Headline of the Day

Posted on July 31st, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

“How Have Red Sox Fallen So Far, So Fast?”

—a Boston Globe piece by Christopher Gasper.

That is an excellent question, and one I hope we can ponder for many seasons to come.

That said, I do like how the Sox are willing to admit that this is not their year and make moves now—like trading Jon Lester—that they think will help them in 2015. That’s something the Yankees never do, apparently because ownership feels it has to compete every single year; as a result, they often trade away prospects for aging stars whom they hope have a few more good months left. (Hello, Alfonso Soriano.) Or they sign aging stars whom they hope have one season left—but often don’t—for two or three years. (Hello, Carlos Beltran.) It’s a frustrating process for a fan to watch—I’d rather see promising young talent on its way up than aging talent in decline….

The Feds Get Tough on Sexual Assault at Colleges

Posted on July 30th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Times reports that a bipartisan group of senators is pushing a bill designed to crack down on sexual assault at colleges and universities.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation designed to curb the striking number of sexual assaults on college campuses. The measure would require schools to make public the result of anonymous surveys concerning assault on campuses, and impose significant financial burdens on universities that fail to comply with some of the law’s requirements.

…The new measure would require every university in the United States to conduct anonymous surveys of students about their experience with sexual violence on campus, with the results published online. The survey, which had been pushed for by sexual assault victims, is similar to one conducted by the military, and would allow parents and high school students to make comparative choices.

There are a couple of things wrong with this.

First is reporter Jennifer Steinhauer’s use of the word striking, as in “the striking number of sexual assaults on college campuses,” when in fact we really have no idea how many assaults there are on college campuses—Steinhauer never bothers to venture a guess—nor, in my opinion, is it by any means clear at what level this would become “striking” if we did know it.

(More than society in general? About the same? Half as many?)

More important is the idea of taking anonymous surveys seriously and penalizing universities that don’t—or decline to comply with the proposed law in other ways. This is a heavy-handed intrusion of government into an area where one size fits all legislation is not the answer. I think university administrators will soon come to the point where they routinely tell students, “If you feel that you have been sexually assaulted, go to the police.” Because that may be the best way to comply with federal legislation and avoid litigation and/or federal penalty if the student feels that the university has mishandled the matter.

I continue to be fascinated by the emergence of campus sexual assault as an issue about which the level of consensus—it’s a huge and horrible problem that the federal government must deal with—is inversely proportional to the level of knowledge about the issue.

For example: Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from my state of New York and one of the architects of this legislation, declares that ““The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted.”

Reporter Jennifer Steinhauer takes this statistic for granted—or perhaps gives it credence (that would explain “striking”).

But any person with just a hint of skepticism would look at that number and say, Hmmm…really? One in five?

The Washington Post examined the origins of that statistic and finds that it’s based on a 2006 Department of Justice survey of 5, 446 women aged 18-25 who chose to respond to the anonymous online survey. (They were given a $10 Amazon gift certificate in exchange for filling out the survey, which was said to take 15 minutes.) The researchers admitted that response rates were low; the respondents were, obviously, a self-selected group, which would tend to skew the responses toward those who felt particularly strongly about the issue.

Some of the questions are strikingly vague—for example, “Have you suspected that someone has had sexual contact with you when you were unable to provide consent…?”

The researchers then extrapolated the results from that online poll to all women at colleges.

There are other issues with this survey—the WashPo piece does a pretty good job of getting into them—but the bottom line is that no responsible social scientist in the world would say that the results of a survey conducted in this manner are worth the paper they’re printed on.

And from what I can tell, the same is true for most of the other numbers being tossed around in the assault on sexual assault.

The Times does not note some other elements of the Campus Accountability & Safety Act, which would also:

1) require all schools to use one uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings (presumably this is why Harvard has just done so)
2) Mandate that colleges and universities designate “Confidential Advisors” to coordinate “support services and accommodations for survivors” (This would apply only to sexual assault victims, not students who are victims of other crimes)

Here’s the specific language for these confidential advisors:

The confidential advisor shall be trained to perform a victim-centered, trauma informed (forensic) interview, which shall focus on the experience of the victim. The confidential advisor may perform the interview for which the goal is to elicit information about the traumatic event in question so that the interview can be used in either a campus or criminal investigation or disciplinary proceeding.

