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As the Supreme Court Turns

There was nothing on Thursday’s daytime soap operas remotely so compelling as the Senate judiciary committee’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which of course was what everyone was talking about.
In the unlikely event you weren’t watching on any of the various news channels, or haven’t already heard about it from multiple sources, California university professor Christine Blasey Ford gave a convincing account of how current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were both high school students in the early ’80s, Kavanaugh gave a convincing denial of the charges, and pretty much everyone decided whom to believe based on their partisan prejudgments. Elsewhere in the news there are three other women accusing Kavanaugh of serious youthful sexual misbehavior, and some serious reasons the news media are very cautiously reporting their yet un-sworn testimony, along with plenty of circumstantial evidence that at the very least Kavanaugh wasn’t quite the straight-arrow high schooler he claimed to be on a unprecedented and ill-advised Fox News interview, and some witnesses on both sides that probably won’t be called to testify, but all that will also be probably judged according to partisan prejudgment.
These days we find ourselves on the political sidelines, with no real rooting interest in either party, so our best guess about the matter is based on more personal experience.
We’re as wary as ever of those damn Democrats, and especially their aversion to the originalist theory of constitutional interpretation that has always been the obvious primary reason they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. On the other hand we’re just as wary these days of the putatively Republican and legally embattled President Donald Trump who nominated Kavanaugh against his party’s advice, and we can’t shake a healthy suspicion he was nominated ahead of other impeccably originalist candidates because of some his previous writings in White House memory and law journal articles that a sitting president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated. We’d still like the think that the Republicans could come up with a highly qualified and stridently originalist Supreme Court nominee who doesn’t face such credible charges of teenaged sexual assaults, as they did the last time around, perhaps with one of the several more-easily confirmable female candidates, but this is the hand America has been dealt.
None of that much matters in the current he-said and she-said context, though, and we’re left with the desultory task of choosing whom to believe. At one point in the proceedings Kavanaugh spoke movingly about his mother, who was one of Maryland’s first women prosecutors and judges, and how her “trademark line” was “Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?,” and that’s how we’ve always tried to decide these darned complicated matters. Unfortunately for the trailblazing Mrs. Kavanaugh’s undeniably accomplished son, that Ford woman’s testimony rings discordantly true to our ears.
Most of our lives have been more happily spent on apolitical pursuits, but that has included some intimate relationships with women who have convincingly and heartbreakingly told of us the sexual abuse they have suffered from more powerful men, and we didn’t doubt them at all, and Ford’s accounts seems to ring true in the same detailed way. Over the many years we went to high school and college and worked in offices we witnessed countless men behaving badly, ranging from geeky awkwardness to credible accusations of rape, and we’re hard-pressed to see why a California psychology professor with a little-known but well-regarded reputation and a nice quiet family life would invite death threats and the condemnation of a major political to tell a lie about something she claims happened decades ago.
Women do either misremember or lie about these things sometimes, of course. The left will well remember the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” the nine black American men accused of raping two white women on a train rolling through Dixie in 1939, whose innocence was eventually conclusively proved by the undeniably Communist-linked Lawyers Guild. The right is as quick to recall the more case of the Duke lacrosse team, all privileged white boys at an elite college who were accused of gang rape by much of the faculty and indicted by a Democratic district attorney running for reelection in a mostly black district, but eventually exonerated by the traditional conservative press and some up-to-date DNA tests. One never knows about these things, no matter your partisan prejudgments, and the very lawyerly Kavanaugh undeniably made some compelling arguments during his star turn on the news channels.
Still, our long and desultory experience of these matters suggests that rapes and attempted rapes and lesser degrees of sexual misbehavior are committed by far more numerous than the false accusations of such crimes alleged by women, and we’d like to see the Republican majority on the Senate judiciary call some more witnesses and let the Federal Bureau of Investigation do some more investigating before the country reaches any conclusions.

— Bud Norman

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Wow, What a Press Conference

