Archive for July, 2011

Yale’s Sex Problem

Posted on July 30th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

The Yale Alumni Magazine, to its credit, has as this month’s cover story a long look at the TItle IX lawsuit against the university alleging that there is a hostile environment for women at Yale.

I’m delighted that the magazine did this, as I’ve been interested in reading something substantive about the lawsuit ever since it was originally filed; the subsequent reporting about it, mostly on television, was pretty awful. Lots of “she saids,” not so many “he saids,” and, understandably, nothing from official Yale because it had become the object of a government investigation.

What has frustrated me about this episode has been the lack of solid information. Has Yale really changed since I went there and become a more sexually threatening place for women? (This was not, I believe, a widespread opinion at the time I graduated.) I hope not. But since no one has really dug into the accusations, it’s impossible to tell.

Unfortunately, the YAM piece only adds to my confusion—and, I suppose, my skepticism.

It is built around two accounts by women who accuse men of sexual harassment. Forgive me, author Nicole Allan ‘09 (whom I know very slightly, we both wrote for the same college magazine), for quoting you at length.

The first comes from a woman called “Allison” (not her real name, she won’t let it be used) who tells this story:

Two years ago, when Alison was a sophomore, she danced and made out with an acquaintance at a fraternity party. Though she told him that she didn’t want to go home with him, she let him walk her back to her dorm. “I’m not sure why I let him upstairs,” she remembers, “but I think I didn’t want to be rude.” They talked for a bit, but when she tried to open the door for him to go, he grabbed her and started kissing her. Alison remembers pushing him off and saying “No,” but he grabbed her again. She ducked under his arm and ran to the bathroom, where she waited for him to leave. “Nothing besides making out happened,” Alison says. “I just remember being terrified by the violence that he was willing to use.”

The next day, going over alcohol-muddled memories of what had happened, she worried that she hadn’t resisted enough.

Allison never called any of Yale’s various help lines, never told any authority figure about the incident, and Allan writes (emphasis added),

Since Alison—like most victims on college campuses—didn’t report her assault, Yale never found out about it.

Allan provides one other example of alleged sexual harassment:

When Catherine [Blogger: Again, the woman did not want her name used] began her freshman year at Yale, she wasn’t surprised by the school’s rampant hook-up culture. She knew how to navigate it and when and how to say no. So when she learned that an athlete she knew was telling his teammates awful stories about her—that he’d seen her having sex on the floor of his common room, and that her “vagina was a petri dish that was growing STDs from all the people I’d hooked up with,” Catherine says—she approached his residential college dean to lodge a complaint. The dean told her to work it out with the student. (“Catherine” is a pseudonym.)

Catherine was shocked, but she approached the student, who she says told her, “What’s the harm with a little exaggeration?” Catherine managed to mentally brush off her interaction with her harasser, she says, because “when people say things that are that ridiculous, it’s OK.” But the dean’s reaction was different. “It made me feel like I didn’t belong here, and I wanted to leave.

If Allan had provided these stories as examples of how difficult it can be to define sexual harassment and assault, then I would have found them useful. But she doesn’t; she clearly considers them sexual harrassment and assault. (This may have something to do with the fact that Allan, now an associate editor at the Atlantic, has elsewhere expressed her opinion that Yale has “less-than enlightened gender relations“—she’s not exactly a neutral observer.) Are they?

It’s very hard to tell. One thing that might have helped is if Allan had talked to the men involved. There are two sides to every story; we don’t get to hear theirs. (They do have a voice, right?) Did the man in the first incident really try to force sex on the woman with whom he’d been drunkenly making out—or did he just make a clumsy pass at a woman who invited him back to her room? One could understand why he might have thought this was going somewhere. Did he cross a line, or just walk through an open door?

Certainly Allan could have talked to the dean involved in the second incident; it’s difficult to believe that, in this day and age, a college dean would treat a “hostile environment” allegation with the casualness Allan suggests. We have only the word of an anonymous source that this man was saying terrible things about her. Why should we believe it? And even if he was saying those things—which are, indeed, vile—does that constitute sexual harassment? College men, especially athletes, say things like this about other men all the time; is it harassment to say them about a woman but not when you say them about a man (and does that imply that women are weaker than men, and need extra protection from verbal violence?). Or do such remarks constitute sexual harassment in both cases—or neither?

