The “Borders” of Gaza

The violence in Gaza is too recent and sparsely reported to permit substantive comment. Having traveled to that “border” last July, however, and spent some time exploring the region around “it,” I would offer the following bit of advice to anyone who wants to follow the news about “it.” First get clear on what “it” is. Then figure out whether the reporting you’re following is as clear as it ought to be on what “the border” is, where “it” is, who is allowed to do what “there,” and how “it” works in practice.

This is the relevant point, as described by B’Tselem:

Israel treats an area inside the Gaza Strip, near the border fence, as its own territory, using it to create a “buffer zone” inside the already narrow Strip. After the second intifada broke out, the military declared a vast area near the Gaza-Israel border, much of it farmland, off-limits to Palestinians. It never officially announced this policy or clarified to the residents which areas exactly were off limits to them, which increases the danger they face.

I highly recommend reading the whole B’Tselem page on Gaza (the source of that excerpt), and indeed, reading as much of their material as possible.  Continue reading

Character-Based Voting: The Case of Joseph P. Ganim

This story, about the current gubernatorial campaign in Connecticut, offers a near-perfect exemplification of the criticism that I’ve made in the past of Jason Brennan’s critique (in The Ethics of Voting) of character-based voting. “Character-based voting” is a vote for or against a candidate based primarily on considerations concerning the candidate’s moral character, as contrasted with considerations concerning the policy positions he promises (or can reliably be predicted) to make. Brennan argues (or more precisely, asserts without argument) that character-based voting is only legitimate insofar as it functions as a proxy for predictions about policy, adding (or half-adding) that it usually doesn’t.

One of my objections to Brennan’s claim is that it assumes without argument that future-oriented considerations are the only ones that matter to deliberations about how to vote for political candidates. But (I suggest) elected office comes with rewards, and it’s plausible to think that considerations of moral desert are relevant to the distribution of rewards. Moral desert is a past-oriented consideration. Absent an explicit discussion of the role of moral desert in voting, and an argument that it’s somehow outweighed, defeated, or made irrelevant by future-oriented considerations, the role of moral desert can’t be dismissed. Since moral desert can’t be dismissed, a candidate’s past can’t be dismissed, insofar as it reveals relevant considerations of moral character. But if that’s right, the case for character-based voting is stronger than Brennan makes it out to be.    Continue reading

Author-Meets-Critics Session: Vicente Medina’s “Terrorism Unjustified”

The Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs will be holding an Author-Meets-Critics session on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified: The Use and Misuse of Political Violence (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015). The event takes place on Saturday, April 21, 2018, 1-4:30 pm, in the Main Auditorium (“Ray’s Place”) of the Education Commons Building on Felician University’s Rutherford campus (231 Montross Ave., Rutherford, New Jersey 07070). Light refreshments will be served.

Presenters include Theresa Fanelli (Criminal Justice, Felician; previously, FBI Counterterrorism Division), Graham Parsons (Philosophy, West Point), and Irfan Khawaja (Philosophy, Felician), with a response by Vicente Medina (Philosophy, Seton Hall University).

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available onsite, and the Rutherford campus is easily accessible by mass transit from New York City (New Jersey Transit Bus #190 from Port Authority, at 42nd St). Continue reading

Documenting a Police Detention (2): The Long and Short of It

All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place. –George Orwell, 1984

As readers of this blog know, on November 29, 2017, I was detained and interrogated for several hours by members of the Lodi Police Department and Bergen County Prosecutors Office on suspicion of being an “active shooter.” Though I was not formally charged with a crime, my detention was arguably tantamount to a full arrest: I was involuntarily transported from the original place of detention to a nearby police station, involuntarily held there for a few hours, and involuntarily questioned, despite repeated invocations of my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Eventually, I was released without further incident.

A few weeks ago, I sent Open Public Records Act requests to both agencies for documentation of my detention. The Lodi Police Department responded to my request with a 21 page document. The Bergen County Prosecutors Office responded with a one page letter. Both sets of documents are instructive, both for what they say and for what they omit.  Continue reading

Disruptions on Campus: There’s Always an Excuse for Israel

A passage from a blog post by Steve Horwitz at BHL:

Here are a few thoughts for college libertarians who are able to invite speakers to campus and how they might do so in the most productive ways.

Let me start by saying that the sort of interruptions we’ve seen this week with Yaron Brook and Christina Hoff Sommers are utterly unacceptable. Those who disrupt planned presentations with official permission to use space and students expecting a talk should be forcibly removed from the room and subject to the relevant disciplinary consequences. There should be no negotiating with anti-intellectual terrorists. They should feel free to ask questions when the time comes or protest outside the building in ways that do not prevent those who wish to attend from attending. No excuses.

