August 28, 2014

John Rocker — the baseball player destroyed by a Sports Illustrated profile in 1999 — comes back into the culture spotlight as a contestant on "Survivor."

The new season starts on September 24, so let's talk about the old SI article that ruined his career.

I don't remember the old controversy, but I'm interested in looking at what sort of sexist-racist-homophobia material was stirring people up back in the year when Bill Clinton was acquitted in his impeachment trial, "The Sopranos" TV show began,  Dr. Jack Kevorkian was convicted of second degree murder for assisting in the suicide of a terminally ill man, there was a war in Kosovo and a massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado,  "Fight Club," Being John Malkovich," and "The Matrix" were playing in the movie theaters, and — most memorably — Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Hisamuddin Alam Shah Al-Haj, Sultan of Selangor became the 11th Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.

"The 10 Cities With The Highest Quality Of Life."

"1. Madison, Wisconsin."

"For those at Northeastern, breaking into the U.S. News top 100 was like landing a man on the moon, but Freeland was determined to try."

"Reverse-engineering the formulas took months; perfecting them took years."
“We could say, ‘Well, if we could move our graduation rates by X, this is how it would affect our standing,’” Freeland says. “It was very mathematical and very conscious and every year we would sit around and say, ‘Okay, well here’s where we are, here’s where we think we might be able to do next year, where will that place us?’”
Via Tax Prof.

It's official: "everyone... in the country who wants to be married is legally able."

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie — with 6 children and 10 years into their relationship and after saying they would not marry until "everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able" — have married.

Should they not have waited until the Supreme Court releases the virtually undoubtedly forthcoming decision declaring a right of same-sex couples to marry? Ah, we're close enough! And is the Supreme Court really a more authoritative expositor of American rights that Brad and Angelina?

It is emphatically the province and duty of pop culture icons to say what the law is.

"Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women."

"They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave. And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard."

Said Former GWU President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, participating in a Diane Rehm Show panel discussing the role of fraternities on campus. He'd just touted their "philanthropic activities" and "leadership training" and segued to: "They get other kinds of training as well. Combatting sexual misconduct..."

He was interrupted by Rehm, who asked whether fraternities were — as opposed to combatting sexual misconduct — "participating in sexual misconduct"? That is, Trachtenberg wanted to present fraternities as serving the greater good, and, in that light, they might fight against "sexual misconduct," but isn't that at least partly because they are the source of the problem? Now, it's a good idea for those who are doing what is wrong to take charge of eliminating what is wrong, so why not get Trachtenberg to come out and say that?

Of course, Trachtenberg is getting excoriated for saying that women need "to be trained not to drink in excess," but, to be fair, he had just spoken about men training each other not to commit assaults. If you can get past the static of that one word, does Trachtenberg deserve all the abuse he's getting?

He prefaces the remark with a disclaimer: "Without making the victims responsible for what happens...." That actually works as a confession that he knows he's saying that women should take responsibility for avoiding becoming victims, and I think he means to say it and to acknowledge he's going to be criticized.

As for the advice — good advice to everyone — "not to drink in excess," he's including women as "one of the groups." What are these groups? The other group, I take it, is: men. There are two groups: men and women. Neither should drink to excess. All human beings, in their youth, should acquire the skill of not drinking to excess. Kind of a no-brainer, but Trachtenberg didn't say it quite correctly enough to deflect abuse. And — to use a phrase — he asked for it.

ADDED: Hours after this post went up I noticed a slip: "There are two groups: men and women. Neither should drink to access." Yikes! Corrected.

"Apparently, guileful students are thesaurusizing cut-and-paste plagiarism to fool both their professors and anti-cheating software such as Turnitin."

"But as long as a human is grading those essays, phrases like 'sinister buttocks' (for 'left behind'!) are guaranteed to provoke a professorial head-scratch (and some welcome, albeit dispiriting, entertainment during grading)."

It depends on what the meaning of "isn't" is.

I didn't have the patience to slog through that long article at Vox purporting to answer the question whether Tony Soprano died in the final episode of "The Sopranos," which ends with a cut to black as Tony and his wife and son are sitting around a restaurant table listening to "Don't Stop Believin'" as mysterious doings have been making us feel that we're about to see some carnage.

I blogged the end of the series at the time, in 2007, and I never got sucked into the confusion:
Soooo... I assumed they were all killed and the blackout was just to spare us from seeing it. But over on Television Without Pity, everyone's all confused, saying what happened, curse you David Chase, and I thought my cable went out.
Then, considering the "Don't Stop Believin'" lyric "It goes on and on and on and on," I added: "maybe they do go on and on and on. Or maybe there's going to be a 'Sopranos' movie."

And certainly — I'm adding this now — people would go on and on talking about it, even after James Gandofini died (in 2013), and there's not going to be a movie or some more episodes. It's not like we want more without Tony (though the show did find a way to get on without Livia, when the actress Nancy Marchand died after Season 1).

But I'm catching up on the Vox article this morning by reading Dave Itzkoff's short piece in The New York Times: "David Chase Says Remarks About ‘Sopranos’ Finale Were Misconstrued."

