The Great Debt Debate


There’s nothing like a heavily disputed presidential primary season to bring exciting new ideas out into the open, and there’s nothing like new ideas to generate debate (or if you’re on the internet, scorn and abuse). One of the big ideas being tossed around among Democratic presidential hopefuls is the idea of alleviating some or all student loan debt. Whose, how much, and how are all part of the mix, and of course the ever-present “why?” raises its head in the discussion, particularly when the question makes its way outside the narrow corridor of progressive thought.

In a lot of ways I feel like I’ve had this discussion before, on any number of topics, pretty much anytime the subject of government intervention in the economy (or any kind of government spending really) comes up. The simple fact is that government spending exists for a lot of reasons, but it always has one of a few intentions:

  • Providing basic services. This one seems kind of obvious, but it doesn’t cover nearly as much ground as most people think it does. That’s because there’s a significant amount of ground between what you want and what you need. We’ve become accustomed to a government that provides an awful lot of wants in addition to a scant handful of needs. This is not intended to be a polemic against government providing those things, merely pointing out that there is a difference between the two. This also goes hand in hand with…
  • Making a moral statement. You might not think something as dry as taxation and spending would have moral implications, but boy would you be wrong. Consider the phrase “provide for the common weal”. What exactly does that mean? What does it cover? And how do you intend to collect the money to pay for it? Once you figure that out, you’ve taken a moral stance, and your budget and taxation priorities will reflect that stance.
  • Stimulating the economy (whether it’s effective or not). I’m going to be generous and pretend that every time politicians have said that their various taxation and budgetary maneuvers were intended to “stimulate the economy” they were being sincere, regardless of the actual outcome of those efforts.

    Please stop laughing at me.

 

So where does that leave us when considering the idea of relieving student debt? Well, a lot of that is going to depend on how you feel about it coming in. As Obi-Wan once said, “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Do you consider college to be a basic service? If so, then government should have been providing it all along, and of course people shouldn’t have to pay for it, either in the past or in the future. Pay off ALL the loans and make all public colleges free. Perhaps you believe this is a matter of economic justice, in which case something more akin to Elizabeth Warren’s plan is more to your taste, with only a certain amount of debt being paid off, and an income cut-off being involved to ensure it’s more progressive than regressive. Or maybe you’re interested in stimulating the economy, in which case you want something a bit more modest but even-handed.

Or perhaps your stance leans more the other way. I have heard arguments asking why student loan debt should be privileged over other kinds of consumer debt, such as mortgage debt or credit card debt. These are important questions, and worth addressing by those who would forgive or pay-off student loan debt. I have a few answers of my own, although not sufficient answers I am sure for those who are asking those questions.

Regarding comparisons to mortgage debt, mortgages have been privileged over other kinds of consumer debt for as long as the modern income tax has existed. Last I checked I couldn’t deduct my credit card interest or my rent payments from my income taxes, and while I can deduct the interest from my student loans from my income taxes, there’s one big difference on those that I’ll get to in just a moment. So suggesting that relieving student debt would be an anomaly because we would be “privileging” one particular kind of debt is disingenuous at best. While there’s a fair argument to be made that the price of the mortgage deduction has already been “baked in” to the price of housing, the same can be said for the price of tuition, with the cost of public four-year institutions increasing 213% in 10 years. I’d like to flip that house.

As for credit card debt, that’s a tougher lift. Despite the calls to limit interest rates at 15%, I haven’t heard any suggestion of relieving existing debts, nor do I seriously expect there to be any suggestion for that happening either (nor do I think such a suggestion would get any traction). Going back to needs and wants, there is an understanding in America today that you need a college degree; despite the realities that many Americans face of having to get by week to week using any means at their disposal, including high-interest credit cards, there is still a Puritanical moralism that says credit card debt represents wants. Regardless, though it has been made significantly more difficult in recent decades, there is still an option available to credit card debtors that is not available to student loan debtors: bankruptcy. Yes, it’s an ugly word in America. Yes, it will ruin your credit rating. But it sure does beat insurmountable debts. At least it does if it applies to the insurmountable debts you have.

