Archive for September, 2009

With Polanski, It’s the Libertines vs. the Ellen Jamesians

Posted on September 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 32 Comments »

The debate in the Roman Polanski affair is getting all hot and bothered.

Here’s Kate Harding in Salon reminding us that, as she says about 15 times in her article, Roman Polanski raped a child.

….let’s take a moment to recall that according to the victim’s grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, “No,” then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.

Here’s a paradox I’ve kind of wondered about: The anti-Polanski forces emphasize the victim’s stature as a child and the fact that she was “drugged,” but at the same time accord complete credibility to the girl’s testimony. We’ve all seen how the testimony of children is often unreliable (imagine the circumstances)—and I’m not impeaching the girl’s character one bit to say that perhaps one shouldn’t take her testimony at face value. (Lots of people, for example, are taking aim at McKenzie Phillip’s recall of something that happened when she was similarly under the influence and considerably older.) I’m not saying she made the whole thing up, far from it—just wondering if there was ever any controversy or debate about the details, because some of those details are so viscerally unpleasant.

(And to those of you who will say, “But Polanski pled guilty!”, one can imagine why he wouldn’t want to get in a fight over details.)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, here’s the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum (full disclosure: Anne and I were college classmates and once wrote a story together):

Here are some of the facts: Polanski’s crime — statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children. There is evidence of judicial misconduct in the original trial. There is evidence that Polanski did not know her real age. Polanski, who panicked and fled the U.S. during that trial, has been pursued by this case for 30 years, during which time he has never returned to America, has never returned to the United Kingdom., has avoided many other countries, and has never been convicted of anything else. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.

I don’t find this all that convincing; to me the only essential argument is that bit about judicial misconduct.

Already this is degenerating into a fiasco that seems even less likely to effect justice than the original trial. The girl (now woman) doesn’t want it, the mother doesn’t want it, Polanski obviously doesn’t want it. What possible good can come of it?

Red Sox Lose…Again!

Posted on September 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

But because the Angels beat the Rangers, they are in the playoffs.

“It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you’re in,’’ said Dustin Pedroia…..

Anyone think he actually believes that?

By the way, has anyone else noticed that the Globe’s new Sox beat reporter, Amalie Benjamin, is just dreadful?

(Sorry, Amalie, but it’s true.)

They had a chance in the ninth, too. With Ellsbury on first, Pedroia drove a ball toward the bullpen in right-center that looked ticketed for some empty real estate, but it was caught

“Ticketed for some empty real estate”?


And yet Benjamin’s coverage of the Sox is full of this kind of hackneyed over-writing….

Quote of the Day

Posted on September 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

This one goes out to Standing Eagle:

A key Senate panel twice beat back efforts Tuesday to create a government-run insurance plan, dealing a crippling blow to the hopes of liberals seeking to expand the federal role in health coverage as a cornerstone of reform.

today’s Washington Post.

The Times/Harvard Lovefest…Continues! (#4)

Posted on September 29th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

On his NYT blog yesterday, Randy “The Ethicist” Cohen (full confession, his column drives me right ’round the bend) discusses whether it’s ethical or not to donate to Harvard.

We can frame the question [Blogger: zzzzzzzz] as a conflict between two goods: donate to Harvard or donate elsewhere? Under the current circumstances, the more honorable course is to write that check to a community college or a historically black college or a small Catholic college or other modest institution that genuinely and profoundly transforms the lives of its graduates.

All these people and their Harvard obsessions….

I mean, really.

Kevin Carey Responds

Posted on September 29th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

I e-mailed Kevin Carey, author of the Chronicle of Higher Education article that has sparked comment below, to ask if he’d like to respond to some of the criticisms of his article.

This is what he wrote (and many thanks to Mr. Carey for taking the time to respond):

It’s odd that, in the course of explaining why my argument is incoherent, Michael Mitzenmacher spends so much space offering evidence that supports it. I simply pointed out that Harvard has spent a lot more money on faculty without increasing the number of students faculty teach. I didn’t go into the details of how that happened, because you only get so many words in a column, But Mitzenmacher helpfully explains where the money went: more sabbaticals and the highest salaries in the nation. That’s good to know; it also reinforces my point. Why is increasing sabbatical time more important than giving more students a great education? To make Harvard “competitive with [its] peer institutions?” Really? Was that a big problem before? Were professorships sitting empty because Harvard couldn’t find anyone good to apply? I would have thought that being part of the most esteemed and well-paid faculty in the nation would have been enough.

It’s true, there was inflation. From 1990 to 2009, inflation as measured by the Consumer Priced Index grew 66 percent. The endowment (after the $10 billion loss) grew by about 575 percent.

Mitzenmacher questions whether “it is in the best interest of Harvard’s mission to increase its undergraduate enrollment.” But the institution’s mission isn’t written in stone somewhere. Indeed, the whole point of the column was to say that Harvard’s mission should be more undergraduate-focused than it is.

On financial aid: Harvard’s generous aid policies are better than the previous, less-generous policies. But making the university affordable for the low-income students you admit doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t admit very many low-income students. And you don’t: barely one student in ten qualifies for a federal Pell grant. It’s well-known that the university’s admissions policies are biased in favor of the children of wealthy alumni. A university as absurdly wealthy as Harvard isn’t forced to choose between admitting more lower-income students and giving them more financial aid; it could do both, if it wanted to. It just hasn’t wanted to. I think that’s a shame.

Red Sox Lose

Posted on September 29th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »


I know it’s good to rest your players and all, but do the Sox really want to head into the playoffs having gone 1-10?

