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[ 110 ] April 7, 2017 |

Very Serious Person Fareed Zakaria:

When Alisyn Camerota asked him, “What changed last night?” Zakaria responded that Trump “became President of the United States.”

“I think this was actually a big moment because Candidate Trump had said that he would never get involved in the Syrian civil war,” Zakaria said. “He told President [BarackObama, ‘You cannot do this without the authorization of Congress.’ He seemed unconcerned with global norms. President Trump recognized that the President of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms, does have to have this broader moral and political purpose.”

That is high praise from Zakaria, who previously said that Trump has succeeded “by bullshitting.”

The comment was also noteworthy since Zakaria’s CNN colleague Van Jones used very similar language to describe Trump in February, saying he “became president” when he used a widely-publicized speech to honor the wife of a fallen Navy SEAL.

I have no opinion on whether bombing Syria was the right thing to do, but I do know that if it was, the fact that Trump did so was literally an almost completely random outcome: Ivanka or Jared or someone else showed him a picture of some gassed children, and he did a 180 on US involvement in the Syrian civil war.

As for Zakaria, it’s disgusting how elite media types become (metaphorically I pray) passionately aroused by the sight of a president killing people.  Again: I don’t know whether the latest Syrian intervention is good, wise, moral, prudent etc.  I do know that the kind of barely latent power-worship that gets triggered by unilateral military action by the Commander in Chief is none of those things.


An original contribution to the literature

[ 157 ] April 5, 2017 |

Politico reports that Neil Gorsuch’s academic writings “borrow” from other authors. This is the publication’s squeamish way of phrasing the fact that Gorsuch put his name* to texts that lifted the work of other writers without proper attribution, which in la cosa nostra is known as plagiarism.

Here is apparently the most striking example.  Gorsuch:

“Baby Doe” (an appellation used to protect the family’s privacy) was born in Bloomington, Indiana, on April 9, 1982, with two congenital anomalies, Down’s syndrome and esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula. Down’s syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that involves both a certain amount of physical deformity and some degree of mental retardation. 49 Esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula means that the esophageal passage from the mouth to the stomach ends in a pouch, with an abnormal connection between the trachea and the esophagus. As a result, food and drink pass to the lungs instead of the stomach, eventually resulting in suffocation unless surgery is performed to correct the malformation.50 Surgery to correct esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula is routinely performed with success, but the parents of Baby Doe refused to consent to the surgery.

Shortly after Baby Doe was born, a hearing was held at Bloomington Hospital to determine whether the parents had the right to refuse the surgery on behalf of their child. An attorney was present at the hearing to represent the parents, though no one was present to represent Baby Doe’s potentially adverse interests. Six physicians attended, three of whom had obstetric privileges and three of whom had pediatric privileges at Bloomington Hospital. The obstetricians “recommended that the child remain at Bloomington Hospital with full knowledge that surgery to correct tracheoesophageal fistula was not possible at Bloomington Hospital and that within a short period of time the child would succumb due to inability to receive nutriment and/or pneumonia.” 51 The pediatricians, meanwhile, stated that the appropriate treatment was to undertake corrective surgery immediately, and one of the pediatricians testified that the child might enjoy a reasonable quality of life. 52 The dispute wound up in a state court where the trial judge concluded that the parents had the right to refuse corrective surgery even though their child would die. The Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, and the child died on the sixth day after he was born while a guardian ad litem was on his way to Washington, D.C., to appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court.

Here is a passage from a law review article by Abigail Lawlis Kuzma:


The Infant Doe case involved a child who was born with Down’s syndrome and reparable13 esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula. Down’s syndrome or “Mongolism” is an incurable chromosomal disorder that involves a certain amount of physical deformity and an unpredictable degree of mental retardation.14 Esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula indicates that the esophageal passage from the mouth to the stomach ends in a pouch, with an abnormal connection between the trachea and the esophagus such that substances taken orally pass to the lungs instead of the stomach, eventually resulting in suffocation unless surgery is performed to correct the malformation.15 Corrective surgery to correct esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula is routinely performed with success,16 but the Bloomington Hospital is not equipped to handle the operation.17 However, the parents of Infant Doe refused to transfer their baby to Riley Hospital, a referral hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, for corrective surgery.18 Approximately twenty-six hours after Infant Doe was born, a hearing was held at Bloomington Hospital to determine whether the parents had a right to choose a course of treatment for their child that consisted of allowing the child to die.19 An attorney was present at the hearing to represent the child’s parents.20 ” No attorney was present to represent Infant Doe’s interests.21 Six physicians attended the hearing, three of whom had obstetric privileges and three of whom had pediatric privileges at Bloomington Hospital.22 The obstetricians “recommended that the child remain at Bloomington Hospital with full knowledge that surgery to correct tracheoesophageal fistula was not possible at Bloomington Hospital and that within a short period of time the child would succumb due to inability to receive nutriment and/or pneumonia.”23 The obstetrician who attended Mrs. Doe at the birth of her child “testified that, even if surgery were successful, the possibility of minimally adequate quality of life was non-existent due to the child’s severe and irreversible mental retardation.”24 The three physicians with pediatric privileges who attended the hearing stated that the appropriate treatment was to transfer the infant to Riley Hospital immediately for corrective surgery, and one of the pediatricians testified that Down’s Syndrome children may have a reasonable quality of life.25

In its declaratory judgment, the court concluded that the parents of Infant Doe had the right to choose the course of treatment recommended by the obstetricians in the case, that of refusing corrective surgery and allowing the child to die.26The case was unsuccessfully brought before the Indiana Supreme Court on an Emergency Appeal,27 and the child died on the sixth day after he was born while the guardian ad litem was on his way to Washington, D.C., to appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court.28

Obviously the first passage was copied directly from the latter text, with minor re-wordings, and with no attribution to the copied text.  That’s plagiarism. There wouldn’t be the slightest ambiguity about that definition of the concept if this were a draft of a law student’s seminar paper, but since this is, shall we say, a somewhat different interpretive context, much metaphorical ink was spilled in the wee wee hours of the morning to point out that this and similar examples aren’t really plagiarism at all, because of reasons.  I give you Princeton Law School’s Robert George:

Robert George, a law professor at Princeton University who was the general editor for Gorsuch’s book, told Politico that Gorsuch “did not attempt to steal other people’s intellectual property or pass off ideas or arguments taken from other writers as his own.”

“In no case did he seek credit for insights or analysis that had been purloined. In short, not only is there no fire, there isn’t even any smoke,” George added.

I wonder (I don’t actually wonder; this is a rhetorical device) if Robbie George applies this standard to his own students, or for that matter to himself? Is it OK to copy long passages from another author’s work without attribution, as long as the passage in question is purely descriptive?  I would hate to think that the disciplining bodies at Princeton Law School take that view of the matter, and I’m pretty sure they don’t.

And here is Oxford’s John Finnis, the leading light of contemporary natural law philosophy, (and Gorsuch’s dissertation adviser) plunging once more into the breach:

“None of the allegations has any substance or justification.” He adds, “Neil Gorsuch’s writing and citing was easily and well within the proper and accepted standards of scholarly research and writing in the field of study in which he and I work.”

OK then.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me a piece of advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he said to me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been fairly communicative in a somewhat reserved way, and I understood that he meant a lot more than that.  So I’m not going to claim that Neil Gorsuch’s plagiaristic tendencies are some sort of horrible character flaw, or render him unfit for the Supreme Court.  ” Judge not, lest you be judged,” is the most novel way I can think of to phrase the matter.

But it’s funny in a pathetic sort of way to see people like George and Finnis falling all over themselves to claim that plagiarism isn’t plagiarism.

*Of course it’s quite possible that Gorsuch had nothing to do with the copying of this passage at all, since much high falutin’ academic writing is actually produced by  semi-anonymous and mostly uncredited research assistants. (This is of course a standard dodge when academics get caught doing this kind of thing).  See, too, infra op. cit. the habit of referring to the opinions of judges as if they had actually been written by the judges themselves, as opposed to their clerks.  This kind of meta-plagiarism is its own kettle of fish, to coin a phrase.


Thanks for typing

[ 131 ] April 4, 2017 |

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single prof in position of a good sinecure must be in want of a wife:

Holsinger and some colleagues were recently discussing how often the wives of male academics do significant work for which they are rarely given proper credit.

This reminded Holsinger of all the times he has read male authors thanking their wives for typing up manuscripts in the acknowledgments of their books. Curious to see how widespread the practice was, Holsinger did a quick search on Google Books and found dozens of “eye-opening” examples that he started sharing on Twitter with the hashtag #ThanksForTyping.

