Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Weekend Links

[ 39 ] August 29, 2015 |

I got bumped from a scheduled appearance on Australian Public Radio, but I will survive.  Some readin':

Trigger Warnings Do Not Suppress Speech

[ 212 ] August 29, 2015 |


Speaking of trigger warnings, a commenter on the previous thread makes what I think is a common mistake:

4. The fear (slippery-slope or not) is that trigger warnings will lead to suggestions from admin about possibly removing certain works or materials from the syllabus.

There remains an obvious problem: there’s no logical connection between trigger warnings and censorship. Trigger warnings are only relevant to material that’s being presented. (How would you put a trigger warning on material that’s been suppressed?) Conflating trigger warnings with censorship is another example of the game played by the anti-p.c. crowd, in which critical speech is mysteriously transformed into speech suppression.

In addition, this is also an excellent illustration of why the slippery slope in generally a logical fallacy. On the one hand, there’s nothing inherent in trigger warnings that leads to material being suppressed. Conversely, if the administration wants to dictate to faculty what material is being taught in class, they don’t need trigger warnings to do so. (Indeed, assessment is a much more powerful lever to do so.) Undue interference by the administration into academic affairs is bad because it’s bad; trigger warnings per se are neither here nor there.

I also strongly recommend Angus Johnston’s recent thoughts on the subject. Here he responds to deBoer’s “What are we supposed to do with students who frivolously claim to have suffered trauma?” question:

My syllabus trigger warning doesn’t provide students who invoke it with any special privileges, so this isn’t really an issue for me — and as I said above, my text has been pretty widely adopted, so it’s not an issue for those professors either.

Speaking more generally, there are three paths a professor can take when asked for an accommodation from a student — offer the same accommodation to everyone, require that the requesting student provide proof of need, or apply their own judgment. I can see any of those approaches working in a trigger warning context.

Preciesely. The potential for cheating and abuse is ubiquitous whether one uses trigger warnings or not. My syllabus contains the university’s disability policy, which allows students to ask for special accommodations. Almost every semester, I have students who get extra time to write exams and write them in a separate room. Almost every semester, a student will ask for an assignment extension or a makeup exam date, and when the reason can’t be easily documented I have to assess their credibility and decide how to respond. If you’re a college teacher dealing with this kind of thing is, you know, your job. Again, I don’t see what particular problem trigger warnings are supposed to be creating here.

On “Political Correctness”

[ 115 ] August 29, 2015 |

What Kilgore said:

Is that the source of all this hysteria? Conservative media accounts of random college speech code incidents and the occasional dumb move by a school principal? Something that affects maybe a tenth of one percent of the population? That has conservatives backing a deliberately offensive celebrity like Trump and a conspiracy theorist like Carson?

I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. The Trump supporters and proto-Trump supporters I know are upset by things like having to listen to Spanish-language messages on customer service lines, not being able to call women “chicks” without someone frowning at them, and having to stop telling racist jokes at work. That’s what “political correctness” is code for: having to worry about the sensitivities of people who were invisible or submissive not that very long ago.

If Cupp is right and I’m not, then let’s all cooperate in convincing Republican politicians and conservative pundits to stop using the term “political correctness” and come right and and tell us what the beef is about. Is it really “trigger warning” requirements at scattered liberal arts colleges? Or is it this whole new world we’re in where people have to question old habits? When Ben Carson calls inhibitions about torturing terrorism suspects “political correctness,” it’s pretty clear he’s yet another apostle for the Church of the Day Before Yesterday, when America was never wrong and dissenters kept their mouths shut.

Today in Campus Political Correctness and the Progressive War on Free Speech

[ 114 ] August 28, 2015 |


The National Security Law Journal has published a notable contribution to legal thought. The title, “Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict as an Islamist Fifth Column,” does not quite do justice to the nature of the content. The author, West Point professor William C. Bradford, sketches out a theory that will surely make you want to subscribe to his drool-covered mimeographed newsletter:

Part I of this Article develops the claim that CLOACA [“critical law of armed conflict academy,” and yes this is what passes for wit here –ed.] is waging a PSYOP campaign to break American political will by convincing Americans their nation is fighting an illegal and unnecessary war against Islam that it must abandon to reclaim moral legitimacy. Part II offers explanations as to why this is so. Part III examines consequences of suffering this trahison des professeurs to exist. Part IV sketches recommendations to mitigate this ―Fifth Column‖ and defeat Islamism. Part V anticipates and addresses criticisms. Part VI concludes by warning that, without a loyal and intellectually honest law of armed conflict academy, the West is imperiled and faces defeat in the ongoing Fourth Generation War against Islamism.

