Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stockpiling Psycho: A Look At Callisto

Increasingly, it's obvious that Title IX means of combating sexual assault (and harassment) amount to a sort of jobs program for the otherwise unemployable, a point made most recently by Reason's Robby Soave in the context of Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis' tangle with that bureaucracy, something I wrote about earlier. The "man behind the curtain" is the huge army of mandarins needed to implement it:
The Title IX inquisition must be a cash-cow for the people tasked with handling such broad and outlandish claims. Northwestern flew a team of a lawyers out to meet with Kipnis; these men would have interviewed anyone she deemed relevant to her case. Their colleagues would have initiated retaliation investigations against anyone she accused (this calls to mind recent Game of Thrones episodes, in which characters levelling accusations against each other merely manage to get absolutely everyone, accusers and accused, confined to dungeon cells). Is it any wonder that tuition prices are skyrocketing so that universities can continue to pay all these Title IX lawyers, bureaucrats, and coordinators?
 Earlier this year, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights asked for a 31% funding increase to deal with a huge and expected uptick in case load, of dubious (and likely self-serving) origins, amounting to an additional 200 attorneys and investigators. But such paycheck beneficiaries are by no means the end, something I discovered when I learned that the University of San Francisco is going to be the first school to use Callisto, an Orwellian system for stockpiling reports of sexual assault. Their description of the software's operation should give pause to anyone interested in justice — as opposite nursing retroactive vendettas:

1. Fill out an account of an incident online

Visit your school-specific Callisto website, record what happened in an online form, and get advice on what evidence to collect and save.

2. Save the report

Securely save the record, timestamped when it was stored, and decide later if you want to take any action.

3. Report now or later

Learn about your school-specific reporting options and directly submit your record to your chosen authority. Or you can opt into automatically reporting if someone else reports the same assailant.
The justifications for this stockpiling of timed-release "gotcha" charges we learn later:
Why survivors don’t report:
  • Not knowing how to label their experience
  • Considering their assault not “serious enough” to report
  • Not wanting to get the assailant into trouble, especially if the assailant is a significant other, friend, teammate, or a family member
  • Fearing retaliation from peers or the assilant for reporting
  • Feeling like the assault was partially his or her fault
  • Not knowing where or how to report
  • Feeling that they do not have sufficient evidence
  • Not wanting to go through the trauma of reliving the assault again, especially if they worry that they will not be believed 
Secret charges that can be unleashed at some future point (without investigation in the interim) sounds remarkably like an enabling tool for false accusers, in the same exact way that Ellen Pao warehoused her multitudinous grievances at Kleiner Perkins. And as with the expanding Title IX bureaucracy within the DoE, Callisto comes with an enormous board of directors, 25 by my count. That number includes Yale Law student Alexandra Broadsky, who penned a genuinely awful piece in Feministing about her totalitarian vision of "fair process" a while back. Callisto the software represents everything Title IX has become: parasitic, secretive, biased, expansionist for the bureaucracy it services, and paranoid. It is no surprise that Sexual Health Innovations, the misnamed 501(c)3 organization behind Callisto, spent 20% of their 2013 budget on lobbying; they have a lot of institutions to pitch yet.

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Feminism Devouring Itself": Laura Kipnis' Bizarre Title IX Case

File under "When You've Lost Jezebel" Dep't, Laura Kipnis describes her Title IX persecution for a piece she wrote in February about instructors being forbidden to date students, borne of a "feminism hijacked by melodrama". The subsequent reaction ended up in the hands of the Title IX coordinator; after much back-and-forth, and no indication whatsoever of what the "charges" were she faced:
Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them. The term "kangaroo court" came to mind. I wrote to ask for the charges in writing. The coordinator wrote back thanking me for my thoughtful questions.

What I very much wanted to know, though there was apparently no way of finding it out, was whether this was the first instance of Title IX charges filed over a publication. Was this a test case? From my vantage point, it seemed to pit a federally mandated program against my constitutional rights, though I admit my understanding of those rights was vague.
Kipnis notes that, "a Title IX charge can now be brought against a professor over a tweet. Also that my tweets were apparently being monitored." It's hard to look at this and think it is anything other than an administrative structure engineered to pursue witch hunts, i.e. it has no value other than as a sort of jobs program for a certain class of otherwise unemployables.

Oh, it gets better; during her examination by the telephone sanitizers:
My Midwestern Torquemadas were perfectly pleasant at our on-campus meeting — they’d indeed flown to town to meet in person — so pleasant that I relaxed and became overvoluble, stupidly gratified by their interest and attentions. There I was, expounding on my views about power and feminism; soon I was delivering a mini-seminar on the work of Michel Foucault. Later, replaying the two-and-a-half-hour session in my mind, I thought, "You chump," realizing that I’d probably dug a hundred new holes for myself.
Well, yes. You expected otherwise?

