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Category: General

Trigger warnings, 90’s edition

[ 34 ] August 29, 2015 |

There was a time when I opposed trigger warnings, because I worried they’d have a chilling effect. That was the mid-90’s, and the ‘trigger warnings’ in question were the FCC’s voluntary but widely adopted “TV Parental guidelines” that went into effect in 1997. I knew this system didn’t include any overt censorship, but I worried it might have a chilling effect on material that might be controversial–that viewers, advertisers, and networks might be worried about ratings, and the pressure on writers and directors to avoid the kind of content that might result in a TV-MA tag for the show. I think it’s safe to say, from the vantage point of 2015, that my concerns turned out to be overblown.

It would be a mistake, I think, to suggest that these guidelines played a major role in ushering the golden age of television they happened to coincide with; correlation is not causation and all. And the analogy is far from perfect; writers and producers were and are obviously self-censoring in a number of that syllabus creating professors are not (and vice versa). Viewers aren’t perfectly analogous to students, nor networks to administrators, etc etc.

But like many people who seem overly worried about trigger warnings on syllabi today, I thought I was capable of predicting how this would play out, based on what turned out to be an overly simplistic set of assumptions about the motivations and likely behavior of the various actors. I turned out to be clearly wrong, at least in part because I didn’t give some of the relevant actors enough credit. The rating system seemed to lead to less viewer freakouts, and less attention paid to them by advertisers and networks, and more potentially controversial and challenging material on the air. The prediction of a chilling effect from trigger warnings, similarly, requires taking a fairly dim view of maturity of students, and the professionalism of faculty. Perhaps that’s warranted, but based on the faculty and students I interact with, I’m not convinced that’s likely to be the case.


What sort of advance did Matt Millen get for his book “How to Build a Dominant NFL Franchise?”

[ 31 ] August 29, 2015 |



Wait, that’s not a real book. This, however, is a real op-ed, in which Team Cheney reveal the secrets to building an American foreign policy that both tastes great and is less filling:

No other nation, international body or “community of nations” can do what we do. It isn’t just our involvement in world events that has been essential for the triumph of freedom. It is our leadership. For the better part of a century, security and freedom for millions of people around the globe have depended on America’s military, economic, political and diplomatic might. For the most part, until the administration of Barack Obama, we delivered.

Can you guess what historical analogy leaps to mind when Dick and Liz Cheney consider the Iran deal?

The Obama nuclear agreement with Iran is tragically reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich agreement in 1938. Each was negotiated from a position of weakness by a leader willing to concede nearly everything to appease an ideological dictator. Hitler got Czechoslovakia. The mullahs in Tehran get billions of dollars and a pathway to a nuclear arsenal. Munich led to World War II. The Obama agreement will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and, more than likely, the first use of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I knew you could.

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.

Tall Tales from Texas

[ 19 ] August 29, 2015 |

For some reason–perhaps laziness or force of habit, or engagingly alarmist (‘new records for traffic misery!’) press releases, media outlets across the country dutifully report as fact the whatever new congestion ‘study’ the Texas A&M Transportation Institute releases. The problems are significant: their approach uses bizarre assumptions, questionable data, and despite being produced under the aegis of an institute at a major research university has never been subjected to peer review.

David Alpert:

The report, from Texas A&M University, looks at only one factor: how fast traffic moves. Consider two hypothetical cities. In Denseopolis, people live within 2 miles of work on average, but the roads are fairly clogged and drivers can only go about 20 miles per hour. However, it only takes an average of 6 minutes to get to work, which isn’t bad.

On the other hand, in Sprawlville, people live about 30 miles from work on average, but there are lots and lots of fast-moving freeways, so people can drive 60 mph. That means it takes 30 minutes to get to work.

Which city has worse roads? By TTI’s methods, it’s Denseopolis. But it’s the people of Sprawlville who spend more time commuting, and thus have less time to be with their families and for recreation.

Joe Cortwright: 

The authors continue to report data for 1982 through 2007, even though TTI’s model for those years doesn’t actually measure congestion: it simply assumes that increased vehicle volumes automatically produce slower speeds, which is not necessarily accurate. The report’s data from 2007 and earlier isn’t comparable the data that comes afterwards, and can’t legitimately be used to make claims about whether traffic is better or worse than in earlier periods.

The presumption of the methodology is that our goal–to avoid “waste”–is to have sufficient road space available that the most popular times to travel see no delay whatsoever during peak times. That sounds nice, as long as we temporarily forget that land and money are scarce resources.* What makes the best (and most congested) cities attractive to access is that a)there’s lots of economic opportunity and activity there, and b) they are interesting and attractive places to visit. Ginormous 12 lane highways and acres of parking competes with those values; it’s a boring, ugly land use that generates little revenue. Walkability and human-scale density and cars travelling 60 MPH don’t go together.

