A Response To Marc: Institutions, Agendas, and the "Culture War"

Earlier this week Marc asserted that Twitter is "taking a side in the culture war" wars by removing the identity-confirming blue check from the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, who is what we refer to these days as a personality, like an unusually literate Kardashian. I think Marc is blurring the difference between individual and institutional action.

But let's get this out of the way at the start: Twitter is a private company. Conservative extremist that I am, I believe that private companies have free speech rights. They use those rights to create their brand. Conservatives normally approve of this. They question, for instance, why the government should be able to force a bakery to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage when that contradicts the business' beliefs and brand. Many progressives, on the other hand, applaud such government intervention. Cases like this have an odd way of flipping that dynamic: conservatives cast about for legal theories that might let the government regulate how private businesses deal with speech they don't like, and progressives suddenly applaud private autonomy.

We feel that places like Twitter are a public place, and ought to be run like a public forum. But it's self-indulgent to mistake our feelings for reality or law. Twitter is free to us. It makes money (if it makes money) by serving our eyeballs to advertisers. Our feelings and desires are relevant to Twitter only to the extent it wants to brand itself or wants to retain sufficient eyeballs to sell. Otherwise it's irrational to expect Twitter to care what we want. In deciding how the Kylo Ren action figure ought to be posed on the box art, Disney does not consider the sentiments of the Kylo Ren action figure. Nobody's entitled to a free corporate platform run the way they like: this, too, is supposed to be a conservative ideal. You get what you pay for, and we aren't paying. Can we threaten to vote with our feet and go be somebody else's eyeball supply if we don't like how Twitter is run? Of course we can, just like we can refuse to eat at Chik-Fil-A if we don't like the owners' politics. But if we couch it as a right, we look silly.

But on to Twitter's side-taking. I think Marc probably overstates Twitter's focus and degree of deliberation. Big companies, even when run by ideologues, tend to make decisions like big companies, not like individuals. The decision-making looks less cinematic and more cynical. The focus tends to be on branding, but mostly on money-making, avoidance of unpleasantness, reduction of cost, and ease of use. Twitter's line employees are almost certainly disproportionately liberal, and by assigning command-and-control of individual account decisions to them, the impact is probably that evaluations of abuse complaints will have a liberal bias. Similarly, if you make a corporate decision to police harassment (or at least pretend to), and the people doing the policing have a bias, then the results will have a bias. But that's not the same as a deliberate decision to take sides; it's a cost-driven, practicality-driven decision. Consistency in such decision-making is expensive and troublesome. Running decisions up the chain to ensure consistency on inherently subjective calls costs time and money. Moreover, Twitter's lack of clear articulated standards about exactly what speech will get you in trouble is a feature, not a bug. If you have clear articulated standards, then there will be endless rules-lawyering about why this cases fell under the definition but that case didn't, and you will be more vulnerable to legal attacks (for instance, from people saying that you ban folks of one ethnicity for conduct but folks of another ethnicity get a pass, which could even create a viable claim). Again: the fact that Twitter kinda looks like a public forum if you squint doesn't stop it from being a big business.

In short, I think Marc substantially overstates the coherence and intentionality of Twitter's side-taking.

If Twitter is taking sides, then it's being uncharacteristically incompetent.

Look: Milo's a troll. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a troll. Some trolls are amusing. But de gustibus non est disputandum. I prefer somewhat more subtle trolls. Milo's a troll in the tradition of Ann Coulter, saying outrageous things and benefiting from both the fist-pumping of the like-minded and the profitable outrage of people who think it's sensible to feed trolls. Milo's no Ann Coulter, of course, but it seems he aspires to be number two, and number two tries harder. To my taste Milo's trolling is too loud, too precious, too busy, too edgelord-twee. Plus, he strikes me as a rather blatant huckster. Only fickle fate has led to him trying to sell me anti-feminist tropes rather than extended warranties. He says some phenomenally nasty things, and sends chortling heaps of clumsily animated body soil to threaten and curse at people he calls out. He does so to an extent that I believe Marc significantly understates. Does he genuinely hate the people he reviles? Does he actually believe the more shocking lines he delivers in self-conscious and belabored fashion, like a dull eighth-grader attempting Macbeth? I rather doubt it. He's probably indifferent to them, and to the impact of his words. But he likes the attention — the clicks and the credulous adulation and the money. Whomever Milo hates, Milo loves Milo.

Given that, Twitter's action is like throwing Milo into the brier patch and throwing hundred-dollar-bills in after him. The removal of the silly blue check is utterly insubstantial, but promotes Milo's conservatives-are-persecuted-and-liberals-are-evil narrative. It's free publicity. To his audience suggesting that he harasses ideological opponents is a promotion, not a rebuke. It's like banning a hot dog stand from one side of the park on the explicit grounds that the hot dogs are too delicious. He should be sending them some sort of fruit basket. It is, in short, more like fumbling decentralized decision-making and less like a centralized agenda.

I'd be interested in seeing Marc's evidence of systemic bias in Twitter's approach to what is harassment and what isn't. I have noticed anecdotal differences. But then I've also noticed plenty of bad conduct from "the right" that hasn't been punished. My strong suspicion is that the difference is not the result of a corporate agenda, but of a routine corporate decision to decentralize decision-making.

I'll probably stay on Twitter, knowing that I could get kicked off at any time by some low-level decision maker who doesn't like me. When I don't want to take that risk, I'll pay for my platform — like here.

[Sometime soon, I want to say more about how blurring the line between First Amendment violations and "spirit of free speech" violations leads to all sorts of bad attitudes, like thinking that your speech can suppress mine.]

Graphic Novels and Web Comics I Put on Patrick's Reading List

Some of which he even read.

At Popehat, we  celebrate our core beliefs.  To achieve victory, one must attack.  But one cannot attack without a plan.  A plan cannot be formed without mastering fundamentals.  And nothing is more fundamental than reading.  We even think pictures occasionally enhance the experience.  As such, here's a slice of my standing list of recommendations to Patrick.  With bonus material covering Patrick's thoughts where applicable, or he can just comment in the thread like a big boy.  Waxing poetic is not my strong suit, but here goes anyway!

Planetary – Warren Ellis.  Archaeologists of the Impossible!  Planetary are an organization dedicated to charting the secret history of the twentieth century, in a world with super heroes and many other sorts of insane, fantastic things.  It's both a love letter to 5+ decades of pop culture as well as an interesting treatment of those things.  It's entire premise was based on one of those geeky exercises "if Reed Richards is the smartest person in the universe, why is Earth-616 as bad off as our own", though you'll have to read it to discover the answer (which is satisfying). Patrick started and I believe finished it and loved it.