Dan Pallotta, Con Artist

For some reason, the subject of Dan Pallotta came up again on Twitter. You may have seen his very popular TED talk, or read his remarks on the subject of charity at Huffington Post, which largely echo his TED talk. The bottom line seems to be that Pallotta thinks charities should be more like corporate America in their drive, pay for employees (particularly executives), and willingness to expand. That is to say, he represents virtually everything I have railed against when it comes to large charities, converting vices into virtues by mere rhetorical dodges. As Charity Navigator executives Ken Berger and Robert M. Penna wrote (also in HuffPo),
No one can dispute the fact that Dan Pallotta is a good pitch man, is certainly effective at selling himself, and can convey his message quite convincingly. We believe his message has gained tremendous popularity for one simple reason -- he ultimately is arguing that charities should be held to virtually no accountability standards. Yes, we know Dan says people should look at results rather than overhead; but if you look under the hood for details, there is little in his argument on exactly how to go about measuring those results. For example, he speaks of vague notions such as "Charity is in the business of inspiration, so it is particularly problematic for charity that the value of inspiration is not measured;" and "it is not a matter so much of what we must do as what we must stop doing," yet at the same time he implicitly -- and sometimes explicitly -- justifies doing away with most clear standards of accountability. Unfortunately, it is evident that this is music to the ears of many leaders in the charitable sector. Indeed, many of them seem drawn to the notion that if they follow the Pied Piper of Zero Accountability, they can basically do whatever they want and get paid millions while waving the flag of Pallotta's books and TEDTalk.
Jennifer Amanda Jones in Nonprofit Quarterly penned a point-by-point takedown of Pallotta's arguments a couple years ago, from which I excerpt her last and strongest point:
Pallotta’s argument: The percentage of an organization’s total budget spent on overhead is not a good measure of effectiveness.
Buchanan’s response: Buchanan agrees that overhead expenses are not necessarily a good measure of overall effectiveness. But, at the same time, argues that overhead is an important measure to pay attention to. “Donors have a legitimate interest in understanding what proportion of their dollars ends up in the hands of for-profit fundraising professionals. A recent, widely discussed investigative report by The Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) identifies “America’s Worst Charities” on the basis of the proportion of funds raised that were paid to for-profit solicitors. (Topping the list is the “Kid’s Wish Network” which raised nearly $128 million over the past 10 years—$110 million of which went straight to the solicitors they hired to raise money!)”
Pallotta demands donors close their eyes to potential problems, should cease to care about who is helped and how many, and his airy assertions about "inspiration" will make up for it all. That's hardly comforting. If he wants charity to be run more like business, he also needs to recognize that businesses are obliged to satisfy their customers or fail; with charities, no equivalent feedback loop exists in the absence of oversight.

Administrivia: Comment Moderation Mostly Off

Due to the apparent lack of comments around here and the difficulty of dealing with them, I'm going to allow comments on new posts (anything less than two weeks old) without moderation. Enjoy.

On Privilege

Because it keeps coming up, and I have wanted to write a brief something on this topic, a meditation on the concept of "privilege". As commonly used in feminist and racial contexts, e.g. Peggy McIntosh's tiresome "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" or John Scalzi's dumb, tendentious, and insulting essay, "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is", "privilege" is an unearned benefit derived from birth status, e.g. the condition of being male, or white. In my experience, "privilege" is really two things, one trivially (in the sense of inarguably) true, and the other demonstrably false:
  1. That certain people have it easier in the world than others as a consequence of birth.
  2. That all subsequent success such people have are in fact directly derived from those advantages.
 I came across a clickbait-headlined cartoon recently that promised to "forever change the way you look at privilege", but in fact was a pretty standard review of how "privilege" is alleged to work. A couple remarks before diving in:

Does there exist, anywhere in this nation, a school district that confesses they are anything but terribly underfunded? I have yet to hear of it. And yet. Pushing on:
Here we go: item 2, FTW! All success can be ascribed to birth status, in some large measure. Q.E.D.

Except where that's wrong. Ultimately, privilege is a motte-and-bailey tactic as described by Nicholas Shackel in his paper, "The Vacuity Of Postmodernist Methodology" (PDF). A motte-and-bailey is a kind of bait-and-switch: the first part is easily defensible (birth can confer unearned advantages), but the second, radical part (all success thereafter is also due to unearned advantages) is not. By shifting definitions, and refusing to look at failures as well as success, we see that "privilege", animated by jealousy, is a toy philosophical theory that has almost no explanatory power.

I encountered (what might well be) a good example of this latter at Medium a number of weeks back in Umar Haque's essay, "The Asshole Factory". The only thing of importance for my purposes here is the first two sentences:
My good friend Mara has not one but two graduate degrees. From fine, storied universities. Surprise, surprise: the only “job” she was able to find was at a retail store.
Let that sink in for a bit: this person has two graduate degrees, and is obliged to work retail? It's entirely reasonable to infer a couple things here:
  1. Her parents have considerable money to put her through multiple postgraduate programs.
  2. She has never previously had to give much thought to how she was going to make a living.
Yet, despite these advantages, she's ... working retail for a crummy employer who spies on her every second of her work day, comparing her performance against her daily sales quota in real time, etc. In privilege theory, none of this should have happened, and she should have ridden off into the sunset with a big bag of money. Or something. Now, I'll grant you I don't know if Mara is white, or even real, but that story is one that's getting repeated time and again because of the painfully false belief that college is necessary for everyone. Being white doesn't get you out of college debt. "Privilege" doesn't address failure and hardship; as a theory for how society works, it deserves only ridicule.

Update: Just came across David Greenberg's "What In The World Is 'Privilege'?" at The College Conservative, which addresses the matter from its Marxist origins.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Defective On Every Known Scale": Harvard's Janet Halley's Call To Arms

A truly worthy piece in The Harvard Crimson about law prof Janet Halley, and her efforts to install due process in campus sexual assault cases:
...[S]he started to engage with her views on feminism critically and “regard feminism as an alternative, not as a religion,” and she would go on to explore this concept in her scholarship.

Halley described her beliefs in a recent phone interview succinctly: “I'm a leftist, and I'm a crit, but that means for me, hetereosexual men are just as important as lesbian feminists, and I don't care about one identity group more than another. I sympathize with the justice aspirations of all kinds of people,” Halley said.
In September, Halley wrote a critical analysis of Harvard’s new framework, arguing that it was “defective on every known scale of equal procedural treatment of the parties and due process.” Halley sent her analysis to the entire Law School faculty and directly to some of Harvard’s top central administrators—University President Drew G. Faust, University General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83, and University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides—to begin a dialogue with Massachusetts Hall that would later involve the rest of the Law School faculty.
Halley and 27 other Harvard Law professors published an open letter in the Boston Globe after attempts to make changes internally went nowhere.  Harvard's response was to make carve-outs in Title IX adjudication, but it appears that these will only apply to Harvard Law and not the rest of the university. She takes an obviously controversial stance, as evidenced by a brickbat returned by former Harvard Law students, who felt "pretty betrayed by our former professors". "Dear Colleague" was only an opening volley.

