An Acid Comment

Student, to me:

Dude, my generation’s acid is like your generation’s acid…on acid!

And you thought “OK, boomer” was a cutting generational comment. The comment came up (in case you were wondering) during a discussion of Martin Seligman’s critique of psychopharmacology in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being (pp. 47-48). I don’t remember the exact route by which we went from anti-depressants to acid, but whatever it was, it had a well-conceived pedagogical purpose. “Two drugs diverged in a wood,” etc. Continue reading

The Meaning of Super Tuesday

What is the Meaning of Super Tuesday, you ask. I’ll tell you.

Start with the facts. Biden made a comeback. Sanders won California. The other candidates either got pushed down, or dropped out, mostly to support Biden. The one candidate who was clearly defeated was not Sanders but Bloomberg, whose candidacy lacks any clear rationale or support, and looks increasingly petulant and pointless. My only hope is that Bloomberg doesn’t drop out before I finish my series on stop and frisk, because I don’t want to have started it for nothing.* Anyway, what does all this mean? Continue reading

Bernie, Cuba, Literacy, and Ill-Gotten Gains

I’m finding the dialogue of the deaf over Bernie and Cuba exasperating. I’m not going to comment on the details–on the “first-order issues,” we might say. What I want to say is that it helps to clarify the underlying issue and make some relevant distinctions.

The basic issue is that Cuba is supposed to be a dictatorship, which is evil, but Bernie is praising it for increasing literacy, which is good. Assume (for the sake of argument) that Cuba is a dictatorship, and dictatorships are evil. The puzzle is whether you should ever praise an evil thing for doing a good thing; it’s a puzzle whether (or how) good things can ever arise from evil things. Put slightly differently, it’s a puzzle whether evil agents should ever get credit for any of the good they do (or seem to do), given the discredit they deserve for the very great evil they do.

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“Abortion and Rape”: A Response to Catiline

Roderick Long recently posted a short essay on Facebook called “Abortion and Rape,” by a pseudonymous author named “Catiline.”  Rumor has it that Roderick is Catiline and vice versa, but we don’t traffic in rumors at PoT, so “Catiline” it is.*

The essay is structured as a response to this anti-abortion argument (hereafter, “the Argument”):

  1. Abortion involves killing an innocent person.

  2. It’s always wrong to kill an innocent person.

  3. Therefore abortion is wrong.

According to Catiline, the Argument is valid but unsound: both premises are false. “Abortion and Rape” proceeds by making a case against each premise, followed in the discussion of premise (2) by answers to objections. If the Argument is the most plausible or typical sort of anti-abortion argument out there, and it fails, we can infer that the pro-choice position has in some way been vindicated by its failure. At a bare minimum, it’s won round 1 in a long battle. QED. Continue reading

Giving the Devil His Due: Donald Trump and the Afghan War

I’m not a Satanist, but I do believe in fairness, so I don’t mind giving the Devil his due. The Devil in this case is Donald Trump, and his achievement is getting us out of Afghanistan. Or, well: signing a deal that if adhered-to, and if all goes well, will someday get us out of Afghanistan. I ended my 2008 review of Sarah Chayes’s The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban like this:

To ‘keep trying’ to occupy and rebuild Afghanistan is to sacrifice lives and money on an ill-defined, increasingly pointless, and probably Sisyphean venture. A thousand lives and billions of dollars into that quest, we’re no closer to its completion than we were when we first started. That is as much a ‘punishment of virtue’ as anything Chayes describes. We’re entitled to ask when it will end.

We now have a better sense than we did a few days ago of “when it will end.” The answer is: some day. To paraphrase Metallica, the good news is that the light at the end of the tunnel may not be a freight train coming our way.  Continue reading

Vigor Mortis

I didn’t watch last night’s Democratic debate–I somehow managed to fall ill without doing so–but I was struck by this passage from what was supposed to be a news story about it. They’re talking about Biden’s performance at the debate:

The former vice president demonstrated more vigor than at many of the previous debates, when he often seemed somnolent. He sprinkled local references into his comments, sought to interject even when he was not called on and complained when he felt he was not given enough time.

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Putting Tulsi on the Ballot in New Jersey

Readers of this blog are well aware of my (some would say quixotic) support for Tulsi Gabbard in the 2020 presidential election. Below the video is an announcement for New Jersey residents from Paul Surovell, a volunteer for the Tulsi 2020 campaign in New Jersey. And yes, I’m going to keep posting Paul’s announcement here every week until we get Tulsi Gabbard on the ballot. Fight me. Or better yet, just sign the petition and you won’t have to.  

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“The Reason That Makes You Afraid of It”

The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

–Ayn Rand, “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Apropos of selfishness, a snippet from my Phil 100 class today, devoted to discussing J.W. Davis et al, “Aggressive Traffic Enforcement: A Simple and Effective Injury Prevention Program,” Journal of Trauma 60:5 (May 2006). Continue reading

Donald Trump’s Slurred Speech: A Diagnosis and Prescription

While teaching a class today, I slurred over a word. I’m so far gone that I don’t even remember what word it was. It might have been “statistical,” but I can’t remember.

Am I drunk? Am I on drugs? Am I suffering from ADHD, or some neurological disease? All of the above?

No, as it turns out, I only got four hours of sleep last night. When I’m tired, I slur my words. Illy coffee helps, but not entirely. Continue reading