Thursday, December 22, 2016

EnviroNews's Nuclear Nonsense

India has embarked on the construction of a mammoth 9.9GW nuclear complex, but not everyone is happy. Opining that "Dangerous Coastal Jaitapur Nuclear Power Mega-Plant Should Be Stopped," EnviroNews gifts us with this gem of misinformation:

This is wildly inaccurate. The estimate cost of this plant is $17 billion (of course we have to worry about cost overruns, but the author specifically claims this is true "No matter what the final cost ends up being.") The electricity it can be expected to generate, at a typical-for-nuclear capacity factor of 0.9, is 78 TWh/year. How much solar would it take (ignoring storage costs) to generate 78 TWh?

As it happens, India has recently constructed what is now the world's largest solar plant, a 648MW facility covering 10km^2, costing $679 million to build. At a capacity factor of 0.2, it will generate 1.1 TWh. You would need 71 of them, costing $48 billion, to generate the same amount of electricity.

But EnviroNews is not just angry about the cost, but the footprint. The cruel, cruel footprint:

2,400 acres sounds like quite a bit, and I in no way want to diminish the disruption and loss to those living on those lands. I can't speak to whether this was debated and agreed upon in a democratic way; India has a bad history of pushing people out of the way of its mega-projects, and not providing the compensation promised.

What I can speak to is the incredible hypocrisy of complaining about the footprint of nuclear power. That 2,400 acres? It's 10km^2. Haven't we seen 10km^2 in this post already? That's right, just one of the 71 solar plants required to replace this nuclear plant takes up that much room. If you replace these nuclear reactors with solar panels, a lot more people are going to be displaced.

There are other important factors not considered here, such as the 60-year operational lifespan of this design vs about 20-25 years for current solar designs. Such as the intermittent output of solar panels, requiring solar be held to a small share of the total electricity generated over a particular grid, or expensive storage be added.

I understand the people at EnviroNews are not pro-nuclear energy and are not likely to have a road-to-Damascus moment where they embrace it. But they could, at least, not completely cut loose from the facts whilst smearing it.

The reactor park is slated to engulf approximately 2,400 acres of land, and would destroy the encompassing villages of Varliwada, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Madban. The government has offered to pay villagers for the land they will lose, but only 114 out of 2,375 families affected, have claimed any money — the rest have refused the compensation as an act of protest. -
Construction of Dangerous Coastal Jaitapur Nuclear Power Mega-Plant Should Be Stopped -

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Where the climate disaster sits

The last few years have given the appearance of progress, but it's mostly an illusion. The underlying dynamic remains selfish, short-sighted governments, corporations, and individuals failing to accept the science and make a serious plan to cut carbon emissions dramatically.

The rate of CO2 growth has slowed over the past few years, but that's misleading. The slowdown is not originating from the replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy sources, rather, it is primarily the result of substituting one fossil fuel for another -- less coal, more methane. China has been the primary source of rising coal consumption for some years now, so their shift is illustrative:

US consumption in recent years tells a similar story:

This is a lot of numbers and graphs for what is essentially an old man shaking a cane in blog form, but this is important. Coal has lost 6% of total electricity generation. But 2/3 of that, 4%, went straight to the burning of methane. Renewables snagged another 2% of the total, but half of those gains were lost when nuclear bleed away 1% of the total.

The additional 1% in clean energy sources likely made less of an impact on our total emissions than the 4% shift from coal to methane.

But, you may ask, who cares? Flat emissions growth is flat emissions growth. Which is true in a sense. Less CO2 is better than more. But if you are looking for a sign humanity is starting to wake up to the danger it is in, if you are looking for "peak madness," then this plateau misleads.

There was always going to be a transition between coal and natural gas, due to the immediate health effects of coal smog, and the discovery of fraking techniques that make methane easier, and even cheaper in many cases, to extract than coal. That this transition is happening does the world some good, but it does not say that we will continue to phase out coal when natural gas is not plentiful and cheap, or that we will make serious efforts to eliminate natural gas and all other fossils fuels from our energy mix, as we must eventually do.

The picture looks even bleaker if we include not only electricity but transportation fuels, which constitute 22% of CO2 emissions today (up from 14% in 2004.) Oil dominates the transportation sector, and despite some promising signs of a beginning of a mass market in electric cars, they remain an almost infinitesimal fraction of the motor vehicles on the road today.

The Paris Agreement has inspired a lot of optimism, but as far as I can see, it's fairly small potatoes. The emissions cuts promised…well, there aren't any specific emissions cuts promised, as a matter of fact:
The contribution that each individual country should make in order to achieve the worldwide goal are determined by all countries individually and called "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs).[13] Article 3 requires them to be "ambitious," "represent a progression over time" and set "with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement" (Source: Wikipedia.)
The entire agreement could be summed up as "Global warming is bad, we'd better cut GHG emissions -- everybody do their best with that, OK?"

Having spent so many hundreds of hours on climate deniers, I am by no means scornful of the accomplishment of getting most of the world's nations to agree that there's a problem and we need to do something about it. But seriously, this agreement fails in every way to resemble the global agreement we need to stabilize the climate. Such an agreement needs the following features:

1. Binding emissions reductions.
2. Independent agency with secure funding to calculate emissions.
3. Strong penalties for those that violate the agreement or refuse to participate (i.e., a total trade embargo.)
4. Agreed upon scoring for grey areas like land use changes, reforestation, shorter-lived GHGs, and CCS schemes.
5. Some agreed-upon financial support for countries, like India, who will be asked to forgo things like burning coal which facilitated others' industrialization. (This might take the form of grants towards disaster management and adaptation projects, for example -- trillions of dollars in adaptation spending is now inevitable.)

The Paris Agreement lacks all of these things -- which is likely why so many countries have signed it and ratified it. It's the cotton candy of climate accords. Even the poor much-maligned Kyoto protocol did better.

