A Philosopher's Blog

Chris Christie Defends Policy of Quarantining Gun Owners

Posted in Humor by Michael LaBossiere on October 30, 2014

Newark — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) defended his  policy of quarantining  New Jersey gun owners.

“The government’s job is to protect safety and health of our citizens and guns hurt and kill many people,” Christie said.  “I have no second thoughts about it.”

Christie’s policy goes far beyond what even most liberals recommend. Anyone who owns a gun will be subject to a mandatory gun quarantine. The gun owner can leave her place of residence, but the gun must remain. Guns brought into the state will be quarantined along with their owners. The quarantine facility consists of unheated tents located in the Pine Barrens. Those quarantined will be given cardboard boxes  for their bathroom needs and a packet of wet naps in the place of shower facilities.

Not everyone agrees with the governor’s plan.

“If you put everyone in one basket, even people who are clearly no threat, a basic liberty is being violated for no reason”, said John Adams. Echoing this sentiment, T. Jefferson expressed concerns about the second amendment.

Christie brushed off those concerns.

“Folks that … buy a gun understand it’s in their interest and in public health interest to be quarantined,” Christie said.

Christie said the quarantine arrangement was a necessary step to protect the public in densely populated areas, criticizing the federal Centers for Disease Control.

“The fact of the matter is, the CDC just doesn’t get how many people are killed by guns. Way the f@ck more than Ebola. Pardon my language. But, if we are going to quarantine people just because we are afraid, then we should be quarantining people who actually have a chance of hurting someone. ” Christie said.

The NRA, which was silent about the treatment of the nurse who was quarantined in New Jersey, has threatened to sue the governor. Said the spokesman, “sure, we could gave a pigeon’s patootie about the rights of an unarmed nurse..or people eating dogs and cats….but when the governor starts talking about infringing on the only liberty that matters, we are all in.”

“Whatever,”Christie said, when asked about the lawsuit from the NRA. “Get in line. I’ve been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I’m happy to take it on.”

Leaving the stage, Christie was heard to mutter, “I’ll quarantine drivers next…so many people die in automobile accidents…”

Disclaimer: This is a parody.

Politics & Reality

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 2, 2012
English: Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie

English: Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an earlier post I discussed how politicians and pundits often present alternative realities of the science fiction sort. I also wrote a post about how some commentators were shocked that Romney was doing so poorly against the actual Obama when they believed they should have been easily trouncing the Obama-who-isn’t (that is, their straw man/alternative universe version of Obama).

During the Republican National Convention, New Jersey governor Chris Christie gave a rousing speech against President Obama and accused him of lacking leadership. In a rather clever analogy, he compared Obama to a man blundering in the dark, trying to find a light switch. Christie continued to ably serve in the attack role for his man Mitt Romney after the RNC. Naturally, this sort of political rhetoric is all part of the game and sensible folks know that such speeches are not about presenting the truth but about influencing emotions via presenting a narrative of a world that is not and of a world that probably never will be.

Then Sandy smashed into the east coast of the United States and hammered New Jersey especially hard. People died. Millions of people were left without power. Property was destroyed and damaged on a massive scale.

President Obama did what a president should do-he stepped into the crisis and got things done to help the people of the United States. Governor Christie did exactly what a governor should do-he stepped into the crisis and got things done to help the people of his state.

Reality had savagely slammed into the carefully crafted political narrative of an alternative reality in which government is almost always a problem and Obama is blundering in the dark. To Christie’s credit, he knew when the time to play at political narrative ended and the time to “get real” began. This was, of course, when Sandy hit his state.  Christie also exhibited those rare but laudable traits: sincerity, a sense of moral duty and honesty. He praised Obama for his praiseworthy actions and made it clear that his concern was completely focused on the good of the people of New Jersey.  This is how it should be and both men have done the right thing.

It is, of course, tempting to some to accuse Obama and Christie of playing a subtle political game. That is, their game is to create the illusion they are not playing the political game by doing what they should do rather than obviously playing for political points.  The challenge is, of course, to prove this. After all, the behavior of a clever person playing a political game while skillfully avoiding the appearance of playing the game would look identical to that of a person who was, in fact, not playing a political game but doing what should be done. Naturally, if evidence is available to support the hypothesis that there is political game play going on (and not just the fact that both men are politicians and an election is coming up), then such evidence should be given due consideration. Naturally, even if both men are playing a clever game, at least they are playing it the right way. That is, at least they are acting like leaders.

