Monday, January 29, 2007

Duke: The Waterloo of "rape-crisis feminism"?

As the Duke "rape" case collapses, The Wekly Standard comes out with an excellent, long but riveting cover story by Charlotte Allen on "Duke's Tenured Vigilantes." Allen discusses the problems that plagued the case from the beginning, mainly because of inconsistencies in various stories told by the accuser, and is appropriately tough on Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong (who has gotten into more legal hot water since the article came out); but her main focus is on Nifong's "enablers" outside the legal system. Writes Allen:

Mike Nifong's handling of the case was clearly outrageous. But he would probably not have gone so far, indeed would not have dared to go so far, had he not been egged on by two other groups that rushed just as quickly to judge the three accused young men guilty of gross and racially motivated carnal violence. Despite the repeated attempts by the three to clear themselves, a substantial and vocal percentage--about one-fifth--of the Duke University arts and sciences faculty and nearly all of the mainstream print media in America quickly organized themselves into a hanging party. Throughout the spring of 2006 and indeed well into the late summer, Nifong had the nearly unanimous backing of this country's (and especially Duke's) intellectual elite as he explored his lurid theories of sexual predation and racist stonewalling.


Although outsiders know Duke mostly as an expensive preppie enclave that fields Division I athletic teams, the university's humanities and social sciences departments--literature, anthropology, and especially women's studies and African-American studies--foster exactly the opposite kind of culture. Those departments (and especially Duke's robustly "postmodern" English department, put in place by postmodernist celebrity Stanley Fish before his departure in 1998) are famous throughout academia as repositories of all that is trendy and hyper-politicized in today's ivy halls: angry feminism, ethnic victimology, dense, jargon-laden analyses of capitalism and "patriarchy," and "new historicism"--a kind of upgraded Marxism that analyzes art and literature in terms of efforts by powerful social elites to brainwash everybody else.


Postmodern theorists pride themselves in discerning what they call "metanarratives." They argue that such concepts as, say, Christianity or patriotism or the American legal system are no more than socially constructed tall tales that the postmodernists can then "deconstruct" to unmask the real purpose behind them, which is (say the postmodernists) to prop up societal structures of--yes, you guessed it--race, gender, class, and white male privilege. Nonetheless, in the Duke lacrosse case the theorists manufactured a metanarrative of their own, based upon the fact that Durham, North Carolina, is in the South, and the alleged assailants happened to be white males from families wealthy enough to afford Duke's tuition, while their alleged victim was an impoverished black woman who, as she told the Raleigh News and Observer in a credulous profile of her published on March 25, was stripping only to support her two children and to pay her tuition as a student at North Carolina Central University, a historically black state college in Durham that is considerably less prestigious than Duke. All the symbolic elements of a juicy race/gender/class/white-male-privilege yarn were present. The theorists went to town.

Allen offers some in-depth discussion of how the "metanarrative" played itself out both in statements by the left-wing faculty at Duke and in the mainstream media coverage; her article is worth reading just for that account. With the case unraveling, the hanging party at Duke remains unrepentant. Allen quotes an inadvertently hilarious article by Duke English professor Cathy Davidson, one of the 88 faculty members who signed a full-page ad in the Duke student paper, The Chronicle, on April 4, 2006 -- a so-called "listening statement" expressing solidarity with students who sided against the accused players. Davidson's op-ed, worth reading its entirety, defends the ad by claiming that (1) it never fostered a presumption of guilt toward the lacrosse players and (2) that the real issue here is assorted social injustices (poverty, unequal pay for women, lack of affordable health care and child care, etc. etc.). Davidson does mention in passing, toward the end of her piece, that "if it turns out that Mike Nifong has no evidence (as he insisted he did back in the spring), he will have betrayed the trust of an entire community and caused torment to these young men and their families"; but she also suggests that the accuser deserves to be seen as a victim simply because she is "a single mother who takes off her clothes for hire partly to pay for tuition at a distinguished historically black college."

As for the suggestion that the "listening" ad never promoted a presumption of guilt: read for yourself. By the way, the ad has been taken down from its original location on the website of Duke's African-American studies department; but the Google cache remains. As Allen notes, comments such as, "These students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman and to themselves," certainly imply that the ad signers assume the woman's story to be true. In fact, every single student comment quote in the ad that is directly relevant to the case is supportive of the accuser and skewed heavily toward belief in the guilt of the accused.

But in addition to the professors and the journalists, there is another culpable group that has not received enough attention: the sexual assault victim advocates and the professional feminists (two overlapping groups) who have been fanning the flames as well.

I made two blogposts on this issue in 2006. The first, built around my May 1 Globe column, dealt with the advocates' attitude toward this case and the "women don't lie about rape" mindset in general. As I wrote in the column:

Feminism has achieved real and important progress in the treatment of sexual assault victims. A couple of generations ago, a stripper at a party with athletes would have been viewed by many as fair game. That this is no longer the case surely makes us a more decent society.

But even some people who applaud this change believe that in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far. Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply.

Appearing on the Fox News show ''The O'Reilly Factor," Monika Johnson-Hostler of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault declared that her role was ''to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted."

To O'Reilly's question, ''Even if they weren't?" Johnson-Hostler replied, ''I can't say that I've come across one that wasn't." Feminist pundits discussing this case, such as Wendy Murphy of the New England School of Law, exude an overwhelming presumption of guilt.

