Breaking Wind with Victoria’s Secret

An episode from my Phil 100 Critical Thinking class:

David Kelley, The Art of Reasoning, 4th ed., Exercise 2.2C (p. 35):

For each of the following definitions, identify which rule (or rules) of definition it violates:

19. A jacket is an outer garment designed to protect the wearer from cold, wind, and rain.

Student response:

Rule 2: Too narrow, because Victoria’s Secret Windbreaker be a jacket, but it don’t break no wind.

Hard to argue with that one. Sidney Morgenbesser would be pleased.

Two Petitions Worth Signing

I have the somewhat tedium-inducing sense that the next four years of our lives will involve a lot of petitions–reading them, signing them, and enduring widespread derision for doing so.

Tedious it is, but don’t let that stop you. It’s doubtful (I know) that petitions serve any straightforwardly instrumental function: it’s not as though the Trump Administration will recoil in horror at the discovery that 20,000+ academics deplore his Executive Order on immigration, and that 272+ academics deplore the attitudes he’s expressed toward Mexico–and then decide to roll back his immigration policies. But those of us who oppose Trump and his policies feel the entirely healthy desire to do something to oppose his administration, and signing a petition is something–not much, but something. At the very least, it gives us something cheap and easy to do while we figure out what else to do. It serves an expressive function, which is not nothing, and offers solidarity to those adversely affected by the policies, which, though not much, is better than nothing. Continue reading

Red Country, Blue City?

Since the years of the George W. Bush administration, pundits have been poring over electoral maps, and drawing inferences – alternately illuminating, plausible, and at the very least interesting (though quite often false) – from the information conveyed in those representations.  By this point, enough pieces focused on the fundamental cultural and political divisions between rural America and urban America have been published that one could probably assemble an edited volume on the topic.

The latest of these, Red State Blue City, by David Graham, has just come out in the Atlantic.  It raises much of the same issues as the previous decade and a half of similar pieces.  If instead of focusing on the state-by-state electoral map, and you focus on the counties, it is clear that, with a few exceptions that seem to be based on racial demographics, there’s a significant and well-established split at the county level.  Rural counties go hard red, the majority of their voters supporting Republicans.  Urban counties show the opposite trend, deep blue, supporting the Democrats.  The urban counties, of course, wield a lot more votes  since they are densely populated, but there are far more rural counties, at least in most states. Continue reading

Revisiting “The Muslim Registry”

In light of recent events, including Donald Trump’s firing Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General, I thought I’d re-post this item from November, on the so-called “Muslim registry.” Actions like Yates’s were just what I had in mind when I wrote the post. My hope is that others will emulate her.

A postscript: In the November post, I mentioned that I had intended to try my proposal out on the Bergen County Prosecutor, Gurbir Grewal, on a visit he was making to my university that week. The question I asked him back in November was whether he would be willing to withhold county law enforcement resources from efforts to enforce unconstitutional deportation orders. He side-stepped the question to some degree, pointing out that he was obliged, in the case of undocumented aliens within his custody, to pass relevant information on to the federal immigration authorities, and presumably to cooperate in any legal proceedings they initiated. Continue reading

Saira Rafiee, CUNY Research Assistant, Detained and Deported (Updated)

I just happened to see this letter posted on the Philosop-L list serve and thought I’d reprint it here. I strongly urge PoT readers to read Professor Gould’s letter, and consider signing the petition.

Dear colleagues in the profession,
Alas, my Research Assistant at the Center for Global Ethics & Politics at the Grad Center–Saira Rafiee–was detained at Abu Dhabi airport and prevented from returning to CUNY where she’s a doctoral student in political science. She had to go back to Teheran. Needless to say, countless other refugees, immigrants, and visitors are (or will) also be affected.

Please consider signing the petition against Trump’s executive order on immigration that can be found at the link below.  Thousands of academics have already done so, but I didn’t see many philosophers on it as of yet. (I’m not entirely sure whether it’s still open for signatures in fact, but I believe it is, although they’re clearly having trouble keeping up with the flood of support.)

Thanks for considering this.

All best,
Carol C. Gould
Distinguished Professor
Philosophy, Hunter College; Doctoral Programs in Philosophy and Political Science, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Director, Center for Global Ethics & Politics at the Ralph Bunche Institute
President, Human Rights Section, American Political Science Association
Postscript, January 31, 2017Read this for a related story. (ht: Kendra Khawaja)

The Law’s Delay: Further Episodes in the Tragic-Comic Saga of the Purloined Pillow

Loyal readers of this blog will doubtless remember the over-wrought story of my stolen pillow–even if many of them may wish they could forget it.

