January 27, 2012
On Yale, Patrick Witt, and The New York Times

I. THIS IS NOT A NON-STORY

Summary: Yale University is again on the brink of scandal, as star quarterback Patrick Witt’s announcement in November that he would play in the Yale-Harvard game and forfeit his chance to interview for the Rhodes is coming under new scrutiny. According to the New York Times, he may have known at that point that his candidacy had been suspended because the Rhodes Trust had learned of sexual assault allegations against him.

Before I proceed: I realize there are a number of “mays” and “seems” in the paragraph above. Yes, Pat Witt is innocent until proven guilty; in reality, his innocence with regard to the allegations is not in question, because the process by which the student filed her complaint does not precipitate a formal investigation by the university or by law enforcement. 

NEVERTHELESS, this story is still worthy of consideration. This is not a case of a random college student unfairly thrust into the spotlight due to unproven sexual assault allegations. Patrick Witt willingly exploited the media attention he received for making his “heroic” choice to serve Yale Football instead of his academic career. If it turns out that both he and the university were complicit in hiding (note: I don’t mean lying, I mean obscuring) the real reason for his choice to participate in the game, then that is something the public deserves to know. Furthermore, Yale is unwilling to report whether its endorsement of Witt for the Rhodes came before or after the allegations were made against him; this is also important, especially for a university long accused of dealing inadequately with problems relating to sexual assault. And finally, if this piece by a Yale senior is to be trusted, it appears the Yale Daily News knew about this story for months, and chose not to report it.

All of which is to say that although I do not wish for Witt’s or Yale’s names to be needlessly sullied, they to some extent must be cleared. Witt received highly favorable press in outlets ranging from ESPN and Sports Illustrated to the Washington Post and the New York Times. Yale has had continuing problems with sexual assault that I’m sure it would love to sweep under the rug. And student journalists snuffing out a story? If they have good reasons, let’s hear them.

II. OH, THE NEW YORK TIMES!

If you came here looking for vitriol, you’re in the right place!

To wit: I suspect, quite strongly and for a bunch of reasons, that in yesterday’s New York Times article about Witt, the word “sexual” was left out of the headline and the article itself was unusually constructed on purpose. 

1. According to the paper, the guy’s Rhodes eligibility was revoked because he was accused of sexual assault, and yet that’s not worthy of inclusion in the headline? Come on. The Times, like every other news organization in the world, knows that SEO thrives on words like “sexual” in the headline. You’d have to be crazy to think that the accusation of sexual assault was not the overriding point of this article—the very reason for it’s existence. It’s as if they felt obligated to publish the story, but inclined to disguise it as much as possible.

2. The assault allegations themselves are buried halfway into the article! Are you kidding? They make the point of mentioning that it was not a “formal complaint” (an absolutely absurd distinction that Yale should be ashamed of) in the third paragraph but don’t mention that the girl went to the university’s sexual harrassment center and reported the assault until the NINETEENTH FUCKING PARAGRAPH? How many people do you think actually read to the nineteenth paragraph? VERY FEW! Oh, and the Yale administration “very strongly believes in the confidentiality policies [they] have in place?” I BET THEY DO! Gee, wouldn’t it be awkward if Yale was again in the news because of sexual assault?

Now here’s the question: how does something like this happen? Is it just one-off bad reporting and writing? The usual news editor was out sick? Because this is highly suspect. Wouldn’t it be funny if someone in the Yale administration had the phone number for someone on the masthead at the Times? Does that seem outside the realm of possibility? Any chance that there was a little late-night phone call, a little “Do me a solid, brah” that might have gone down? Any chance there are some people at the Times who have some allegiance to Yale? 

What’s that? The Executive Editor at the Times, the one who took over in September, she was a professor? Where’d she teach? Oh, really? No way! 

She taught there

January 24, 2012
Cheap Shots

Richard Curley, Creative Director at Bloomberg Businessweek, tweeted that cover image of Bloomberg Businessweek today. Speaking to Capital New York, he said his magazine decided to “kill” (not use) the image two weeks ago, for reasons having nothing to do with journalistic ethics. He said he only released it in response to the above cover of New York Magazine, which came out today. Maybe he felt like New York stole his mojo.  ”I had that idea weeks ago!” Sweet, dude.

These releases coincide almost perfectly with developments in two separate violent acts. One is the departure from Congress of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who announced in this heart-wrenching video that she would step down. Giffords, obviously, is the woman who was shot in the head last year at a meeting with constituents. The other is a strange and disturbing act of politically-motivated violence: the murder of Jacob Burris’s pet cat. Burris was the campaign manager for Democrat Ken Aden’s bid for Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District. The incident would seem to be a freak act of violence were the animal’s corpse not marker-tagged with the word “liberal.” To make matters worse, Burris’s youngest child discovered the dead cat.