He proceeds to argue that ISIS’s tactics aren’t so much something to be fought against as a model:

As just desert, Islamists should be anathematized as modern-day outlaws shorn of rights and liable to attack by all means and methods at all places and times and to judicial execution post-interrogation. If law is only legitimate if predicated upon history, values, and survival imperatives and “[n]o society can afford . . . inflexible rules concerning those steps on which its ultimate fate . . . depends,” then outlawry of Islamists is an efficient means to hasten their demise and the sole reciprocal arrangement possible with a foe that already applies this regime to Western “infidels.” The West must shatter Islamists‘ political will and eradicate those who do not renounce Islamism. Commitment to rule of law is not only an end but also a means to an end. Every rule, doctrine, and policy must endure a rigorous justification process whereby its retention in the LOAC canon is predicated upon its contribution to victory.

And, now, the punchline. What should be done with less authoritarian faculty?

A more proactive method to suppress disloyal radicals is to fire them. Islamists are heartened by their scholarly output and regard their presence within the academy as proof of American weakness and of the inevitability of Islamist victory; stripping tenure from LOACA members who express palpable anti-American bias, give aid and comfort to Islamists, or otherwise engage in academic misprision and corruption will deny the CLOACA Fifth Column the most important institutional terrain in the defensive battle. Although the question of how precisely to demarcate the zones of loyalty and permissible dissent remains open, suffering Islamist sympathizers and propagandists to inhabit LOACA and lend their combat power to the enemy is self-defeating.

CLOACA members whose scholarship, teaching, or service substantiates the elements of criminal offenses can be prosecuted In concert with federal and state law enforcement agencies, Congress can investigate linkages between CLOACA and Islamism to determine “the extent, character, and objects of un- American propaganda activities in the U.S. [that] attack the . . . form of government . . . guaranteed by our Constitution.” Because CLOACA output propagandizes for the Islamist cause, CLOACA would arguably be within the jurisdiction of a renewed version of the House Un-American Activities Committee (Committee on Internal Security) charged with investigating propaganda conducive to an Islamist victory and the alteration of the U.S. form of government this victory would necessarily entail.

“Material support” includes “expert advice or assistance” in training Islamist groups to use LOAC in support of advocacy and propaganda campaigns, even where experts providing such services lack intent to further illegal Islamist activity. CLOACA scholarship reflecting aspirations for a reconfigured LOAC regime it knows or should know will redound to Islamists‘ benefit, or painting the United States as engaged in an illegal war, misrepresents LOAC and makes “false claims” and uses “propaganda” in a manner that constitutes support and training prohibited by the material support statute. Culpable CLOACA members can be tried in military courts: Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides that “[a]ny person who . . . aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things . . . shall suffer death or . . . other punishments as a court-martial or military commission may direct;” the Rule for Court Martial 201 creates jurisdiction over any individual for an Article 104 offense.

The article is not merely an unintentional parody of Yooism but also an excellent unintentional parody of the contemporary law review. A substantively insane argument — “there are too many liberal professors today. Please send 40 to Gitmo. I am not a crackpot” — with barely enough content to sustain a 500-word blog post at a fourth-tier winger site is distended to 95 pages with countless superfluous footnotes.

The article has been repudiated by the editors, but the fact that it got published in the first place remains remarkable. In conclusion, that letter to the editor of a student newspaper proves that all liberals hate free speech.

These Things Are True

[ 179 ] August 27, 2015 |

Food.... bagel  with cream cheese.

Yes, yes, yes:

I’ve puzzled over this ever since I moved to Manhattan 10 years ago for college. Weekend afternoons often found me on a bench outside the Upper West Side stalwart Absolute Bagels, awkwardly cupping my bagel in the wax paper it was served in, trying not to drop it while I scraped away globs of excess cream cheese. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if others went through the same annoying ritual, so I recently started asking around. I’ve brought it up with friends, neighbors, and strangers at bars. I’ve asked young black women and old Jewish men. While my methods are far from scientific, my research strongly suggests that most New Yorkers agree: The cream cheese is too damn much.

Just how much are we talking about? Employees at a few Manhattan shops told me they add a quarter-pound, which is insane. A representative of Ess-a-Bagel, the East Side institution, said staff there are told to give about 3 ounces—only slightly less insane. In an article for Serious Eats last year, Max Falkowitz weighed samples from six New York City stores and found a range from 0.7 ounces, at Black Seed in Brooklyn, to 3.9 ounces, at Brooklyn Bagel in Manhattan. Absolute Bagel came in at 2.5 ounces, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite, Bagel Hole, served 1.7 ounces. Even those mid-range numbers are a lot. I ordered an everything bagel with “just a little cream cheese” at Bagel Hole a few weeks ago, and still had to tell the guy to scrape some off.