Pretty much any time you decide to X at the most popular time to X, you pay for your timing in some way, whether in money, time, or flexibility. For whatever reason, we’ve elected to have a system where commuting by car at peak costs time instead of money. This choice has some cross-ideological appeal; on the anti-tax right the alternative is treated as tax increase; on the left it offends a kind of egalitarian ethos about access to a public good. I see the force of the latter position, but think it’s ultimately mistaken; transforming the cost of peak congestion from a time penalty to a financial one contributes to a number of progressive goals (environmental, of course, but public transit, as buses get stuck in congestion too). But either way, the notion that we should expect this activity to come at any price at all is both unrealistic and entirely undefended.

*The atmosphere’s capacity to store carbon emissions is a scarce resource too, of course, but the underlying logic here would still be deeply flawed even if global climate change turned out to be nothing more than a figment of Al Gore’s fevered imagination.


On “Political Correctness”

[ 117 ] 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.

Sentinels of Silence

[ 15 ] August 28, 2015 |

Why can’t Orson Welles be brought back from the dead to narrate documentaries?

Had to link instead of embed because of the film’s privacy settings, but it’s a cool documentary of sorts on indigenous Mexican ruins.

Workplace Violence

[ 47 ] August 28, 2015 |

The horrible killing of the Virginia TV crew has once again shown that a) gun violence is inherently political, b) that the National Rifle Association is a front organization for murderers, and c) that we need gun control, which of course won’t happen. But it’s also a reminder of how common violence at the workplace. Errol Lewis:

A more fruitful discussion worth having is about the scourge of workplace violence, which the killings of Parker and Ward certainly was. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency, while workplace violence has dropped in recent years, it is still startlingly frequent. Nearly a decade ago, according to the agency, 20 workers were murdered every week. A more recent report shows the tide of violence declining, but as of 2009, 521 people were killed on the job and 572,000 non-fatal violent crimes took place, including rape, robbery and assault.

That averages out to more than 10 lives lost every week. Many of the tales are grisly: As CNN pointed out last fall, a fired UPS employee in Alabama shot two former colleagues to death before killing himself; a laid-off worker in Oklahoma went to his old plant and beheaded the first person he saw; and a traffic controller in Illinois set fire to his workplace and slit his throat.

And all those happened in a single week.

But there’s more because a sadly not surprising amount of this workplace violence is directed at women, as was the case this week. Dan Keating:

Many people work at dangerous heights, or with deadly chemicals or crushing equipment. But, as the gruesome killing of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward reminded us Wednesday, murder happens surprisingly often on the job. Out of nearly 4,600 workplace deaths in 2013, 9 percent were caused by homicides, according to the census of workplace deaths by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a pattern that disproportionately affects women. After car accidents, homicide is the most likely way for women to die at work, representing 21 percent of workplace deaths. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to die many other ways. Murders represent 8 percent of workplace deaths for men, preceded by car accidents, falls and contact with objects and equipment.

The murder threat for women is different. Both sexes die most often at the hands of robbers, and both also murdered at about the same rate by co-workers. But more than a third of women murdered at work are killed by boyfriends, spouses, exes or other relatives. For men, that category of killer is almost zero.

“When women are at work, their exes always know where to find them, don’t they?” said security expert Chris E. McGoey in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The 2015 AFL-CIO Death on the Job Report has more about these issues as well:


Workplace violence is another way that the national epidemic of gun violence affects all of us and it gives organized labor an entry into pushing for rational gun policies. I don’t doubt of course that advocating for gun control would irritate a good number of union members for which gun identification is more meaningful than class identification, but cutting back on the opportunities for gun violence is the right thing for working Americans.

Reconstruction and the National Park Service

[ 25 ] August 28, 2015 |


Ku Klux Klan member, Tennessee, 1868

This is a good piece summarizing the one area of U.S. history that the National Park Service has done a terrible job commemorating, which is, not surprisingly, Reconstruction. The NPS does a really commendable job of remembering the American past, especially given its increasingly limited resources spread out over increasing numbers of parks. But Reconstruction is a major gap. The first reason is obvious–that for so long the popular historical interpretation of the period was one most popularly told in Birth of a Nation. But this open white supremacy was always challenged by African-Americans and in recent decades the popular memory has shifted. Except among conservative white people, which still means memory of the period is extremely charged. The NPS is moving toward some new sites that would remember the brief, aborted attempt to create something like a racial democracy in the post-Civil War period. What has to happen now that did not happen in 2003 when the last time an effort to create a Reconstruction site took place is to not allow the Confederate heritage organizations to have a seat at the table. This is the equivalent of allowing Neo-Nazi organizations to have a role in deciding on official historical remembrance of the Holocaust.

I do believe we will see, at the very least, Obama simply name a Reconstruction-era National Monument before he leaves office. A congressional bill would be preferable because it would show that there is a broader understanding of what Reconstruction is really about but given the rise of radical white supremacist Republicanism in the last decade, this feels unlikely to me. Moreover, I am concerned that the NPS is still bringing representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans into meetings. Why? They should be excluded entirely. They are never going to agree and don’t have a legitimate viewpoint to begin with.

