Saturday, July 09, 2016

"Trigger Warning" -- That Phrase Apparently Doesn't Mean Anything

Jerry Coyne, writing in The New Republic, inadvertently summarizes what I consider the ur-feature of all writing on "trigger warnings" (this is apparently from last year, but TNR's Facebook feed decided I should read it now). Discussing a call from some students to provide a trigger warning for Ovid’s “Metamorphoses" due to its graphic depiction of sexual assault (a student survivor who expressed concerns about how the material was presented said she felt "dismissed" by her professor), Coyne writes the following sentence:
That professor was clearly wrong to dismiss the student, and perhaps he or she might have mentioned beforehand that there is violence and sexual assault in Ovid, but that’s as far as I’d go.
So, Coyne would go as far as giving advance notice that their might be troublesome material in the selected readings. Or, put another way, we might say he'd "warn" his students about content which might "trigger" them.

But a "trigger warning"? Heaven forfend!

Given what Coyne agrees would have been appropriate, I confess its no longer clear to me what he thinks a "trigger warning" is. But you can be sure that the ensuing 10 paragraphs will explain why -- whatever it is -- it's the beginning of academic fascism the likes of which threaten the very foundations of the American university.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Marco Rubio's Good Statement on Police Shootings; Bad Statement on Guns

I always try to give credit where it's due, and I'll thus give Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) credit for a stronger-than-expected statement regarding police shootings:

"Those of us who are not African-American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America," he said. "But we should all understand why our fellow Americans in the black community are angry at the images of an African-American man with no criminal record, who was pulled over with a busted tail light, slumped in his car seat and dying while his four year old daughter watches from the backseat." 
He was referring to Philando Castile, the man killed Thursday in a Twin Cities suburb. Alton Sterling was shot Wednesday in Baton Rouge. 
"There are communities in this country that have a terrible relationship with their local law enforcement. We need to recognize that," he said. "We also need recognize that law enforcement officers in this country are truly among the best that we have. What these people do on a regular basis, you never hear about it. You never hear about the great things they do. No one is capturing that on video or online. It's only when some bad actor or some bad incident occurs we hear something about it."
 On the other hand, this came contemporaneously with him saying "I'm not sure there's a law we can pass" to staunch the flow of gun violence. He argued that the Dallas shooting -- where of course, the victims had guns -- did not falsify the tired "if only everybody was armed" contention because "This is a very unique situation, You have snipers that are in rooftops, picking off police officers -- a very difficult situation." The report continues:
The officers were armed, Rubio conceded, but didn't know who was firing at them or from where. "The police officers found themselves in a very vulnerable situation: They are wearing uniforms," he said.
It is not immediately obvious to me that, in the relevant respects, this is all that unique. One suspects there are many circumstances where it will not be immediately obvious who is firing or from where, or who is the good guy with the gun versus the bad guy with the gun. One further suspects that the difficulty of ascertaining who is who will increase, not dissipate, the more people who are packing. Finally, recent experience makes me pretty confident that the way we'll resolve these difficulties is be simply assuming brown people are the bad guys. Which is to say, we'll persist in our all-too-normal status quo of black men being automatically treated as threats -- all the more so when they're carrying a gun.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

The Whites-Only Second Amendment

Believe it or not, I've never been an anti-gun zealot. I've fired a gun before, once, at camp (it had a shooting range) -- it didn't really make an impression on me one way or the other. I'm a huge fan of Top Shot. I did some pro bono work for the Brady Campaign, even interviewed for a job there, but I withdraw my name from consideration immediately afterwards -- I knew I didn't have the true fire in the belly to work there.

I also know enough of the scholarly literature to be quite aware of checkered past gun control has had vis-a-vis the civil rights movement -- David Graham provides some of that history in this incisive piece. There were many periods where efforts to take away guns blossomed because, simply put, black people were using them to defend themselves against racist whites. The NRA has, of course, expended quite a bit of time excavating this history in order to argue that more guns, not fewer, are the solution to violence besetting communities of color.

And yet today, it is beyond clear that the Second Amendment is meaningless for black gun owners. There is no right to bear arms if you're black, and the "defenders" of gun rights like the NRA have virtually nothing to say when black people are victimized for exercising that right.

After all, if there is a right to open carry, then a black man seen with a gun is not only not committing a crime, there's not even probable cause to believe that they have. If a state allows concealed carry, then telling an officer that one has a concealed (and permitted) handgun can't justify even heightened anxiety, let alone fear for one's life. But everyone knows that black men cannot actually draw on these "rights". It doesn't matter if the gun is permitted, out of reach, or even real. A black man possessing a gun is always going to be viewed as a valid target, no matter what the law says.

And as for the NRA -- of course they're not going to stand up for these gun owners. In the NRA's world, black people don't get to own guns, they're the reason one owns guns. When they talk about guns being essential to American liberty, they don't envision an armed black population evening out the balance of force in a police encounter -- that's what justifies force in a police encounter. When they blather about a well-armed citizenry as a bulwark against tyranny, they don't have in mind Black Panthers exercising their open carry rights at the capital; they imagine Clive Bundy making an ass of himself.

Anyone who's read and takes seriously works flowing from the Black Power movement has to acknowledge the theoretical purchase of the idea that vulnerable populations are the ones who lose out when majoritarian dominated institutions gain a monopoly on the instruments of violence. But practical experience has made it abundantly obvious that this theoretical argument has no practical value. "Gun rights" has long since settled into a contented status quo accessible by whites and whites alone.

And that's unsustainable. If as a society, we feel threatened when a black man walks around openly carrying a firearm, that should mean that nobody has the right to openly carry a firearm. If possession of a gun by a black man is sufficient to justify a police shooting, then possession of a gun by anyone justifies it. In short, if we can't guarantee gun rights for everyone -- and we can't, it's clear that we can't, and gun rights organizations have no interest in changing it so we can -- then they don't belong to anyone. The status quo is racist, murderous, and toxic to rule of law. It is not sustainable. And eventually, it will fall.

All Quiet on the Blogging Front

Certainly, there's no shortage of news to be written on. But I've just begin an intensive 8-day course teaching Energy Law, which will sap me of much of my energy (for the past week and a half, I've been on vacation -- my stockpile of excuses for not blogging is infinite). So if I am quiet, I'm neither dead nor abandoning this site -- just busy busy.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Waffle House Song

The name of this blog, The Debate Link, emerged from my time as a high school debater (my first post here was June 2004, shortly after I graduated high school). The original mission statement of the blog was to link commentary on political issues to the debating world (the first tagline of The Debate Link was "The arguments, presented by and for the debating public.").

Among my happiest memories in high school were attending the Florida Forensics Institute (since closed -- read here for more on that story). One year, we adopted as our unofficial theme The Waffle House Song, communicated to us by one Jeff Hannan. A quick google search reveals no record of this song currently exists on the internet. This deserves rectification, and so, without further adieu, I present its lyrics:
We're at the Waffle House!
We're all messed up!
We're at the Waffle House!
We're all messed up!
We're gonna eat our waffles, gonna eat our waffles, gonna eat our waffles fast!
 Gonna eat our waffles, gonna eat our waffles, gonna eat our waffles fast!
[Quickly, while pointing] Drunk driving ain't funny!
And with that, a priceless bit of our cultural heritage has been preserved. You're welcome.