Like Edelman, if I’m ordering a bagel with cream cheese I always ask for “light” or “only a little” or something, and still get far more than I want. The full amount is just gross — not just unhealthy, but ruins the texture of the bagel.

Heckuva Job!

[ 111 ] August 27, 2015 |


Shorter Michael Brown: If I learned anything at Oklahoma City University School of Law or that Arabian horse association I left in a hail of lawsuits, it’s that as long as you don’t bear sole responsibility for something you bear no responsibility for something. Also, my plan to provide resources based on what I hoped state and local officials would do rather than what they did was brilliant.

The Politics of Firearm Violence

[ 95 ] August 27, 2015 |

As you may have seen yesterday, I have a longer argument about admonitions that firearm violence shouldn’t be “politicized.”

Today In Hatchet Jobs, Which I Mean in the Best Sense

[ 97 ] August 27, 2015 |


In an all-too-appropriate match of author and subject, Niall Ferguson has written a biography of Henry Kissinger. It is apparently exactly as good as one would expect:

The subtitle of this volume gives some indication of what Ferguson is missing in his psychoanalysis of Kissinger’s critics: The Idealist. The author’s revisionist thesis is that Kissinger was not in fact a realist, as he is so frequently portrayed. Hence Ferguson provides lofty epigrams from his subject to begin his chapters, such as this one: “It is true that ours is an attempt to exhibit Western values, but less by what we say than by what we do.” He shows us Kissinger moralizing against the use of “small countries as pawns” in the game of global strategy. Ferguson even quotes Kissinger privately scolding the Kennedy administration (those “unscrupulous pragmatists”) for tacitly authorizing the assassination of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem: “The honor and the moral standing of the United States require that a relationship exists between ends and means.… Our historical role has been to identify ourselves with the ideals and deepest hopes of mankind.”

Horseshit. By reproducing these quotations with a straight face, Ferguson has made himself a hypocrite’s bullhorn. The ideals and deepest hopes of mankind? Kissinger and Nixon bombed Cambodia to pieces in a secret four-year campaign that annihilated some 100,000 civilians. “Anything that flies, on anything that moves,” were the parameters Kissinger gave to Alexander Haig. He countered African liberation movements by embracing the white supremacists of Rhodesia and South Africa, a policy known as the “Tar Baby option.” Kissinger facilitated the overthrow of the governments of Chile and Argentina by right-wing generals, and then worked tirelessly to deflect criticism of the new governments’ torture and murder. A declassified memorandum of his meeting with Augusto Pinochet in 1976 shows Kissinger in a particularly unflattering light: “We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here. We are not out to weaken your position.” In 1975 Kissinger and President Ford met with Indonesian strongman Suharto and authorized him to invade East Timor, which he promptly did the following day; another 100,000 lost their lives. “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly,” Kissinger advised.

Henry Kissinger is entitled to a defense, but outfitting him in the white robes of idealism is not the way to go about it.

Firearm Violence Is Inherently Political

[ 314 ] August 26, 2015 |


I assume you’ve heard about the on-camera killing of a Virginia reporter and her cameraman this morning.

Supporters of the USA’s unusual and very bad gun control policies will inevitably tell us not to “politicize” the shooting. But firearm violence in the United States is inherently political. The are means, common in many other countries, that would almost certainly cause a substantial reduction in firearm deaths, both homicides and suicides. Continuing to do nothing in the face of this scale of unnecessary death is political. Some things should be politicized.

UPDATE: Longer version of the argument here.

On the Ashley Madison Hack

[ 312 ] August 26, 2015 |


Heather Havrilesky is very much making sense:

And while the biggest hacks to receive attention lately — the Sony hack, the Fappening’s nude-celebrity-photo link, and Ashley Madison — may have targeted groups that are easily held at a distance, that won’t always be the case. Where’s the real harm in exposing the pubic-hair-dye kit purchased by a wealthy executive, or outing a cheating married man? we might ask ourselves. But it’s only a matter of time before regular mortals who don’t think they’ve sinned at all, beyond harshly criticizing their bosses or lamenting their meddling mothers-in-law, are exposed along with the easier targets. While the Ashley Madison hackers have set their sights on punishing cheaters, domestic or foreign extremists could resolve to punish anyone purchasing the wrong sorts of books, anyone listening to the wrong kinds of music, anyone of the wrong race or religion. Cackling when the mob goes after someone whose behavior seems suspect to you is one thing. It will be harder to laugh along when a different kind of mob decides that your sex-toy purchases, that N.W.A album you bought on iTunes, or those jokes you made about stockpiling plastic explosives in a private email make you a worthy target.