Morning Glories – Nick Spencer.  A group of seemingly random brilliant and troubled teenagers is "invited" to attend a prestigious prep school.  There are no safe spaces at Morning Glory Academy, and I mean that literally.  You have no idea where this is going, and won't at the end of the first six issues.  Except that it's crazy and if you liked it like I did you'll be dying to know what happens next.  Though I have fallen behind (my disposable income is not unlimited, and it's not the only thing I read, I think I'm 3 or maybe 4 trades behind now), it's high up on my "things to catch up on in 2016" list.  It's a different and interesting comic and the characters are never far from my thoughts.

All Star Superman – Grant Morrison.  Widely hailed as one of the best Superman stories of all time.   If you're the sort of person that doesn't like Superman because a lot of Superman stories come off as badly written fanfic, this is a comic for you.  It's a deep and thoughtful take on a character who needs to be in deft hands but usually hasn't been.

Nextwave: Agents of Hate – Warren Ellis.  As comics matured and moved out of the silver age, a few things became inevitable.  People like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Warren Ellis showed us that comics might have started out as male power fantasies, they could be other things to.  Lots of other people tried to copy them.  Or tell "mature", "gritty", "dark", "complicated" stories.  Most people failed, and failed horribly.  What we got was often worse than mere power fantasy.  Nextwave is the polar opposite of these things, I am happy to report.  Nextwave is not, to quote, about Learning and Character Arcs and Morals and Hugs.  It is about things blowing up and people getting kicked.  It is about healing America by beating people up.  It's Stephen Chow meets vintage action Arnie at the drive in.  It features violence against broccoli, robots, sort of "other beings" and the six greatest two-page panels (lain out back to back) in the history of comics.  Did I mention explosions and kicking? It is especially about THINGS BLOWING UP and PEOPLE GETTING KICKED.  All of the delight you might have once felt when rising on Saturday morning to begin the ritual viewing of cartoons but later discovered was fake because it turned out all of those beloved cartoons were bad?1  It's real, and it exists in Nextwave.

Wytches – (Scott Snyder and Jock) – horror series that debuted this year.  What would you trade to the things out in the woods for immunity to cancer, or prolonged life (while looking young and fit)?  Their price is high.  The first trade is out, and proved to be an interesting twist on a this very old formula.

Atomic Robo – Brian Clevenger (writer and co-creator) and Scott Wegener (artist and co-creator). Now available as a free web comic (Volume 1 Chapter 1).   I guess I might try to describe Atomic Robo as a golden age comic done in a 21st century style.   It's not gritty or dark but it's gleefully ridiculous, often thoughtful, sometimes touching.  Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne battle evil in all it's forms throughout the decades (often with nods to the age in the process).  Features one of the greatest comic book villains ever, bar none.   If you had been 15 when finding Atomic Robo you would have immediately moved to set all of your table top gaming in it's universe (unless you were doing it in the Planetary universe instead, which is understandable).

Selling out: you can support us by purchasing any of the above through Amazon using our affiliate link over on the right.  If for some reason one of these is not available through the store let me know and we'll add it.  Or just order it on your own, that's cool too. Even better if you have a fun local place you can go through.  Tell them we said hello.


Scared of Sondheim: A Story About Offense

Popehat is pleased to welcome back Lisa McElroy, an associate professor of law at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, for another guest post. Her first novel, Called On, was just published by Quid Pro Books.

Ask any university professor in the country, and she’ll tell you that trigger warnings are a hot topic on her campus. That sounds good, right? Alerting students to a potentially sensitive or controversial issue before addressing it class? Oh, except that saying a topic is “hot” might connote something sexual; using the word “trigger” might call to mind gun violence; and issuing a “warning” is something that most professors fear with students these days, in this customer-service culture of education.

Ask any parent of a high school student, and she’ll tell you that schools see protecting students as an essential part of their mission. That sounds good, too, right? We need lockdown drills and secure buildings and assemblies on drugs and alcohol. Oh, but not conversations about the sensitive topics that lie in wait in books like The Color Purple or All’s Quiet on the Western Front – those might offend someone. Romeo and Juliet? Well, they were in love – except that they were actually engaging in statutory rape, and their families battled each other, and then there’s that whole suicide thing. Oedipus? Well, he had that mother hang-up – but maybe we shouldn’t talk about it, because that’s about sex and, OMG, incest. Let’s read The Mousetrap instead.

I’m both a university professor and the mother of high school students, and I’ve learned there’s at least one thing that both educational settings have in common – a small number of offended students or parents may control the conversation, taking it away from the majority of the school community that believes that debating controversial topics is the very essence of education. (And, yes, I know about Erika Christakis at Yale, and yes, I know that’s what got her unfairly shunned, and yes, I realize that I’m probably making the same point here, but not as well as she did.) But I have to speak out, because parents and kids who are afraid – of Sondheim, no less – are setting the agenda for our schools these days, just as so many did when Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Judy Blume’s Forever were removed from school library shelves.

This week, at my children’s top-notch suburban public high school, I had my first experience with a trigger warning for high school students. The issue? The spring musical.

Yeah, I know. These are high school kids. They’re cute and enthusiastic and creative. And they’re doing a musical! Disney made about a zillion bucks turning that concept into gold a decade or so ago.

So where’s the trigger?

In this case, it was the musical itself, Company, a lesser-known Stephen Sondheim work – you know, the dude who won a Pulitzer? The school picked the musical at the end of the spring semester last year. The kids prepared and auditioned a couple of weeks ago. When the cast list went up, the school halls were full of a whole bunch of rapturous mini-thespians in leg warmers.

Now, I’m going to admit that Company has some racy scenes. The male lead romances a lot of different women (notice that I avoided the “s” word (sex) and the “b” word (bed). Because, triggers.). Some of his friends smoke pot. One of his friends is an alcoholic who smokes tobacco cigarettes.

OK. So, would you let the kids do the play? Well, as the parents of the girl who was cast in the role of a woman who gets really, really high on stage and then acts really, really dumb, my husband and I answered “heck yes.”

Because, real life situations. Because, kids already cast. Because, statistics (about the “s” word and the “b” word and the “p” word (pot)) show that the kids already know about and even do this stuff. Because, Sondheim. Because, not High School Musical. Because, education. For the audience and the kids.