Briefly, the story is this: About a year ago, I ordered an expensive orthopedic pillow that was delivered to my front door and stolen from my front porch. The thief was caught by my local police department, and the case was sent to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, which began to send me Witness-Victim Advocacy notices pertinent to the case. The case was then remanded down to my local municipal court, at which point I lost track of it.

Instead, I began to hear from the County Prosecutor’s Office about a case that had nothing to do with me, the case of State vs. Godfrey. I called and wrote them to explain that I wasn’t the victim of this particular defendant, but to no avail: they insisted on sending me updates on a case that didn’t involve me. They also insisted on misspelling my name as “Ifran.” The only change they made was to stop referring to me as “Mrs. Khawaja,” and to refer to me by my new gender-neutral first name, “Ifran Khawaja.” That’s an improvement, I guess, but it somehow seems like too little, too late.

The saga continues. Here is their latest letter to me, dated January 9. Continue reading

Statement of the Faculty of Felician University (Updated)

After an hour of debate, the faculty of Felician University adopted the following statement, sponsored by Richard Burnor (Philosophy), James Smith (Counseling Psychology), and myself (Philosophy), as amended by Joshua Bornstein (Education):

In view of today’s social and political unrest and the renewed indications of bias and discrimination that have recently arisen in the United States and around the world, the faculty of Felician University wish to affirm the following:

In keeping with the Franciscan mission and the Christian and humanistic values of this institution, the faculty of Felician University unequivocally stand for the equal and intrinsic moral value of all human beings, regardless of race, religion, culture and ethnic background, country of origin, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.  We furthermore recommit ourselves to fair and unbiased, nondiscriminatory practices in all that we do at this institution and in our own personal behaviors.  To any who today feel themselves to be more vulnerable and less respected or cared for, we stand with and for you.

May God graciously bless and protect all peoples in this New Year.

The vote was 46 in favor, 19 opposed. It was touch and go there for awhile.

Academic politics, folks. Who says the stakes are low? Continue reading

(Law of) Identity Politics

The razor-sharp mind of David Brooks at work, in a column on the recent anti-Trump march on Washington, D.C.:

The biggest problem with identity politics is that its categories don’t explain what is going on now.

Two paragraphs later:

I loathed Trump’s inaugural: It offered a zero-sum, ethnically pure, backward-looking brutalistic nationalism. But it was a coherent vision, and he is rallying a true and fervent love of our home.

So either ethnicity is not a category of identity politics, or the concept of ethnicity is irrelevant to explaining a coherent vision based on a brutal, nationalist conception of ethnic purity.

Either way, rest assured: we can count on David Brooks to light the way in these dark times. Good to know.

Ayn Rand on World War I: (In)Decisive Arguments and the Lessons of History

I’ve been prepping to teach a course on international relations this term. In the course of doing so, I decided, on a lark, to re-read Ayn Rand’s essay “The Roots of War,” which I hadn’t read in awhile. On re-reading it, I was startled at how crazy it seemed since the last time that I’d read it–baffling, misleading, exasperating, and confusing.

Here is one of the baffling claims she makes, about the origins of World War I:

Observe that the major wars of history were started by the more controlled economies of the time against the freer ones. For instance, World War I was started by monarchist Germany and Czarist Russia, who dragged in their freer allies (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 33 in the Centennial Edition).

The first sentence is debatable, but the second sentence strikes me as bizarre. Can anyone think of a plausible interpretation of the origins of World War I that holds Germany and Russia jointly responsible for starting it? I’m not questioning the abstract possibility that two antagonists can separately and simultaneously initiate force against one another. That’s odd, but can in principle happen (and does happen). What I find puzzling is why Rand thinks Russia can be saddled with having started this particular war. Continue reading

Come, Let Us Adore the Israeli Occupation

From the lead article in today’s New York Times on John Kerry’s recent speech on Israel-Palestine:

[Trump] was soon praised — also on Twitter — by Mr. Netanyahu, who later released a video statement that was unsparingly direct and dismissive of Mr. Kerry.

“The entire Middle East is going up in flames, entire countries are toppling, terrorism is raging and for an entire hour the secretary of state attacks the only democracy in the Middle East,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Maybe Kerry did not notice that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christmas can be celebrated in peace and security. Sadly, none of this interests the secretary of state.”

As has been widely reported across the world (CNBC, VOA, Euronews, Al Jazeera, Economic Times), Christmas was celebrated in relative peace and security in Bethlehem. As is (or should be) common knowledge, Bethlehem is in Palestine, not Israel. Neither fact seems to interest Netanyahu, his Israeli or American supporters, or the American media. Continue reading