“All Aboard!”

I asked a bunch of New Jersey state legislators–Andrew Zwicker, Roy Freiman, and Mitchelle Drulis–where they stood on S.1923, which “[p]rohibits investment of pension and annuity funds by [the] State in companies that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses,” and A.3882, which establishes the State’s official definition of anti-Semitism. I also asked each of them for an explanation of why they hold the view they hold. Never got an answer from any of the three, so I’ve decided to return the favor in the upcoming primary election by voting against them, even if they’re the only choices on the ballot. Hard to vote for people who insist on turning the state legislature into a forum for the defense of an apartheid state, but can’t be bothered to explain what they’re doing or why. Continue reading


What does it mean to say that a certain institutional arrangement P in some society S ought (or is morally required) to be? Maybe that comes to this: S is required to come up with and implement a plan to achieve S. And perhaps that, in turn, comes to something like this: each individual and collective agent in society is required to make reasonable efforts, relative to role or position, to promote S (all of us collectively) coming up with and implementing a plan to achieve P. Different agents in different roles would have different more-specific requirements.

Is this kind of analysis standard? What are the alternatives?

If this analysis, or something very much like it, is right, there would seem to be some important results that I don’t think are always acknowledged in discussions of justice with regard to the basic structure of a society.

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The Most Dangerous Game

For a moment the general did not reply; he was smiling his curious red-lipped smile. Then he said slowly, “No. You are wrong, sir. The Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous big game.” He sipped his wine. “Here in my preserve on this island,” he said in the same slow tone, “I hunt more dangerous game.”

–Richard Connell, “The Most Dangerous Game

Anyone who favors intervention in the war in Ukraine owes it to themselves to read about the emerging consensus on nuclear war over Ukraine. A year ago, anyone who brought the subject up was dismissed as a pacifist, a scare-monger, a defeatist, or a crank. Now, a little over a year later, the idea of nuclear war is being normalized in military circles in both the United States and in Russia. Sober, respectable, mainstream strategists are now beginning to speak and write as though nuclear war was just another one of those things that’s headed our way, and will just take a bit of getting used to. Continue reading


Suppose that general normative requirement works like this: if X is generally required to A, this is partially constituted by X’s not-A-ing options in her choice situations starting out with a very high negative valence (that generally swamps any negative valence of the not-A-ing options). Now suppose that, in particular choice situation S, it is super-unlikely that X will pull off A-ing. In such a case, the relevant option is really her attempting to A. But also any attempt to A is almost certain to come to her not-A-ing. It seems plausible, then, that all of X’s options in S have nearly the same magnitude of highly negative valence. So there is not, as there would normally be, some huge “valence gap” between (token) A-ing and (token) not-A-ing. There is no normative “swamping” to leave A-ing as the far-and-away best option. And so, despite being under a general requirement to A, X is not, in S, required to A (realize this token of A-ing). 

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Having reread David Estlund’s “Human Nature and the Limits (If Any) of Political Philosophy” (2011) – I had read it or similar material from Estlund years ago – I have some thoughts. Here is one. (For a variety of more shooting-from-the-hip points, of varying quality and level of present endorsement, see David Potts’ more-comprehensive critique Estlund’s article and specifically my comments there (Estlund’s Defense of Ideal Political Theory).)


If agent X being unable to perform action (or carry out plan) A entails that it is not the case that X ought to perform A, why is this? This answer seems plausible: because this rules out A-ing as an option for X in her deliberation and decision-making. If this is right, then why suppose that only the ability/inability binary is relevant? Why not a cut-off in a relevant scalar quantity? Specifically: perhaps if it is unlikely-enough that X will pull off A (maybe or maybe not due to relevant deficits in X’s internal, psychological abilities), then A-ing is not an option for X — and so it is not the case that X ought to A.

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“If You Could Read My Mind, Babe”

~AI Facilitating Mind-Reading

This could become a way for paralyzed people to communicate. It might become a way for the government to get information from people (and obviate attempts to get information by torture). At present the system requires not only our general knowledge of where things are typically thought in the brain, but knowledge of the brain operations of the specific individual, and this latter requires about 16 hours of investigation of the subject individual before successful mind reading.

If this system could overcome that arduous preliminary learning and if the system could be shrunken down to the size of a skull cap, perhaps hats would come back into fashion. A dating service might offer the hats to be worn for users of the dating service. It might be a sport to go on dates with these hats in which you get the low-down of what your date is really thinking about.

When x-rays were first discovered, the newspapers entertained the possible future in which people could walk down the street wearing glasses through which you could see the bodies underneath the clothes. But that was a very long time ago, and nothing like peeping glasses has eventuated so far as I know.

The Writing Not on the Wall

Note: I’m going to leave this post as is, but I intend to re-write it and re-post it this weekend. All of the relevant information is here, but it was recorded as I learned new facts in real time. As a result, some information is in the original post and some is in the comments, making it hard for the average reader to follow. My bottom line view: Hicks is flat-out lying, Freiman is grandstanding in an intellectually dishonest way, and Balhorn’s view is as unjustifiable as I said it was, for just the reasons I gave. 

It’s kind of sad that neither party to the dialogue of the deaf below–Stephen Hicks or Jacobin–shows much awareness of the fact that an “ugly, menacing,” and for many non-citizens “no doubt heartbreaking” wall has stood for 20+ years between Israel and Occupied Palestine, with armed guards and barbed wire, intended precisely to contain and control people.*


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Failing the Empathy Exams Yet Again, Starring Chat GPT

We’ve taken too much for granted
And all the time it had grown
From techno-seeds we first planted
Evolved a mind of its own

–Judas Priest, “Metal Gods”

I had a conversation with ChatGPT about my latest blog post, “Failing the Empathy Exams.” I began by feeding the whole post into ChatGPT, but was told it was too long, and that ChatGPT was incapable of processing something that long. So I gave it smaller chunks, and decided to have a conversation with it about those. I started by asking it to write an improved version of the opening paragraph of the post. 

This is what it said: Continue reading

Failing the Empathy Exams

The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true.
–Leslie Jamison, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” The Empathy Exams*

On the day before New Year’s back in 2021, I found myself riding the train to work when, one stop after mine, a vaguely familiar woman got on. Or maybe I should say, struggled on. She was, I guess, in her sixties, heavy-set, apparently in pain, though not from any obvious cause, and was struggling with a shopping cart full of possessions. At first, in a reflexive reaction to the shopping cart, I took her to be a homeless person, but that turned out not to be the case. She clearly had trouble moving, and had trouble getting the cart onto the train. I half got up to help her, but not knowing how my gallantry would be received, sat back down and watched her struggle. It was rush hour, just before 8 am. Continue reading

An Open Letter to the Jewish Community of Northern New Jersey

An Open Letter to the Jewish Community of Northern New Jersey
From Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey
May 5, 2023Jewish Voice for Peace logo

Massive demonstrations have been taking place in Israel over the future of its judiciary amid rising authoritarianism. Democratic activism is most welcome, but, overwhelmingly, the protests do not focus on the more than half-century occupation that Israel has imposed on the Palestinian people or the continued second-class status of those Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. Still less do the demonstrations draw attention to the Nakba (the “catastrophe”), the ethnic cleansing that the indigenous Palestinian population experienced seventy-five years ago at the founding of the Israeli state. Continue reading