Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric, technology, and writing.
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Trump out-of-bounds

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Donald Trump is now well-recognized as the president who hasn't been bound by the same niceties as his predecessors — whether on Twitter or in public remarks. He sparked controversy again this week , when he impugned past presidents for not calling families of service members killed in combat — the latest incident where his inclination to speak off the cuff went beyond the normal remarks of prior presidents.

Bottom line : It was assumed that after taking office Trump's rhetoric would become more mild, but he's proven that he will continue to say what he wants. As Axios wrote in March , Trump is Trump, "the one guy who's NOT CHANGING is a 70-year-old billionaire with his name on the building."


  • Trump accused Obama of "wiretapping" him without providing any evidence , and suggested Obama had broken the law in a crime of Watergate proportions— March 4
  • He attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the hours after a terror attack struck the city, calling him "pathetic" for telling residents there is "no reason to be alarmed." Note: Trump's claim was highly misleading. Khan actually said Londoners shouldn't be alarmed by the increased security. — June 4 and 5
  • After learning of negative media reports from "Morning Joe's" Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, Trump tweeted : [H]ow come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came... to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve... She was bleeding badly from a face-lift" — June 29
  • He suggested that "many sides" were responsible for the racist carnage at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., drawing intense backlash , including from members of his own administration — Aug 12
  • He retweeted a a meme of a train crashing into a human embodiment of CNN, with the words "FAKE NEWS CAN'T STOP THE TRUMP TRAIN" above it — Aug 16
  • Trump blamed the damned dishonest reporters for racial tension in America by accusing them of fanning the flames of racist protest, being anti-American, and trying to erase the country's heritage — Aug 23
  • In private, Trump physically mocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's posture (slumped shoulders; lethargic body language) and Sen. John McCain, who was recently diagnosed with malignant brain cancer, by imitating the thumbs-down of his historic health-care vote — Sept 27
  • In the days after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and left its residents without food, power, water, Trump attacked the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who had begged for more help. "Such poor leadership ability... They [Puerto Ricans] want everything to be done for them" — Sept. 30
  • He suggested to associates that health problems would cause Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to retire (or die) soon. Trump on Ginsburg: "What does she weigh? 60 pounds?" and on Sotomayor: "Her health. No good. Diabetes." — Oct. 15
  • Trump falsely claimed that Barack Obama and other presidents didn't make calls to the families of fallen soldiers. They did. — Oct. 16
Go deeper with Axios' Mike Allen on Trump's actions:




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betajames
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Cities Take Both Sides in the 'War on Sitting'

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Last month, after six months of construction, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority reopened the first of three rehabbed Brooklyn stations. It had new USB charging stations, large-screen digital maps, countdown clocks, and even a new mosaic.

But what really caught straphangers’ attention was the leaning bar. A slanted wooden slab set against the wall at about the height of a person’s rear end, the bar was meant to give passengers a way to take some weight off their feet as they waited for the next train. What it was not, however, was a bench.

“Are they trying to tell us something? Is this even for humans?” asked one incredulous Twitter user. “Is leaning the new sitting?” tweeted another. “With all the walking in NYC you need to sit occasionally.”

In an email to CityLab, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz called the leaning bar “the result of a review of best practices in transit systems around the world.” Bars take up less floor space than benches, he wrote, and serve as another option for transit riders. “They didn’t replace traditional seating in the station,” he wrote; “they supplement it.”

Despite the MTA’s protestations, some New Yorkers saw the bar as the latest salvo in what could be called the War on Sitting. As cities around the world tear out benches in an effort to deter homeless people from sleeping and drug dealers from hovering, or to force loiterers to move along, pedestrians and transit users may find fewer and fewer places to sit down and take a load off, or hang out and watch the world go by—and that’s bad news not only for tired feet, but for city life itself.

In the past few years, benches have disappeared from Uptown Chicago bus shelters (city officials cited concerns about loitering) and downtown Cincinnati (because “lewd and lascivious behavior” was allegedly occurring behind them). In San Francisco’s Castro, the local business association pulled seating out of Harvey Milk Plaza. The benches, it said, were being used as a “loophole” by people who wanted to avoid violating the city’s law against lying on sidewalks. In D.C., George Washington University pulled up seating outside a campus 7-Eleven after university police received complaints about panhandling and harassment. “If there are benches there, there are homeless people there,” an officer told the student paper.