Physically, the world keeps getting warming, the seas keep rising and the ice keeps melting. The arctic is having an anomalous winter, the antarctic an even weirder summer:

What a difference a year makes. Now climate scientists no longer have to explain why the Antarctic sea ice isn't doing the same thing as its northern cousin. They're twins! Of course, this is one more piece of evidence that the Antarctic is preparing to shed several meters of global SLR from its ice sheets, but every silver lining has its cloud, as they say.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Subjects of the Empire of Denial

Denial has conquered the United States of America. To those of us who have been fighting climate deniers for years, this is a nightmare, a sickeningly familiar nightmare where the personality-disordered trolls and con men have exploded out of the comment threads and seized the reins of a great nation.

To the average citizen, the kind of people who have triumphed in our most recent election seem disturbingly unpredictable. They are by turns abusive and wheedling. They aver a broad range of fringe beliefs, untroubled by the explicit contradictions between them. And Americans are scared. They can sense the sickness of the denier, but do not understand them, and they are all the more frightening for that. But they can be understood, and it is critical to try and understand them, and in particular to understand their relationship to factual truth.

The thing you must grasp about a denier is that they don't care one whit about factual truth. It has no purchase with them. They exist in a world of emotion and spiritualism, in which the group and the cause are all.

They are not ideologues. They are not even fanatics. Fanatics believe in things, and will sacrifice to live out those beliefs. Deniers do not sacrifice, because sacrifice doesn't feel good, and feeling good -- feeling egosyntonic, not egodystonic -- is all.

Deniers are bullies and sycophants, and everything they say and everything they do refers back to that. They talk, and think, and reason in ways that are about tribal allegiance, in-group posturing. That is the only truth they care about -- the truth of "us" and "them."

To decent people, their behavior is baffling. They assert blatant lies, which they will defend passionately, but then suddenly abandon, sneering at the fools that treated those lies as important. Others, less creative but equally performers, will profess to believe those lies, even though in reality if you required them to stake their lives or even a hundred bucks on the factual truth of, say, the notion that the world is cooler than it was in the middle ages or that Mexico will pay tens of billions of dollars to build us a wall, they would never in a million years lay money down.

You may wonder why they lie, if on some level they know they are lying. The answer is that they perform belief in the same way the Japanese would draw and release empty bows, believing the noise drove away menacing spirits. As long as they see themselves as Good and the other as Evil whatever they say that embarrasses, frustrates, distracts, or stymies their Evil opponents (intellectuals, leftists, people of color, foreigners, Jews) serves the cause of Good.

The denier's sense of truth is emotional. What feels good to him is true. What feels bad to him, what provokes guilt or embarrassment, is an evil lie, probably put there by a Jew.

The denier's sense of the world is fundamentally childish, in the way that children identify authority with reality (everything is my parents' fault.) Atavistic, the denier regards facts as an emanation of power, as an expression of his evil enemies' agency. For the denier this is a moral struggle, a conflict between good and evil, and what we term the physical reality must ultimately reflect their wishes, because they are good and God is good. God would never permit the greens, socialists, atheists, women or Jews to be right. Therefore they are not right, whatever the evidence may be in this specific case.

The existence of a cold uncaring universe which will unfold implacably according to its own arbitrary laws, regardless of what we think or believe, is abhorrent to the denier, if he can grasp it at all. Clinging to a religious mindset (the world is divided between the saved and the damned; the saved know the truth and the damned are deceived; the true struggle is the moral struggle of the True Believers to save the world) they pursue religious solutions, professing their "truth," banishing doubt with faith, and seeking out the corrupters who lead honest folks away from the truth.

It follows that the denier is supremely unprepared for victory. While the denier is in rebellion, factual truth is seen as an aspect of the oppressor's authority. By denying reality the denier fights the oppressor. Once he must deliver results requiring navigation of reality that narrative no longer functions.

His reaction to this breakdown, predictably, will be one of denial -- denial, in this case, of his own power and agency.

You may expect him to double down on stories of invisible enemies, of malignant forces which somehow still threaten the Good, despite its apparent victory over all of its rivals. Nothing will be built up, nothing will be reformed or improved, because the denier is fundamentally not creative or inventive, but rather self-absorbed and petulant. As his failures mount, scapegoating -- always a key feature of deniers relationship to the world -- will become more aggressive. The denier's search for new enemies can become a lethal delusion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

One way the world could end

It's now evident that Trump will staff the white house with belligerent incompetents, much like himself. We must now seriously contemplate, without hysteria or hyperbole, how bad things could get. Answer: pretty bad. Here's just one way it could unfold:

1. Trump's undisciplined talk on NATO persuades Putin that he can pull a Crimea with the Baltic states.

2. Trump, not strong-willed or stable at the best of times, is humiliated by this and the screaming taunts of his own party and national security apparatus that he is helpless in the face of Russian aggression.

3. The US intervenes in the Baltics, which rapid escalates into an undeclared conventional war.

4. One side or the other becomes convinced the enemy has or is about to launch a nuclear strike.

5. That side launches a nuclear attack, which is quickly reciprocated by the other.

6. The world as we know it ends.

At this point, I'm tempted to revisit the topic of the people who voted for Trump, the people who voted for a third party, or (by far the most numerous group) who didn't vote at all. But I realize that while I could happily spend the next however many years screaming YOU DID THIS, YOU ASSHOLES! YOU OWN THIS DISASTER, YOU HUMAN EQUIVALENTS OF A FRESH DOGSHIT AND HOT GARBAGE CASSEROLE! YOU BUILT THAT! such an approach is not likely to be particularly fruitful in terms of where we go from here. Just be advised that I am always, always thinking it.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Against fascism: Two speeches

June 4, 1940.