And so it goes: Most of the other incidents recently alleged to have happened at Yale are described similarly. A woman who won’t give her name recounts an episode that seems far from clear-cut, and it is presented as ipso facto proof that there is something wrong in New Haven. (And yes, I do find the anonymity frustrating; these women in Allan’s article weren’t raped, so the typical reason for anonymity in this context isn’t an issue. If these allegations are important to you, back them up with your name.) Even the infamous and appalling “no means yes, yes means anal” chant doesn’t prove a lot, except that fraternity members are prone to acting like idiots, especially when you pour alcohol into the mix.

I wish I had the time to do a real piece of reporting on this story, but I don’t. I hope that someone does at some point.

Of course, there’s another possibility: That there are no “facts” which will shed light on the situation, that most or all of these allegations have an inherent she said/he said quality to them, and that what’s really going on is an evolving (and broadening) definition of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

In a companion piece, Yale professor Gaddis Smith looks at the tension between free expression and community at Yale.

Funnily enough, Smith recounts an incident in which I was marginally involved.

In April 1986, an unsigned table tent parodying Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days (GLAD) appeared on dining hall tables around the campus. It announced “Bestiality Awareness Days” with a lecture by “Professor Baaswell”—an obvious reference to Yale professor John Boswell, historian of early Christian toleration of homosexuality. The flyer was crude and offensive to gay and lesbian people and other members of the Yale community. A formal complaint was submitted to the Yale College Executive Committee by the head of the Afro-American Cultural Center and one of the organizers of GLAD. An investigation of local copy shops revealed that the author and distributor was Wayne Dick ’88, a sophomore. Dick was called before the committee and charged with violating an undergraduate regulation barring “harassment, intimidation, coercion, or assault . . . against any member of the community, including sexual, racial, or ethnic harassment.”

Dick said if he had offended “any member of the university community,” he apologized. But was he not exercising freedom of expression?

One of the people mocked (or satirized, depending on your point of view) in the flyer was a fellow senior named Patrick Santana, probably the most high profile gay activist on campus—Dick dubbed him, if memory serves, Pat “Satana.

Patrick was (is) a truly impressive guy—his organizing, his advocacy, and his example effected amazing, watershed cahnge for gay people at Yale. He was also one of my closest friends on campus, and he certainly advanced my very limited awareness of gay rights issues. He was deeply offended by this flier, which (I think) was also deposited in the mailboxes of all the freshmen on Old Campus; not only did it upset him personally, but he also worried that it might have a chilling effect upon other gay people. Patrick was one of the people who brought the complaint against Wayne Dick.

He and I talked about the issue, and I remember saying to him that, much as I understood his feelings, I couldn’t support his complaint; Patrick was a public figure in terms of the Yale campus, and I thought this parody, as boorish as it was, constituted protected speech. (One of the reasons I knew Patrick was because we both worked on the same magazine that Nicole Allan did; I was the executive editor, Patrick was the designer.)

Twenty-five years later, Yale is still dealing with these issues (as it will be 25 years from now, and 25 years from then). It doesn’t sound like the debate has changed much—and maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe these are issues—free speech, sexual boundaries—that every generation has to figure out on its own.

Muzzled? Seriously?

Posted on July 30th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

One of the more irritating political controversies of recent vintage came a few months back, when National Public Radio fired commentator Juan WIlliams for saying one thing on NPR and contradictory things on Fox. (The stated reason was different, and rather lame.)

The impression Williams gave—accurately, I think—was that he was more interested in cashing checks from two ideologically different news outlets than in being consistent or accurate.

But his ouster sparked waves of righteous indignation from the right wing, who generally embrace a black man only when they can score points off liberals in doing so, and Williams became a media martyr. As James Rainey writes in the LA TImes, “it seems he became irresistible as a Fox contributor — worthy of a reported $2 million over three years — only when the network could present him as a living, breathing symbol of the radical perfidy of the left-wing media.”

Now he has written a “book” about the experience called “Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate.”

The title both bores and bothers: Now Williams is a self-proclaimed martyr, employing the loaded one-word book title of which Ann Coulter is so fond. Then there follows a subtitle so patently false—the implication, of course, being that there is some systemic liberal “assault” on “honest debate,” whatever that means—that one wants to run screaming into the desert.

Mr. Williams is a newspaper columnist—not a very good one—who has made millions of dollars by speaking on various television and radio channels (not very insightfully). He has, unfortunately, always been welcomed in both the liberal and the conservative media as a token African-American voice, because there aren’t a lot of those (African-American voices) in either the liberal or conservative press. But the truth is, he’s never been very good. (One strives to remember the memorable Juan Williams column.) He hasn’t been muzzled—he’s been boosted. Before his firing, it was excruciating to watch him on Fox, as he tried to bend and twist his orthodox liberalism to please his conservative cohorts. Now it is excruciating to watch him because one sees how his bitterness over being fired has caused him to leap into the arms of people who only want to use him for propaganda purposes. Careful never to rock the boat, his opinions sanitized to the point where it is hard to actually call them opinions, Williams is more muzzled being employed by Fox than he was being fired by NPR.