I am not unsympathetic to any of these positions. I am a renter, and I have been a home owner. I have dug myself out of the bottom of a very deep hole of credit card debt more than once, and I know how awful it can be. Worst of all, I have carried substantial college loan debt for a quarter of a century, and every time I make a payment I am reminded of all the stupid choices I made that got me into that debt. I own those choices, I do not deny it. And I have been paying for them for over twenty years. It is not something I would wish on another human being.

The best answer I can give, ultimately, is the same answer I have always given when it comes to government policy or societal action: someone’s gotta take it in the shorts. It may not be “politic”, but it is absolutely egalitarian. It is the recognition that in a cooperative society, there are only two ways to manage things: everybody goes it alone, in which case the winners and losers make themselves, or we do things cooperatively, in which case we collectively make winners and losers. Either way somebody takes it in the shorts. There is no scenario in which everybody comes out ahead, but there are many scenarios in which everybody is worse off. The question we have to answer is which scenario we choose to pursue, and who ends up taking it in the shorts.

Anybody who says the student loan industry is getting it right is someone who is profiting off college students. And it’s not just teenagers. Veterans, working professionals, career switchers, stay at home parents returning to the workforce; these are all people who are trying to navigate a complex and often predatory environment, and they don’t have decades before retirement to pay back overwhelming loans. I’m not advocating any particular approach, I’m saying a conversation needs to be had now before the bubble bursts and it’s too late for a conversation, and all that’s left is to try to clean up the B.S.


A Monumental Mistake


Far be it from me to sit in judgement on the Supreme Court, but then playing armchair judge is a pastime for most of America. And the case of American Legion v. American Humanist Association practically begs for review (pardon the pun), particularly with so many individual opinions being written in spite of the 7-2 ruling (to be honest I wasn’t aware the Court could even issue anything other than a 5-4 ruling anymore). In this case I think the Court got it exactly wrong largely based on those express opinions as reported in the Washington Post, which I will be referencing throughout this piece, so feel free to call me out if there is some nuance of legal thought I am overlooking by not reading the entirety of their opinions. However I do believe the underlying premise is sound.

The initial argument is basically that a cross on public land favors a specific religious point of view, which is unconstitutional. The mental gymnastics that the justices who voted to allow the cross to stay had to go through are particularly astounding, and the fact that so many of them took so many paths to get there shows that there really isn’t any clear logic or reasoning to support it, unlike the opposition argument. Note that this in itself does not indicate they are wrong; there can be several good arguments in favor of something, and reasonable people can disagree about which one is the best. However the fact is that none of the arguments put forward by the justices are good or even sufficient arguments, particularly as a matter of practical law when considering that they will be used as precedent in other cases.

What sort of cases? Consider for a moment the issue of Civil War memorials. While many of these memorials may not have a religious component, some may, and all of them are subject to First Amendment challenges (either by those who want to tear them down or those who want to keep them up). Let’s consider the justices opinions in terms of these memorials:

Justice Alito, from the main opinion (WP):

“For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.”

Alito was joined in deciding that the cross may remain by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Take out “the Cross” and replace it with “the monument” and this passage would apply equally well to every Civil War memorial in the country. I know from personal experience it would apply to the entirety of Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA.

Justice Gorsuch, according to the Washington Post, “would have dismissed the case because he believes the “offended observer” has no legal standing to sue.” So if you’re offended by Civil War memorials… tough titty.

“Breyer said he was persuaded by the specifics of the case: that crosses are specifically linked to World War I sacrifice and that the cross had stood for 94 years without controversy.” (WP) Oh, good. Because the Civil War happened before WWI, and many of those monuments stood even longer than that without controversy. Because, y’know, a lack of controversy in the past totally trumps any present controversy. Or future controversy. Just ask Dred Scott.

