Two Questions

Question #1: Why do print and TV media outlets keep publicizing the names and pictures of publicity-seeking murderers?

Question #2: Could Congress impose a Pigouvian tax on the publication of such information?  Continue reading

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Visualizing Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

Read more here. Hat tip: Cliff Pickover, via Twitter.

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Somos Orlando–We Are Orlando

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Statehood for Puerto Rico?

Update (13 June 2017): According to Willie Santana, via Twitter: “AZ referendum for Statehood: 7% of pop. cast vote; AK was 21%; HI, 35%.”

In case you haven’t heard yet, Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in favor of becoming the 51st State of the United States. (Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, but Puerto Rico is neither a U.S. State nor an independent country but rather a “commonwealth” or self-ruling territorial possession of the United States.) The leaders of Puerto Rico’s main opposition political parties, however, decided to boycott the symbolic (i.e. nonbinding) statehood vote for a variety of reasons, so overall voter turnout was weak–just 23 percent of registered voters bothered to show up and vote. So, should the opposition boycott call into question the legitimacy of the outcome? We think not, for two reasons. The process was free and fair: in addition to statehood, the other major constitutional status options (independence as well as the status quo) were included on the ballot. Furthermore, although a 23% participation rate appears to be low in absolute terms, this turnout is actually pretty good when compared to previous special referendums held in 2005 and 2012. In the July 2005 unicameral legislature referendum, for example, voter turnout was just 22.3%, while in the August 2012 bail reform referendum, it was 35.5%. In addition, voter participation rates in general elections for P.R. governor have also been steadily declining. Here are the participation rates in recent Puerto Rico elections (% of registered voters who actually vote): Continue reading

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Problems in taxonomy (NBA finals edition): is this play a rebound or an assist?

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Problems in taxonomy (applied ethics edition): is Admiral Rogers a Humean or a Kantian?

A recent blog post by Dick Lipton and Ken Regan at Goedel’s Lost Letter (“Does logic apply to hearings?”) inspired me to write the post you are about to read. In brief, when the Director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers (pictured below), testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee a couple of days ago (7 June 2016), among other things, Admiral Rogers said: “I have never been directed to do anything that I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical, or inappropriate.” Although one can debate the constitutionality of NSA’s bulk collection of phone records (remember Jewel v. NSA?), here we shall focus on the morality/ethics of NSA’s data collection methods. (Like Adm. Rogers, we will use the terms “morality” and “ethics” interchangeably in this post.) Adm. Rogers’s blanket statement that he has never been told by his superiors (i.e. presidents Obama and Trump) to do anything morally wrong sounds good, but the problem with Admiral Rogers’s blanket denial is that, during the course of his testimony, he never discloses what theory of ethics he subscribes to. In short, what conception of morality steers his moral compass? 

Consider, for example, two of the most influential theories of moral philosophy: Humean versus Kantian ethics. If you are a Humean, i.e. a moral consequentialist, then you would most likely conclude that the NSA’s bulk data collection methods are indeed moral and ethical. Why? Because for a pragmatic consequentialist, the ends (protecting the homeland) generally justify the means (bulk collection of metadata). By constrast, if you are a Kantian, i.e. if you subscribe to some form of duty-based ethics, you would most likely find the NSA’s bulk collection methods to be morally wrong, a flagrant breach of individual autonomy and human dignity. As a result, since these two competing conceptions of morality can generate conflicting conclusions about whether a specific surveillance policy or course of action is right or wrong, at a minimum we need to know whether Adm. Rogers is a Humean or a Kantian before we can even attempt to assess the truth–or logic–of his testimony.

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Problems in taxonomy (national politics edition): is Comey a courageous whistleblower or a cowardly backstabber?

One thing is clear about “L’affair Flynn“: former FBI Director James Comey wants to inflict maximal damage on President Trump for being fired from his post, but from a purely strategic perspective, shouldn’t Comey have stayed silent instead of “feeding the seagulls” (his words, not ours)? 

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