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Pronouns and Provocateurs: Wilfrid Laurier University’s Free Speech Controversy

A photo of an academic building at Wilfrid Laurier University

At the beginning of November, Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University,  made the fateful decision to show a video clip of a debate about pronouns to her tutorial for students in a large first-year writing class. The debate, which aired on Canadian public television a year ago, featured firebrand Jordan Peterson, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toronto and a crusader against political correctness.

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Seeking Responsibility in the Deaths over Designer Sneakers

A large collection of Air Jordans sneakers in glass boxes.

It seemed as though everybody wanted to “be like Mike.” Children and adults alike aspired to leap from the free throw and dunk with their tongue hanging out or win six NBA Championship titles. But for those who weren’t 6’6” and drafted by the Chicago Bulls, like most people, they had to buy Michael Jordan’s shoes if they wanted to be like him. With the rise of sneaker culture came a violent side-effect: the fact that people are willing to harm and even kill others for a pair of coveted Jordan sneakers.

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The Digital Humanities: Overhyped or Misunderstood?

An image of the Yale Beinecke Rare Books Library

A recent series of articles appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education has reopened the discussion about the nature of the digital humanities. Some scholars argue the digital humanities are a boon to humanistic inquiry and some argue they’re a detriment, but all sides seem to agree it’s worth understanding just what the scope and ambition of the digital humanities is and ought to be.

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The Moral Legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution

A vintage photo of a Bolshevik protest in Russia

November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution (it is alternatively called the “October Revolution,” but this is because of the mismatch between the Julian and Gregorian calendars). It is arguably the most influential event of the 20th Century, and it is celebrated by leftists worldwide. Yet strangely, Vladimir Putin himself has no intentions to host big ceremonies. His leadership may rely on Soviet nostalgia in his confrontation with the West, but in fact, he is much closer to the Czarist style of authoritarianism, and correctly sees that the revolutionary ideology of 1917 is more dangerous than valuable to him.

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Scotland May Ban Spanking. Should the United States?

A stereograph of a woman spanking her child.

An October 19, 2017 article in The Scotsman reported that the Scottish Government plans to implement proposals that would “remove the defence of “justifiable assault” from Scottish law, which can currently be used by parents who use corporal punishment on their children. Late last year, France also instituted a law banning the spanking of children. This made it the 52nd country to do so.

The United States is not on that list of countries. According to an NBC News report from 2014, corporal punishment is legal in all 50 US states. State statutes generally indicate that the physical punishment must be “reasonable” or “not excessive.” In addition, 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools, as of 2014. Public opinion in the United States also widely supports spanking. The NBC News report cited a 2013 Harris Poll which found that 81 percent of Americans say “parents spanking their children is sometimes appropriate.”

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Reconciling Culture and Health in the Debate over Female Genital Mutilation

A photo of an African woman looking out over a field with her baby.

In a thought-provoking posted by CNN earlier this year, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined as “a brutal practice that’s inflicted on thousands of girls and women.” Female genital mutilation is the process of “intentionally altering” a female’s genital organs for various reasons. It can include partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. There are many moral reasons as to why this practice maybe considered “brutal,” but is it is ethical to portray such cultural practices in a negative light?

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International Sanctions: A War of Their Own?

"North Korea - Pyongyang" by (stephan) liscened under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

In the current political climate, it is hard to avoid the topic regarding sanctions. The United States has been recently revising the sanctions it has placed on different countries in the past few years, such as North Korea, Russia, and Cuba. Economic sanctions are penalties or blockades against a targeted country, and are a “foreign policy tool” used when diplomatic relations aren’t as effective as intended. These sanctions can take many forms, such as tariffs, embargos, quotas and asset freezes.

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Representing Autism On Screen

A photo of Jim Parsons, actor on The Big Bang Theory, at a Comic Con Panel.

In recent seasons, television networks and original streaming programing have introduced series that feature people with autism in main roles.  ABC’s The Good Doctor follows the career of Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism who is excellent at his job, but struggles in his interactions with people.  The Netflix original Atypical tells the story of an autistic young adult and his family. CBS’s Young Sheldon is a spinoff that focuses on the childhood of The Big Bang Theory favorite, Sheldon Cooper.  

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The Moral Trap of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce

"McDonald's #1 Store Museum, Des Plaines, Ill." by Jerry Huddleston liscened under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr).

After a month of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood, alarming discoveries on Russian meddling with U.S. campaigns, and the largest mass shooting in recent history, one news story seems to have captured the impassioned outrage of young people: McDonald’s failure to provide Szechuan Sauce to its customers after promising to do so. On October 7, the fast food chain re-released a “super limited” quantity of Szechuan Sauce, a sauce McDonald’s restaurants carried in 1998 as a promotion for the Disney film, Mulan, to select stores across the nation.

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Will Chief Black Elk’s Canonization Address Native American Oppression?

A photo of Catholic bishops during a 2014 canonization.

This past week, a Mass was held to formally open up potential sainthood for Chief Black Elk, a Lakota chief known for his life and work as a dedicated catechist. Black Elk was born sometime between 1858 and 1866, and died in 1950. He is known for combining Native American spirituality and Christianity, making it easier for his congregations to accept the Catholic Church. Bishop Robert D. Gruss from Rapid City, South Dakota, states that “for 50 years Black Elk led others to Christ often melding his Lakota culture into his Christian life.” Bill White, a diocese and member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on Pine Ridge Reservation, is leading Black Elk’s sainthood case.

