Archive for April, 2011

More Good News for Sharks

Posted on April 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »


I want to give credit where credit is due: The good people at GluttNY, whom I’d criticized for promoting a “eat it before it eats you” meal featuring shark, have changed their menu in response to my correspondence with them.

They’re now featuring stingray. (They don’t “eat you,” of course, but so far as I know, they’re not endangered.)

I think you can’t ask anything more of folks who’ve made a mistake than that they quickly address it, and GluttNY has done that. So if you happen to be in Brooklyn this Sunday, check out their event. I can’t make it—out of town this weekend—but I’d go if I weren’t.

Here’s the not-so-good news: At least 55 restaurants in Manhattan have shark fin soup on the menu. Don’t go to them. Or better yet, go to them, sit down, tell them that you’re opposed to shark fin soup, and leave.

Here’s the list of 55, by the way.

The blog Gothamist has been great on this issue and provides this link to the Humane Society’s webpage, which offers ways to fight shark finning.


“Today I Am Very Proud of Myself”

Posted on April 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

So says Donald Trump, taking credit for President Obama’s release of his birth certificate.

Watching Trump blame the press for asking him about the “issue,” and the President for not putting it to rest sooner, then say with crocodile relief that now we can move on to more important things…well, my head just exploded, frankly.

Can someone please make him stop?

Though he irritates me like nothing else on the planet, the truth is that Trump is probably good for the president. Although he has no intention of running, (the line will be, “I’ve changed the debate, now I leave it to others to carry the ball forward”) he’s creating chaos in the Republican field.

But maybe it’s time for the press to start doing some actual reporting on Trump, instead of just sticking microphones in front of him. Like this Washington Post story showing that Trump has given 1.36 million in campaign donations, the majority of it to Democrats. (And $45,000 of that, by the way, to a Democrat who is now in jail.)

Will Someone Please Make Her Stop

Posted on April 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Sarah Palin criticizes the President for not solving all the “woes” of the world.

Marc Hauser on the Hot Seat

Posted on April 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Is Harry Lewis’ quest to raise the issue of morality at Harvard having an impact?

The Crimson yesterday called for the university to fire research-faking professor Marc Hauser.

The University should use the Hauser case to declare an end to the treatment of tenure as tantamount to faculty immunity. After all, peer institutions like Yale and Columbia have fired tenured faculty members for academic misconduct, and, as the Education School’s Cathy A. Trower told The Crimson during the eruption of the Hauser scandal this past fall, a 1994 study found that between 50 and 75 tenured professors are dismissed annually nationwide.

Why is Harvard so reluctant to do the same?

Why indeed?

The Crimson notes that the psychology department is prohibiting Hauser from teaching but allowing him to return to the lab.

I’m not sure I see the logic here. Isn’t that like giving a bank robber a job as a teller?

I’d suggest that the more powerful action would be to ban him from conducting research, but to allow him to teach—to throw him upon the mercy of the marketplace, as it were.

On the other hand, Harvard students have been known to prefer celebrity to morality….

The Morality of Sex at College

Posted on April 27th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

In the Wall Street Journal (ever notice how the Journal’s op-ed page is so much more interesting than the Times’?), Peter McGurn argues that many of the sexual scandals occurring on college campuses are due to the replacement of moral authority with legal trepidation.

Today deans have given way to lawyers. The consequence has been endless gestures to raise “awareness,” constant upgrading of procedures, and the proliferation of committees—all designed primarily to limit the institution’s civil liability.

There’s something to this, but it’s not the fault of the colleges. As McGurn himself points out,

….the students have picked up on the signals and the potential liability. Gone are the days when a loutish student might be called into the dean’s office, threatened with suspension, and find himself saying “I’m sorry.” Now when students go in for meetings, they have the family attorney in tow.

The flip side of this, however, is that college disciplinary methods haven’t always been fair, as the Brown student kicked out after being allegedly falsely accused of rape can testify. (And apparently will.)