These confidential advisors sound like a combination of prosecutor and cop. Will the accused also be granted confidential advisors whose job is to elicit information about the alleged event and serve as their advocate?

More:
3) Mandates specific training for “on-campus personnel”
4) Require colleges and universities to “enter into memoranda of understanding with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information (emphasis added) so that when a crime occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime”…
5) Gives the Justice Department the power to subpoena the attendance and testimony of any person who might have knowledge of an alleged incident, including current and former students

Now, a couple of things. Any sexual assault is wrong, of course. (The question is how best to handle the matter.) And, to be fair, sexual assault is a notoriously difficult thing to quantify.

Still, there are real issues here that aren’t being discussed—the downside of the federal government getting involved in allegations of rape on campus, and the unintended consequences of framing something as an enormous issue (20 percent of all college women are assaulted or raped!) when that may very well not be the case. The language in this bill corrodes the very idea that one is innocent until proven guilty; it seems instead to mandate universities to establish bureaucracies whose purpose is to corroborate allegations of sexual assault, as opposed to simply seeking the truth.

Truth is, there is no perfect way to handle the problem of sexual assault on campus; every method has its downsides. But this bill seems like a bad idea. It is, one remembers, an election year.

Is David Ortiz Becoming Hard to Like?

Posted on July 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

After hitting a game-winning home run against Tampa Bay, Ortiz stood at the plate, stared at pitcher Chris Archer, and flipped his bat. Pretty cocky stuff for a guy on a team that’s just lost five straight and is saddled in last place in baseball’s weakest division.

‘‘I don’t know what makes him think that he can showboat the way he does, and then nobody retaliates,’’ Archer said. ‘‘Nobody looks at him in a funny way or pitches him inside. I don’t know why he feels like that, but obviously he feels the way David (Price) said he does — he feels like he’s bigger than the game. He feels like the show is all about him.’’

Exactly!

Ortiz has been increasingly curmudgeonly this season, and at age 38, he’s hit 25 homers about 55% of the way through the season. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, Sox fans? Just sayin’….

Doesn’t It Suck That the World Cup is Over?

Posted on July 16th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

And my dream final, United States v. Brazil, never happened. And who would have thought that Brazil would collapse the way it did, and that the United States would actually come out of the tournament feeling better about its performance than did the host team?

This is a tough season for sports fans (i.e., me). With four of their five starting pitchers injured—and the amazing Masahiro Tanaka facing a possible career-ending injury—the Yankees are on their way to a grim finish. Derek Jeter is retiring. The Mets are winning a few.

Sigh. I’m starting to feel like a Cubs fan.

Here is a nice memory of the Cup…

David Ortiz’s Steroids Must Have Kicked In

Posted on July 9th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

When an MLB Network announcer suggested that Ortiz had been given a “free pass” on steroids—which of course he has—Ortiz went ballistic. It’s a wonder he didn’t throw a broken bat at the guy.

You Knew This Was Coming

Posted on July 9th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s appalling decision in the Hobby Lobby case—in which it ruled that a public corporation had religious beliefs which the government could not violate—other private corporations are now pressuring the government to allow them to discriminate against gays….

Harvard Caves Under Pressure

Posted on July 3rd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

As the Boston Globe and others are reporting, the university announced yesterday that it is creating a new, centralized office to handle sexual assault allegations, establishing conformity across its 13 schools in how such cases are handled. The office will have the ungainly name of Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution.

“Gender-Based Dispute Resolution”? Does that mean disputes about gender, or resolution using gender based methods?

I’m pretty sure I know the answer, but neither option really speaks to what the office is actually for, and this imprecision of language is not encouraging. Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution—try to use that in a sentence.

The announcement appears to have been timed to generate minimum coverage, with Harvard releasing the news on July 2nd.

As the Globe puts it,

Trained, expert investigators, hired based on their experience and expertise in investigating civil rights complaints, will run a new Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution at Harvard.

The office will handle sexual and gender-based misconduct complaints against students “ranging from persistent or pervasive harassment in a lab environment, for instance, to a rape,” [Mia] Karvonides [Harvard's Title IX lawyer] said.

(By the way, Karvonides gives the new office the rather unfortunate acronym ODR, as in, “I’m taking the matter to ODR.” Oh well.)

The university will also change its judging criteria in sexual harassment and assault cases to the lesser “preponderance of evidence” standard that the Justice Department favors.