This is not a moralistic point. I do not and would never correlate depictions of violence with acts of it, and most certainly do not assign “blame” for something terrible like the shooting of a Congresswoman or the murder of an animal to someone who publishes magazines. I even laugh a little looking at them, against my better instincts. It’s just in poor taste. It’s a little funny, but mostly just facile, to mock up the battered faces of politicians to sell magazines. Both New York and Bloomberg Businessweek cater to sophisticated, intelligent audiences; as evidenced by the rambunctious commenters on New York's website, that audience also has a pretty biting sense of humor. It's not “inappropriate,” and it is their right to publish whatever they see fit. But their point is totally obvious, and given that people really do exact violence against politicians and their families, it’s kind of a lousy joke.

These images—particularly Businessweek’s, with its moist and silvery sheen—are reminiscent of Jill Greenberg’s 2008 portraits of John McCain, one of which made it onto the cover of The Atlantic. Greenberg used unflattering lighting and Photoshop effects to make McCain look old and creepy for the magazine. She also used the shoot to take pictures that she then Photoshopped to depict the candidate as a bloodthirsty vampire and a lipsticked adulterer, and also made one of a monkey taking a shit on his head. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it. But when The Atlantic discovered those, its editors issued a statement saying she had publicly “disgraced herself” and that they had no idea she had such political intentions. Greenberg shot back that they should have, considering the images she’d previously made of President George W. Bush, and it’s hard to imagine they didn’t know. It’s not like she wasn’t already really famous and controversial

There is a subtle but important distinction between Greenberg’s prank and what these magazine covers do. In the former, McCain is a fictionalized, metaphorical violent agitator. It works on both a superficial and a more serious level: he’s something to be afraid of, he’s coming to get you, but he’s also someone pushing for war (little did we know at the time how irrelevant that distinction would be). In the latter, the politicians are the metaphorical victims of an unidentified violent aggressor. That may be the problem: that without identifying the aggressor it’s an act of intellectual laziness. Obviously the implication is that they’re “beating” each other, or the media is, or they’re simply suffering the burdens of campaigning. But don’t we already know that?

Really what it boils down to is that Jill Greenberg’s an artist; she pulled a fast one on the Atlantic. It’s her prerogative, in a way, to do that. They could have saved themselves that grief with a little Googling. But this is different. If anyone can respond to claims about the “media” having a negative influence on political debate, it’s publications like NYMag and Businessweek.

Just elevate the dialogue. Out of respect for thinking people everywhere, separate the tacky pretend violence from the political debate. We got enough of that shit in real life. Keep it real. Stay classy. E.O.M.

January 20, 2012
The Economic Value of Doing the Right Thing

Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica has a piece at DealBook speculating as to what would happen were Mitt Romney to campaign as a private equity executive. The idea is that he would transfer his experience conducting leveraged buyouts to federal economic policy, with the goal of borrowing heavily right now (while rates are low) to invest in future economic health. 

It’s a compelling argument. There are some leaps of faith; one expert is quoted as saying, “Surely, government investments would have a real return in a 10-year period higher than zero,” which is, to say the least, optimistic. But it would be nice to see this thinking breach the general consciousness. For that, we’d need to turn it into a memey soundbite: Newt Gingrich’s Debt Today for Dollars Tomorrow, or something. 

In any case, I am a layperson, and will say no more about its economic merits. (I recommend reading the productive conversation in the piece’s comment section.)

In his conclusion, though, Eisinger switches gears a little, and there he really caught me off-guard. “On a deeper level,” he writes, 

the debate over private equity raises questions about using the metaphor of America as a business. That kind of thinking can reduce society to the sum of its revenues and profits, ignoring that much of what we do to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare cannot or should not be measured, especially in economic terms. We take care of our elderly because it is the right thing to do, not because we expect a return on investment. Shouldn’t society promote and protect freedom and human rights? Even when there are times when doing so may be expensive or uneconomical?

Uh, ok. On a gut level I accept that it could be unsettling to think of a storied nation, one filled sea-to-shining-sea with real live human beings, as a business. Especially a ruthless business run by a ruthless business-gutter like Mittens. Or a business like WalMart. Or the NBA.

But it seems pretty ignorant to say that “much of what we do to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare cannot or should not be measured, especially in economic terms.” 

Really? National security is irrelevant to economic stability and growth? Remind me again what happened after 9/11; I forget. 

The general well-being of a population cannot be measured in economic terms? The fight against gender inequality might just suffer a little were it to abandon what is probably the single strongest indicator of its existence: the wage gap. 

I won’t belabor the point with examples; the interrelationships between “society” and its “revenues and profits” are legion. Just think about it. And I’m not saying that everything must be understood only in terms of economics, always. I’m just saying that many things, most things in fact, benefit from being understood in those terms, in addition to the many other terms in which humans understand things.

But my, that one thing he mentions—about the “care of our elderly”—man, that has got to be a joke. If it’s not, it’s emblematic of a grossly inadequate way of thinking. I guess Eisinger is referring to Medicare and stuff, which we humbly provide to the olds without ever begrudging them their parasitic existence. 