Williams talks in the book about what happened to him, of course, but as “Muzzled” (one really wants to add an explanation point, just to take the thing to its hysterical conclusion) insists, the book is about more than just him.

“We need to protect a free-flowing, respectful national conversation in our country,” he writes, asserting that “political correctness” makes that impossible.

Hmmm. Someone who takes millions from Rupert Murdoch talking about the need to protect respectful national conversation—what’s the word book title for that? Chutzpah!

(Oh, wait—someone already took that title.)

Rainey, who seems well-informed on the matter, provides some useful facts.

Williams had already become an ineffective and diminished figure at NPR well before the firing — a fact that got lost in all the hoo-hah last year. He would blame that on executives who thwarted him mostly, in his opinion, because of their displeasure that he had gone to work as a commentator for the conservative standard-bearer, Fox. He argues in “Muzzled” that NPR’s news bosses demanded liberal orthodoxy and wouldn’t tolerate dissent.

But many of his co-workers at the radio network had been displeased with Williams for some time. There were editors and reporters who didn’t like to work with him, because they felt he often wasn’t adequately prepared for the subjects of the day. Williams wanted to be more pundit than reporter, they believed, desiring to bring something like the wide-open rat-a-tat-tat of the cable bazaar to the staid academy that is public radio.

Some of Williams’ flights of fancy infuriated NPR co-workers and many listeners. When he misstated Gen. David Petraeus’ position on the possibility of sending U.S. troops to Iran, the military almost kicked NPR’s entire reporting team out of Iraq, even though Williams made the statement on Fox.

Williams couldn’t be reached for comment—the PR people at Fox wouldn’t let him speak. Muzzled!

Williams has, of course, been making the rounds to hock his book, and he’s been on lots of liberal/public radio programs. (Liberal guilt.)

As Rainey puts it (I like this James Rainey, he’s a nice writer)…

He got a warm welcome this week from Stewart on the “Daily Show.” If Williams can be thus “Muzzled,” the man appealing for tolerance while starring on hyper-partisan Fox, let the year of the non sequitur reign.

Next up: Why Republicans who refuse to raise the debt ceiling are the party of fiscal conservatism.

What He Said

Posted on July 29th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

I think Paul Krugman is spot on in his critique of journalism’s cult of balance.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

…making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

And yet…Gallup reports that President Obama’s approval rating has hit an “all-time low” of 40%, and that 50% of Americans think he’s doing a bad job.

This is nuts: I wonder if any president since, perhaps, Abraham Lincoln has had to deal with a political bloc more intransigent and obnoxious than Obama must deal with. How do you negotiate with elephants who behave like ostriches?

Republicans: Bad People?

Posted on July 29th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The Times reports that House Republicans are loading up an appropriations bill with so many anti-environmental amendments, you basically might as well go live in a sewer.

One would prevent the Bureau of Land Management from designating new wilderness areas for preservation. Another would severely restrict the Department of Interior’s ability to police mountaintop-removal mining. And then there is the call to allow new uranium prospecting near Grand Canyon National Park.

Yeah—because there’s no reason why any regulatory body should be able to get involved when a mining company blows up a mountain on public land.

The Republicans say that over-regulation by the EPA is torpedoing the economy—which is funny, because right now, it’s the House Republicans’ determination to start a financial crisis by refusing to raise the debt ceiling and driving our country into default that is smashing a fragile recovery to smithereens.

This all goes back to what I call the Rhodes Scholar theory of inequality—the fact that not all representatives in a particular body are of equal standing even if the process by which they get there is theoretically the same. It comes from my belief that Rhodes Scholar applicants from Massachusetts, New York, California and other states with a highly educated populace face far stronger competition than do, say, Rhodes Scholar applicants from Alabama, Idaho and Oklahoma—which is to say, Red States.

Congress is much the same way: You come from a poor, uneducated state where the intellectual and business elite are tiny and there’s less competition to get there than in, say, Manhattan, and you’re less likely to know a damn thing when you get to Congress. I mean, think about it: These people take their marching orders from the Tea Party….

