Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Misogyny as Ideology

When liberals squawk disbelief of what conservatives say about politics that doesn’t surprise me much. The same goes for the other way around. Nothing new. Most of us know that some partisans think their opposites in the game don’t mind lying, when it comes to framing political issues. As a liberal, myself, I happen to think most liberals have a firmer grip on reality than most conservatives, but that’s not really the same thing as honesty or reliability.

As a longtime observer of matters political, I have considered the so-called “war on women” to be mostly a useful slogan to characterize a series of throwback positions taken by right-wingers that, when taken as a whole, could be seen as anti-female. But that view hardly pointed me toward expecting conservatives/Republicans would leap before looking to defend the frat tradition from charges of facilitating gang rape at the University of Virginia.

No, I wanted to believe conservative men love their daughters just as much as do liberal men.

If you’d have asked me a week ago whether this snowballing scandal would divide along ideological lines, knee-jerk-style, I think I would have said something like, not so much, because there will be plenty of conservatives worried about rampant "lawlessness" in Charlottesville. But I would not have said that men who vote Republican will be more likely to doubt women who say they’ve been raped.

Today, I’m absolutely sure of this -- suspending activities at UVa’s frat houses isn’t a matter of punishing the innocent for the crimes of a few. Not at all. It’s a matter of stopping the bleeding … literally. Moreover, when we’re talking about The University’s traditions, shielding gang rapists doesn’t exactly jibe with the concept of living up to an “honor code.”

Given what has come out in the last week, temporarily shutting down fraternity activities, while proper investigations determine which individuals and groups are guilty of what, makes a lot of sense. Not partisan sense. Real sense.

Bottom line: If a goodly number of conservative men in Virginia (and elsewhere) -- can it really be most? -- now feel that defending the archaic institution of college fraternities is more important than getting to the truth in this case, then the “war on women” has been validated as more than a slogan. And, the “war” is being escalated in a most telling way. It substitutes misogyny for ideology.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Behind Closed Doors

In a discussion with a group of friends yesterday, talk of the upcoming ‘Hoos at Hokies football game led to a guy mentioning the now famous Rolling Stone article about UVa, penned by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. As it turned out, I was the only guy in the group who had read the article, but that hardly stopped any of them from expressing disbelief about what they had heard. Although I had planned not to bring it up, I couldn't stay quiet on the topic.

One man laughed and said what others may have been thinking, "I don't need to read it."

After some discussion, it turned out much of their disbelief was based on simply not wanting to accept what they had heard. One guy surprised me by defending the fraternity system, itself, as a worthy part of the overall college experience.

Well, since I was a kid I've always thought the frat-house and sorority culture was weird. At 16, I couldn't grasp how it was cool to beg to be in a social group, to go through a groveling ordeal. Never did it, and I still can't understand why self-respecting people do. Likewise, for a good many years I’ve wondered why modern universities associate themselves with randy social clubs with Greek letters for names.

This morning I read a defense of the Greek scene in comments on Facebook. The defender cited his own membership in a fraternity in his college days, which he remembered fondly. He asserted that his frat brothers weren't rapists and I don't doubt him. 

However, defending the archaic world of college fraternities by saying the vast majority of fraternity members aren’t rapists doesn’t work for me. Not when that vast majority has apparently been helping to perpetuate a system designed to cover up serious crimes under the guise of tradition.

Hey, in the 1960s, I suppose most Ku Klux Klan members didn’t murder freedom riders. Most didn’t bomb churches to kill little girls. But like today’s party-hardy frats, the KKK of 50 years ago operated with the tacit blessing of the people in power. The KKK’s secrecy provided cover for a few people to commit terrible crimes. Expecting the Jim Crow era authorities to turn a blind eye on those crimes, that secret society's membership routinely did the same. Like today's frat boys, the members of the KKK didn’t denounce the sickos in their midst.

If we are to believe what we read in Rolling Stone, and elsewhere -- click here to read Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent analysis in SLATE -- it seems fraternity parties are providing opportunities for serial rapists to operate with cover, behind Rugby Road's closed doors. While most frat bros might cringe at the very thought of a gang rape, nonetheless, they seem to have been systematically averting their eyes from what they don't want to see. That’s a tradition that deserves no defense.