Monday, May 25, 2015

John Scalzi's Big Record Book Deal

Vox Day, one of the instigators of the #SadPuppies culture wars thingy, passes along the news that John Scalzi has a new and quite remunerative book deal.
John Scalzi, a best-selling author of science fiction, has signed a $3.4 million, 10-year deal with the publisher Tor Books that will cover his next 13 books.

Mr. Scalzi’s works include a series known as the “Old Man’s War” and the more recent “Redshirts,” a Hugo-award-winning sendup of the luckless lives of nonfeatured characters on shows like the original “Star Trek.” Three of his works are being developed for television, including “Redshirts” and “Lock In,” a science-inflected medical thriller that evokes Michael Crichton. Mr. Scalzi’s hyper-caffeinated Internet presence through his blog, Whatever, has made him an online celebrity as well.

Mr. Scalzi approached Tor Books, his longtime publisher, with proposals for 10 adult novels and three young adult novels over 10 years. Some of the books will extend the popular “Old Man’s War” series, building on an existing audience, and one will be a sequel to “Lock In.” Mr. Scalzi said he hoped books like “Lock In” could draw more readers toward science fiction, since many, he said, are still “gun-shy” about the genre.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the executive editor for Tor, said the decision was an easy one.
Ignoring Day's complaints about the nature of how Scalzi got the deal (coff professional jealousy coff), what interests me is how much this looks like a traditional record deal before the rise of the Internet as a sales and distribution force. Historically, such deals have been terrible for the artist, because they chain the creator to a single publisher and distributor; if the creator gets ├╝ber-successful, the deal can look horrible in a hurry (c.f. Prince). Essentially, there are two bets going on simultaneously, both halves of which look dubious to me:
  1. From Tor's perspective, that Scalzi will continue or improve upon his current popularity.
  2. From Scalzi's perspective, that he will need the services of a publisher and distributor. Also, that his star isn't on the ascendant.
It's interesting that this is even being done. It seems almost certain one or both parties will regret it, but why?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Emma Sulkowicz, BA, Mattress Studies

Despite initial reports that Columbia University would deny Emma "Mattress Girl" Sulkowicz use of her iconic art project at commencement ceremonies, they let her anyway (or at least made no effort to stop her). This appears to have been a terrible move for Columbia, who is under lawsuit by Paul Nungesser, and this strengthens his hand. Meanwhile, president Lee Bollinger snubbed her during the ceremonies.

Cathy Young in Reason documents the collapse of yet another set of charges against Nungesser, this of a male student. She characterizes the charges thusly:
If Nungesser is innocent, it is entirely plausible that Sulkowicz and Natalie, who met at a party and discussed their history with him shortly before they filed charges, may have genuinely goaded each other into the conviction that he abused them (or, as Sulkowicz put it to Jezebel, "Together, we [came] to a better understanding of our shared trauma"). It is also entirely plausible that Josie and Adam either reinterpreted their past encounters with him, or even fabricated stories in the sincere belief that they were helping eject a rapist from the house and supporting his victims. The problem is not female "wickedness"; it is a campus culture that fetishizes trauma and turns "survivorship" into a cult.
Nungesser's family issued a statement in the wake of this circus:
At graduation, Columbia University again broke its own rules and afforded Emma Sulkowicz a special exception. It was the second devastating experience in just a few days: Last week, Columbia exhibited Emma Sulkowicz's highly disturbing and extremely graphic drawings of our son publicly on campus.

We have come to realize that at Columbia, not all are equal before its policy. What is the point of internal investigations if their outcome is not accepted? Instead those with better connections and more influence promoted a false narrative. While they failed at their goal of bullying our son into leaving this university, they have turned his life into a nightmare.

Responsible for this nightmare is not just the woman, who received an academic degree for the attempt to shame Paul away from campus, but even more at fault is the University that conferred this degree. A university that bows to a public witch-hunt no longer deserves to be called a place of enlightenment, of intellectual and academic freedom. By failing to intervene in this injustice, Columbia ceases to be a place where critical thinking, courage and democratic practice are taught, learned and lived.
Here's hoping they receive something like satisfaction in the courts.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Law Profs Tear Into ALI Draft Rape Statutes

Via @justthoughts19, a long-for-a-blog-post, short-for-legal-analysis look at the American Law Institute's recent proposed changes for their model rape statutes over at Community Of The Wrongly Accused. It raises a lot of the same points I did back when I looked at it in January, while adding a great number of new ones. It starts by noting the turning tide against "overcriminalization", which makes a mockery of the ALI's parallel effort at sentence reform by creating vast new territories of crime:
To understand the draft, please consider a most common behavior in the following hypothetical: Person A and Person B are on a date and walking down the street. Person A, feeling romantically and sexually attracted, timidly reaches out to hold B’s hand and feels a thrill as their hands touch. Person B does nothing, but six months later files a criminal complaint. Person A is guilty of “Criminal Sexual Contact” under proposed Section 213.6(3)(a).