House of Commons

From the moment that the French defenses at Sedan and on the Meuse were broken at the end of the second week of May, only a rapid retreat to Amiens and the south could have saved the British and French Armies who had entered Belgium at the appeal of the Belgian King; but this strategic fact was not immediately realized. The French High Command hoped they would be able to close the gap, and the Armies of the north were under their orders. Moreover, a retirement of this kind would have involved almost certainly the destruction of the fine Belgian Army of over 20 divisions and the abandonment of the whole of Belgium. Therefore, when the force and scope of the German penetration were realized and when a new French Generalissimo, General Weygand, assumed command in place of General Gamelin, an effort was made by the French and British Armies in Belgium to keep on holding the right hand of the Belgians and to give their own right hand to a newly created French Army which was to have advanced across the Somme in great strength to grasp it.

However, the German eruption swept like a sharp scythe around the right and rear of the Armies of the north. Eight or nine armored divisions, each of about four hundred armored vehicles of different kinds, but carefully assorted to be complementary and divisible into small self-contained units, cut off all communications between us and the main French Armies. It severed our own communications for food and ammunition, which ran first to Amiens and afterwards through Abbeville, and it shore its way up the coast to Boulogne and Calais, and almost to Dunkirk. Behind this armored and mechanized onslaught came a number of German divisions in lorries, and behind them again there plodded comparatively slowly the dull brute mass of the ordinary German Army and German people, always so ready to be led to the trampling down in other lands of liberties and comforts which they have never known in their own.

I have said this armored scythe-stroke almost reached Dunkirk-almost but not quite. Boulogne and Calais were the scenes of desperate fighting. The Guards defended Boulogne for a while and were then withdrawn by orders from this country. The Rifle Brigade, the 60th Rifles, and the Queen Victoria's Rifles, with a battalion of British tanks and 1,000 Frenchmen, in all about four thousand strong, defended Calais to the last. The British Brigadier was given an hour to surrender. He spurned the offer, and four days of intense street fighting passed before silence reigned over Calais, which marked the end of a memorable resistance. Only 30 unwounded survivors were brought off by the Navy, and we do not know the fate of their comrades. Their sacrifice, however, was not in vain. At least two armored divisions, which otherwise would have been turned against the British Expeditionary Force, had to be sent to overcome them. They have added another page to the glories of the light divisions, and the time gained enabled the Graveline water lines to be flooded and to be held by the French troops.

Thus it was that the port of Dunkirk was kept open. When it was found impossible for the Armies of the north to reopen their communications to Amiens with the main French Armies, only one choice remained. It seemed, indeed, forlorn. The Belgian, British and French Armies were almost surrounded. Their sole line of retreat was to a single port and to its neighboring beaches. They were pressed on every side by heavy attacks and far outnumbered in the air.

When, a week ago today, I asked the House to fix this afternoon as the occasion for a statement, I feared it would be my hard lot to announce the greatest military disaster in our long history. I thought-and some good judges agreed with me-that perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 men might be re-embarked. But it certainly seemed that the whole of the French First Army and the whole of the British Expeditionary Force north of the Amiens-Abbeville gap would be broken up in the open field or else would have to capitulate for lack of food and ammunition. These were the hard and heavy tidings for which I called upon the House and the nation to prepare themselves a week ago. The whole root and core and brain of the British Army, on which and around which we were to build, and are to build, the great British Armies in the later years of the war, seemed about to perish upon the field or to be led into an ignominious and starving captivity.

That was the prospect a week ago. But another blow which might well have proved final was yet to fall upon us. The King of the Belgians had called upon us to come to his aid. Had not this Ruler and his Government severed themselves from the Allies, who rescued their country from extinction in the late war, and had they not sought refuge in what was proved to be a fatal neutrality, the French and British Armies might well at the outset have saved not only Belgium but perhaps even Poland. Yet at the last moment, when Belgium was already invaded, King Leopold called upon us to come to his aid, and even at the last moment we came. He and his brave, efficient Army, nearly half a million strong, guarded our left flank and thus kept open our only line of retreat to the sea. Suddenly, without prior consultation, with the least possible notice, without the advice of his Ministers and upon his own personal act, he sent a plenipotentiary to the German Command, surrendered his Army, and exposed our whole flank and means of retreat.

I asked the House a week ago to suspend its judgment because the facts were not clear, but I do not feel that any reason now exists why we should not form our own opinions upon this pitiful episode. The surrender of the Belgian Army compelled the British at the shortest notice to cover a flank to the sea more than 30 miles in length. Otherwise all would have been cut off, and all would have shared the fate to which King Leopold had condemned the finest Army his country had ever formed. So in doing this and in exposing this flank, as anyone who followed the operations on the map will see, contact was lost between the British and two out of the three corps forming the First French Army, who were still farther from the coast than we were, and it seemed impossible that any large number of Allied troops could reach the coast.

The enemy attacked on all sides with great strength and fierceness, and their main power, the power of their far more numerous Air Force, was thrown into the battle or else concentrated upon Dunkirk and the beaches. Pressing in upon the narrow exit, both from the east and from the west, the enemy began to fire with cannon upon the beaches by which alone the shipping could approach or depart. They sowed magnetic mines in the channels and seas; they sent repeated waves of hostile aircraft, sometimes more than a hundred strong in one formation, to cast their bombs upon the single pier that remained, and upon the sand dunes upon which the troops had their eyes for shelter. Their U-boats, one of which was sunk, and their motor launches took their toll of the vast traffic which now began. For four or five days an intense struggle reigned. All their armored divisions-or what Was left of them-together with great masses of infantry and artillery, hurled themselves in vain upon the ever-narrowing, ever-contracting appendix within which the British and French Armies fought.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy, with the willing help of countless merchant seamen, strained every nerve to embark the British and Allied troops; 220 light warships and 650 other vessels were engaged. They had to operate upon the difficult coast, often in adverse weather, under an almost ceaseless hail of bombs and an increasing concentration of artillery fire. Nor were the seas, as I have said, themselves free from mines and torpedoes. It was in conditions such as these that our men carried on, with little or no rest, for days and nights on end, making trip after trip across the dangerous waters, bringing with them always men whom they had rescued. The numbers they have brought back are the measure of their devotion and their courage. The hospital ships, which brought off many thousands of British and French wounded, being so plainly marked were a special target for Nazi bombs; but the men and women on board them never faltered in their duty.

Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force, which had already been intervening in the battle, so far as its range would allow, from home bases, now used part of its main metropolitan fighter strength, and struck at the German bombers and at the fighters which in large numbers protected them. This struggle was protracted and fierce. Suddenly the scene has cleared, the crash and thunder has for the moment-but only for the moment-died away. A miracle of deliverance, achieved by valor, by perseverance, by perfect discipline, by faultless service, by resource, by skill, by unconquerable fidelity, is manifest to us all. The enemy was hurled back by the retreating British and French troops. He was so roughly handled that he did not hurry their departure seriously. The Royal Air Force engaged the main strength of the German Air Force, and inflicted upon them losses of at least four to one; and the Navy, using nearly 1,000 ships of all kinds, carried over 335,000 men, French and British, out of the jaws of death and shame, to their native land and to the tasks which lie immediately ahead. We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance, which should be noted. It was gained by the Air Force. Many of our soldiers coming back have not seen the Air Force at work; they saw only the bombers which escaped its protective attack. They underrate its achievements. I have heard much talk of this; that is why I go out of my way to say this. I will tell you about it.

This was a great trial of strength between the British and German Air Forces. Can you conceive a greater objective for the Germans in the air than to make evacuation from these beaches impossible, and to sink all these ships which were displayed, almost to the extent of thousands? Could there have been an objective of greater military importance and significance for the whole purpose of the war than this? They tried hard, and they were beaten back; they were frustrated in their task. We got the Army away; and they have paid fourfold for any losses which they have inflicted. Very large formations of German aeroplanes-and we know that they are a very brave race-have turned on several occasions from the attack of one-quarter of their number of the Royal Air Force, and have dispersed in different directions. Twelve aeroplanes have been hunted by two. One aeroplane was driven into the water and cast away by the mere charge of a British aeroplane, which had no more ammunition. All of our types-the Hurricane, the Spitfire and the new Defiant-and all our pilots have been vindicated as superior to what they have at present to face.

When we consider how much greater would be our advantage in defending the air above this Island against an overseas attack, I must say that I find in these facts a sure basis upon which practical and reassuring thoughts may rest. I will pay my tribute to these young airmen. The great French Army was very largely, for the time being, cast back and disturbed by the onrush of a few thousands of armored vehicles. May it not also be that the cause of civilization itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen? There never has been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of war, such an opportunity for youth. The Knights of the Round Table, the Crusaders, all fall back into the past-not only distant but prosaic; these young men, going forth every morn to guard their native land and all that we stand for, holding in their hands these instruments of colossal and shattering power, of whom it may be said that

Every morn brought forth a noble chance
And every chance brought forth a noble knight,

deserve our gratitude, as do all the brave men who, in so many ways and on so many occasions, are ready, and continue ready to give life and all for their native land.

I return to the Army. In the long series of very fierce battles, now on this front, now on that, fighting on three fronts at once, battles fought by two or three divisions against an equal or somewhat larger number of the enemy, and fought fiercely on some of the old grounds that so many of us knew so well-in these battles our losses in men have exceeded 30,000 killed, wounded and missing. I take occasion to express the sympathy of the House to all who have suffered bereavement or who are still anxious. The President of the Board of Trade [Sir Andrew Duncan] is not here today. His son has been killed, and many in the House have felt the pangs of affliction in the sharpest form. But I will say this about the missing: We have had a large number of wounded come home safely to this country, but I would say about the missing that there may be very many reported missing who will come back home, some day, in one way or another. In the confusion of this fight it is inevitable that many have been left in positions where honor required no further resistance from them.

Against this loss of over 30,000 men, we can set a far heavier loss certainly inflicted upon the enemy. But our losses in material are enormous. We have perhaps lost one-third of the men we lost in the opening days of the battle of 21st March, 1918, but we have lost nearly as many guns -- nearly one thousand-and all our transport, all the armored vehicles that were with the Army in the north. This loss will impose a further delay on the expansion of our military strength. That expansion had not been proceeding as far as we had hoped. The best of all we had to give had gone to the British Expeditionary Force, and although they had not the numbers of tanks and some articles of equipment which were desirable, they were a very well and finely equipped Army. They had the first-fruits of all that our industry had to give, and that is gone. And now here is this further delay. How long it will be, how long it will last, depends upon the exertions which we make in this Island. An effort the like of which has never been seen in our records is now being made. Work is proceeding everywhere, night and day, Sundays and week days. Capital and Labor have cast aside their interests, rights, and customs and put them into the common stock. Already the flow of munitions has leaped forward. There is no reason why we should not in a few months overtake the sudden and serious loss that has come upon us, without retarding the development of our general program.

Nevertheless, our thankfulness at the escape of our Army and so many men, whose loved ones have passed through an agonizing week, must not blind us to the fact that what has happened in France and Belgium is a colossal military disaster. The French Army has been weakened, the Belgian Army has been lost, a large part of those fortified lines upon which so much faith had been reposed is gone, many valuable mining districts and factories have passed into the enemy's possession, the whole of the Channel ports are in his hands, with all the tragic consequences that follow from that, and we must expect another blow to be struck almost immediately at us or at France. We are told that Herr Hitler has a plan for invading the British Isles. This has often been thought of before. When Napoleon lay at Boulogne for a year with his flat-bottomed boats and his Grand Army, he was told by someone. "There are bitter weeds in England." There are certainly a great many more of them since the British Expeditionary Force returned.

The whole question of home defense against invasion is, of course, powerfully affected by the fact that we have for the time being in this Island incomparably more powerful military forces than we have ever had at any moment in this war or the last. But this will not continue. We shall not be content with a defensive war. We have our duty to our Ally. We have to reconstitute and build up the British Expeditionary Force once again, under its gallant Commander-in-Chief, Lord Gort. All this is in train; but in the interval we must put our defenses in this Island into such a high state of organization that the fewest possible numbers will be required to give effective security and that the largest possible potential of offensive effort may be realized. On this we are now engaged. It will be very convenient, if it be the desire of the House, to enter upon this subject in a secret Session. Not that the government would necessarily be able to reveal in very great detail military secrets, but we like to have our discussions free, without the restraint imposed by the fact that they will be read the next day by the enemy; and the Government would benefit by views freely expressed in all parts of the House by Members with their knowledge of so many different parts of the country. I understand that some request is to be made upon this subject, which will be readily acceded to by His Majesty's Government.