To his immense credit President Donald Trump frequently fields questions from the press, usually when he’s obliged to do so during a visit with a foreign head of state, or when the noise of the Marine One helicopter allows him to pretend not to hear the questions he’d rather not answer, but he rarely endures a solo press conference in front of the assembled television cameras and microphones. He gave one on Wednesday, however, and it was a nearly 90-minute-long doozy.
Despite the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard quality Trump’s rhetoric has to our sensitive ears, and the unpleasant effect his oleaginous appearance has on our sore eyes, we couldn’t stop watching and listening the press conference’s end. Trump was in true Trumpian form throughout, with the expected insult comic shtick about the “the failing New York Times” and the rest of the “fake news,” as well as the “low-lifes” and “big, fat con jobs” among his other critics, and the requisite amount of wildly exaggerated boasting. As usual, much of what he said was not only provably but quite obviously  untrue.
Trump talked up a major expansion of the American steel industry that isn’t happening. He claimed credit for the construction of that “big, beautiful” border wall he promised Mexico would pay for, even though the Mexican’s aren’t paying up, and he’s recently signed a spending resolution that will avert a pre-mid-term-election government shutdown but doesn’t include any money for any kind of wall, and it also  isn’t happening any time soon. He explained that all those international camera’s footage of the United Nations audience he’d addressed the day laughing at him was fake news, because of course they were appreciatively laughing with him when he opened his speech with the usual braggadocio. Once again he bragged about winning 52 percent of women’s votes in the presidential election, even though he only won 52 percent of the white women’s votes, and lost the overall women’s vote by a landslide, not to mention that Trump garnered only 48.2 percent of the overall popular vote and thus would would have lost all the men’s ballots to Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton by a landslide if that oft-repeated bast were actually true.
He also reiterated an earlier unsubstantiated claim that China is interfering in the mid-term elections to get Democrats elected because they’re so fearful of his trade war, and failed to answer a question about why he also claimed once again to be such good friends with China’s dictator.
Maybe it was because he had a rare open 90 minutes on his busy schedule, but our best guess is that Trump granted the rare press conference yesterday because he knew that today’s news will be mostly devoted to the testimony of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate’s judiciary committee, and the testimony before the same committee California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they both students at elite sexually-segregated prep schools in Maryland back in the early ’80s. The nationally-televised-on-several-channels testimony of what he said and she said will surely generate boffo ratings even by the Trump reality show’s standards — to put it in Trumpian terms, that much we can tell you, believe us, OK? — and by now we’ve noticed that Trump likes to get ahead of the next day’s stories.
By now this subplot of the Trump reality show is pretty darned complicated, though, and even for such a wily reality show star as Trump it’s a damned hard story to get in front of. By now another couple of women have come forward by name to accuse Kavanaugh of far-worse-than-boyish sexual behavior during late teens and early 20s, male and female classmates of Kavanaugh’s are telling the press that he wasn’t the choirboy he claimed during an unusual and ill-advised interview on Fox News, the Republicans on the legislative committee are reluctant to call Kavanaugh’s prep school friend Mark Judge, an alleged eyewitness to and participant in the sexual assault, who has since penned a roman a clef titled “Wasted: Tales of a a GenX Drunk,” which featured a drunken friend named “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” and the “fake news” has found some admittedly circumstantial but undeniably evidence in Kavanaugh’s prep school yearbook that the Supreme Court nominee was once upon a time a rather party-hearty kind of dude.
The two latest accusers are both being treated with more skepticism by most of the “fake news,” on the other hand, and the third comes courtesy of the same media-savvy lawyer who represents pornographic video performer and best-selling author Stormy Daniels, and it’s worth noting the “failing New York Times” declined an offer to report the third accuser’s accusations. Kavanaugh has an unchallenged record of sexual propriety since his early college days, and plenty of well-educated and well-respected former classmates who vouch for high moral character, and that’s also well worth taking into account.
Kavanaugh also has the whole-hearted backing of Trump, but it remains to be seen if that proves helpful. Trump has been accused of adult sexual misbehavior by more than a dozen women, and of course Trump was asked about that during the news conference, and he eventually conceded that as a result of his experience he tends to not believe women accusing men of sexual misbehavior. He misstated some key facts about a couple of his accusers, ignored the fact that another one of them has civil suit for slander still pending in the courts, didn’t bother to deny that his voice boasting about grabbing women by the pussy, and generally came across as the sexist pig that all the polls show even most white women regard him. Short of that Mark Judge fellow the Republicans won’t call testify, Trump is probably the least convincing character witness you’d want on your side if accused of sexual misbehavior.
Most people will judge today’s he said and she said testimony according to their political prejudices, but in the end we don’t think it will help the Republican party much with the upcoming mid-term women’s vote. We’ve seen polling that a slight majority of Republicans support Kavanaugh’s nomination even if the appalling allegations are proved true, and the Senate majority leader has pledged to “plow” Kavanaugh’s nomination through no matter what is revealed today, and we can’t blame any woman voter we know for resenting that.

— Bud Norman

An Anonymous Accuser Comes Forward, and Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings to Come to a Sudden Halt

When federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump we figured the confirmation by the Senate was pretty much a done deal, and that was all right by us. Over the weekend Kavanaugh’s promotion became less certain, though, and by now that’s also all right by us.
Kavanaugh’s requisite testimony before the majority Republican Senate judiciary committee was a predictably partisan affair, with the Democrats trotting out all their usual alarmist about what might happen if the Supreme Court starts deciding things according to what the Constitution plainly says and its ratifiers plainly understood. Even so, the Democrats also had some admittedly more compelling complaints about all the documents that Kavanaugh had withheld until the last moment and some potentially perjruous statements he made during the hearings and especially the quite expansive view of executive privilege that he’d described in some undeniable documents that had been obtained, which is will well worth noting given all the Trump-related cases that might eventually wind up in the Supreme Court.
Our admittedly amateur opinion is that the Democrats are on less firm constitutional ground as they worry that Kavanaugh might be the fifth vote need to overturn the abortion rights declared in Roe v. Wade, but our more expert political is that they’ve got a winning electoral issue if it does come to pass, so of course they made a bit deal of that.
None of that was likely to prevent Kavanaugh’s nomination, however, and none of it kept us from being more or less all right with that. Even when that oh-so-California-Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke at the end of the week of an anonymous source who alleged that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her way back in his prep school days, Kavanaugh seemed a safe pick. He had a long list of character witnesses, including the girls’ basketball teams he’d coached and his fellow prep school carpoolers and their children, and that was to be weighed against an anonymous accuser’s accusations vaguely described by an undeniably partisan Democrat.
Over the weekend, however, a 51-year-old-professor of research psychology with appointments at both Palo Alto University and Stanford Univerity named Christine Blasey Ford went on the record as Kavanaugh’s accuser, and even after so many years she seems to have some corroborating evidence for an account that is quite unpleasantly specific. She claims that during a teenaged party in the early ’80s at a house in the tony little town in Maryland’s Montgomery County, two drunken boys from a nearby elite prep school cornered in her a room, and proceed to grope and rub themselves against as one held a hand over her mouth. She now names the two boys as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and bus fellow classmate Mark Judge, a filmmaker and author who has written for publications ranging from The Washington Post to the Weekly Standard. Both have plenty of character witnesses, but so does Ford, and sh’e released a family therapist’s record that show she’s been telling the same story long before anyone ever heard of Kavanaugh, and she can no longer be accused of hiding her reputation behind anonymous charges.
Judge was also the author of a roman a clef titled “Wasted: Tales of a Gen-x Drunk,” which mentions a classmate named “Bart O’Kavanaugh” puking in cars and passing out on the way home from parties. That’s by no means conclusive proof of anything more nefarious than the usual teenaged obnoxiousness, of course, but given everything else it suggests that there might something to the tale a well-credentialed professor by the name of Christine Blasey Ford is staking her reputation on. At the very least, it should tie up the confirmation process for a few more news cycles.
Given everything else, it might even wind up preventing Kavanaugh’s confirmation. All that talk about Roe v. Wade already had two abortion rights-favoring women Republican Senators from quirkily Republic states wavering on Kavanaugh’s nomination, which is decisive given the Republican’s razor thing margin in the upper chamber, and credible accusations of sexual assault will also further scare off those Democrats running for re-election in the states won by Trump. Not to mention the concerns about Trump packing the Supreme Court for his inevitable cases there.
If we were betting types and had any money to wager, we’d still be inclined to bet a few measly bucks on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but at this point we’d insist on better odds than we did before, and we’ll hold out some hope that one way or the other the truth will prevail.

— Bud Norman

Bill Cosby, Greek Tragedy, and Yet Another Tabloid Scandal

Even on a day full of news of grave international import, the most compelling story here in the United States was probably comedian Bill Cosby being convicted on three counts of sexual assault. The tale is tawdry enough for tabloid fare, but it also involves complicated matters of race and class and sex and celebrity and various other downright vexing aspects of American culture, and you’d have to go back to the days of classical theater to find a more riveting tragic fall from the heights to the depths of human existence.
Even if you’re one of our several non-American readers or slightly more numerous under-30 American readers, you’re probably aware that Cosby was once a much beloved entertainer in this land. He was handsome and humorous and endearingly humble, his home-spun observational comedy had a familiar appeal to just about anybody. He had best-selling comedy albums, appeared on all the network variety shows, went on to co-star in a hit television series, had a Saturday morning cartoon, made some popular movies, starred in an even bigger hit television series, was a well-paid pitchman for various sugary foods, and earned the nickname of “America’s Dad.”
He was black, too, and of course that is unavoidably involved in Cosby’s rise and fall. His best-selling comedy albums and variety show appearances and prime-time co-starring role in “I Spy” were civil rights breakthroughs back in the ’60s, and both black and white audiences felt good about it. Cosby had ghetto cool, but he was not at all threatening, which white people appreciated and even the most burn-it-down sort of black radicals in the ’60s didn’t mind. He played an inner-city high school teacher in a fairly popular television show in the ’70s, then had a runaway hit with “The Cosby Show” in the ’80s playing a physician married to a lawyer with a cast of lovably mix-upped sit-com kids in a ritzy Philadelphia neighborhood. Some black and white critics complained that Cosby was presenting an atypical slice of black American life, but far more black and white fans praised him for an aspirational portrait of America’s possibilities, and he parlayed his popularity into a lucrative career in commercials.
As he got older and richer he gradually retired from show business, but he became more outspoken in his political opinions. The Temple University graduate and up-from-the-ghetto success story spoke the usual civil rights rhetoric about white racism, but he more frequently preached the importance of education and frankly stated that the middle class values of both black and white America were superior to the social pathologies of the black and white ghettos, and for the first time in his career Cosby was controversial. By the time rumors that Cosby was a serial rapist were widely circulated, it was because of the edgier black comedians sharing what was long regarded as common knowledge in show biz circles, along with some of the edgier feminist white comediennes, and after 60 or women had gone on record alleging that Cosby had drugged and molested or raped them Cosby wasn’t getting the same sort of support that O.J. Simpson enjoyed in his race and sex and class trial for a double murder he sure seemed to have committed.
When Cosby faced his first indictment a couple of years ago celebrity still had its California privileges, and the trial ended in a hung jury. The second time around the judge allowed an extra four of those 60 of Cosby’s alleged victims to tell their stories, which were unsettlingly similar to the complaining witness’ tale, and by then countless women had brought down numerous Hollywood and news media and political big shots accused of lesser outrages, and the guilty verdicts on all three counts of sexual assault surprised no one. No one rallied around the once-beloved entertainer, and neither will we, but everyone had some sense it was nonetheless a damn shame.
Cosby used to be an undeniably funny fellow, but his classic routines with their universal home-spun verisimilitude will never again sound the same. His classic sit-com about a classy American family will look too different for any future late re-runs, too. Cosby’s hectoring arguments about the superiority of middle-class values to ghetto pathologies are still valid, as far as we’re concerned, but they obviously now lack Cosby’s previous moral authority.
It’s good news, we suppose, that most black Americans no longer rally around even a sold-out-to-the-man sort of brother the way they once did with the odious and obviously guilty and already convicted wife-beater O.J. Simpson, although we worry that’s at least partly because they resented Cosby’s more sensible advice. It’s good news, too, that all those undeniably victimized women out there are getting some righteous payback on their victimizers, but we expect that sooner or later they’ll ruin some innocent fellow’s life. We note that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts who routinely stand accused of racism are among the few sympathizing with Crosby, but they’re usually suspicious of even the most credible women’s allegations that some powerful man has abused them, and they don’t deserve any credit for the opportunistic color-blindness.
It’s a damned shame, too, that such a handsome and humorous and seemingly humble fellow as Crosby, who did so much to enrich America’s culture, was also such a seriously flawed human being. By now we’ve read enough Greek tragedies and tabloid scandals to know that’s how things go, though. We’ll hold out hope that Crosby and his victims and the American culture and the rest of humankind continues its fitful pace forward, and that we all find peace somewhere along the line.

