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 (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

Treason for the Goose

Isn’t what’s treason for the goose also treason for the gander? I’d have thought so. Maybe that’s why we should avoid making half-baked charges–or half-charges–of treason unless there’s a really good reason for doing so.

As for this…

With the possible exception of an American “levying war” against U.S. troops in a place like Afghanistan, “the biggest-picture takeaway is that there is no treason occurring on any side now,” said Jed Shugerman, a legal historian at Fordham Law School.

Fair enough. But I’d have thought that a good legal historian would enjoy a good hypothetical. For example: if Israel is at war with the Palestinians, and dual national Israeli-Americans join the IDF to shoot at Palestinian-Americans or Americans-in-Palestine, what exactly is the word for that? It’s not treason, I know. It’s not reason, either. But it’s always in season.

I guess there’s a widespread temptation to say “nullum nomen, nullum nominandum” in this case (roughly: “where there is no name, there is nothing to be named”). But maybe there shouldn’t be.

The Truth is Hard, But Kinda Funny

Two views of William F. Buckley from the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times, visible at exactly the same level on the same page of the print edition:

 But most of the world — including most of the Jewish diaspora — will have a hard time coming up with a decent justification for opposing a Palestinian campaign for equal rights. Israel’s apologists will be left mimicking the argument that William F. Buckley once made about the Jim Crow South. In 1957, he asked rhetorically whether the white South was entitled to prevail “politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.” The “sobering answer,” he concluded, was yes, given the white community’s superior civilization.

–Michelle Goldberg, “Is Liberal Zionism Dead?”

Same page, five inches away:

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The Color of Rights: Malheur, Standing Rock, Palestine

About a year and a half ago, having spent a summer in Palestine and a week on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I ventured the observation on Facebook that three political disputes I’d “recently encountered” (in a loose sense of “encountered”) struck me as fundamentally similar in nature, and yet attracted fundamentally different constituencies. For brevity’s sake, let’s call them “Malheur,” “Standing Rock,” and “Palestine,” taking those as  shorthand designations for more complex things. Continue reading

Congratulations to Gurbir Grewal

Congratulations to Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal for his nomination to the position of Attorney General of New Jersey by Governor-Elect Phil Murphy.

I got to know Gurbir last year when he spoke at the series on “Race and Criminal Justice in America” that I organized at Felician University; I was deeply impressed then, and remain impressed now, at his capacity to walk the fine line between prosecutorial toughness about enforcing the law, and moral sensitivity to considerations of justice. It’s a tough balancing act, but I sleep better at night knowing that someone knows how to pull it off. Because I certainly don’t.

Gurbir Grewal speaking at Felician University, December 5, 2017

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Now’s the Time for “Never Again”

A piece of advice: if you see a sign like this on a telephone pole in your neighborhood, rip it down.

A “Blood and Soil” sign in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Photo credit: Dario Gal

Don’t just leave it up and take a picture of it, and don’t bother calling the police to investigate. No one has a right to put a sign of any kind on a telephone pole without authorization of the owner, much less a sign of this kind. You’re not violating anyone’s rights by taking it down. If you have a genuine “civic duty” as an American, it’s to express your rejection of the politics of “Blut und Boden“–Blood, Soil, and Master Race–before it takes hold more powerfully than it already has. Continue reading

Cold As ICE

From an article about a deportation proceeding in Monday’s New York Times:

Adding to the sting, immigration officers refused to let the twins or his wife give him a final hug goodbye, Ms. Hopman said.

“They told us they no longer provide that courtesy,” she said, “because they don’t like emotional scenes.”

In other words, federal law enforcement officers can’t seem to do what police officers, paramedics, firefighters, doctors, nurses, therapists, family-law attorneys, and funeral service workers do every day: deal with honest expressions of intense emotion. They have no problem breaking up families; they just have trouble observing the emotions that arise when they watch the effects of their handiwork.

The right likes to taunt “Social Justice Warriors” as “snowflakes,” but the SJWs I know are a lot tougher, and a lot less hypocritical, than officers like these. And yet it’s law enforcement that keeps making its insistent demands for our “respect” in a climate of opinion supposedly stacked against them.

Well sorry, but I can’t respect people like this–people too cowardly to endure the emotions that arise when they break up other people’s families. It’s hard to respect people who demand Stoicism of the victims while demanding a “safe space” for those who victimize them. The people responsible for these policies should perhaps remember that there is no “safe space” from moral judgment. They can’t seem to endure tears. Perhaps they should confront contempt.

Talking Treason

The U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as follows (Article III, Section 3):

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

It’s not the only possible way of defining treason, but it’s the legally accepted definition of treason in the United States. Treason is a crime, and like all crimes, those accused of it enjoy a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. Since it’s a capital crime, punishable in principle by death, the presumption of innocence matters even more than it ordinarily would, not that the presumption is any less applicable to non-capital crimes.* Continue reading

John Davenport: The Case for a Constitutional Convention

My grad school friend John Davenport (Philosophy, Fordham) has an interesting essay up at the GPS site, well worth working through, on the need for a constitutional convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. I don’t have the time to comment on it at the moment, so for now, I’ll just commend it to your attention. Feel free to comment either here or there.

“GPS,” incidentally, stands for Gotham Philosophical Society, a quasi-academic philosophical society based in New York, and founded and run by my friend and erstwhile Felician colleague Joe Biehl. I wonder whether Joe’s work for GPS might be fodder for Derek Bowman’s Free Range Philosophers project; in any case, it’s a valuable and much needed contribution to intellectual life in the NYC metro area.