For whatever reason, a lot of male authors over the years have been unwilling or unable to type up their own goddamn work. The acknowledgments of their books show how much extra work their wives did in turn.

“I have to thank my wife for typing the whole of this difficult manuscript in spite of the heavy burden laid on housewives by a six years’ war and its oppressive aftermath,” one example reads.

Holsinger said he drew his examples from all over: academic work, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and many other genres — even self-help books.

Here’s the twitter curation.

This reminded me that in the introduction to The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien explained that one factor in the long delay in the book’s publication was that the manuscript “had to be typed and re-typed: by me: the cost of professional typing by the ten-fingered was beyond my means.”

At the time, (the late 1940s and early 1950s) Tolkien was the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford — i.e., roughly the equivalent in the American system of a chaired professor at HYP.   Some quick googling indicates Tolkien was being paid 500 pounds per year by Oxford in the late 1920s, which would be the equivalent of about $33,000 in 2017 money.  I also recall reading somewhere that he was grading bluebooks for extra pay during the summer early in his academic career when he came upon a blessedly blank page, upon which he spontaneously wrote the words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” while having no idea at the time what a hobbit was.

Draining the legal academic swamp

[ 39 ] March 30, 2017 |

Two and a half years ago, I published an article which among other things documented how David Frakt got expelled from his own job talk at the Florida Coastal School of Law, where he had been invited to interview for the deanship:

Frakt pointed out to the faculty that the Lsat scores of entering students correlate fairly strongly with the probability that those students will eventually pass a state bar examination, which is of course a prerequisite for actually becoming a lawyer. He noted that according to statistics from the Law School Admission Council—the organization that administers the Lsat—scores higher than those in the 60th percentile correlate with a low risk of failing to eventually pass a bar exam. Scores ranking from the 60th to the 40th percentile, by contrast, correlate with a moderate but rapidly increasing risk of failure. Scores below the 40th percentile correlate with a high risk of failure, and scores below the 25th percentile correlate with an extreme risk of failure, to the point where it is quite unlikely that someone with an Lsat score below 145 will ever pass a bar exam.

In the class Florida Coastal had just admitted, then, more than half the students were unlikely to ever pass the bar. But Frakt emphasized that the actual situation the school’s eventual 2017 graduates would face was likely to be even worse than this. In each of the past two years, about 20 percent of Florida Coastal’s first-year class transferred to other law schools. These students essentially made up the top fifth of their classes in terms of law-school grades. This is significant because high law-school grades have an even stronger correlation with passing the bar than high Lsat scores do. In other words, if only half an entering class had a decent chance of eventually passing the bar, and nearly half of those students wound up transferring elsewhere …

Lawyers may be notoriously bad at math, but this equation was simple enough. The ABA requires schools to maintain certain bar-passage rates, or they risk losing their accreditation. Indeed, the ABA’s standards state that “a law school shall not admit applicants who do not appear capable of … being admitted to the bar.” By admitting so many students who, upon graduation, seemed unlikely ever to pass the bar, Frakt pointed out, Florida Coastal was running a serious risk of being put on probation and eventually de-accredited, which would put the school in a financial death spiral. (A loss of accreditation would make it impossible for students to receive federal loans and, crucially, would prevent students from taking the bar exam in many states.)

It was at about this point in Frakt’s presentation that Dennis Stone, the school’s president, entered the room and told Frakt that if he didn’t leave immediately, security would be called. (When The Atlantic reached out to InfiLaw for comment, the company said that Frakt’s presentation was “based upon clearly erroneous information about the school’s accreditation status and key data points,” and that Stone decided “to end the presentation rather than put up with further insults to the faculty and school from a candidate who had no chance to obtain the position.”)

Schadenfreude is not a pretty emotion (although it’s a rather pretty word — those wacky Germans!), but it would require superhuman virtue on Frakt’s part not to be reveling in the ongoing collapse of Infilaw’s sleazy empire.  Now, after exactly the sort of complete collapse of bar passage rates that Frakt predicted would happen has happened, the ABA has put two of the three Infilaw schools on probation.  Federal educational loan funds have been denied to Charlotte students, and the University of New Haven has pulled out of a projected alliance with the school.   (Thanks to an LGM reader for sending me a copy of the letter he just received from the president of New Haven, informing him that UNH had decided against any affiliation. On a related note, see this furious op-ed Elie Mystal published in the Times, which Scott linked to a few days ago, excoriating Bethune-Cookman for hooking up with Arizona Summit.)