To be fair, a couple of justices did give me hope of nuance, even if I didn’t love the way they decided. “Kagan praised Alito’s ruling, but said she refused to join it in full “out of perhaps an excess of caution.” “Although I too look to history for guidance, I prefer at least for now to do so case-by-case, rather than to sign on to any broader statements about history’s role in Establishment Clause analysis,” she wrote. Kavanaugh said that the decision allows the cross to remain on public land but does not require it. Maryland officials could make other arrangements, he said, such as transferring the land to a private group.” (WP) From reading these comments, I’m almost persuaded to believe they might be thinking about the same sort of issues I am. Of course I might be flattering myself (wouldn’t be the first time), but it is nice to see a bit of judicial restraint even in the face of a poorly decided issue.

I understand that reasoning by analogy is flawed, but I am only using an analogy to highlight my point, not to establish it. And the point is this: decisions coming out of the Supreme Court, particularly ones that have a sizable majority such as this one, set a strong precedent for the entire country. I am a fan of stare decisis and history as much as the next Court watcher, but even more I am a fan of an awareness of the future and what it might hold. While nobody can predict that with even a reasonable modicum of accuracy, it’s not too hard to draw reasonable conclusions from the present, and a bit of restraint in current decisions could yield significant room to maneuver in future cases.


Not Forced to Buy


For those of you who don’t know, I spent the better part of two decades working in email marketing. I think Scott Adams described marketing best: “we don’t screw the customer; we hold them down while the salespeople screw them.” That being said, I did (mostly) enjoy my time as a marketer, and I became more than a little familiar with a little company named Salesforce. If you’ve never heard of them that’s not surprising; they’re what’s referred to as a B2B company (that’s “business to business”), and their products are used to manage and run e-commerce across the nation.

Why that’s particularly relevant is because of a recent change in their acceptable use policy. Salesforce is now in the business of driving social policy as well as sales. While I might personally disagree with their stance, I want to get out in front and applaud them for making this move. I would love to see more companies, particularly big companies, making moves like this, for a few different reasons.

First it appeals to my libertarian desire for private action over government action. Yes, I have come around to accepting that not all government is bad, but I still believe that government should be the answer of last resort, not the first thing we try and then we turn to private solutions only after every possible governmental approach has been tried and failed. Also, there are a few common misconceptions that need to be addressed regarding private actors versus government action.

The big one that bothers me the most is the idea that somehow private actors can violate your right to free speech. Let’s take a look at the text of the First Amendment, shall we? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Yes, I can see pretty clearly in there were it says that “Facebook shall not delete your posts because reasons.” The government cannot legally censor you (aside from a few exceptions). Private actors are not required to provide you with a platform for your crazy. In fact, that would be a violation of the First Amendment (freedom of association).

How does that apply in the case of Salesforce and their terms of service? By doing business with Salesforce, you are voluntarily associating with them, and vice versa. Their terms of service are, quite literally, the terms under which they are willing to associate with you. Don’t like it? Fine. Don’t do business with them. Nobody is forcing you to. It’s a free market. So long as Salesforce doesn’t use their market dominance in an anti-competitive way there is no issue (and by the way, that has nothing to do with the First Amendment, that’s standard antitrust stuff, which last I checked is justified under the commerce clause; but I could be wrong). And let’s not even try to drag the Second Amendment into it. I don’t care if they prohibit you from selling guns or gardenias using their software, the point is the same: they are not the government, and nobody is forcing you to do business with them.