Yesterday, the kids were told that the show was being killed.

Except I don’t think they used the word “killed” with the kids. Because, you know, trigger.

And why? I know why, but I’m going to let you guess. Let’s just say that I’m not authorized to give out that information. You’re pretty smart. It has to do with another “p” word. But no more hints. Because the “p” word involved didn’t let other “p’s” have a voice. And that “p” is thus far anonymous and probably mostly so because the “p” doesn’t want other “p’s” to know that he or she is the one that made the ruckus. And the school had to deal with the offended “p.” Because, well, triggers.

But now I have a very disappointed daughter, and the school has a whole cast of kids who are being taught that if you get up in arms about something and say it offends you, you can shut down a whole class. Or get a professor who has offered a different perspective to resign. Or cancel the spring musical. Even when you have a totally enlightened musical director and the most awesomesauce principal on the planet.

The kids and the director are talking now about what show they’ll do instead. Schoolhouse Rock and Legally Blonde have been raised as possibilities. But I’m pretty sure that there’s someone out there who will think that “Conjunction Junction” is about “but” and “yet” getting it on (oooh, and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” – the subtext just screams “drug dealing”). And the bend and snap? We don’t want to send a message that girls should be crushing on boys, and we definitely do not want them to snap and grin – that’s just asking for trouble. That whole scene will have to go.

It will have to go, just like our kids’ exposure to stuff that’s real, like drugs and alcohol and sex and tough marriages and guns. And their chance to fictionally explore those things, to talk about them thoughtfully, and to seize the opportunity to educate. And, hey, their experience of a semester singing Sondheim.

Because what’s most important? Making sure no one’s offended.

Send in the clowns.

Lisa T. McElroy is an associate professor of law at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law. Her first novel, Called On, was just published by Quid Pro Books. She notes that she is Jewish, the high school fall play was A Christmas Carol, both her kids participated, and she did not say a word. Because, Dickens.

Going Home Again To Star Wars [No Spoilers]

One evening in 1977 I stood in a long line with my parents at Grauman's Chinese Theater. I was utterly oblivious to what I was waiting for; 1977 marketing campaigns look quaint compared to the barrage we endure now. I had no precedent. The trip was out of character for my parents, who weren't science fiction fans or movie buffs. Despite the lack of preparation, the experience of seeing Star Wars that night was transformative. I had enjoyed the normal run of eight-year-old-boy obsessions — sharks and dinosaurs and the Six Million Dollar Man — but those were nothing compared to the immersive imaginative leap the movie inspired. The fascination was a community experience. Star Wars was the lingua franca of kids my age, providing common ground to boys and girls, jocks and nerds, bullies and the bullied, kids of every ethnicity and neighborhood. Everyone was running around the playground like an idiot pretending to be an X-wing, and our relentless hunger for action figures made George Lucas filthy rich.

Three years later I was watching The Empire Strikes Back at a run-down drive-in movie theater somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley with my father. He viewed the movies as silly, but recognized that nothing would make me happier than seeing the movie immediately, and so found the one place we could find tickets. We ate dangerously revolting drive-in cheeseburgers and listened to the crackling audio and once again I was transported. I was old enough, at 10, to follow everything, and still young enough to appreciate everything.

Three years later Dad got tickets to a charity premiere that allowed us to see Return of the Jedi a day early. It made me very happy, as he knew it would, but somehow not quite as happy as I was at the first two movies. Surely part of that was that Return of the Jedi isn't as good of a movie as the first two, even by space-opera popcorn-flick standards. But it was also because I was 13, and no longer uncritically delighted at anything. The gravitational tug of adolescence and eventual adulthood, with their cares and worries and self-consciousness, had a hold of me.

So what was it like, more than 32 years later, to watch the latest Star Wars movie with my wife and kids?

It was different. But not, I've concluded, a bad different.

First: the movie. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was thoroughly enjoyable. The newcomers in the lead roles have charisma and great chemistry. Oscar Isaac was underused as ace pilot Poe Dameron — hopefully he'll get more attention in the sequels — but Daisy Ridley and John Boyega deserve the career they're going to have now. Harrison Ford could have just lounged around being iconic but instead delivered a top performance, showing flashes of both his character's original flair and the weight of the years since. The bad guy is three-dimensional and compelling — J.J. Abrams understands that notes of humanity make a villain more terrifying, not less. The special effects are skillfully mustered to enhance the story, not substitute for it. The dialogue was slightly clunky at worst and quite funny at best. The plot? Of course there are holes. How could there not be? And sometimes the echoes of earlier movies were a bit too loud. But what flaws the movie had never took me out of it. I never winced or groaned. The prequels made me think I can't be enthralled by a movie any more like I could when I was 10; this didn't. The nostalgia was positive, not rueful. My hopes and expectations — kept carefully at bay with the reins of bitter experience — were exceeded. Did it make me as happy as, say, Fellowship of the Ring? No. But it made me very happy.

But it didn't feel like watching The Empire Strikes Back with Dad at a drive-in in 1980. How could it? I haven't been 10 for a third of a century. I have the preoccupations of an adult. I have cares that make it hard to be fully present in any moment, let alone moments of heedless fantasy. Never again will I race around the back yard with friends, tumbling into the bushes and shoving each other off of hills pretending to fight Stormtroopers, furiously shouting "I hit you! I hit you! It's a BLASTER! You're DEAD!" Never again will I go to bed dreaming of nothing more but the carefree pleasures of the next day.

Fortunately life has a way of replacing one pleasure with another. I walked out of the theater holding my wife's hand, smiling and talking about our memories of childhood. My older two kids skipped ahead of us, excitedly talking about heroes and villains and squabbling over details. My youngest held my other hand, loudly claiming that she was FINISHED with such things and would see NO MORE STAR WARS OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER. She had spent a substantial part of the movie curled up in the chair with me, head against my chest. It was a bit noisy for her tastes, though the normally prohibited Skittles were some consolation.

The warmth I felt wasn't just nostalgia, or hopes and expectations mostly rewarded. It was the ineffable pleasure of experiencing the happiness of the people I love. Even if I can't access what it's like to be 10 any more, my kids can, and it turns out that watching them do it is somehow better than doing it myself. For years I felt sorry that the price of my great pleasure in 1980 was my Dad enduring bad cheeseburgers at a distant drive-in with a movie he didn't care about. Now I know how happy my joy must have made him. Now I can help make those moments for my kids.

