There ought to be a law

Correction, September 3, 2014: There may be more merit to the charges against Texas Governor Rick Perry than I had been led to believe. It’s still highly speculative, but Paul Rosenberg notes that Republicans have pursued the charges rather than a Democratic district attorney.[1] My larger point stands, however: Idiots get into power, stay for long periods of time, and do stupid things.

My initial reaction to Leonard Pitts, Jr., in his recent column on a 9-year old girl who accidentally shot her instructor in the head with an Uzi in Arizona is that he is right. Of course. It is so blindingly obvious. It is so unfathomable that no one foresaw that the recoil of such a weapon might lead to tragedy. And indeed there will always be stupid people, as in this case, everyone involved, except perhaps the young girl herself, whom we should indeed hold blameless.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Paul Rosenberg, “Rick Perry might go away for a long, long time: What even the liberal media isn’t reporting about his indictment,” Salon, September 3, 2014,
  2. [2]Leonard Pitts, Jr., “U.S. is exceptional — and stupid, too,” Miami Herald, August 30, 2014,

The legitimacy of a brute

In explaining those he calls ‘functionalists’, that is, those from whom I derive my conception of functionalist conservatives, Gerhard Lenski explains that it’s a lot less hassle for rulers to rule by persuading their subjects to accept their rule as ‘legitimate.’[1] The (physical) coercion otherwise required, though intrinsic to the state,[2] might generally be thought to cyclically require ever greater amounts of force to sustain, as resentment leads to further rebellion. Read more

  1. [1]Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).
  2. [2]Max Weber, “What is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 114-116.

It’s so much easier to wave a Confederate flag

Update, August 30, 2014: Unfortunately, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson quickly reverted to his socialization with the police as violence resumed the very next night.[1] I comment further on this situation in a subsequent blog post.

This story begins—only begins—with the shooting of yet another unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown, by yet another, as yet unnamed, white cop, in Ferguson, Missouri.[2] It must be a litany familiar to many Blacks in the U.S. and one I cannot even begin to do justice to: Read more

  1. [1]Alan Blinder and Tanzina Vega, “Missouri Governor to Deploy National Guard to Ferguson,” New York Times, August 18, 2014,; Max Fisher, “If police in Ferguson treat journalists like this, imagine how they treat residents,” Vox, August 18, 2014,; German Lopez, “CNN’s Jake Tapper on the police in Ferguson: ‘This doesn’t make any sense’,” Vox, August 18, 2014,; German Lopez, “Cop to Ferguson protesters: ‘I will fucking kill you… Go fuck yourself’,” Vox, August 20, 2014,; Catherine Thompson, “Three More Journalists Detained In Ferguson,” Talking Points Memo, August 18, 2014,; Jonathan Turley, “Ferguson Officer Suspended After Captured On Video Pointing Weapon At Protesters and Threatening To Kill Them,” August 22, 2014,; Tanzina Vega, Timothy Williams, and Erik Eckholm, “Emotions Flare in Missouri Amid Police Statements,” New York Times, August 15, 2014,; Tim Walker, “Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy report shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head,” Independent, August 18, 2014,–twice-in-the-head-9675118.html
  2. [2]Julie Bosman and Emma G. Fitzsimmons, “Grief and Protests Follow Shooting of a Teenager,” New York Times, August 10, 2014,

Vengeance over Justice

Early in January 2009, before he was inaugurated, then-President-elect Barack Obama who had earlier “broadly condemned some counterterrorism tactics of the Bush administration and its claim that the measures were justified under executive powers” said that “he also had ‘a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.'”[1] Read more

  1. [1]David Johnston and Charlie Savage, “Obama signals his reluctance to investigate Bush programs,” New York Times, January 2, 2009,

When computer science meets human science

A couple months ago, a fuss arose because some researchers had published a study based on Facebook data[1] that had been collected without anything like what we in academia regard as informed consent. Will Robertson responded with the most comprehensive explanation of why this study should not have been conducted and should not have been published I have seen,[2] and if you haven’t already done so, this is a must read, because Robertson nailed it (and, in the process, effectively reminded me that I could probably use a refresher on the topic of research ethics myself). Along these lines, Tim Carmody has tackled questions not only of informed consent but of how sites like Facebook and OkCupid represent their users.[3] This, too, is a must read. Read more

  1. [1]Adam D. I. Kramer, Jamie E. Guillory, and Jeffrey T. Hancock, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 111, no. 24 (2014), doi: 10.1073/pnas.1320040111
  2. [2]Will Robertson, “Facebook’s Unethical Research Project,” Skepchick, June 28, 2014,
  3. [3]Tim Carmody, “The problem with OKCupid is the problem with the social web,” Jason Kottke, August 1, 2014,

Two wrongs do not make a right: The case for ending Israel

Update, August 28, 2014: Mostly unnamed U.S. military sources have apparently confirmed my characterization of the Israeli attack on Gaza, specifically in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, and characterized the shelling as disproportionate[1]:

“Eleven battalions of IDF artillery is equivalent to the artillery we deploy to support two divisions of U.S. infantry,” a senior Pentagon officer with access to the daily briefings said. “That’s a massive amount of firepower, and it’s absolutely deadly.” Another officer, a retired artillery commander who served in Iraq, said the Pentagon’s assessment might well have underestimated the firepower the IDF brought to bear on Shujaiya. “This is the equivalent of the artillery we deploy to support a full corps,” he said. “It’s just a huge number of weapons.”

Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and U.S.-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155-mm howitzer), each of which can fire three shells per minute. “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible,” said the senior U.S. military officer. “It’s not mowing the lawn,” he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “It’s removing the topsoil.”

“Holy bejeezus,” exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” A West Point graduate who is a veteran of two wars and is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., he added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference. . . .

Senior U.S. officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on U.S. doctrine, assessed that, given that rate of artillery fire into Shujaiya, IDF commanders were not precisely targeting Palestinian military formations as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at cratering the neighborhood. The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood. Initially, said the senior Pentagon officer, Israel’s artillery used “suppressing fire to protect their forward units but then poured in everything they had, in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible. A walking barrage isn’t.”[2]

Israel’s war—I will deploy a harsher term for it—on the Gaza Strip must be especially disheartening for a former colleague of mine. We crossed paths at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), where we were both enrolled in the Transformative Studies Ph.D. program (we are both now in other programs). I remember talking with her about Israel at a week-long gathering held at the beginning of each semester. She talked about going to Israel and working to build bridges between Jews and Arabs. I thought she seemed naïve but, to her credit, she has gone and has been doing just that. Read more

  1. [1]Mark Perry, “Why Israel’s bombardment of Gaza neighborhood left US officers ‘stunned’,” Al Jazeera, August 27, 2014,
  2. [2]Mark Perry, “Why Israel’s bombardment of Gaza neighborhood left US officers ‘stunned’,” Al Jazeera, August 27, 2014,