McGurn’s solution:

For example: How much formal ethics training do you need to know that you don’t secretly film someone in a private moment? Do you need a new committee to determine if women are being denied equal education at a school that has a female-majority student body? Instead of taking direction from lawyers, shouldn’t our college authorities decide the right thing to do—and then instruct the lawyers to make that work?

As with Caitlin Flanagan’s article yesterday, the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion. For one thing, the argument rests upon a stereotype of lawyers as people who get in the way of authentic problem-solving. Of course that’s the case sometimes, but plenty of lawyers, especially the good ones, offer useful and sage counsel. Moreover, one can’t simply “instruct the lawyers” to make a policy viable. One generally has to ask them if it’s legal—or, perhaps, vulnerable to a legal challenge.

Not being the op-ed writer, I don’t have to come up with a conclusion, except to say that colleges are a reflection of our culture but with a lot more young people. In that sense, they are both optimistic and immature places, as Yale is now being reminded.

Considering The Kennedys

Posted on April 26th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

My story on the Kennedys miniseries—and the Kennedy family’s treatment of people who write about them, including myself—is out in this month’s Boston magazine.

It goes like this:

Love the Kennedys, and Nobody Gets Hurt
From legal threats to smear campaigns, America’s most famous family will do whatever is necessary to shut down any media portrayal it objects to. Just look at what happened to the controversial miniseries dumped by the History Channel. Or to the book I wrote a decade ago.

See what you think….


Should Fraternities Be Abolished? Or is Caitlin Flanagan Sexist?

Posted on April 26th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Caitlin Flanagan argues that fraternities by their inherent nature can create a threatening atmosphere on campus.

(Thanks to the SITD reader who tipped me off to this.)

The Greek system is dedicated to quelling young men’s anxiety about submitting themselves to four years of sissy-pants book learning by providing them with a variety of he-man activities: drinking, drugging, ESPN watching and the sexual mistreatment of women. A 2007 National Institute of Justice study found that about one in five women are victims of sexual assault in college; almost all of those incidents go unreported. It also noted that fraternity men—who tend to drink more heavily and frequently than nonmembers—are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than nonfraternity men, according to previous studies. Over a quarter of sexual-assault victims who were incapacitated reported that the assailant was a fraternity member.

Flanagan’s argument is initially compelling, both because she provides a horrific anecdote to begin and because many of us (myself included, frankly) are inclined to believe the worst about fraternities.

But let’s consider the first sentence of the paragraph above, particularly the line about “young men’s anxiety about submitting themselves to four years of sissy-pants book learning…”

This kind of thing raises red flags for me, not least because if a man wrote with such a broad and stereotypical brush about women’s organizations, that writing would rightly be decried as sexist and boorish. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

On top of that problem, is this really what fraternities are about? A “variety of he-man activities: drinking, drugging, ESPN watching and the sexual mistreatment of women…”?

ESPN-watching is he-man? My self-image just changed.

Truth is, I don’t know if this is an accurate description of frat life; I was never a member of a fraternity and am not sure I’ve ever even been inside one. Neither, I suspect, has Ms. Flanagan. But of course men are easier to stereotype than women are, because men are perpetrators and women victims. In this construction, anyway.

(By the way, the woman who falsely accused several Duke fraternity members of rape is now being charged with murder after the boyfriend whom she repeatedly stabbed died.)

I’m being provocative here, I know, and deliberately staking out a position somewhat more aggressive than I generally feel. But I’m doing that in part to suggest that, if you used language as broad and discriminatory about women as Flanagan just does about men, it would appear deeply wrong. So why is the reverse okay?

Flanagan tells this incident from her own past, in which she, having transferred to the University of Virginia, visits fraternity row:

My fourth night at school, I went with some friends to Rugby Road, where the fraternity houses are located. They are built of the same Jeffersonian architecture as the rest of the campus. At once august and moldering, they seemed sinister, to stand for male power at its most malevolent and institutionally condoned. I remember standing there thinking I’d made a terrible mistake. It wasn’t worth it, I decided. The next day I withdrew from the university.

Part of me understands her reaction; I can well believe that fraternities at UVA represent a tradition of male hierarchy at that university. (What did she expect from UVA—Wesleyan?)

