Paul Krugman on Masks and Public Urination

I agree with Paul Krugman about masking, but he’s wrong about public urination, and wrong to use the laws against it as an analogue of the laws requiring masking in the COVID-19 pandemic:

Relieving yourself in public is illegal in every state. I assume that few readers are surprised to hear this; I also assume that many readers wonder why I feel the need to bring up this distasteful subject. But bear with me: There’s a moral here, and it’s one that has disturbing implications for our nation’s future.

Although we take these restrictions for granted, they can sometimes be inconvenient, as anyone out and about after having had too many cups of coffee can attest. But the inconvenience is trivial, and the case for such rules is compelling, both in terms of protecting public health and as a way to avoid causing public offense. And as far as I know there aren’t angry political activists, let alone armed protesters, demanding the right to do their business wherever they want.

Laws against public urination do not impose a merely trivial inconvenience. If someone has a medical condition that involves urinary frequency or urgency, and there are no public bathrooms available (as often there aren’t), discreet “public” urination becomes unavoidable. Likewise if someone is homeless. Continue reading

Cancel Neera Tanden

The problem with Neera Tanden is not, as is now widely being asserted by Republicans, that she’s “partisan,” “divisive,” or “mean.” Nor is her great virtue, as a lot of centrist Democrats seem to believe, that she’s some kind of persecuted truth teller. The problem with Neera Tanden is that she’s full of shit–a lying windbag and reckless big mouth who’s mastered the art of invective without being able to argue her way out of a paper bag on any substantive issue.

Continue reading

Thoughts on a Traffic Stop (3): Do’s and Don’ts

Here’s the third part of my series, “Thoughts on a Traffic Stop.” Here’s Part 1, which is the backstory to the stop. Here’s Part 2, on fighting bureaucracy.

Lesson 2: Drivers should rehearse in advance how they’ll handle a stop.

Cops stop people every day. The average driver never stops anyone, and is not stopped all that often. It takes practice to do a good job at stopping someone or being stopped.  Since cops have the opportunity to practice everyday, they tend on average to be pretty good at conducting traffic stops (relative to their aims in conducting one). By contrast, the average person tends to be flustered even by the most mundane stop. Since stops are an inherently adversarial event, one imposed involuntarily on you, you should want to prevail against your adversary. You can’t prevail without practicing the strategy and tactics you intend to use against that adversary (or worse, without having either strategy or tactics). So you ought to practice. Rehearsing for traffic stops may seem paranoid or weird, but it’s not. If stops are predictable, consequential, and adversarial, there’s no excuse for no practicing how you’d handle one (or a series of different ones). In my view, no one should drive without know exactly how they’d handle a stop within the next five minutes. Continue reading

Thoughts on a Traffic Stop (2): Fighting Bureaucracy without Dropping Dead

In my last post, on the backstory to my recent traffic stop, I mentioned that I didn’t think I’d get stopped for my not-suspended license and registration, but prepared for it anyway, and did get stopped. What happened next? In a certain sense, not much. I was stopped by Connor F. Gallagher of the Raritan Township Police Department. Gallagher asked for my license, registration, and proof of insurance, asked me whose car I was driving, and asked whether I had canceled my insurance policy recently.

I gave him the documents, answered that the car was validly registered, admitted that I had canceled my insurance policy, but told him that I’d worked the issue out with NJMVC, and had the documentation to prove it. I handed over the documentation, which he read aloud for his body cam; he then took the documents back to his car, processed the information for awhile, came back, gave me his card, and gave me a CAD incident number I could use if I was stopped in the future. By entering the number, the next officer could verify that I had cooperated with Officer Gallagher. After maybe fifteen minutes, I was on my way. Continue reading

Thoughts on a Traffic Stop (1): Backstory

I got stopped the other day in Raritan, New Jersey by the local police department, my first traffic stop in awhile. I regard every interaction with the police as a learning experience, and this one was no exception, so I thought I’d write up what happened, and what I learned from it.

Until recently, I owned two cars, call them Silver and Blue, both insured by Geico, an insurance company for your car and other associated headaches. I generally tended to drive Silver rather than Blue. In July, Blue was driven to Canada by another driver and, in August, was totaled by that driver in an accident in Toronto; it was then towed from the accident scene and taken to a Geico-affiliated inspection site near Toronto, where it sits to this day, awaiting judgment from Geico as to an insurance payout. Recall that the Canadian border is closed due to the pandemic,* so I couldn’t have retrieved the car even if it was drivable, and even if I could have afforded the time and expense of the trip. At any rate, the car isn’t drivable, and I can’t afford the trip. So there we go–three strikes against driving up there, putting the car in my backpack, and bringing it home. Continue reading

The Strastnoy of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s Red Pawn, written in the 1930s, takes place on the imaginary Strastnoy (“Passion,” in the Christian theological sense) Island, in “the Arctic waters off the Siberian coast,” where a Christian monastery has been converted into a Soviet prison camp.