The Ashley Madison hack can’t be examined in a vacuum, because the long-term, widespread implications of how this hack is handled are enormous. Not only should we be asking just how good a job corporations, businesses, and the government are doing at keeping our information safe (answer: not so good, in fact), we should be vigorously fighting the ignorant attitude that transparency makes us better people, which is naïve to the point of being depressing. The root issue is simple: When the public is patrolled by a mob, the consequences are dire for everyone involved.

Likewise, those who blithely state “privacy is dead” as if they have no skin in the game, as if merely shrugging and accepting that we no longer have any rights as individuals, may be the most disheartening of all. Are we ready to agree that we, as citizens, have no recourse, that it’s perfectly natural that criminals and the corporate entities that fail to protect us from them would mishandle our assets and expose us all to fraud and identity theft and public attacks? Do we want our public servants targeting citizens by using information gained through criminal means?

See also Greenwald.

I know this is pointless swimming against the tide, but I would actually go farther than Amanda and Erik: I don’t think that information obtained from the hack should be publicized by the media, period. I think this is true even in cases like Duggar, where the behavior would be newsworthy enough to be worth reporting if knowledge of it wasn’t obtained by illegal and privacy-threatening means.

I would also reiterate that even when hypocrisy is arguably newsworthy isn’t not really a very big deal. Josh Duggar’s patriarchal views of marriage and attempts to negatively influence public policy through lobbying and his reality show wouldn’t be any better if he adhered to his stated principles more consistently. And let’s be frank: most of the time even when publicly relevant hypocrisy is present, it’s more an excuse than a reason. Media oulets might have started their Ashley Madison stories with Duggar, but soon enough they will move on to not-even-really-celebrities with no influence on public policy and only the most tenuous hypocrisy angle. At bottom, people are mostly in it for the thigh-rubbing even when there’s a colorable argument that the behavior revealed by a hack is newsworthy.

…and as MDrew observes in consequences, the effects of the hack on ordinary people can be horrible.

American Grift

[ 86 ] August 26, 2015 |

In this instance, victims get further victimized.

Is Biden Running A Good Idea? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 278 ] August 25, 2015 |


I’m guessing — hoping? — that the Joe Biden rumors are more slow-news-month smoke than fire. I do know that the idea still doesn’t make any sense.

First, as Tomasky notes, between the lack of a policy rationale and the late entry the primary effect of Biden mounting a primary campaign would be to amplify media narratives that the Clinton campaign is floundering, the email faux-scandal is a thing, etc. A late-entry vanity campaign would be much worse than if he entered the race on a normal timetable.

In fairness, as Jamelle Bouie points out, Biden does have a potential policy rationale:

In 1984, he worked with Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond and the Reagan administration to craft and pass the Comprehensive Control Act, which enhanced and expanded civil asset forfeiture, and entitled local police departments to a share of captured assets. Critics say this incentivizes abuse, citing countless cases of unfair and unaccountable seizures. In one case last February, Drug Enforcement Administration officers seized $11,000 in cash from a 24-year-old college student. They didn’t find guns or drugs, but they kept the money anyway.

In 1986, Biden co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created new mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, including the infamous crack-versus-cocaine sentencing disparity. A crack cocaine user with only five grams would receive five years without parole, while a powder cocaine user had to possess 500 grams before seeing the same punishment. The predictable consequence was a federal drug regime that put its toughest penalties on low-level drug sellers and the most impoverished drug users.

Biden would also play an important role in crafting the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which strengthened mandatory minimums for drug possession, enhanced penalties for people who transport drugs, and established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whose director was christened “drug czar” by Biden.

His broadest contribution to crime policy was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, commonly called the 1994 Crime Bill. Written by Biden and signed by President Clinton, it increased funds for police and prisons, fueling a huge expansion of the federal prison population. As journalist Radley Balko details in The Rise of The Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, it also contributed to the rapid growth of militarized police forces that used new federal funds to purchase hundreds of thousands of pieces of military equipment, from flak jackets and automatic rifles to armored vehicles and grenade launchers.

The “crime bill” also brought a host of new federal death penalty crimes, which Biden celebrated in his defense of the bill. “Let me define the liberal wing of the Democratic Party,” he said to Sen. Orrin Hatch, “The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is now for 60 new death penalties … the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 100,000 cops. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 125,000 new state prison cells.”


Joe Biden, in other words, is the Democratic face of the drug war.

Yeah, that seems like a great idea in 2016.

As Bouie says, a Biden run would substantially tarnish his legacy, and while he wouldn’t win he could tarnish the Democratic nominee in the way that other rival campaigns wouldn’t. It’s a terrible idea.

Page 1 of 78712345...102030...Last »