My second post, about a month later, was a response to Barry (Ampersand), who accused me of distorting Johnson-Hostler's exchange with O'Reilly (prior to the line I quoted) to imply that she had explicitly stated she did not believe in the presumption of innocence. Of course, I never suggested that; I think a presumption of guilt -- not in the courtroom perhaps, but in the court of public opinion -- comes out of Hostler-Johnson's assertion that every woman who claims she was sexually assaulted is telling the truth. (In another exchange Barry quoted later, she allows that these particular accused men may be innocent but goes on to assert that someone in that house was guilty of rape.)

As for Wendy Murphy: K.C. Johnson at the invaluable Durham-in-Wonderland has a mind-boggling compendium of her falsehoods, distortions, misstatements, and wild speculations uttered on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. (There is also the classic: "I never, ever met a false rape claim, by the way. My own statistics speak to the truth.")

Here are some of the lies, with comments by KC:

1.) (22 December 2006) “One of the reasons I think she should be thought of as fairly credible is that she rejected a 2 million dollar plus offer by people on behalf of Duke at the outset.”

In fact, the accuser told police on June 30 that she had never been offered any money, by anyone, to drop the case.

2.) (1 May 2006) “All the photographs showing how really fine she was when she left scene were doctored, where the date stamp was actually fraudulent.”

In fact, these photographs have been cited in various defense motions, and even Nifong hasn’t challenged their veracity.

3.) (11 April 2006) “You know, these guys actually . . . some of them have been, according to neighbors, reportedly been involved in not only carousing activity but other sexual offenses.”I am aware of no statement, by any neighbor, accusing any of the players of involvement in “other sexual offenses”; the Coleman Committee Report established that they had no such records.


9.) (27 April 2006) “It was because a broom handle was used, which by the way, doesn’t produce DNA when you put it inside someone.”

The search warrant for the lacrosse house contained no mention of a broom; and at no point in her myriad stories did the accuser claim assault by a broom.

10.) (2 May 2006) “The broomstick DNA has not yet been revealed.”

In fact, no “broomstick DNA” exists, since the police never seized a broomstick.

11.) (5 April 2006) “She had a torn genital area.”

In fact, in a recent court filing, even Mike Nifong conceded, “There is no scientific or other evidence independent of the [accuser’s] testimony that would corroborate specifically” a charge of rape.

The unfounded speculations:

1.) 1.) (19 June 2006) “Let me tell you what I think [Nifong] probably has—statements from some of the players who are probably cooperating because they actually have a conscience and think it matters when you tell the truth. And I bet she has GHB in her blood.”

2.) (26 Dec. 2006) “There’s a good chance a few of [the players] actually saw what happened and may well be cooperating.”

3.) (26 Dec. 2006) “Are there photographs? We know there were before photographs and after photographs. There’s a chance there are during photographs.”

(There are five more where that came from.)

And, on that pesky presumption-of-innocence issue:

(May 1) “I’m really tired of people suggesting that you’re somehow un-American if you don’t respect the presumption of innocence, because you know what that sounds like to a victim? Presumption you’re a liar.”

(April 10) “These guys, like so many rapists—and I’m going to say it because, at this point, she’s entitled to the respect that she is a crime victim.”

As this email posted on the conservative website shows (assuming it is authentic), Murphy is still sticking to her guns, even in the face of the prosecution's collapse, and still repeating her wild fantasies about photos of the sexual assault.

Murphy, a former sex crimes prosecutor and an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law in Boston, is a real piece of work. She's a tireless defender of discredited child-abuse witch-hunts based on junk science. She's an ideologue whose contempt for opposing viewpoints puts off even those sympathetic to her cause (see this page for some student responses to a lecture she gave at Harvard), and who once called a snow sculpture of an erect penis built as a campus prank a "powerful symbol of sexual dominance and gendered violence" similar to "a snow sculpture of a Nazi swastika or the confederate flag." And then people wonder where the "man-hating feminist" stereotype comes from.

Murphy may be an extreme case, but her contempt for the presumption of innocence is fairly typical of the camp that Katie Roiphe once dubbed "rape-crisis feminists." These are the ideologues who see rape as the ultimate act of a male "war against women," and for whom, as Catharine MacKinnon put it in her 1987 book, Feminism Unmodified, "feminism is built on believing women's accounts of sexual use and abuse by men." In 1985, amidst the media storm surrounding Cathleen Webb's recantation of the rape charge she had made in 1979 against Gary Dotson (then serving a prison sentence for the crime), feminist sociologist Margaret Gordon wrote an article for The Chicago Tribune called "Rape and the Benefit of Belief." She concluded by saying, "Rape victims deserve the benefit of belief. To give them less is to do agreat disservice and injustice to all the women who tell the truth." This formula, of course, is a deliberate reversal of the classic legal principle that the accused deserve the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, no one knows the true prevalence of false accusations of rape, and it would be very difficult to establish an accurate picture. (I dealt with this topic in a 1999 article in But obviously, false accusations to happen. As I wrote in Salon:

To recognize that some women wrongly accuse men of rape is no more anti-female than it is anti-male to recognize that some men rape women. Is it so unreasonable to think that a uniquely damaging and stigmatizing charge will be used by some people as a weapon, just as others will use their muscle as a weapon? Do we really believe that when women have power -- and surely there is power in an accusation of rape -- they are less likely to abuse it than men? As Columbia University law professor George Fletcher has written, "It is important to defend the interests of women as victims, but not to go so far as to accord women complaining of rape a presumption of honesty and objectivity."

Of course it's the job of rape victim advocates to advocate for victims, just like it's the job of defense attorneys to advocate for the accused. But the victim advocates should not rally unquestioningly to the side of anyone claiming to have been sexually assaulted, no matter how suspect her story, or slam those who raise legitimate questions about her credibility. A knee-jerk "if she says she was raped, then she was" stance is not only unfair to the accused, it is also, in the end, damaging to the advocates' credibility -- and therefore, to those for whom they advocate.

