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Friday, September 23, 2016

6 facts Concerning the Tragic Death of Terence Crutcher



1.) According to Officer Shelby, Crutcher was refusing commands. This is a credible claim; if officers have their guns aimed at him, it means that they perceive him (rightly or wrongly) as a serious potential threat, and thus they'd presumably want him to remain in place (as opposed to returning to his SUV). Consider, also, comments from officers in the chopper who were observing the event from above: "He's got his hands up there...now." "This guy's still walking." These imply that he refused earlier commands to put his hands up and stop walking.

2.) According to an officer in the chopper, Crutcher looked like a "bad dude". This is a pretty dumb comment, as it invites the charge of racism. That said, if he was in fact refusing commands, he was certainly acting like a "bad dude".

3.) PCP was reportedly discovered in Crutcher's car. This doesn't necessarily prove that he was intoxicated at the moment (the toxicology report hasn't been released yet). However, his apparently uncooperative behavior (see # 1) suggests that he might have been.

4.) There's disagreement on whether Crutcher's window was rolled up at the time. One attorney presented an enlarged photo appearing to show that the window was up and smeared with blood. A source in the Tulsa PD says that it was at least partially rolled down. Either way, what I believe really matters is whether Shelby had a reason to suspect that it was rolled down (it's possible that she couldn't have known for sure, given where she was standing).

5.) Crutcher did not seem to have his hands up at the moment before the tasing and shooting (watch the full video for yourself). It's unfortunate that we're led to believe that he did.

6.) Officer Shelby reportedly has a "history of drug abuse, domestic disturbances." The drug part is utterly irrelevant (she smoked pot twice, apparently). However, she and an ex-boyfriend filed restraining orders against one other (which were later dropped). She also had a protective order filed against her by her ex-husband's new wife (which was denied), as well as two excessive force complaints (which were held to be unfounded).

My conclusion: Shelby is a possibly temperamental officer who, at the very worst, exaggerated the threat posed by an apparently uncooperative man whose identity as an African-American has not been proven to be relevant, despite the media's thirst for sensationalism. "That may be why the charge is only manslaughter," a friend of mine remarked after I expressed these thoughts.  However, my concern is not with the legal charge, but with the "public charge" leveled on her.  Incidents like the shooting death of Walter Scott are obvious cases of police abuse; this one isn't as clear-cut.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Overrated Auroville: Critical Reflections on an Experimental Community in India

This morning, I came across a video praising a township in India that "lives without politics, religion, and money."  Although I admire the town's economic philosophy, the video overlooks some serious reported problems with the Auroville experiment.  A writer for Slate argues that, despite "innovative stuff" happening there, there is a "limited supply of water, an unsustainable economy, tangles of bureaucracy, secreted money, and no way to keep record of it all."  Even more disturbing is a BBC report on allegations of sexual exploitation of children.  Says one local, "They are allowed to get away with whatever they like, including paying our children to have sex with them, and we are powerless to complain."

But it's not just crime, corruption, and pedophilia that concerns me about this aspiring utopia.  There are also problems with the concept of a "religion free" community.  It seems to me that such a community (at least one that allows for procreation) is an oxymoron. Those born into it will eventually ponder the "big questions".  Some will conclude, on the assumption which is so characteristic of modern society that anything that transcends human comprehension must be false, that all religions are nonsense.  Others will humbly reject this arrogant assumption and may be drawn to a particular religion.  The latter will not experience the community into which they were born as free, but to some extent as repressive.  They will recognize that a "religion free" community is as absurd as one that is "meaning free", "peace free", "happiness free", and "freedom free".  Of course, I am not aware of the extent to which religion is discouraged in this community.  However, a place that explicitly markets itself as being "above all creeds" doesn't appear to be a very hospitable place for sincere religious seekers.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

We've Made It to Rumordom! Confronting the First-Ever Mischaracterization of the American Solidarity Party


Every political candidate or party has been dogged by baseless rumors and mischaracterizations. It comes with the territory of being visible. So, perhaps I should rejoice in the fact that the American Solidarity Party has reached the "milestone" of being grossly misrepresented (deliberately or otherwise, I won’t assume one way or the other). What, exactly, is the token of our growing popularity? We dig child porn!

That's right, readers. This overwhelmingly Christian party, which is otherwise socially conservative on issues like sexual morality and abortion, has somehow dropped the ball on child pornography.  The notion that such a party could support or condone this scourge is incomparably more fanciful than the wildest so-called "conspiracy theory" being pedaled this electoral season.  What could have given rise to this absurdity?

There is a tendency among many people to conflate one’s moral position on an issue with his policy position on it.  However, these positions relate to two entirely different concerns.  The latter concerns the means that society should employ in addressing the issue, while the former concerns the question of whether it ought to be viewed as a moral problem.  Bad things happen when we misconstrue a disagreement over the most effective way of solving a problem – especially one that is as unquestionably vile as child pornography - as a disagreement over whether the problem should be regarded as such.  The emotional reaction of some ASP members and observers to an earlier plank in our platform to subject consumers of child pornography “to a regime of treatment, rather than incarceration,” suggests that such a misconstrual has occurred. 

I can’t believe that I feel compelled to affirm this, but there is absolutely no room for debate over whether child pornography is tolerable.  However, a moral position on a problem doesn’t in itself imply the best way to combat it.  Those who supported the plank (which has since been removed) appreciated this fact.  They were willing to think outside the policy box, recognizing that policy is a means, not the end.  On the reasonable assumption that locking people up cannot, in itself, heal them of their underlying illness, they believed that treating offenders is a far more effective means of fighting child pornography than putting them behind bars.  We can certainly disagree over whether this belief is correct; during my nine days as the ASP presidential candidate (long story), I personally opted for an approach that combined treatment with incarceration.  But please, people: let’s not mistake such a disagreement for one over whether child pornography is a problem that needs to be eradicated!

It was only a matter of time before we’d be grossly mischaracterized for something.  But I always expected that our growing popularity would be followed by – oh, I don’t know - the accusation that we had a secret plot to install the Pope as president.  But no - we got child porn.  Nevertheless, my hope is that the transparent absurdity of this notion won’t be lost on most people.

Monday, September 5, 2016

So, It's the Russians' Fault That We Lack Political Trust!

Today, the Washington Post reported that there's a "broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and political institutions."

Now, I'm not going to assume that Russians are not hacking into our systems or disseminating propaganda (although the same story admits that the intelligence community lacks "definitive proof" of such a Russian influence operation), but really? Gallup (or is it Gallupov?) reporting makes abundantly clear that we don't need Russia's help in undermining public trust in our elections and political institutions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

No More Political Posts on Facebook?

According to a study cited in Quartz, "only" 8% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans reportedly answered yes to the question of whether they've ever been swayed by a political post on Facebook. However, "only" is a relative term. The chance of you being struck by lightning even during a thunderstorm is exceedingly low (say, .5%), yet most would regard the odds as high enough to warrant staying inside. Yes, those who changed their minds are in the minority; but, by my estimates, this amounts to over 200,000 people. If I were to write that "hundreds of thousands" of Democrats and Republicans have changed their minds following a political post, many readers would draw a very different conclusion.

Also, these results are only meaningful if people have worse luck on Facebook than they do elsewhere when it comes to changing people's minds (yet no distinction was drawn between FB or other venues). I find that most people are reluctant to reconsider their deeply held values, regardless of the venue

So, in the words of Madonna, "Express yourself, don't repress yourself."  Obviously, it's important to do so charitably, and without idolizing politics.  But if your friends don't like what you write on your own wall, the solution is to simply unfollow or unfriend you.