“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them,” George Orwell famously said. We can add to that long list of lunacies a theory on freedom of speech and violence articulated by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” in last Sunday’s New York Times.

Visiting the troublesome trend on college campuses today to protest, disinvite, and even violently remove controversial speakers, Professor Feldman maintains that the speech-suppressors have a point. Children may believe that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But Professor Feldman knows better.

…[S]cientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain – even kill neurons – and shorten your life.


Speech can shorten your life? How? Professor Feldman explains:

Your body contains little packets of genetic materials that sit on the ends of your chromosomes. They’re called telomeres. Each time your cells divide, their telomeres get a little shorter, and when they become too short, you die. This is normal aging. But guess what else shrinks your telomeres? Chronic stress.

Words that stress you out can rub you out, she maintains. Under her theory, the Middlebury mob that attacked Charles Murray and injured Allison Stanger (causing her a concussion) were not engaged in acts of unlawful violence. They were engaged in legitimate self-defense. Continue reading



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Wonder Woman continues to awe. Now in its third week of release, the movie has earned more than $500 million worldwide, surpassing superhero rivals The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America: The Sunshine Soldier.

Despite its title, the movie’s central character is never actually called “Wonder Woman.” She is Princess Diana – or, when traveling incognito in the World of Man, Diana Prince. Whatever her name, who is this mystery woman?  [SPOILER ALERT] Continue reading

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During the Republican presidential primaries, 16 of the 17 candidates differed and bickered but agreed on one thing. They all agreed that Donald Trump was not a true Republican.  Trump, of course, won the nomination anyway.  And then he won the presidency. And then, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the 16 made their peace with him.

While a few Republican activists and intellectuals, known as “Never-Trumpers,” have steadfastly opposed him, most have supported him or kept silent.

Why? How has a man who has renounced long-held Republican positions on free trade, international relations, American exceptionalism, and a host of other fundamental issues managed to attract the loyalty of those who have long espoused those very positions?

Trump’s magnetic appeal to traditional Republicans can be analyzed the same way any magnets can. Magnets either attract or repel.


The simplest explanation for Trump’s appeal to traditional Republicans is magnetic repulsion. Republicans are not so much attracted to Trump as they are repelled by his opponents. They are not so much pro-Trump as they are anti-anti-Trump.

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The phenomenal success of the rap musical Hamilton has acquainted many theater goers with the custom of dueling.  Three duels take place in the story. To ensure the accuracy of their depiction, Lin-Manuel Miranda consulted Joanne Freeman, whose book Affairs of Honor he deemed “indispensable.” Dueling did not lead to a happy ending for the show’s namesake, or for his son Philip. But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be said for the custom. A respectable – and not entirely facetious – argument can be made for its revival.

dueling-pistols01 Continue reading

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“Every nation gets the government it deserves,” noted the French counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre. This elegant observation has been applied – and applied and reapplied ad infinitum – to popular culture. Thus, we read that every generation gets the James Bond, the Daredevil, the Sherlock Holmes, the Woodstock, and even the Counting Crows,  it deserves.


The same is true for Marshal Will Kane, Gary Cooper’s Oscar-winning role in High Noon. The latest remake is Fist Fight.  But if that remarkably trashy movie shows us the Will Kane our generation deserves, then we have a lot to worry about. Continue reading

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Since 1935, Ashland, Oregon, a scenic little city nestled in the foothills of the Siskyou and Cascade mountains, has been the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, showcasing the dramatic works of Shakespeare and other writers. For many years, Judi Honore, a friendly, slightly eccentric businesswoman, has owned and operated Shakespeare Books & Antiques on Ashland’s Main Street. Until recently, the store featured a window display of literary works whose only common element is the fact that every one of them, at some time and place, has been banned.


Last summer, the Festival produced the musical “The Wiz.” Some cast members stopped by the store and noted that the banned books display included not only The Wizard of Oz, the basis for the musical, but also Little Black Sambo. The latter is a children’s story about a little boy who outwits a group of hungry tigers. Although the story takes place in India (hence, the presence of tigers), the boy is African, and illustrations depicted him as an offensive racial caricature.

After the cast members complained, Ms. Honore rearranged the display so that Sambo was not visible from the street. But she refused to remove it from her banned books display. She told an interviewer: “I have windows filled with banned books, everything from The Lorax to Harry Potter to Mein Kampf to Brave New World. I did it as an educational process…. People stand outside the window and ask why the books are banned.”

Festival staff deemed the inclusion of Sambo in the display “hurtful and offensive,” and asked Ms. Honore to take it down. She refused. Cynthia Rider, executive director of the Festival, criticized the store owner for her “distinct lack of empathy for the experiences of people of color.” The Festival publicly announced a boycott of the store, objecting not only to Little Black Sambo, but also to the inclusion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird in the banned books display.

The store closed on October 31. Continue reading


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Sam: You’re a very rude young woman. I know Douglas from the Rotary, and I can’t believe he’d want you treating customers so badly.

Cashier: I don’t think I was treating her badly.

Sam: Then you must be from New York.

Sam Burns (played by John Lithgow) in Terms of Endearment, the 1983 Academy Award winner for Best Picture.


During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump supporters attempted to paint their opponents as coastal elitists out of touch with and contemptuous of the nation’s heartland. Now comes an event on Broadway —  possibly the bluest thoroughfare in the bluest city in the country – that portrays liberals as … well … as coastal elitists out of touch with and contemptuous of the nation’s heartland.


Last Friday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence took his daughter to see Hamilton, the hottest show on Broadway. As they took their seats, audience members booed. Pence took it in stride, telling his daughter: “That’s what freedom sounds like.”  After the show, as Pence and his daughter were leaving, they were treated to a lecture  by Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who portrays Aaron Burr. Pence stopped and listened. The next morning, he told interviewers that he was not offended, and he encouraged everyone to see the show.


Although some commentators have dismissed the incident as “dumb news,” it nonetheless deserves examination. It tells us much about the current state of division in our country, and perhaps even a little about how that division propelled Trump to the presidency. Continue reading


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