Speaking of cuts and Chase, Itzkoff cuts to the chase: The author of the Vox piece, "Martha P. Nochimson, an author, journalist and professor... when... she directly asked Mr. Chase if Tony was dead." Chase's answer was, in it's entirety, "No he isn’t."

"Are people hating on this dress? Do they not appreciate the fact..."

"... that it looks like blood snow falling on a dark night of the soul?"

And don't miss: "But this is a travesty atop a catastrophe sprinkled throughout the wreckage of a nightmare dreamed up by a colorblind psychopath."

August 27, 2014

New Marquette poll has Mary Burke 2 points ahead of Scott Walker with likely voters, and 4 points behind with registered voters.

"Poll director Charles Franklin called the results 'the epitome of what a horse race looks like.'"

Also in the poll: "A solid majority, 54 percent, say the state is heading in the right direction, while 42 percent say it's on the wrong track...."

ADDED: The new poll has Walker with 47.5% and Burke at 44.1% among registered voters, while last month it was 45.8% percent support, with Burke at 44.8%. Likely voters are identified by Marquette as those who say they are "certain to vote in November’s election," and it's Burke 48.6%, Walker 46.5%. In July it was Burke 46.8%, Walker’s 46.3%.  The questionnaire (PDF) asks people whether they are "Absolutely certain" or "Very Likely" to vote in November, and I wonder what the spread would be if the "Very Likely"s were included. Who can be "Absolutely certain" that they will even be alive in November? It would seem that they are screening for fuzzy thinkers and liars.

"While lawyers for Wisconsin and Indiana attempted to defend their state’s marriage bans, Posner issued a series of withering bench slaps..."

"... that unmasked anti-gay arguments as the silly nonsense that they are. Reading this string of brutal retorts is fun enough — but it’s even better to listen to them delivered in Posner’s own distinctive cadence. With the help of my Slate colleague Jeff Friedrich, I’ve collected the most exhilarating, satisfying, and hilarious of the bunch."

Nice job presenting the clips, by Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. And I'm saying that based on listening to the entire thing myself. I summarized it last night like this:

"ESPN regrets... we collectively failed to meet the standards we have set in reporting on LGBT-related topics in sports."

"On Tuesday, while providing an update about [Michael] Sam’s quest to make the St. Louis Rams’ final roster, reporter Josina Anderson said that a Rams 'defensive player told me that "Sam is respecting our space" and that, from his perspective, he seems to think that Michael Sam is waiting to take a shower, as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable.'"

What exactly are the standards... other than never saying anything that gets criticized? Obviously, it's not: Don't talk about an athlete's sexual orientation. Journalists seem eager to talk a whole lot about the openly gay football player. If it's important, why is it important? Wasn't the issue supposed to have something to do with the intimacy of the locker room? 

Watch the whole clip at the link, because I think Josina Anderson did the work she was assigned to do and certainly doesn't seem homophobic. I don't think ESPN's apology reflex is fair to her.

How much would I have to pay an economist to get him to stop annoying me by talking like an economist?

"... I own the right to recline, and if my reclining bothers you, you can pay me to stop. We could (but don’t) have an alternative system in which the passenger sitting behind me owns the reclining rights. In that circumstance, if I really care about being allowed to recline, I could pay him to let me.... I understand people don’t like negotiating with strangers, but in hundreds of flights I have taken, I have rarely had anyone complain to me about my seat recline, and nobody has ever offered me money, or anything else of value, in exchange for sitting upright. If sitting behind my reclined seat was such misery, if recliners like me are 'monsters,'... why is nobody willing to pay me to stop?"

Writes Josh Barro in "Don’t Want Me to Recline My Airline Seat? You Can Pay Me."

So stop worrying that you're bothering anybody that hasn't offered you money to stop doing that. [About anything. Not just on airplanes.] And await the day when we'll all be able to raise money by going about annoying people doing anything short of what gets us arrested or sued in tort. 

And I don't think I'm contradicting all the many economics-y things I said in the comments to that other post today about reclining airline seats:

"I fought head on with it for almost half an hour. Then I came to know it was dead."

In case you are wondering how long a 56-year-old woman will fight with a leopard and whether the leopard is sure to win in the end.

What happens when you don't go in that spare room for 3 months and you've left a small window open?

"I did think what a wonderful job they had done," said the exterminator, about the way 5,000 wasps had repurposed the pillows and mattress, through determined chewing, into a 3-foot nest on the bed.

"I had no choice really, because they used to threaten to get my mum and rape my mum."

"So in my mind, as a 13 or 14-year-old, it was 'well if I didn't go out and see them they are going to get my mum and are going to rape her'.... I look back at it now, I was a child, these were adult men who were very, very dangerous, very nasty, they knew everything about me because in the grooming process I had told them everything. So they knew all about my family, they knew where we lived, they knew everything."

From the BBC's "Rotherham abuse victim: 'I was raped once a week, every week.'"

"Lady al Qaeda: The World's Most Wanted Woman. The Taliban wanted to trade Bergdahl for her."