— Bud Norman

Aziz Ansari and the Counter Sexual Revolution

Sooner or later some prominent celebrity was going to be accused of sexually inappropriate behavior and the charges would be a bit too ambiguous to stick. For now it seems that prominent celebrity is Aziz Ansari.
If you’re not fully au courant about all the current celebrities, Ansari is a popular standup comedian who had a notable supporting role on the long running “Parks and Recreation” television series and now writes and stars in a popular and well-reviewed Netflix series called “Master of None.” He’s also an impeccably and slightly preachy liberal who wrote a very feminist book about dating, but nonetheless comes across as a likable fellow and is often quite funny. All the more surprising, then, that he’s the latest in the long list of accused celebrities.
The accusations, though, don’t rise to the level of misconduct recently alleged. Ansari’s anonymous accuser recalls meeting him at the Emmy awards, where he was wearing a pin to signal his support for the anti-sexual harassment “me too” movement, and admits being charmed by his celebrity and well compensated wit, having an enjoyable conversation about their mutual interest in photography and shared fondness for a certain ’80s-era camera, and exchanging several mutually flirtatious texts before excitedly accepting his invitation for a date. The date began at his swank apartment in a swank part of Manhattan, where she was slightly annoyed he served a glass of white wine rather than her preferred red, and then proceeded to a swank oyster bar on an historic boat just a few blocks away, where she snapped a cell phone picture of the lobster rolls that is included in the babe.net news site’s tell-all account of the evening. She alleges that what happened when they walked the few blocks back to Ansari’s swank apartment resulted in “the worst night of my life,” but even if you believe the worst of it we’d guess that most women have had many worse nights,
As she tells it he quickly had her sitting on the marble countertops she had complimented, and then began kissing her and fondling her breast, and although she recalls feeling uncomfortable she does not report that she protested or otherwise resisted the advances. When he shortly announced he was going to get a condom she said “Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill,” then allowed him to continue kissing her and briefly perform oral sex, then voluntarily if unenthusiastically briefly returned the favor, and within ten minutes it ended without what the accuser calls “actual sex,” but was followed by some prolonged finger-in-mouth business and some clumsy attempts to guide her hand toward his crotch, repeated requests for “actual sex” that she put off by saying “next time,” some more brief oral sex, another “aggressive kiss,” and then a tearful Uber ride home.
Which is all quite tawdry, to be sure, but even the most stridently puritanical or feminist district attorney would be unlikely to regard it as sexual assault by any jurisdiction’s legal definition, and by the standards of recent celebrity scandals it’s merely tawdry. The anonymous accuser acknowledges that when Ansari texted her about the date, and she texted back that “You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept advancing,” and “I want to make sure you’re aware so maybe the next girl doesn’t have to cry on the ride home,” Ansari texted back that “I’m so sorry to hear this. Clearly I misread things in the moment, and I am truly sorry.” Ansari repeated the apology in his statement about the babe.net story, which didn’t deny any detail of the accuser’s account, and we think that speaks well of his character.
The whole account is undeniably tawdry, though, and we can’t help finding Ansari a little less likable and his comedy a little less funny after reading it. As much as we’d hate to be accused of “slut-shaming” we think his accuser could have handled things a bit better, and expect that most stridently puritanical feminists would have preferred a more forceful response on her part, but we do sympathize with what she and few other women have had to put up with over the years. By now we’ve heard pretty much the same tale countless times, albeit without the fancy lobster rolls and swank apartments, from both tearful women friends and genuinely regretful men friends, and it’s always sounded just as tawdry.
We try not to judge, lest we be judged, but the same Sunday-school-inculcated Christian instincts leave us nostalgically yearning for those long-fogotten cultural norms that used to preclude such unpleasantness. Not for everybody, of course, as men’s obviously instinctive aggressiveness and women’s seemingly instinctive passivity have resulted in rape and sexual assault since long before the Bible was written, but at least for those well-trained men and women who conformed to those old-fashioned cultural norms.
Those old-fashioned notions were long ago laughed away by Hollywood and academia and the rest of the popular culture, with the feminists now leading the “me too” movement piling on, and the puritans of the religious right are momentarily busy defending a Republican president who had bragged on tape of doing far worse things than Ansari stands accused of, but right now the entire sexual revolution seems at a moment of reckoning, along with the fact of obnoxious male sexual aggressiveness and female vulnerability that it previously overlooked.
There were always moral and legal reasons for men and women to proceed slowly and deliberately with sexual relationships, and to put off any sort of sexual contact until a romantic relationship was more firmly established, and if the current trends offer more pragmatic reasons that’s fine by us. Given the rules people have been playing since the ’60s we’ll not pass judgment on Ansari or his accuser, or any of our male and female friends who have the same story to tell, but we hope that all of them will agree the rules need to be changed.

