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Topics - Wayward Son

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Well, not exactly shuts down.  It will still take reports of violations and the filings of candidates detailing their contributions and expenditures.  But it will no longer be able to act upon that information.  It will no longer be able to enact new laws or enforce election laws.

This is because Matthew Petersen is resigning.  Once he's gone, there will be only three members on the six member committee, not enough for a quorum.  So no new rules, and no actions to punish those who break the rules.

Fortunately, Trump has already nominated a replacement: Texas lawyer Trey Trainor.  Unfortunately, he was nominated back in 2017, and the Senate has not gotten around to confirming his nomination yet.

So with further Russian (and doubtlessly others) interference with our elections looming on the horizon (or right next to us, depending on what they are doing), one more guardian of our democracy has been hamstrung by Trump and the Senate.  Great work, boys!  Let's hear it for free-for-all elections! ::)

General Comments / Trump May be Willing to Cut SS and Medicare
« on: August 26, 2019, 11:04:00 AM »
Or so reports Yahoo news, based on a report by the New York Times.

Republicans on Capitol Hill say Donald Trump may be willing to cut Social Security and Medicare if he wins in 2020, reportedly describing the potential move as a “second-term project”.

Several senators told the New York Times in a report published this week they spoke to the president about reducing the costs of the federal health care and retirement programs — a move that would likely stir controversy in a presidential election season.

Republicans have said cutting both programs is crucial to reducing the nation’s deficit, which has ballooned under Mr Trump thanks, in part, to the GOP tax bill passed in 2017.

Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, described the process of cutting the costs of social security and medicare to the New York Times as “best done during divided government”.

“We’ve brought it up with President Trump,” he added, “who has talked about out it being a second-term project.”

Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, also told the newspaper that reducing the costs of the federal programs would require “presidential leadership” and “courage by the Congress to make some hard votes”.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” he said, adding: “I hope in a second term, [Mr Trump] is interested. With his leadership, I think we could start dealing with that crisis. And it is a crisis.”

When you create a $1.5 trillion tax cut, somebody has to pay for it.  And who better than widows and the poor? ;)

General Comments / Trump's Greenland
« on: August 21, 2019, 01:51:33 PM »
As we snickered about Trump wanting to buy Greenland from Denmark in the Freedom Gas! thread.  We recognized that it was a silly idea, or as my favorite response said, "The thought of Denmark selling 50,000 citizens to the United States is completely ridiculous."

Apparently Donald Trump didn't think it was ridiculous.  He cancelled a planned trip to Denmark because of it.

Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time...

The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!

IOW, if we're not going to talk about selling Greenland to the U.S., we have nothing to talk about.  :o

It's one thing to float a silly idea, just to see if there is any interest in it.  We can laugh about it, but there's little harm done.

It's quite another to snub another country, an ally no less, because they won't consider a wild idea which they are under no obligation to even consider.

I imagine this would be the equivalent of someone being invited over for dinner, who then later says, "Oh, great, we can talk about you selling your pet dog to me while I'm over there."  When the family tells him their dog is not for sale, he responses, "Well, if you have no interest in selling your dog, I guess I'll postpone the dinner for another time."  ::)

IMHO, this is the most momentously stupid reason to postpone a diplomatic trip that I have ever heard.

Would anyone care to argue that this wasn't one of the most stupid moves in recent history?  That this was the most petty excuse for cancelling an official trip in our memories?  That there is no logical, reasonable defense of this unforced diplomatic faux pas, and that the man who did it is a complete incompetent?

If so, please state your reasons.  I would love to hear them!

General Comments / Our Racist President
« on: July 15, 2019, 03:59:34 PM »
For anyone who gave Trump the benefit of the doubt about being racist, let them go.  As you've probably heard, his tweets on Sunday removed all doubt:

So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

The most likely Congresswomen he was talking about are Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.  All  of them are American citizens.  Three of them were born in America.  Two of them were born to American parents.  One of them has American ancestors that have been in this country longer than Trump has.

You can almost hear him suggesting that if blacks don't like this country, they should go back to Africa.  ::)

Is there any wonder anymore why white supremacists support him?

Is there anyone who doesn't realize that, if you support Trump, you are supporting someone who believes not every citizen is an American?

I'm curious if anyone on this board still supports this President.  Is it because you agree that some Congresswomen should "go back" to where "they came?"  Is it because you will forgive a bit of racism if you can get other policies enacted?  Is it because you love the current economy so much that disenfranchising citizens is a small price to pay?