If the Duke prosecution case turns out to be the fiasco it now seems to be, it may become a turning point in media attitudes toward rape charges. Even some good liberals such as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff have been appalled by the prejudice exhibited in this case against white male jocks -- no better, Kristoff suggests, than the prejudice directed against black hobos in the Scottsboro Boys case in the 1930s. (For those who don't have Times Select, the column is summarized here.) Maybe we're starting to remember that the presumption of innocence is a liberal value, even when an accusation of sexual assault is involved.

Sadly, a new skepticism would likely backfire against real victims. It is often said that women who make false accusations of rape cause great harm to those who really are raped, making it harder for them to be believed. Victim advocates who champion fake victims hurt the real victims too, by depriving them of effective and credible advocacy. Maybe we need rape victim advocates who are not committed to ideological myths, and who are more interested in helping victims than in gender politics.

More: An excellent column by Wendy McElroy examining the "talking points" posted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), and believed to be authored by Murphy herself. The "talking points" are basically verbal somersaults intended to prove that the "Duke Three" are probably rapists and that the prosecutor is guilty of no wrongdoing. Here's a mind-boggling sample:

The "talking points" address Nifong's suppression of DNA evidence -- a transgression for which he is being investigated on ethics charges by the North Carolina State Bar. The head of a lab testified in court that Nifong told him not to reveal exculpatory results.

The "talking points" state, "One can argue that Nifong's withholding of this information was proper because the [accuser's] sexual history, like the sexual history of the defendants, is constitutionally protected private information. It is improper for any prosecutor to disclose this information without a hearing at which a judge must make a ruling to decide whether sexual history is relevant to an issue in dispute."

McElroy concludes:

And so the defamation and misinformation continues.

To those who ask, "What will make it cease?" the answer is clear: nothing.

The attack is not based on what is true or false, on whether a rape occurred or not. NSVRC derives its money from the current paradigm of victimhood. Murphy has based her reputation on it. They are fighting for their lives and livelihood.

I'm not sure it's money per se, so much as ideology. Either way, the victim advocates are strongly invested in perpetuating their dogma, at the expense not only of accused men but of the real victims.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Anti-Semitism, Brandeis, and Carter vs Dershowitz

Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has been (no kidding, with a title like that) the center of some heated controversy. Some have accused Carter, who is harshly critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, of anti-Semitism. This is a vexing issue; I do think some champions of Israel are too quick to label all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. However, I also believe that some criticism of Israel and its supporters has employed anti-Semitic tropes -- from the "Jewish conspiracy" meme, unmistakeably present in much of the talk about "the Jewish lobby," to the "Christ killer" meme -- and has often conflated the terms Israeli and Jew. (I addressed some of these questions in a column in Reason three years ago.)

I don't think Carter is an anti-Semite. However, I think that his book is a very skewed treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that some of his rhetoric is disturbing -- such as a passage that draws a parallel between the Pharisees of the New Testament and modern-day Israeli authorities. And I agree with historian Deborah Lipstadt's charge that in defending his book, "Carter has repeatedly fallen back -- possibly unconsciously -- on traditional anti-Semitic canards"; for instance, he has equated criticism from Jewish commentators who write for mainstream publications such as The New Yorker or The New York Times with criticism from "Jewish organizations."

Incidentally, social liberals might be startled to learn that in the book, Carter chronicles the fact that on a trip to Israel in the 1970s he remonstrated with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir for the overly secular nature of the Labor government. He even took it upon him to lecture Meir about the fact that in the Bible, "a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God." (Paging Pat Robertson?) But I digress.

The specific occasion for this post is Carter's visit to Brandeis University the other day. According to InsideHigherEd News:

Carter’s invite spurred a campuswide discussion about academic freedom and the religious identity of Brandeis, an institution that was founded by Jewish leaders in an era of Jewish quotas at top institutions. Brandeis is not officially a Jewish university but has always attracted many Jewish students, faculty and donors.


A Brandeis trustee initiated contact with the former president during the fall term, and the proposed event had Carter squaring off in a debate with Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and staunch supporter of Israel. But Carter nixed that format. Some saw the decision to propose a point-counterpoint event as a sign that Brandeis was unwilling to consider Carter’s ideas alone.

“Lots of faculty felt that if you invite a president, you don’t ask him to debate anyone. You want to hear him speak by himself,” said Gordon Fellman, chair of the peace, conflict and coexistence studies program at Brandeis.

Still, others argued that not allowing Dershowitz to speak at the event violated his freedom of speech and would allow Carter to emerge from the event without being challenged on his views.

After weeks of back-and-forth at Brandeis, more than 100 students and professors signed a petition inviting Carter to speak alone. A committee of faculty members and students extended the new invitation to Carter, and he accepted. So on Tuesday, the former president gave a 15 minute speech and answered questions that had been selected in advance — a decision that some students and faculty criticized.

Dershowitz spoke in a separate event later that night.

The Boston Globe provides additional information. From a January 22 news story, the day before Carter's appearance:

About 1,700 students, faculty, and other members of the Brandeis community will
attend a university forum tomorrow to hear Jimmy Carter discuss his controversial new book about Israel, but their questions will be limited to those selected by a committee that invited the former president.

After weeks of furor over Carter's visit to promote his book "Palestine: Peace Not
Apartheid," students and faculty will be allowed to ask at most 15 questions, said members of the committee, composed of five faculty and one student sympathetic to Carter's views. They added that no follow-up questions would be allowed.