While I have been pushed ever closer to cynicism, I am taking the words and actions of Obama and Christie as being sincere and not part of a brilliant game within a game. I could be wrong and I am sure there is a well developed narrative for the clever ploys allegedly being played.

While it took a disaster to make it happen, it is good to see leaders working across party lines to get things done. It is also refreshing to hear sincere praise rather than the usual venomous lies and distortions that make up most of contemporary politics.

It would be a good thing if we could maintain this spirit and work together with the real world, rather than retreating ever deeper into the distorted alternative realities that make up much of contemporary politics. It should, of course, always be remembered that these political narratives cannot stand up when reality intrudes, at least when that reality includes a massive storm.

While it is disappointing, it is not surprising that governor Christie is being attacked for his willingness to work with the president. Rush Limbaugh, for example, launched into an attack against Christie-even going so far as to imply that Christie has changed his sexual orientation. To attack leaders because they are willing to set aside petty political bickering to work together for the common good in the face of a major disaster shows moral bankruptcy and meanness of spirit. What we need is more honest cooperation and less ideological blindness.

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Sandy & Socialism

Posted in Environment, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 31, 2012

Because I am a philosopher, I am sometimes accused of “not getting” the “real world.” That is, people who disagree with me sometimes like to take the intellectual shortcut of accusing me of not getting it rather than actually presenting developed arguments showing that I am in error.

Despite being accused of being detached from the “real world”, I actually consider reality to be an excellent source of evidence for discussing philosophical concerns, such as the legitimate role of the state.

Not surprisingly, the legitimate role of the state is often an issue in presidential elections and the 2012 election was no exception. The Republicans put forth the general idea that government is not the solution. There was also the stock tactic of presenting government as both ineffective and undesirable. One interesting addition was the explicit Tea Party twist of an Ayn Rand attack on the demon of collectivism. In sum, the Republican Party presented the government as an evil to be reduced and collective action as undesirable. Then Sandy hit the east coast of the United States.

Despite the political ideology expressed by the Republicans, there has been no opposition to the government stepping in to take collectivist actions. Republican Governor Chris Christie (who spoke passionately against Obama at the RNC) praised Obama’s leadership in bringing the state into the rescue and recovery operations. Christie himself made it clear that the state has a clear role to play in the recovery. Christie and Obama are right about the importance of the state in such disasters. After all, it requires collective action to address a problem of this magnitude and the private sector alone cannot handle the problems. On the face of it, disasters like Sandy provide considerable evidence against the Republican attacks on the state and collective action.

An obvious reply is that while the Republicans have been critical of the state and collectivism, they can claim that they believe the state has a legitimate role to play in disasters while still being able to hold to their criticisms of the state and collectivism. That is, they can take the collective response by the state to Sandy as legitimate government activity while still painting other activities, such as student loans and welfare, as socialism.

While this reply has some appeal, it is reasonable to dig a bit deeper and look at the underlying principle at work.

In the case of a natural disaster, many people are put in danger and are in need through no fault of their own. Of course, people sometimes are partially responsible—by staying when an evacuation order has been given, for example. This can be taken as justifying the collective action of the state. To be specific, the scale of the disaster and its nature requires a collective response by the state because it is beyond the capabilities of individuals acting on their own and even beyond the capabilities of the private sector to handle. Also, the fact that the disaster has struck people through (in general) no fault of their own also serves to justify state intervention even for those who might otherwise be opposed to the state assisting people. After all, one might contend, it is one thing for a person to simply expect the state to give them free stuff and another for them to be given aid in the context of a disaster like Sandy—even if this includes “free stuff.”

As such, a reasonable principle to justify state intervention in a disaster would be that the state has a legitimate role in addressing large scale disasters that arise through no (or perhaps even partial) fault of those who are harmed by the disaster. This principle would thus justify the collective action taken by the state in response to Sandy.