How can this be? The draft explains:
Section 213.0(5) defines “sexual contact” expansively, to include any touching of any body part of another person, whether done by the actor or by the person touched. Any kind of contact may qualify; there are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched…. (Discussion Draft No. 2, Substantive Material, at 31).
The offense arises because Person A failed to obtain the draft’s requisite prior “positive agreement” to the “sexual contact.” Section 213.0(3). The draft repeatedly “makes clear that when a complainant’s behavior has been passive—neither expressly inviting nor rebuking the defendant’s sexual advances, that behavior cannot be considered sufficient to show affirmative permission.” (Discussion Draft No. 2, Substantive Material, at 54) Person A’s guilt is absolute because, “feeling romantically and sexually attracted” and feeling “a thrill as their hands touch,” Person A has no defense against the accusation that the touch included the “purpose of sexual gratification… or sexual arousal.” Section 213.0(5).
Simply put, there is no "safe harbor" here:
At every stage of every physical relationship, the “perpetrator” is at risk with no safe harbor of any type. If the initiator got positive agreement “sufficient to show affirmative permission” (Discussion Draft No. 2, Substantive Material, at 54) to initiate a kiss, the initiator is still at risk because the accuser can always counter by asserting, “I didn’t say you could kiss me that way.” If the initiator got positive agreement “sufficient to show affirmative permission” and did the kiss the right way, the initiator is still at risk with the next identical kiss because, “I didn’t say you could kiss me twice.” The draft acknowledges that its standard “requires the fact finder to focus on the existence of consent regarding each of the disputed sex acts.” Id. and Section 213.0(3).
Objectors to the foregoing analysis might say that prosecution of these offenses and the other examples provided throughout this memorandum would surely be declined or dismissed, but that would require an assumption that every prosecutor, judge, and jury in the country would ignore the Black Letter Law endorsed by ALI.
And, they note, child custody, political battles, and divorces all provide incentives to manufacture this kind of specious and unprovably false charge. "None of this is inadvertent or the result of loose drafting," they continue:
To the contrary, the intentionality of the draft ... is to create very expansive statutes and standards with a 'default position of overcriminalization.... The draft also acknowledges that it is not reflecting any existing social norm or consensus about behavior that should be deemed so extreme as to warrant criminal sanction. Instead, it clearly states that its intention is to coerce conformity to its own choice of new norms for behavior....
 The draft also criminalizes sexual interactions between mental health professionals and their patients, something that hitherto was merely a violation of ethical standards. And then there's the dramatic expansion of penalties for existing crimes:
In addition to creating new offenses, other offenses are elevated up to and including life imprisonment for “aggravating factors.” For example, Section 213.8 elevates rape to the level of first degree murder if the rape occurs in conjunction with a commercial sex act. Section 213.1(1)(b) elevates rape to the level of first degree murder if the rapist utilized a lookout. Many other elevations are found throughout the draft without any demonstration of need for even longer sentences in a prison system that is already over-burdened with geriatric prisoners.
It's hard to overstate just how horrible this is, but the signatories here have done a tremendous favor to the country with this essay. I look forward to more detailed analysis to come.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Samantha Bee And The Infinite Unfunniness

I read recently that Samantha Bee is getting her own TV show having left the Daily Show, which led me to the obvious question: why? I have never seen someone get so much airtime in a comedy show who has so little actual comedic talent; she appears, based on that scale alone, to compete with Jerry Lewis. For genuinely unfunny (and frankly creepy) material, it's hard to beat her 2006 Daily Show segment on robots (and in particular, robotic sex). But this?

I'm trying to imagine — and failing — to imagine a world in which a male comic could get on stage and as a promo for his show insult, not just every competitor, but half his audience. When Christopher Hitchens wrote his infamous Vanity Fair essay, "Why Women Aren't Funny" (since pulled from their website), he made the point that it's not that there aren't funny women, but women as a group do not have to be funny as a sexual imperative.
Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life. If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift.
Whatever talents Bee may have, she is not a first-, second-, or even fifth-rate TV comic. Not only is she not funny, she appears to have her claws extended for her new venture. Perhaps there are male comics who get away with rank misogyny on stage; the world is full of niche acts. But in the outside world, we call this a career-limiting move.

How Evolutionary Biology Dooms Lean In

Amy Alkon has a fine review at the Observer of Joyce Benenson's book, Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes, framed as a rejoinder to the much better known Lean In by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Her basic premise is that women in the workplace are unlikely to bond in ways that men do with each other (and even other women) for reasons rooted in evolutionary biology. (As always, all emboldening in passages below are due to me.)
Ms. Benenson explains that “throughout most of human history, men and women have specialized in different behaviors necessary to ensure the survival of their children to adulthood.” These are evolved sex differences she’s talking about—evolved over millions of years and still affecting us biologically and psychologically today, sometimes in ways that are a mismatch with our modern world.

And no, contrary to feminists’ contentions, these sex differences don’t come out of Playboy, video games, or television. Benenson told me, “No study has ever shown that the environment causes sex differences, and sex differences existed long before any of these modern inventions.
She goes on to show female chimpanzees playing with rocks and sticks in a manner similar to how human girls play with dolls, but as with the attempts to find analogs of human sexuality among the bonobos, the comparison is only of limited use. Alkon uses this arguably inborn nurturing behavior to transition to her case against Sandberg's principle thesis in Lean In, namely, that women should band together in corporate settings in mutual aid:
Research finds that women are not only physically weaker than men but more fearful—from infancy on—and rarely engage in physical fighting. This makes sense, Benenson notes, as a serious injury could jeopardize a woman’s ability to have children or to live to protect the ones she already has. Women did evolve to compete—with one another, for male partners and for resources for their children. But they compete differently from men.