[C]ommittee members said the questions, which will be limited to 45 seconds, reflect a range of views and represent an efficient use of limited time. Carter has agreed to answer questions for about 45 minutes.


Some faculty and students, however, worry the screening and lack of follow-up questions will hamper a free exchange of views on the predominantly Jewish campus, where many hoped Carter would debate Alan Dershowitz , a professor at Harvard Law School who has criticized the former president's book.


Aside from the media, Carter's talk will be closed to anyone outside the Brandeis community, university officials said. ... One of those being excluded from attending the forum is Dershowitz, who pleaded with campus officials to be allowed to attend. ... A designated protest area will be set up across the street from the hall, on property belonging to the City of Waltham, said Dennis Nealon, a university spokesman.

Nealon said Dershowitz "does not have a ticket, has no Brandeis ID -- therefore he does not get into the hall."

However, Dershowitz, invited to speak at Brandies by a separate group of faculty and students, will be allowed to address the forum -- after Carter is finished speaking and has left the hall, Nealon said. The Harvard professor will be allowed to watch the former president's appearance on a closed-circuit television outside the hall.

"I think it's really foolish that they won't let me in," said Dershowitz, adding that he would allow students and faculty to ask as many unscreened questions as they like, including follow-ups. "I'm going to encourage hostile questions. I want to show the difference between allowing filtered and screened questions chosen by a pro-Carter committee."

He said he invites Carter to remain at the hall to join his discussion. He also decried the university's decision to ban signs and leaflets inside the hall where Carter will speak. "He wrote a book saying he encourages debate, but he won't debate -- me or anybody," Dershowitz said.

Now, I'm not a big Alan Dershowitz fan, on many counts. And I realize that his "I'm open to all debate" posture is partly just that, a posture. (If grandstanding were an art form, Dershowitz would win a prize.) But better noble posturing than open cowardice.

Morton Keller, emeritus professor of history at Brandeis, told The Globe that the format chosen for the event was "like a Soviet press conference." Indeed.

I agree with my friend Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who told InsideHigherEd News that "Brandeis was under no obligation to give Carter the whole stage, nor was it obliged to find a speaker with a different viewpoint," and that just because a college invites a speaker without a "counterpoint" to balance him does not mean it endorses his views. But allowing a pro-Carter committee to pre-screen the questions? Keeping Dershowitz out of the auditorium until Carter had left the stage? Surely there is something about this that should offend anyone committed to the free exchange of ideas.

There was at least one positive moment during the evening. According to the Globe story:

In response to a question, Carter apologized for a sentence in his book that he acknowledged seemed to justify terrorism by saying that suicide bombings should end when Israel accepts the goals of the road map to peace with Palestinians.

"That sentence was worded in a completely improper and stupid way," Carter said. "I've written my publishers to change that sentence immediately in future editions of the book. I apologize to you personally and to everyone here."

The apology is a good step. But shame on Carter for refusing to discuss his ideas in a format where they could be challenged freely. (Globe columnist Eileen McNamara defends Carter's decision not to debate Dershowitz, on the grounds that it would have been an "exercise in egotism" on the part of the attention-seeking lawyer; but if Carter had objections specifically to Dershowitz, he could have asked for another opponent.) And shame on Brandeis for agreeing to this format.

By the way, Dershowitz levels some fairly scathing criticism at Carter here (and unlike Carter, he does engage in open debate with critics on the site). He focuses in particular on the financing of Carter's project, the Carter Center, by some rather reprehensible figures in the Arab/Muslim world. For instance:

Carter has also accepted half a million dollars and an award from Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, saying in 2001: "This award has special significance for me because it is named for my personal friend, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan." This is the same Zayed, the long-time ruler of the United Arab Emirates, whose $2.5 million gift to the Harvard Divinity School was returned in 2004 due to Zayed's rampant Jew-hatred. Zayed's personal foundation, the Zayed Center, claims that it was Zionists, rather than Nazis, who “were the people who killed the Jews in Europe” during the Holocaust. It has held lectures on the blood libel and conspiracy theories about Jews and America perpetrating Sept. 11.

Dershowitz's demand that Carter disclose all his ties to "Arab money" has a nasty whiff of ethnic stereotyping -- which is particularly ironic since he ends his article with a plea to "stop invoking discredited ethnic stereotypes." But Dershowitz does seem to make a pretty strong case that a major source of funding from the Carter Center is not just any "Arab money," but money from shady individuals with ties to radical Islam and to criminal activities (such as Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi, founder of the BCCI). And that's pretty disturbing, if true. Admittedly, Dershowitz's main source, Rachel Ehrenfeld of the American Center for Democracy, may not be entirely reliable, at least judging by this 1993 exchange in the New York Review of Books. But surely these charges are worth looking into. Maybe Carter should have had to field questions about his financial and personal ties to people like Abedi and Sheik Zayed in his appearance at Brandeis.

More: A reader informs me that if I don't think Carter is an anti-Semite, "that is because you are too weak to confront reality," and sends me a link to a story on WorldNetDaily in which said reality is, presumably, to be found. While the sender is an obnoxious jerk all too typical of a certain breed of right-wing netizen (when I asked if insulting people was really a good way to convince them of anything, he replied that he wasn't trying to convince me and added, "Let someone else rouse you from your stupor"), and WND has about as much credibility as Michael Moore, the story, posted last night, is of some interest:

Former President Jimmy Carter once complained there were "too many Jews" on the government's Holocaust Memorial Council, Monroe Freedman, the council's former executive director, told WND in an exclusive interview.


