The Unwarranted Demonization of Scot Peterson (6): Vengeance Is Theirs

Friday was the second anniversary of the tragic Parkland shooting. The shooting was remembered in an appropriate-enough way in the media, except for one (to me) conspicuous thing: the continued, thoughtless, fact-free demonization of Scot Peterson, the School Resource Officer universally blamed for not entering the building where the shooting took place. Almost without exception, journalism about Parkland continues to take for granted the unexamined dogmas that Peterson “failed” to enter Building 12 and “failed” to confront the shooter, that he knew where the shooter was but deliberately hid from danger, and that his malfeasance goes beyond cowardice to legally actionable neglect, and beyond civil wrong to outright criminality. Continue reading

Caught with Your Pants Down: The Strange Case of Mayor John Roth of Mahwah

I’m about to recount an almost entirely inconsequential political incident, the strange case of John F. Roth, mayor of Mahwah, a small, affluent town in northeastern New Jersey. But while the incident is almost entirely inconsequential, I’d say that precisely one feature has broad significance. Let’s see if you and I agree on what it is.

About a month ago, John F. Roth, the mayor of Mahwah, went to a party at the home of a Mahwah Township employee. You’re not going to believe this, but alcohol was served at this party. Yes, alcohol. And–hold on to your hats here–but Roth actually consumed some of this alcohol. I wouldn’t lie about something like this. Having done so, he managed to get drunk. He must have realized that he was drunk, because instead of driving home–like a normal person–he decided to walk into a bedroom or guestroom of the house, take off his pants, and fall asleep on a bed. He was later discovered pants-less in that very bed. A call was placed to his wife, who arrived to retrieve him. Retrieved, I gather that he went home to sleep it off, very possibly pants-less, in his own bed. Continue reading

MLK: “Believe Women,” Rape, and the Worst-Case Scenario

Yesterday, I wrote a post arguing that the supposedly woke slogan “Believe Women” has some odd implications for the recent Sanders-Warren controversy. It implies that we should believe Elizabeth Warren’s accusation that Sanders is a sexist, or at least presume his guilt until he can conclusively prove his innocence. Because I take this consequence to be a reductio, I take “Believe Women” to be an absurdity. Put charitably, the original, unqualified version of the slogan has to be modified. Put uncharitably, it has to be rejected. To split the difference, it requires a bit of both. Continue reading

“Believe Women Except When…”

So whatever happened to the “Believe Women” mantra, brought to us care of #MeToo? Yesterday’s unqualified axiom seems to have been washed away by today’s intra-progressive controversy. The reasoning here seems to be: Elizabeth Warren accused Bernie Sanders of sexism. But Bernie is more progressive than Liz. So the accusation can’t possibly be true, because if it were true, its truth would ruin the most progressive mainstream candidate’s shot at the presidency. Hence the accusation must be false, and Elizabeth Warren is a bit of a bitch for making it. From which it follows that the “Believe Women” axiom must also be false, though we’re not to say so out loud.

Gee, that was easy. Who knew that moralized axioms could so lightly be adopted, and so lightly be cast aside?  Continue reading

R. Kelly and Mob Justice

I was on spring break last week, so I made the mistake of sitting down and watching some TV for the first time since Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just my ineptitude with a remote, but aside from Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism, the only topic that seemed up for discussion was R. Kelly and the charges made against him. (I also made the mistake of watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” quixotically expecting a Spike Lee movie to rise above the level of a comic book, but alas, wrong again. More on that fiasco some other time.)

Here’s an obvious point about guilt and innocence when it comes to criminal charges: if you’re going to try someone for a criminal allegation in the court of public opinion–a very big and very dubious if–you have to distinguish clearly between four mutually exclusive things:

  • the case against him,
  • the case in his defense,
  • the set of known facts that don’t easily fit either of the first two categories, and
  • the unknowns.

The least you can do is to try to do justice to the facts in all four categories, rather than fixating on, say, the case against him to the exclusion of everything else. There are complications here about how broadly or narrowly to understand each category, but even if we set those aside, there’s more than enough complexity here to keep a competent journalist busy for awhile. Continue reading

Hursthouse on the Repentant Racist: Error, Evil, and Moral Luck

Some of you may have seen this material before, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted it at PoT, so I’m exhuming it in the interest of getting some comments on it, as I’d like to work on the paper a bit this summer, and am hoping to trundle it about at conferences this fall. (Apologies if I’m breaking blind with that claim, but this is the age of the Internet.) I’m particularly interested in getting comments and/or bibliographical suggestions on some of the empirical issues implicitly raised by the paper.

David Potts recently cited Martin Seligman’s claims in Authentic Happiness to the effect that childhood experiences count for little as regards adult experience. I haven’t fully digested Seligman’s claims (and references), but I don’t think that he had childhood upbringing in mind when he wrote Authentic Happiness. At any rate, I’m interested in empirical answers to questions like the following:

  1. What are the longitudinal effects of a racist upbringing? How powerful are they? How amenable to control or reversal? And in what form? Naturally, the longitudinal effects of racist upbringing are a function of the effects of upbringing, so I’m interested in the more general phenomenon, as well.
  2. What is the role of trauma in the production of racial identity in racists? Does trauma explain the production of racial identity? If so, what is the mechanism?
  3. What does racism (or “racism”) look like in small children? I’ve put “racism” in scare quotes because arguably children with racist upbringings may lack the cognitive sophistication to do anything but act as though they believed in the truth of racism. But behavioral racism without cognitive understanding does not strike me as genuine racism. A child who imitates racists is not herself a racist (at least not necessarily).