We have found it necessary to take measures of increasing stringency, not only against enemy aliens and suspicious characters of other nationalities, but also against British subjects who may become a danger or a nuisance should the war be transported to the United Kingdom. I know there are a great many people affected by the orders which we have made who are the passionate enemies of Nazi Germany. I am very sorry for them, but we cannot, at the present time and under the present stress, draw all the distinctions which we should like to do. If parachute landings were attempted and fierce fighting attendant upon them followed, these unfortunate people would be far better out of the way, for their own sakes as well as for ours. There is, however, another class, for which I feel not the slightest sympathy. Parliament has given us the powers to put down Fifth Column activities with a strong hand, and we shall use those powers subject to the supervision and correction of the House, without the slightest hesitation until we are satisfied, and more than satisfied, that this malignancy in our midst has been effectively stamped out.

Turning once again, and this time more generally, to the question of invasion, I would observe that there has never been a period in all these long centuries of which we boast when an absolute guarantee against invasion, still less against serious raids, could have been given to our people. In the days of Napoleon the same wind which would have carried his transports across the Channel might have driven away the blockading fleet. There was always the chance, and it is that chance which has excited and befooled the imaginations of many Continental tyrants. Many are the tales that are told. We are assured that novel methods will be adopted, and when we see the originality of malice, the ingenuity of aggression, which our enemy displays, we may certainly prepare ourselves for every kind of novel stratagem and every kind of brutal and treacherous maneuver. I think that no idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered and viewed with a searching, but at the same time, I hope, with a steady eye. We must never forget the solid assurances of sea power and those which belong to air power if it can be locally exercised.

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

October 29, 1941.

Harrow School

Almost a year has passed since I came down here at your Head Master's kind invitation in order to cheer myself and cheer the hearts of a few of my friends by singing some of our own songs. The ten months that have passed have seen very terrible catastrophic events in the world - ups and downs, misfortunes - but can anyone sitting here this afternoon, this October afternoon, not feel deeply thankful for what has happened in the time that has passed and for the very great improvement in the position of our country and of our home? Why, when I was here last time we were quite alone, desperately alone, and we had been so for five or six months. We were poorly armed. We are not so poorly armed today; but then we were very poorly armed. We had the unmeasured menace of the enemy and their air attack still beating upon us, and you yourselves had had experience of this attack; and I expect you are beginning to feel impatient that there has been this long lull with nothing particular turning up!

But we must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough. It is generally said that the British are often better at the last. They do not expect to move from crisis to crisis; they do not always expect that each day will bring up some noble chance of war; but when they very slowly make up their minds that the thing has to be done and the job put through and finished, then, even if it takes months - if it takes years - they do it.

Another lesson I think we may take, just throwing our minds back to our meeting here ten months ago and now, is that appearances are often very deceptive, and as Kipling well says, we must "…meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same."

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period - I am addressing myself to the School - surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.

Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.

You sang here a verse of a School Song: you sang that extra verse written in my honour, which I was very greatly complimented by and which you have repeated today. But there is one word in it I want to alter - I wanted to do so last year, but I did not venture to. It is the line: "Not less we praise in darker days."

I have obtained the Head Master's permission to alter darker to sterner. "Not less we praise in sterner days."

Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days - the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.

Friday, November 11, 2016

If you didn't vote for Clinton: A step-by-step guide


I imagine there are some people who are already trying to come to grips with the fact that by failing to vote for Hillary Clinton they helped make Donald Trump our president-elect. As it becomes brutally clear what a mistake this was, their numbers will grow. In a spirit of kindness and friendship, I would like to offer some practical suggestions to those nonvoters/third party voters/supporters of write-in candidates who, unlike Trump voters proper, may have some residual capacity for shame, and might even nurse the secret desire of someday doing something for the good of the world that might begin to make up for the death, madness and horror they helped unleash.

1. Lie. No one needs to know the truth about who you voted for. People who know will never look at you the same way again. Every time a journalist is assassinated, every time another hundred thousand jobs are lost, every time the coffins land at Andrews from a war that started due to a Twitter beef, people will remember you helped make it happen.

So lie. As of today, you supported Clinton, you voting for her, despite whatever misgivings you may have had. Learn that story and stick to it. This is not dishonesty but a necessary social fib. Telling people you voted for Jill Stein is the political equivalent of telling your spouse that their ass looks fat. If you want to do something good in this world and maybe start to dab at the dogshit that is smeared across your soul (never to be expunged completely), you will have to cooperate with decent people to achieve anything. Decent people will never trust you if they know what you are. Take the secret to your grave.

2. Don’t try to explain yourself. So maybe you’ve already spilled the beans, and lying is no longer an option. People know what you did. You’ve started to see the little stiffness that comes into your friends’ manner when politics comes up when you’re around. You’ve crossed the point of no return, but there are still things you can do to limit the damage. Chief among them is to keep your rationalizations and excuses to yourself.

3. Seriously, whatever you do, don’t try to explain yourself. Don’t whine about Bernie, don’t complain about Clinton’s e-mails or whatever other non-scandal you used to justify infecting our democracy with the human equivalent of tertiary syphilis. (Hey, remember when he ran a fake charity and used it to buy a $25,000 portrait of himself? That man will be the president. You built that!)

Newsflash: No one cares. No one cares why you enabled a man who talks about American Muslims in 2016 with the same language Nazis used about Jews in 1936.