Florida Coastal for the moment retains the distinction of being the only one of the Infilaw schools not on the ABA regulatory equivalent of death row, but its bar passage rate is also plunging as predicted, although not as precipitously as that of its sister schools.  These atrocious bar passage results were achieved even in the wake of a program that pays selected Infilaw graduates not to take the bar exam.  Arizona Summit has even instituted a brand-new requirement that current students pass a mock bar exam before they’re eligible to graduate.  Besides being cartoonishly evil, this is probably illegal, in the sense that it’s a breach of the school’s implied contract with its current students.

It remains to be seen if Betsy DeVos rides to at least the temporary rescue of Infilaw, by ordering the Department of Education to reverse its decision to cut off federal loan funds to Charlotte, and to not cut them off to Arizona Summit, now that the latter school has also been placed on probation by the ABA.  But for the moment at least, Infilaw is on the run, and its corporate masters are reportedly eager to unload what has become a less than sterling investment.


Why was Jennifer Bard fired from the University of Cincinnati’s law school deanship?

[ 36 ] March 24, 2017 |

Jennifer Bard was hired in July of 2015 to stop the bleeding at the University of Cincinnati’s law school. The school was running a multi-million dollar operating deficit: a consequence of a decline in effective tuition from JD students from approximately $9.3 million in 2011 to $4.5 million in 2015 (both figures are in 2015 dollars, and are based on my calculations drawn from 509 disclosure forms).

The law school’s situation in this regard was hardly unique.  I’ve just completed a study which concludes that between 2011 and 2015, effective tuition per student at non-elite (non T-14, though I guess it’s now T-13) law schools fell by about 12.5% in real terms, which, when combined with a 25% enrollment drop, adds up to something like a 35% decline in tuition revenue.  (This drop is disguised by sticker tuition prices, which rose 16% over this time frame, but which are increasingly irrelevant.  Discounts on sticker increased by 60% over the course of those four years).  Since most non-elite schools get 75% to 95% of their operating revenue from tuition, a lot of law schools are in the same straits as Cincinnati, i.e., dire.

The central administration brought Bard in to fix this, but last fall, little more than a year after she took over, a number of UC faculty were already plotting a vote of no confidence.  Apparently Bard’s offenses included trying to merge the law library into the university-wide system, requiring pre-approval for faculty travel, and requiring submission of travel receipts.  A few weeks later the interim provost set up some sort of mediation process, but just a couple of months into that process he decided to fire Bard instead.  (Firing a dean who isn’t even two years into a five-year contract is extremely unusual, at least in the law school world, and usually only happens in the wake of some sort genuine scandal).

Who knows what the whole story is here, but it’s worth mentioning that this wouldn’t be the first time that a woman was elevated to this type of leadership position and then fired shortly thereafter because of what, on their surface at least, seem like complaints that are as petty as they are predictable. (Travel receipts???).

Anyway, a lot of law school faculty seem to have trouble grasping that if you’re spending more than you’re bringing in, you leave yourself dependent on the kindness of strangers, aka, the forbearance of the central administration. And more than a few central administrators would under these circumstances give the faculty an offer they couldn’t refuse, rather than firing the person who had just been brought in to clean up somebody else’s mess.

The art of the deal

[ 173 ] March 23, 2017 |

Per John Harwood, the Freedom Caucus went into the WH meeting demanding not just the repeal of the EHBs, but also of Title 1, which is the ban on pre-existing conditions, allowing children until Age 26, the ban on lifetime limits, etc.   This makes the whole thing a non-starter, so no vote today.

Imagine what a mess this would be if a master negotiator wasn’t steering the ship of state.

[SL] Good reporting on this from DeBonis/Eilperin/Weigel. While it’s important to “credit” Trump, let us not forget the superb leadership of America’s foremost policy wonk, Paul Ryan.

What’s the average post-tax income of the 50 million least entrepreneurial, disruptive, and paradigm-shattering Americans?

[ 32 ] March 23, 2017 |

There are about 50 million people, approximately, who live in households at the 20th percentile of household income or lower (There were 126 million households in the US in 2015, with an average size of 2.54 people, but the least-wealthy households include a disproportionate number of single-person households, so 50 million is a ballpark estimate. That’s roughly the population of England).