In real life there actually was, during the 1920s and 30s, a Christian monastery that had been converted into a Soviet prison camp, on a remote island in Arctic waters – though on the western side of Russia, not the eastern, Siberian side – namely Solovki Prison on Solovetzky Island, which was actually the nucleus of the entire Gulag system. (Appropriately enough, the Gulag Archipelago began on a literal archipelago.)

Solovki Prison is not as forbidding-looking as the one described in Rand’s story (Rand’s version has a bit more the flavour of the Château d’If), but I still suspect it influenced the tale. (During World War II, Solovki became a military base. Today it is a monastery again.) (There was also a Strastnoy monastery in Moscow that was demolished by the Soviets, and might have influenced Rand’s choice of name.)

Would Rand have been aware of Solovki Prison? I think likely yes, since two books had been published on it in the west during the 1920s, by former inmates – S. A. Malsagoff’s An Island Hell: A Soviet Prison in the Far North, and Youri Bezsonov’s Mes vingt-six prisons et mon évasion de Solovki.

Bookhouses and Batmobiles

Two more Agoric Café videos!

In the first, continuing the San Diego bookstores series, I chat with Craig Maxwell of Maxwell’s House of Books (good to the last drop of ink!) in La Mesa, featuring titles in philosophy, history, science, law, literature, poetry, drama, literary criticism, science fiction, mystery, and more.

In the second, I share a totally authentic song from the mean streets of Gotham City (and below).

Thanks to Alicia Homer for introducing me to the Wellerman song!

Apologies for the change of key and tempo toward the end. If you’re looking for musical competence, you’ve chosen the wrong YouTube channel.

Liberty Isn’t Free

This is to think, that men are so foolish, that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes; but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions.

Locke, Second Treatise, para. 93. 

A case from Ohio making the rounds:

Cops Arrest Mom Working Evening Shift at Pizza Place for Leaving Kids, Ages 10 and 2, Alone

An Ohio mom has been arrested for leaving her kids, a 10-year-old and a 2-year-old, in a motel room while she worked her shift at a pizza shop.

A tip to the police led officers to a Motel Six in Youngstown at about 6:15 p.m. on Thursday night. The 10-year-old explained that her mom was working and would be home at 10:00 p.m.

The officers went to the pizza shop where the mom, Shaina Bell, 24, told them she usually has someone look in on the kids every hour. She was booked into jail on two counts of child endangerment and the kids were sent to their father. She got out on bail.

There may be more to the story, but as reported, this is a sad excuse for law enforcement. Continue reading

Waheed Hussain, RIP

A few months ago, I wrote an entry here about my new job, drawing heavily on Waheed Hussain’s Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “the common good.” I’d made a mental note at the time to forward my post on to Hussain in case he found it of interest, but procrastinated, partly for the usual reasons, and partly from a sense of timidity and inhibition: what if he found my post, or my use of his entry, superficial and callow?

I finally resolved to send it to him today, only to end up encountering his obituary. Tragically, he died less than two weeks ago, at the age of 48, of causes related to cancer.

caption: Waheed Hussain

By some strange coincidence, I just realized that we had missed one another twice before: he matriculated at Princeton the year I graduated (1991), and graduated the year before I moved back to town and started attending philosophy events at the university (1995).

My condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Nietzsche Rocks and Darwin Pukes

Two more interviews from my YouTube Channel:

In the first, continuing the San Diego bookstore series (yet also transcending it), I chat with Jeff Mezzocchi, proprietor of the Eternal Return Antiquarian Bookshop, devoted to rare editions of philosophical classics. The conversation centers heavily on Nietzsche, but also ranges over the conflict between Cartesian caution and Spinozistic radicalism, Russian nihilism, Shakespeare in performance, dogmatic vs. skeptical readings of Plato, the perils of translation, teaching philosophy in the age of Zoom, the agonising tension between book collecting and bookselling, and the lakeside rock in Switzerland where Nietzsche and Jeff each experienced life-changing events.

(Like my earlier interview with Sean Christopher of LHOOQ Books, this interview should appeal to anyone with an interest in bookstores, philosophy, art, literature, etc., even if they have no specific interest in San Diego or its bookstore scene.)

In the second, I chat with science fiction author Ken MacLeod about Scottish space opera, libertarianism and Marxism, individualist anarchism, the Austrian calculation debate, Neoreaction, Brexit, Scottish independence, paternalism and anti-vaping laws, James Hutton and deep time, the Scottish Enlightenment, what he owes to David Friedman, what he owes to Margaret Thatcher, and that time Charles Darwin changed history by vomiting.