Reasonable Suspicion

I’m teaching a class on the landmark Supreme Court case, Terry vs. Ohio (1968). A group of students in the back of the room has started giggling.

Khawaja: Excuse me–why are you laughing?

Female student (giggling): Somebody just sent me a dick pic.


Student: Unsolicited.


Student: I guess I should put my phone away?

Khawaja (musing, as if to himself): So people actually do this. It’s not a myth. They…just…send…intimate pictures of themselves to random people…

Student: Yeah, I get lots of them. [shrugs] It’s mostly unwanted.

Tulsi Gabbard vs. Liberal McCarthyism

If there’s anything you might have thought “we’d” learned from the Trump presidency, it’s that well poisoning, guilt-by-association, and reputation-destruction-by-innuendo were all thoroughly bad ideas. Evidently, this isn’t what the leaders of the Democratic Party or the Democratic Party establishment have learned. What they’ve learned is that well poisoning, guilt-by-association, and reputation-destruction by innuendo are useful instruments for the conduct of internecine warfare against ideological positions they don’t like or don’t understand. Continue reading

American Soul

From an article in the Sunday New York Times magazine about James Comey’s private crusade to “end” the Trump presidency:

Rod J. Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general whose 2017 memo about Mr. Comey was cited to rationalize the firing of the F.B.I. director that May, has been particularly cutting. At a speech last spring, Mr. Rosenstein taunted the former director for “selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul.”

“I kid you not,” Mr. Rosenstein said. “And that is disappointing. Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors.”

I guess I’m disappointed that Rod Rosenstein seems never to have heard of mens rea, forensic psychology, or Cicero.  The FBI famously has a Behavioral Analysis Unit. What is it that Rod Rosenstein thinks they do there?

“Terrorism” as Toxic Term: A Reply to Irfan Khawaja

I am grateful to my friend and professional colleague Irfan Khawaja for his incisive critique of my short piece, Terrorism as a Toxic Term: Why Definition Matters, and for generously allowing me to post my reply on his website. As Irfan underscores, our main difference regarding the definition of the term “terrorism” is a difference in “focus,” but perhaps there is also a difference in kind. That is, the kind of definition that one might find morally adequate for describing terrorist violence. I argue that the disposition of the perpetrators and the objective innocence of the victims should be the focus of an adequate and fair definition of terrorism.

Irfan, however, argues that one “should focus on the reasons that terrorists cite to justify their actions.” He contests “the idea that a definition of terrorism should describe it merely as a use of violence rather than an “initiatory” [my italics] use of violence and a response to one.” Irfan’s suggestion is well taken. I agree with him that there is a relevant distinction “between purely initiatory aggression on the one hand, and disproportionality or indiscriminateness in an otherwise justified response to aggression on the other.” Continue reading

Atlas Shrugs–Gradually and In Reverse

From a news release by the New Jersey Department of Transportation:

(Trenton) – New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) officials announced today the start of a railroad crossing rehabilitation project that will require a seven-day closure and detour of John Galt Way to start tomorrow in Florence, Burlington County.

Beginning at 7 a.m., Friday, October 4, until 7 p.m., Friday, October 18, John Galt Way will be closed and detoured in both directions at the railroad crossing between Richards Run and Route 130/Bordentown Road to remove the existing crossing and replace it with a new concrete crossing, as well as new asphalt approaches.

I don’t know, I feel like there’s something off about this.

Useful back story.

Brutality: Who Needs It

From “Shoot Migrants’ Legs, Build Alligator Moats: Behind Trump’s Ideas for Border,New York Times, October 2:

Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.

To adopt a Randian rhetorical trope: he got it from Israel, who got it from East Germany.

Character-Based Voting and Kleptocracy

I’m not normally a fan of either Ross Douthat or Sarah Chayes, but both of them have articles on the Ukraine-Biden-Trump crisis that strike me as simultaneously out-of-the-mainstream and completely on-target. Douthat’s “The Corruption Before Trump” is in today’s New York Times; Chayes’s “Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption” is in The Atlantic from a few days ago.

Both make the same point, a point that coheres with the point I tried to make about the Ukraine scandal in my last post on it: even if you think that Trump’s behavior on the Ukraine phone call is reprehensible and impeachment-worthy, it’s just the most egregious instance of a widespread set of practices. There’s no point in attacking Trump in particular but leaving the practices themselves unscrutinized. Frankly, there’s no point in attacking the practices and leaving the ideological motivation for them unscrutinized, either. Chayes is better than Douthat on the corrupt nature of the practices; Douthat is better than Chayes on the issue of the ideological motivations for the practices. But read both together, and you get the right overall picture.  Continue reading

Terrae Transmarinae

Not all readers of this blog share my (deep, if complex) admiration for St. Augustine, nor indeed my more general interests in the ancient Mediterranean world. Yet even those without much time for Platonizing Christianity or the intercultural dynamics of the Roman empire in ancient north Africa might at least enjoy the photos on this new blog, Terrae Transmarinae, focusing on ancient, and especially late antique, North Africa. I’m often met with perplexed looks when I tell people that St. Augustine was African; Roman North Africa is generally understudied and underappreciated. The interactions between Roman, Carthaginian, and Numidian cultures in antiquity are even less well understood. This site is associated with a project in development that will produce interactive digital maps of social networks in late antique North Africa. But it also has some pretty nifty pictures and some informative descriptions of what was going on in late antique North Africa. Enjoy!