Continue reading

Hummus Summit in Paterson (2)

Just got back from the Hummus Summit with Curtis Sliwa this afternoon in Paterson. I’m pressed for time, as usual, so no time to write it up. For now, I’ll just post a few pictures (and silly captions), and write up a post later in the week.

Hey, what a town:

welcome

Oh wait, is there a double entendre here?

mainstreet

Curtis Sliwa and Noam Laden in Al Basha Restaurant.

curtisnoam

A chance meeting on Main Street outside of the restaurant:

curtis1

More later. And now, back to my day job as…what am I again, an assistant professor of something somewhere?

Postscript, December 7, 2015: Here’s coverage of the event in today’s Bergen Record. For obvious reasons, only bits and pieces of a wide-ranging two hour interview made it into the article.

Postscript, December 11, 2015: Now that I have a minute, I thought I’d comment on the significance of this event, over and above the opportunity to meet a celebrity and eat lunch at his expense (not that that’s trivial).

At one level, it was an opportunity for a show of solidarity: Curtis Sliwa and I make for unlikely collaborators, but the fact is that we agree on the celebration rumors. Contrary to the blanket rejections that we heard from Paterson city officials when we were investigating the celebration rumors, we both found credible evidence of a celebration-like disturbance in Paterson on 9/11. Contrary to Donald Trump’s defenders and Islamophobes across the land, neither of us found more than that, and neither of us have found the further stories that have been bruited about as plausible. (I’ll have more to say about those “further stories” in a separate post.)

I don’t know if Sliwa would agree, but I would add that the evidence we did collect was not itself definitive, either about the occurrence of an event, or about its celebratory nature. I regard it as likely that some such event took place, but I wouldn’t insist that it did, much less spread rumors (a la Fred Siegel) that small-scale celebrations were definitely occurring throughout the area. (I’ll have more to say about Siegel’s comments on MSNBC in a separate post. For now, I’ll simply note that in a week’s time, he hasn’t acknowledged an email I sent him care of the Manhattan Institute, asking for clarification of his references to me on Joe Scarborough’s show.)

At another level, the event was an opportunity to set the record straight. Trump used Sliwa’s name to spread his, Trump’s, lies. Fred Siegel has used my name to spread his, Siegel’s, confabulations. Sliwa said that there was a small disturbance in Paterson on 9/11; Trump used that to claim vindication for his own bullshit. I said that it was likely that there was a small disturbance in front of the public library in Paterson, and said in print that it was likely that a dozen or less were involved; Siegel has used that to claim that there were “demonstrations” (“a couple of dozen people at most”). I don’t know any better way of calling out bullshitters except to keep calling them out for their bullshit. In that respect, the Hummus Summit could well have been named The Anti-Bullshit Summit, except that that name probably wouldn’t have gone well with lunch.

At a third level, the event was a demonstration of the malign power of rumor. Noam Laden, the other invitee to the Summit, described how he had bought the Paterson celebration rumor hook, line, and sinker for fourteen years, inferring that Paterson would be unsafe for Jews (he’s Jewish) given what the rumor implied about the sensibilities of those who live there. Though he lives in Jersey City (an irony of its own), he hadn’t set foot in Paterson since before 9/11 for fear of having to deal with a neighborhood full of terrorist sympathizers. The result was that he stopped eating at one of his favorite restaurants and shunned Paterson until he was convinced by Sliwa to attend the Summit there. I give Laden credit for admitting all that, and for reversing his earlier views.

Incidentally, Laden told us that his brother’s name is Ben, and that in the wake of 9/11, his brother had endured a fair bit of serious, non-joke-intending harrassment for having the name “Ben Laden.” I know I overuse the line, but this story forces me to repeat it: is there any final answer to the question, “How stupid can you get?”

Though we didn’t happen to discuss the point at the Summit, I suspect that Noam Laden’s worries about Paterson were exacerbated by the Paterson Protocols controversy of 2002, in which I also happened to play a cameo role. The story was originally broken by Daniel Pipes, receiving widespread coverage at the time not just in the mainstream press, but in Marc Levin’s 2005-2006 documentary film “Protocols of Zion.” I think the 9/11 celebration rumors are best understood in the light of this later controversy; it’s the later controversy that retrospectively gives the rumors the apparent plausibility that they seem to have. (I have yet to collect all of my Paterson writings and all of my writing on Muslim anti-Semitism in one place, but I probably should.)