Trump is a lying, bullying, racist POS.  I hope that everyone on this board finally recognizes this and will act appropriately from now on.

General Comments / Questions about Climate Change
« on: July 09, 2019, 11:25:17 AM »
Since we've had numerous discussions about climate change/AGW on this board, I thought some of us might be interested in taking the discussion to a broader audience.

FiveThirtyEight is soliciting questions about climate change that it readers would like answered.  The questions must be about climate change and reasonably specific: "In other words, you can ask us to explain a specific metric used to measure changing climate, don’t ask us to prove to you that climate change is real. (Because it is.)"

There's no guarantee that the questions will be answered, of course, but it is a chance to get some of the best "gotcha" questions to a national audience, or a good explanation of why something is or isn't so.

General Comments / Freedom Gas!
« on: May 30, 2019, 04:34:31 PM »
Yes, you may still think of it as methane or "natural gas" that heats your water.  But when it is liquefied and exported to Europe, it becomes something more.  Something special.  Something that embodies the ideals and values of our great nation.  A symbol of America to the world.

Yes, it becomes...Freedom Gas!   :)

Because, after all, a fossil fuel that makes money for the oil conglomerates while adding CO2 to our atmosphere and increases global warming/climate change is a perfect symbol for this Administration.  ::)

General Comments / Is Money Laundering a High Crime or Misdemeanor?
« on: November 30, 2018, 06:36:23 PM »
We know that money laundering is a Federal crime.  But is it serious enough to rise to the level of impeachment?  Even for the highest office in the land?

Just thought this might be a topic to settle before any practical examples are discovered. ;)

General Comments / Jeff Sessions Resigns
« on: November 07, 2018, 03:43:01 PM »
So it begins...

Sessions has resigned.  Rosenstein has been told he no longer oversees the Mueller investigation.  Acting AG General Matthew Whitaker is taking over.  Any bets on how long it will be before the Mueller investigation is stopped and buried?

I guess Trump feels confident enough that the optics of this won't matter. 

Or desperate enough... ;)

General Comments / 2018 Midterm Elections
« on: November 05, 2018, 01:27:33 PM »
From the indications right now, it looks like it will be a pretty good night for the Democrats.

The House will very likely flip to the Democrats.  FiveThirtyEight gives a 7 in 8 chance that the Democrats will win control.  Unless there is a Red Wave, any uncertainties should break both ways, averaging out the effects.

They should do well in the Senate, too.  Although there is only a slightly less chance that the Republicans will lose control (1 in 6), Democrats are almost guaranteed to win a majority of the seats up for grabs.  They will likely lose North Dakota, but have chance to pick up Nevada or Arizona.  They would have to win 80 percent of the seats in order to win the Senate, which will only happen if there is a very strong Blue Wave.

Governors and State Legislators races are expected to break better for Democrats, too.  Currently, about 48 percent of the population live in states where Republicans control both the Legislative Branch and Governor's mansions, while only 21 percent live in such Democratic states.  The forecast is, after the election, change in governorships will decrease the Republican states to about 32 percent of the population, and Democratic states to increase to 26 percent.  They may also pick up some Legislations where they miss the governorship, keeping the government dividied.  This may have significant impact in preventing gerrymandering once the 2020 census comes out.

Democrats won't be dancing in the streets unless the polls are way off, but neither will Republicans.  But all in all, regardless of how Trump will call it, it looks like it will be better for Democrats than Republicans.

General Comments / Trump Properties and Shell Companies
« on: September 14, 2018, 02:53:11 PM »
And I'm not talking about Shell Oil. :)

According to U.S.A. Today:

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.

Why the sudden change?  Why only after he was nominated?

And it's the perfect way to bribe the President.

“If what’s going on is somebody is buying something from The Trump Organization to buy favor, there’s no way you’d ever figure out who that person is or what favor they’re trying to buy,” said Jack Blum, a Washington attorney specializing in offshore tax evasion and financial crime and former staff lawyer for two U.S. Senate committees.

That may not be the reason for the sudden upsurge, but it is suspicious.

General Comments / Hurrican Florence
« on: September 13, 2018, 10:37:53 AM »
Our thoughts and prayers to those in Hurricane Florence's path, especially to our generous host.  Hope you and yours are not unduly affected.

General Comments / The President Tweets on Memorial Day
« on: May 29, 2018, 10:53:42 AM »
The President made a nice tweet yesterday:

We can never truly repay the debt we owe our fallen heroes. But we can remember them, honor their sacrifice, and affirm in our own lives those enduring ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity for which generations of Americans have given that last full measure of devotion.