That’s not to say there aren’t any First Amendment issues to be concerned with here, it’s just that nobody seems to be focusing on the relevant party, by which I mean Salesforce. Anybody remember a little case known as Citizens United? Yes, I know liberals love to hate on that case, but every dark cloud and so on. In this instance, it’s relevant because Salesforce as a legal entity has rights. The right to free speech. The right to free association. The right to not be compelled to provide a service to someone who will use it in a way that they deem inappropriate. Note that this last point is ethically in line with the baker who refused to serve the gay couple in Colorado. Whether liberal or conservative, you don’t get to pick and choose who gets to express their moral beliefs through their business just because you happen to agree with them. The law applies to everyone equally or it is worthless (which says more about the law de facto than de jure).


Fools Rush In


There is a vocal and growing contingent of the liberal left that is demanding that Donald Trump needs to be impeached now. Today. That anything less would be un-American, and perhaps even bordering on High Crimes and Misdemeanors. There are several justifications for this stance, and I felt I should take a brief moment to address them.

  • He’s Guilty.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room (pardon the pun). Regardless of the crime de jure Trump is being accused of, there never seems to be any doubt that he’s guilty as sin and twice as ugly. However, I would like to point out that while impeachment proceedings are not a traditional trial, we do still have a tradition of “innocent until proven guilty” in America, and insisting that someone is guilty of a crime before you have even begun the trial or even gotten an indictment yet (that would be the actual articles of impeachment) looks kind of bad. One might even call it political opportunism or partisanship rather than actually trying to get at the truth. Or hey, we can just skip all that investigation nonsense and impeach the motherfucker.

  • Get Votes On the Record.

It’s pretty well accepted at this point that the Senate won’t convict Trump. Not right now, possibly not ever. For those who say “definitely not ever,” I point you toward Richard Nixon. When Watergate was first coming to light, it didn’t look like there was any way the Senate would convict if impeachment went forward for him either. Things change. But that takes time and effort (I’ll get to that). People who want to move forward now are more interested in getting votes on the record, to show who stands for America and who stands for Trump, because they honestly believe you can’t be for both. Regardless of how you might personally feel about Trump, to assume that nobody can in good faith still support him AND support America is a pretty big leap. It’s the sort of leap that the Republican Party took in 1998 with Bill Clinton, and they paid a price for it in the next election. And there are still quite a few Democrats from moderate districts who will likely end up paying that price.

  • It’s the Right Thing to Do.

Is it? There are plenty of people who say this isn’t a political decision, it’s a moral one. That’s fine. If you have solid, not indisputable but solid, proof of “Bribery, Treason*, or High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” then by all means it’s the right thing to do. But just because you believe Trump did something doesn’t mean you have proof he did it. There are a lot of conservatives out there who believe that life starts at conception that are making all kinds of laws based on that belief; last I checked those laws were getting challenged in court in large part because they can’t prove that assertion. More to the point impeachment is a legal mechanism, and the law doesn’t care about what you know. All it cares about is what you can prove. Yes, I know there is an argument that it is a political mechanism, but I reject that argument. Impeachment calls for an indictment and a trial; it may be outside of the standard court system, but so is the Uniform Military Code of Justice, and you don’t hear a lot of folks suggesting that a court martial is a “political process”. And no, the Mueller Report doesn’t say that Trump obstructed justice. Mueller said as much himself. There might be enough there to support the charge, but you need to connect the dots yourself and you need to do the heavy lifting on your own.

*Despite what Donald Trump seems to believe, treason against the United States is a very specific crime that “shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” So yeah. Good luck proving that one seeing as we haven’t had an active war declared in a long time… although maybe you could get two people to testify that Donald Trump gave aid to Poverty. That War’s been going on for decades.

  • Going Through the Courts Is the Wrong Strategy

This is the one that confuses me the most. It is often tied to an argument about “not being respected as a coequal branch of government,” but such arguments often come across as “you didn’t do what we want and you stole the election and you stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat so we’re gonna get you!” Seriously, there’s supposed to be a balance of powers, and to be honest for the last several decades Congress has given away the farm to the Executive branch. That’s nothing new; Trump just happens to be taking particularly ruthless advantage of it, with the assistance of a particularly obnoxious Mitch McConnell. But the truth is this is not out of character for either Republicans or Democrats; it is a matter of style and degree, not the actual substance. The tit-for-tat historical back and forth justifications have been pointed out multiple times, and they are completely irrelevant. What matters is that Congress does have tools at their disposal to rein in the President if they chose to use them. Both the House and the Senate have such powers, and they can be effective.