Why this Liberal is Writing a Check to the Rubio Campaign

The Day it all Went Wrong

The Day it all Went Wrong

Yes, I'm planning to vote for Bernie Sanders, but I'm going to cut the Rubio campaign a check just the same.  It won't be much, but, as the Supreme Court said, "money equals speech." Citizens United v. F.E.C., 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

So I'm going to speak in favor of Rubio, even though I am a Liberal.

Don't have a conniption. I'm not buying in to his politics. Although, I do respect how he gets them done.  For example, he has likely quietly killed Obamacare, without grandstanding.  But to be clear, I don't think I would ever vote for the guy.

So why am I "speaking" with my money to support his campaign?

Because a story is making the rounds that Marco was screwing a lobbyist. [UPDATE] And after this article originally came out, another hit piece made the rounds that Rubio's brother in law was a coke dealer, when Rubio was 16 — as if this has any bearing on his character or fitness for office. Is the story Are the stories true?  I don't know.  I don't care. I'm not linking to any sources, because I don't want to give it them any juice.

I have lost my patience with people using someone's private life against them for political gain.  I've lost my patience with a complete lack of privacy.  

When the Republicans wanted to hurt Bill Clinton, the best thing they had in their arsenal was a blowjob and a cigar.  The Liberals hate Sarah Palin, so they make a big deal out of the fact that her daughter keeps getting knocked up.  Remember Gary Hart? That is when it all changed — when a politician's personal life meant as much, if not more, than his politics.

Before Gary Hart, political journalists had a sense of limits. Every member of the White House press corps knew that JFK was screwing Marilyn Monroe and that Eleanor Roosevelt was a lesbian. Nobody reported on that, because there were fucking rules. You broke those rules when it mattered — like Watergate. But, not when it meant revealing a private affair.

Then, on May 3, 1987, the Miami Herald decided that it wanted to try and be the Washington Post by revealing a scandal. That day, it printed its story about Gary Hart maybe getting some tail on the side above a story about Iran-Contra. Then, the race to the bottom began, and the Washington Post saw the Herald's bet and raised. Paul Taylor threw down with “Have you ever committed adultery?”

And we all joined in. It sold papers. It drove Hart out of the campaign, and since that day in 1987, shit that really doesn't matter, now matters.

You know why?

Because of you.

Because you, no matter your political persuasion, play right into it — as long as the target is someone you politically disagree with.

I confess, so have I.

I justified these sins by only wagging my finger at "family values" politicians who are later found to be less-than-family-value-types.  That's what most Liberals say when they play the politics-as-revenge porn game. The schadenfreude was strong in me.  I wasn't playing the shame game with a politician's personal life because what he did was wrong. I did it because it "exposed hypocrisy."

That seemed to make it just fine.

Meanwhile, I was the hypocrite.

Either there is something inherently wrong with being a sexual libertine, or there is not. I say there is not. Therefore, who am I to shame even the most conservative family values type for being one in his private life? Does it change how he or she can do the job? History would say otherwise — that the only time that a private affair changed anything was when it was made into a distraction by the now-all-tabloid press. And don't blame them. Blame me (and yourself) because I bought right into it.

I had no right, but whenever it was a conservative, I stood in the crowd and threw stones.  I wasn't stoning the "sinner," but rather a hypocrite.

Meanwhile, when it was a liberal, I didn't say anything except "so what, he doesn't try to tell me what to do in my bedroom, why do I care what he does in his?"

That is the real logical hypocrisy.

The real hypocrisy is that we forgive the media for reporting on private sexual lives at all.  The real hypocrisy is that we will stand in the crowd and cheer against the other team, while most of us want to defend the right to our blowjobs being our private business, and nobody else's.  The real victim is privacy.  The real victim is debate and discourse. The real victim is us.

This discussion is timely, not just because it is campaign season, but because many good-minded people are cheering the downfall of "revenge porn" purveyor. Some scream for tougher laws with which to punish them.  Hooking up with someone should not mean that photos of it wind up all over the internet forever.  The same people who cheer for revenge pornographers to go to prison are entirely silent when the "revenge porn" is not a photograph, but words — as long as those words bring down a politician from the other team.

We all agree that publishing photographs of someone's most intimate moments is wrong, unless we have their consent.  Meanwhile, at least a photograph tells the truth.  This is that person.  This is a captured moment in time, unfiltered through the author's bias.  This is real.  I still do not approve of publishing such photos, but isn't that better than innuendo, interpretation, and story telling by someone who wasn't even there?  How is a story about someone's private affairs not more intrusive than a photo?

More importantly, why is this politics?  Where does this political tool leave us?  It winds up making politics a game almost entirely for those who can point to a past unsullied by the occasional acid trip in their teenage years, unstained by a random screw after a night of too many drinks, unmarked with a blemish or two on their record of indiscretions.

Do we really want to be led by men and women who have never gone off and gotten a BJ in the supply closet? Do we really want our leaders to be so devoid of grit and real-world experience that they don't know what a booty call is?

If the press (and its audience) operated by these rules during World War II, Winston Churchill would have been drummed out of office for being a drunken ass-slapping lout, FDR would have been on the front page in a wheelchair (and while I don't care, that wouldn't have projected "strength" the right way), while Adolf Hitler would have been the sexually-well-behaved, sober vegetarian, who was nice to dogs.

So lets get back to Marco Rubio.  

Did he have a fling with a lobbyist?  I call on all journalists to decline to confirm the rumors.  They won't take up the call, but maybe a few of us can start spinning the wheel the other way. I call on all voters to issue a collective "who cares?"  Better yet, no matter which party the candidate represents, send a check the next time a "scandal" breaks.

Mr. Rubio may very well be the Republican nominee, or he may not.  I want to hear what he has to say about how he will handle the economy, foreign relations, things that matter.  I wish we had heard that from Gary Hart. I don't care what Rubio does, or does not do, in his private life.  Let his, and every other, candidacy rise and fall on ideas, not revenge porn.

So why am I donating to his campaign?  It's called "making lemonade." A number of years ago, the Ku Klux Klan planned a march.  A group of us agreed to donate $10 to a minority scholarship program for every minute that the Klan march lasted.  That way, the negative actions of those awful people would benefit the very people they were trying to hurt.  If someone tried to hurt Rubio by leaking this rumor, be it true or false, I want it to do the opposite.