A bit trite, but classy.  Appeals to the ideals of our great nation.

Unfortunately, that was President Obama.  This is what President Trump tweeted:

Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!

I'm sure you all had a festive Memorial Day, remembering those whose lives were cut short to allow the opportunity for the economy to get better, unemployment to go down, and the military to be rebuilt.  Fun times!  And we all know who gets the credit for those things, right? ;)

This is what the Republicans gave us for a President.  ::)

General Comments / Trump Attempted to Fire Mueller
« on: January 27, 2018, 01:44:24 PM »
President Trump has called himself a “stable genius.”

He has pretty much proven that he has no idea what that means.

Apparently he actually has tried, at least once, to fire Special Prosecutor Mueller.

It doesn’t take a super-genius to realize that planning to shoot the sheriff while he is investigating you doesn’t make you look innocent. :)  But apparently such deep thinking is too much for Trump. has a nice list of some of the blowback he can expect:
•   The botched firing helps Mueller: Robert Mueller is certainly examining a possible obstruction of justice charge against Donald Trump but that requires proving a "corrupt intent." There is no smoking gun, as far as we know, but as the pieces fall into place, the case gets stronger. Trump told former FBI Director James Comey to lay off Flynn, then he fired Comey, then he tried to fire Mueller. It all adds up. The fact that McGahn threatened to resign probably means McGahn thought Trump wanted to obstruct justice and he didn't want to play a role in it.
•   No reporter will believe anything from the White House any more: Last August, when asked if he was considering firing Mueller, Trump said he hadn't thought about it. That was a flat-out lie. Also in August, Kellyanne Conway told ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "The president is not discussing firing Bob Mueller." Another lie. Trump's lawyer John Dowd answered a question in August about Trump firing Mueller and said: "This has never been on the table." False. In December, another Trump lawyer, Ty Cobb, said: "As the White House has consistently said for months, there is no consideration of firing the special counsel." Clearly not true. The credibility of everyone close to Trump is now basically zero.

•   Congress might think about protecting Mueller: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and multiple Democrats sponsored a bill last year to protect Mueller, basically by stripping the Justice Dept. of the authority to fire Mueller and giving it to the courts, and then only for just cause. The bill went nowhere, but the sponsors might revive it now that it is clearly needed. However, the first reaction of the Republican leadership in Congress was to shrug the whole thing off…

•   Six Words That Could Sink Trump … When Donald Trump faces Robert Mueller in a few weeks, Mueller could really put Trump in the hot seat by having an FBI agent present ask Trump a simple six-word question: "Did you try to fire Mueller?" If Trump says "yes," he is on the hook for obstruction of justice. If he says "no," the charge could be lying to an FBI agent. If he says he doesn't remember, the talk about the 25th Amendment will be the news of the day. There is no easy way out for Trump if he gets asked this.

There is one other thing that isn’t on the list: Republicans will have to explain why they nominated such a “stable genius.”  Out of the 17 contenders for the nomination, he was the best they could come up with.  A man with less sense than the people who voted for him. ::)

President Trump really could tarnish the reputation of the Republican Party for years to come.

General Comments / Trump New Speak
« on: December 18, 2017, 11:42:34 AM »
As you doubtlessly know, the Trump Administration has told the CDC to stop using the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

P.Z. Myers has a few questions about it.

Why? This is strangely like telling someone “Don’t think of an elephant” — don’t think of a vulnerable transgender fetus with your evidence-based brain, people! So what are the scientists at the CDC supposed to think when, for instance, they see statistics on Zika-induced developmental abnormalities? As Tara Smith points out, scientists were also given alternatives: instead of talking about science, they should say “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”. So we’re supposed to consider what people wish were true? All right, I wish I had the body of a 30 year old and a million dollars.

Damn. Doesn’t seem to be having an effect.

But I also want to know why those specific seven words. Why not “homosexual”, “abortion”, “euthanasia”, “pollution”, “climate change”, “infertility”, and “tampons”, which conservatives would also find enraging? What specific input triggered the need to dictate censorship of these words?

Who? This edict came from somewhere, from someone who thinks they have the power to police the language...

What’s next? If they think they can purge a useful, non-ideological word like “vulnerable”, there’s nothing to stop them from getting rid of all of the substance coming out of work from scientific organizations and replacing it with nothing but bureaucratic glurge, which, it wouldn’t surprise me, might be their real goal.