Freedman, now a professor of law at Hofstra University, was picked by the council's chairman, author Elie Weisel, to serve as executive director in 1980. The council, created by the Carter White House, went on to establish the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Freedman says he was tasked with creating a board for the council and with making recommendations to the White House on how best to memorialize the Holocaust.
He told WND he sent a memo to Carter's office containing recommendations for council board members.

He said his memo was returned with a note on the upper right hand corner that stated, "Too many Jews."

The note, Freedman said, was written in Carter's handwriting and was initialed by Carter.

Freedman said at the time the board he constructed was about 80 percent Jewish, including many Holocaust survivors.

He said at the behest of the White House he composed another board consisting of more non-Jews. But he said he was "stunned" when Carter's office objected to a non-Jew whose name sounded Jewish.

Freedman said he could not provide the historians name to WND because he did not have the man's permission.

"I got a phone call from our liaison at the White House saying this particular historian whose name sounded Jewish would not do. The liaison said he would not even take the time to present Carter with the possibility of including the historian on the board because he knew Carter would think the name sounded too Jewish. I explained the historian is Presbyterian, but the liaison said it wouldn't matter to Carter."

What to make of this? Freedman's credentials are pretty impeccable and confer a high level of credibility. However, his refusal to name the mystery Presbyterian scholar with the Jewish-sounding last name sets off some alarm bells, particularly since the man's privacy does not seem to be implicated in any way. The White House liaison is not named, either, making the story impossible to verify. And why would Freedman want to squander his credibility on a cyber-rag like WND? I plan to drop him a line and ask. Stay tuned.

More: In the comments, Joel asks what it would take for me to consider Carter an anti-Semite. He writes:

From what I know about Carter, it's long been clear to me that he is an antisemite, of roughly the same stripe as Pat Buchanan, even absent this most recent report; the only thing that's new in this new report, if true, would be his recklessness while in office.If you haven't come to the same conclusion, it's because

a: you haven't followed Carter's history of at best questionable behavior as closely as I have,

b: you have a different standard for evaluating whether or not somebody is an antisemite, or

c: both.

I think the most likely answer is (a). If Monroe Freedman's story does pan out (and he has now told it on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes), I would have no difficulty calling Carter anti-Semitic. Other disturbing allegations from the past are reported here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My departure from The Boston Globe: A last word

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who has expressed their support in these past few days, by email and on this blog. Many of you have asked what I will be doing next. I am still writing a monthly column for Reason, of course; I will also be exploring a variety of possible venues for my weekly column (which has also appeared on the Reason Online website and has been carried by the New York Times Syndicate). Stay tuned for updates, and of course for blog commentary on current events.

Those still wondering about the situation at the Globe can read about the latest round of layoffs here. (H/T: Harry at Squaring the Circle.)

So far, my favorite blog commentary on my final column is from Eric at Classical Values, discussing the increasingly extremist tone of public discourse and the elimination of the middle ground through intimidation. Richard Bennett comments as well.

More: Many thanks to Pablo and Jeff at Protein Wisdom for the kind words, and also to Dr. Helen and Dean Esmay.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My final Globe column

The column in today's Boston Globe largely speaks for itself.

A fruitful 6 years for this 'dissident feminist'
By Cathy Young
January 22, 2007

AFTER MORE than six years, this is my final column as a regular in this space, though I look forward to contributing to the op-ed page from time to time. These past six years have been eventful. The American and global political scene changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001, and we got into a war in Iraq whose ultimate consequences may not be known for years. These topics will no doubt continue to dominate the op-ed pages. But there have been other issues of special concern to me that will remain relevant in the years to come.

Gender issues from a "dissident feminist" perspective -- pro-fairness and equal treatment, anti-gender warfare -- have long been one of my areas of interest. The "Mommy Wars" of full-time motherhood versus career are likely to remain intractable, with some feminists accusing stay-at-home mothers of letting down the sisterhood, some conservatives accusing working mothers of letting down their children, and people in the middle calling for freedom of choice. If we can even begin to resolve this often acrimonious debate, it is by moving toward more genuine choice for men as well as women to scale down careers for family.

While feminists have called for more male involvement in child-rearing, the women's movement has also championed blatant favoritism toward mothers in child custody disputes, often to the point of vilifying fathers. This seems to be a clear case of putting solidarity with women over equity. While the fathers' rights movement has often been depicted as a patriarchal backlash, it is in many ways more faithful to the true feminist legacy than are the women's groups which endorse maternal chauvinism.

I am very proud of the support I have been able to give to equality for fathers, and particularly of my work in exposing the inaccuracies and bias in the 2005 PBS documentary "Breaking the Silence: The Children's Stories," which painted fathers who seek custody of their children as presumptive abusers.

The issue of mothers losing custody to alleged abusers has received more media coverage since then -- much of it sensationalistic and slanted -- and seems to be the next big battlefield for feminists and fathers' rights activists. Sadly, the fact that children's lives are at stake, not just the interests of men and women, often gets lost.

Another issue on which feminist concern with equity has devolved into knee-jerk female solidarity is the rights of accuser and accused in sexual assault cases. The apparent collapse of the rape charges against the lacrosse players at Duke University clearly illustrates the dangers of the "women don't lie about rape" stance adopted by victim-advocacy groups, whose credibility is likely to sustain serious damage.

While the gender wars have become somewhat less prominent on our cultural landscape, the "faith wars" have come to the fore. Though a secular agnostic myself, I have often been sympathetic to complaints about efforts to expunge religion from public life. In my view, separation of church and state requires neutrality toward religious and secular viewpoints, not discrimination against religion or suppression of religious expression in the public sphere (such as banning mentions of God in speeches by high school valedictorians).

