Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Reading

The Next Level — James Fallows of The Atlantic sees the pepper spray incident at U.C. Davis as what happens when we lose accountability.

In case you haven’t yet seen the YouTube footage of what happened [Friday] at UC Davis, here it is. The first minute has the main drama:

Let’s stipulate that there are legitimate questions of how to balance the rights of peaceful protest against other people’s rights to go about their normal lives, and the rights of institutions to have some control over their property and public spaces. Without knowing the whole background, I’ll even assume for purposes of argument that the UC Davis authorities had legitimate reason to clear protestors from an area of campus — and that if protestors wanted to stage a civil-disobedience resistance to that effort, they should have been prepared for the consequence of civil disobedience, which is arrest.

I can’t see any legitimate basis for police action like what is shown here. Watch that first minute and think how we’d react if we saw it coming from some riot-control unit in China, or in Syria. The calm of the officer who walks up and in a leisurely way pepper-sprays unarmed and passive people right in the face? We’d think: this is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population. That’s what I think here.


This Occupy moment is not going to end any time soon. That is not just because of the underlying 99%-1% tensions but also because of police response of this sort — and because there have been so many similar videos coming from cities across the country.

More below the fold.

Anything But That — Daniel Mendelsohn asks a very important question about the assaults at Penn State: What if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?

Does anyone believe that if a burly graduate student had walked in on a 58-year-old man raping a naked little girl in the shower, he would have left without calling the police and without trying to rescue the girl? But the victim in this case was a boy, and so Mr. McQueary left and called his dad (who didn’t seem to think that it was a matter for the police either).

Mr. McQueary’s reluctance to treat what he allegedly saw as a flagrant crime, his peculiar unwillingness to intervene “physically,” the narrative emphasis on his own trauma (“distraught”) rather than the boy’s, the impulse to keep matters secret rather than provide rescue, all suggest the presence of a particularly intense shame, one occasioned less by pedophilia than by something everyone involved apparently considered worse: homosexuality.

Mr. McQueary’s refusal to process the scene he described — his coach having sex with another male — was reflected in the reaction of the university itself, which can only be called denial. You see this in the squeamish treatment of the assaults as a series of inscrutable peccadilloes best discussed — and indulged — behind closed doors. (Penn State’s athletic director subsequently characterized Mr. Sandusky’s alleged act as “horsing around,” a term you suspect he would not have used to describe the rape of a 10-year-old girl.) Denial is there in the treatment of the victims as somehow untouchable, so fully tainted they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be rescued. For Penn State officials, disgust at the perceived gay element seems to have outweighed the horror of the crimes themselves. (“Perceived,” because psychologists generally deny that pedophiles possess adult sexuality — something that can be described as “gay” or “straight” in the first place.)

The denial is hardly surprising. In a culture that increasingly accepts gay life, organized athletics, from middle school to the professional leagues, is the last redoubt of unapologetic anti-gay sentiment. Anecdotal and public evidence for this is dismayingly overwhelming.

The “Lazy” Lie — Steve Benen on GOP perfidy.

There’s a fair amount of irony surrounding the Republicans’ favorite attack of the week.

President Obama told business leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that U.S. policymakers have been “a little bit lazy” when it comes to attracting businesses to American soil. Republicans have taken this line and said the president called Americans “lazy.”

The GOP attack is an unambiguous lie. It’s been independently fact checked repeatedly and exposed as a complete sham, caused by taking a comment completely out of context to change its meaning.


The “lazy” smear matters because it’s a lie, and because Republicans have quickly become obsessed with a talking point they made up. But it’d be a shame if we also forget that it’s ironic — President Obama doesn’t think Americans are lazy; Republicans do.

We saw some of this in Romney’s own book, when he complained that Americans “have tended to avoid the hard work that overcoming challenges requires.” American workers keep giving more and getting less, but as far as the wealthy, elitist Republican frontrunner is concerned, we’re still unwilling to roll up our sleeves.


But that’s really just scratching the surface. Consider, for example, what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this week when talking about American competitiveness:

“Part of it is the culture of people just having no work ethic…. Moral relativism has done so much damage to the bottom end of this country, the bottom fifth has been damaged by the culture of moral relativism more than by anything else, I would argue. If you ask me what the biggest problem in America is, I’m not going to tell you debt, deficits, statistics, economics — I’ll tell you it’s moral relativism.”

So, in the mind of Paul Ryan, one of the most influential Republican leaders in the country, America isn’t getting ahead because Americans don’t work hard and have the wrong values.

In other words, it’s our fault. We’re lazy.


Obama never said Americans are lazy; Republicans did. And that’s what’s pathetic.

Doonesbury — The pride of authorship.