What’s more important is that going for impeachment and losing is not going to suddenly make Congress more “respected as a coequal branch of government,” either by Trump or the American public. You know what will? Winning. Which is exactly what is happening in the courts. What’s even better is that this is no longer a partisan fight of Democrats vs. Republicans, or Congress vs. the White House. Now it becomes two branches of the government vs. one. Almost as if two coequal branches, neither of which is more powerful than the other, had to go to a neutral arbitrator to settle a dispute rather than letting things get nasty and out of control.

Look, I get it. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.” And yet Donald Trump keeps getting away with making outrage claims on Twitter and making even more outrageous policy. Surely the old ways are gone, the norms have all been destroyed, working within the system is pointless and we have to act NOW to save our democracy while there is still something to save! Or perhaps given time and the efforts of reasonable and well-intentioned people, our system will prove more resilient than the fools who are trying to upend it.


What’s Good For The Goose


In case you’ve been living under a rock, states such as Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and others have passes highly restrictive abortion laws, with Alabama passing an outright ban except in cases where the mother’s health is threatened. I’ve seen a few arguments being put forward against these bans, and I’d like to take a moment to offer my own (admittedly biased) opinion on them.

The first I’ve seen, and what I consider the weakest by far, is that these laws are being passed by men and therefore are somehow illegitimate. This is a variation on the canard that men are not in any way entitled to have an opinion on abortion. One could as easily suggest that women are not entitled to an opinion on prostate cancer. If we applied this legislative logic uniformly and consistently, only veterans would vote on bills affecting the armed forces or veterans, only minority legislators would vote on affirmative action legislation, and only legislators who have endured mental illness of some kind would vote on legislation addressing mental illness.

More to the point in this specific case, regardless of their gender, these are the elected representatives for their respective states engaging in the established legislative process for their states. That does not make the legislation they create ethical, moral, or even constitutional, but neither do their respective genders invalidate it. It is also worth noting that, at least in the case of the Alabama law, it was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. While that doesn’t completely or even mostly offset the gender imbalance, it does show that this isn’t completely “a war of men on women”. In fact, according to Vox it’s not about men vs. women as much as it’s an ideological split.

The next argument, and still weak for my taste, is that some of these laws don’t include an exception for cases of rape or incest. One of the few things I can actually respect about the politicians who pushed through the highly restrictive law in Alabama is that at least they are morally consistent. They believe, wholeheartedly, that life begins at conception. Full stop. Not “life begins at conception unless of course it was a case of rape or incest in which case things get kind of squicky so we have to kind of just look the other way”. If you’re going to impugn someone’s bodily autonomy (don’t worry, we’ll get to that) there should be no half-measures just because the originating cause is distasteful. Either you’re all in or you don’t have the courage of your convictions.

So let’s get to the only argument that I believe is truly sufficient and relevant: anti-abortion laws are a violation of a woman’s bodily autonomy. The question of whether life begins at conception is, quite simply, irrelevant. That may sound harsh or even disgusting and immoral to you, but let’s take a look at a few tangential issues of bodily autonomy and see how they might shed some light on the matter.

First consider the matter of blood and tissue donation. Compulsory donation of blood or tissue of any kind is not only considered illegal, it is immoral and unconstitutional. Even if a criminal were to stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody (just to pick a random example) and, by complete coincidence, turned out to be a perfect blood type match for their victim, they could not be compelled to donate blood. No matter that it would do them no long-term harm, no matter that it would be a form of restitution for their crime. A criminal has bodily autonomy in this country.