A final point: Laden’s story draws attention to a quiet but pervasive phenomenon in north Jersey, namely, the quasi-segregationist attitudes that north Jersey suburbanites have vis-a-vis its cities. In other words, I don’t think Laden’s pre-Summit attitudes are atypical, and don’t think that they’re limited to fears of Arabs or Muslims.*

Sad but true: North Jersey suburbanites treat north Jersey’s cities in the way that non-Arab Israelis treat the West Bank or Gaza. As far as they’re concerned, Jersey’s cities are scary, crime-ridden “no-go zones” where civilized people fear to tread. Mention “Newark,” “Paterson,” or “Jersey City” to the average north Jersey suburbanite, and with remarkable frequency you’ll get the response, “Oh, I don’t go there.” Unsurprisingly, the suburbs are a semi-gated, exclusively zoned echo chamber of genteel racial and class-based stereotypes. (In fairness, I should probably say that a person might legitimately want to avoid driving to Jersey City given the misery involved in getting there: driving into Jersey City during rush hour is not altogether different from driving into Jerusalem from Ramallah via Qalandia Checkpoint.)

These attitudes seem to be an artifact of the 1980s and 90s, when crime rates soared, and city streets were indeed unsafe to walk. But that was decades ago. It doesn’t seem to matter that crime rates have recently fallen to record lows.  The fact remains that our cities are still alien territory. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that rumors flourish about them. That’s what rumors are for: they speak the otherwise unspeakable about the irredeemably alien, and north Jersey’s urbanites are apparently as alien to its suburbanites as literal aliens might be to earthlings. The lesson here seems to be that for all of the cosmopolitan pretensions of the New York metro area, we don’t seem to get out much.

One wonders how a country is supposed to hold itself together when its citizens are so alienated by and from the people who live a couple of neighborhoods away that they instinctively shun them on the basis of the wildest rumors about them. A house divided….?

*As a Jersey City resident, Laden is not a suburbanite, so the point I’m making here is not about him. My point is that his story draws attention to the phenomenon I’m describing, not that he himself exemplifies it.

Hummus Summit in Paterson (1)

I’m writing this between performances of Felician Live, but just a little note to say that I’ve accepted Curtis Sliwa’s invitation to appear at his Hummus Summit at noon tomorrow at Al Basha Restaurant in notorious Paterson, New Jersey. I’m honored to be invited, it’s in a good cause, and I’m not one to decline a meal (or even a bit of hummus) at Al Basha. Looking forward to it and will definitely blog it when my schedule returns to sanity. More later.

Postscript, December 6, 2015:  Here’s an item at a blog called “Western Journalism,” mentioned on Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. It’s called “Watch: ‘Chilling’ Video Just Surfaced That Could PROVE Trump Was Right About 9/11 Celebrations.” Yeah, I watched it all right. What’s “chilling” is the caliber of this commentary on it:

Fox News host Eric Bolling emerged Tuesday as one of the few media voices to support Trump.

“I remember specifically the news reports about Jersey City,” Bolling said. “They said people were on the roofs watching the planes fly in. They were tipped off prior to the thing, and this was a narrative that was going on. I remember video. I don’t remember if it was Pakistan or Paterson.”

Pakistan, Paterson: what’s the difference? And what difference does it make that neither place is Jersey City? (Or that he’s probably confusing Pakistan with Palestine, and Palestine with East Jerusalem?) Contrary to the blog’s suggestions, what the item really proves is that there is no final answer to the question, “How stupid can you get?”

As for the “proof” itself, it’s worse than a joke. I’ve been away from things for a bit, but when I get the chance (hopefully mid-week) I’ll try to comment on the Pablo Guzman video mentioned here as well as the Giuliani-Kerik testimony and other interesting odds and ends on the celebration rumors that I’ve recently seen (or will end up seeing between now and then).

Episodes in Absurdity

I made The New York Times today. Kind of ironic. I subscribe to the Times, but my delivery guy failed to deliver my paper today.  I guess I link to the Times often enough here, so it’s about time they linked to me.

Kind friends tell me that I was mentioned on Fox News last night and MSNBC this morning.* The irony here is that I hate television and haven’t owned one in years, so I didn’t see either segment.

I just met the new Dean of our Business School. A colleague introduced us, and he said, “Oh, so you’re that guy.” I guess I am.

The funny thing is that I’ve been spending most of my time this week rehearsing for this. Just when you thought life couldn’t get any more absurd. For some reason the advertising for the event doesn’t seem to mention that humor is supposed to be involved, but then again, false advertising is illegal.

I have no intention of doing any TV interviews, but my brother has already started giving me advice on how to do them:

For Mom’s sake, wear something nice.

Postscript, 4 pm: Here’s the segment from O’Reilly’s show on Fox. I regard it as essentially solid. Here’s the segment from Scarborough’s show on MSNBC with Fred Siegel. I don’t regard it as solid, but I’m going to reserve comment on the specifics until I have the time to contact Professor Siegel and ask him for some clarifications. (*I’ve revised the original post to reflect the fact that I’d originally said that both segments were on Fox, but one was on MSNBC.)

I have to take a break from Trump and celebration rumors for a few days to get some work done. It’s the end of the semester, and I can’t afford to keep up this pace of blogging right now. So feel free to comment, but don’t expect much in the way of posting or commenting from me until at least next week.