A question for Horwitz et al: what if “those who disrupt planned presentations with official permission to use space” on campus call themselves “the Israel Defense Forces” (IDF) and are sent by something that calls itself the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria? Should they be “forcibly removed”? Forcibly removing them is what a policy of “no excuses” would really entail. Continue reading

Questions About the Parkland Shooting (4): Lockdowns and Legalities

Here’s the fourth and final set of posts from my series on (generally) unasked questions about school shootings (here’s the first installment, the second, and the third):

In the wake of the Parkland shootings, we’ve heard lots of demands that this or that be done by this or that party. Of particular interest to me are two sets of demands–one concerning the alleged duty of care that educators are widely assumed to have for “their” students, the second concerning the supposed duty we have to comply with widely-accepted “lockdown” protocols. I’m skeptical on both counts. Continue reading

on moral grandstanding (the fruits of some reading and discussion)

In “Moral Grandstanding,” Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke defend the following account of moral grandstanding (MG):

(1) to MG is to participate in moral discourse out of the desire to be regarded by others as moral (with the desire for moral recognition or recognition desire (RD) being strong enough that, if one were not to be recognized as moral, one would be disappointed; and one acts from this desire via the proper conventionally-determined sort of “grandstanding expression”).   Continue reading

Waco Revisited

Since the topic du jour is guns and shootings, it’s serendipitous that Paramount has recently been airing a mini-series called, “Waco.” I haven’t seen it myself (I guess I’d need to acquire a TV), but hope to do so in the near future. Meanwhile, I thought readers might be interested in Reason Papers’s July 2014 symposium, “Waco: Twenty Years Later.” Technically, I suppose, the symposium came out twenty-one years after the fact, as for a variety of reasons we were unable to publish it on time in 2013.

Symposium: Waco Twenty Years Later

I tried to invite commentators representing a relatively wide spectrum of views, in order to put the Waco controversy in its widest possible context. In retrospect, I wish I had invited (or successfully invited) a larger number and more diverse set of participants.  Continue reading

Questions about the Parkland Shooting (3): What If the Educator is the Shooter?

As everybody by now knows, it’s been proposed that we arm teachers–and give them a “bit of a bonus” for standing guard. Less frequently asked question: what if the educator is the shooter?

Yes, the armed teachers are going to be “vetted.” But immigrants are extensively vetted, and we’re deathly afraid of them. If we can’t vet immigrants so as to distinguish the peaceful ones from the budding terrorists, why assume that we can vet teachers so as to distinguish the “good guys” from the would-be “active shooters”? (Never mind the complications if the educator is an immigrant…) Does it take so much of a leap of imagination to imagine a disgruntled teacher or professor using his service weapon to wipe out a classroom of students? If it does, it shouldn’t.  Continue reading

Questions about the Parkland Shooting (2): The Premature Demonization of Scot Peterson

Here’s my second round of generally unasked questions about the Parkland shooting:

What legitimate purpose was served by branding Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson a coward, thereby inducing his resignation and tarnishing his career, before the investigation into his performance had been completed (in fact, it had barely gotten underway), and (obviously) before all of the relevant facts were in?

I can think of a couple of patently illegitimate purposes:

  1. The demonization of Peterson facilitated some awe-inspiringly gratuitous virtue-signaling, the ne plus ultra of which was Donald Trump’s mind-blowingly idiotic claim (even for him) that he, Trump, would have gone in to confront the shooter with or without a weapon in hand. Unclear what this “act” of bravado would have accomplished, except to have put a bullet in Trump’s brainless head–not a bad outcome, I suppose, but not precisely the intended one. But let’s not stop with Trump: lesser versions of Trump’s grandstanding–or waking dreamwork–have now become ubiquitous. Apparently, we live in a country of bravehearts and tactical experts who know a coward-under-fire when they see one on video, or rather, read about the video on Facebook.
  2. The attacks on Peterson also reinforced the essentially Trumpian ethos of making personnel decisions a matter of mobocratic approbation or disapprobation, a la “The Apprentice.” Professionals are now being fired across the country and across professions (or else being induced to resign their positions), not for demonstrable violations of professionally-relevant standards, but for reasons of PR and image control: what looks bad is bad has become the axiom. The people acting on that axiom are now commonly hailed as “courageous” for firing helpless subordinates without a feasible means of challenging their higher-ups; its victims have become the scapegoats that everybody loves to hate. The inversion of virtue to vice, and subordination of reality to appearance, has become complete.

I’m curious to know whether anyone can adduce good reasons for Peterson’s being treated the way he was. Naturally, the video that depicts Peterson’s supposed delinquency is not being released, because it’s part of an “ongoing” investigation (which didn’t stop the authorities from releasing confidential material on Cruz’s state of mental health). In other words, the video that is generating so much outrage is mostly invisible to the people undergoing the outrage, because the agency in custody of it is engaged in an “investigation” with an outcome they’ve already announced. It all gives new meaning to the old cliche, “Nothing to see here.” Continue reading