Ms. Benenson explains that there’s an “inherent conflict in unrelated females’ relations with one another.” They very much want one another’s support—as coalition partners and for help with childcare—but “they must invest first and foremost in their families.” In fact, because we are driven to pass on our own genes or at least those of people closely related to us, it really doesn’t make evolutionary sense for a woman to invest in an unrelated woman, except as a form of self-protection.
And thus the dagger in the heart of feminist sisterhood, and a great deal else. "A woman might tear down the external barriers so she can get in," Alkon continues, "and then throw them right back up so other women can’t." Interestingly, this exact dynamic seems to be in play if one reads the numerous reactions to Sandberg's book, either contemporaneously or after the "lean in" locution gained currency thereafter. For instance, Melissa Gira Grant in Jacobin and Salon sneered at it as
trickle-down feminism that centers the concerns of an elite minority of women, and it repeats losing tactics in the history of feminist movements. Sandberg is far from the only prominent feminist who supports these tactics, which – despite their intentions – have been insufficient in addressing inequalities among women.
 Doug Barry's Jezebel review of Working with Bitches: Identify the Eight Types of Office Mean Girls and Rise Above the Workplace Nastiness is positively open about this process, writing that "Women in the workplace, by Fuller's estimation, are effectively gaslighting each other, waging a shadow war against each other when they should be helping one another succeed." The ironic sniping caused by Kate Losse's review in Dissent magazine could almost not be more illustrative of these dynamics.

 I'm not as confident as Alkon that Benenson's book represents sound science — that would require actually reading it, which I haven't done, and familiarity with the sources. It should also be obvious that Benenson describes populations, which can have a great deal of variance. But simultaneously, the form and virulence of the criticism of Sandberg's famous opus leads one to think Alkon just might be on to something.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

UVa Dean Nicole Eramo Sues Rolling Stone For Libel

Via Ashe Schow in the Washington Examiner comes a Washington Post story indicating University of Virginia Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo is suing Rolling Stone for $7.5 million.
“Rolling Stone and [Sabrina Rubin] Erdely’s highly defamatory and false statements about Dean Eramo were not the result of an innocent mistake,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court. “They were the result of a wanton journalist who was more concerned with writing an article that fulfilled her preconceived narrative about the victimization of women on American college campuses, and a malicious publisher who was more concerned about selling magazines to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine, than they were about discovering the truth or actual facts.”
In addition to Erdeley's failure-to-journalize, it's significant that she never actually apologized to one individual prominently named in the story, i.e. Dean Eramo, or to any of the fraternity members she libeled (who are also suing, separately). Further, Eramo charges Rolling Stone Photoshopped her into a villain, as well:
The magazine also printed a photo illustration of Eramo that she argues is inflammatory; the lawsuit says the magazine turned a mundane Cavalier Daily photo of her addressing a classroom and turned it into a wild-eyed image of her sitting in an office giving a “thumbs-up” in front of distraught sexual assault victim as protesters hold signs outside. The lawsuit claims the doctored image “demonstrates the lengths Erdely and Rolling Stone were willing to go to portray Dean Eramo as a villain.”
Erdely also manufactured quotes from Eramo:
The lawsuit further claims that Eramo is misquoted in Rolling Stone and that she also never told Jackie that the administration does not publicize sexual assault statistics “because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school,” as the Rolling Stone account reported.
There is no small irony that the person most affected by this reckless attack is the one whose job is to deal with sexual assault, as defined under Title IX. Which is to say, if we owe the existence of Title IX sexual assault bureaucracies in large part to the wholesale manufacture of rape statistics, it should surprise no one to see the same disregard for objective truth consume one of its beneficiaries.

Update: Schow points out in a subsequent tweet that one of the parties not being sued is "Jackie". One wonders how that would even work, but one of the named parties is Erdely herself. I do hope she has another career lined up, because she'll need it.

The Rehabilitation Of Stella Liebeck

I recently encountered a cartoon on Adhesive Comics addressing the Stella Liebeck/McDonald's coffee lawsuit of 1992, the short version of which being, Stella Liebeck, then 79, went to a New Mexico McDonald's and ordered a coffee. As a passenger in the parked car driven by her grandson, she removed the coffee lid to add sugar and cream, but spilled the 180F coffee all over her lap, which resulted in third degree burns on her legs, buttocks, and vagina. (Her sweatpants retained the hot coffee for 90 seconds against her skin, magnifying the damage.) She was hospitalized for eight days, and required skin grafts to repair the damage.

The problem with this retelling is that it gets a central fact wrong, as pointed out by Ted Frank's 2005 post at Overlawyered: the temperature of the coffee was then, and is still, industry standard.
Commenter cmdicely: the industry standard was to serve at a lower temperature

False: The National Coffee Association of the USA recommends serving at 180-190 degrees; another article suggests industry standard is 160 to 185 degrees. [Note: dead link removed.]

According to a Sep. 1, 1994 Wall Street Journal interview with Reed Morgan, Liebeck’s attorney, he measured the temperature at 18 restaurants and 20 McDonald’s, and “McDonald’s was responsible for nine of the twelve highest temperature readings.” Which means that, even before one accounts for conscious or unconscious bias in the measurements, at least three, and probably more (what about the other eleven McDonald’s?), restaurants were serving coffee at a higher temperature. And Starbucks serves at a higher temperature today, and faces lawsuits over third-degree burns as a result (Jan. 2, 2004).
This storage temperature of 180F is still recommended today by the National Coffee Association of the USA.  Moreover, a quick test yesterday on my home coffee maker shows a temperature of 175F:

All of which is to say, the entire basis for Liebeck's suit was false. McDonald's coffee was well within accepted norms of how hot coffee should be. They didn't spill her coffee. The only reason we are talking about this now is that Liebeck was a sympathetic plaintiff; we know this because a subsequent similar case, McMahon v. Bunn Matic Corp., went the other way, and for exactly the reasons described.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Hilarious Workplace Harassment Policy

Everything at is worthy of your attention (apparently, it's a viral pitch for HBO's Silicon Valley series, which I have mostly ignored, along with all other scripted television), but the workplace harassment policy is 99 & 44/100ths pure comedic gold:
Pied Piper will, of course, have zero tolerance for harassment based on gender, race, sexuality, religion or lack thereof, class, trans status or ableness. Pied Piper will also of course not merely prohibit harassment that is direct and public but also less direct harassment that creates a hostile workplace. But furthermore, Pied Piper will join the cutting edge of the harassment-detection industry in forbidding microaggressions, nanoaggresions, picoaggressions, yoctoaggressions and all such oppression “particles,” if you will, down to the quantum level.