Firing bad cops

[ 31 ] August 28, 2015 |

Setting aside her pathetic racial resentment, what’s striking about SPD officer Cynthia Whitlatch’s account of her unjustified arrest of William Wingate is that even if we take her self-serving account entirely at face value, it paints a clear picture of an officer unfit for duty:

Murphy noted that Whitlatch admitted she “did not see Mr. Wingate swing his golf club at the police car and hit the stop sign; instead, she admits that she only saw movement out of the corner of her eye and heard a noise, leading her to assume he swung at her car and hit the stop sign… The Named Employee observed Mr. Wingate look at her with a furrowed brow and assumed that he was purposefully directing an ‘angry’ look at her.”

Whitlatch seemed fixated on Wingate’s alleged furrowed brow, which she said she could see through her rearview mirror as she drove away from Pike and 11th. She said she knew he was glaring at her because he was angry.

Her patrol car’s dashcam video shows that when Whitlatch confronts Wingate at an intersection one block away, Wingate appears to have no idea who she was or why she is asking him to drop his golf club, which he was using as a cane.


 So she hears a strange noise and comes is, in her mind, a perfectly logical and plausible explanation–an elderly black in her vicinity inexplicably attempted to strike a passing police car with his golf club/cane. Furthermore, his “furrowed brow” constituted sufficient supporting evidence for this hunch that it’s off to jail on a ‘contempt of cop’ charge for him. And this is her story; the best she can come up with to try to save her job. Happily, her ability to present an exonerating, self-serving account of the incident was hindered by her dashcam.
This is kind of a big deal in Seattle because, if her appeals aren’t successful, she’ll be one of the first police officers fired for excessive force or misconduct in a good long while. It’s easy to see why previous chiefs have not bothered–their firings can be overturned by a review board stacked 2-1 with current SPD officers. (This is in sharp contrast with the King County Sherrif’s department, where Chief John Urquhart, who is much less shy about moving aggressively to remove problem officers.)
As an aside, while the quality of The Stranger’s news section generally and political coverage in particular has declined noticably in recent years, their ongoing coverage of police misconduct (the now-departed Dominic Holden and Ansel Herz in particular) has been excellent, and is probably part of the reason the effort to remove such an obviously unfit officer as Whitlatch has made it this far.


Zduriencik fired

[ 42 ] August 28, 2015 |

Finally. It’s long overdue, of course, and absolutely necessary. As a Mariners fan, I suppose I should be feeling, if not joy, at least a sense of relief. Instead I mostly just feel anxious and concerned they’ll screw up the next, crucial step–will the organization’s reputation for meddling with G.M.’s decision-making make it difficult to attract strong candidates? Are the relevant decision-makers capable of identifying strong candidates in the first place? Given how Zduriencik was able to use someone much smarter than he to bluff his way into the job, I’m worried the answers may be “yes” and “no” respectively.

….The following sentence should fill all Mariners fans with despair:

Bob Nightengale reported that the team may have interest in White Sox president Kenny Williams, while Ken Rosenthal notes on Twitter that they’ve reached out to former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd.

Scabbing in the New Gilded Age

[ 114 ] August 28, 2015 |


Probably the most underreported story in American labor right now is what’s going on steel. There are more unionized steel jobs in the U.S. than you’d think and a lot of those union contracts are expiring on September 1. That means a lot of labor strife, with companies seeking to destroy their unions. One of the most egregious cases of union-busting right now is Allegheny Technologies Inc (ATI), which has locked out its workers in order to force enormous contract concessions for the workers to keep their jobs.*

ATI still wants to run. They just want to bring American labor down to Bangladeshi working levels. No, seriously. ATI is actually advertising on Craig’s List for scabs. What would the working conditions be like?

Must be able to lift up to 50 lbs. and work in a standing position for entire shift (12 hours/day) in a high heat/temperature manufacturing environment. Workweek is 84 hours/week.

Previous experience in a metal manufacturing or processing facility is required. All positions require working for unknown duration and are temporary. THIS IS A LABOR DISPUTE SITUATION – EMPLOYEES WILL BE TRANSPORTED ACROSS A PICKET LINE.

They are paying a lot of money for this, which would last precisely as long as the lockout goes on. But 84 hour work weeks? That’s 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, of hard hard work. And given this is Pittsburgh with its still powerful union culture, I’d guess that if they do get workers, and they probably will given the wages and poor choices for working-class people, they will be coming from outside the region by and large.

There are 2000 USW members out of work right now thanks to a company that wants to repeal decades of union victories. There is going to be a large rally in Pittsburgh to support the workers on September 1 at noon. There will rallies the same day for locked out steelworkers in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. I plan on being in Pittsburgh for this. Hope you can support these workers if you are near one of the four locations.

*Let’s face it–the reason this is so underreported is that while the United Steelworkers is a really good union, their communications strategy with the general public is significantly behind a lot of other large internationals. Get with the social media USW! I should be knowing about this stuff as it is happening. I found out about it on Tuesday and only because I was with labor people in Pittsburgh. Even in the labor media, there’s been very little coverage.

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

[ 116 ] 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.

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