Biomedical Engineer, Medical Student, Lincoln Democrat
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How The University of Chicago Could Have Done A Better Job Defending Free Speech

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The University of Chicago made the news last week with a strongly worded letter defending academic freedom. The heart of it was this:

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 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

Reactions were predictable. Critics of campus culture (usually, but not always, on the right) loved it; supporters of trigger warnings and safe spaces (usually, but not always, on the left) didn't.

I think it could have been better written. Here's how I would have framed the same paragraph.

Our commitment to academic freedom will govern our response to community concerns about course content and campus expression in general. The community should not expect us to require professors to give "trigger warnings," or to discipline them if they decline to do so. The community should not expect us to prohibit or "disinvite" speakers who offer controversial or offensive ideas. Members of the community should exercise their freedom of association to form groups with similar interests, goals, and values, but should not expect to transform classes or public spaces into "safe spaces" where expression they oppose is prohibited.

I like my version better for several reasons.

First, it's clearer that the University isn't telling professors how to teach their classes. It's unserious to say that you stand for academic freedom but then dictate to professors exactly how they can talk about their class content. I don't read the letter to say they are prohibiting professors from choosing to offer trigger warnings, but I think they could have been clearer. I personally find trigger warnings infantilizing in most academic circumstances, but I'm not the one teaching the class.

Second, I think my version offers a more honest and philosophically coherent approach to "safe spaces." As I have argued before, "safe spaces" are completely consistent with freedom of association when they represent a group of people coming together voluntarily to determine how they want to interact. They're a problem when people decide they have the right to intellectual manifest destiny — when they have a right to use safe spaces as a sword rather than a shield by telling others what they can say in public spaces like classes, quads, and dorms. "This club is a space for [group x]" does not threaten academic freedom or freedom of expression. "This campus/dorm/class/quad is a safe space and so this speaker/topic/speech should not be allowed" definitely is.

This is going to get me called (among other things) a pedant. Guilty, with an explanation. Pedantry on basic civic virtues is a good thing. Free speech legalism is a good thing. Rhetoric that blurs the nature of rights and encourages misunderstandings is bad — particularly when it comes from a university. If the University of Chicago believes — as many of us do — that the values of academic freedom and free speech are under assault, then it shouldn't encourage misunderstandings of those concepts just for the pleasure of rhetorically spiking the ball. If your proposition is that college kids should act like grown-ups, you can talk to them with a bit more complexity and accuracy.

Conservatives railing against "safe spaces" without nuance should remember that freedom of association — which conservatives are supposed to be fighting for — is about something very like safe spaces. You think college kids shouldn't be able to form their own "safe spaces" where they hear what they want? Fine. But remind me — why should campus Christian groups be able to control who can be officers based on sharing the groups' values? On the other hand, liberals insisting that this is all a talk-radio fabrication should take another look. The rhetoric of safe spaces is being used, widely and explicitly, as a justification for excluding contrary expression. These people — whether a small minority or not — believe that universities have an obligation to exclude views that they, subjectively, deem harmful. If you support that, you're not in favor of academic freedom or free speech.

In short, University of Chicago's letter was a little triumphalist, a little misleading, and a little too vague.

Copyright 2016 by the named Popehat author.
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satadru
2 hours ago
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I Stand, Despite

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I stand when they play the National Anthem.

I stand even though I don't sing along with it. I don't sing when I stand in church, either. It's not an act of defiance, it's an act of compassion. I only sing in the car, alone. And I do that with the windows closed. (I learned that after an incident when I was singing along with Messiah. The text "all we like sheep," enthusiastically bellowed, is vulnerable to misinterpretation.)

I stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, too. I stand during that even though I don't say the words "under God," which constitute a rare instance of actual virtue-signalling and, in my view, a vanity. I stand for it despite its prominent historical role in tyranny against my fellow Americans, which I despise.

