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petronius's Journal
petronius's Journal
July 30, 2013

I was thinking about this general topic the other day, in the context of LEOs

casually or needlessly killing dogs or other pets, and it seems to me that if we recognize harm to a police animal as something more than mere property damage (which I agree with), then we should equally-well recognize police-caused harm to a private person's pet or livestock as something more than mere property damage. There also needs to be far stricter investigation (and prosecution if applicable) into police officer claims of defending themselves against animals.

As a broad general rule, any protection given to police (or their equipment, or creatures), should be balanced by commensurate protection from police (or their equipment, or creatures). In other words, if shooting a police dog is treated as shooting a police human, then police shooting a family dog should be viewed as shooting the family child. 'Necessary self defense' may look a little different by that standard...

July 28, 2013

I think the overlooked question here is what does a degree mean, and what

is the value of a degree anymore? You mention that you love the MIT and Harvard open courses, and I take it that you value them as a venue to learn as an independent scholar. That is a major strength of MOOCs and online instruction, and it adds to the venues for independent learning that have always existed (e.g. libraries).

However, a degree ought to mean something more than passing through a series of instructional activities - there needs to be assessment, feedback, interaction. These things take place through the mediation of faculty, and work best when those faculty are responsible for relatively small numbers of students (certainly not 1000s).

My main complaint about the general trend of online education - towards cost effective delivery - is that it cheapens the meaning of a degree by automating the assessment and reducing or eliminating the critical feedback. A degree (or even a course grade) becomes more like those ridiculous online training activities that are common in the corporate and academic world - read a bunch of slides, pass a multiple choice quiz, be careful not to go too fast or too slow, print out your certificate...

Sadly, I think universities have been too complicit in this cheapening, and in a way we're reaping what we've sewn. Too much on-campus undergraduate education has shifted toward super-large classrooms, scantron exams, and a reduced emphasis on writing and discussion. When we do that in the classrooms, it's no surprise when people start thinking that the same thing can be done even cheaper online - but the question shouldn't be whether it's cheaper, the question ought to be whether this is a true university education at all.

So I really don't believe that MOOCs or similar online structures are the proper way forward. They provide opportunities for motivated individuals, and probably can produce some sort of basic employment-level competence in a lot of fields, but I'm not convinced they will provide what a university degree ought to represent. At most, they might reasonably fill in for some entry-level foundational courses, where lower-level learning objectives can be met and assessed in a more automated fashion.

That said, I do think some of the online pedagogies have value. The flipped classroom model, for example, strikes me as interesting, and many of the interactive tools such as Elluminate for online sessions are useful...

July 18, 2013

Philosophically, I lean more toward SYG than DTR: while I think the moral and

ethical thing to do is to avoid harming another person (i.e. to retreat) whenever possible, I don't think retreating should be codified into the law for subsequent second-guessing. If a person has a legitimate need to use self-defense - they are facing a genuine and imminent threat of death or harm - then I think they have the right to deploy that defense in the time and manner that best protects them.

However, it seems that having SYG articulated in the law perhaps can lead to problems. On the one hand, it may distract individuals from the actual question of self-defense - there have been news articles in which people who have wounded/killed seem more concerned with their right to stand their ground than with the question of whether self-defense was justified in the first place. Of more concern, it seems to encourage LE to drop investigations too early, on the presumption that a ground-stander must have been defending themselves.

So the point I'm at now is thinking it's better for the law to be silent on both SYG and DTR (as is the case here in CA). Focus entirely on the legitimacy of the self-defense itself: was the putative defender reasonably in fear of imminent and serious harm? (The exception I would keep is that civil suits should not be allowed to use non-retreat as a basis for a wrong-full death claim, in cases where the self-defense was found to be justified...)

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