The 20th percentile of household income in 2015 was $22,800, and the 10th percentile was $13,250.  And while these people are almost all part of Mitt Romney’s famous 47% who pay no or negative net federal income taxes, they still do pay a lot of other sorts of taxes, namely payroll, Medicare, state, and local taxes.  Citizens for Tax Justice estimated back in 2012 that the bottom 20% of taxpayers paid an effective tax rate of 17.4%.  If we estimate the average pre-tax income of these 50 million Americans as $14,000, that makes for an average post-tax income of $963.67 dollars per month.  For everything.  For everybody in the household.

These are the 50 million people who, according to the repeal and replace crowd, are supposed to stop buying the fanciest new Iphone as soon as it comes out, and buy private medical insurance instead, once the market works its magic.  That’s one heck of a trick, as they say down on the dirty boulevard.


Trump’s campaign manager was paid $10 million per year to be an agent for Putin

[ 154 ] March 22, 2017 |

Secret agent man.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.

It’s also unclear whether Manafort used an unsecured email server when he committed treason in return for tens of millions of dollars.


The decline in driving among young American adults

[ 249 ] March 21, 2017 |

When considering what to say to a law school applicant looking at various schools at various price points, I was surprised to learn that he has never learned to drive.  (This came up because he currently envisions himself working for a small firm in a rural part of an east coast state, which could be difficult even without having to rely on the basically non-existent mass transit options in such environs.)

He’s about to graduate from college, which led me to wonder how common it is for Americans at various ages to be non-drivers.  The best proxy for this — not a perfect one of course — is whether people have driver’s licenses.  If you had asked me to guess I would have said that something like 95% of people in their early 20s are licensed to drive. And in fact this would have been a tolerably close estimate when I was that age: in 1983, 91.8% of 20-24 year olds were licensed.

Yet it turns out that today, nearly one in every four 20-24 year olds (23.3%) doesn’t have a driver’s license. The decline since 1983 among 25-39 year olds is also striking, with the percentage declining from 95.6 to 85.1 in the 25-29 cohort, from 96.5 to 86.6 among 30 to 34 year olds, and 94.9 to 87.9 in the 35-39 age range.  (All latter figures are for 2014).

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s been a huge increase in geriatric drivers.  In 1983, only 55% of Americans 70 or older had a driver’s license (I find that number shockingly low. I would guess it reflects far lower percentages of car ownership per household in the mid-20th century, with one consequence being that many households never acquired more than one driver at most.  I also wonder what the gender breakdown looks like in this regard).  In 2014 that figure had risen to 79%.  When one considers that the number of old people in the US has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, we may soon be facing a crisis of perpetual left turn signaling.

As for why young people are so much less likely to be drivers than 30 years ago, is this a product of increasing urbanization?  The declining economic status of millennials relative to their boomer parents?  All that crazy “rap” music?

Relatedly, what do people who don’t have driver’s licenses do for identification purposes?  What card do they produce when they’re carded?  How do they vote?  If they look like they might be Mexican, how do they prove their legal residence for the purpose of being able to frequent fine dining establishments?

Anyway, there’s something happening here, though what it is ain’t exactly clear (that’s what the comments section is for naturally).

RIP Chuck Berry

[ 94 ] March 18, 2017 |

Chuck Berry has died.  It’s difficult to overstate the role Berry played in the early development of rock & roll, as it was known back in the day.  On his 90th birthday last October, it was announced that he would be releasing his first album since the 1970s, although I gather similar announcements had been made in recent years.

This might be my favorite live Rolling Stones performance.


The new hysteria over campus speech

[ 464 ] March 12, 2017 |

The incident earlier this month at Middlebury College, at which Charles Murray was shouted down while attempting to give a talk, and a professor who was accompanying him was physically assaulted when she and Murray were attempting to leave, has led to a new round of hand-wringing over how Kids Today just want their safe spaces and lazy rivers, the supposed flourishing of left-wing intolerance on college campuses, the revivification of the ghost of Herbert Marcuse, etc.

The leader in the clubhouse for the most over the top take on these developments is Yale law professor Stephen Carter:

Here’s what’s scariest about the last week’s incident at Middlebury College, where protesters shouted down the social scientist Charles Murray and injured a professor who was escorting him from the venue: It felt like an everyday event. So common has such odious behavior become that it’s tempting to greet it with a shrug . . .