The Classics and the Current Scene

There’s a certain unmistakable craziness afloat these days everywhere along the political spectrum throughout western civilization, and in times like these our temperamentally conservative soul seeks solace in classical history and its constant assurance that our remarkably resilient culture has been through all this sort of thing before. Western history is not altogether reassuring, though, as it also frankly reveals that such times are awful to live through, whatever happy chapters might await some day long past our passing.
We were last reminded of this when Europe’s vexing problems with the recent wave of Middle Eastern and North African refugees started washing ashore, and trainloads of unaccompanied minors were crossing into the United States from only slightly more assimilable cultures, and some scholarly fellow reminded us of Edward Gibbons and his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which described how the Goth invaders welcomed by the Romans “still wore an angry and hostile aspect; but the experience of past times might encourage the hope they would acquire the habits of industry and obedience; that their manners would be polished by time, education, and the influence of Christianity, and their posterity would insensibly blend with the great body of the Roman people.” It seemed an eerily apt description of the western elite’s optimistic multi-cultularism, except that they no longer put in any stock in that Christian influence and no one who’s paying any attention any longer takes western education seriously, and the rest of it also seemed eerily familiar. “Notwithstanding these specious arguments, and these sanguine expectations, it was apparent to every discerning eye, that the Goths would long remain the enemies, and might soon become the conquerers of the Roman Empire. Their rude and insolent behavior expressed their contempt of the citizens and provincials, whom they insulted with impunity.”
After that desultory blast from our historical past, a recent round-up of headlines from across Europe will sound discomfortingly familiar. Although the European press was slow to give up its specious arguments and sanguine expectations it now begrudgingly concedes that at a welcoming party for newly arrived “refugees” in Germany the honorees seized the opportunity to grope and sexually assault their hosts, that similar behavior by recent immigrants was epidemic in public squares around the continent during New Year’s Eve celebrations, that rape and other violent crimes by the new arrivals are now common, and that the welfare-dependent new arrivals are expressing their contempt of the citizens and insulting them with impunity, and that they may yet prove the conquerers who usher in the Dark Ages. This is by now apparent to every discerning eye, even in a Europe that doesn’t have a First Amendment and a resulting right-wing press, so the main concern is now with hoping that it doesn’t benefit those awful right-wing parties.
So far as we can tell, being here on the prairie and thus so far away from the action and reliant on the heavily-censored press, many of these awful right-wing parties are merely proposing a sensible alternative to cultural suicide. The Fleet Street press is pretty puckish even without a First Amendment, and reading of even their most critical suggests that the dreaded United Kingdom Independence Party merely wants independence from the suicidal European Union and its immigration policies, which seems reasonable enough, and we’re not at all scared even by that Geert Wilders in Holland, who is banned almost in every respectable jurisdiction, and certainly not by Holland’s agnostic Somalian refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who now lives in for fear of her life in America because of those offended by her steadfast defense of of western rather than Islamic values, and who has also been banned from American campuses, and neither do we fear the continuing influence of Pim Fortuyn, the homosexual and secularist and libertarian who was assassinated by a radical environmentalist for launching the “right-wing” crusade against mass immigration. Even in the worst case scenarios, we wonder if any of those “right wing” parties are any crazier than those more respectable parties with their specious arguments and sanguine expectations about the new arrivals neatly fitting in with the churches and gay bars next door and diversity-tained companies next door, and we note that the European press has admittedly been surpassing the facts lest those right-wing parties seem reasonable.
Still, we cannot dismiss the more respectable left’s worries. Classical history also warns us against that strain of patriotism that mutates into nationalism, and all the troubles that has caused in just the past century, and a lot of those European right-wing parties do seem to veer off in a troublesome direction. No matter how comely its leadership, the National Front in France hasn’t yet disavowed its Vichy roots, whatever purposes they might serve American interests many of those anti-Putin forces in Ukraine have roots in the worst of Europe’s history, some of the other vigilante groups around the continent are also a bit rowdy for our tastes, and at this point there are more anti-immigrant parties popping up around the west than we can vouch for. By now our only hope is that Europe allows enough room for frank discussion to come to a reasonable conclusion, and that hope seems faint.
“Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot still shrewder; but to provide against having to do either was to break up your party.”
The impeccably conservative Kimball dredged up this ancient comment by the Greek historian Thucydides, commenting on long ago events, to convey his current distaste with the Republican and therefore right-wing presidential candidacy of real estate mogul and reality show star and recent Democrat Donald Trump, currently the front-runner in his party’s race, and we have to agree this desultory blast from the past is redolent of a round-up of recent headlines from the campaign. We don’t mean to equate Trump with the worst of Europe’s current right, and we certainly don’t mean to equate him with the best of it that wishes to merely forgo civilizational suicide, but we do think he’s a recklessly audacious and imprudent sort who confuses frantic “tweeting” and shock jock taunts with manliness and who has pulled off countless improbable plots and divined far more implausible ones, and we do share Kimball’s discomfort. He’s settled on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose right-wing views and reckless audacity have arguably infuriated the supposedly right-wing Republican elites even more than Trumps, and we’ve tentatively reached the same conclusion, although after reading so much history we’re reluctant to place much faith in any mere man. The craziness on the left seems all the more frightening, though, where a self-described socialist and the epitome of a western elite vying to see who can offer the most specious arguments and sanguine expectations, and even the most ancient histories can’t provide any comparable craziness as a guide.

