Hang ‘Em High: Abortion, Gaza, and the Gallows

This has now become the standard conservative line on the Kevin Williamson affair, care of Bret Stephens of The New York Times. The “you” refers to Kevin Williamson.

The case against you, as best as I can tell, rests on three charges. You think abortion is murder and tweeted — appallingly in my view — that doctors and women should perhaps be hanged for it. You believe “sex is a biological reality” and that gender should not be a choice. And you once boorishly described an African-American boy in East St. Louis, Ill., “raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.” …

Weighed against these charges are hundreds of thousands of words of smart, stylish and often hilarious commentary, criticism and reportage. …

Shouldn’t great prose and independent judgment count for something? Not according to your critics. We live in the age of guilt by pull-quote, abetted by a combination of lazy journalism, gullible readership, missing context, and technologies that make our every ill-considered utterance instantly accessible and utterly indelible. I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet. When you write a whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who’ve had abortions, then I’ll worry.

We also live in an age — another one — of excommunication. This is ugly because its spirit is illiberal, and odd, because its consequences are negligible. Should The Atlantic foolishly succumb to pressure to rescind your job offer, you’ll still be widely read, presumably at National Review. If you’re really the barbarian your critics claim, you’re already through the gates.

The Atlantic did eventually rescind Williamson’s job offer, so I guess the barbarian has been ejected from the gates. Question in passing: if the consequences of the current spirit of excommunication are “negligible,” why the fuss? Continue reading

Somebody Get Me a Shot: Further Adventures at CVS Pharmacy

This article in The New York Times–“Why You Should Get the New Shingles Vaccine“–reminded me of  yet another frustrating conversation I recently had at a pharmacy. Here’s the last one. Before that, I had a pharmacist tell me that Ambien wasn’t habit-producing, and that I could stay on it indefinitely, for years (!). What the fuck are they teaching in the pharmacy schools nowadays?

Now that I’m freely divulging my personal health information, I may as well tell you that on my last visit to Planned Parenthood, I discovered that for all the crap they sling about the importance of getting tested for the full panel of STDs, the average Planned Parenthood center often doesn’t test for any of them on site except gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV–whether you pay out of pocket or not. If you ask why, they’ll just shrug their shoulders and look blankly at you, as though they hadn’t the foggiest idea as to the answer. In other words, I can attest from personal experience that most of the information on this page is bullshit: it lists a series of STD tests, claims to offer them, but doesn’t. I know better than to think that being tested for gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV is “safe enough” or “good enough” for safe sex. I also have health insurance and a primary care physician. But that isn’t true of everyone. Any guesses as to the results? 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

Questions About the Parkland Shooting (1): Whatever Happened to Patient Confidentiality?

The Parkland shooting seems to be one of those “tipping point” events that–like Ferguson in the case of the abuse of police power–may well change the trajectory of the debate over guns and gun control in the United States. At this point, it seems premature to come to any definite conclusions, whether about the shooting, or about what follows from its having happened the way it did. What seems more obvious to me is that far too many questions are going unasked. Here’s the first of several posts devoted to questions provoked by the shooting and the response to it–this first one provoked by the ease with which journalists seem to have gotten their hands on psychiatric or quasi-psychiatric reports having to do with the shooter’s state of mental health.

A question for people in social work/law enforcement: is there a legal/ethically legitimate way of getting hold of an adult welfare report by some equivalent of a Department of Children and Families as described in the article linked to just above? Or is journalistic reporting on the Florida DCF report on Nikolas Cruz based on a confidentiality-violative leak? Here’s some typical reporting on the release of the report, which is described as “confidential” in the same breath as it’s described as a matter of public record. Continue reading

We Contain Multitudes (or: “Give Us Your Wretched”)

I got two or three memos in my inbox today, depending on how you count them.

Memos 1 and 2 came from the Office of Mission Integration and Campus Ministry, with the request that we encourage our students to participate in their upcoming events, expressing support for illegal immigrants currently detained and awaiting deportation:

Sr. Antonelle Chunka will be in the Cafeteria in Obal Hall on Monday, February 12 at 1 pm, to discuss the ministry to immigrants in the Elizabeth, NJ detention center. Sister was part of the John Paul II Lecture Panel on Undocumented Immigration we held here at Felician last Spring.