Further, it is an act of penance.  I wish to repent for the times I joined in on this kind of behavior.  We all deserve sexual privacy, and our leaders should be judged on how they lead, not how well they can fight ridiculous allegations that have no place in the public eye.

No "safe spaces" for Conservatives

Madison Gesiotto is a law student at Ohio State, and is also the author of the "Millennial Mindset" column at the Washington Times.

(Pause for laughter at the thought of "Millenial Mindset")

She recently wrote a column called  “The number one killer of black Americans." What is this killer? According to Gesiotto, the number one killer of Black Americans is abortion. She believes that life begins at conception (as a lot of people do) and she then tallies up deaths from disease, murder, etc., and comes to the conclusion that this is a real problem.

I don't agree with her. But, ok… I get what she was trying to say. It's fair to criticize it. But, it is consistent with a "pro life" or "anti-abortion" agenda.

Some in the law school student body weren’t having it. No, these were bad thoughts.

The Black Law Students Association issued a statement that its members were offended by “the racist undertones of the opinion piece and question its journalistic integrity.” (source)

Her politically correct classmates descended like social justice locusts on her Facebook page, according to an article in the Washington Times.  (source)  Gesiotto told the paper that a fellow student wrote on her Facebook page “[t]he government cannot take action against you for your offensive and racist article. But your colleagues can.”

Gesiotto said she reported to her law school dean’s office that she was "extremely nervous" after reading that post, and was not sure if that meant her fellow student intended to hurt her, physically.

Let us presume that the Facebook post happened.  (I have no present reason to disbelieve her story).  And, let’s set aside for a moment how ludicrous her "I don't feel safe" story is, just for a few paragraphs.

Gesiotto also told the Washington Times that several deans met with her, but not to address her feeling that she was not "safe." Rather, she says, they met with her to give her column writing advice. “[The Dean] explained that she thought this was not proper legal writing or journalistic writing,” Ms. Gesiotto told the newspaper. “She further explained that in her mind this article could be taken various ways and left questions to be answered.” (source)

The deans suggested that she participate in a "facilitated discussion" with her outraged classmates, she said.

If we take her at her word, or even if we don’t, it does not strain credibility to say that Gesiotto's views were incompatible with the politically correct narrative required on college campuses.

In fact, you can't even call it "politically correct" anymore, as even that term is a “microagression."

Then instead of "political correctness," maybe we should call it the less euphemistic, but accurate term — neo-Stalinism. What else would you call a movement that demands that we erase our memory of Thomas Jefferson, because he owned slaves?  (source)   His slave ownership is at odds with his purported philosophies.  But, this idea that we should make historical figures into "un-persons" because we judge them imperfect, that is simply too reminiscent of Uncle Joe.

Conservatives are an oppressed minority in academia.  And I don't say this as a member of that minority. I personally think Bernie Sanders could go a little further left, if he really wanted to dial it in. But, I also think that there is plenty of room for Ms. Gesiotto's views in the marketplace of ideas.

But too often that marketplace is not welcome in academia.  This Ohio State episode is just one example. Others? A Washington State class requires white students to "defer" to "students of color." (source) At the University of Tennessee, there was an initiative to ban pronouns, because pronouns are sexist. (source)  We have the idiocy of "trigger warnings," where academics are expected to predict who might be uncomfortable with an upcoming statement, but now even the term "trigger warning" needs a trigger warning!  (source)

At the University of Missouri, a journalism professor (of all things) called for "muscle" to remove a journalist from covering student protests over racial issues at the campus. (source) Smith College banned journalists from covering its campus protests unless they were vetted to be friendly to the cause. No objective journalists welcome. (source)

Why? Because the "social justice" crowd needs "safe spaces." What is a "safe space?" It is an intellectual blankie – a bubble where people are free from criticism or ideas that might challenge their own. It is a shield from the marketplace of ideas.

I support Ms. Gesiotto in part, but I also criticize her for using the same tactics as her whiny leftist tormentors. She put her views out there in her column.  Other people are allowed to criticize her. Politics is just slightly rougher than no-helmet hockey, and you have to expect to take a few metaphorical punches. Gesiotto's claims that she did not feel "safe," are not credible.

I will give her deans some credit. Calling for a "facilitated discussion" is a great way to bring the marketplace of ideas to life.  Let there be debate.  Let there be disagreement.  Let there be enlightenment that grows from the heat of such engagement.

But let’s be real. Would they have done that if Ms. Gesiotto happened to espouse their pet views, and then complained about "not feeling safe?" I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it. "Safe spaces" are not for conservatives. And the deans’ other “suggestions” make me skeptical that this "facilitated discussion" would have been much more than the attempted re-education of Ms. Gesiotto for having heretical views.

It is easy for the social justice warrior professors to screech for "diversity," but what they really want is diversity in their recruiting brochures, but homogeneity of thought.

That is not what education is about.

Some Peace of Mind for Free Speech in Massachusetts


Not just another band out of Boston

Massachusetts has given the world its fair share of musical greatness.  From the Dropkick Murphys back to Jonathan Richman, The Cars to the Pixies, Aerosmith to Mission of Burma.  Bim Skala Bim to the Lemonheads.  The Unband to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  Lets put it this way, your musical life would suck without the 617/413 and later fragmented area codes.  (Fine, we apologize for New Kids on the Block.  That abomination cancels out the points we gained from Til Tuesday and Billy Squier.)

But, I gotta be honest.  Like any Patriots fan has to admit that the Pittsburgh Steelers are, to date, the better franchise.  It doesn't mean I love the Pats any less, but… you might love your wife til the end of time, but you got a set of eyes, and you can tell if another guy's wife has a better ass than yours does.  Admitting it, if true, just means that the rest of your opinions are valid, since you're not full of shit.

The fuckin unband

The fuckin' Unband

So, in that vein, I'll say that even though I personally put the Unband (the ultimate rock out with your cock band of all time) and The Modern Lovers (say no fucking more) at the top of my Masshole playlist, I can't deny that the Boston is King, A-number one, Snake Fucking Plisskin riding a Dragon while swinging a mountain lion by the tail above his head, fucking rulers of the universe, when it comes to Boston music.  You can go into a party in Melrose and put on Mission of Burma, and some asshole is gonna say "Turn that shit off."  Almost everyone loves the J. Geils Band, but put that on in a crowd that would rather hear the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and there's gonna be words.

