Posted by Brad @ 5:25 pm on December 9th 2014

The Worst of the Worst

Some of the people we tortured.

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Posted by Brad @ 4:09 pm on December 8th 2014

The College Rape Overcorrection

I have long been bothered by certain classes of crime for which our usual standards of judicial conduct don’t apply (or even the general philosophy of “innocent until proven guilty”). Very high level, touchy examples include things like sex offender laws or say treatment of terrorism suspects. Lower level examples might include something like “bullying”, wherein the mere invocation of the term demands a totally different treatment, a totally different thought-class of behavior, than most any individual instance would itself demand. Other examples might include the overuse of the term “racist”, particularly in the 90s or in hyper-pc settings, or going back further the whole Red Scare. I am equal opportunity in this, btw – it bothers me when applied to conservative sacred cows as much as it does when applied to liberal ones.

But the real essence, and commonality, that gets under my skin is simply any classification that people throw up that is intended to yank something out our normal, usually rational and hard-won processes (which exist for a reason, I have to remind people), and into some other rarefied spectrum wherein justice and fairness are seen as less important than “not missing something”. Where essentially we invert the “rather let a hundred guilty go free than punish one innocent man” to read “I would rather let a hundred technically innocent men rot (and besides if they’re accused they probably deserve it somehow anyway) than risk a single case where we miss a guilty man”. Essentially, anything wherein the FACT of guilt or innocence becomes a SECONDARY consideration. Things for which the mere ACCUSATION turns out to be more important than the hard work of determining guilt from innocence. This is even more pernicious, it seems to me, when you, in addition, slap on a group identify that that especially applies to – say muslims, or college-age white men, or unarmed black teens – whatever.

So I found Emily Yoffe’s article on “The College Rape Overcorrection” to be an incredibly brave, and sober, look at some of the issues spurred by the recent UVA/Rolling Stone story, but really, as an examination of the entire issue of sex and consent on college campuses.

As you can guess from the title, it is largely about how the increasingly crushing public pressure on this subject is leading to some bad policy – opaque, non-transparent university-managed processes which essentially institutionally crystallizes an “any accusation is proof of guilt” standard for dealing with sexual issues. But there is also a discussion about the methodology and value of some of the reseach – or rather the media interpretation of that research – regarding sexual assault and rape on college campuses that is of value too – specifically things like “One in four women have been the victims of rape” or whatever. And finally there is a valuable conversation about Title IX and how the federal government is now putting a huge thumb on the scale of how higher ed deals with these things. Some of that is of course a reaction to UNDERcompliance, but at the same time a huge amount of it is basically FORCING universities to deal with things in a federally mandated way. As you can guess from my political views, I think that way often leads to solutions that aren’t dictated by on-the-ground realities but instead by shallow political winds, but another way to put that, perhaps, is the way it incentivizes higher education institutions. In my experience, the behavior of both individuals and institutions is all based on how they are incentivized (or conditioned, if you want to get all B.F. Skinner about it). In previous years, institutions were incentivized to sweet sexual assault under the rug. Now, however, they are incentivized the opposite way – to treat ANY case that comes before them as a necessary conviction. There is no incentivize (or very little of one) to provide a just, transparent, and thorough process. There is a HUGE incentive to make sure that no potential guilty party ever goes free – the federal government can literally, with a penstroke, threaten to dissolve your entire institution. Think of it the same way we think of DAs – if they are rewarded for convictions but not for failing to bring cases when the evidence doesn’t merit it, they are going to be incentivized towards convictions rather than justice. Now imagine if the consequence of failing to get a conviction was immediate termination, and how much prosecutorial abuse that would invite.

Same thing here. The downside of falsely “convicting” a person accused of sexual assault is you may have to payout a civil lawsuit down the line. The downside for NOT convicting a person accused of sexual assault is you may get a Rolling Stone cover story on the subject, be the center of a huge public controversy, have your President and chairman of the board fired, and perhaps have your university disintegrated.

If you’re a rational institution, which way you gonna go?

These are not incentives that behoove fairness or a pursuit of justice. They are incentives that demand witchhunts. By design. And in an atmosphere where the public mentality regarding these things is to put them in the same category as those examples I mentioned at the start – so vile that we have to disregard due process and that a hundred innocents rotting are worth not allowing one guilty to go free – you are going to see a lot more lives ruined and a lot more overcorrection before thoughtfulness or fairness ever have a chance of winning out.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:44 pm on December 2nd 2014

Abolish football

Sorry, but it’s time.

We’ve “found out” a lot about the NFL this year. I put the phrase in quotes because we are mostly discovering things that we’ve suspected for quite a while–that violence perpetrated by players is epidemic, that the concussive and subconcussive impacts incurred as an inevitable result of playing the game produce inevitable lifelong trauma, the only question of which is the severity, and that the NFL management absolutely could not give two hot sh*ts about any of the above except to the extent that it impacts upon the bottom line. This year in the NFL has been an absolute carnival of transparent greed and utter shamelessness, as management lurches uncontrollably from one crisis to another, imposing consequence after consequence that its own rules in no way justify, all while ignoring the real problems and all the while attempting to buy its way out of the consequences of its long-term minimization of the health risks to players on the most laughable and despicable terms imaginable.

And let’s be clear: the NFL, which I just described, is the part of football that ought to be PRESERVED. Because whatever else may be said of it, everyone who entered into that environment was a full adult, compensated for his efforts, and with some knowledge that he was trading lifelong comfort for momentary glory. It’s a modern day gladiatorial game, no doubt of it, but the libertarian in me tells me that people should be allowed to be gladiators if they really want; there is a case to be made for a short and merry life over a long and dull one, and God save me, but I do enjoy watching it.