More recently, however, complaints of "religious persecution" from the right
have turned into a new culture of victimhood. Many conservatives are demanding not simply neutrality but special treatment for some religious beliefs. We now hear that to criticize a judicial nominee's faith-based opposition to abortion is "religious bigotry," that a "Happy Holidays" sign at Macy's during the Christmas season is an assault on Christians, and that "people of faith" are oppressed if they are prevented from coercive proselytizing. In these matters, the religious right has become as
hypersensitive and shrill as the cultural left has been on issues of race and gender. Like political correctness, religious correctness is not a pretty sight, and it's likely to continue to cause more rancor in public discourse.

As I say goodbye, I'd like to conclude with an issue that has become a subject of overriding concern for me : a tendency toward polarization and mutual demonization in American public life. I have often been embroiled in debates on whether the right or the left is more responsible for the politics of hate. This is fruitless. Things will not get better until people on both sides forget about the blame game and start ostracizing the hate-mongers in their own camp.

What I'd like to add in this space is that the end of my regular column in The Globe, while not my decision, is not the result of any political bias against my opinions on any topic, or of objections to any aspect of my work. While I differ with my Globe editors on more issues than we agree, working with them has been a pleasure and an honor, and I have never had cause to complain of insufficient supportiveness on their part. While I leave this job with some sadness, I am very grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of the Globe's op-ed page for six years. I will be contributing to the page occasionally.

I will also be looking into options for continuing a weekly column. Stay tuned for more updates; regular blogging is also resuming this week.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Global warming and the vast right-wing conspiracy

And yet another response to my column on global warming, this one from David Roberts at Roberts offers up my column as a cautionary tale on why liberals should not engage in criticizing radical environmentalists (or, as he sarcastically puts it, "bashing the dirty hippies") lest they should provide intellectual ammunition to people like yours truly. See, he says, Chris Mooney, Mark Kleiman, and Roger Pielke have all bashed the "hippies" in order to push various agendas of their own, and Andrew Revkin in the New York Times wrote up a story of a "new middle" in the climate debate ... and then, guess what happens:

In the Boston Globe, Cathy Young -- a contributing editor at Reason magazine, funded by the libertarian Reason Foundation -- makes good use of Pielke Jr., Mooney, and Kleiman in a state-of-the-art piece of agit-prop. She says global warming skeptics are always getting yelled at, so why is no one yelling at the dirty hippies, for whom "environmentalism has become a matter of not just ideology but quasi-religious zealotry"?

She quotes Mooney saying that sometimes "environmental groups and their ilk oversell the science." She quotes Kleiman saying that the dirty hippies' "eagerness to believe the worst is just as evident as the right wing's denialism." And to cap it off, she cites Pielke Jr.'s "'nonskeptical heretics' -- those who believe that human-caused global warming is a real problem, but one that can be met in part with technological management and adaptation." And to boot: "Mooney has come to embrace such a viewpoint as well."

This is a classic of the genre, lifted straight from template. Note carefully what's happening: The denialists have been discredited. Now, the right wing is eager to cast the debate as having two equivalent sides, "alarmists and deniers." That way they use the marginalization of denialists to marginalize advocates. It's really a clever piece of judo, one the right's become incredibly adept at using.

It relies, of course, on everyone accepting that there are "two sides." That way, having given up the ghost of denialism, the right can now turn to advocating weak, industry-friendly policies and calling them the "sensible middle."

Roberts notes that Kleiman and Mooney have distanced themselves from the views I supposedly attributed to them but scoffs at their naivete for treating my "misrepresentation" as an innocent mistake rather than a deliberate ploy. Meanwhile, he says,

As for Pielke Jr.? He thinks Young's column is "pretty much on target." But then, he's been playing footsie with denialists and right-wing ideologues for years; they're his biggest fans. Unlike Mooney and Kleiman, who got duped, Pielke Jr. knows exactly how the game is played.

His conclusion: liberals, please don't feed the right and bash the hippies! You'll just make yourself an unwitting dupe of the evil capitalists!

I love how Roberts automatically assumes that because I am a contributing editor for Reason, I am not an independent commentator expressing my own opinion but a food soldier taking my marching orders from the generals of the "far right" and "following a right-wing script." For the record, I have not "given up the ghost of denialism" because I have never engaged in it (this is the first time ever that I have written about global warming). Roberts might be shocked to know that I did not get a call from my lords and masters at the Reason foundation telling me that, now that Ron Bailey has called it quits on global warming skepticism, I need to get to work on damage control. Ironically, Roberts' paranoia in this regard is an exact mirror image of the mindset of right-wingers who send me nasty emails when I, say, slam Bill O'Reilly, saying that they expect nothing else from someone who writes for The Boston Globe.

Roberts, incidentally, is identified as a staff writer for the environmental magazine But I'm sure that doesn't compromise his objectivity on this matter one bit.

Incidentally, I'm no doctrinaire libertarian (I am, for instance, far more inclined to be pro-mass transit than most of my fellow Reasonites). I am certainly not an anti-environmentalist if being an environmentalist means being in favor of keeping the planet healthy and attractive for the benefit of human beings. But I loathe the eco-fundamentalists for the same reason I loathe militant religious fundamentalists: because they are enemies of human freedom and happiness, and because they regard the pleasures of this world as sins deserving of punishment by God or Gaia.