My friends on the left are cheering this development, but my attitude is a little more cautious. First, make no mistake: This is the long arm of the government reaching into the handling of sexual assault on college campuses, due in large part to an onslaught of hype and publicity about a phenomenon whose widespread existence has never been definitely established. (The story at Harvard that got so much attention, for example, was written by an anonymous female student and marked by very murky details. But, you know, it’s Harvard, so it gets a lot of attention.)

Second, some who greet this development with optimism may find that it brings unanticipated consequences. Anoffice established to appease the Justice Department is going to make the process of investigating these matters a more formal and, probably, bureaucratic one. That may in some cases produce results that accusers/victims will feel better about than the current system does—but it’s not a panacea.

Second, the lower standard of evidence is a very tricky issue. It is certainly lower than a criminal court would require, and it should give civil liberties advocates pause.

Consider, for example, this quote in a Bloomberg article from Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law (her practice specializes in representing victims of sexual assault, something Bloomberg should say but doesn’t):

The policy “means whenever a victim’s word is slightly more credible than an offender’s denial, Harvard must take some action,” Murphy said in an e-mail. “It means sweeping rape under the rug will be a lot harder now at Harvard — and that’s a good thing.

Slightly more credible?

This is a very wishy-washy standard, and it doesn’t exactly have the ringing sound of an enduring legal principle like, say, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Granted that many of these cases are gray areas (though not everyone thinks so), but “slightly more credible” adds another level of murkiness and subjectivity to their adjudication.

I have been fascinated by the amount of attention this issue has attracted in recent months, and as you can tell, somewhat skeptical. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m as opposed to sexual assault as Wendy Murphy, and a single instance of it on a college campus is too much. I just haven’t seen any evidence that demonstrates that it is as big a problem as has been claimed of late; in a long article, Rolling Stone proclaimed an “epidemic” of “campus rape,” but good luck trying to find a statistic anywhere in the article. There’s a lot of public policy being made on anecdotal evidence.

And so now the government is getting involved, offices are being established, “experts” are being hired, lawyers are being quoted…

One can’t blame Harvard for taking this step; the university was, I have no doubt, extremely concerned about federal intervention. And there is probably no perfect solution to the problem of how to resolve allegations of sexual assault. But I’m not convinced that this is an improvement.

We May Have Lost to Belgium…

Posted on July 2nd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

…and yet, it feels a little like we won, doesn’t it?

What an amazing game that was yesterday—and what an incredible performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard. (Who has Tourette’s Syndrome—did you know that? I didn’t know that till yesterday.)

It is a shame that we’re eliminated because it was so much fun to see Americans really getting into the World Cup. (Let’s hope they remember that the Cup isn’t over just because the U.S. is out.)

But so much good for U.S. soccer came out of this Cup, you still have to consider it a very positive experience…. Who could watch yesterday’s game and still argue that soccer isn’t exciting?

I think too that, with the growing concern about concussions in football, a generation of parents is going to start steering their kids toward playing soccer rather than football. That obviously bodes well for the growth of the sport.

Now: Go Brasil!

Remembering Walter Corson

Posted on July 1st, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A good friend of mine, Maria Padro Torry, texted me yesterday to ask a favor. She reminded me that when she lost her father, the opportunity to speak about him at a memorial brought her as close to feeling his presence as she had felt since he passed. Now she wanted to recreate that experience for a friend of hers who had lost his father, a man named Walter Corson. Maria asked if her friends could commit an act of kinds or remembrance that she could then collate and forward to Walter’s son as a way of reminding him about his father.

I didn’t know Walter, but any friend of Maria must be a good soul—she is an extremely generous one—and so I am happy to post at her request a few remembrances of Walter Harris Corson. He lived quite a life! Born in 1932, he graduated from Princeton and earned a sociology degree from Harvard. He served in the Army. He researched and taught at institutions including Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan. He edited The Global Ecology Handbook, which would really come in handy these days.

This is the biography that gets transcribed in obituaries. The part that doesn’t get written down anywhere official is that he had a family who carry on his memory and who continue to touch the lives of people around them in ways that make those people want to give back.

It’s hard to find that kind of thing on Google. But it’s not such a bad legacy to leave behind. Not bad at all, in fact.

Beat the Belgians

Posted on July 1st, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

They have good beer. And french fries. And football.

But we must crush Belgium like the tiny, bland and eminently forgettable country it is…