Second consider organ donation. Whether from a living donor or a deceased donor, you have to have positive consent before you can take an organ for transplant. Not “lack of opting out of the system”, someone has to actively opt-in while they are alive. Consider the implications of that. If there is literally only one person in 10,000 who can provide a life-saving organ to someone who has literally been waiting for years on the transplant list, if they did not register as an organ donor or put in their will that they wanted to donate their organs after their death then too bad, so sad. A corpse has bodily autonomy in this country.

How about the legal ramifications? The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, which the Supreme Court has extended to the collection of DNA in the absence of a warrant or arrest (a decision I have issues with, but that’s for another time). While these protections could (and should) be stronger, they still proscribe the government from taking DNA from anyone on a whim, including (just as a random example) non-citizens coming in at the border. In the absence of an arrest or a warrant compelling the production of DNA, even non-citizens have bodily autonomy.

So, here’s my proposition: the What’s Good for the Goose Act. A gender-neutral application of bodily autonomy in the law. Either everyone gets it or nobody gets it. Do away with these and all other forms of bodily autonomy under the law – or enshrine the idea of bodily autonomy in the law and do away with the idea that you can legislate another person’s body. Simple, fair, and easy.

Personally, I’m looking forward to getting that new kidney. And I say we go for the politicians first.

 

Note: While all of the ideas herein expressed are my own, I drew inspiration from questions, answers, and discussion on Quora.com. I highly recommend the site (and no, I’m not getting paid to say that).


I’ll Take Your Word For It


Just the other day I read two articles, literally back-to-back, that struck me as emblematic of one of the glaring problems in society today. I’m going to venture to call it an epistemological problem, because it seems like what is happening is that people of a certain social and political bent have a serious case of cognitive dissonance, carrying two completely different ideas simultaneously and not even recognizing how they cancel each other out.

The first article was about using the word “guys” to refer to mixed groups of boys and girls. You might assume I would go off on a rant about how the author of that article was blowing things out of proportion and needed to get over himself, and at first you would be right. But I gritted my teeth and read the whole thing, and I found he actually had a valid point (yes, even I can admit I’m wrong from time to time). The key take away is this: words have power. Words have meaning. When we use words, deliberately or casually, we need to think through and own the effect those word have, including the unintended consequences.

This is important for several reasons in our society today, not just for the reasons he cited in his article. Too many people try to hide behind “I was just joking” or “I didn’t mean it that way”. Perhaps not but you still said it, so own it. I don’t intend to give free reign to everyone who wants to take offence to anything and everything (see my last post about outrage culture), but the flipside to rights is responsibilities. In the case of free speech that means accepting the consequences of your speech.

Which brings me to the next article and where the disconnect comes in. It seems that in what turns out to be a surprise to approximately nobody there has been a significant increase in the number of male managers afraid to be alone with women. Do I think this is a good thing? Of course not. But I saw this coming two years ago, and so did a lot of other people. Why do I bring it up in this context? Because the key take away is this: words have power. Words have meaning. When we use words, deliberately or casually, we need to think through and own the effect those word have, including the unintended consequences.

#TimesUp. #BelieveWomen. These men are taking you at your word that you will believe any woman, any accusation, prima fascie. There is no room for negotiation, there is no benefit of the doubt, and there is absolutely no reprieve. In the absence of iron-clad proof to rebut any accusation, they are unwilling to risk their own careers. So just like teachers who will not be alone with a student to prevent any accusations of misconduct when a simple accusation itself is a career-ender, these men have chosen the same path, and for the same reason. When the narrative is that it is better that a hundred innocent men go to jail than one guilty man go free, fear takes hold.

Is that an accurate narrative? Is it fair? Depends on who you ask. And that’s a large part of the problem. There are arguments to be made both ways and fingers to be pointed in both directions. But accurate or not, fair or not, this is the unintended consequence of a movement that has done a lot of good but also had some serious failures. Not acknowledging self-inflicted wounds like these and attempting to find ways to do better moving forward only exacerbates the problem.