However, the principle would also seem to justify collective action by the state in other cases as well. For example, the economic “storm” that damaged the economy was a man-made disaster, but it was widespread and hurt many people through no (or at most partial) fault of their own. That is, millions of people were victims of an economic disaster that is ongoing. As such, the collective response by the state can be justified in general by this same principle. Interestingly, the general harms caused by the economic system (such as unemployment, low wages, environmental costs and other endemic harms) could also justify collective intervention by the state to mitigate them. After all, people who are homeless because the economy tanked are no less homeless than people who lost their homes to Sandy or other storm.

The obvious objection is, of course, that there is a difference between man-made disasters and natural disasters. As such, it could be argued that the state can legitimately intervene in the case of a natural disaster like Sandy but to intervene in man-made disasters would be unjustified.

The obvious problem with this objection is that it would entail that the state would have no legitimate role in defending citizens from enemies foreign or domestic. That is, the state would have no justification in regards to the military or police functions. After all, they exist to respond to man-made harms on both the small and the large scale.

It could be objected that the state has a legitimate role in responding to harms caused by people using force, violence, fraud (or other criminal means) but no legitimate role in responding to harms caused by people acting within the existing laws. So, if someone blows up your house, then the state has a legitimate role in addressing the problem. If the economy is wrecked by other people via legal means and you lose your home, then you are on your own.

While this distinction might have some appeal, it also seems rather absurd. After all, the legality of the actions that cost you your house seem to be outweighed by the fact that you lost your house due to harms inflicted by others. As such, whether a natural disaster or financial shenanigans beyond your control cost you your house you would still be a victim who deserves aid. Naturally, it would be rather another matter when the disaster is self-inflicted. If I lose my house because I quit my job out of laziness, then the fault is my own and the state owes me nothing beyond what I have earned.

In sum, if the state has a legitimate role to play in addressing natural disasters like Sandy, it also has a role in addressing man-made disasters, such as the current economic system.

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Sand Baggery & Zingers

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 3, 2012
Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del...

Mitt is no Ronald Reagan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although early voting has started in some states, the first presidential debate is tonight. While the candidates have been prepping for some time (Romney has apparently been trying out his zingers since August) the main focus has been on a campaign to lower expectations.

While it might seem odd, each party’s minions, spinions and pundits have been busy trying to craft a narrative in which their man is an inferior debater relative to his ass-kicking rhetoric-fu master opponent. Well, with the exception of Chris Christie who apparently did not get the memo regarding lowering expectations.

While some folks might be baffled by this, years of competitive running have taught me about the art of sand baggery.  In the case of running, sand bagging usually occurs in the warm up run before the race and involves runners crafting a narrative of their alleged injuries, fatigue, emotional disorders and other dire obstacles to running well. In Tallahassee, the master of sand bagging is my friend Jeff. Before a race he will weave a tale of running woe that will leave one wondering how he still lives, let alone manages to run. Naturally, he always manages to run a great race (expressing shock at the miraculous recovery that made it possible). He is such a legend that when other runners sand bag well, they are accused of being graduates of Jeff’s school of sand baggery. The point of this sand bagging is, of course, to have ready made excuses in case the race goes badly. Jeff also uses it to try to get an edge in the competition: many a naive fellow has fallen victim to the sand baggery, burning themselves out thinking that they will be able to wear Jeff down.

In my naive youth, I had not heard of this sort of sandbagging, but I did have a lesson in the importance of not bragging before a competition. Before my last big college track meet, the coach had a party for the team. My arch-rival, Glenn, was (as usual) talking some smack. So, when Matt asked me how I would do in the 10K, I said “I’ll be a minute and a quarter mile ahead of Glenn.” While I was initially joking, I quickly realized that I had thrown down the gauntlet and it was, as the kids say today, on. Glenn and I were close in speed and rather devoted competitors. For example, one time we were doing mile repeats and were tied in “wins.” During the tie breaker, the area went dark as a massive lightning storm erupted in the area. While everyone else ran for shelter, we stayed on the flooding track until it ended with my victory. But it was really, really close. The coach was not happy-after all explaining to the college why we had been electrocuted probably would have been a good day for him.