Remember Star Wars? Remember Darth Vader? What a great character! Remember when George Lucas thought we wanted three movies about how this guy went from an annoying child to a whiny emo bitch to a child-killer? Yeah, how he got that way was never the point. Normal people don’t give a shit why you sided with evil. You did, and nothing you can say will make that better. Just. Stop. Talking.

4. Do not try and play both sides of the street. I would not believed it had I not seen it myself, but there are some people so deranged that they will brag about how terrible Trump will be and the part they played in bringing him to power, and then complain that the democrats did, or didn’t do something or nothing to lose his support and that of others like him (him because let’s be real here, it’s a him.)

Pick a lane. If electing Trump is a bad thing, it is a bad thing you helped bring to pass, and you with direct responsibility for the outcome have no business lecturing the people who voted the right way about what they might have done to gain your support. This is the moral equivalent of a pedophile publishing a guide for six-year-old girls on what not to wear.

5. Do not try to create a moral distinction between you and the people who voted for Trump, based on the fact that you merely did not vote against him. No one cares about the difference between the bank robber who shoots the teller and the one driving the getaway car. If you want to open up a space between you and the people cursing Muslims in the street and assaulting Jews, there is one and only one way to do so;

5. Say you’re sorry. Just that. Say you’re sorry. You were a fool; you made a terrible mistake; now you want to work, humbly, alongside the people who made the right choice, to fight Trump, the GOP, and inbred bigots in general.

I know that some of you are still deep into the process of rationalizing what you’ve done and you may still think you can justify yourselves somehow. Time will ultimately bring many of you to a realization that no justification is possible, only a frank unqualified apology and humble hard work. If that seems unappealing to you, remember #1 and lie for all you're worth. Good luck.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ballad of the Clairvoyant Widow

A kindly Widow Lady, who lived upon a hill,
Climbed to her attic window and gazed across the sill.

    “Oh tell me, Widow Lady, what is it that you see,
    As you look across my city, in God’s country?”

“I see ten million windows, I see ten thousand streets,
I see the traffic doing miraculous feats.

The lawyers all are cunning, the business men are fat,
Their wives go out on Sunday beneath the latest hat.

The kids play cops and robbers, the kids play mumbley-peg,
Some learn the art of thieving, and some grow up to beg;

The rich can play at polo, the poor can do the shag,
Professors are condoning the cultural lag.

I see a banker’s mansion with twenty wood-grate fires,
Alone, his wife is grieving for what her heart desires.

“Next door there is a love-nest of plaster board and tin,
The rats soon will be leaving, the snow will come in.”

    “Clairvoyant Widow Lady, with an eye like a telescope,
    Do you see any sign or semblance of that thing called ‘Hope’?”

“I see the river harbor, alive with men and ships,
A surgeon guides a scalpel with thumb and finger-tips.

I see grandpa surviving a series of seven strokes,
The unemployed are telling stale unemployment jokes.

The gulls ride on the water, the gulls have come and gone,
The men on rail and roadway keep moving on and on.

The salmon climb the rivers, the rivers nudge the sea,
The green comes up forever in the fields of our country.”

“The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.”


So is there any sign or semblance of hope to be had today? Very little, I would say. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are behaving according to the basic nobility of their character, adhering to the principles and conventions of a democratic order that died on November 8th. We may do CPR on the corpse of American democracy for some time yet, and perhaps we may yet resuscitate it back to some form of continued life though it will never, ever be what is was before. But that thin reed of possibility is no excuse for blinding ourselves to what has happened: Trump is scum, and the people who voted for him are scum, or in the very best case, immoral fools.

The damage that they have done is beyond reckoning. I cannot begin to name it today. The simplest way to describe it is that our civilization has attempted suicide. The United States will continue to exist, just as Athens and Rome still exist, as physical places on the map, long after they ceased to be a dynamic force in human affairs. But America as an idea lies on its deathbed today. The pretense of normality will not last.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Jehovah buried, Satan dead

Jehovah buried,Satan dead,  
do fearers worship Much and Quick;
badness not being felt as bad,
itself thinks goodness what is meek; 
obey says toc,submit says tic,  
Eternity's a Five Year Plan: 
if Joy with Pain shall hand in hock
who dares to call himself a man?

go dreamless knaves on Shadows fed,  
your Harry's Tom,your Tom is Dick;  
while Gadgets murder squawk and add, 
the cult of Same is all the chic;  
by instruments,both span and spic,  
are justly measured Spic and Span: 
to kiss the mike if Jew turn kike  
who dares to call himself a man?  

loudly for Truth have liars pled,  
their heels for Freedom, slaves will click;  
where Boobs are holy,poets mad,  
illustrious punks of Progress shriek;  
when Souls are outlawed,Hearts are sick,  
Hearts being sick,Minds nothing can: 
if Hate's a game and Love's a fuck 
 who dares to call himself a man?  

King Christ,this world is all aleak; 
and lifepreservers there are none:  
and waves which only He may walk  
Who dares to call Himself a man.

 - e.e. cummings

Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Trigger warnings

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister'd virtue, unexercis'd & unbreath'd, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.
-- John Milton, Areopagitica

There continues to be discussion as to whether college courses should include “trigger warnings” for potentially upsetting content. No US college or university I know of requires this, one large survey found fewer than 1% of institutions of higher learning do, and the American Association of University Professors opposes them, so the discussion is largely hypothetical at this point, but as there is a vocal minority which argues they should be mandatory, it behooves us to consider whether or not that would be a good idea.

The arguments for trigger warnings are all over the map, but the main threads are:

1. This is a simple courtesy to wounded students; just basic politeness.
2. This is a medically necessary accommodation for students with PTSD and flashbacks.
3. Trigger warnings are necessary because presenting sexism, racism, etc. to students who may have suffered from it, without warning them that said horror is coming, normalizes the horror and thereby constitutes a microaggression against the sufferer which may contribute to silencing them and excluding their experience from the discourse.

The arguments against trigger warnings are also varied and include:

1. It is the responsibility of adult students to deal with their emotional responses to college coursework.
2. Requiring trigger warnings, and thus implicitly extending the promise that you will NOT be exposed to emotionally trying materials without forewarning and consent, damages the university as a location for the free exchange of ideas.
3. Trigger warning infantilize students.

