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States’ Rights, Sports, and the Harm of Gambling

Image of gamblers in a sports betting hall.

The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law prohibiting sports betting. In 1992, a federal law prohibited states from authorizing sports gambling. This week, Justice Alito provided his reasoning in favor of protecting states’ rights, wanting to avoid the federal government interfering with state legislatures making their own rulings regarding the issue of wagering on professional and amateur sports, which is indeed legal in Nevada. Many states anticipated the Supreme Court ruling and have been mobilizing to profit on their newfound avenue for revenue. Citizens will be able to start wagering on sports in New Jersey, for instance, in the next two weeks or so.

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Should the NFL’s Players Have to Pay to Protest?

Photo of San Francisco 49ers players kneeling during the National Anthem.

This May, the NFL announced a new policy—any team with a member who kneels during the National Anthem will have to pay a fine. The policy was decided by a vote of the team owners.  Union representatives for the players were not aware of the decision until it was announced. This new policy is a change in tone from the attitudes the league expressed last year and is a further development in an ongoing controversy sparked by players’ decision to protest by taking a knee during the National Anthem.  In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick made headlines for kneeling during the anthem in protest of violence perpetrated by police officers against people of color. Kaepernick no longer plays for the 49ers or any NFL team.  Amnesty International recently honored him with the 2017 Ambassador of Conscience Award.

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For Testosterone Testing in Sports

Image of numbers on the lanes of a running track.

In my last post, I explained that the IAAF has a new policy on testosterone testing for female athletes. See that post for the details. I presented an argument against testosterone testing in sport and now I’ll present an argument for it. Which is the better argument? You decide. (Full disclosure: I don’t know.)

The first thing we need to consider is why sports are gender-segregated. It’s not because there’s a need to segregate people with different gender identities (why would we do that?). Sports are gender-segregated for reasons having entirely to do with bodies. The crux of the matter is that people with female bodies would be at a tremendous disadvantage if they competed against people with male bodies. Averaging over different sports and different individual people, male bodies have a 10 percent advantage. With gender mixing, the female-bodied wouldn’t as often qualify for and win events. To enjoy all the goods associated with sport, people with female bodies have to compete amongst themselves.

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Just How Useful is the Trolley Problem?

Image of a streetcar in a city.

Philosophy can be perceived as a rather dry, boring subject. Perhaps for that very reason, divulgers have attempted to use stimulating and provocative thought experiments and hypothetical scenarios, in order to arouse students and get them to think about deep problems.

Surely one of the most popular thought experiments is the so-called “Trolley Problem”, widely discussed across American colleges as a way to introduce ethics. It actually goes back to an obscure paper written by Philippa Foot in the 1960s. Foot wondered if a surgeon could ethically kill one healthy patient in order to give her organs to five sick patients, and thus save their life. Then, she wondered whether the driver of a trolley on course to run over five people could divert the trolley onto another track in which only one person would be killed.

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Against Testosterone Testing in Sports

Image of hurdles on a track.

The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) has returned to the policy that female competitors must have circulating testosterone under a certain level. The policy had been suspended as a result of a judgment by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, after a complaint was filed by Dutee Chand, an Indian runner with DSD (differences of sexual development, also known as being intersex). For now, the new policy will apply only to mid-distance events—400 meters to a mile—and to people legally recognized as either female or intersex (which presumably includes trans women). More details on how the policy will be implemented are here.

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The Future of Farming: Reconsidering the E. Coli Breakout

Close-up photo of two heads of mini lettuce growing in a field

 

According to the CDC, 121 cases related to a potent strain of E. Coli have affected over half of the states in the US, with the main source stemming from romaine lettuce from the Yuma region of Arizona. The CDC has issued warnings to the public: “Do not serve or sell any romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, baby romaine, organic romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. Restaurants and retailers should ask their suppliers about their source of romaine lettuce.” While authorities have not been able to link the outbreak to a single source, it’s clear that issues in growing, packing, and handling are potential contributors. Continue reading “The Future of Farming: Reconsidering the E. Coli Breakout”

Moral Responsibility at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Photo of a monument memorializing deaths of migrants who tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border

On May 15, 2018, CNN reported that the U.S. Border Patrol, which is “tasked with tracking and trying to prevent border-crossing deaths,” has been undercounting the number of deaths of people who perished trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in contravention of U.S. Immigration laws. CNN reportedly identified more than 500 deaths over and above the Border Patrol’s official tally over the last 16 fiscal years. As CNN reports, undercounting deaths “minimizes the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis associated with illegal crossings” and “makes it harder for the United States to assess the full impact of a border policy, in place since the mid-1990s, that uses barriers and other enforcement tools to push migrants to more remote, deadlier crossing points.”