At the very least, sepia-toned memories should not stop folks who want to cast aspersions at the Rolling Stone article’s disturbing charges from taking the time to read it first.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

After 51 Years, It’s Time to Let Sunlight Change Our Ways

Camelot at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave lasted 1,036 days. For the children in school on Nov. 22, 1963, the murder of President John F. Kennedy was stunning in a way nothing has been since.

On Nov. 24, 1963 a live national television audience witnessed the murder of the assassination’s prime suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. There was no doubt that Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator, was the triggerman. What made him do it is still being questioned.

Shortly after JFK’s death, columnist Mary McGrory expressed her dark feelings to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “We’ll never laugh again.”

Moynihan, who was an Assistant Secretary of Labor then, famously replied, “Heavens, Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.”

The cynicism the cloaked-in-secrecy aftermath of the JFK assassination spawned has tinted everything baby boomers have seen since that November. However, I’m not at all convinced there had to have been a complicated conspiracy to kill the president and cover up the tracks. After he was dead, just because some people deliberately obscured related information, we don't necessarily know why the did it. In some cases it was probably people trying to cover asses, hither and yon, for a myriad of reasons. On the other hand, I’m not saying there was no conspiracy that led up to the murder of President Kennedy.

For this piece I’m skipping past the argument over whether Oswald acted alone. Not going to speculate about whether Oswald was a dupe, or one of the greatest marksman who ever lived. The point to this screed is that the secrecy that rushed in to obscure what happened in November of 1963 poisoned the American culture in a way that we need to recognize, so we can learn from it today.

Tomorrow we need to do something about it.

The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known as the Warren Commission, published its report on Sept. 24, 1964: Oswald was found to have been a lone wolf assassin. Which immediately unleashed the questioning of the Commission’s findings. Was its famous “single bullet theory,” which had one projectile traveling circuitously through two victims, great sleuthing? Or was it an unbelievable reach?


In 1965 gunmen murdered Malcolm X in an auditorium in Manhattan. Three years later Martin Luther King was killed on a motel balcony in Memphis by a sniper. Two months after that assassination, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel.

Unfortunately, the official stories on those three shootings were widely disbelieved, too. In the ‘60s more public scrutiny of how those assassination probes were conducted might have led to different conclusions. Even if more sunlight into those probes failed to produce different outcomes, at least Americans might have felt better about the good faith of the processes.

Instead, it seemed then the authorities generally believed the citizenry didn't really have a right to see the whole truth, and nothing-but-the-truth. Too often it seems to have been decided that the public was better off not knowing some things, as if we were all children. Of course, such secrecy can hide everyday malfeasance, as well.

Shielding the citizenry from such information is the sort of thinking that went with world wars, with spies lucking about. Therefore the public had come to expect its government to routinely withhold all sorts of secrets. It took the rudest of revelations to snap us out of blithely tolerating an over-abundance of secrecy:
  • The My Lai Massacre horrors.
  • The publishing of the Pentagon Papers.
  • The Watergate Scandal hearings.
  • The Iran-Contra Scandal hearings.
  • The bogus justification for invading Iraq. 
As those events paraded by, America steadily morphed into a nation of cynics. Now, those of us who recognize the damage that's been done by official lies know we were wrong to ever have accepted such skullduggery in the name of keeping America safe.

Today, to trust official conclusions, we need to see into the investigations. That means more public hearings. Now for democracy to have a chance of working properly, we need to know whose money is behind this or that politician. We, the people, can’t allow the fundraising and sausage-making to continue to be done in the dark.

Moreover, in 2014, we, the people, have no privacy. Our governments and plenty of large corporations already know all they want to know about us. They monitor our moves as a matter of course. To level the playing field we need more scrutiny of their moves.