The Economist on the Debt Crisis

Posted on July 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The frustration of the Economist over the behavior of congressional Republicans is palpable—but the magazine’s explanation of what needs to be done is as clear as I’ve seen.

In order to promote and sustain growth, Washington has only to do this:

Don’t cause a major crisis.
Do spend more and tax less for the next year or so.
Do spend less and tax more after that.

Unfortunately, none of this is happening. I truly hope that voters don’t respond with “a pox on all their houses” attitude. The people who are promoting this crisis are Republican members of the House, many elected by Tea Party idiots People, who signed an asinine pledge never to raise taxes under any circumstances and don’t understand economics well enough to know how much millions of ordinary people will be hurt by a debt default. Their ignorance comes at our expense, and in November 2012, they should be held accountable.

Frustration

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

I was at the Stadium last night—for work (I promise)—and saw what should have been a no-hitter, if not a perfect game; what would have been a no-hitter…were it not for rain.

C.C. Sabathia was robbed…. But in any case, the man is such a terrific pitcher, he’s really a joy to watch.

The Creativity of OK-Go

Posted on July 26th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

I’m late to the party on this one, but—what a smart, fun video.

The DSK Accuser Goes Public

Posted on July 25th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Newsweek features an interview with Nafissatou Diallo, a.k.a “the DSK maid.”

(Did they pay for it? The article doesn’t address the question.)

Nothing in the interview makes me think that this case should go to trial; whatever may have happened, this woman is a terrible witness.

Instead, the interview suggests a PR campaign designed to force DSK to pay a hefty sum to Diallo in order to avoid the publicity of a civil suit.

Our Friend the Dolphin

Posted on July 22nd, 2011 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

They tried to save a drowning man in Australia.

And when they couldn’t, they maintained a vigil around the body until divers were able to retrieve it.

Could the Japanese please stop killing these remarkable animals?

More thoughts on A-holes

Posted on July 22nd, 2011 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Larry Summers’ remarks are often clever on initial hearing and then, with some consideration, turn out to be more revealing about the man than about his subjects.

With that in mind, I keep turning to his comment regarding the Winklevosses—not that they were assholes, though that’s certainly psychologically quite interesting—but this one:

“Rarely have I encountered such swagger, and I tried to respond in kind.”

The line got a laugh at the Fortune conference where it was delivered, but it’s been overshadowed by the vulgarity which preceded it.

Even so, it’s fascinating in and of itself, so let’s deconstruct that line and consider what it really says about Larry Summers.

First: “Rarely have I encountered such swagger.”

For the sake of argument, let’s posit that the WInklevoss twins manifested “swagger.” It’s a dubious point, given the context of the situation—two students appealing to the Harvard president for help—and evidenced only by the curious objection that they had dressed up to meet the president of Harvard.

But as I say, for the sake of argument….

Larry Summers at this point had been an MIT student, a Harvard graduate student, a Harvard professor, deputy Treasury secretary, Treasury secretary and president of Harvard. He had met with the greatest minds—and largest egos—of academia. He had probably encountered every major American political leader. Not to mention numerous heads of state, including probably a few authoritarian ones. Heck, one of his best friends had ripped off the governments of Russia and the United States—that’s some swagger.

And yet—the Winklevosses, a couple college kids, are right up there in the swagger department?

Curious.

It’s hard not to think that Summers was threatened by them—not physically, at least, not physically from anything they did—but culturally. For Summers, they represented the old Harvard—WASP Harvard. And Summers didn’t like that. WASPS make him uncomfortable.

So what does he do?

“I tried to respond in kind.”

Pause to consider this behavior. Allowing again for the sake of argument that the Winklevosses were full of swagger, they were still two college kids petitioning the president of Harvard for help in a dispute.

Whereas Summers was…the president of Harvard. Sitting in his office, in the building devoted to him. Supposed to be older, more mature, more responsible. After all, he dealt with students—young people—every day, right?

But his manner of dealing with the alleged swagger is to “respond in kind.”

There’s really only one conclusion to draw from this behavior: That it is deeply, profoundly immature. Childish, you might even say. It is certainly not the mark of a leader; that person is supposed to be a role model, not someone who reacts to perceived immature behavior by, well, being just as immature. (And then subsequently boasting about it.)

As unpleasant and surreal as all this must be for the Winklevosses, remember the larger stakes: Larry Summers has had to deal with lots of very powerful people about very important issues affecting the lives of millions. And yet, in terms of his emotional intelligence, he acts, by his own admission, like a child. It’s not very confidence-inspiring.