All are welcome.

THIS IS CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING IN ACTION!

February 14: Join Campus Ministry and First Friends of New Jersey as we hold vigil outside the Elizabeth Detention Center in solidarity for those being detained due to their immigration status.

We will gather at the Rutherford Campus, first floor of Education Commons building at 4:45 pm and leave campus by 5:00 pm. Vigil begins outside the Elizabeth Detention Center at 6:00 pm.

Memo 3 came from the Dean of Students, with the request that we encourage our students to participate in an upcoming webinar on the many career paths available to officers in federal law enforcement, notably careers involving the detention and deportation of illegal immigrants:

Continue reading

Reason Papers 39:2 Out (Winter 2017 Issue)

The latest issue of Reason Papers is now out–Volume 39, Number 2 (Winter 2017). The issue includes a symposium on Tara Smith’s Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System, as well as Part II of a symposium on Den Uyl and Rasmussen’s newest book, The Perfectionist Turn. There’s also a revised version of a piece I posted here at PoT on teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans” (scroll all the way down to “Afterwords”). And other stuff as well–psychological egoism, Nozick on patterned theories of justice, interviews with Nazi filmmakers, commentary on a theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Enjoy.  Continue reading

Heading Out to the Highway (with David Brooks)

The ethics of driving is a topic dear to my heart, having lost my two closest childhood friends (and the wife of one of those friends, who was also a friend) to traffic accidents, and living as I do in north Jersey, where every day’s commute is a near-death experience. I hate cars, I hate driving, and above all, I hate driving in New Jersey, so I’m always open to anyone who’s willing to trash the way “we” drive, ascribe it to “our” moral failings, and demand that “we” do better. (I hijacked a presentation on the Aristotelian virtue of eubolia at the Felician Ethics Conference this past fall to insist that in the modern world, eubolia is a virtue best exemplified by virtuous drivers.)

This anti-driving (or anti-bad-driving, or anti-ubiquitously-bad-driving) attitude competes with another downer sentiment of mine: I can’t stand David Brooks. Just to be clear: I can’t fucking stand David Brooks.

So I opened up this morning’s New York Times, turned to the Op-Ed page, and faced a bit of a dilemma. Here was David Brooks trashing the way “we” drive, describing Jersey drivers as people who “treat driving as if it were foreplay to genocide,” acknowledging that “driving means making a thousand small decisions” (internalized eubolia, anyone?), and getting a few things right. But like so many so-called dilemmas, this one wasn’t an instance of that fabled entity, the irresolvable ontologically-based moral dilemma, and collapsed before long. Because as per usual, Brooks managed to snatch polemical failure from the jaws of success, re-confirming my hate for everything he writes.   Continue reading

Underexposed

From a letter in today’s New York Times:

To the Editor:

Not to be overlooked in this stunning victory is the role of the investigative reporting done by The Washington Post. Despite constant excoriation by President Trump and the extremist Steve Bannon, the free and fair press exposed an alleged child molester. This played no small part in Roy Moore’s defeat.

The need to vigilantly support truth and accuracy in the media gets stronger every day.

ADAM STOLER, BRONX

Can you really expose an alleged child molester–as opposed to giving exposure to allegations of child molestation? To “expose” something is to reveal what had previously been hidden. But if someone’s status is alleged, what is said about him remains hidden. It makes no sense to say that you’ve exposed the hiddenness of what is hidden. But nonsense has now become par for the course on the subject of allegations.

I’m glad that Roy Moore was defeated. I’m not glad that we seem to have lost even a vestigial sense of the fact that an allegation is an assertion in need of proof, that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that proof is easier in the asserting than in the doing. But apparently we have, and solecisms like “exposed alleged child molester” are the result. The issue here isn’t Roy Moore per se, but the widespread loss of the skepticism required when allegations of wrongdoing are made, whether criminal or otherwise. (Incidentally, I for one wouldn’t celebrate at the thought that the only reason Moore was defeated was that he was alleged to be a child molester. Doesn’t that imply, pathetically, that had no such allegations been made, he would have won?)  Continue reading