You wanna please everyone, then you play Boston.  When New England finally secedes from the rest of this sinking ship of a country, I'll be lobbying for Roadrunner to be the national anthem, but I wouldn't be surprised if it lost to "More than a Feeling," and I wouldn't mind either.  (Although, the smart asses in New England would probably pick Billy Squier's The Stroke, just to fuck with everyone).

Brad Delp was about as close to royalty as you can get in Massachusetts.  He was the lead singer for Boston, and his iconic voice ran through the soundtrack to at least two generations of New Englanders.  Sadly, he took his own life in 2007.  (May his soul sit eternally in a sky box at Fenway, eating an endless supply of lobster rolls, sitting in a kiddie pool full of Sam Adams beer, flanked by two hot chicks who shut the fuck up through the whole game).

Boston might have a lot of music, but it only has two newspapers — if you use that term loosely.  We got the Boston Globe, which is pretty decent, and we have the Boston Herald, which is sorta like the New Kids on the Block.  NKOTB was bullshit, but anything with Mark Wahlberg's brother is not all bad.  And, The Herald has its moments.  But, for the most part, it is not exactly the kind of place that Edward R. Murrow would want to visit, if he came back to life. But, if he did, the Herald would put him on the front page with some crazy all-caps headline, and wouldn't even mention what he used to do for a living, before he went on a brain-eating rampage in Allston.

After Delp voluntarily merged with the infinite, the Herald ran a series of stories suggesting that Donald Scholz, the band's leader, was responsible for Delp's suicide.  The series relied on "unnamed sources" as well as Delp's estranged wife, Micki, and used bullshit headlines like “Pal’s snub made Delp do it: Boston rocker’s ex-wife speaks.’’  Scholz sued The Herald and its columnists for defamation, for implying that he had a hand in Delp's death. (Scholz v. Delp at 2).

Just before Thanksgiving, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that the articles were non-actionable opinion.   (Scholz v. Delp at 4).

The articles were, to say the least, not the greatest journalism, but not exactly the worst.  The writers carefully crafted a story to fit a sensational narrative, implying the opinion that Scholz caused Delp to off himself.  But, the key word here is "opinion." And, although that opinion was nasty and harmful, that doesn't make it defamatory.

The SJC quoted the landmark case, Gertz v. Welch: "However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas." (Scholz v. Delp at 12).

While "[a] statement of fact is not shielded from an action for defamation by being prefaced with the words 'in my opinion,'" Levinksy's, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 127 F.3d 122, 127 (1st Cir. 1997), quoting Haynes v. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 8 F.3d 1222, 1227 (7th Cir. 1993), a statement that does not contain
"objectively verifiable facts" is not actionable.(Scholz v. Delp at 12).

The SJC noted that in some cases, one might be able to come up with a 100% clear reason as to why someone might commit suicide, but this is not one of those cases. Therefore, it was clearly speculation.

The statements at issue could not have been understood by a reasonable reader to have been anything but opinions regarding the reason Brad committed suicide. "[I]f it is plain that the speaker is expressing a subjective view, an interpretation, a theory, conjecture, or surmise, . . . the statement is not actionable." Haynes v. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., supra at 1227. See Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., supra at 9. See, e.g., Gacek v. Owens & Minor Distrib., Inc., 666 F.3d 1142, 1147-1148 (8th Cir. 2012) (concluding that "anyone is entitled to speculate on a person's motives from the known facts of his behavior," and that statements that plaintiff "pushed [the decedent] over the edge," was "the straw that broke the camel's back," and "was the reason for [the decedent's] death" were nonactionable because they did not express objectively verifiable facts, but, rather, were defendant's "theory" or "surmise" as to decedent's motives in taking his own life [citation omitted]). Cf. National Ass'n of Gov't Employees/Int'l Bhd. of Police Officers v. BUCI Tel., Inc., 118 F. Supp. 2d 126, 131 (D. Mass. 2000) ("the interpretation of another's motive does not reasonably lend itself to objective proof or disproof").(Scholz v. Delp at 12-13).

The SJC also noted that the articles themselves were somewhat gossip-column like, and contained cautionary language that would alert the reader to the fact that they were not making a conclusive statement of fact — rather that they were sharing an opinion.

Of course, just because something is labeled "opinion," that does not necessarily make it legally so. I can write "in my opinion, Bob Smith uses cocaine." Well, Bob just might have a case against me, if I do that. But, if I say "Bob Smith had white powder on his nose, kept sniffing, and he was talking really fast, so my educated opinion is that he was probably on cocaine." That would be another story. Why? I disclosed the facts that formed the basis for my opinion. Similarly, I could say "Bob was slurring his words, burping a lot, and kept saying how much he loved everyone, therefore my opinion is that he was using cocaine." That would be a pretty clearly off-base opinion, but at least I shared my data.

The SJC tackled this issue:

Even a statement that is "cast in the form of an opinion may imply the existence of undisclosed defamatory facts on which the opinion purports to be based, and thus may be actionable." King v. Globe Newspaper Co., 400 Mass. 705, 713 (1987). By contrast, an opinion "based on disclosed or assumed nondefamatory facts is not itself sufficient for an action of defamation, no matter how unjustified or unreasonable the opinion may be or how derogatory it is." Dulgarian v. Stone, 420 Mass. 843, 850 (1995), quoting Lyons v. Globe Newspaper Co., supra at 262. (Scholz v. Delp at 17).

By laying out the bases for their conclusions, the articles "clearly indicated to the reasonable reader that the proponent of the expressed opinion engaged in speculation and deduction based on the disclosed facts." See Lyons v. Globe Newspaper Co., supra at 266. It does not appear "that any undisclosed facts [about Scholz's role in Brad's suicide] are implied, or if any are implied, it is unclear what [those might be]." See Cole v. Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., 386 Mass. 303, 313 (1982). Moreover, it is entirely unclear (even assuming that facts are implied) that they are defamatory facts. See id. (Scholz v. Delp at 19).

The SJC upheld the trial court's dismissal of the claims at summary judgment, noting that Summary Judgment is a favored means of resolving defamation cases. (Citing New England Tractor & Trailer Training of Conn., Inc. v. Globe Newspaper Co., 395 Mass. 471, 480 (1985), citing Cefalu v. Globe Newspaper Co., 8 Mass. App. 71, 74 (1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1060 (1980)).

I wouldn't call this a SLAPP suit. It wasn't just a rich asshole trying to suppress criticism. Imagine if you were slathered on the front page of a tabloid, essentially being blamed for your long-term colleague's suicide. I can really empathize with Scholz here. But, the First Amendment demands that we have room for discussions like this one, and it gives The Herald the latitude necessary to keep its cart open in the marketplace of ideas.

