The hysterical warnings against trigger warnings

In last Tuesday’s Guardian, professor emeritus Frank Furedi launches a scathing attack on the increasing prevalence of “trigger warnings” in academic life. Furedi claims that “Too many academics are now censoring themselves“, but struggles to provide any concrete evidence of this claim.

The entire article is underpinned by an invalid and fallacious conflation of trigger warnings and censorship. In actual fact, the presence of a trigger warning means – by its very definition – that some piece of (potentially) disturbing material has not been censored or removed. If the university was avoiding such material altogether, there would obviously be nothing to warn about in the first place. An established and appropriate system of “trigger warnings” provides a framework for including such subjects in the assigned texts, without creating needless and harmful situations for those students who suffer from previous trauma.

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Electoral College quirks

The recent turmoil in the Republican party has sparked a slew of commentary about how the party might break entirely with Trump and replace him with a different nominee (with this Politico op-ed probably being the most comprehensive).

Personally, I think all these speculations are still extremely speculative, and that the overwhelmingly most likely scenario – even with the current level of internal strife – is that Trump/Pence remains the official GOP ballot choice on Election Day. (The idea, here promoted in the WSJ, of Trump pledging to step down post-election and hand the Presidency to Pence seems particularly far-fetched.)

But the discussion has nevertheless thrown up some little-known facets of the American electoral process, that might become actually relevant in a later election.

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Quote of the Day: A Mars Astronaut foresees his Death

SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently presented his plan for human colonisation of Mars, and one of the most widely quoted comments has been:

If you want to be on the frontier, where things are super exciting even if it’s dangerous, that’s who we’re appealing to. I would not suggest sending children. Are you prepared to die? If that’s ok, you’re a candidate for going.

which brings to mind the closing lines of W.B. Yeats’ “An Irish Airman foresees his Death” (written during World War I, full poem here):

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Quote of the Day: G.K. Chesterton on Brexit

Regardless of how you feel about the Brexit victory, it seems only fair to give today’s quote to someone who summed up the Leave mood pretty accurately a century ago, and who would presumably be cheering today (from “The Secret People”, full poem here):

They have given us into the hand of the new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

G.K. Chesterton

Nobody claims Breivik is being “tortured”

The Norwegian version of this article can be found here.

In his latest Observer column, Nick Cohen is extremely critical of the recent court ruling on Anders Behring Breivik’s prison conditions. Sadly, Cohen’s criticism is based on a large number of incorrect or highly misleading facts – not least the repeated claim that the court ruled that Breivik was being “tortured” in prison.

The fact of the matter is that nobody – not even Breivik’s lawyer, much less the verdict – has claimed that he was being tortured (in the precise and legal sense of the term. (True, Breivik himself has repeatedly complained of “torture”, but the myriad outlandish claims of a deranged terrorist are hardly pertinent or relevant to the point Cohen is attempting to make.)

The charge brought by Breivik’s lawyer – and partially granted by the court – was only the lesser charge of “inhuman and degrading treatment“. Obviously, such an accusation of behalf of a terrorist mass murderer is still highly provocative, but it is significantly and fundamentally different (both legally and emotively) from “torture”.

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Conceding the Trump battle to win the war?

As the Donald Trump juggernaut remains on course for winning the Republican nomination, a repeated refrain has been to blame the Republicans for not having acted early enough to stop Trump’s rise. If prominent politicians, Super-PACs, and other members of the “GOP Elite” (so the argument goes) had launched concerted attacks om Trump at an early stage, they could have prevented him from ever achieving front-runner status. Failing that, they should at least close ranks behind a single unified anti-Trump candidate – or make plans for selecting a completely different compromise candidate, if the process ends in a brokered convention where no candidate holds a majority.

Others, such as Vox’ Ezra Klein, have argued that the party elites have in fact done everything they can in this respect – and that to the extent that they’ve held back, it’s been because of a genuine and rational fear that their efforts might end up boosting Trump instead.
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