I stand for the National Anthem and the Pledge secure in the knowledge that if I do so, very few people will ever question my commitment to the ideals referred to in them, or inquire whether my rhetoric or actions are consistent with them, or suggest that I am standing out of self-interest or calculation, or use it in an opportunity to delve into my relationships or personal history. By contrast, if I don't stand, I know that people will question all of those things (and, sometimes, not unreasonably.)

I stand knowing that if I don't stand people will interpret it as a sign of outrageous disrespect for people who have served America in uniform. I stand even though more people will get more upset, and more news coverage will result, over that disrespect than over the fact that 20 veterans commit suicide every day, or the fact that there's more homeless veterans in America than there are residents of ten of our state capitals, or the fact that veterans routinely die waiting for (inadequate) medical care because we've thanked them, clapped them on the back, and consigned them one of our most entrenched and incompetent bureaucracies that is exceptional at protecting its own (except for whistleblowers) however freakishly bad at their jobs they are but pretty bad at protecting veterans, or the fact that we'll drone-strike anyone who shoots at them in Fallujah but if they encounter police in America they're pretty much fucked, or the fact that every mainstream politician for two generations has promised to make it better without accomplishing jack shit. I stand even though this disparity in outrage and coverage is indescribably grotesque.

I stand even though the discourse about standing or not standing is rife with culture-bundling, with standers sneeringly dismissed as uneducated rubes and sheep and sitters angrily dismissed as effete thug-sympathizing communists.

I stand knowing that my standing doesn't mean the same thing to me that other people standing means to them, and that's okay. I stand despite being conflicted with and uncomfortable about uniform unison rote displays of nationalism. I stand despite my suspicion that standing is sometimes part of the commodification and monetization of patriotism.

I stand loving America, aware that I often fall short of what that love should mean. When I say I love America I mean I love certain shared values and founding ideals like the rule of law and equality before it, liberty, and self-determination, and what people have done to achieve them. I love the values as lofty as the right to speak and worship and as humble as the right to raise a family and work and live as I see fit. I love it knowing that these ideals are more aspirational than descriptive, more a to-do list than a resume. They are what Lincoln called "unfinished work" and "the great task remaining before us." I try to love it the way some grievously wronged veterans I saw being naturalized one transformative day a quarter-century ago loved it — for what it can be with shared effort, not always for what it is or has been. If America is Americans being deprived of their property and herded into camps and reviled for their ethnicity, it is equally those same Americans fighting for their country and its values with extraordinary valor and dedication.

I stand because when I stand I'm ten again at a ball game with my parents, or twelve again, fat with burgers and ice cream cake, watching fireworks in the dusk on the Fourth of July, or a young man again proudly being sworn in to my first job representing the United States. I stand knowing that other people's experiences aren't the same.

I stand even though the reaction to people who don't stand is one of the best arguments for not standing in the first place.

I stand, but I support the people who don't. In fact, when I stand, I mean to show that I support them.

Copyright 2016 by the named Popehat author.
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satadru
2 hours ago
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New York’s Highest Court Expands Definition of Parenthood

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Expanding the definition of what it means to be a parent, especially for same-sex couples, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that a caretaker who is not related to, or the adoptive guardian of, a child could still be permitted to ask for custody and visitation rights.

The ruling emerged from a dispute between a gay couple from Chautauqua County, known in court papers only as Brooke S.B. and Elizabeth A. C.C.

Susan L. Sommer, Brooke’s lawyer and the national director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, called the decision a “landmark in New York” and said it brought the state “into line with the mainstream in the United States in recognizing that children frequently have a second parent not related to them by blood, adoption or marriage.”

Ms. Sommer added, “The state’s highest court is recognizing the diversity of New York families and reversing a bitter precedent that has kept children from their parents.”

Brooke and Elizabeth began their relationship in 2006 and announced their engagement the following year, even though same-sex marriage was not permitted in New York at the time and they did not have the resources to travel to a state where it was allowed.

In 2008, Elizabeth became pregnant with their child through artificial insemination. Though Brooke had no legal or biological ties to the child, a boy, she maintained a close relationship with him for years, cutting his umbilical cord at birth, giving him her last name and raising him jointly with Elizabeth.