"The Islamic State offered to swap Foley. Why does every jihadi group want the U.S. to free Aafia Siddiqui?"

The Knee Defender and the Water Offender.

"On a United flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver, a passenger in a middle seat of Row 12 decided he didn’t want the woman in front of him to lean her seat back. So he pulled out a Knee Defender and locked it into place on his food tray, making it impossible for the seat in front to be reclined. Whether the man politely asked the woman first if she would be OK with that is unclear. The woman was not OK with that. She wanted to recline her seat. She asked the man to remove the Knee Defender. He would not. A flight attendant then asked him to remove it, informing him that Knee Defenders were prohibited on the flight. He still would not. At which point, according to news reports, the woman in the front seat threw a cup of water at Mr. Knee Defender."

From a Chicago Sun-Times editorial titled "Leave the Knee Defender at home."

Oh, come on! Why are we talking about the Knee Defender? A woman threw water at a man. That's the serious infraction. Who cares which of a million things you might do on a plane to bother somebody else?

ADDED: To answer my own question: 1. Knee Defenders are a specific, new piece of technology that readers might contemplate deploying. They seem to offer to solve a predictable problem, and they seem to offer people a way to deal with an annoyance without any interaction with another, so you'd better take into account that you may be laying the groundwork for a very dramatic interaction. 2. As for the water-throwing woman, readers don't divert their attention onto her for exactly the same reason — I'm guessing — that she thought to throw water at him. It's what women have been doing for decades... in the movies. It's a cliché: When a woman is outraged, she throws a glass of water in the face of the person who caused the outrage.

This actually isn't how normal people behave in real life, but: 1. Embedded in the big and small screens of movies, TV, and video games, we've lost our instinct for the lubricated subtleties of social interaction that would have developed naturally if we lived with real fellow humans in the flesh, 2. The inside of an airplane isn't the normal society of the human being. Our fellow humans are present in the flesh, but far too much for normal behavior to make much sense. We attempt to find solitude and isolation where it is least possible, so we're forced to find weird ways to preserve our well being until the flight is over.

"No-one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the years."

"Our conservative estimate is that approximately 1,400 children were sexually exploited over the full inquiry period, from 1997 to 2013," said Professor Alexis Jay, who wrote the new report.
The report found: "Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought as racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so."

Failures by those charged with protecting children happened despite three reports between 2002 and 2006 which both the council and police were aware of, and "which could not have been clearer in the description of the situation in Rotherham."

Prof Jay said the first of these reports was "effectively suppressed" because senior officers did not believe the data. The other two were ignored, she said.
Even if you don't believe that data — because the scale of the criminality is so extreme — action should be taken. Or was the action always only to do another report in order to get better data?

As for the "fear of being thought as racist" — that gets our attention, and we could muse forever about how to talk about race in the context of patterns of criminal behavior — but it doesn't explain (let alone excuse) the failure to deal with rampant crime. It's harmful to provoke people to worry that every Pakistani male is a child rapist, but descriptions of suspects can't be edited to exclude identifying characteristics. Everyone knows that.

I'd like to see more detail about this "fear of being thought as racist." It sounds like a confession of deliberate law enforcement paralysis, a choice to permit thousands of children to be raped for decades on end, because of befuddlement about how on earth to begin to do anything without looking bad or because of a sense that your community is already hopelessly overwhelmed by evil forces that will only become more aggressive and violent if opposed.
A victim of abuse in Rotherham, who has been called "Isabel" to protect her identity, told BBC Panorama... "I think because the police were aware and social services were aware and he knew that and they still didn't stop him it I think it encouraged him. It almost became like a game to him. He was untouchable."

Well, it's not called Burger President.

Is Burger King unAmerican?

August 26, 2014

"These people and their adopted children are harmed by your law [banning same-sex marriage]. The question is what is the offsetting benefit of your law. Who is being helped?"

Asked Judge Richard Posner, as the 7th Circuit heard argument today in cases challenging Wisconsin and Indiana law.

Based on the linked news report, there was nothing new to be said on the well-worn subject, even with Posner on the panel. But I will listen to the argument, here (Wisconsin) and here (Indiana), and update this post if I hear anything notable.

It seems predictable that the 7th Circuit will reject the ban and that the issue will soon be decided by the Supreme Court. 

ADDED: I've listened to the argument and recommend it. It's lively, and the government lawyers are on the run, but repeatedly cornered by the simple and predictable demand to articulate an interest served by excluding gay people from marriage. All of the judges clearly reject tradition as the interest, and the idea of leaving it to the legislature is repeatedly scoffed at as merely getting us back to the need to at least show some legitimate governmental interest. There is a great deal of attention to the welfare of children, with the government lawyers stressing the capacity of heterosexuals to produce children and the value of channeling this phenomenon into stable relationships for the sake of the children and the judges unable to see the reason to exclude gay people, who may also have children, especially given that the states in these cases both allow gay people to adopt. Why do the states want to hurt those kids? I lost track of the number of times the government lawyers were stymied by that question.