I just really wish that this was not Delp's legacy. They weren't just another band out of Boston, and Delp wasn't just another kid from Peabody, Mass. But, I suppose that there's some poetry in it — that voice that we cranked in the dunes at night at Good Harbor Beach, or as we drove ridiculously fast up Route 128… that voice won't ever leave anyone's head, if that head spent any formative years in New England.

Perhaps it is poetically appropriate that Delp now lives on, giving us all the Peace of Mind that we are that much more free because of him.  I hope that whatever remains of him can find just a little slack in that.

You Are Not Going to Resist the Government With Your Guns

"Bullshit quote memes piss me off so bad that I want to stab someone in their fat stupid face!"  - Fred Rogers

"Bullshit quote memes piss me off so bad that I want to stab someone in their fat stupid face!" – Fred Rogers

I'm not prepared to get rid of our right to keep and bear arms unless we do get rid of the Second Amendment. But, doing that requires tinkering with the Constitution, which makes me nervous. Once you open the hood, you never know what else someone will fuck with. With the state of our idiocracy, opening the Constitution is just as likely to wind up creating a right to keep and bear rape monkeys as it is to have its intended effect.

So it is what it is. We have the Second Amendment, and while we can debate all we want about how we should interpret it, DC v. Heller pretty much did that for us. It is an individual right, and anyone who suggests that we might even ponder a dissenting view is not very likely to make it through Senate confirmation hearings.

So here we are.

Fallacy Killer Number One – George Washington Did Not Say That

Lets talk about one justification for our right to keep and bear arms — the notion that we need the Second Amendment so that we can resist "tyranny." This George Washington quote sprouts up like mushrooms on cow shit every time there is a mass shooting – to remind us that even though a dozen kids just died, it is worth it, because one day we will want those guns – like the day that Obama comes to herd us into concentration camps where we will be forced to have free health care, or education, or Koran lessons, or whatever the fear-du-jour happens to be.

"A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government." -George Washington

Well guess what?

He never said that.

Here is what he actually said:

"A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies."

Pretty big difference by shifting a few words around.

Fallacy Killer Number Two – The Second Amendment Will Preserve Our Right to Revolt

Just because Washington didn't say that, it doesn't mean that there is no "right to revolution" theory to be found in the Second Amendment. After all, Jefferson did say "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

In 1776, when the height of military technology was a musket and a cannon, both of which you could make by melting down church bells, there might have been something to it. When the contest was little more than numbers of guns you could drag through the woods, and how to play the weather, the government probably did need to worry a bit about insurrection – and that might have kept them a bit more honest.

However, the first time someone tried that kind of thing, it didn't work out so well. In fact, Shays' Rebellion just led to Constitutional tweaks to make the federal government that much stronger. The Civil War led to even more, with harsher consequences.

If 13 states, with the assistance of at least one superpower, didn't manage to get their way through armed insurrection, what the hell makes anyone think that armed insurgency is going to preserve our right to … whatever … not have affordable health care, or to coffee cups that say "Happy Birthday Jesus" on them?

Ok, fine… lets come up with a cause worth fighting for. Lets say that Obama refuses to step down in 2016, and he not only declares himself dictator-for-life, but he also starts dressing like Ghadaffi, decrees that the national religion shall be Islam, the national language will be Klingon, there will be an efficient rail network in the United States, the writ of Prima Noctae is now in effect, and there shall be martial law to enforce all of the above, as well as any other laws that the President invents, on a daily basis.

We managed to preserve our right to keep military grade rifles and machine guns, so we all muster down on the Town Common with our guns. We tried voting. We tried protesting. This is a reasonable time to start with the armed insurrection stuff.

So, you, me, all our neighbors, hell our entire city builds a perimeter around it. We fill sandbags, we all have ammunition, we all have food, water, supplies, and most importantly, we are all unified and in complete solidarity.

And we stand there, resisting whatever it is the government was going to do to us.

And then they fly over with one jet, dropping one FAE bomb, and roll in with three tanks, and in about 12 hours, our "resistance" is reduced to a few smoking holes. The Tree of Liberty will get its manure all right, but it will be the manure that you shat out as you ran for cover, as long range artillery rains down on our town, as we get carpet bombed from 35,000 feet, and as the sky goes black with drones and cruise missiles.

We're screwed.

So… if the 2nd Amendment's "right to revolution" implication is real, both practically and legally, it must also include a right to possess tanks, jets, rocket launchers, etc. Your puny AK-47 is useless. So, we need to have at least some of our volunteer resistance show up with Stinger missiles, some anti-aircraft batteries, maybe a submarine or two?

Oh, you can't afford that?

That's ok, we have some patriotic citizens who can.

Who? The same billionaires who already own the government, that's who. So what do they want to "resist?" I could only see them wanting to resist checks on their own power. So, if the Second Amendment implies a right to resist the government, then that would mean that we need our billionaire friends to start stockpiling these weapons now. We need a Koch brothers airfield with a few fighters and bombers, and Adelson should have a fleet of tanks somewhere, and I guess that George Soros would bring his collection of nuke-armed submarines up to date, right?

So lets drop the crazy scenario of Obama-cum-Ghadaffi, and just think about something we were really likely to see upset us. Do you think for a moment that you, living in some apartment in Salt Lake City, or a house in Wyoming, or a condo in Boca Raton, would be ready to go to war with the Federal Government over the same shit that would get the Koch Brothers to fuel up their private stock of A10 Warthogs? Really?

Because you know what the billionaires want the government to stop doing? They want it to get out of the way of their becoming trillionaires. If you think that the Second Amendment means what the Supreme Court said in Heller, and you believe that is a good thing, because it gives you the ability to resist the government, you might want to play out the long game in your head. The long game here is this interpretation leads to private armies, raised by limitless wealth, all of which looks at our quaint little republican form of government as nothing more than a paper justification to have a flag waving over a few national parks.

I don't particularly love the federal government either, but ultimately, it is the only organization that we have where we can even hope to band together with enough authority to avoid being under the rule of the richest local family. Yeah, in large part, we're there already. Citizens United made sure of that. But, at least we still have some veneer of a republic.

So the next time you see some fool cheering the Second Amendment as the text that protects us from tyranny, ask them to play all four quarters of the mental game. It isn't romantic pictures of regular guys crossing the Delaware in rowboats. The endgame is Ancient Rome meets The Terminator.