On the other hand—she withdrew the next day? This is a gentle flower.

(Flanagan perhaps should not look too closely at the names on the Wall Street Journal masthead, lest she run screaming from its pages.)

Flanagan concludes with this bit of nonsense:

If you want to improve women’s lives on campus, if you want to give them a fair shot at living and learning as freely as men, the first thing you could do is close down the fraternities. The Yale complaint may finally do what no amount of female outrage and violation has accomplished. It just might shut them down for good.

Why is this silly? Because, as any campus administrator will tell you in response to a simple question, universities don’t control the fraternities. They are private organizations acting on private property—just as sororities are.

It’s also silly because we still don’t know what the Yale complaint says. Flanagan, like all other commentators on the subject whom I’ve read, is drawing on three widely reported incidents of asinine male behavior. Deeply wrong, yes. But a hostile culture? This is demonstrably undemonstrated.

I may not give the impression, but I am sympathetic to much of what Flanagan is saying. Get a lot of young men together in a room, add (too much) alcohol, and sometimes bad things are going to happen. There’s no excuse for that. Everyone should feel safe everywhere all the time.

But given certain legal and constitutional realities, abolition of fraternities—preceded by a theoretical rationale based entirely on discriminatory generalization—isn’t an option.

Perhaps instead there’s an opportunity here for universities to promote their raison d’etre: education. Universities can’t ban frats, but they could probably make life a lot harder for them—unless, say, the frats agree to participate in various programs, conducted in the fraternities, to teach them about why getting drunk and abusing women is a terrible idea.

Then having all those impressionable young men together in one place might actually be a help rather than a threat….

Remembering Manny

Posted on April 26th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Sara Rimer has a lovely piece in the Times about the teenaged (and subsequent) Manny Ramirez.

Manny hated being the center of attention. He just wanted to be one of the guys. That was one of the things people loved about him. He’d hit, say, two home runs and a triple for the Trojans. Then he’d go back to his block, and the men on the corner would ask how he had done.

Manny would just shrug and say, “I went 0 for 3.

Hard to imagine that Manny, isn’t it?

Rimer knows that she can’t really explain what happened to Ramirez then or later, why he became the way he is, and doesn’t really try to put it all together; she leaves spaces for her readers to try to fill.

And there’s a sadness about the article that I can appreciate. Much as I enjoy teasing Red Sox fans, I always admired Ramirez for his hitting; he was just a joy to watch at the plate, the best hitter of his time, I think. His career is now indelibly marred, and even those of us who were on the receiving end of Manny’s talents—what did he hit, like, .750 against the Yankees?—can feel some regret about such an end.

Good News about Sharks

Posted on April 25th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Times reports that attitudes towards the consumption of shark fin soup may be changing in Hong Kong.

A survey of about 1,000 Hong Kong residents, published here earlier this month and believed to be the most in-depth study of its kind to date, showed 78 percent of respondents considered it “acceptable” to leave shark fin soup off the menu at events like weddings.

That is a pretty surprising majority

In the end, the only way sharks will survive on the planet is if the Chinese stop slaughtering them. So maybe there’s hope yet.

And on the scientific front, here’s a cool story about a hammerhead tracked as it swam from the Florida Keys to…New Jersey?

The Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that this is far more northerly than the species’ northernmost previous sighting, off North Carolina…

Who Cares about That Wedding in England?

Posted on April 25th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

The Times reports that US TV networks are hiring everyone with a British accent they can find.

But I wish the paper had addressed another question: Does anyone care? I don’t. I’m willing to bet that you don’t. As the Washington Post reports, a lot of English people don’t.

Thirty years ago when Diana got married, royal weddings and all they entailed — the 25-foot train, the horse-drawn carriages — were reserved for royals. But now that every bride on expects no less, is there still a need to watch the real thing? Just look how excited we all got about Diana, and look how that marriage turned out. Fool me once, royals . . .

Also, Harry William and Kate give every impression of being two of the most boring people ever to walk the earth. So, you know…there’s that.

We fought a revolution a couple centuries ago to throw off a monarchy. Why are we having it stuffed down our throats now?