— Bud Norman

Safe Rooms in an Unsafe World

One of our longstanding literary ambitions has been to write a satirical novel about the modern university, something along the lines of Mary McCarthy’s “The Groves of Academe” or Kingsley Amis’ “Lucky Jim” or Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” but it looks as if we’ll have to abandon the project. Academia is now more ripe for ridicule than ever, but apparently to the point that it is beyond satire.
Such a humorless publication as The New York Times recently ran a rather straightforward story that the latest campus contretemps that the combined talents of Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and the usual gang of idiots at Mad Magazine could not have rendered anything more comical. Headlined “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas,” the story told how Brown University hosted a debate between the founder of a feminist web site called feministing.com and a female libertarian on the topic of the “culture of rape” that now reportedly pervades the American campus, and how members of the school’s Sexual Assault Task Force responded to this exchange of ideas. Worried that the libertarian’s perspective on the issue “could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” and might even be “damaging,” the Sexual Assault Task Force members created a “safe space” for traumatized listeners to retreat from the debate, complete with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” Even if we had the imagination to concoct such absurd details, we would have rejected them as too obvious a burlesque of the infantilizing nature of modern higher education.
As The New York Times ruefully notes, such episodes are now common at America’s colleges and universities. Almost every day tells of a student being disciplined for merely questioning the veracity of that highly questionable “one if five women on campus are victims of sexual assault” claim, or professors being charged with “micro-aggressions” for patting the arm of a student angered by an opposing viewpoint, textbooks coming with “trigger warning” to alert the possibility of unapproved ideas, or women’s rights activists being barred from campus because they’re advocating the rights of women in the wrong cultures, or some other more mundane case of campus activists chasing dissenting views off campus. Institutions of higher learning once insisted on vigorous debate and an unflinching look at facts as necessary tools to the discovery of truth, but they’ve now determined they have all the truth they need and no longer anything as potentially traumatizing as debate and unwelcome facts. Little good is likely to come of it, and certainly less than one would expect for the tuition prices being charged today.
The same censorious instincts are found in the broader left, and score the occasional victories against free speech, but they are unlikely to prevail outside the campus. Reality intrudes outside the campus, as well as what’s left of the First Amendment, and most people who haven’t undergone an expensive indoctrination at such elite institutions as Brown University find it very annoying. Nor will anyone who has been so carefully shielded from opposing opinions and unpleasant realities be likely to prevail in the rough-and-tumble of American politics. Worse yet for those who took refuge with the cookies and coloring books and videos of frolicking puppies, they’ll be up against conservative foes who spent their years of higher education being constantly bullied, ridiculed, and shouted down for their beliefs, not just by their professors and deans but also by all the movies and television shows and the rest of the popular culture. The right’s arguments will be honed and its spines stiffened by the college experience, if they get nothing else out of it except perhaps for a still-lucrative degree in math or science or engineering or one those other suspiciously “objective” disciplines.
Even those supposedly oppressed sub-cultures that the left presumes to speak for are unlikely to offer the same sort of refuge as the modern university. If those people retreating to the “safe rooms” of Brown University are planning on community organizing in America’s poor neighborhoods, they’ll find that there are no cookies or coloring books or videos of frolicking puppies, and plenty of uncomfortable facts that they’d rather not face.