Wait a second. Why do we do this? Couldn’t we be saving ourselves a lot of hassle by not doing it? Oh, right—we do it because it’s the “right thing to do.” We feel a moral obligation. They’re not kicking back a 5% annual return, but we do it anyway.

Except they are. They help raise children. They unite families. They transmit wisdom in countless ways. Heck, a lot of them work, in some capacity. Yes, a lot of these are intangibles that are difficult to measure preciselyin economic terms. But if we didn’t have experienced people to help raise children, to take just one example, isn’t it nearly certain that their economic viability, and that of their parents, would diminish? 

Anyway, the problem with this line of thinking is that by willfully ignoring the indirect economic consequences of such wide swaths of human behavior, we lose the opportunity to take advantage of—and appreciate—those relationships. We fail to exploit them. And I mean this in the most positive way possible. It’s not useful to say that we protect “freedom” (whatever that means) and guarantee basic human rights pro bono. Obviously we don’t. Which is not to say that those are purely economic transactions, but that they are in some way economically motivated. We’re not getting rich by doing those things, either—we’re just greasing the wheels so that society operates smoothly. Everyone benefits. 

It is almost a metaphysical (dare I say religious?) proposition, saying that we do things only because they’re “right.” Our economic selfishness and our general self-interest are inextricable from one another. Society as we know it is awash with permeable membranes, and this is one of them. It behooves us to keep that in mind.

January 6, 2012
zainyk:

What If Obama Loses? - The Washington Monthly 
A whole series of articles describing the consequences for America on a whole host of issues. Terrifying.

He won’t.

zainyk:

What If Obama Loses? - The Washington Monthly

A whole series of articles describing the consequences for America on a whole host of issues. Terrifying.

He won’t.

(via brooklynmutt)

December 19, 2011

From the Drive soundtrack.

December 19, 2011
The meaning of this should be plainly clear, but in case it’s not: in South Korea, they waste a lot of electricity.

The meaning of this should be plainly clear, but in case it’s not: in South Korea, they waste a lot of electricity.

December 19, 2011
Baby Steps

Maybe he’d been a terrible lover. He’d been told he was a good lover, or, by his British lovers, of whom there had been a fewwomen were always trafficking back and forth between the Cambridgesa brilliant one. Back in the day, British women were always rolling apart from him and sighing: Brilliant! But he was older now. And those women, whether British or American or whatever else, were all women. It wasn’t a given that the skills would translate. A good friend didn’t necessarily make a good father, a good professor didn’t necessarily make a good college president, and a good performer of oral sex on women couldn’t necessarily turn around and start giving blow jobs without submitting to the logic of learning curves.

— Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

December 19, 2011



PRO-ADULTERY WEBSITE ENDORSES GINGRICH | A website that promotes adultery has endorsed Newt Gingrich for president, and even erected a giant billboard in Pennsylvania to announce it. Next to a picture of Gingrich making a “shh” gesture, the billboard reads: “Faithful Republican, Unfaithful Husband.” Ashleymadison.com, a dating website for people looking to cheat on their spouses, welcomes visitors with the tag line, “Life is short, Have an affair.” Gingrich has admitted to cheating on his wives, and Noel Biderman, the founder of the cheaters website explained, “Now that Newt is the leading contender in the race for the GOP nomination, we felt compelled to make a point to illustrate how times have changed when a serial divorcee/adulterer is capturing the hearts of the American people.” 



Adultery should not bear on eligibility, but in a utilitarian way I feel thankful for Ashley Madison. 

(ThinkProgress)

PRO-ADULTERY WEBSITE ENDORSES GINGRICH | A website that promotes adultery has endorsed Newt Gingrich for president, and even erected a giant billboard in Pennsylvania to announce it. Next to a picture of Gingrich making a “shh” gesture, the billboard reads: “Faithful Republican, Unfaithful Husband.” Ashleymadison.com, a dating website for people looking to cheat on their spouses, welcomes visitors with the tag line, “Life is short, Have an affair.” Gingrich has admitted to cheating on his wives, and Noel Biderman, the founder of the cheaters website explained, “Now that Newt is the leading contender in the race for the GOP nomination, we felt compelled to make a point to illustrate how times have changed when a serial divorcee/adulterer is capturing the hearts of the American people.” 

Adultery should not bear on eligibility, but in a utilitarian way I feel thankful for Ashley Madison. 

December 19, 2011

BREAKING: North Korea forced to activate 10,000 members of Democratic People’s Republic Supreme Reserve Lachrymation and Bereavement Squad 

December 17, 2011
aljazeera:

 
This image, from the Reuters news agency, shows Egyptian army soldiers arresting a female protester during clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Saturday.
Soldiers beat demonstrators with batons in a second day of clashes that have killed nine people and wounded more than 300.

aljazeera:

This image, from the Reuters news agency, shows Egyptian army soldiers arresting a female protester during clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Saturday.

Soldiers beat demonstrators with batons in a second day of clashes that have killed nine people and wounded more than 300.

(via brooklynmutt)

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