It will be fun to see the CDC simply gets around this silly ban with phrases and euphemisms.  Did the person who created this rule really believe he could censor thoughts and facts by banning words?  Or was he just trying not to hurt the sensibilities of Republican congressmen?

Inquiring minds want to know! :)

General Comments / The Russian Connection
« on: February 15, 2017, 02:19:52 PM »
Looks like Trump campaign officials had "frequent contact" with senior Russian intelligence officials in the months before the election.

Fortunately, since we apparently do keep close tabs on domestic communications with known Russian intelligence people, we probably have transcripts of the conversations, so we will eventually know what was discussed. :)

My question is, if it is shown that members of the Trump campaign cooperated or colluded with Russian intelligence to swing the election in any way, shape or form, would anyone have any objection to calling for Trump and Pence to immediately resign and a new election to be held?

General Comments / Trump Threatens Chicago with Martial Law
« on: January 25, 2017, 03:33:37 PM »
I picked up this latest tweet from the President Stonekettle Station:

If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible "carnage" going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!

Of course, Sean Spicer said "What he wants to do is provide the resources of the federal government . . . There is no one thing . . . [aid,] if requested, up through the governor, through the proper channels.”

How stupid does he think Trump is?  ::)

He thinks Trump meant, "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible "carnage" going on, I will send them the aid they requested!"  ;D  Gimme a break.

We know what Trump meant.  The National Guard.  Tanks in the streets.  And for how long?  Until criminals stop shooting each other?  How long do you think that will take?

Or until he figures out that the only way to stop the shooting is to disarm the criminals.  And how will he know which gun owner is a criminal? ;)

Congratulations, Conservatives and Republicans.  You hated Obama because he wanted to take away our guns.  You hated Hillary because she was going to take away our guns. 

Now you got Trump, who is threatening to take away our guns.  ::)

General Comments / Obamacare Repeal and Replacement
« on: January 19, 2017, 03:50:14 PM »
It's about time we started a thread on this one.

Congress is biting at the bit to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  PEOTUS (POTUS tomorrow) Trump declares that Obamacare and its replacement will be passes at the same time.  Which annoys Congress, because they haven't been able to agree on a replacement yet (having had only 6 years or so to work on it).

Meanwhile, 20 to 30 million people who rely on Obamacare wonder if they'll have insurance next year, or even next month.  Fortunately, Trump has promised that they'll lose nothing that they love, and the replacement will be fantastic.  Not that anyone believes him... :)

So, anyone got any opinions on the subject. :D

Personally, I think Congress will go with the "Let the States Figure it Out" program.  I forget which Congressman talked about it.  Basically, they would tell the States to cover people, and probably give them a check to help cover it.  When the programs fail, they can then blame the States for not making it work. A masterfully weaselly way of avoiding blame, even if millions of people may end up uninsured. :)

But, the possibilities are still wide open.  I hear Ryan has a plan that is basically Obamacare, but with the name crossed out in crayon... ;)

I came across this this analysis of the Supreme Court case of Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, where they will decide if businesses can say that they will charge a surcharge for a credit card purchase, or if they can only say that they will give a cash discount. :)

In many of these states, though, retailers are allowed to give discounts for customers who pay cash. In New York, for example, listing a sticker price of $32 for a haircut and offering a $2 discount for consumers who pay with cash is legal, but charging $30 for the cut and imposing a $2 surcharge on credit card transactions is not.

But does that law violate businesses’ free speech rights? Today, the plaintiffs in a Supreme Court case called Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman will argue that it does. At the heart of the struggle is whether — and how — merchants should be able to tell consumers about the swipe fees. Should stores be able to advertise a lower price and then add a surcharge at the cash register for buyers who want to use plastic, as the case’s plaintiffs are pushing for? Or should they have to build the swipe fee into the price?

Banning surcharges is necessary, according to the state, because it protects consumers against unfair practices by businesses, which might hide extra fees inside what they claim to be a credit card surcharge and pocket the difference. But the merchants claim that being forced to engage in these linguistic gymnastics is a violation of their First Amendment free speech rights. Although the state is claiming that the law simply regulates prices, the businesses are arguing that the statute is prohibiting them from communicating with their customers. They say that the difference between a surcharge and a discount is semantic and that the only thing that really separates the two is a label.