Earlier this year, the London Borough of Islington installed new “smart” benches with Wi-Fi, solar panels, and phone charging stations—but soon after the borough council announced it would remove them, due to a lack of planning permission and concerns that the benches presented “an opportunity for thieves travelling past to snatch phones and iPads.”

Anaheim got attention in July because of officials’ decision to remove benches from bus stops near Disneyland, leading some people to assume that the theme park requested homeless people be evicted for the sake of its squeaky-clean image. City spokesman Mike Lyster said that was incorrect—the benches were not pulled out at the theme park’s behest.

“We got into a situation where bus riders were losing access to the benches—people were basically occupying them 24 hours a day,” he said. “This at least restored the shelters for bus riders.”

Lyster noted that the city has an outreach program to connect homeless people with social services that can get them into housing; since 2014, some 800 people have found homes, he said. “But it’s a long game, and the problem grows.” Meanwhile, the bench removals had their intended effect, he said. While people slept on the sidewalk for a while, eventually, they moved on.

No one seems to be keeping statistics on the disappearance of street seating, but G.W. Rolle, who sits on the board at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, places the trend within the greater context of so-called hostile architecture—features such as spikes to prevent people from sitting on ledges and segmented benches that don’t allow them to lie down—and anti-vagrancy laws, which criminalize sleeping in public, sitting on sidewalks, and loitering. The center, which tracks laws that affect homeless people, found in a recent survey of U.S. cities that nearly half have laws barring lying down or sitting in certain places, a number that has climbed more than 50 percent over the past decade.

A homeless man and two elderly women share a bench
Elderly women and a homeless man share a park bench in Santa Monica. (Reed Saxon/AP)

“A physical object must occupy physical space,” says Rolle, who was himself homeless for several years. “But wherever you sit, you’re vulnerable to vagrancy citations. They don’t want homeless people to have any peace.”

Rolle is now a pastor and advocate for homeless people in St. Petersburg, Florida, a city that was once famous for its distinctive green benches. Today, St. Petersburg has one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the U.S., and those benches have all but disappeared.

“It hasn’t solved homelessness, and the people they put the benches there for still need them,” Rolle says. “It would make the city look better if they put them back. It’s a beautiful city, surrounded on three sides by water, and more people would walk, more people would go downtown, more of the elderly would come out of their buildings, if they had somewhere to sit.”

Rolle’s observations are consistent with findings of the New York-based nonprofit Project for Public Spaces. “Removing benches also removes some of the positive activity,” says Ethan Kent, the group’s senior vice president. “It sends a message of fear: This is a place to move through quickly. People disengage. … The most effective way to deal with ‘undesirable’ activity is to make the place friendlier for everyone else. So the bench becomes the battle line, the turning point for cities either welcoming people or designing out of fear.”

While many communities are taking away benches for fear of illegal or undesirable behavior, something else suggests keeping or even adding more of them: our country’s (and the world’s) aging population. In 2007, the World Health Organization published a guide to “Global Age-friendly Cities,” which noted, “The availability of seating areas is generally viewed as a necessary urban feature for older people.” Some older people surveyed for the guide expressed concern about “antisocial” elements occupying public benches. To mitigate that, the WHO recommended that outdoor seating be abundant, well-maintained, and regularly spaced.

Today, more than 500 communities worldwide are working, to various extents, on meeting the WHO’s guidelines. Surprisingly enough, the home of the infamous leaning bench—New York—has been among the most ambitious.

Ruth Finkelstein was the original director of the Age-Friendly NYC Commission, which launched in 2007. (She is now an assistant professor of health policy and management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.) To begin with, Finkelstein says, her group held town-hall-style meetings with thousands of older people in each borough, listening to their concerns about everything from sidewalk maintenance to gaps in the city’s healthcare system.

“Benches came up a lot,” Finkelstein says, “both people talking about the fact that it made it difficult to do their errands if they didn’t have a place to sit, and also people just saying they want to sit out in their neighborhood and watch the world go by.”