Pied Piper additionally forbids man-splaining, white-splaining, straight-splaining, cis-splaining, able-splaining, splain-splaining, splain-plaining, splain-shaming and, in general, saying things people doesn’t like. Discussion or possession of the Kurt Vonnegut short story “Harrison Bergeron” will be grounds for immediate termination.
How one might detect picoaggressions is itself patent-worthy, and I know a ready audience.

Friday, May 8, 2015

And Now, A Musical Interlude From Oberlin College

I might die laughing.

Columbia "Scramble" Band Waylays Emma Sulkowicz, Title IX

This. Is. Genius (h/t @DestinTrueheart):
The band also made light of a recent protest by a Columbia anti-sexual assault group, No Red Tape, during which the words “Columbia Protects Rapists” was projected onto the university’s Low Library when prospective students were visiting the school.

“An army of high school creepers is now thinking, ‘Yes, I will go to Columbia after all,’” the band’s “poet laureate,” Mikhail Klimentov, a junior, said.

Ms. Matlow noted that No Red Tape itself had mocked artwork as an inadequate option for fulfilling the sexual respect requirement.

“Unless it involves a mattress,” she added, a reference to Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia senior who, as part of her visual arts thesis, has carried a mattress with her everywhere she has gone on campus to protest the university’s handling of her claim that a fellow student raped her in her dorm room. The line drew a few boos, and then some cheers.
One art critic was not so amused!
Ms. Sulkowicz, who figured in several other jokes about her status as a poster child for sexual assault on campus, did not attend Orgo Night. But she said in an interview that she was hurt and disappointed in the band.

“I guess they don’t really know anything about how a survivor would feel, to get totally made fun of in front of the entire school,” she said.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"They Need You Now, But When They Don't, They'll Cast You Out Like A Leper."

Great quote pull by The Libertarian Republic on the subject of Joss Whedon's late Twitter exit:
“Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not. Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak. Like me. They need you now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out like a leper. See, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke to be dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be.”
I doubt Mytheos Holt has really any polling data to find whether he's right about the fungibility of Whedon's audience, but the early tally of receipts from the current Avengers point at a $700M walloping of, well, everything. Of course, that this was part of a dialogue between the Joker and Batman is probably not something Holt would advertise, but the "dropped at the first sign of trouble" certainly rings true.

Entrenching Incumbent Bias: Alan Lowenthal's Stealth Gerrymandering

One of the benefits of our little neighborhood is that we get a couple of throwaway free newspapers which, to their credit, do publish items of interest germane to the cities they cover. One such article covered a bill by my Congressman, Alan Lowenthal, to supposedly put an end to gerrymandering. Lowenthal on his own website declares H.R. 2978, the "Let the People Draw the Lines Act of 2013" (timely, no?) a means to put an end to partisan districting. Now, ignore for the moment that the paper's editor apparently put on the front page a two-year-old story, it's worth recalling how such "people's commissions" fooled the voting public and installed a Democratic supermajority in California:
The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines," according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.
Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”
Lowenthal's bill died in committee, and for anyone living in a state that does not currently have such a stealth "nonpartisan" committee, be grateful.

Update 5/8/2015: It turns out Lowenthal has a 2015 version of this bill (PDF). Your choices are this "independent" redistricting committee or unelected judges. Horrible.

The Infant At University

A dispatch from the wilds of Claremont McKenna College on the subject of consent:
...what I want to talk about is what happened before I said yes, who taught me to say yes, why I thought it was better to say yes, and why I really meant ‘no.’
For me, and many others like me, consent isn’t easy. Yes doesn’t always mean yes, and we misplaced ‘no’ several years ago. This experience isn’t random, but disproportionately affects oppressed communities. Consent is a privilege, and it was built for wealthy, heterosexual, cis, white, western, able-bodied masculinity. When society has taught some of us to take up as little space as possible, to take all attention as flattery, and to be truly grateful that anyone at all could want our bodies or love, it isn’t always our choice to say yes.
Individuals with this affliction clearly need some kind of help, though I'm not entirely sure of what kind. Only white males can issue consent? Isn't that... infantilizing everyone else? I mean, look at the classes of people who are legally presumed unable to consent: children, the elderly, the infirm, the insane. Some people are not meant for whatever it is that's going on between the sexes on campus these days, and that's fine; just, please, stop taking it out on everyone else. And yet, after uncorking of a vial of the usual toxins, she unloads with an unexpected point of agreement:
So if consent isn’t just sexy, quippy slogans on tank tops, or boob-shaped cupcakes, what happens next? First, we have to realize that all oppression is connected, and all rape is racist, classist, ableist, patriarchal, hetero and cissexist. We cannot make consent available to all if we are not simultaneously disrupting these structures. Next, we have to stop trying to squash the variety of experiences of coercion into one “Affirmative Consent” law. We cannot trust the state to defend consent and bodily integrity—not in Baltimore, Ferguson, Los Angeles, or Claremont. In this moment, we have to throw out legislation entirely to realize that justice for our communities wasn’t built into those systems anyway. We have to stop looking to our Title IX office for a second and take a look at ourselves. We have to stop being defensive and start apologizing for the ways that we are hurting each other.
WAIT WHAT IS THIS HERESY? The rest of it is standard-issue cant, but the idea that appealing to law might not get you exactly the behavior you wanted in everyone else is positively revolutionary — and apparently the author recognizes this. Progress, perhaps? Not much: she still appears to be demanding that others never pressure her to make a decision she might later regret. But still, a first step.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