Somehow, the idea that it will take the Supreme Court to decide that saying you're charging $2 more for credit card purchase is illegal, while saying you're charging $2 less for cash is not, is a bit ludicrous. 

And filing this suit on free speech grounds--excuse me?  ???  Our ability to criticize the government and speak the truth means that Joe's Bar has the inalienable right to say that it costs you $2 to use a credit card?  ::)

What has this country come to?  :o

General Comments / Air Force One Kerfuffle
« on: December 09, 2016, 01:39:55 PM »
As you've probably heard, Trump tweeted about Air Force One:

Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!

On the face of it, it sounds reasonable.  Over $4 billion is a lot for a single airplane.  One would think they buy one for a lot less.

But, as usual, the devil is in the details, which Trump overlooks before opening his, eh, twitter account. :)

Per PolitiFact, there are quite a few he missed.

For one, the program is for two Air Force One aircraft, not one.  That way, while one is grounded for maintenance, the other will be on call.

Each basic aircraft only costs around $380 million dollars.  The bulk of the costs are for upgrades.  Little things that passenger aircraft don't need:

The plane must be able to refuel while flying, and the president and his staff need to have communications capabilities equivalent to what is in the Oval Office -- secure video conferences, classified computer access, and nuclear-strike controls. It also needs robust defensive systems such as missile evasion.

The new planes will be "both the fastest and longest commercial airliner in the world," according to They will be able to fly 7,730 nautical miles -- nearly 1,000 more than the current planes -- and will produce 16 tons less of carbon dioxide on a typical flight, according to the company.

I'm sure we could get some cut-rate electronics from another country, like China, but somehow I don't think Trump would do that.

And this $3.87 billion price tag (not more than $4 billion) is over a 12 year timespan.  Because it will take time to assemble these custom aircrafts.  And because the price tag includes research, development, testing and evaluation of the aircrafts and their components, along with maintenance, fuel and the cost of pilots.

The Defense Department will spend about $8.132 trillion on other projects during that time. :)

But the best part is, Trump will not cancel the program.  Because the current Air Force One jets are 26 years old, and they have an expected life of about 30 years.  The President will need new AFOs by 2020, perhaps sooner.

So I don't see Trump feeling comfortable flying around in outdated aircraft with two-decade-old defensive technology while someone is likely to be wanting to shoot him down.  Somehow I think he values his posterior a bit more than that. :)

Unfortunately, this is only a first of a long series, where Trump shoots his mouth off before knowing or considering all the facts.  Let us hope they will stay as inconsequential as this.

General Comments / Hillary Election Fraud Discovered
« on: October 07, 2016, 10:27:08 AM »
Well, it's started.

According to the Christian Times, thousands of fraudulent ballots, filled out for Hillary Clinton, were discovered in the swing state of Ohio.

I'm sure we're going to hear a number of these stories in the weeks to come.

The question is, how can we fight this fraud?  How can we insure the legitimacy of our elections when many people, including one of the leading candidates, is expecting fraud and dirty tricks to influence the final count?

It's worrisome.  And I have no good answer.

General Comments / University of Chicago "Free Speech" Declaration
« on: August 30, 2016, 06:04:43 PM »
Dean John Ellison of the University of Chicago sent out a "welcome letter" to incoming students emphasizing the university's "commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression."  (The full text is in the link below.)  But then he delineates those freedoms:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove too controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

P.Z. Myers beautifully rips this apart.

Let’s start with safe spaces. Does Dean Ellison have a private office? Does it have a door on it? Does he sometimes meet with other deans in closed meetings? Then he creates safe spaces, and works in one. He is simply unaware of it, and takes the privilege for granted.

When the College Republicans meet on campus, is it OK with Dean Ellison of the LGBTQ club marches in and disrupts the proceedings with chants and signs (also, vice versa…but I suspect he’s more sympathetic to conservative organizations)? Or would it be reasonable to call campus security to eject the people who are interfering with the free expression of ideas by the organization? When you set aside a space for a specific purpose, you are creating a safe space to get the job done.

When I teach, I am an enforcer for certain rules of decorum — I create a safe space for learning. That doesn’t mean discussion is put on rails and not allowed to deviate from my plan. I might not allow a conversation about football when the topic is evolution, but if someone raises a hand and makes a creationist objection, which is wrong but on topic, I don’t allow the class to shout down the person (I have been in this situation, where the students are more discouraging of ideas than I am, and I have to crack down and insist that the class address the question respectfully). A safe space is a place where we focus on an issue, and we don’t allow distractions. I guarantee you that every class at the U of C is a safe space for a certain perspective, because that is the nature of teaching. Or does Dean Ellison think every classroom should be the equivalent of the comment section on a youtube video, where the loudest *censored* are allowed to dominate?