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Is it O.K. to Watch Louis C.K.?

A photo of Louis CK at an awards ceremony

Allegations of Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct—as well as his published response—came out this week, hot on the heels of similar allegations concerning Kevin Spacey. Leaving aside the morality of C.K.’s actions, there is the question of the general public’s response in regard to the media he has produced. HBO has already dropped him from the Night of Too Many Stars and removed his shows from its service in order to distance itself from his work. Was this an ethically informed decision, and, if so, should audiences respond in kind? Even if HBO hadn’t pulled his shows–and considering that they are still available through other services–are fans of the comedian obligated to cease watching C.K. because of his actions? In broader terms, should the morality of an artist be taken into account in the consumption of their art?

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The Republican Tax Plan: Is Simpler Always Fairer?

A close-up photo of U.S. Income Tax forms.

The Republican tax plan currently under construction in the House and Senate is touted as simpler and fairer.  President Trump often uses those two words, and so do House and Senate leaders. In fact, the website promoting the House version of the plan is fairandsimple.gop. Proponents of tax reform like to brag that their plan will make a tax return fit onto a postcard, the rules will be so simple. And clearly the message is not just “fair and simple.” We are being invited to believe that simplification of the tax code will make it fairer. But is a simpler tax code fairer?  
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The Limited Value of Taxing University Endowments

"Stanford University" by Jeff Pence liscensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Last Thursday, Senate Republicans released their tax overhaul plan that they believe will create a simpler and fairer tax system. The proposed plan caused an unsettling amount of worry for some academic institutions because of a certain endowment tax included in the tax reform. This 1.4 percent tax on investment income will affect private universities and colleges with over 500 students and endowment assets of over $100,000 per student. It will not include public institutions. What has spurred such a radical position on private institutions is the stereotype that these universities are “ivory towers” of tax havens. Unfortunately, this label may hold some truth, and a deeper analysis of the behaviors of well-endowed universities is necessary.

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The Social Norms Behind Fighting in Hockey

Two hockey players fighting on the ice rink.

Hockey season has started, and with it the annual debate about the role of fighting. Watching sports is a vicarious and visceral experience, and many fans love the fights and the fighters. Players with marginal skills but big fists are folk heroes. Some fans worry that fighting detracts from the skill and grace of the sport, and drives away new or casual fans. Almost everyone is concerned about player safety.

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Baby Powder, Consumer Labeling and Scientific Uncertainty

A photo of spilled baby powder.

Overturning the August 21, 2017 verdict that Johnson & Johnson must pay $417 million in compensatory and punitive damages to cancer sufferer Eva Echeverria, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge last week granted a new trial to the pharmaceutical giant, essentially concluding, contra the jury, that Echeverria didn’t adequately demonstrate Johnson & Johnson’s negligence.

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Party Culture at DePauw and the Monon Bell Game

A photo of the Monon Bell game at DePauw University

The time has come. This weekend is the Monon Bell Game, a time when DePauw and Wabash meet on the football field in an attempt to settle a rivalry that dates back to 1890. Generations of students and alumni will look on from the stands as DePauw and Wabash duke it out for the right to either take back or keep the coveted Monon Bell. But amidst the return of alumni and the big game for the Monon Bell, another “celebration” of sorts is occurring on campus. In addition to Monon being one of the biggest games for DePauw, it is also a huge party weekend for students.

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Should History be Kinder to George Patton?

A black-and-white photo of George Patton marching through a cemetery.

General George Patton has been an enigmatic figure for many years. Robert Orlando’s recently released documentary, Silence Pattonattempts to portray him as a Cassandra-like figure who warned against the risk of Stalin and communism, and nobody would listen. Patton died under strange circumstances, and there has always been talk of a conspiracy to kill him. According to the film, there was an attempt to silence him, because he turned out to be a nuisance to the Allies’ post-war plans.

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“Nudges” and the Environmental Influences on our Morals

A photo of a telephone booth

Richard Thaler, a behavioral economist, won the Nobel Prize in economics this year. He co-authored the book, Nudge, in 2008. The theory behind “nudges” (a term he coined) changed the perspective of economics on the agents to be studied. Instead of picturing humans as rational preference satisfiers, Thaler suggests that we are susceptible to all sorts of irrational pressures and rarely do we decide to behave in ways that can be modeled on principles of rationality and our individual preferences. The “nudge” is one tool he uses in order to see one way in which we deviate from the rationalistic model of classical economics.

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In Chance the Rapper’s Music, Do Rap and Religion Mix?

"chance the rapper" by Adrian Mustredo liscenced under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Chance the Rapper has taken the music industry by storm. From his first popular mixtape, 10 Day, to his most recent EP, Coloring Book, which won him critical acclaim and three Grammy awards, Chano has become a powerhouse in the entertainment industry. His quirky charisma, spunky beats, and clever wordplay have resonated with all kinds of listeners. But with Chance’s skyrocketing fame, there comes a price.

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Free Riders, Agency Fees, and the Fairness of Public Sector Unions

A low-angle shot of the U.S. Supreme Court

An upcoming case in the United States Supreme Court could have significant effects on the state of the American Labor Movement: Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. At stake is whether public sector unions can require employees who have not joined the union to pay agency fees—fees that go to exclusively cover the costs of negotiating the labor contract that covers all workers at a workplace, union members and non-members alike. If the court were to rule against the legality of required agency fees, this would overturn a previous Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that agency fees were allowable, just so long as those fees were not used for the political or ideological activities of the union.

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