Here’s my lone (and pretty tongue-in-cheek) contribution to the wailing and gnashing of teeth inspired by Nicholas Kristof’s Sunday op-ed about the lack of real world engagement by university professors (especially political scientists).
No word yet from Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth or Kristof on their reactions to my argument. I assume I’ll hear back once they’ve had more time to read and digest the points I made about the way a philosophical grounding that works in a pluralistic society impacts people who want to shore up the idea of human rights and prevent real world abuses.
Some excellent responses to Kristof can be found here, here, here, and here.
Tom Perkins is doing anything he can to stay in the news:
"The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," Perkins said.
"But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How’s that?"
The audience at the Commonwealth Club reacted with laughter. But Perkins offered no immediate indication that he was joking. Asked offstage if the proposal was serious, Perkins said: “I intended to be outrageous, and it was.”
Perkins seemed to be aware that he was courting controversy, saying that his voting proposal would “make you more angry than my letter to the Wall Street Journal.”
In all seriousness, though, an undergrad wrote up this idea a year and a half ago and his peers in my class laughed about it for about twenty minutes. If Perkins is looking for more ideas to make people angry and pay attention to him, he should consider getting in touch with that undergrad, since virtually everything he writes gets lampooned all over the internet.
Alternatively, Perkins can just see what else he can compare to the Holocaust.
Everything is Nazism
In what might be the most poorly thought-out letter to editor I’ve seen outside of a student newspaper, venture capitalist Tom Perkins foresees a coming Holocaust of rich people in America:
Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”
From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.
Everything is Nazism all the time … especially the way rich people are treated in America.
I hadn’t written anything about the controvery created by a piece of reporting at Grantland earlier this week, but then I heard this take on it from the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis and decided I needed to write something.
Bill Simmons, Grantland’s editor, published a long piece a few days ago that explained and apologized for what happened with an investigative piece that ended up outing its subject as transgender (to one of her investors while she was still alive and then, when the piece was published, to the whole world after she had killed herself).
Lewis, in this short video clip, takes issue with Simmons’ apology because he feels that the backlash against the Grantland piece was PC thuggery and damages people’s ability to do good investigative reporting.
What’s interesting — and terrible — about Lewis’ commentary is that he absolutely fails to consider the depth of Simmons’ mea culpa, lampooning what I take to be the most important point that Simmons makes.
But that speaks to our collective ignorance about the issues facing the transgender community in general, as well as our biggest mistake: not educating ourselves on that front before seriously considering whether to run the piece ….
Whether you believe we were right or wrong, let’s at least agree that we made an indefensible mistake not to solicit input from ANYONE in the trans community.
What Simmons recognizes — albeit so very, very late — is that no one on his staff stopped for even a moment to think about things from the perspective of a member of a community that is radically misunderstood, marginalized, and persecuted.
Lewis bemoans and ridicules the notion that a reporter or an editorial staff ought to consider things from the perspective of the Other, making clear that he completely missed the central lesson of the whole Grantland controversy.
Can you do investigative journalism and follow a story’s unexpected twists and turns? You bet. Is it possible to also take into account how your reporting might impact people who are unlike you in some important respect? I would certainly hope so.
Almost 70 years ago, South Carolina electrocuted 14-year-old George Stinney, the youngest person to be executed by an American state since the 1800s. Family members today say he’s innocent, and while they can’t bring him back, they want his name cleared.
A black teen in the Jim Crow South, Stinney was accused of murdering two white girls, ages 7 and 11, as they hunted for wildflowers in Alcolu, about 50 miles southeast of Columbia.
Stinney, according to police, confessed to the crime. No witness or evidence that might vindicate him was presented during a trial that was over in fewer than three hours. An all-white jury convicted him in a flash, 10 minutes, and he was sentenced to “be electrocuted, until your body be dead in accordance with law. And may God have mercy on your soul,” court documents say.
Fewer than three months after the girls’ deaths, Stinney was escorted to an electric chair at a Columbia penitentiary, built for much larger defendants. The chair’s straps were loose on Stinney’s 5-foot-1-inch, 95-pound frame, and books were placed on the seat so he would fit in the chair.
On its website, CNN is asking: “Was execution of boy, 14, justice?”
This seemed to me like such an unbelievably ridiculous question for so many reasons that I was planning to do nothing but lampoon CNN in this blog post …
But then I read the comments.
And — guess what? — plenty of people think that the confession of a 14 year old is all the evidence you need for justice to be done; that the word of a white police officer who says a black boy confessed to killing two white girls is clearly unimpeachable in the Jim Crow South; that due process clearly doesn’t matter all that much when it comes to justice; and that, even if he was guilty, executing a 14 year old somehow equates with justice.
So, yeah, I guess a whole bunch of us still have no idea what justice means.
Melissa Harris-Perry has publicly apologized to the Romney family (and to all families who were offended by the segment that aired last week in which her guests made fun of a Romney family photo).
It’s a fine apology, better than the one she posted on Twitter earlier in the week (because an apology on Twitter seems to me to be the lowest of low-cost apologies). Though Harris-Perry spends some time explaining the intention behind airing the photograph, and explains that the panelists were meant to provide “off-the-cuff” comedic commentary, she recognizes in her apology that the intent doesn’t matter and that the result was unacceptable.
One thing that’s nicely highlighted by Harris-Perry’s apology is the way that a good apology tends to be bound up with the person’s conception of herself. This is, I suspect, why Harris-Perry becomes so upset toward the end of her apology. She had to offer an apology because the segment on her program was offensive to others … but also because she recognizes that it was violative of her understanding of herself. The apology, then, differs from many public apologies because it isn’t offered simply to placate others. What she hopes, with her apology, is to restore the public’s positive perception of her by demonstrating that the way the segment unfolded was very much out of line with who she is and what she believes.
A Little Theory
People who have made a fair amount of money by selling ideas to others, and who are in positions of power and/or trust, are probably not fools. Even if they’re not actually good at doing what they’ve convinced people they’re good at doing, they’re certainly good at convincing people to trust them, pay them, or associate with them.
It’s very easy and very tempting to completely dismiss someone whose beliefs or practices you find odious, unethical, or preposterous. But most of the time, you don’t get to be rich and famous if you’re actually a fool. You get to be rich and famous by figuring out how to prey on people who desperately want to believe what you’re selling without seeming to them to be preying on them.
Anonymous asked: I really want to be knowledgeable about current events, especially world news, but I feel like I have to know so much background to really understand what's going on and make an informed opinion. Is wikipedia a good resource for this or are there better ones?
My recommendation for anyone with an interest in global affairs is to start with a few newspapers, specifically ones with good international reporting. That will give you the basic news.
When you want to get some depth on a given situation or a particular country, then you can turn to Wikipedia for the basics. But you should regard Wikipedia as a first pass, rather than as the conclusion of your journey.
As an example, take the unfolding situation in the Central African Republic. You might see the CAR in the news, then search Wikipedia for the basics, and then go to the experts for analysis. Human Rights Watch has a lot of detail on the situation, as does Amnesty International. And, of course, don’t forget to see what the experts have said. If you want more information, or information on a specific topic, you can also find a lot of good reporting on the CAR online; there’s this piece by my friend Hayes Brown, for example, about Samantha Power and the U.S.’s involvement in the crisis.
Finally, find reporters — international or not — whose work you trust and follow them on Twitter. They’ll keep you updated, not only the issues that originally brought them to your attention but on whatever’s developing.