So, when the 10K started, I knew I had to run an incredible race or I would be obligated to eat my words. Naturally, I ran an incredible race and beat Glenn by over a quarter mile. That hurt…a lot. Part of it was luck-I happened to have a really good day while Glenn had something of a bad day. This taught me that it is best not to talk it up before a competition and that was the last time I ever made such a bold and arrogant prediction. Now when people ask me how I think I will do, I say, “I’ll tell you at the finish.”

As might be imagined, the candidates (or their minions) know that things can go badly in a debate much as they can go wrong in an athletic competition. If their man has a cold or is otherwise off his game, he can come across badly. There can also be costly slips. As such, it is not surprising that the minions, spinions and pundits are stacking up the sand bags. This way even a merely competent performance is regarded as being better than expected.

Of course, there is a certain dishonesty and false modesty in this process. After all, Obama is clearly a charismatic debater and Romney can (provided he doesn’t make any $10,000 bets) debate quite well. As such, there probably will not be any disasters or epic victories tonight. But, of course, surprises can happen.

Interestingly, while Romney and Obama have been sand bagging, Romney’s camp has let it be known that Romney has been loading up zingers, presumably to try to create a few Reagan moments (Reagan, a master of timing and showmanship, got in some good shots) in the debate. Of course, the zinger approach does have its risks. Romney lacks the showmanship and charisma of Reagan, so he might not be able to zing effectively. There is also the risk that his pre-loaded zings will appear to be exactly what they are, namely pre-planned and practiced. Zings tend to work best when they are unscripted and the idea that Romney has been practicing zings seems to add to the idea that he is somewhat mechanical in his ways.

Obama has said that he will not be doing any zinging, which certainly matches his style. While Romney has to make an effort to appear human and likable, Obama has to avoid appearing to be arrogant and professorial (although as a professor I often wonder why that is such a bad thing).

While the debates are presented as important, apparently most voters have already made up their minds (and some are already voting). Of course, a disaster or a miracle could occur during the debates and change things-but the odds of that happening are rather low. After all, the debates are carefully planned, scripted and controlled events-more scripted  theater than true competition.

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Will the Republicans Hand Obama the Win?

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 12, 2011
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

As has often been pointed out, most voters would prefer a Republican to Obama. However, most voters would prefer Obama over any of the current Republican candidates. Perhaps because of this, the Republicans have been eagerly trying to recruit more candidates. For example, there seems to have been a desperate attempt to get Chris Christie to run (an attempt the media seemed intent on supporting by willfully disregarding his litany of “no”).

In the case of Christie, I think he was wise not to run. As he noted, he wants to get more experience. Also, while his conservative credentials are excellent in regards to financial matters, he lacks the extremism in other areas that seem so essential to appealing to the base Republicans. I think Christie would have done well with the main stream voters, but I think he was well aware that he would not have gotten through the nomination process. Christie also seems like a very sensible person and hence probably wants to avoid the hostility and extremism of the current process. However, I think we can expect to see him running at a future point-hopefully when politics is a bit less deranged.

Getting back to the main focus, I suspect that the Republicans might end up handing Obama the win by making him seem the lesser of two evils. First, the Republican candidates have been somewhat unusually harsh with each other, thus doing some of Obama’s work for him. When the campaign gets going, Obama’s supporters will probably have plenty of ammunition against the Republican-ammunition forged by the other Republicans. Second, the Republican candidates have been pandering to the more extreme elements of their base and their supporters. While this is necessary to get the nomination, it also tends to scare and alienate moderates and independents. For example, I suspect that most moderates think that the EPA could use some fine tuning, but that it is probably a good idea to have an agency that protects the environment. Third, the Republican candidates seem rather good at lowering their appeal to mainstream voters and also losing the votes of certain blocks. For example, I suspect that if Cain gets the nod, many folks who are unemployed will not be voting for him. Fourth, more people are beginning to realize that the Republicans are mainly devoted to the corporations and not to the general population and this will cost them a few voters. While people do think the same of Democrats, the Democrats do seem more concerned about the people.

Interestingly, Obama’s best hope of getting re-elected lies with the Republicans snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Given the economy, the election is currently theirs to lose. However, if they cannot convince enough voters that they can do a better job for them than Obama, then he will get his second term. Ironically, the Republicans would beat Obama, if it were not for their actual candidates.

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