In 2010, the couple ended their relationship, court papers said, and three years later, Elizabeth tried to cut off Brooke’s contact with the boy. Brooke sued for custody and visitation privileges, but was turned down by a lower court, which found the lawsuit “heartbreaking,” but ruled nonetheless that legal precedent under a New York case called the Matter of Alison D. v. Virginia M. did not define a nonadoptive, nonbiological caretaker as a parent.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the appeals court overturned that earlier case, writing that “the definition of ‘parent’ established by this court 25 years ago in Alison D. has become unworkable when applied to increasingly varied familial relationships.” It further held that “where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the nonbiological, nonadoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody.”

More broadly, the court noted that “Alison D.’s foundational premise of heterosexual parenting and nonrecognition of same-sex couples is unsustainable,” particularly in light of New York’s law allowing gay marriage, which was passed in 2011, and the United States Supreme Court’s landmark ruling last year granting same-sex couples the right to marry.

“The court clearly heard us,” said Eric Wrubel, a lawyer who argued Brooke and Elizabeth’s case on behalf of the child, whose welfare was central in the appellate decision. “They clearly see that the bright lines of biology and adoption just don’t fit today with marriage equality. They understand that couples and families these days are not just mom and dad, and husband and wife.”

Elizabeth’s lawyer, Sheryl Bjork, could not be reached for comment.

The appeals court accompanied its ruling in the case of Brooke and Elizabeth with a decision in a similar dispute between a biological mother of a child who sued her former partner, the nonbiological mother, for child support. After paying child support, the nonbiological mother asked to be granted custody and visitation rights. The court agreed with her request.

Most states, including ones that often are considered conservative, like Oklahoma and South Carolina, already permit de facto parents to ask for custody and visitation rights. In bringing New York up to speed with many other states, the appeals court cited a growing body of social science research that, as it put it, “reveals the trauma children suffer as a result of separation from a primary attachment figure — such as a de facto parent — regardless of that figure’s biological or adoptive ties to the children.”

Nancy D. Polikoff, a professor at the American University Washington College of Law, said, “We’ve seen this all over the country, even in states that might be called gay unfriendly.”

“Many courts have simply said that this person looks like a parent and you cannot just eliminate them from the child’s life,” added Professor Polikoff, who has written briefs for similar cases in the past. “To have New York, where there are so many same-sex couples, be an outlier was a problem. But this catches New York up.”

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satadru
2 hours ago
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Bravo NY.
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Our tiny autonomous killer drone future

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The very beginning of Attack of the Killer Robots by Sarah Topol features this quote by Stuart Russell, a Berkeley computer science professor. It is terrifying:

A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: "Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target." A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone's head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don't have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.

There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don't matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted. They will be cowering underground in shelters and devising techniques so that they don't get detected. This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons.

They could be here in two to three years.

Who needs a hug?

Tags: crime   drones   robots   Sarah Topol   Stuart Russell
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satadru
6 hours ago
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The strongest argument I've ever seen against the advancement of battery technology. ;)
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2 public comments
fxer
3 hours ago
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Voting Trump if he makes the wall high enough to keep out drones
Bend, Oregon
nickoneill
1 day ago
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Finally a valid use case for those face detection foiling dazzle makeup jobs
san francisco

Nirvana on the cusp

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This is a video of Nirvana playing Smells Like Teen Spirit in a small club just two days after Nevermind came out in 1991. There's a freight train bearing down on those boys and they don't even know it. (via digg)

Tags: music   Nirvana   video
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satadru
6 hours ago
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Everything We Know So Far About Star Trek Discovery In One Handy Infographic

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Show runner Bryan Fuller has slowly been revealing details about the up and coming Star Trek television series Star Trek: Discovery. But, what do we really know about the new show? We made this handy infographic with everything we know about DSC, all in one place.

TrekMovie_DSC_Infographic_8_30_15_FIN


TrekMovie_DSC_Infographic_8_29_15_FIN

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satadru
6 hours ago
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