Or…pleaseGodpleasepleaseplease…what if they lost every one of their remaining games and the Rangers won all of theirs?

Oh, I am a bad person…..

The Polanski Witch Hunt?

Posted on September 29th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

My friend Nina Burleigh argues on the Huffington Post that arresting Roman Polanski is the right thing to do.

To these artists and other supporters of the arrested director, the incarceration of the director is the end of a witch-hunt, the persecution of a genius by low-level, un-imaginative legal drones, who wear un-cool suits and wouldn’t know a semiotic deconstruction if it smacked them in the face. If Polanski did anything wrong, and some, I think, would even say he did not, he should be forgiven for a single folly, committed way back in the ‘lude’ and hot-tub heyday of 1970s Hollywood debauchery. The rape of a 13-year old was hardly the worst offense committed at Jack Nicholson’s pad.

(Blogger: Huh? I love Nina, but kinda wonder if any libel lawyers checked out that particular assertion, and I think if you throw out a charge that’s so loaded, you should back it up.)


the arrest of Roman Polanski is a good idea, and should stand. It doesn’t matter whether he is a genius. The world will have to live without his lifetime tribute ceremony, at least for a few months more. It doesn’t matter whether his victim – 30-odd years on and handsomely paid off – forgives and wants to forget.

What matters is that the rape of a 13-year old girl, in a nation of laws, in a nation where women are striving for equality with men, in world where we are hundreds of years away from that right and good goal, be discouraged, by example if necessary.

We all agree that rape is wrong; I just don’t think that the rape is the issue here. The point is that Polanski’s trial was a miscarriage of justice, and we have this little thing called double jeopardy….

Warning Signs

Posted on September 29th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

This morning on CNN I saw the governor of Florida, Republican Charlie Crist, pushing that Obama-is-Carter comparison—clearly now a Republican talking point—and suggesting that there’d be a Reagan-like GOP landslide in 2012.

Crist was talking about how he’d started a health insurance plan in Florida that had “no goverment mandates” and wouldn’t mean higher taxes. The CNN interviewer pointed out that there are almost 4 million people without health insurance in Florida and only 3700 people have signed up for Crist’s plan.

“Actually, it’s over 4,000 now,” Crist said.

A few minutes later, I saw an ad attacking the “Obama/Democrats'” health care plan, saying things like you wouldn’t be able to keep your doctor and you might be jailed if you don’t buy health insurance. It’s all because of Obama’s “public option,” the ad, paid for by a group called “Conservatives for Patients’ Rights,” charged—neglecting to mention that the public option is off the table (and even if it weren’t, neither of those things were true).

And the Washington Post reports that the Secret Service is investigating the origin of a Facebook poll asking the question, “Should Obama Be Killed?”

The choices were: No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.

To which one can only say, WTF? Who are these people?

It’s clear that the Republican Party is more interested in being obstructionist than in helping to solve the country’s problems.

[I also saw Missouri Republican senator Kit Bond on CNN attacking Obama for going to Europe to woo the Olympics instead of “taking the time to meet with his generals about Afghanistan,” which is just absurd.

(And speaking of the Olympics, they should of course be in Rio, I mean, Rio vs. Chicago? Don’t be silly.)]

What is of greater concern is whether the Republican Party is trying to incite the assassination of the president.

Swiss Dis

Posted on September 28th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 20 Comments »

The Times reports that the arrest of Roman Polanski isn’t going over very well on the big island.

The reaction in Europe on Monday appeared to be one of astonishment. Nearly 100 entertainment industry professionals, including the movie directors Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai and Wim Wenders called in a petition for Mr. Polanski’s release, saying: “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.”

Jack Lang, a former French culture minister, said that for Europeans the development showed that the American system of justice had run amok….

I am inclined to agree. Who wants to prosecute this? The girl involved doesn’t. Her mother doesn’t. What is the point?

Harvard Gets Hammered

Posted on September 28th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kevin Carey, the director of an educational thinktank called Education Sector, goes postal on Harvard.

His main gripe? That with all its wealth, Harvard has not expanded the number of students to whom it offers an undergraduate degree.

Harvard spent [its] money on many things. But not a dollar went to increasing the number of undergraduates it chose to bless with a Harvard education. …That is remarkable stinginess. Harvard undergraduate degrees are immensely valuable, conferring a lifetime of social capital and prestige. The university receives many more highly qualified applicants than it chooses to admit. Because the existing class includes underqualified children of legacies, rich people, politicians, celebrities, and others who benefit from the questionable Ivy League admissions process, Harvard could presumably increase the size of its entering class by, say, 50 percent while improving the overall academic quality of the students it admits.

Carey dismisses the university’s recent expansion financial aid as merely “a fantastic public-relations coup,” on the grounds that…

…the true currency of elite higher education is admissions, not financial aid. And even more than graduate or professional programs, of which Harvard has many, undergraduate education is where colleges decide whether to narrow class divisions or make them wider.

What’s really happening here, Carey argues, is that undergraduates have become unimportant to the wealth- and prestige-obsessed institution except as window dressing.

Undergraduates are increasingly being used as decoration, passing strangers handy for photographs in brochures. That’s why admissions officers work so hard to get them in all manner of shapes, sizes, and colors. And that’s why nobody wants to admit more of them—you only need so many to fill out a brochure, and the more applicants you reject the more awesomely selective and unattainable—and thus attractive—you seem.

This is all a pretty broad brush. I’ll leave you to consider whether Carey’s strokes paint an accurate picture.