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!

Mutually Assured Regulatory Destruction

This story in The New York Times strikes me as involving a journalistic blind spot of a characteristically left-liberal sort. It’s presented as a landlord-tenant dispute with an immigration enforcement twist, but there’s more to it than that. The “more to it” is right there in the story, but treated as an afterthought, not quite a case of “burying the lede,” but definitely a failure to explain what happened. Continue reading

“Keep Your Mouth Shut, and Sit Down!”

I’m curious what readers think about this case. (It’s back in the news because the judge recently recused himself from the case.) It describes a judicial hearing in a New Jersey courtroom involving proceedings against an accused sex offender. Apparently, the alleged victim (a minor) and his mother traveled to New Jersey from out of state to attend the hearing, disrupting it out of frustration at the fact that the case wouldn’t be settled that day, as they’d expected. The delay arose because the defendant refused a plea deal and demanded a trial; the trial date was set months in the future, rendering the mother-and-son’s present trip pointless.

The mother explained, “We’ve been dealing with this for four and a half years, your honor. Four and a half years. And it’s been constant delays and pushbacks.”

There’s audio in the first link above. In it, the judge tells the mother, rather brusquely, to keep her mouth shut and sit down. He’s kind of an asshole about it, but I guess his point was that she was being one. This may be a regional thing. Continue reading

why think ‘must’ implies ‘ought’?

To say that I ought to take out the garbage and to say that I must take it out is to say two different things.  And, if I ought to take out the garbage, it does not follow that I must. But — apparently — if I must take out the garbage (if I am required to), then it follows that I ought.  The ‘must’ seems in some way stronger than the mere ‘ought’ (perhaps ‘must’ is simply ‘decisively ought’ — that is one theory).

Continue reading

Chicken Kiev: Misframing the Trump-Ukraine Controversy

It’s remarkable how the Trump-Ukraine story has reflexively been described as a case of Trump’s “courting Ukrainian interference in American politics” rather than as Trump’s interfering in Ukrainian politics, or even more precisely, as Trump’s abortive attempt to make an intervention into the Ukrainian criminal justice system. The latter strikes me as a more straightforward description of what actually happened.

DES MOINES — Allegations that President Trump courted foreign interference from Ukraine to hurt his leading Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., dominated presidential politics on Saturday, as Mr. Biden demanded a House investigation of Mr. Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader and as Mr. Trump lashed out, denying wrongdoing without releasing a transcript of the call.

I heard one pundit try to justify the “courting interference” description by claiming that in asking the Ukrainians to investigate Hunter Biden, Trump was legitimizing Ukraine’s sending covert operatives to the United States to circumvent the American criminal justice system–presumably to abduct Biden for trial (or worse) in the way that the Israeli Mossad abducted Adolph Eichmann in 1960. I guess that’s one interpretation–a highly speculative one that involves a gigantic leap beyond any evidence we have, but an interpretation nonetheless. Continue reading

A Moral Stop Sign for Andrew Pollack

There comes a point at which one has to draw a line, even with the victim of a tragic and heinous crime, and say (my words, not the judge’s):

Your daughter is dead. That’s horrible and unfair, but the time has come for you to stop trying to ruin other peoples’ lives over it. Leave them alone, and find a way to come to terms with your tragedy without harming innocent bystanders in the process. Tragedy and premature death didn’t begin with you, won’t end with you, and don’t justify your desire to wreak vengeance on people who don’t deserve it. At a certain point, even the most sympathetic victim starts to lose the world’s sympathy. You’re there.

Perhaps not a message calculated to win any popularity contests. But no less necessary for that.