The downshouters will go on behaving deplorably, and reminding the rest of us that the true harbinger of an authoritarian future lives not in the White House but in the groves of academe.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon used to say.  OK two things:

(1) College students who exercise a heckler’s veto — that is, who don’t merely protest, but actually try to shut down a speaker at an institutionally-sanctioned event — should be punished (in the wake of adequate due process of course) by their college or university.  Such punishment might include expulsion from the school under certain circumstances.

(2) Physical assault should be prosecuted.

That being said, the notion that the behavior of a handful of idiot undergraduates at one event at one hyper-elite college is a true harbinger of an authoritarian future — as opposed to say the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States — is dangerous nonsense.

But halt, sayeth the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law. Hast thou not heard that the name of the Middlebury Morons is legion?

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 2016 saw a record number of efforts to keep controversial speakers from being heard on campus — and that’s just in the U.S. To be sure, not all of the attempts succeeded, and the number catalogued, 42, is but a small fraction of the many outsiders who give addresses at colleges and universities each year. The real number of rejected speakers is certainly much higher, once we add in all the people not invited in the first place because some member of this or that committee objects to their views, or because campus authorities fear trouble. But even one would be too many.

By my count the actual number of “rejected speakers,” per the data base Carter cites, is 24.  They include things like the singer Common having an invitation to give a commencement speech revoked because police groups protested that he was the author of “a song in which he depicted a woman convicted of killing a police officer as a victim.”

They also include attempts by various people to stop giant checks from being handed out to the likes of Condi Rice for giving commencement speeches — i.e., wholly commendable efforts to resist this particularly obnoxious form of pseudo-intellectual grifting.  (Carter thinks those efforts are a form of illegitimate censorship as well).

And more than a quarter of the attempted dis-invitations were aimed at Milo Yiannopoulos, a professional attention seeker, whose total lifetime contribution to actual intellectual debate in even the broadest sense of the phrase can be calculated as approximately zero.

As Carter coyly acknowledges, the total number of talks on potentially politically sensitive topics at American colleges and universities in any one year must reach seven figures (There are four thousand such institutions in the US, so if you assume an average of one such talk per day per institution — surely a gross underestimate — that’s 1,460,000  opportunities for civil discourse-destroying protest).  So tens of thousands — at least — politically controversial talks take place at American institutions of higher learning for every one that leads to any (overt) attempt to keep that talk from taking place.

But even one such attempt is too many, says Carter.  Does he actually want to defend that position?  Universities are ongoing exercises in massive content discrimination, and indeed have to be by their very nature.  The notion that universities should be open to all viewpoints is so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe anyone would defend it, except at the highest level of abstraction, which is the level at which such defenses invariably take place.

Universities should not be open to the viewpoints of Holocaust deniers or Sandy Hook truthers, to pick just a couple of a basically unlimited number of possible examples, because such views are false, and false views should not be given a forum within institutions dedicated to the pursuit of truth.

But where do you draw the line?  You draw it right here, every day, that’s where.  (“Right here” being within the university itself).  But who should have the authority to make decisions about what constitutes a controversial view that deserves a hearing, and what is misguided nonsense, or a noxious calculated lie, or a paranoid delusion? We should — we being the members of the scholarly community — BECAUSE THAT’S LITERALLY OUR JOB, or part of it, anyway.

Sorry for shouting but come on.

The point is that, within the university at least, viewpoint tolerance is not and cannot possibly be some sort of absolute value.  It’s a pragmatic tool in the pursuit of truth, and, like all such tools, it has its limits.   Duly invited speakers should not be shouted down, let alone physically attacked, but making the decision whether a speaker should be heard in the first place is not “censorship,” unless censorship means making distinctions between speech that is likely to advance the mission of the university and that which will not.  And if making that distinction is illegitimate, then intellectual life itself becomes totally impossible.


Being here

[ 34 ] March 10, 2017 |

The opening of this week’s episode reveals that laughter is the best patent medicine:

President Trump has a new outlook on the legitimacy of the government’s monthly jobs reports, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Friday.

Asked about Trump’s past dismissal of Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs numbers in the past in light of Friday’s strong economic report, Spicer quoted the president:

“I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.'”

Spicer and reporters present laughed, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether Trump was joking.

And the hijinks only get more outrageous from there!  You won’t want to miss a minute, and in fact you can’t, because this show is also called reality! Or “reality,” as the case may be.

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