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

Character-Based Voting and Leadership Effects (1 of 3)

Here’s yet another post from my project on character-based voting (CBV). It’s the first of three posts on CBV and leadership effects, and one of many on CBV.

As I’ve said in previous posts, “character-based voting” is voting for or against a political candidate on the basis of what the voter takes to be his traits of character. That contrasts with “policy-based voting,” which is voting for a candidate based on the expected consequences of the policies the voter expects the candidate to pass.

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Character-Based Voting and the Policy of Truth

For the past six months or so, I’ve been working on a project on what I call “character-based voting” (CBV), construed as voting for a political candidate based on her traits of character, as contrasted with “policy-based voting” (PBV) which is voting for a political candidate based on the expected consequences of the candidate’s expected policies.

It’s a rough and in some contexts problematic distinction, but clear enough to work with. There’s a clear enough distinction to be drawn between voting for a candidate because you regard her as more honest than her rival, and voting for a candidate because you expect her to enact policies X1…Xn, which have expected consequences C1…Cn, which you regard as net favorable, but which you don’t expect her rival to enact. My modest claim is that CBV can in principle be justified, and has its place. Continue reading

The Obligation to Smile

I just taught a class on cat-calling in my ethics course, focused in part on this famous viral video on the subject just below. A number of issues came up about cat-calling as such, but for reasons that are obvious to anyone who’s seen the video, a secondary issue came up as well: whether anyone ever has an obligation to smile.

I had always assumed that the answer had to be “no”: you have no free-standing obligation to smile, and certainly no obligation to smile on command. Properly conceived, smiling is the epitome of a spontaneous expression of one’s inner states: you smile when you’re genuinely in a good mood. To fake a smile is to wreck it: you fake a smile when you want other people to think (or even pretend to think) that you’re in a smiley mood when you aren’t. But there’s no good reason to do that, and lots of good reasons to avoid it. Fake smiling distorts your relationship with others, and distorts your relationship with your own inner states. It demands that you literally present a face to the world that in some sense isn’t yours, then do your best to believe that it is.    Continue reading

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.


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:

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