Before I examine trigger warnings, let me define a few terms (It’s important to be precise. We’re not talking about potentially civilization-ending anthropomorphic climate change today; we’re talking about 18-year-olds trying to read Proust and Kant, in other words, something really important.) A text is used here to mean any cultural artifact students might make an object of study, including fiction and nonfiction, pictures and movies, TV scripts or poetry. PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental illness, estimated to effect between four and six million people in the United States, the symptoms of which can include flashbacks, which are technically referred to as re-experiencing symptoms.

In searching for information about trigger warnings I can find no evidence that they work in the sense of aiding those with PTSD, and no evidence of harm when they are incorporated into college coursework. In fact, as far as I can tell, neither question has been studied. Until and unless they are, I am reluctant to form a strong opinion about trigger warnings. When it comes to their effect on students as a whole, I almost despair of ever getting any data to work with, but if you are going to advocate for trigger warnings in the name of PTSD sufferers, the absence of any evidence that they help should trouble you.

Now, today, both potential benefits and potential harms from requiring trigger warnings can only be hypothesized.

Might trigger warnings not help those with PTSD? It might seem self-evident that as it is unpleasant to be “triggered,” a warning is preferable. It may not be so. If trigger warnings encourage avoidance, a common problem for sufferers of PTSD, they might do harm. Telling a sufferer a “trigger” is coming might blunt their reaction but it also might, by suggesting provocative content is coming, strengthen the reaction, “priming the pump” for re-experiencing symptoms.

Trigger warnings inevitably direct attention towards the PTSD-afflicted student. This may be good or bad. Some mental illnesses, such as somatoform disorders, benefit from frequent structured attention to the symptoms. Others, like borderline personality disorder or non-epileptic seizures, seem to get worse when the wrong kind of attention is given. Without data, it’s hard to say whether trigger warnings would help those with PTSD, hurt them, or make no difference at all.

I am talking as if the purpose of trigger warnings is to help students with PTSD and flashbacks (which might describe one out of a hundred college students, if that), but it’s clear that some advocates see a much wider role for trigger warnings than this. Consider the much-maligned and now suspended Oberlin trigger warning guidelines:
In an Oberlin class that contains 20 students, we estimate that there may be about 2 to 3 students in the class who have experienced some form of sexualized violence..  If 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced IPV, there can be at least 5-6 survivors of IPV in the class.  In other words, you may have taught and may continue to teach individuals who have experienced significant trauma. . . .

Oberlin’s community cannot afford to ignore sexualized violence, including intimate partner abuse and stalking.  Faculty can make a serious impact on students’ lives by standing against sexual misconduct and making classrooms safer.
But this concern for sexual abuse survivors is quickly subsumed in a much larger set of issues:
·  Triggers are not only relevant to sexual misconduct, but also to anything that might cause trauma.  Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.  Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.
·  Anything could be a trigger—a smell, song, scene, phrase, place, person, and so on.  Some triggers cannot be anticipated, but many can.
·  Remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.
The initial goal of warning the student so they can prepare themselves quickly evolves, in the Oberlin guidelines, to getting the bad stuff out of the picture entirely. When instructors cannot get rid of it, they are instructed to apologize for it, in such a way as to close off any potential exploration of whether or to what extent a work is racist, classist, elitist, and so on. It is definitionally unclean.
  • ·  Tell students why you have chosen to include this material, even though you know it is triggering.  For example:
    • “…We are reading this work in spite of the author’s racist frameworks because his work was foundational to establishing the field of anthropology, and because I think together we can challenge, deconstruct, and learn from his mistakes.”
    • “…This documentary challenges heterosexism in an important way.  It is vital to discuss this issue.  I think watching and discussing this documentary will help us become better at challenging heterosexism ourselves.”
·  Strongly consider developing a policy to make triggering material optional or offering students an alterative assignment using different materials.  When possible, help students avoid having to choose between their academic success and their own wellbeing.
These quotes are from a larger policy which was roundly condemned and ultimately abandoned; there are certainly other ways to handle trigger warnings, but I think the Oberlin experience indicates that there is something much, much more complex and problematic going on in the debate over trigger warnings than simply being polite and considerate. There is a strong ideological perspective here which is presenting an agenda item as necessary to protect the mentally ill. 

Not only is the evidence that it will do so nonexistent, it further raises a concern any time people use the sick and vulnerable to define certain kinds of cultural expression as abusive or dangerous. 

This is a thing that always happens when something cannot be condemned in terms of the choices adults make, but which some people strongly dislike anyway, whether it is pornography, or violent video games, or homosexual characters in movies or television. The claim that “You and I are fine, but we must think of vulnerable” always seems to crop up in this context.

One interpretation of this debate, then, and I do not say this is the only one or the correct one,  is that for people wishing for the academy to more clearly and explicitly condemn racism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc. in the Western canon, this is a slightly modified won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-children argument. Yes, they may posit, you could bring these texts into the classroom and let students and teachers tease them apart and find these aspects themselves, and decide what they think about them, but won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-traumatized?

There are a number of things about mandatory trigger warnings I would describe as potentially harmful. Again, we haven’t gathered data on this and we don’t know. One, and this may be a minor matter, it makes more work for the instructors, who have to add the warnings to the syllabus. As a member of a profession (medicine) where we are being crushed by a mindset of "just one more" documentation requirement, this is near to my heart.

More seriously, introducing students to a text with a series of labels describing the ways in which it is potentially traumatizing encourages them to anchor upon the ways it which it is offensive even as they are first entering the author’s world and beginning to understand the author’s concerns and perspective. 

Labeling a text as traumatically racist, sexist, classist or even as containing violence or rape encourages people to approach a text via a prism of our modern values and concerns, prepared to be hurt and offended by what has been labelled hurtful and offensive.