Some of the older citizens’ desires were beyond the means of the initiative, but it seemed simple enough to add more benches—especially with money from the federal government’s 2009 stimulus package available. So Finkelstein’s group worked with the city’s Department of Transportation (a separate entity from the MTA) to put benches at bus stops and at other locations with higher concentrations of older people. Then they came up with a simple form that let anyone request a bench. To date, DOT has installed 1,500 benches, with another 600 planned by 2019.

New Yorkers sit on a bench in Harlem
New Yorkers sit on a bench in Harlem, installed as part of the CityBench program (New York City Department of Transportation)

“They just started popping up all over the place,” Finkelstein says. “People love them. People use them. And there’s nothing about them that makes them only for old people. It’s an important way of creating a town square. Old people sit on them, young people sit on them, and sometimes old people and young people sit on them together and—God forbid—talk to each other.”

New York is not the only city that, in recent years, has both given benches and taken them away. Wichita, Kansas, recently floated a plan to remove seating from one downtown park in an effort to drive out homeless people. But as part of its own age-friendly initiative, the city also built a new “Grandparents Park” with plenty of seating to accommodate older people. Boston claimed that removing benches near one of its main train stations had reduced drug activity, but elsewhere, City Hall is proudly rolling out MIT-designed smart benches with phone-charging stations.

Local governments evidently remain conflicted. But the grumbling that ensues when benches are taken away—and the positive press when new ones are installed—suggest a stalemate in the War on Sitting, for now.

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betajames
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The language of a military coup

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At The New Yorker, Masha Green writes about John Kelly and the language of a military coup:
When Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as the chief of staff, a sigh of relief emerged: at least the general would impose some discipline on the Administration. Now we have a sense of what military discipline in the White House sounds like.
Consider, in light of Green’s commentary, today’s comment from Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Kelly’s claim that Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson took credit for securing funding for an FBI building: “I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general — that’s highly inappropriate.”

I think of a line from a great Specials song: “Don’t argue.”

[Sanders’s sentence was split in two by an interjection from a reporter. I’ve reproduced it as an uninterrupted sentence.]
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Body cams fail to curb police aggression

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Police officers in D.C. who were given body cameras were just as likely to use force and receive civilian complaints as those who did not wear cameras, according to a newly released study of more than 1,000 police officers over seven months by the Lab @ D.C .

Why it matters: Previous studies bolstered the idea that body cameras were extremely effective for cutting back the use of force and civilian complaints. This led to body cam companies like Axon and Watchguard selling hundreds of thousands of body cameras across the country — Watchguard even filed for an IPO yesterday. Now this latest study calls into question the real impact body cameras have in changing aggressive policing culture.


On the other hand: Even if body cams are ineffective at keeping law enforcement from using force, they still provide a layer of accountability and have provided useful evidence in police shooting cases.



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Body Cam Study Shows No Effect On Police Use Of Force Or Citizen Complaints

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Washington, D.C., Master Patrol Officer Benjamin Fettering shows a body camera worn in place of a normal radio microphone before a news conference in 2014.

That's the conclusion of a study performed as Washington, D.C., rolled out its huge program. The city has one of the largest forces in the country, with some 2,600 officers now wearing cameras.

(Image credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

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Five other times Twitter pledged to crack down on abuse

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The problem with Twitter's latest pledge to keep users safe on the platform isn't the words it used. It's the fact that it has done this so many times before

Do the math : This is at least the sixth time in the last four years that Twitter has pledged to crack down on abuse.


After Axios wrote about Twitter's latest crackdown on Thursday, writer Chuq Von Rospach said , "For the sixth time by my count…"

Von Rospach said he initially just made up a number. Then he counted them.

Here are five other times in recent years that the company has said it was cracking down:

Twitter's response : Asked why Twitter should be believed, a spokesman acknowledged "that's a fair question" and added the following:

Too many times we've said we'd do better and have promised more transparency but have fallen short delivering on them. However, we've never publicly opened up our internal roadmap around safety like this before. Now — for the first time — everyone can see exactly what updates we have planned and where we're headed, and most importantly, hold us accountable for delivering on those specific promises. We'll be giving real-time updates on these efforts to give people a better understanding not only of what these changes are but the process involved. Ultimately our hope is that this new level of openness will help build trust as we work to make Twitter safer place.


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