What about trigger warnings? Ellison doesn’t understand those, either. A trigger warning is not an announcement that we won’t discuss bad, complex, divisive things. Quite the opposite: a trigger warning is an announcement that we are definitely going to talk about bad, complex, divisive things. A syllabus is a string of trigger warnings — we just tend not to think of it that way because we take for granted that the subjects are innocuous to us and are required to understand the purpose of the course.

But I once innocently listed human birth defects as a topic on a syllabus, and a distressed woman met with me to say she was worried she’d lose it in class — she’d given birth to an anencephalic baby a few years before, and she was terrified about that subject. She wanted to talk with me not because she didn’t want to hear about birth defects — on the contrary, she really wanted to learn about it, but she was conscious of her own emotional reaction — and wanted some clearer idea of what I was going to say and show. I told her that in fact I was going to focus primarily on neural tube defects, and that yes, I had some photos of the phenomenon, but the focus was primarily on mechanisms. It was enough that she knew what to expect so she could prepare for it, and she just asked that I let her know before I showed the photos.

I always do that. Before I show students a photo of a deformed fetus, I tell the students that I’m going to show them a photo of a deformed fetus. That’s basic empathy and respect, the very things Dean Ellison says students should expect, while insisting that they’re forbidden if they’re labeled “trigger warnings”. I’m not interested in suddenly springing a shockingly graphic image on the class to make students vomit in the aisles and weep — that’s not a strategy for good learning.

That’s a trigger warning. And I learned that lesson almost 30 years ago, when we didn’t call them trigger warnings, although it was exactly the same thing. Does Dean Ellison think we should talk about controversial topics, but we should always surprise the students with them?

Let’s talk about cancelling controversial speakers. I actually sort of agree with Ellison on this one — once a speaker is invited, there’s an obligation and commitment to carry through on it. But what’s not being talked about is the process that leads to those speakers being invited. Who’s selecting them? Who’s paying for them? What’s the purpose behind bringing that particular person to campus? There are a lot of strings being pulled behind the scenes that the students don’t see until there is an announcement in the school paper or on a poster that hey, U of C is bringing a war criminal to campus! Or an anti-war activist! Then what?

Does Dean Ellison suggest that students are not allowed to be appalled at the privileges given to speakers they object to, and that they are not allowed to loudly protest? Because that would be a violation of free speech.

Let’s imagine that the U of C invites Henry Kissinger to give a lecture. Will they create a “safe space” for him, and not allow protesters to disrupt the event? To avoid the appearance of giving a “trigger warning”, will they refuse to announce the date, time, and place of the lecture, and even that War Criminal Kissinger will be on campus? Just all of a sudden, Henry Kissinger will show up in a random class and surprise everyone by telling them about the realpolitik of murdering civilians en masse. That’s basically what they’re going to have to do to enforce the ridiculous policies in that astonishingly stupid paragraph.

But they’re not going to. That’s because that paragraph is not about policing behaviors that every responsible university does naturally, that is an implicit part of teaching and learning. It’s because he is sending a different message.

We all create safe spaces and give trigger warnings and expect that our institutions of higher learning will feature worthy speakers. It’s just that if you are part of a privileged, dominant majority, you don’t have to say it: you can trust that your values will be well represented, sheltered, and unchallenged. It’s only if you are a member of a minority that you find it necessary to be explicit and openly demand a place for your ideas; these phrases about “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” only evolved because people found that institutions were unthinkingly assuming that the majority (and the money) rules, and it took hard work to hammer out room to talk about alternative views or oppression or privilege.

The problem is that now those phrases are used as red flags to tell that privileged majority that, hey, look, here’s a minority group that’s trying to carve out a place in our university — quick, shout ’em down. Silence them. Make up rules to break them apart, to allow us to openly disrespect their concerns, to allow us to shove horrible people in their faces while not allowing them to complain. This is not about encouraging “freedom of expression”, it’s about creating tools to club down anyone who opposes the accepted status quo.

Trigger warnings, safe spaces, and opposing controversial speakers are ensconced in academia, but because they are given a different labels (because they are being used for new, rather than traditional, subjects), they are considered to be outside the norm.  And Dean Ellison thinks he can stop them to "protect free speech."  ::)

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