The open-ended nature of what constitutes a trigger and which triggers are going to be labelled concerns me. Labeling rape and graphic violence, though it may be a good or a bad idea, is at least fairly limited. Extending trigger warnings to racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, elitism and so on seems like an open invitation to a giant clusterfuck of disagreement not only about what type of thing is a trigger but of what kind of reference to it (direct or indirect, graphic or abstract) constitutes a trigger. Does a battle in a history book require a trigger? What about a massacre? Or a description of a slave auction? A list of slave auctions? A map of the transatlantic slave trade?

Activists of one kind or another will press to have examples of things offensive to them labelled as triggers. Jewish students will describe Palestinian nationalism as triggering. Palestinians will describe Zionism as triggering. Arabs will be triggered by Orientalism and trans students by cissexism. No one will want to be left out, since that would imply that their pain from the oppression they have suffered is less significant than other folks'.

What concerns me about this is not so much that we will end up with the wrong triggers, or too many triggers, as that the process itself is likely to be vicious, viriputive, and most of all endless.

What’s more, if in fact the experience of the student determines what is traumatizing and we are to “believe the student” as the Oberlin guidelines mandate, can we imagine a day Christian students describe homosexual sex in a novel as triggering? At most of our colleges and universities such a claim would be howled down in outrage, but this just underscores the fact that formulating a list of legitimately traumatizing subjects is an inherently political act. Black students will be warned about discussions of the slave trade: Southern students will not get warnings before discussing Sherman’s March. Which may be very fine and good, but it indicates the presence of unspoken assumptions and premises in the implementation of “trigger warnings” that have no place in the explicit theory.

It’s concerning to me that some activists are asserting a position of radical vulnerability, in which triggering things as said to paralyze them with horror. That does not seem like a stance that is sustainable or emotionally or spiritually healthy. While this may begin as a pose or a way of advocating for others, as soon as activists “win” by showing evidence of being triggered, more of them will start to experience those symptoms. We all respond to positive reinforcement. If we encourage student activists to wear a mask of extreme vulnerability, to some extent that mask will become reality for some of them, which is not desirable.

The best case I think can be made for “strong” trigger warnings covering racism, classism, albeism, transexism, etc., is that our society, like many ostensibly free societies, sustains and reinforces privilege by quasi-objective measures of capability or application that don’t take into account the different place marginalized people are coming from.

Take a hypothetical case of a university with ten swimming scholarships for the ten fastest swimmers in Pittsburgh. The standards of the scholarship are objective – but when you look into it you may find 30 public swimming pools in predominantly white neighborhoods, and 2 in black neighborhoods. Our “objective” scholarship doesn't take into account that difference in infrastructure between the two communities in Pittsburgh.

Proponents of strong trigger warnings argue something similar occurs with the traditional back-and-forth of the academy. The ability to assert one’s beliefs, argue for one’s perspective, and recognize and vigorously refute slights directed at you, your community (or one of your communities,) is not distributed equally. One of the ways in which it is unequally distributed is that a larger proportion of marginalized people have experienced the kind of trauma that could cause them to be “triggered.”

An environment of traditional academic freedom to set one’s own readings, say or entertain discussions they touch upon painful and difficult topics, and trust that “the answer to free speech is more free speech” is, in this account, fine and good for those who have benefited from white privilege, they having been taught from a young age that their opinions matter, that they can express them without fear, and without their having to carry the burden of trauma that may be re-provoked by careless treatment of painful subjects.

Safe spaces and microaggressions, trigger warnings and affirmative action: all are premised in this basic (and I think in some measure correct) argument that we didn’t all get here from the same place, we are not all in fact here in the same here exactly, some of us got here hurt and damaged from wrestling with injustice, and a “fairness” that asks everyone to line up for a footrace when some have been kneecaped is not very fair at all, really. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Accepting that there is something here, something that is not just self-pity, or a cunning attempt to dictate the terms of the classroom discussion by professions of weakness, it is still not clear to be that pre-labeling texts as racist or sexist or classiest is actually helpful. 

There is already in the modern American academy a strong tendency to interpret all texts through the prism of injustice and oppression. And that is an important frame, and I don’t wish to slight it, but a good text is so much, much, much more than that, that I am fearful that mandating labels before the student has taken that very first step toward interpretation risks making the true power and wonder of the text, of the author’s creation, harder to access, harder to know.

It is the responsibility of students and instructors to ultimately pick apart texts: to analyze, criticize, and place in context the authors ideas, subjects, words and context. One issue, alluded to above, is that trigger warnings take that work out of the students’ hands and present the answer to them in the syllabus: this work is racist, classiest, and sexist. It comes pre-judged.

Another issue, though, is that analysis and criticism should follow some sincere effort to inhabit the text and to understand the author’s world and concerns. A text should be approached, in other words, as if it might teach you something. It may be uncomfortable to approach a text in that way: exposing ourselves to different ways of thinking usually is. But we may do no good service to marginalized students by impeding this act of empathy: Fewer may be surprised by a textual “microaggression,” but by always beginning with their grievance placed between themselves and the text, will fewer grab hold of the texts and take ownership of them, fulling participating in the texts that constitute their cultural capital too? Will fewer be able to say, with Richard Rodriguez "I have taken Caliban's advice. I have stolen their books"?

I tend to think that we should strengthen marginalized students in other ways than this. The study of gender, race, ethnicity and so on in relation to the Western canon has exploded over the last 30 years; those pioneers were not silenced by the naked texts, and I would not expect their heirs to be paralyzed either. Leave warnings regarding disturbing content to the discretion of the instructors; support those with PTSD with better mental health services and case-by-case accommodations; increase minority attendance, and minority presence in the faculty and the administration, which will do more to un-silence marginalized communities in the academy than any doctrine of labeling. Absence evidence of benefit, don't impose scarlet letters of thoughtcrime on texts; this will impede good reading, which alone makes the text a part of the student and their story -- an act which is not only vital to education but is, especially for the young, especially the marginalized, a source of power, part of the flowering of them and their strength.