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Opinion: President Trump, Peacemaker?

Photo of the Nobel prize

Lately, people have been talking about President Donald Trump deserving the Nobel Peace Prize. Everything about that sentence is chilling, but that’s what people are saying. Even some of my liberal friends are saying that if Trump’s talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un lead to reconciliation between North and South Korea, denuclearization, or other good results, he’ll be a contender. Less surprisingly, there’s a group of 18 Republican Congress members lobbying for him to win the award. But no. This is ridiculous, and here’s why.

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In the Boy Scouts, Making Room for More than Just Boys

Photo of Boy Scouts saluting.

In October of last year, the Boy Scouts of America announced that the organization would begin admitting girls.  Cub Scouts, the organization for youths 7-10 years old, will begin welcoming girls this summer.  The program for youth 11-17—The Boy Scouts—will change its name to Scouts BSA and will begin accepting girls, providing a pathway for young women to become Eagle Scouts.

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Eric Schneiderman and the Moral Wrongs of Hypocrisy

Image of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Eric Schneiderman was the New York Attorney General since 2011 and a strong opponent of President Trump’s policies to end DACA. Most recently, he sued the Weinstein Company over sexual harassment and civil rights violations while being a vocal supporter of the #Metoo movement. His clear stance as an advocate for civil rights, and specifically feminist goals, has made the circumstances of his recent resignation particularly frustrating.  Schneiderman resigned as New York Attorney General the first week in May in response to claims that in four past relationships, he had physically assaulted his partners.

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Rape by Deception And the (Im)morality of Law

From “It’s On Us” to the MeToo campaign, sexual assault on college campuses and the world at large has garnered a great deal of attention in the past 10 years. Many universities have begun focalizing their commitment to Title IX and their no tolerance policy for sexual assault. Title IX enables the majority of sexual assaults that occur on these campuses to stay within the campus community and university judicial process, and this avoidance of the public criminal justice system is not immune to criticism. However, surrounding communities, whether it be through alienation or gentrification, are not always quick to get involved in campus crimes. Indiana colleges are no different, but an incident that occurred on Purdue University’s campus in February 2017 has many in the surrounding community, and the nation, upset. In an article titled “Bangert: Sex, lies and … wait, that wasn’t rape in a Purdue dorm?” Journal and Courier columnist Dave Bangert reacts to the acquittal of ex-Purdue student Donald Grant Ward, who admitted that in 2017 he knowingly had sex with a student under the false pretences that he was her boyfriend. Ward’s trial and subsequent comments by his lawyer have sparked a debate around the large question: Is rape by deception rape? And possibly more importantly, should rape by deception be considered a criminal offense?

To give some context, Purdue University saw 37 reports of rape during its 2016 school year, and though the 2017 statistic have not yet been released, it is likely that Ward’s case will be considered in these statistics, in light of the university’s reaction. Though 12 Indiana jurors found Ward not guilty of rape in February 2018, Purdue University barred Ward from campus immediately following the incident in February 2017. In other circumstances, such a discrepancy between Purdue’s campus policies and the Indiana criminal justice system could have Indiana citizens frustrated, considering the fact that Purdue is a state-funded University. However, members of the local community — and even prosecutors — seem to take the University’s side over the courts.

But what exactly is rape by deception? And how is what Ward did not considered a criminal offense? In a 2017 article in the Yale Law Review, Luis E. Chiesa explains the legal riddle of what many call “rape by deception.” Chiesa explains, “When people lie to obtain money, we call it theft. When they lie to enter private property, we call it trespass. When they lie to obtain sex… we have no idea what to call it.” Though there is no broad legal consensus about rape by deception, countries like Israel have successfully tried those convicted of it. However, detractors could use these very cases to point out why a rape-by-deception law could have unintended consequences. In 2010, Israeli Arab Sabbar Kashur was convicted of rape after having sex with a woman that was under the impression he was Jewish.  Some argue that this case was racist and in part fuelled by tensions between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Israelis. Increasing the penalty for any crime could fuel and contribute to existing inequalities in the criminal justice system, with the potential for uneven and unjust enforcement.