McCarthyism Alive And Well At The OCR

With many thanks to my growing list of tweeps paying attention to Title IX sexual assault adjudication issues, including @DestinTrueheart (who first brought it to my attention), @Anneeliz1, @justthoughts19, and @walterolson, we have one of the most incredible stories on this subject that has not really been adequately explored in public. Recently, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights loudly proclaimed a huge and accelerating backlog of sexual assault cases, with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Tim Kaine (D-VA) making wholly predictable calls for increased funding to deal with this tsunami.
I have here in my hand a list
Lhamon said that her office's increased workload is partly of its own making. "We knew when we issued the guidance we did in 2011 calling out sexual violence as a civil rights issue, we knew that would increase the visibility of the issue," she said, referring to a Dear Colleague letter that detailed colleges' obligations regarding sexual violence on campus.
Well, yes, when you expand the meaning of the word "sexual assault" and make it cover dating squabbles that have nothing whatsoever to do with rape, yes, of course, you'll have a big increase. Except, what's that you say? The numbers actually went down in 2012? Damn, we can't have that.

Enter plan B.
Complaints of discrimination to the department have soared from 6,364 in fiscal 2009 to a record of 9,989 in the most recent fiscal year. Lhamon expects another record to be set when the current fiscal year ends in September. It is a sign that “we have the trust of the national community bringing to us their deepest hurts and asking for resolution,” she said.
She said there was no single category of grievance that accounted for the rise in complaints. But a breakdown of agency statistics show that the category of sex discrimination has grown from 391 in 2010 to 2,354 in 2014. Discrimination based on disabilities make up the largest category, or 39 percent.

Sex discrimination comprised 24 percent of total complaints. Lhamon said two individuals were responsible for filing more than 1,700 of those allegations of sex discrimination. She declined to identify them, citing confidentiality requirements.
Two people are by themselves responsible for nearly a fifth of their complaints. Who are these hyper-offended people? What organizations are these charges lodged against? What are the charges? And most importantly, why should we take seriously anything they have to say? And while, yes, sexual assault is not the same thing as sex discrimination, given Title IX's wavy domain, it's hard not to wonder that this amounts to a roving commission, with no public oversight whatsoever.

The plan to "fix" this situation involves spending
$131 million for its Office for Civil Rights, an increase of $30.7 million, so it can hire an additional 200 lawyers and investigators. That would be in addition to its current staff of 554 employees.
Which is to say, this is a boldface grab for resources. Congress needs to subpoena Lhamon and anyone else behind this charade in the DoE and discover exactly who these anonymous, and quite frankly, non-credible complainants are. It smells of a return to the era of Tailgunner Joe McCarthy and his paranoid, noxious witch hunts.

Whedon Cites New Project As Reason He Quit Twitter

Sadly, we must revoke, or at least substantially amend, yesterday's story about the feministas chasing Avengers auteur Joss Whedon off Twitter. In a Buzzfeed interview today, he says he's doing so as a consequence of his next project:
“I saw a lot of people say, ‘Well, the social justice warriors destroyed one of their own!’ It’s like, Nope. That didn’t happen,” he continued. “I saw someone tweet it’s because Feminist Frequency pissed on Avengers 2, which for all I know they may have. But literally the second person to write me to ask if I was OK when I dropped out was [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita [Sarkeesian].”

What did happen, Whedon said, is that he chose to embrace his long-standing desire post–Age of Ultron to reclaim his personal life and creative spark — and that meant saying good-bye to Twitter. “I just thought, Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place,” he said. “And this is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life. … It’s like taking the bar exam at Coachella. It’s like, Um, I really need to concentrate on this! Guys! Can you all just… I have to… It’s super important for my law!”
 I am not entirely convinced even he believes this, though:
“I’ve said before, when you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically,” he said. “Because suddenly that’s the litmus test for everything you do — for example, in my case, feminism. If you don’t live up to the litmus test of feminism in this one instance, then you’re a misogynist. It circles directly back upon you.”
Well, at least, that's how it works if you have camp followers who believe you must conform to their narrow (and frequently unknowable) ideals of how such a creature should behave, and think, and create.  I have read elsewhere — and cannot now put a finger to — a story claiming that Whedon has previously deleted his Twitter account, so there's reason to think he'll be back.

Update: Found the cite for Whedon's prior exit at Entertainment Weekly, exiting Twitter after concluding the campaign for his partly creepy but otherwise fun treatment of Much Ado About Nothing. Which brings up some other points:
  1. If his main reason for being on Twitter was to publicize the recently completed Avengers sequel, mission accomplished. I really can see this being a significant reason for walking away from Twitter.
  2. That said, couldn't it be both?
  3. If the fact that (some portion of) his audience is scary was in fact partly a motivation for his exit, is there any way on Earth he could say this? He (and his employers) depend on them to keep delivering multi-million-dollar paydays; dissing them publicly would be bad form and counterproductive. This cognitive dissonance is exactly what made the old Saturday Night Live sketch about William Shatner insulting his Trekkie audience at a fan convention so very funny:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bomb Threats And Harassing Phone Calls Attend Gamer Meetup In D.C.

Arthur Chu, Twitter's male answer to the question, "what would a Kardashian be without looks?", lost his shit about Cathy Young, Christine Hoff Sommers, Milo Yiannopoulos and other pro-#GamerGate individuals having a meetup at the Washington, D.C. bar Local 16:
This sparked a flood of angry calls to the bar, and eventually a bomb threat:
What makes this serious threat of violence even more disturbing is that the GGinDC event was packed. Yiannopoulos told us on Sunday that there were at "least 250" people in attendance at the time of the incident. He added that he "shook at least 150 hands" during the course of the evening: "I run a lot of events and normally you can expect 40-60 per cent of RSVPs to show up. But there were even more people there on Friday night than the 220 who had RSVPed," he told us.
My suspicion is that it was one raging idiot intending to scare rather than an actual bomb, but whatevs. I'm not especially interested in label-based argumentation, which is 95% bullshit, nor in establishing victimhood cred; that's a game for losers. Chu has since blocked me on Twitter, which probably says more about his limited cognitive abilities and intolerance than what I tweeted at him (the only thing to my recollection I ever said was hardly abusive). No one is allowed to have wrongthink, and especially, to do so over frosty adult beverages, apparently.