The Thin Line Between Bad Taste and Outrage


It has gone from truism to trite to say we live in a culture of outrage, but that doesn’t make it any less of a fact. It seems it is no longer possible to simply offend or commit a faux pas, everything that is done is an OUTRAGE, grist for the social media mill, driving one end or the other of the political spectrum into a frenzy. The latest example of this comes from the Harvard Lampoon of all places.

Now before I go any further I have to, of course, deny in the strongest terms that I am making any attempt to defend their bad decisions. What they did was in very poor taste. It was crude, and quite frankly not even funny. Should they apologize? Yes. Did they apologize? Yes. Case closed? Not by a long shot.

According to the Washington Post (my perennial source for outrage culture), Harvard sophomore Jenny Baker had the following to say about the Lampoon cartoon that started the controversy:

“Holocaust jokes? Never okay,” she began. “Sexualizing a young girl’s body? Never okay,” she continued.

“Sexualizing ANNE FRANK and saying it is a shame she was ruthlessly murdered because of her religion because she would have been hot? So unbelievably not okay,” she emphasized.

Baker delivered a recommendation to the staff of the Lampoon: “try to find other ways to be funny rather than sexualizing and trivializing the murder of a young girl and an entire population of people.”

She concluded, “This is trash.”

Now, having done more than a little humor writing myself, I’m going to offer a gentle rejoinder and say that Ms. Baker doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. Holocaust jokes? Better be funny, but they can be okay. Sexualizing a young girl’s body? Better be damn funny, but it can be okay. Sexualizing ANNE FRANK and saying it is a shame she was ruthlessly murdered because of her religion because she would have been hot? Holy shit that better be the funniest fucking thing I ever read, but you CAN get away with it if it’s good enough, especially if you are using your humor to make a larger point. A couple things we can agree on are that (a) they really should try to find other ways to be funny, because man did they miss the mark on this one, and (b) this is trash.

Lest you think I am merely engaging in some sort of knee-jerk libertarian defense of free speech, let me share some real-life experiences from my own college days. These are from a couple decades ago, back when people were at least slightly less prone to take everything so immediately personal and there was no such thing as the internet. I was working on an independent college paper, which meant we could do whatever we wanted, and we pushed a few boundaries. I’m proud of a lot of the work I did there, and we had a lot of fun. At least twice I can think of our papers were burned in effigy at Take Back the Night rallies because of what we had printed, and I’m still proud of what we published in those issues.

And then there was what I still think of as the incident.

I was the Humor Editor for the paper at the time, which I say only to establish that everything that happened was my responsibility. I made the choices, and I had the authority. I was looking for content for my section, and a new guy volunteered to write a three panel comic for me. Sure, he had a shaved head and looked kind of scraggly, but I had known more than a few cool skinhead punks down in Richmond, so I decided to roll with it. I was also very high on my First Amendment horse at the time.

Long story short, the comic turned out to be about what you would expect. Not so blatant that I couldn’t pretend a certain amount of ignorance or at least try to hide from it at first, but shortly after it ran I had to admit to myself I had run a Nazi skinhead comic in my section. And yeah, I got more than a little hate mail for it, which I freely admit I deserve. I owned it, and still do. I made a bad call, and the reasons why don’t matter. I apologized, we ran a retraction, and while I have moved on I have never forgotten it.

So why do I bring it up now? Because the other material, the stuff that got my work burned on campus, I am proud of. I stand by it today. Because it had a point, and a purpose, and I was saying something with it. And yes, if I thought I could make a larger point with a Holocaust joke, and I thought the joke was funny enough, I would go for it and I would be all in. It would have to be a damn good point and a fucking hilarious joke, and honestly I don’t know if I’m that funny. But it would be worth it. And I’d have Anne Frank in my sights.

And I wouldn’t apologize either.