But supporters of a rape-by-deception law see it as no different from laws that protect property. In New Jersey, one legislator proposed a rape-by-deception law in 2014, after a grand jury found a William Allen Jordan, who lied about his professional status, nationality, and marital status to have sex with Mischele Lewis, not guilty of sexual assault by coercion. Though Jordan actually admitted to defrauding Lewis, the jury still decided he had not broken any law. Singleton aimed to remedy this by introducing a bill that recognized “sexual assault by fraud” and defined it as “an act of sexual penetration to which a person has given consent because the actor has misrepresented the purpose of the act or has represented he is someone he is not.”

Assemblyman Singleton supported this measure, telling those who opposed the bill to ask themselves: should the law “afford less legal protection to a person’s body than it does to that person’s property?” After all, he asked, “if it is a crime to deceive individuals out of their property, how can it be lawful to deceive them out of their bodies?

When Singleton’s bill was introduced, it did not even make it out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. This could be in part due to the attention it garnered in the media, with fervent anti-rape-by-deception articles being written in the months leading up to the 2014-2015 legislative session. Many who opposed this bill, and the concept of rape by deception in general, ranged from defence attorneys to actually defence sexual assault survivors. Lafayette Attorney Kirk Freeman, the Defence Attorney who represented Donald Grant Ward in 2017, was vocal about his opposition to a rape-by-deception law in an interview with local news station WLFI. Freeman argued that what Ward did — sneaking into his peer’s bedroom and pretending to be someone else — is “not rape just in the fact that lots of women this weekend are going to have sex with Navy Seals, going to have sex with football heroes, going to have sex with guys that rescue kittens from the middle of the interstate, and are going to have sex with men who tell them I love you and I’m ready for a commitment. Just because they are lying or being deceptive doesn’t make it rape.” Some might argue that Freeman’s statements are insensitive, facetious, and even sexist. However, does Freeman have a point? Would expanding the law to include rape by deception really open the door to legally prosecute anybody who lies for sex?

Some legal scholars, such as Jed Rubenfeld, would argue no. Rubenfeld believes that the problem with defining sex by deception as rape is the fact that modern American rape laws fail to correctly define or uphold the concept of consent. In his essay “The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy,” Rubenfeld uses the example of rape defined as sex with an unconscious person. The idea behind this statute is that somebody without consciousness is unable to consent, but if one takes a closer look at many of these laws, one notices that “rape will be found only if the intoxication was not self-induced.” In effect, modern American law still puts the burden of not getting raped on the victim, and Rubenfeld argues it is exactly this legal problem that influences legal attitudes toward rape by deception. Rubenfeld, in the end, contends that “courts have held for a hundred years in virtually every area of the law outside of rape, a consent procured through deception is no consent at all.” This idea could in part explain why Jordan was found guilty of fraud, but was not found guilty of sexual assault by coercion in 2014, and by Ward was acquitted in 2018.

From speeding on the highway to jay-walking in the city, many would agree that just because something is a crime, doesn’t make it morally wrong. However, Defence Attorney Kirk Freeman also asserted that “Just because something is not right doesn’t make it a crime.” Though many critical of rape culture might applaud the very idea that rape by deception is even considered unethical, Freeman’s statement unveils a deeper problem. What is the line between what is considered unethical and what we think should be illegal? This question, and the cases of both Jordan and Ward, demands we decide who and what the law is designed to protect, and how much value our ethical conscious holds in the laws that govern us.

Childish Gambino’s “This is America”: Why It Matters

photograph of rap artist Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover

Donald Glover has become a global phenomenon. As a comedian, Glover has left audiences laughing with his standup. As an actor, he captured audiences with his antics on the television show Community and continues to capture them through his television show Atlanta. But Glover’s comedy and filmography is not the only reason that he’s famous. Glover has an alter ego. As Childish Gambino, he gained repoire as a rap artist through successful projects such as Camp, STN MTN/ Kauai, and Because the Internet. As of late, Glover has been focusing on his filmography due to his show Atlanta and the fact that he plays Lando Calrissian in the new Star Wars Solo movie. But this past weekend, Glover made a return as Childish Gambino with his latest song, “This is America.” The song drew attention when Glover dropped a visual to accompany the song. It’s  full of relevant and powerful imagery that has characterized a part of the United States recently. Could Gambino’s new song be the wakeup call that America needs? Continue reading “Childish Gambino’s “This is America”: Why It Matters”