— Bud Norman

An Impossible Essay Question

Our college days were long ago in the era of raccoon coats and ukeleles and pitching woo over a box lunch on the quad, but we still try to keep abreast of the contemporary campus scene. These days the talk seems mostly about sex, as it was even back in our day, but it’s lately been a strange conversation.
After decades of giddily deconstructing the sexually repressed patriarchy and its archaic Judeo-Christians superstitions that notoriously kept women barefoot and pregnant through the ’50s or so, academia has now decided that neither does it care for the ongoing fraternity orgy that has resulted. Unsurprisingly enough the more demure co-eds haven’t found the promised self-fulfillment of sexual freedom, and instead feel put upon by the highly sexualized new social standards, and the modern feminist academia has declared it a “Culture of Rape.” Rape is defined here more broadly than law, lexicography, and the general English-speaking public have long understood the term, to the point that it encompasses almost any sexual activity that a woman later regrets, and with prodding from the Department of Justice schools are working to stamp it out. Bringing back that sexually repressed patriarchy is of course out of the question, so the official response has to been to do away with due process and presume the guilt of any student accused of violating the nebulous new rules of sexual propriety. At Ohio State University, proving one’s innocence not only entails proving the other party’s consent but also proving they had reached agreement on why they are having sex.
Our further advice to any libidinous Buckeyes is to get the agreement in writing, not because it’s likely to keep anyone off the sex offender register but because the documents would make for such fascinating reading. Over the past many millennia the question of why we have sex has been pondered by the world’s most brilliant scientists, philosophers, poets, and advice columnists, none of whom have come up with an adequate explanation for why anyone should become involved with such messy nonsense, and it would be quite a hoot to see those kids who sit shirtless in sub-freezing football stadiums with their fraternity letters painted on their fashionably-toned tummies take a stab at the question. Psychiatrists and stand-up comedians would find a gold mine of material in comparing the stated reasons of the men and to those of the women, making the unforgivably heteronormative assumption that a man and woman are involved, and our guess is that little sexual activity would occur even on a college campus if both parties were honestly forthcoming about their motives. Even the biggest and hunkiest man on campus is likely to strike out with even the most promiscuous and plain girl after affixing his signature to a document stating that he agrees to the ensuing sexual encounter because the party of the second of the part has large breasts and he’s been on a dry spell lately. Even the comeliest campus queen would be rebuffed even by the most nerdy engineering student if she ever confessed whatever dark and twisted character flaw it is that would cause anyone, at any age, to contemplate having sex with something so hideous as a college boy.
Some couples might state the same reasons of true love and all that, but given the current offerings in popular music and motion pictures we can’t imagine where today’s college students would get such ideas. Youngsters used to get such lofty notions from their literature classes, where Shakespeare was comparing his love to a summer’s day and finding her more lovely temperate, or on the black-and-white late shows that used to be the only thing on television, where Bogie was sagely telling the highly desirable Ingrid Bergman that the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world, but those lessons have been lost. All that dead white male stuff is read only to expose its crimes against race, class, and gender, and anyone watching the late show rather than the latest indy films on the internet will find that the oldies are now from the ’70s when the sexual revolution still seemed a heroic cause. The college students being presumed guilty of violating the new and as yet unenunciated rules have been shaped more by popular entertainments and academic pronouncements and a political party’s promises of free contraceptions that constitutes what is, if not precisely a “culture of rape,”  a culture that encourages the behavior that the schools and the Justice Department hope to stamp out by iron-fisted governmental power rather than that nasty old social stigma that used to discourage inevitably horny college boys from pressing equally horny and inept young women into activities they later regret. Social stigma is so judgmental, after all, and although it once proved more effective than the government’s harsher measures it doesn’t pay any bureaucratic salaries.
We’ll keep an eye out for further developments, as we find it one of the more hilarious academic follies of recent years. Trying to impose some sort of sexual restraint on these college kids is going to be challenging, especially without any of that archaic Judeo-Christian superstition or any other commonsensical social rationale redolent of that still-hated patriarchy, and we’ll be interested to see how the dwindling number of male students on our college campuses react to being presumed guilty of sexual assault. Perhaps it should be a condition of enrolling in a school that the student and university sign a statement that explains their reasons for entering such an agreement. The student probably won’t mention a desire to learn the best of his civilization’s knowledge, or to prepare for a lucrative career in the soon-to-be-booming economy, and might even admit that he’s hoping to get some action for taking on a job and a wife. The school will admit that they’re interested in the tuition money that goes up every time the federal student loan program authorizes an increase in debt loads, or they’ll also admit a desire to indoctrinate another middle white class into anti-Americanism. At that point, nobody will be getting any action.