[Update] – A few comments suggest that our modern military has not really been that effective against insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and elsewhere. I concede that point. But, I did not think I needed to waste a paragraph in the original discussing how I hardly think that Americans would be prepared to hide in the woods and caves, en masse, to support an American insurgency. Not a chance. When our intelligentsia is crying for "safe spaces," our would-be "Wolverines" scream to give up every civil liberty except the Second Amendment, who are we going to have lead this "insurgency?" Maybe the Crips and the Bloods. That ought to work out well. Sorry, but anyone you might want to be in power doesn't have the yarbles to do it, and those with the great bolshy yarblockos are not exactly going to set up a rebel government on the principles of Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Safe Spaces As Shield, Safe Spaces As Sword: Part II


When I wrote yesterday about the notion of "safe spaces" being used to annex public spaces and dictate what may be spoken within them, I didn't imagine that modern academia would provide me with another example so swiftly. The place is the University of Missouri, where students accused the administration of indifference to overt racism. Activists demanded, and got, some high-level resignations over the matter. (They didn't get everything they wanted: as far as I can tell their distinctly Maoist demand for a handwritten confession and acknowledgement of ideological tenets was not met.) Agree with them or not, the Mizzou activists engaged in classic protected speech, at least to this point.

The safe-space-as-sword came during the victory celebration. The proposition was wantonly naked: the university's public spaces that activists had chosen to occupy were a no-dissent zone, where activists were entitled to be free from differing interpretations of events:


The "parameters" in question were the public university's quad, one of the most quintessentially public spaces in American law and tradition. This sentiment — that students could take over a public space, use it to express their views on a public issue, and shut other views out of it in the name of emotional safety — was vigorously enforced by a crowd threatening a photographer and a communications professor shouting for "muscle" to help her expel media.

All of this — engendered by accusations of racism against African-Americans — comes within living memory of people asserting their right to make public venues culturally "safe spaces" free of African-Americans. Of course, those safety-minded citizens were somewhat less sophisticated in their jargon. They had signs too.

Some people look on this sentiment and despair. I don't. It's a good thing for America to see how mainstream the spirit of censorship is. Some people say the censorship discredits the substantive values the students are fighting for. I don't. The protest about racism rises or falls on its own merits; the anti-dissent sentiment is so banal and common in academia now, and students aren't taught any different. It would be like saying that t-shirts and bad hair discredit the ideas the protesters are fighting for. Some people suggest that these students (and professors) deserve to face the censorship they encourage. I don't. Deserve's got nothing to do with it. We routinely protect the freedoms of people who scorn freedom: Nazis marching at Skokie, Westboro Baptist Church members protesting at funerals, and other assorted nitwits who dream of an America where their whims are law. That's the deal. We're not going to change because some academics and students are thuggish louts. We're not them. The sentiment "only people we agree with deserve rights" is theirs, not ours.

Safe Spaces As Shield, Safe Spaces As Sword

This may come as a surprise, but I'm a supporter of "safe spaces." I support safe spaces because I support freedom of association. Safe spaces, if designed in a principled way, are just an application of that freedom.

That's why I didn't flip out last week when someone announced they were building "Pillowfort," a friendlier version of the social media site Tumblr. The announcement was met with swift jeers from the usual suspects. Folks derided the idea of a social media site that, even more than the famously left-dominated Tumblr, lets you limit with whom you interact and control who sees your content. But why? Pillowfort would be self-selecting. Nobody goes into the fort who doesn't want to be there. It's not like somebody is wandering onto your social media account and building a fort around you and telling you how you can interact with others. Pillowfort represents something that conservatives used to support in other circumstances: a private club, run by its own rules, with admission limited as its members see fit. If I'm not a member of the club, how its members regulate discourse within it is of little interest to me. Similarly, though organized Twitter blocklists are troublesome to some people, they don't bother me. They, too, are an application of freedom of association. Do I think some lists are organized around silly principles? Sure. But people are like that. Freedom of association is the right to organize ourselves in silly ways.

In short, I support people creating "safe spaces" as a shield by exercising their freedom of association to organize themselves into mutually supporting communities, run according to their own norms. But not everyone imagines "safe spaces" like that. Some use the concept of "safe spaces" as a sword, wielded to annex public spaces and demand that people within those spaces conform to their private norms. That's not freedom of association. That's rank thuggery, a sort of ideological manifest destiny.2 It's the difference between saying "I shouldn't be forced to go to a talk by this controversial figure" and "this controversial figure should not be allowed to speak at my school."

This week's example of safe-space-as-sword comes, like many bad ideas, from Yale. Gallons of ink have been spilled already; consider the coverage at The FIRE or Reason or Simple Justice. I won't repeat it all.

There are two remarkable and dangerous things about the notion of safe spaces imagined by Yale students.

The first is the location of that space. It's not a self-selected community or an exercise of freedom of association, because it lacks the element of voluntary entry. It's the safe space of an occupier: students demand that everyone in the dorm, or college, or university conform to their private-club rules. Your right to swing your fist may end at my nose, but their asserted right to safety surrounds you.

The second remarkable thing is the definition of safety. For the moment, let's accept for the sake of argument that some speech can make people genuinely unsafe. Imagine, perhaps, speech advocating for the physical abuse of minorities or urging vulnerable people to commit suicide. But the Yale incident demonstrates that this core concept, once accepted, can be expanded to cover anything. The argument seems to be that because we can imagine truly threatening speech, we must therefore accept uncritically other people's subjective beliefs about what speech is threatening. The speech at issue here was an email acknowledging that ethic Halloween costumes could be hurtful but discussing whether it should be the role of a university to tell students whether to wear them. This is safety as Ouroboros — it is unsafe to question what is unsafe, unsafe to discuss the concept of safety.

The Yale incident is being portrayed, reasonably, as an example of liberal abuse of the concept of safe spaces. But conservative culture is not innocent here. What is the "War on Christmas" but a sort of safe-space argument, an assertion that we have a right to be congratulated for our religious beliefs by corporate America even out in public spaces? And conservatives have long matched the imagined right not to be offended with an equally fatuous right not to be called offensive. There's a difference between calling someone an asshole and calling for someone to be fired or expelled or otherwise silenced. Eager to score points in a culture war, some folks conflate classic more-speech remedies like criticism with actual censorship. That doesn't encourage a principled approach to speech by anyone, let alone college students.