageable, and think that there are offsetting gains to be gotten by blog-teaching “out in the open.”

Bluntly put, it seems to me that both the academy and its non-academic observers and critics could use a little exposure to one another. The academy often seems to spend a lot of time and effort demoting the non-academic world to non-existence, or else striving to “protect” our students from it. The non-academic world seems to spend a lot of time confabulating ideologically-driven mythologies about what the academic world is supposedly about.  Too much is lost in the interchange. In any case, since I don’t have the time to do my usual blogging, and have lost my scruples about the need for firewalls between the virtual classroom and what lies beyond it, I figured I’d just throw this idea out there, and see what happened.

So consider this an open invitation to join in any of the conversations, whether in response to me or my students; my students and I could probably benefit from the kick in the ass you give us–and in some cases, the reverse may be true as well. Obviously, I have to focus on my students rather than non-students, but I’ll play that by ear. I’m curious to see what (if anything) comes of the venture.

“My Circuits Gleam”: A Fourth Amendment Query

A legal question for Fourth Amendment lawyers out there:

It’s settled law that if you’re in a Terry stop, you have a duty to comply with the orders of the officer who stops you. Likewise, if you receive a summons or citation from court, you’re obliged to respond. Etc.

But suppose that you (somehow) discover a listening/video device planted or inserted in or on an object that would ordinarily be protected by the Fourth Amendment, e.g, your car, your home, your computer, your phone. You surmise that the device was put there by the government in order to spy on you–but can plausibly assert (whether truthfully or not) that you don’t know for sure who put it there. Are you obliged to “comply” with government surveillance by analogy with a Terry stop? In other words, are you obliged to let government surveillance continue without interference after you’ve discovered that it’s taking place? Or can you destroy or disable an A/V device on the grounds that no officer was present to give you an order to comply with anything?

If you do destroy/disable the device, and the device was there through a procedurally correct search warrant, can you be held criminally liable for undermining the government’s attempt to surveil you? There is, after all, no way for the person under surveillance to know that the surveillance in question had the authority of a warrant.

My potentially archaic terminology of a “listening/video device” conjures up Cold War imagery of “bugs,” but I really mean: any discoverable form of electronic surveillance (e.g., a GPS device that you find attached to your car). The issue overlaps with encryption law, but encryption pre-empts surveillance before it takes place, rather than disabling surveillance that’s currently under way–and I’m thinking about the latter. The issue I have in mind strikes me as slightly more analogous to possession of a radar-detector than to the use of encryption, but that analogy breaks down pretty quickly as well.

Hence the question, as it seems a distinctive sort of case. The issue is not addressed in the very basic criminal procedure textbook I use, Matthew Lippman’s Criminal Procedure: the textbook assumption seems to be that electronic surveillance almost always goes undiscovered by the target. (I own the second edition of the book [2013], not the most recent one.)

Analogous issues may seem to arise for physical surveillance, but I don’t think they do: for the most part, if you’re under physical surveillance out in public space, you’re in plain view: you can act as you please (within the normal limits of the law), and so can the government. In that case, you have the right to go out of plain view, in which case they have the right to search or seize you if they have reasonable suspicion that you’re committing a crime. But that’s just a Terry stop, so it raises no new issues.

I’ve been surveilled twice by drone (by Israeli rather than American authorities). I’ve always wondered what would have happened, legally speaking, if I’d found a way to knock the drone out of commission, and pretend that I had no idea who had sent it. Of course, practically speaking, I kind of know what would have happened.

(Thanks to John Semel for the link to the GPS story above, and for some helpful comments on Facebook. And apologies for the weird spacing. Just a bug in the program, I guess….)