— Bud Norman

A Sexual Counter-Revolution

Our carefree college days were long ago, back in the era of raccoon coats and ukeleles and goldfish-swallowing, but we try to keep abreast of what’s current in higher education. Imagine our horror, then, to discover that the once-idyllic campus life has degenerated into a culture of rape.
This isn’t our usual grumpy old man’s anti-intellectual assessment of those pointy-headed academics, but rather the conclusion of academia itself. The more-or-less official feminist line is that one in five currently enrolled co-eds will be sexually assaulted while in college, an alarming statistic that has been repeated by the President of the United States, and the term “culture of rape” is frequently invoked to explain the epidemic. Many colleges have responded by adopting a “preponderance of evidence” standard when considering allegations of sexual assault, and now that the Department of Education has made federal funding contingent on such measures the rest will eventually do so, while there seems to be a serious movement afoot to eradicate whatever culture is causing all this rape.
Let us make clear at this point that we do not wish to make light of rape, which is as heinous a crime as man can commit and should always be punished with the utmost severity whenever guilt of it has been proved, but only a heart of stone can’t find some bemusement in academia’s clumsy response to this eternal problem. That one-in-five number is laughable at first glance, and would be the most damning indictment of higher education yet if it were true. One would almost certainly reach something approaching that ratio if the definition of “sexual assault” were expanded to include any regrettable experience a young woman might have in today’s hyper-sexualized society, and we have great sympathy for all of them insufficiently wary young women who have fallen victim to our cultural depredations, but it’s disquieting to see colleges denying due process to young men accused of violating the cultural norms that academia has long sought to abolish.
Back in the bad old days of sexual repression a patriarchy imposed virginity on the yearning-to-be-unleashed libidos of young women, especially those bold and brilliant enough to a pursue a college education, but academic feminism was at the forefront of liberating society from such archaic restrictions. Colleges used to promise the tuition-paying parents that they would act in loco parentis, meaning they would assume the role of nosy and puritanical parents, but by now they are acting those loco sorts of parents who provide condoms and encouragement for a nice robust romp in the dorm. There’s an inadvertently hilarious Hollywood movie set in the ’50s called “Mona Lisa Smile” that features the comely Julia Roberts as a heroic professor in the “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” mode who encourages her female charges to pursue promiscuity as self-expression, another called “Kinsey” that features the handsome Liam Neeson portraying the titular perverted Indiana University sexologist as a hero of the sexual revolution, and they accurately reflect the role colleges played in eradicating the old sexual etiquette. We suspect the sexual pioneers intended that their distaff charges would all have enlightening affairs with sensitive poetry majors, which would somehow enhance their procreative marriages to more boring but lucrative business majors, but it turned out that the main beneficiaries of the new rules were the buff frat boys and their infuriatingly anti-feminist “bro culture.”
(We’ll note in passing that a Democratic Senatorial candidate in Kentucky is running on her party’s familiar claim that the Republicans are engaged in a “war on women,” but is the heiress to a “breastaurant” called “Hugh Jass” that caters to the local fraternity clientele with a double-entendre-laden menu and scantily-clad waitresses.)
This is probably the real reason for feminism’s sudden concern with the “culture of rape,” and we have some sympathy. Our disdain for the womanizing frat boy culture is not based on feminist principles, but rather the old-fashioned respect for womanhood that our Christian mother inculcated in us at an early age, but we hope that one way or another it will soon wither from public scorn. The irrecoverable end of the old rules of courtship is not at all limited to that sub-culture, however, and until academia is willing to embrace more old-fashioned notions of sexual propriety it is unlikely to correct what truly is, in some unsettling if not strictly legal sense, a culture of rape.

— Bud Norman

The Rising Cost of Wising Up

Every day seems to bring another executive order, and the latest presidential edict concerns student loans. With a stroke of President Barack Obama’s magic pen the indented need pay no more than 10 percent of whatever monthly income they might be lucky to have, and all those recent graduates who voted for him as part of their embarrassingly idealistic college phase will no doubt be glad for the help. They’re still liable for the entire outrageous cost of their unmarketable degrees, however, and the president’s fix only perpetuates the unsustainable system that got them into that fix.
The cost of a college education has quintupled over the past 30 years, and a brief conversation with a randomly selected recent graduate will demonstrate that the quality of that education has declined just as markedly, but the only solution being offered is to help students stretch out those costs over a lifetime. If Wal-Mart or the Koch brothers or any of the other corporate villains being pillared at almost every college were subjecting their customers to crushing indebtedness with such shoddy practices they’d go out of business or into jail or both, but academia enjoys such status with our college-educated elites that the government intervenes only to help their alma maters continue their price-hiking ways. The administration is seeking to regulate away pesky price competition from the private sector, has nationalized the student loan program to make sure that they’ll keep enough money flowing to accommodate the tuition hikes that inevitably follow the expanding credit, and argued that denying even the most academically ill-prepared youngster an opportunity to go deeply into debt for four years of left-wing indoctrination and a piece of paper that might win a job pouring coffee at some some hipster bistro is somehow anti-intellectual.
Which is not to say that the administration isn’t willing to impose some burdens on academia, such as a new rating system and rules about how colleges are to handle allegations of sexual assault. The same academics who voted overwhelmingly for the president are bristling at the government’s intrusiveness, which they feel is more appropriate to everyone else’s business, but it’s hard to muster any sympathy or even fend off the schadenfreude. The sexual assault rules are a result of academia’s faddish obsession with the “culture of rape” that the feminists insists pervade those green lawns and ivy-covered halls of the average campus, by which they mean the promiscuous “hook-up” culture that has followed academia’s half-century-long assault on traditional Judeo-Christian morality, and it was bound to happen that some governmental do-gooders would sooner or later take their cause seriously. One can only hope the new rules will prevent a rape or two, even if there are already laws against it, which somehow pre-date feminism, but given the rapidly expanding definition of the crime on the modern campus and the lax standard of prove being mandated by the government it might also create a culture of false rape accusations based on hurt feelings rather than actual offenses. Concerns for the rights of the accused are somehow sexist, though, which can only be explained in a high-priced college education.
The new rules might accelerate the trend of fewer men attending college, which could in turn make the high-priced experience somewhat less appealing to many of today’s libidinous women, and thereby hasten the inevitable popping of the higher education bubble. At some point on the cost curve even college students will wise up, and if not their parents surely will. Giving the professors a taste of the governmental regulations they have long championed might improve their thinking, too.

— Bud Norman