Natural Disasters? Earthquakes, Eruptions, and Climate Change

In the opening week of May, homes in Hawaii are being threatened by a notable volcanic eruption. Over 1,500 people have already been evacuated as lava flow inches only hundreds of yards away from subdivisions, sparking fires and releasing dangerous amounts of sulfur dioxide. Expert volcanologist Erik Klemetti is concerned about the new fissures on Mount Kilauea, especially since the volcano has long, sloping sides and is over 20 miles in diameter at the base. Unlike stereotypical conceptions of how volcanoes erupt, Kilauea is not erupting from the top, but from multiple fissures along the slopes. And although Kilauea has been regularly erupting for the past three decades, new fissures are appearing in an area “where there hasn’t been an eruption since the 1950’s.” These startling developments are a reminder that climate change concerns not only gas emissions or carbon footprints, but will likely increase the occurrence and scope of natural disasters, as well. Continue reading “Natural Disasters? Earthquakes, Eruptions, and Climate Change”

The Iran Deal: Shaky Future, Uncertain Repercussions

Photograph of President Trump and President Macron walking outside the White House, Macron speaking and gesturing with his hand

Earlier this year, I wrote about the violations of human rights by the Iranian regime and its impacts on the “Iran Deal” as a framework to restrain Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. The conclusion of that analysis was to push leaders to start delving into question of what will achieve security and safety for all on the global stage. Today, I will revisit with a different approach, through examining the impacts of the long discussions regarding the future of Iran Nuclear Deal. Two questions arise: Why are the European allies devoting so much attention to the future of the deal, and what are the implications of backing out from the agreement? Continue reading “The Iran Deal: Shaky Future, Uncertain Repercussions”

“Minibrains” May Be the Future of Drug Testing. They Also Pose Difficult Ethical Questions.

Image of a scientist swabbing a petri dish.

Minibrains sound like science fiction, but they have already led to new discoveries in the medical sciences. NPR recently reported on the efforts of scientists who are growing small and “extremely rudimentary versions of an actual human brain” by transforming human skin cells into neural stem cells and letting them grow into structures like those found in the human brain. These tissues are called cerebral organoids but are more popularly known as “minibrains.”

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When It Comes to the Environment, is Education Morally Obligatory?

Image of plastic bottles floating in the ocean

In April of this year, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research reported finding record amounts of plastic particles in the Arctic sea. Ice core samples were taken from five regions in the area. Up to 12,000 pieces of micro-plastic particles per liter of ice were found in the samples.  Scientists believe that much of the plastic, cigarettes butts, and other debris came from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of floating waste occupying 600,000 square miles between Hawaii and California.

Plastics in the sea pose substantial dangers for ecosystems and marine life. As evidence of this fact, earlier this year, a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Spain. Scientists concluded that it was death by garbage—64 pounds of plastics and other waste were found in the young whale’s stomach.

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NFL to Cheerleaders: Down Girl!

Photo of cheerleaders performing at the 2006 Pro Bowl

I’ve always thought there was a problem with cheerleading. However great they are as athletes and dancers, cheerleaders give the impression that a woman’s place on an athletic field is to cheer on the men. But now we’re learning that there are also problems for cheerleaders. NFL cheerleaders are subject to a truly bizarre list of conduct requirements, as well as regular sexual harassment.

The story has been told in a series of New York Times articles (April 4, April 10, April 17, April 17, and April 24), but perhaps most compellingly in this interview of Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, on the New York Times podcast, “The Daily.”

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From Minstrel Shows to The Simpsons: Racism in American Comedy

Image of plastic figures of Simpsons characters sitting on a couch

For nearly 30 years, The Simpsons has been making tongue-in-cheek jokes and chronicling, albeit satirically, the American way of life. As the longest-running cartoon in American television history, the show has had generational range in its influence, which is a rare feat in a modern, Netflix-binging society. In many ways, The Simpsons set the precedent for satirical cartoons and sitcoms to come, with its exaggerated depictions of the stereotypical American family. But it is not only the American family that The Simpsons has stereotyped in the last 29 years; they have also targeted characters ranging from CEOs to clowns. Continue reading “From Minstrel Shows to The Simpsons: Racism in American Comedy”