I no longer believe that there is a persuasive case to be made for football at any other level. Much has been made of the meatgrinder that services, for instance, professional soccer; the tens of thousands of teenagers in virtually every country who are pulled from schools in favor of soccer development academies run by professional franchises, who receive a laughable joke of an education as they become in effect full time laborers. The system spits out a precious few world-class players on the other end along with thousands upon thousands of young adults with no meaningful skills and no prospects. That’s soccer. AMERICAN football is different, of course, because we don’t make the franchises themselves turn the handle of the meatgrinder; we have publicly subsidized universities do the job for them. The cases of public universities subverting their educational mission in pursuit of gridiron glory are too many to list here. A few of them, the very top niche, do make a profit in the process, the bulk of which is plowed back into the program itself. Which is to say: the best argument IN FAVOR OF college football is that as many thousands of young men, largely from impoverished backgrounds, are brought in to provide uncompensated labor, and then spit out the other end with college “degrees” of questionable credibility (or in many cases no degree at all) and also with injuries that will cripple their earnings potential and their quality of life, there are A FEW universities that make a profit off of this labor, meaning that the underclass has served its purpose of entertaining the middle and upper classes and subsidizing their educations. That’s the case IN FAVOR, and a sad and shabby case it is. The case AGAINST is to be found in less glorious locales, such as the Columbus, Ohio dumpster in which a Buckeyes walk-on was found dead this week, having shot himself to bring an end to the concussive trauma and self-perception of failure from which he was suffering. Or in the utterly sick priorities of the millions who cheered lustily this week at the courage of the (uncompensated) quarterback for Clemson, who was permitted by his (compensated) team trainer and his (very well compensated indeed) head coach to play the entire game against archrival South Carolina on a torn ACL.

Then there is high school football, the new passion at my own institution of learning, involving young men from all walks of life, subjecting themselves to the same concussive and subconcussive impacts daily, with the permission and indeed the urging of their school community, in pursuit of collective glory and maybe, just maybe, the chance to do it for free for four years more. No question, those young men enjoy it. As do we, watching them. There are many things that young men enjoy doing which maybe we ought not to encourage them to do, particularly if we are, for instance, educational professionals. No doubt the young men in question learn many lessons about teamwork, and commitment, and leadership from the experience. One wonders if there might not be an activity in which they might not learn many of those same lessons that does not involve repeated head trauma. What needs to be screamed to the heavens about this phenomenon is that THESE. ARE. KIDS. These are not even eighteen year old men, legally permitted to make the dumb, dumb, bad, bad, dumb, bad, dumb decisions that young men make. THESE ARE KIDS, in our care, and we are encouraging them to slam their heads into one another repeatedly because it’s fun for them and us. Every generation has moral blind spots; slavery was once thought inevitable, for instance, as was Jim Crow later on, and our own grandparents by and large thought the wartime incarceration of Asian-American civilians was just. Blind spots are by definition unidentifiable to those of us who are experiencing them. Even so, I’m comfortable in the assumption that future generations are going to look back at us, their ancestors, in our collective and almost universal celebration of high school football, and ask, “What the HELL were they thinking???”

My school loves its football team, and they’re very good at what they do, and they bring in resources that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and I love seeing them succeed, and I hate myself and all the rest of us for how proud we are of what we’re all doing.

It all needs to end, at my school and everywhere else. Not because the coaches and the participants are bad people, but because they are good people, by and large; intelligent and capable men, young and old. Moral, vigorously competitive men, with valuable lessons to teach and to learn, and there has to be some better use to which our society can put them than to make them all grist for the NFL’s mill, feedstock for a machine that grinds them up in order to churn out, at the other end, Ray Rice, Aaron Hernandez, and Roger Goodell’s new yacht.

My own favorite non-NFL football team is that of the University of Kansas. It’s a hot mess of a program that has won, I think, three conference games in the last six years, and has fired three different coaches in that time, one for among other things calling his players “gang-bangers” and the other two of whom are still drawing salary from the school because they had to be canned at the front end of long-term contracts. KU doesn’t pretend to make money off of football and the student body by and large doesn’t pretend to care about it; nobody is choosing to attend KU because they wanna watch football and anybody who’d leave the school because KU’s bad at football left a long time ago. Anyway, KU fired another coach this year en route to a 3-9 season, and there has been a whole lot of speculation in the press as to who they might hire to replace him, and here is who I think KU should hire as its new football coach: no one. They should take this opportunity to shut the program down. They should then use the money saved to endow 85 full ride scholarships for minority men, the initial recipients of which would be the former athletes. In doing so, they would demonstrate that the institution thinks young black men are worthwhile as something other than as entertainment for the rest of us.

Posted by Brad @ 5:35 pm on December 1st 2014

“It’s not black progress. It’s white progress.”

An amazing Chris Rock interview, who is literally one of my favorite thinkers in pop culture (and one of the top three standups of all time).

What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldnít?

Iíd do a special on race, but Iíd have no black people.

Well, that would be much more revealing.

Yes, that would be an event. Hereís the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, itís all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now theyíre not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Right. Itís ridiculous.

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that heís the first black person that is qualified to be president. Thatís not black progress. Thatís white progress. Thereís been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationshipís improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ďOh, he stopped punching her in the face.Ē Itís not up to her. Ike and Tina Turnerís relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesnít. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Letís hope America keeps producing nicer white people.