In 1997 Sen. Moynihan’s book, “Secrecy: The American Experience,” was published. In the opening chapter he wrote:
In the United States, secrecy is an institution of the administrative state that developed during the great conflicts of the twentieth century. It is distinctive primarily in that it is all but unexamined. There is a formidable literature on regulation of the public mode, virtually none on secrecy. Rather, there is a considerable literature, but it is mostly secret. Indeed, the modes of secrecy remain for the most part -- well, secret.
On inquiry there are regularities: patterns that fit well enough with what we have learned about other forms of regulation. But there has been so little inquiry that the actors involved seem hardly to know the set roles they play. Most important, they seem never to know the damage they can do. This is something more than inconveniencing to the citizen. At times, in the name of national security, secrecy has put that very security in harm's way.
In the C-SPAN video here Sen. Moynihan and a panel discuss the book in 1998. 

Sunlight should be THE political issue for 2015. Fifty-one years after the murder that we baby boomers can still feel in our guts, it’s high time to stop tolerating unnecessary secrecy in government at all levels.

To bring it home, we Richmonders should start with calling for an end to secret deals cooked up behind closed doors at City Hall. Mayor Dwight Jones has used secrecy shamefully to mislead and abuse his tax-paying constituents. I can tell you from experience that getting information out of Jones top aides, to write an accurate news story or OpEd, has been more than a little difficult at times. The Jones administration has a paranoia about it that's been there from the start.

Sunlight could discourage more of the same. Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote: 
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."
Single bullet theory, you say?

Great name for a band.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Is Jones the dumbest mayor Richmond has ever had?

Just got an email from Mayor Dwight Jones. But it wasn’t about the City of Richmond. The email was about supporting Democrats on election day. If you're on the same list of likely Democratic-leaning voters, some of you may have gotten the same missive. While I don’t necessarily mind being reminded of such matters by the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, I don‘t see how it properly has anything to do with Jones being the mayor of Richmond.

Here’s the text of the email:

Election Day is almost here. Do you have everything you need in order to vote?
Your 2014 Election Day Checklist: 
  • A valid photo ID
  • Know where to vote
  • A list of Democrats to support
  • A contribution to the Democratic Party of Virginia
So, are you missing anything?

I AM MISSING A FEW THINGS – Then click here right now to fix that.

I AM READY FOR TOMORROW – Share this link on your Facebook page to make sure your friends are ready, too.

When Democrats turn out, we win. Don’t let anything stand in between you and your vote!


Mayor Dwight Jones
Democratic Party of Virginia

PS We’re doing everything we can to turn out Democrats on Tuesday. Do your part and chip in $5, $10, $20 or whatever you can to help us buy last minutes supplies so we can keep at it until the polls are closed.
Unfortunately, I get fundraising emails regularly (every day!) from Democrats. When Vice President Joe Biden is the sender he signs it as being from “Joe.” Likewise, Sen. Mark Warner closes with “Mark,” when his office sends me that sort of a partisan message. That's how it's done. Warner knows the difference between acting as a senator representing all Virginians and acting as a well-known Democrat. 

Although it might seem picky to complain about this, I feel like it fits into a pattern of ineptitude. Jones doesn't seem to have any idea of where his powers and responsibilities as mayor start and stop. Remember his endorsement of the cheesy Loving RVA promotion that was obviously designed to buffalo members of City Council as part of a scheme to enrich certain favored real estate speculators?

At times Jones has seemed to have no sense of propriety, either. Remember when he stiff-armed the student demonstrators at City Hall six months ago? And, his ham-handed self-promotion has been annoying at times. Remember when he had his name put on signs posted at city-financed construction projects, as if he was personally responsible for the work?  

Now, in this case, he is acting simultaneously as Mayor Jones and Chairman Jones. An email with a partisan fundraising request should not appear on its face to be a message from a person acting as an elected official. I don’t know if it violates any laws, but one might think a person of ordinary intelligence who's been an elected official for 20 years would know better. Or, at least he should know enough to hire an adviser who knows better. I could go on, but instead I'll get to the point:

When you add up all the blunders and stupid things he's said, it makes Jones look rather unintelligent. All of which make me wonder if Mayor Dwight Jones qualifies to be the all-time dumbest mayor Richmond has ever had.