The Feminist Twitter Mob Scalps Joss Whedon

I keep looking at ways to pull the word "feminist" from the lede, and finding none, I helplessly giggle at the news that Joss Whedon has quit Twitter following a lynch mob out to tan him "for using Scarlett Johansson's international spy Black Widow in a typical 'damsel in distress' role in a few key scenes late in Age of Ultron." The nature of the pitchfork-wielders went unmentioned by the likes of The Mary Sue, a near inevitability, but it's surprising that we have yet to get reaction from Jezebel and some of the other watering holes of the feminist left. Jon Gabriel at Ricochet put up a post with links to a number of Whedon tweets in amber before his exit, though it missed my personal favorite, one I cannot now access thanks to his account's being down, a glowing, 140-characters review of Laurie Penny's latest book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution:
"THIS. Funny, angry, clear & true. @PennyRed takes no prisoners - she'd rather free 'em. #weaponizeourshamelessness"
I find Whedon's assessment questionable to say the least (without that I haven't read it), given her prior work, which is largely hostile to the audiences and authors of those genres. If, as Whedon previously claimed, Anita Sarkeesian "is just truth telling", she also engages upon a political struggle whose long game is the social (if not legal) power to micromanage others' work. As Cathy Young wrote about a different matter, the retracted cover of Batgirl,
The worst message to send creators is that if your female character doesn’t get a Good Feminist seal of approval — if she shows too much weakness or too much sexuality, if she has too many stereotypical female qualities or too many “male” ones, if she suffers a failure or a harrowing ordeal, if she is shown in an overly disturbing situation — your work may be attacked as anti-woman. That’s a prescription for bland characters and dull stories.
You can't be orthodox for everyone, and eventually, something like this had to happen. Whedon proved that airing the right sentiments on Twitter is not proof against attack; surely, he cannot be the last victim, but he might be the biggest scalp collected to date, and for a long while.

Update: I forgot to mention this:
Scalzi is certainly on my short list of SJW hacks for his arrogant, condescending whining about white male privilege, which is really a sort of intellectual prejudice pretending to be wisdom. Like a lot of the motte-and-bailey frauds, it says something uncontroversial (some people have it easier in life because of birth) while later asserting something both insulting and controversial (subsequent successes are largely a function of birth). It can't happen soon enough.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Feminism Isn't About Choice, #1

Via the reliably loony Anita Sarkeesian, we learn that feminism isn't about choice, per Meagan Tyler:
First of all, the choice arguments are fundamentally flawed because they assume a level of unmitigated freedom for women that simply doesn’t exist. Yes, we make choices, but these are shaped and constrained by the unequal conditions in which we live. It would only make sense to uncritically celebrate choice in a post-patriarchal world.

Second, the idea that more choices automatically equate to more freedom is a falsehood. This is essentially just selling neo-liberalism with a feminist twist. Yes, women can now work or stay at home if they have children, for example, but this “choice” is fairly hollow when child-rearing continues to be constructed as “women’s work”, there is insufficient state support for childcare, and childless women are decried as selfish.

Third, the focus on women’s choices as the be-all and end-all of feminism has resulted in in a perverse kind of victim-blaming and a distraction from the real problems women still face. If you’re not happy with the way things are, don’t blame misogyny and sexism, the pay gap, entrenched gender roles, women’s lack of representation on boards or in parliament, or an epidemic of violence against women. Blame yourself. You obviously made the wrong choice.
Well of course, responsibility for the outcome of one's own life and choices therein are pretty certainly not the sort of thing gender feminists wish to examine; that would "effectively [undermine] calls for collective action", because who needs to actually learn things an employer might find useful?

Speaking of the hunt for money, Tyler has a website, Feminist Current, which might end up in my Slings and Arrows section on the sidebar if it can provide enough suitably wacky fodder; trying to rehabilitate Andrea Dworkin's misandrist reputation possibly qualifies. (If you think she hated men, ipso facto you are a misogynist, maleness is learned, and all the other standard-issue cant.)  Just below the mast, a pitch for more funding in the scrolling image bar. 'Twas ever thus; "what can I do for you?" is not a question such creatures ask themselves, and getting paid for good intentions should be enough.

Friday, May 1, 2015

PLOS ONE Apologizes, Reconsiders Paper After Sexist Manuscript Rejection

Really amazing story that a peer reviewer at PLOS ONE told evolutionary geneticist Fiona Ingleby that she needed to find a male coauthor and get more input from men:

The row created quite a media and social media stir, and has caused PLOS ONE to recant and reconsider the paper.
Ingleby and Head said they received the rejection with just the single review. “Not only did the review seem unprofessional and inappropriate, but it didn’t have any constructive or specific criticism to work on,” Ingleby wrote. (The reviewer wrote that the study is “methodologically weak” and “has fundamental flaws and weaknesses that cannot be adequately addressed by mere revision of the manuscript, however extensive,” according to a copy of the review Ingleby provided to ScienceInsider, but Ingleby says these comments are “quite vague” and therefore difficult to address.)
I would certainly be curious to see the paper at this point. (You can find Ingleby's research here, and a page describing the University of Sussex's evolutionary genetics of sexual conflict lab here.) The reviewer does seem to bring his own unexamined biases into his review (if you're going to claim she makes weak arguments, at least show some rebutting evidence as to why). If this is truly weak science, it will get shredded upon publication. For my part, I have never claimed that sexism doesn't exist, only that it is more or less a factor depending on the situation and individuals involved. This might be one of those situations.