Since I'm commenting on this topic again, I want to add another thought to my response to Mark Kleiman yesterday. Kleiman says that conservatives have discredited themselves by espousing a denialist position on global warming, and hence lack credibility when they criticize the alarmist or propose non-regulatory, adaptive measures to deal with climate change. Fair enough. But I think that environmental extremists bear at least some of the responsibility for the skepticism about global warming, given their propensity for fire-and-brimstone predictions that turned out to be egregiously wrong. (Limits to Growth, anyone? Paul Ehrlich's predictions of mass famines and scarcity?) Yes, here I go again, assigning responsibility to both sides and not particularly caring to bicker over whose distortions are worse. I'm still waiting for my big payouts from my capitalist overlords, but I'm sure they'll know where to send the check.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Global warming: Did I wrongly enlist Mark Kleiman and Chris Mooney in my cause?

Back from a trip to Europe, a bad bout with the flu, and other things (more on which later), I find myself fielding the displeasure of one of my favorite bloggers on the liberal side, Mark Kleiman. In my latest Boston Globe column, I quoted what I thought was a fascinating December 16 post by Kleiman on the topic of global warming. Here, in its entirety, is the column.

GLOBAL WARMING is the subject of intense debate. But if ideology is getting in the way of science, maybe both sides of the debate are letting that happen.

While the evidence of global climate change is overwhelming, there are skeptics who challenge the consensus view that warming is caused by human activity. These individuals are routinely accused of being in the pocket of big corporations that would be hurt by aggressive measures to curb carbon emissions. (And, in fact, many of them work for groups that receive funding from such sources as ExxonMobil). Chris Mooney, author of "The Republican War on Science," has argued that treating the issue as a legitimate debate is misleading because it bestows legitimacy on pseudoscientific propaganda.

But is everyone on the other side disinterested? On his blog, Mooney notes that sometimes "environmental groups and their ilk oversell the science." On the issue of whether global warming is to blame for hurricanes, he says, "it's clear the science has been abused on both sides."

People can easily see economic motives to bend the facts and abuse the science. Ideological motives are less readily apparent, but no less real; and, for quite a few people, environmentalism has become a matter of not just ideology but quasi-religious zealotry.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy studies at UCLA and a self-identified liberal, noted this recently on his blog. Writes Kleiman, "To those who dislike a social system based on high and growing consumption and the economic activity that supports high and growing consumption and maintains high and growing demand (a dislike with which I have considerable sympathy), to those who think that the market needs more regulation by the state, to those who think that international institutions ought to be strengthened . . . global warming is a Gaia-send" -- since it justifies drastic worldwide public action to curb production and consumption. (Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, is a term used by many ecologists to refer to the earth as a living entity.) While Kleiman sympathizes with environmentalists, he notes that "their eagerness to believe the worst" -- for instance, in Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" -- "is just as evident as the right wing's denialism."

As an analogy, Kleiman cites many social conservatives' attitude toward the AIDS epidemic, which has been used to portray sex outside monogamous heterosexual marriage as fraught with deadly peril and to preach the message of premarital abstinence. (Kleiman doesn't explicitly say this, but his comments hint at another abuse of science: Many conservatives and gay rights activists, for different motives, have exaggerated the fairly tiny risk of HIV infection from heterosexual sex.)

The analogy between AIDS and global warming also extends to attitudes toward ways to remedy the problem. The religious right, Kleiman points out, pooh-poohs condoms as a way to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases because the effectiveness of such a remedy would undermine the abstinence message. Similarly, those on the left who embrace environmentalism as their substitute religion don't want to hear about scientific and technological solutions to climate change -- from nuclear power to geoengineering, the artificial manipulation of the global environment -- that do not include stepping up regulation and curbing consumption.

There is a growing number of voices in the scientific community that reject both denialism and alarmism on global warming. Roger Pielke, an environmentalscience professor at the University of Colorado, calls such people "nonskeptical heretics" -- those who believe that human-caused global warming is a real problem, but one that can be met in part with technological management and adaptation. Mooney has come to embrace such a viewpoint as well.

Pielke has pointed out an unfortunate tendency toward political polarization within the scientific community. Last year, Tech Central Station, a website that supports the free-market system, promoted a statement by several scientists who dismissed any connection between hurricanes and global warming -- while environmental activists promoted the views of other scientists who argued that such a connection exists.

Most journalists and pundits have limited knowledge of science; as a result, they tend to pick whichever science best suits their political prejudices. Both science and journalism deserve better. Perhaps we can start by remembering that an ideological crusade can be as strong an inducement to bend the truth as the profit motive.

In his response on January 15, Kleiman writes:

The column isn't bad, as such things go. But I don't agree with Young nearly as much as she seems to think. And I think the column misstates the relationship between the global warming issue and nuclear power generation.

Young wants to be even-handed as between the global-warming denialists and Al Gore's tendency to treat the extreme case as the likely case. That's carrying even-handedness a little bit too far, and certainly further than the original post carried it. I was careful to say, in anticipation of such a misinterpretation, that the two sides aren't "equally wrong," and to point out that on this issue the stubbornness of the right in denying the problem has robbed it of credibility when it comes to discussing solutions.

She also attributes to me the thought that "those on the left who embrace environmentalism as their substitute religion don't want to hear about scientific and technological solutions to climate change ... that do not include stepping up regulation and curbing consumption." That's a considerable overstatement. Solar power, wind power, biofuels, hybrid automobile engines, "green" building techniques, and carbon sequestration are all basically technical rather than regulatory approaches; there's quite as much techno-optimism among environmental enthusiasts as there is among space-colonization enthusiasts, though the technologies are different.

He then concludes:

I argued for a symmetry between environmentalist opposition to albedo-increasing efforts to fight global warming and religious opposition to using condoms to fight the global AIDS epidemic: between Al Gore and Pope Benedict. Young argues that distortions of the truth by those concerned about global warming are symmetric with distortions of the truth by those who deny that it's a problem: between Al Gore and ExxonMobil. Whether or not I made out my case, I don't think she made out hers.

However that may be, at least they're not the same case. So while I'm flattered to be quoted, I must decline Ms. Young's efforts to enlist me in her cause. The anti-environmental alliance, consisting of people in Adam Smith neckties who hate taxes and regulations, people in boardrooms who just want to be left alone to profitably wreck the planet, and their tame scientists, think-tank intellectuals, journalists, and politicians, blew the global warming issue. They blew it badly, and their credibility deserves to suffer for it. When they've taken the beam out of their own eyes, they'll be able to better see the mote in Al Gore's.

Re-reading my column, I see no statement that the distortions of truth have been equivalent on both sides. I think it's pretty clear from the column that I reject global warming denialism; when citing Chris Mooney, I was very careful to note that his statement that "it's clear that science has been abused on both sides" applies only to the issue of the relationship between global warming and hurricanes. It is true that I did not include, in the limited space of the column, Kleiman's disclaimer: "That's not to say the two sides are equally wrong, just that neither side starts from an impartial position in examining the science." I don't, frankly, see much of a point in keeping scores on who's worse, and to me that was a fairly tangential issue.

Re-reading Kleiman's original post, meanwhile, I see more of a moral equivalency there than he is now willing to admit. For instance, near the end of his post, he writes:

Still and all, it seems to me that denying (or ignoring) the potential of albedo-increasing approaches to control global warming isn't much more sensible than denying global warming itself, or denying that increasing condom use would decrease HIV transmission.

The tone of Kleiman's two posts differs in other ways as well. In the December 16 post, he asks:

So why is [geoengineering] still a fringe topic? Partly, of course, because of the stupidity of the anti-environmentalist right and its corporate sponsors, for whom denying the existence of any environmental problem is by now strongly conditioned reflex. ... But largely, I submit, because the people who think Earth in the Balance was one of Al Gore's accomplishments rather than one of the strongest reasons to doubt his fitness to be President really don't want a non-Gaian, non-regulatory solution to their most precious problem.

The tone of this passage differs from Kleiman's post in response to my column in two rather striking ways. In the December 15 post, Kleiman may not equate Gore with Exxon Mobil, but he does (in my reading of this passage) imply that Earth in the Balance is "one of the strongest reasons to doubt his fitness to be President." Also, he seems to be clearly making the same assertion that he now brands as a "considerable overstatement" on my part: that ideological, left-wing environmentalists "don't want to hear about scientific and technological solutions to climate change ... that do not include stepping up regulation and curbing consumption." (Solar and wind power, as far as I know, are widely viewed by greens as solutions that are not going to be embraced by the marketplace without stringent regulations and other coercive measures.)

As for nuclear power: Kleiman thinks I'm mistaken in lumping it together with geoengineering (which was the main focus of his December 16 post) because (1) unlike geoengineering, "nuclear power is on the table in the global warming discussion, albeit much to the dismay of the Nader-types"; and (2) unlike geoengineering, which could improve climate problems quickly, nuclear power is a long-term solution. Fair enough; but my point was that both those solutions are rejected by the environmentalist left.

Kleiman's main concern in the January 15 post seems to be not to let the right wing off the hook. To this end, he adopts a rather mean-spirited tone, resorting to cheap caricature of corporate greedheads who want to ravage the earth and laissez-faire fanatics in Adam Smith neckties. A conservative could just as easily take a swipe at unwashed tree-huggers and hippies with ponytails who love spotted owls more than people and who are itching to take away other people's SUVs and disposable diapers.

Yes, there has been a lot of stupidity and downright intellectual dishonesty on the right when it comes to environmental issues. But today, the "denialists" are pretty thoroughly discredited, and the obstacles to technological, adaptive solutions to global warming are at least as likely to come from the eco-fundamentalists on the left as from the anti-environmentalists on the right. That, it seems to me, is the real issue -- not "who's worse" and who deserves the greater embarrassment.

Finally, I am not trying to enlist Mark Kleiman in any "cause." Mainly, I mentioned his post because I thought his analogy between the religious right's attitude toward AIDS and the eco-religious left's atittude toward global warming as punishments for each group's deadly sin of choice (and, consequently, toward the remedies) was extremely apt and insightful. If my column does, in fact, impute to Kleiman a belief in the moral equivalence of scientific distortions on both sides in the global warming debate, I apologize.

Meanwhile, Chris Mooney takes milder exception to my column, also expressing concern that I may be unwittingly imputing to him a "pox on both their houses" position in the global warming debate:

There's nothing literally incorrect about how my stances are portrayed in this article. But after reading it, one might get the impression that I think (as Young apparently does) that the "industry" and "environmentalist" sides are equally culpable when it comes to misusing science in the global warming debate. In fact, however, I don't think that at all.

Yet it seems to me that the article's second paragraph -- in which I specifically state Mooney's opinion that it is wrong to treat the existence of human-caused global warming as the subject of a legitimate scientfiic debate, and that the "denialist" argument is "pseudoscientific propaganda" -- makes it pretty clear that Mooney does not think anything of the sort. I am actually in agreement with much of what Mooney -- whom I had the pleasure of hearing on a panel with Ron Bailey at a Reason event a couple of years ago -- has to say in his post, and I greatly appreciate his fair and measured approach.

Meanwhile, Roger Pielke likes my column (which has prompted one commenter on Chris Mooney's blog to call him a tool of the right).